World news

US ex-diplomat who lashed out at Israel stands down

By Nathan Guttman, March 19, 2009

The ‘Israel lobby’ has been accused of derailing the nomination of veteran diplomat Charles (Chas) Freeman as the new chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Mr Freeman announced last week that he was withdrawing from the post, and attacked pro-Israel activists who, he argued, “plumb the depths of dishonour and indecency and include character assassination”.

Chas Freeman is known for his close ties to the Saudi Government and for his harsh rhetoric calling on the US to re-evaluate its pro-Israel policy in the Middle East.


Scrolls ‘not written by Essenes’

March 19, 2009

A Hebrew University academic has caused uproar by claiming that the sect which wrote the 930 Dead Sea Scrolls didn’t exist.

Since the discovery of the scrolls in a cave near the Dead Sea in 1947, scholars have believed they originated with a Jewish sect called the Essenes. But Rachel Elior, a professor of Jewish philosophy, has claimed they were taken to Qumran in the 2nd century BCE by the Sadducees, the Jewish priests who date from the Temple era.


Rabbinate in US ‘betray converts’

By Simon Rocker, March 19, 2009

An extraordinary row over conversions has broken out between one of America’s leading modern Orthodox rabbis and the umbrella body for the central Orthodox rabbinate.

Rabbi Avi Weiss, of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, New York, has accused the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) of creating an “alarmist climate” among converts after telling a woman he helped to convert that she must undergo a reconversion.

The RCA explained that the original conversion might not be universally accepted because one member of the rabbinic court that converted her was himself a convert.


Student fines ‘unfair’

March 19, 2009

Jewish students at a top Canadian University are taking legal advice after being fined for “causing disruption to university life”.

Pro-Israel group Hasbara was fined $1,000 and suspended for 30 days, and student organisation Hillel was fined $500 by York University of Toronto.


Nato nations pledge to halt smuggling of arms to Gaza

By Leon Symons, March 19, 2009

Nine Nato countries have pledged international action in a concerted effort to halt illegal arms smuggling into Gaza.

Britain is one of the nine and Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell said on Wednesday: “We are not prepared to put up with arms smuggling and we are prepared to take action to stop and disrupt such activity.”


Iran buys anti-aircraft missiles from Russia

By Anshel Pfeffer, March 19, 2009

The reported sale of advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Tehran has made the need to deal with Iran’s nuclear programme more urgent than ever.

A senior source in Russia’s Federal Bureau of Military-Technological Cooperation confirmed to the Interfax news agency on Wednesday that his country had signed a contract to sell the S-300PMU missile system to Iran in 2007. The official said that the system had not yet been supplied.


Gigolo ‘sought revenge on BMW’

By Marcus Dysch, March 19, 2009

A conman who defrauded Germany’s richest woman is claimed to have targeted his victim because of her family’s Nazi past.

Helg Sgarbi, dubbed the Swiss Gigolo, was last week jailed for six years for defrauding and attempting to blackmail Susanne Klatten with a videotape of the couple having sex in a hotel.

Ms Klatten, the 68th wealthiest person in the world, is an heir to the BMW fortune and is thought to be worth almost $10 billion.

Her great-grandfather, Gunther Quandt, founded BMW and his first wife, Magda, later married Joseph Goebbels.


'More German youths in far-right groups than mainstream parties'

By Toby Axelrod, March 19, 2009

A newly released study suggests urgent measures are needed to combat right-wing tendencies among German youth.

Five percent of German boys aged 15 belong to right-wing extremist groups, according to the study by the Hanover-based Criminal Research Institute.

Most youth were found not to be antisemitic or xenophobic in this extensive survey of 44,610 pupils.

But scientists found that more boys belong to far-right groups than to mainstream political organizations. And that is what has researchers worried, said Christian Pfeiffer, leading scientist on the team.


Australian anger over Iran invite

By Dan Goldberg, March 19, 2009

An invitation to the former president of Iran to speak in Melbourne next week has enraged Jewish community leaders, writes Dan Goldberg.

Mohammed Khatami is due to speak at La Trobe University in Melbourne on March 26.

John Searle, president of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, resigned from the university’s dialogue committee in protest against the invitation and said it was “inconceivable” that the Anglican archbishop of Melbourne, Philip Freier, was meeting Khatawi.


Pope: I should have Googled rogue bishop

March 19, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI has expanded on his controversial decision to lift the 1988 excommunication of four bishops, including Holocaust-denier Richard Williamson.

“The discreet gesture of mercy towards four bishops...suddenly appeared as something completely different: as the repudiation of reconciliation between Christians and Jews,” the Pope wrote in a letter to bishops.

He admits that “consulting the information available on the internet” would have helped “perceive the problem early on” and pledged to use the internet more in the future.