A roundup of the most talked about political and global stories in the Jewish world this week:
Presbyterians mull boycott
America’s largest Presbyterian group weighed whether to divest from three companies over the Israeli military use of their products in the Palestinian territories, according to reports. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has a relationship with Caterpillar Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Motorola, and Jewish public policy groups pushed them to keep them intact. While the measure didn’t pass, there are lessons to be gleaned from the discussion, said Rami G. Khouri at Al Arabiya News. “It should offer some hope and consolation to Palestinians who fight for their rights and dignity, and concerns to Israelis and others who justify or merely ignore the criminality of the occupation.” Jay Michaelson at Religion Dispatches wondered if this was the right move: “Symbolic acts are fine, and exactly the business of a religious denomination. But this message is so strong, and so disproportionate, that it does, indeed, make many Jews feel like Israel is being unfairly targeted,” he said.
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert was acquitted of two corruption charges on Tuesday but was convicted on another, breach of trust. He will be sentenced in September. This isn’t the end of Olmert’s legal troubles, though, as he faces other bribery charges. “Nonetheless, the prosecution must take stock of why the trial against Olmert ended as it did. Prosecutors should not be expected to achieve a 100 percent conviction rate, but there is truth to the argument that an indictment against a sitting prime minister that results in such a limited conviction cannot be spared some stocktaking,” said a Haaretz editorial.
“Here is a truism we all already know: Jews are news. The fact is, no matter how tiny the American Jewish community might be — between 1.5 and 2 percent of the population — the battle for Jewish votes will be extensively reported and analyzed,” said Shmuel Rosner at the Jewish Journal. As Romney sets his eyes on the Jewish vote, the question of whether Obama already has it locked up is being raised. If you look at the current poll numbers, the GOP isn’t exactly making great strides. “In fact, since 1992 Jewish support for Democratic presidential candidates has increased compared to prior decades, with no evidence of significant gains for Republicans,” added Charlie Mahtesian at Politico. So how can Romney gain momentum in a way that recent evidence proves will be difficult?
Should we draft the Ultraorthodox?
Exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews to do their military service is an issue bubbling up in Israel as their numbers have increased to about 10 percent of the 7.8 million population. If the state were to change its policy and force Haredim to enlist, it would have to happen gradually, said the prime minister. “I believe that a decisive majority of Israeli citizens, including many ultra-Orthodox, understand that we need a change,” Benjamin Netanyahu said. “In order for this increased integration to succeed, we need to carry it out in stages and in a way that will not cause national rifts.” How can Israel proceed? “Thankfully, there’s an easy solution: Instead of giving the ultra-Orthodox guns, give them jobs,” said Liel Leibovitz at Tablet. “Train them, and the ultra-Orthodox will help grow the economy, bettering themselves at the same time.” It’s a bigger problem than you might believe, reported Melissa Chan at Al Jazeera. “Netanyahu’s coalition government may crumble over this matter. And the crisis would have all started because ultra-Orthodox Jews wanted to be left alone to worship God.”
Forensic experts found a unusually high levels of a radioactive compound in the personal effects, including his stained underwear, of Yasser Arafat, according to reports. While nobody blamed Israel outright, Arafat’s widow wants to study Arafat’s remains more to see if they can connect the dots. “Until now, the mystery surrounding Arafat’s death has remained but there is now the opportunity presented by his widow and the Palestinian authorities to solve it,” said one report. But there might not be enough evidence to complete an investigation, said Vic Rosenthal at The Jewish Press. “The half-life of Polonium-210 is 138 days. This means that after 8 years, only about 4.3 x 10-7 — 0.00000043 — of the original amount of Polonium would be left. So even if Arafat’s iconic underwear had been loaded with the stuff after his death, it would be undetectable, or at least at much lower levels than the Swiss laboratory found.”
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