Soros plans an alternative to AIPAC (& other news items)

October 20, 2006


1. Human Rights Watch update
2. Relatives of beheaded Iraqi priest say kidnappers demanded apology for pope
3. Sharansky plans to resign from politics; Wiesel for president?
4. Jordan plans new Temple Mount minaret
5. Soros plans an alternative to AIPAC
6. Terrorists with a PR firm
7. Muslims’ anger as London Olympics will clash with Ramadan
8. Syria clamps down on freedom-of-speech students
9. Iran’s clerics caught up in blogging craze
10. Protestors hurl petrol bombs at Danish mission in Iran
11. Dozens killed in Sudanese shootings
12. Another concern within Conservative ranks
13. Israel recalls ambassador to Australia
14. SNCF hit with compensation claims over Nazi-camp transport
15. Russian Jews protest over Hitler restaurant
16. Vienna street to be renamed after Simon Wiesenthal

[Note by Tom Gross]


The following is an update to yesterday’s dispatch Human Rights Watch confirms: Hizbullah used cluster bombs against Israel.

Professor Gerald Steinberg, a longtime subscriber to this list who among other things runs the important website NGO Monitor, writes:

Human Rights Watch’s short statement on October 18 contrasts with over 30 statements, reports (the longest was 49 pages), op-eds, media interviews, and so on, from July 13 through and beyond the end of the Israel-Hizbullah war that focused primarily on accusing Israel of “war crimes”. A short statement two months after the interest in this issue has largely disappeared, without the usual accompanying PR campaign by HRW is clearly too little, too late. HRW officials, including Ken Roth, are under enormous pressure for their long-running anti-Israel campaigns, and this statement now about Hizbullah is their effort to defend themselves. They have used these tactics before: in November 2002, they issued a report on suicide bombings, and as soon as the pressure eased, they ignored their own report and its implications. All of this is documented on


Relatives of an Orthodox priest who was kidnapped last week and found beheaded three days later, said that his captors had demanded his church condemn the pope’s recent comments about Islam and pay an enormous $350,000 ransom.

More than 500 people attended a memorial service for father Amer Iskender in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul after his decapitated body was found last Wednesday evening in an industrial area of the city. Iskender was a priest at the St. Ephrem Orthodox church in Mosul.

Relatives, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said the unidentified group that seized Iskender last week said Pope Benedict XVI bore “sole responsibility” for Iskender’s fate.


The human rights activist and former Soviet political prisoner Natan Sharansky, who is now a Likud Member of the Israeli Knesset, is resigning from the Knesset and says he will quit politics.

However, if Moshe Katsav resigns as Israeli president, as he is expected to do after sex crime charges were leveled against him, there is speculation that Sharansky would make a good Israeli president. Sharansky recently marked the 20th anniversary of his 1986 release from a Soviet prison and subsequent immigration to Israel. He used various information from this email list/website for his bestselling book, The Case for Democracy.

Ehud Olmert says he is in favor of (his political ally) Shimon Peres becoming the next Israeli president. The post is supposed to be largely ceremonial. Others have suggested Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel should assume the position so as to restore dignity to the office following the latest scandal.


Israel says it will not object to Jordanian plans to construct a fifth minaret on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

A senior Jordanian official said the Hashemite Kingdom is planning to construct the minaret early next year. The minaret will be built on the eastern wall of the Temple Mount near the Golden Gate, and at 42 meters it will be the highest of the minarets on the Mount and the first to be built in more than 600 years. Dr. Raief Najim, vice chairman of the committee running the project, toured the intended site with a top Jerusalem police commander, a senior government official and the head of the Israel Antiquities Authority and none of them voiced any opposition, said Najim.

The Temple Mount has been Judaism’s holiest site for thousands of years. The first Muslim minaret was constructed on the southwest corner of the Temple Mount in 1278. The second was built in 1297, the third in 1329, and the last in 1367.

Israeli Jewish groups who also wish to build on the site are expected to voice their outrage at the Israeli government’s decision to instead allow Jordan to build at the site.


Billionaire philanthropist George Soros has met with other left-wing Jews to discuss setting up an alternative to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Even though AIPAC consistently adopts centrist positions, the leftists regard it as too right-wing.

A source close to Soros said the aim would be to pressure the U.S. government to lean on the Israeli government to make more concessions to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

A follow-up meeting by the leftist Jewish businessmen will take place in New York on October 26, sources tell me. Other major Jewish liberals invited, include Peter Lewis, who like Soros is a major contributor to, the Web-based anti-Bush group; and Edgar and Charles Bronfman. Several former Clinton administration staffers and Debra DeLee, president of Americans for Peace Now, are also expected to attend. There are apparently differences of opinion about the degree to which the new structure should confront AIPAC.

Soros has on numerous occasions been criticized by other Jews for his supposed anti-Jewish positions. For example, after he told a conference in 2003 that Israel bore responsibility for the outbreak of anti-Semitism in Europe because of its response to Palestinian terrorism.


Hizbullah have hang up an advertising poster showing fighters launching Katyusha rockets, with the French words reading: “Divine Victory,” at the highway leading to Beirut’s international airport. The terror group never short of funds, thanks to western government aid money that finds its way into their hands paid a public relations firm $140,000 to design a campaign called “Divine Victory,” according to Lebanese media. Hundreds of billboards have sprung up across the country in Arabic, English and French glorifying what many in Lebanon see as a Hizbullah victory over Israel in its 34-day war with Israel in July and August.


The 2012 London Olympics have been plunged into controversy by the discovery that the Games will clash with the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

The clash will put some Muslim athletes at a disadvantage as they will be expected to fast from sunrise to sunset for the entire duration of the Games.

In 2012, Ramadan will take place from July 21 to August 20, while the Olympics run from July 27 to August 12.

About a quarter of the 11,099 athletes who took part in the 2004 Athens Olympics came from countries with predominantly Muslim populations. It is not known how many observe the fast.

Commentators say the clash will be a huge embarrassment for London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who have been keen a keen supporter both of hard-line Muslim groups and of the London Olympic Games.

Massoud Shadjareh, chairman of the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission, said: “They would never have dared to organize this at Christmas.”

During Yom Kippur last month, several Jewish soccer players were forced to play matches for their European clubs during the fast, but didn’t complain.


Syria has arrested and continues to hold students who are trying to express views that are not in accordance with those of the regime in Damascus, according to the Arab Organization for Human Rights. Additionally, the AOHR’s staff in Damascus has been arrested and generally finds its work all but impossible to carry out, it told western journalists. Occasional reports from the major human rights organizations point to Damascus’ perceived violations of international laws on subjects including freedom of speech and other basic rights. Most of those human rights organizations spend far more time criticizing Israel.


The craze for blogging in Iran has reached an unlikely set of adherents the country’s conservative Islamic clerics. Following the example of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, ayatollahs, seminary students and theologians are receiving training in setting up their own weblogs.

Courses run by the newly-established Office of Religious Weblog Expansion have begun in the holy city of Qom, the traditional home of Iran’s religious establishment. Students of the Koran will receive instruction on practical matters such as blog content and technical support. Some 300 clerics, religious students and writers have been signed up.

The arrival of the religious ruling class on Iran’s blogosphere is ironic in view of the harsh crackdown launched by the authorities against bloggers who have used it to voice political dissent. Scores of bloggers have been jailed in recent years while many sites have been blocked using U.S.-made filtering technology.

The blogging trend began among the political reformist movement in Iran in 2001 as a response to the closures of dozens of liberal newspapers and magazines on the orders of religious hardliners. Ahmadinejad jumped on the bandwagon last month when he launched a blog attached to his presidential website.


Dozens of protesters pelted the Danish embassy in Teheran last week with stones and petrol bombs after Danish television broadcast new footage deemed insulting to the Muslim Prophet Mohammad, witnesses said.

Denmark’s state TV aired footage of a number of members of the youth wing of the anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party (DPP) drawing cartoons in August mocking the Prophet. Reuters reported that protesters hurled stones and petrol bombs into the embassy compound. The crowd chanted, “Down with Zionists” and “God praise the party of God”.


Unknown gunmen killed at least 38 people in southern Sudan yesterday. The dead included women, children and male civilians. Southern Sudan has been relatively peaceful for more than a year and these killings are unrelated to the ongoing massacres by Arab Sudanese of non-Arabs in the western province, Darfur, where some 200,000 people have been killed and more than two million made homeless.

Recently, the BBC has finally begun to mention that the killings and ethnic cleansing are being carried out by Arabs. For years, they have strenuously avoided saying this, as I have pointed out in private meetings with senior BBC producers and in published articles such as this. (See the section titled: Is something happening in Sudan?)


The (London) Daily Telegraph reports that a fresh row has broken out after another Conservative MP made inflammatory comments about Israel. In a parliamentary debate last week, Andrew Turner, MP for the Isle of Wight said of Israel’s campaign against Hizbullah two months ago: “Those were the tactics of the Nazis.”

Other Conservatives have been dismayed at recent remarks critical of Israel and America by the party’s new leader David Cameron, and by the shadow foreign secretary, William Hague.

As noted in my article Media missiles, during the recent Israel-Hizbullah war, Conservative MP Sir Peter Tapsell told the House of Commons that Israel was committing war crimes “gravely reminiscent of the Nazi atrocity on the Jewish quarter of Warsaw.” This article can be read in the dispatch The media war against Israel (Aug. 3, 2006).


Israel has recalled its ambassador to Australia, Naftali Tamir, after Ha’aretz quoted him as saying that Israel and Australia are “like sisters in Asia,” because “we don’t have yellow skin and slanted eyes.”

The Israeli Foreign Ministry was checking to see if Tamir’s comments were accurately reported. If they were, Tamir would be dismissed, said a spokesperson. He added that there was no room for racism among Israeli officials.

Tamir, a veteran diplomat who has served in Australia since 2005, was quoted in Ha’aretz as saying, “Israel and Australia are like sisters in Asia. We are in Asia without the characteristics of Asians. We don’t have yellow skin and slanted eyes. Asia is basically the yellow race. Australia and Israel are not we are basically the white race. We are on the western side of Asia and they are on the southeastern side.”

Tamir is also Israel’s non-resident ambassador to New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji.


Some 1,200 claims for compensation have been submitted against the French state rail network (SNCF) for its role in helping transport Jews to Nazi camps during World War II, the railway said last Friday. The 1,200 French, Israeli, American, Belgian and Canadian families are basing their demands on a successful court challenge by French MP Alain Lipietz. In June, a French court ordered the government and SNCF to pay about $77,600 in damages for their role in transporting four of Lipietz’s relatives to a Nazi concentration camp. SNCF loaded Jews like cattle into packed carriages and then tried to charge them third class ticket fares as it transported them to their deaths.

The rail network contests the claims, saying it was under orders from the French authorities at the time and exercised no autonomy under the occupation government.


Jewish leaders in a Russian region are protesting against the use of Adolf Hitler’s name by a new pub. The pub, set to open soon in the city of Ekaterinburg, is named “Hitler Kaput”. In a letter to the local mayor, leaders of the Jewish community said that any use of Hitler’s name to attract public attention is unacceptable. Authorities haven’t yet responded to the Jewish community. The letter also referred to a similar development in India where a restaurant initially named after Hitler changed its name after protests from the Jewish community.


Nazi hunter and Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal is to have a street named in his honor in the Austrian capital Vienna. The Vienna city council’s culture committee has approved a proposal by Leopoldstadt district politicians to rename a lane in the area from Ichmanngasse to Simon-Wiesenthal-Gasse.

The Jewish Community’s wish to have the street named after Wiesenthal, who died last year, was backed by all political parties except the right-wing Freedom Party.

Vienna was once a vibrant hub for Jews in Central Europe. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were 200,000 Jews living there. Today about 7,000 Jews live in the Austrian capital. Many Jews say that anti-Semitism is still commonplace in Austria.

-- Tom Gross

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.