As the U.N. General Assembly opens, diplomats vying to be the world's top peacekeeper are taking time to consult with American Jewish leaders. At least three of the favored candidates to replace Kofi Annan as U.N. secretary-general have met in recent months with leaders of the U.S. Jewish groups that routinely deal with the United Nations.
"It's a recognition that we're part of the equation and the political calculus," said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, who acknowledged "several" meetings with prospective candidates: "It's clear that no candidate can win without the support of the five permanent members, and there is thinking that American Jewry would have some impact on the thinking of the United States."
The United States, Russia, France, China and Great Britain are the five permanent members wielding veto power on the U.N. Security Council, the body that recommends a candidate for secretary-general to the General Assembly for confirmation.
Annan's term lapses at the end of the year, and Jewish leaders are considering the disappointments, as well as its highlights. Many of the issues that characterized the last part of Annan's 10-year term -- the Iranian nuclear threat, the aftermath of the Lebanon War and the prospect of reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks -- will be high on the Jewish agenda the week that world leaders arrive to address the General Assembly during its opening session.
"We want to gauge the international mood toward Israel post-summer conflict and get a sense of whether there's any traction of rumors of resumption of peace talks," said Harris, who said his organization planned 60 meetings with world leaders this week and next. "We'll be talking about the challenges of anti-Semitism."
After two Africans in the job -- Annan is from Ghana; his predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, was from Egypt -- the assumption is that an Asian will get the job. Of the declared candidates, Shashi Tharoor, a U.N. undersecretary-general backed by his native India, and Surakiart Sathirathai, Thailand's deputy prime minister, have met with Jewish groups. Another candidate, Ban Ki-Moon, South Korea's foreign minister, has also met with Jewish leaders and is in the process of setting up a second meeting. Community leaders were loath to endorse a particular candidate, but Tharoor made a favorable impression.
"We should take him seriously as a candidate," said Shai Franklin, director of international organizations at the World Jewish Congress. "He was instrumental in putting the Holocaust on the U.N. agenda."
Celebrating 350 Years of British Jewry
Trafalgar Square filled with celebrants this week to mark 350 years of British Jewry. An estimated 25,000 people on Sunday visited Simcha on the Square, the centerpiece of the yearlong anniversary celebration.
In the weeks leading up to the celebration, increased security was necessary due to the recent rise in anti-Semitic activity in Britain. Also, the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (AJEX) cancelled its participation to protest the involvement of London Mayor Ken Livingstone, a vehement critic of Israel who has been accused of making anti-Semitic remarks.
The involvement of Livingstone's office wasn't a recent decision, but it led AJEX to decide on Sept. 14 to boycott the event. In light of the controversy surrounding the mayor, Livingstone had been pulled from the celebration schedule months ago, to be replaced by his deputy, Nicky Gavron. AJEX's last-minute decision to withdraw likely was due to a Sept. 5 press release from Livingstone's office proclaiming the mayor's personal support of Simcha on the Square.
Despite these 11th hour glitches, the event "went beyond our dreams," Auerbach said. "To see beautiful signs up in Trafalgar Square, we just couldn't picture in advance how that would make us feel. To have our event there in that setting, one of the most iconic spots in Britain, and to see Jews of all sects and other people all mingling and having a good time there, I think it was the best possible way we could have shown how the Jewish people have integrated into British society."
The festivities included live Jewish music on the main stage, which was placed in front of the National Gallery.
Rallies Call for Action on Darfur
An estimated 20,000 to 25,000 people gathered in New York to urge the United States and the United Nations to end genocide in Darfur. Sunday's rally, which drew Jews from across the United States, was organized by the Save Darfur Coalition. North American Jewish groups have taken the lead in advocating an end to the massacre of Darfur residents in Sudan by government-allied Arab militias. The rally featured musical performances by Suzanne Vega, Citizen Cope and O.A.R.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright headlined a list of 20 speakers. "All the sides in the Darfur conflict are predominantly Muslim," Albright said. "But this is not about politics, this is about people." She added: "We need to tell the United Nations that this is what it is here for, and President Bush has to make it clear to the United Nations that the United Nations has to get in there."
Rallies took place in 31 states and 57 cities and 41 countries, as well as in Jerusalem, according to David Rubenstein of the Save Darfur Coalition.
Neo-Nazis Win Local German Parliament Seat
German Jewish leaders called extremist gains in German state elections "alarming." Voters on Sunday in the former East German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania gave the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany 7.3 percent, passing the 5 percent threshold necessary to have a seat in the state Parliament.
The state is the fourth to have right-wing extremist parties in their local parliaments in a reunified Germany. Many observers say that high unemployment in eastern states plays a role in turning voters to the right.
Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, called the results "shocking and a political statement of bankruptcy." She urged mainstream politicians to "go on a committed offensive against increasing right-wing extremism."
Gay Pride Parade Rescheduled in Israel
Petitioners to Israel's High Court and the government reached an agreement Monday on a Nov. 10 date for the parade, the Jerusalem Post reported. Organizers said they postponed the parade in August due to Israel's war with Hezbollah and following police warnings that they might not be able to ensure safety at the march. Dates proposed by organizers for late September were not accepted because of their proximity to Rosh Hashanah.
Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.