Bin Laden Points The Finger
Al-Qaeda denied involvement in the assassination of LebanonÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s former prime minister, saying Israel could be the culprit. An Internet statement signed by a previously unknown group, the Al-Qaeda Organization of the Levant, rejected a claim of responsibility for MondayÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s car bombing of Rafik HaririÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s cavalcade in Beirut. Israeli officials backed international assessments that Hariri was targeted for opposing the Syrian occupation of Lebanon.
Farewell, Femme Fatale
MossadÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s most famous hit woman has died. Sylvia Rafael, who was jailed in Norway for her part in a botched 1973 assassination, died of leukemia in her native South Africa over the weekend. She was 67. Rafael immigrated to Israel as a young woman and was recruited by Mossad while working on a kibbutz, soon becoming one of the spy agencyÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s most accomplished field agents. Operating under cover as a Canadian freelance photographer, she led the hunt for the Palestinian masterminds of the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. A year later, her team shot dead a Moroccan waiter in the Norwegian town of Lillehammer, mistaking him for the chief of the Black September terror group. Rafael was sentenced for five years. Her prison term was shortened because of her poor health, and she eventually married her defense attorney and resettled in South Africa. Her body is to be brought to Israel for burial.
Chirac Says No on Hezbollah
French President Jacques Chirac refused to add Hezbollah to the E.U.Ã¯Â¿Â½(tm)s list of terrorist organizations. Chirac reportedly rejected the request about the ShiÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)ite fundamentalist group during a meeting Monday with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. The European Union is expected to hold an initial discussion Wednesday on the Israeli request, but FranceÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s position is considered crucial in the matter.
ADL Raps Divestment Plan
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) criticized the Presbyterian Church (USA) for continuing to consider divesting from companies that do business in Israel. ADL officials said such consideration shows the movement has chosen the Palestinian side in the Arab-Israeli dispute, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported. The criticism was leveled this weekend after the Rev. Jay Rock, the denominationÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s coordinator for interfaith relations, spoke to 150 members of the ADLÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s national executive committee meeting in Palm Beach, Fla.
Members of the church voted last summer to use its $8 million portfolio to try to force Israel to withdraw from territories the Palestinians want for a future state. A church committee is expected to deliver a report next year suggesting specific companies as divestment targets.
Jewish Group Backs Judicial Filibuster
The American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee) reaffirmed its support for the U.S. SenateÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s right to filibuster judicial nominations.
"The SenateÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s centuries-old rule providing for the use of the filibuster gives voice to minority viewpoints and encourages consensus on appointments to the judiciary," the AJCommitteeÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s board said in its resolution. Changing Senate rules "would eliminate this incentive for bipartisan cooperation, eroding our system of checks and balances and diluting the SenateÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s role to provide 'advice and consentÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm) on the presidentÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s judicial nominees."
The Senate is considering changing the rules to force all judicial nominations to face a straight vote and not be subject to filibuster. The majority party now requires 60 votes to block a filibuster.
DNC Picks Jewish Vice Chairwoman
A Jewish activist was elected vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Susan Turnbull, who serves on the board of the National Jewish Democratic Council, has worked with Hillel and was the DNCÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s deputy chair before her election Saturday. The Republican National Committee elected Ken Mehlman, the Jewish campaign manager of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, as its national chairman last month.
Convicted Rabbi Gets One Count Dropped
A court dismissed one of the counts against a U.S. rabbi who had been convicted of molesting two teenage girls at a New Jersey yeshiva. On Feb. 10, an appeals court in New Jersey threw out one of the charges against Baruch Lanner for endangering the welfare of a child between 1992 and 1996, when he was the principal of a New Jersey yeshiva. Despite the ruling, Lanner still faces sentencing Feb. 23 for his conviction for endangering the welfare of another girl and for one count each of aggravated criminal sexual conduct and criminal sexual conduct. The case rocked the Modern Orthodox world because Lanner was a longtime leader of the National Council of Synagogue Youth, an Orthodox youth group.
No Hope for the Lovelorn?
The most popular Jewish singles site on the Internet was down most of ValentineÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s Day. Visitors to JDate received a message saying the site was down and apologizing for the inconvenience.
London Mayor: No Sorry Forthcoming
LondonÃ¯Â¿Â½(tm)s mayor refused to apologize for comparing a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard. Politicians and Jewish groups had asked Ken Livingstone to apologize for comments last week to Oliver Finegold of the London Evening Standard. In refusing, Livingstone said he had been subjected to a 24-year hate campaign by the Standard and its sister paper, the Daily Mail.
Israel's smoking rate dropped to its lowest point ever, according to a new survey.
Only 23 percent of Israeli adults smoke, compared with 42 percent in the 1970s, 37 percent in the early 1980s and 29 percent in the 1990s, the Jerusalem Post reported. The smoking rate in Israel is slightly higher than in the United States, but lower than in Europe.
Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.