Mirvis now last rabbi standing in chief search

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, the former Chief Rabbi of Ireland who has served the Kinloss community for 16 years, was considered to be among the leading UK contenders from the start of the selection process more than a year ago.

Other big names linked to the job over the months have gradually been ruled out or indeed ruled themselves out.

Writing on his blog this week, Mill Hill United’s Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet claimed: “Rumour has it that all candidates bar one have been eliminated. The one remaining candidate is someone who has the respect of the collective rabbinate, has previous experience as a Chief Rabbi and is spoken of highly by the wider US membership. The only problem is that the selection committee is deeply split.” While “there is strong consensus in his favour”, Rabbi Schochet added that, “there is at least one vociferous voice on the committee who has his own idea about how he sees the future of the US and what sort of man he would like to see at its spiritual helm”. The Jewish News understands the committee is still actively looking at other potential candidates.
Shimon Cohen, spokesman for the US, said this week had seen “a constructive meeting that reflected the importance of the decision. The committee will proceed to work through further stages of the process before making a recommendation to the Consulting Group. They propose to meet again shortly.”

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Netanyahu cites Auschwitz in warning over Iran

Addressing the AIPAC conference after a three-hour meeting – an hour longer than planned – with US President Barack Obama, Netanyahu expressed appreciation for Washington’s efforts to impose tougher sanctions.

But he added: “As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation.” He noted that Israel could not “accept a world in which the Ayatollahs have atomic bombs… We’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer. We are determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. We leave all options on the table. And containment is definitely not an option. [We] will not allow those seeking our destruction to possess the means to achieve that goal”.

While forcefully asserting Israel‘s right to defend itself, and spelling out the dangers Iran poses to the world, Netanyahu stopped well short of providing any indication of how or when Israel might act. “Every day, I open the papers and read about these red lines and these time lines,” Netanyahu said. “I read about what Israel has decided to do or what Israel might do. Well, I’m not going to talk to you about what Israel will do or will not do. I never talk about that.”

He criticised those who said that preventing Iran from getting a bomb was more dangerous than letting it have one. “They say that a military confrontation with Iran would undermine the efforts already underway, that it would be ineffective, and that it would provoke even more vindictive action by Iran,” he said, adding that he had heard, and even read those arguments before.

Netanyahu then spoke of the Holocaust, displaying copies of an exchange of letters between the World Jewish Congress and the US War Department in 1944 that implored Roosevelt to bomb Auschwitz. Netanyahu read: “‘Such an operation could be executed only by diverting considerable air support essential to the success of our forces elsewhere, and in any case would be of such doubtful efficacy that it would not warrant the use of our resources.’ And here’s the most remarkable sentence of all. And I quote: ‘Such an effort might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans.’

“Think about that. ‘Even more vindictive action’, than the Holocaust?” Netanyahu declared. “My friends, this is not 1944. The American government today is different. The Jewish people are also different. Today we have a state of our own. The purpose of the Jewish state is to secure the Jewish future. That is why Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.” Netanyahu also reiterated what he said earlier in public statements before meeting Obama: “We must always remain the masters of our fate.”

In an interview with Atlantic magazine last week, Obama emphasised the US position on Israel and Iran. The US, he stressed, “has Israel’s back”, adding: “Every commitment I have made to the state of Israel and its security, I have kept. Why is it that, despite me never failing to support Israel on every single problem that they’ve had over the last three years, that there are still questions about that?”

And he made it clear: “I think that the Israeli government recognises that, as President of the United States, I don’t bluff. I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognise that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”

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Meeting? What meeting?

Abbas will meet David Cameron, Nick Clegg and William Hague, just days after the second round of talks between Israeli and Palestinian representatives aimed at easing the path to direct negotiations between leaders of the two sides.

Earlier there had been confusion over an apparent meeting with British Jews. PA ambassador Manuel Hassassian told the Jewish News: “We wanted to have a meeting during the last visit but it didn’t work out for technical reasons. Now he’s meeting the Portland Trust and they’re inviting some members of the Board of Deputies. I don’t know exactly who is coming and what will be the nature of the meeting.” The Trust works to promote peace through economic development.

Stressing the significance of the gathering, he said that such a meeting was unprecedented in the UK, “but the President met AIPAC during his last visit to the US. I’m pleased about this meeting, we should know where each other stands and how we can expedite the peace process”.

While businessman and Bicom chair Poju Zabludowicz has previously hosted secret talks at his north London home between Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres, the type of parley Hassassian seemed to have in mind would indeed have been a first and raised eyebrows among some Israel supporters.

But the Board of Deputies flatly denied anyone from the organisation would be meeting Abbas. And Nicola Cobbold, CEO of the Portland Trust, said: “The Portland Trust is having a private meeting for the President. It’s standard for the Trust to meet with senior Palestinians.”

The event, though, is expected to be attended by prominent figures in the Trust – including co-founders Sir Ronald Cohen and Sir Harry Solomon – who are also Jewish. It comes less than two weeks before the target date set by the Quartet for Israelis and Palestinians to present proposals on security and borders with a view to moving to direct talks.

British sources said as well as looking for Abbas’ assessment of where talks are, the visit will be an opportunity to strengthen moderates in light of the return to talks and to make clear the importance of continuing to engage with the current process.

It is important, they stressed, for the Palestinians to stick with the process rather than look at the alternatives.

Abbas’ visit to the UK comes hot on the heels of the third trip by Alistair Burt to Israel and the territories since becoming Middle East minister.
In a packed schedule he met Israeli politicians, NGOs backed by the UK and the parents of Israeli-British terror victim Daniel Viflic. He also addressed students at Bar Ilan University, urging them to consider studying in the UK and referring to an expected 25 percent increase in trade and services between the two countries last year.

The speech included plenty of tough talking on settlement construction, with the Burt saying: “The more settlements that would have to be moved if there was a peace deal, the more families that would have to be uprooted, the harder it becomes to agree that deal. And the harder it becomes even conduct negotiations with the other side in good faith, because building more and more houses across the Green Line does not show that Israel is absolutely committed to finding a just and lasting solution. It risks sending exactly the opposite signal.”

On Iran, he added: “A few weeks ago Britain imposed tough new financial restrictions against Iran. These new sanctions make it illegal for any financial institution in the UK to have any dealings with any institution in Iran, including the Central Bank of Iran. They are the toughest of their kind and we will build on them, getting others to follow suit. We are working with the EU on sanctions against Iranian oil.”

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who met Burt and is also in the UK next week, said: “The discussions held are another example of the strong relationship between our nations and the shared concerns we have over developments in the region, especially concerning the unacceptable steps taken by the Iranian authorities towards the development of nuclear weapons.”

Elsewhere, the Jewish Leadership Council, along with representatives of the Board, are set to meet Cameron on Monday.

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Kosher meat labelling a 21st century ‘Yellow Star’

The community breathed a collective sigh of relief last year when the Council of Ministers removed an amendment, backed by the European Parliament, that would have required relevant meat to be labelled as ‘slaughtered without stunning’.

It is feared that such a measure would lead to a massive hike in kosher prices as the vast majority of shechita meat goes to non-kosher consumers who may decide to opt for products without labels. The practise could then eventually become untenable.

Now the controversial proposal has been re-introduced by a Dutch MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy. It is set to be debated on 11 April, at the same time as a separate amendment proposed by Scottish Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson.

This new amendment would require that meat be labelled, ‘This product comes from an animal slaughtered by the shechita method’, with similar labelling for halal meat. Shimon Cohen of Shechita UK, which has played a key role in the campaign against last year’s amendment, branded the new proposal as “the 21st century equivalent of the yellow star, but on our food”.

In a letter to Stevenson, he argued that the amendment “essentially has the same effect but in a more direct manner” as last year’s failed proposal. Cohen wrote: “If you were labelling every other form of slaughter, religious and secular, including stunning methods and incidences of mis-stunning then we would accept that this was a fairer form of labelling. But as your amendment stands, it is discrimination of the most direct kind.”

Shechita UK insists it was partly the engagement of the community in a campaign against the original amendment which led to it being struck out and are now urging members to campaign against the two new amendments by writing to MEPs. Cohen said: “It is very disappointing the amendment has been brought back against the wishes of the Council and also that a new more sinister amendment has been brought forward.

“Once again we need the community to respond to make our feelings known that we will not be singled out in this way. The consequences of not responding to this will mean there will not be meat on our plates.”

However, while last year the community had months to make their voices heard, there are just two weeks until the latest amendments are debated by the Parliament’s environment, public health and food safety committee. If adopted at that stage, the proposal will move to the floor of the European Parliament for final approval as part of the wider regulation.

Stevenson told the Jewish News: “In Europe the default position is animals should be slaughtered and pre-stunned, therefore any deviation from that should be labelled so consumers know about it.”

He added: “I am deeply offended when anyone says I am being anti-Jewish. My concerns are entirely from an animal welfare perspective because the vast majority of kosher meat is sold on to the non kosher market and just as you label the meat (as kosher) so the main market deserves to know what it is buying.”

Draft letters and a list of MEPs will be available at www.shechitauk.org from this weekend

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Kosher meat victory

Representatives from the 27 EU member governments including Britain rescinded May’s European Parliament (EP) decision in which MEPs narrowly voted for amendment 205, calling for meat which is “slaughtered without stunning” to be labelled.

Shechita UK, which has lobbied European governments alongside counterparts in other countries to get the amendment removed from a general food labelling bill, welcomed the outcome of Tuesday’s Council of Ministers meeting.

Its chairman Henry Grunwald said: “I would like to thank all the communal organisations with whom we work, as well as the thousands of individual members of our community who wrote to their MEPs, for the way in which they have joined together in our campaign to protect shechita in an active and disciplined fashion.”

The bill, which is at draft stage, now goes to second reading at the EP next year where amendment 205 could still be reintroduced.
Conservative MEP for London Syed Kamall, who voted against the amendment when it was proposed in the EP seven months ago said: “This is a good result but the amendment could easily be re-tabled at the second reading, so the debate is not necessarily over.

“It is important now to engage with the European Commission over the drafting of new animal welfare legislation because if labelling is introduced in a discriminatory way then I can foresee circumstances where it becomes uneconomical for shechita to be practiced in the future.”

He added: “Shechita itself could come under threat if the British government decided not to exercise its derogation rights which means that the practice of kosher slaughter is protected under British law.

“The government will be consulting on whether to remove the current safeguards in due course and I will urge them to maintain the status quo.”
Shechita UK’s campaign director Shimon Cohen said: “Our campaign is far from over, but we are making satisfactory progress, given the assault on shechita that was launched earlier this year by some members of the European Parliament.”

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Religious Slaughter Safeguarded by EU

The new law, which was approved last month and formally voted through on Monday, recognises the validity of slaughter through religious methods and enforces that kosher meat may be sold freely throughout EU member states.

Shechita UK Chairman Henry Grunwald told the Jewish News the ruling “shows just what can be achieved with communal cooperation”, adding: “The new EU regulation will ensure that our community and communities across Europe will continue to practise shechita. This regulation protects the fundamental rights of Europe’s religious minorities.”

The news came as several media outlets reported on findings from the Farm Animal Welfare Council claiming kosher and halal slaughter practices – which require the animal not be pre-stunned before killing- cause the beasts “significant pain and distress”.

The report, published originally on 28 May, called on the British government to “launch a debate” with the Jewish and Muslim communities to end religious slaughter.

Shimon Cohen, spokesman for Shechita UK, insisited that the council’s report will not affect kosher practices, instead pointing to the EU’s encouraging ruling in protecting the rite: “The suggestion that the British government would ban shechita isn’t justified; it just would not happen.

“The EU’s ruling is a tremendous achievement for the Jewish community, and an enormous help for protecting kosher practices from those who might seek to obstruct it.”

Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, added that he was “delighted” with the EU’s ruling, saying: “This regulation protects the fundamental rights of Europe’s religious minorities. The alliance of the European Jewish Congress, the Conference of European Rabbis and Shechita EU have been working closely together to achieve these positive outcomes.”

Conference of European Rabbis Executive Director Aba Dunner also praised the move, commenting: “The regulation specifically makes provision for the killing of animals for food by religious communities to be exempted from the requirement for pre-stunning, and it contains no discriminatory labelling requirements for meat slaughtered using the shechita method nor for post-cut stunning to be enforced.

“Furthermore, no member state will be able to prevent meat slaughtered according to the Jewish religious method being traded in its territory.”

The issue of religious slaughter has been debated for years, following a 2003 report by the FAWC calling on the UK to repeal the right of the Jewish community to practice the religious rite, claiming that slaughter without pre-stunning was inhumane. The government eventually acknowledged the method of slaughter was humane following scientific support from the shechita body in March 2005.

Now, the EU’s ruling will act as a barrier from future attempts to ban the practice.

But Kantor cautioned that this might not mean the end of opposition against religious slaughter, saying: “We must remain vigilant to ensure that individual governments do not seek to impose new requirements on religious slaughter.”

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US Pushes Israel on Two State Solution

Biden’s speech at the same conference addressed by Netanyahu in Washington was interpreted by some as signalling a new tougher line towards Jerusalem from the new American administration. “Israel has to work toward a two-state solution,” Biden said. “You’re not going to like this, but do not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts and allow the Palestinians freedom of movement”.

The vice president also called on the Palestinian Authority to “combat terror and incitement against Israel“, stating the US would not abandon its commitment to the Jewish state.

One day earlier, Netanyahu addressed the conference by satellite link, but made no mention of a two-state solution during a six-minute speech. He did however reveal his proposal for what he described as a “fresh approach” to pursuing peace in the Middle East. The Israeli premier said he believes the best way forward is to go for a “triple track toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians: a political track, a security track and economic track”.
He added: “We are prepared to resume peace negotiations without any delay, without any preconditions. The sooner, the better”.

Netanyahu also stressed the need to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, saying it was “the first time in a century Arabs and Jews see a common danger”, and that this threat of Iranian nuclear power has created an opportunity for collaboration between Israel and Arab states.

Israeli President Shimon Peres also addressed the AIPAC event while in Washington for the first face-to-face bilateral talks between high-ranking figures from the two countries since the new governments took office in Washington and Jerusalem.

While in the US, Peres held talks with Barack Obama as well as with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, among others.

While meeting his American counterpart, Peres underlined the need to confront Iran.

Iran is a threat not just to Israel, but to the whole world. As Jews, after being subjected to the Holocaust, we cannot close our eyes in light of the grave danger emerging from Iran,” Peres said.

“If Europe had dealt seriously with Hitler at that time, the terrible Holocaust and the loss of millions of people could have been avoided. We can’t help but make the comparison.”

But rather than reject negotiations with the Islamic state, Peres said he supports Obama’s efforts to engage Iran diplomatically. “We should be loyal supporters. If it succeeds, it can be the best thing.”

Obama told Peres: “The challenges standing before us are also great opportunities that can lead in promising directions. America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unequivocal and it will remain that way throughout my administration. This commitment to Israel’s security is a top priority of the United States.”

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Israel Activists Accused Of Dictating US Policy

‘The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy’, published by the university’s John F Kennedy School of Government, has been widely condemned by Jewish groups and in newspaper editorials.

It was written by the University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, Academic Dean at the John F. Kennedy School – two of the nation’s top political scientists.

But Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz challenged the authors to a debate, claiming the paper read like the work of white supremacist David Duke.

The university has yet to comment publicly on the furore the paper has caused but the school’s logo has been removed from the website of the London Review of Books, where it first appeared.

A disclaimer has also been added, stating that the authors were “solely responsible for the views expressed in” the essay and that it “should not be interpreted or portrayed as reflecting the official position of either institution”.

The paper accuses lobby group, AIPAC, of being “a de facto agent for a foreign government” that has a “stranglehold” on US lawmakers and claims that the terror threat is due “in good part” to America’s alliance with Israel.

Zionist Organisation of America National President Morton Klein condemned the paper, describing it as “riddled with errors, unscholarly and dishonest”.

He added: “Mearsheimer and Walt may disavow the Protocols, but their paper essentially makes the same anti-Semitic point.”

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AIPAC Informer Jailed For 12 Years

But the punishment handed down to Defense department analyst Larry Franklin, who admitted briefing two American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbyists and an unnamed Israeli diplomat, was said to reflect the fact he had not intended to harm America’s interests.

Franklin, 59, pleaded guilty in October of last year to three counts of communicating classified information after agreeing a plea bargain with federal prosecutors.

He told the court he had handed information to AIPAC Director of Policy Steve Rosen and Iran analyst Keith Weissman, between 2002 and 2004. And he admitted he had been motivated by his dissatisfaction with aspects of America’s foreign policy and hoped the men would raise the issue with their political contacts.

Rosen and Weissman, who were dismissed by AIPAC last year, are set to go on trial in April. Franklin will not begin his sentence until that hearing is over and could yet see his punishment reduced.

Israel has already denied it was in any way complicit in Franklin’s actions. And in last year’s hearings Franklin himself said he believed Israel was already in possession of the information he had handed over.

But the severity of Franklin’s sentence and the prospect of similar punishment for the AIPAC lobbyists has led some Jewish leaders to raise the alarm.

Malcolm Hoenlein, Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations, said during a speech in Israel over the weekend: “The very fact that this kind of climate can exist in the capital of the United States is unacceptable.”

He said it was “disturbing” that “two patriotic American citizens working for Jewish organizations who did nothing to violate American security should have to stand trial and be subject to the public scrutiny and public humiliation”.

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AIPAC Slates Bush On Iran

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) accused the government of “changing course” in failing to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council last week, despite having the opportunity to do so.

The US had sufficient support during an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting to make the referral but gave the opportunity to Russian negotiators to hold a further round of talks with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration.

Ahmadinejad recently called for Israel to be “wiped off the map”.
AIPAC claimed the decision had allowed “Iran to win a critical round in its game of cat and mouse with the international community”.

In a statement AIPAC added: “We disagree with this Administration decision, and urge it to work with like-minded friends to seek immediate UN Security Council consideration of Iran‘s Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty violations.”
The United States has given support, for now, to international efforts to negotiate with the Iranians.

But AIPAC said it was “concerned that these efforts will facilitate Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, hampering the diplomatic effort to stop Iran before it is too late.”

It added: “This poses a severe danger to the United States and our allies, and puts America and our interests at risk.”

Meanwhile, Iran announced this week that it is to begin work on the construction of a second nuclear power station, in the country’s Khuzestan province.

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