Jews React to Williams' Execution
Rabbi Steven Jacobs was home late Monday night watching TV coverage of the execution of Crips gang co-founder Stanley Tookie Williams, and he was glad he wasn't at the loud candlelight vigil outside San Quentin State Prison.
"The sideshows on both sides. It was such a circus," said Jacobs, leader of the Reform Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills and a prominent death-penalty opponent.
Williams was executed by lethal injection on Dec. 13 for murdering four people in 1979. Having renounced gang life years ago while imprisoned, his plea for clemency drew international attention but ultimately was rejected Monday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Local Jewish community support for Williams was evident in the course of his clemency campaign. But except for the left-of-center Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), major Jewish groups did not make the ex-gang chieftain's controversial case a top issue.
"I don't think most Jewish communal organizations, other than the Progessive Jewish Alliance, see capital punishment as a major Jewish communal priority," said PJA Executive Director Daniel Sokatch, who kept vigil Monday night with about 100 other death penalty opponents at St. Paul the Apostle Roman Catholic Church in Westwood.
"What disturbs me has been those who have campaigned to abolish capital punishment even for crimes against humanity and genocide, torture and mass terrorism," death penalty supporter Larry Greenfield, California director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, told The Journal. "I'm disturbed by the abolitionist's argument." Greenfield also appeared on CNN in the minutes before Williams' execution began, at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.
One abolitionist watching Greenfield was Jacobs. By 1 a.m. Tuesday, about 30 minutes after Williams was pronounced dead, the rabbis' Boston-accented voice was heavy over a phone line as he said to a Journal reporter, "It's just sickening. It's just the manufacturing of death in this country that's so sickening. It's not about mercy. It's not about justice. It's about politics." -- David Finnigan, Contributing Writer
Way Cleared for Payments to Austrian Holocaust Survivors
A U.S. court decision has paved the way for final compensation payments to Holocaust survivors from Austria.
Last week's decision by a U.S. District Court in New York to dismiss class-action lawsuits against Austrian businesses was greeted with relief by survivor organizations and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, parties to a settlement negotiated with the Austrian government.
The resulting legal closure means payments are imminent, said Gideon Taylor, Claims Conference executive vice president. Neither the Austrian government nor businesses would agree to payments without insurance against future lawsuits.
"This fund has been tied up in legal knots in courts in the U.S., and this had deprived many Austrian Holocaust survivors and their heirs of the symbolic payments," Taylor told JTA in a telephone interview.
But "like most restitution payments, this is not an issue of money," he emphasized. "The amounts are small, but the property losses were large. This is about symbolism. People are frustrated that what was supposed to be a symbolic gesture turned into a legal argument."
In some cases, heirs will be the beneficiaries, said Hannah Lessing, director of the Austrian National Fund, which will distribute some of the payments. Of 30,000 who filed for compensation, only 15,000 are still living. The fund tries to reach the oldest claimants first, she said.
"Nothing will ever be fair," said Lessing, whose father fled Nazi Austria for Palestine. "Whatever we do will always be a little piece of a puzzle."
Jackson Seeks Retraction of Anti-Israel Remarks by Iran
The Rev. Jesse Jackson called on Iran's president to retract anti-Israel and anti-Semitic comments. The comments by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "are a threat to the fragile fabric of the world community," Jackson said in a statement.
In comments made last week, Ahmadinejad said: "If the Europeans are honest, they should give some of their provinces in Europe, like in Germany, Austria or other countries, to the Zionists, and the Zionists can establish their state in Europe. You offer part of Europe, and we will support it."
He earlier called for Israel's destruction.
Hillary Clinton Endorses Israel's Security Barrier
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.) backed Israel's right to construct its West Bank security barrier. Clinton, speaking after receiving an honorary degree from Yeshiva University last Sunday, said that a recent visit to Gilo, a town on the outskirts of Jerusalem, gave her "an even greater appreciation for the importance and rationale" of the fence, which has helped reduce Palestinian terrorist attacks. At the height of the intifada, Gilo was the target of frequent shootings from the neighboring Palestinian town of Beit Jalla.
Israel has the "right to build a security barrier to try to keep out those who would do harm to Israel," Clinton said.
Israeli 'Rabbicops' Ploy Being Investigated
Hundreds of Israeli policemen are believed to be obtaining rabbinical ordination to boost their salaries. Citing Justice Ministry sources, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported in an expose that as many as 600 policemen have taken courses for the Orthodox clergy so that they could receive $430 monthly stipends.
According to the newspaper, some of the "rabbicops" are openly secular, and the sages administering the ordination courses have been known to allow their students to abbreviate the studies for the sake of convenience. Police spokesmen declined comment, citing a probe already under way.