Legal battle after New Zealand bans shechita

Lawyers have begun legal proceedings against the Minister of Agriculture last week, seeking a restoration of the right to practice shechita in New Zealand, which has been banned since May.

Justice Denis Clifford, of the High Court in Wellington, confirmed on Monday than an interim agreement had been reached between the Jewish community and the government, until the matter comes to trial next year.

The case will pit the 7,000- strong Jewish community against the Conservative government of John Key, whose mother, Ruth Lazar, was a Jewish refugee who escaped Austria before the Holocaust.

A representative for the plaintiffs, Auckland Hebrew Congregation Trust Board and Wellington Jewish Community Centre, confirmed: “We are pleased to report than an agreement for interim relief from the terms of the present code has been reached in court.” The decision to issue legal proceedings follows the New Zealand government’s decision not to exempt shechita under the country’s commercial slaughter code which came into effect two months ago.

Shechita has been under continual threat in New Zealand since 2001. The country’s new animal welfare code states that all animals set for commercial consumption must be stunned prior to slaughter so that they are treated “humanely and in accordance with good practice and scientific knowledge”.

This contravenes the laws of Jewish slaughter, which prohibits stunning.
Should the challenge fail, New Zealand’s Jewish community will be forced to import kosher meat from abroad.

Shechita UK, which defends the practice in Britain, has been in “regular
contact” with the community in New Zealand. Henry Grunwald, chairman of
Shechita UK, said: “The development of an interim agreement is an important first step in the campaign to secure the long-term safety of shechita in New Zealand.

“Shechita UK has been in regular contact with colleagues there and we will continue to offer any support that we can in advance of the trial next year.” Shechita has also been banned in Sweden and Iceland.

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So Who Is A Jew?

The ruling, which stipulated that pupils can no longer be selected based simply on Jewish parentage, has put different interpretations of Judaism – specifically the issue of conversion – firmly back into the spotlight.

While all conversions to Judaism culminate in immersion at the mikvah or a brit milah, the end status that Orthodox and non-Orthodox converts acquire seems to be worlds apart.

The decision to convert was a straightforward one for 40-year-old Miryam Ben Chaim. Now living in Hendon with her husband of 15 months, she was raised by Nigerian-born parents as a Christian. But dissatisfied with its biblical interpretations Miryam sought answers – and she found them in Judaism.
After attending numerous Jewish learning groups, the data analyst decided to undergo an Orthodox conversion five years ago.

She said: “I woke up and decided I had to stop sitting on the fence. For me there was only one way to do it. If somebody truly believes in the Torah and accepts it as the word of God, then Orthodoxy should be the only choice.”
After living with an Orthodox family for nine months, coupled with intensive learning and the strict observance of halacha, Mrs Ben Chaim finally completed the conversion process in January 2008.

She is clear about her stance on the Supreme Court ruling: “I cannot accept people who’ve converted in a non-Orthodox way as Jewish. And if parents choose not to live an Orthodox lifestyle, why would they choose to send their child to an Orthodox school?

“I wouldn’t want my children to be at school with non-Orthodox converts for the very same reason that I wouldn’t send them to a non-Jewish school. Parents must be careful about what they expose their children to.”

David Frei, registrar at the London Beth Din, considers non-Orthodox movements to be a “deviation from authentic Judaism”, making the concept of non-Orthodox conversions worthless. He said: “Even if the convert is undertaking all the tenets and mitzvot of Orthodox Judaism, if the non-Orthodox rabbis presiding over the conversion are themselves not adherents of Orthodox Judaism, any conversion that is carried out by them is invalid.

“There is no such thing as more Jewish, any more than there is any such thing as more British. You are either Jewish or you are not.”

Frei adds: “In the eyes of Orthodoxy, there is no more point in a non-Orthodox convert keeping mitzvot than there is for the pope to do so. Neither is considered to be Jewish.”

But for non-Orthodox converts who spend, on average, one year studying Torah, attending classes, observing Judaism in the home and fully immersing themselves in a religious way of life, such claims are nothing but divisive.

Now an active member of Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue, 20-year-old Abi Purkis’s conversion last year was fuelled by a devout belief in God and a firm affinity towards Jewish teachings.

She found the JFS case worrying: “I see myself as Jewish and want other people to see me as such. The JFS case showed me that Judaism is not an inclusive religion, which is such a shame as religion is constantly struggling with its public image.

“I’m not sure I want my children to attend an Orthodox school. I’d be concerned they’d be taught something different from what I believe in. However, I would like it to be an option for me so I could make a decision about what’s best nearer the time.”

Ms Purkis’s rabbi, Aaron Goldstein, who has himself overseen numerous conversions involving a “sincere personal journey into Judaism”, agrees that inclusivity is the key.

He said: “I welcome people into Judaism who I know to be ethical. I will, of course, treat such individuals with kindness, respect and dignity.”

Non-Orthodox movements adhere to the broader principle that a person is Jewish if one parent is a member of the faith and the child has been brought up within it. Rabbi Goldstein would like all sections of Judaism to show more respect to one other as a result of the JFS case. He said: “Unless we start giving as much validity to humility as we seem to do arrogance, we may find that the way we treat each other is no longer consistent with the understanding of the society we live in.”

But for Rabbi Tony Hammond of Bromley Reform Synagogue, internal differences should be seen as a sign of Judaism’s “vitality”. He said: “For us to all be marching under the same banner wouldn’t feel Jewish.”

He suspects that little will change as a result of December’s Supreme Court verdict: “It hasn’t made a jot of difference to how Jews view themselves and their faith. Putting the state in the position of having to, in effect, decide who is a Jew on behalf of the Jewish community is a disgrace. It is a great shame it was ever allowed to happen.”

Rabbi Tony Bayfield, head of the Movement for Reform Judaism, writes at length about the JFS verdict on the editorial page of the current issue of the movement’s magazine, Manna.

He said: “The London Beth Din’s growing stringency over who is a Jew does not sit well with the needs of a community, which recognises both the ethical and pragmatic importance of inclusivity. The absolutist position flies in the face of a reality where it is clear that it is not just the Orthodox who care about Jews and Judaism.”

- For the purpose of this article, Progressive, Reform, Conservative Masorti and Liberal Judaism have been termed “non-Orthodox”.

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German Amazon To Be Sued Over Holocaust Denial Books

The move was welcomed by Jewish community leaders in Britain, citing a “moral responsibility” against inciting hatred or advocating revisionism of the Shoah, which is an offence punishable by five years in prison in Germany.

According to research conducted by the AJC, about 50 books, including Wilhelm Staglich’s The Auschwitz Myth – Legend or Reality, are currently for sale on Amazon.de, the German branch of the site. Staglich’s book, along with works cited by the AJC written by Germar Rudolf, Udo Walendy, Jurgen Graf and Carlo Mattogno, are also available for sale on the UK‘s branch of the retailer, Amazon.com.uk.

Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, told the Jewish News: “Amazon does have a moral responsibility not to propagate the sorts of views that encourage racism and intolerance.”

He added: “Holocaust denial has been criminalised in countries like Germany and
Austria, where the historical resonance of the Nazi era is particularly profound. It is not a criminal offence in the UK and the consensus is that the law does not need to be changed, provided there remains sufficient protection under the laws relating to incitement. That does lead to instances where, under the right of free speech, some thoroughly unpleasant literature is available from otherwise respectable sources.”

AJC-Berlin director Deidre Berger said in a statement: “It is unacceptable that books are for sale on Amazon.de, that normally are only available under the counter in far-right extremist shops. We cannot let the spread of internet sales erode laws that ban Holocaust denial and incitement to hatred of minorities in Germany.”

A spokeswoman for Amazon.de responded that while books may be on offer which contain “questionable content with regards to the Nazis”, the company believes “that the correct answer to controversial literature is not to ban it, but to engage in discussion over the controversy”.

The spokeswoman also denied allegations by the AJC that the site was selling books marked strictly for readers over the age of 18.

Member of the German Parliament Sebastian Edathy, head of the Bundestag’s interior affairs committee, criticised Amazon’s response, saying in a statement it was “shocking that an international book dealership is not prepared to remove books that stir up anti-Semitism and undermine the democratic consensus”.

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Bonding With Israel At A Time Of Global Recession

“Under the current circumstances,” he added, “we can see from the banks’ balance sheets that the banks are in good shape. But there is no doubt that they are facing difficult times because if growth slows, there will be loans that people won’t be able to repay, which will affect the banks’ income. We’re not in danger at this stage. We’ll continue to preserve the banks’ soundness.”

Israel has traditionally offered large incentives to attract both foreign and local capital and it is not a surprise that we see foreign investors and funds looking for investments in new economy firms in Israel, for exampe US banking and asset management group State Street Corp. is launching its services in Israel.

Despite the world slipping into an ever-deeper recession and the US financial system effectively shut down, this US banking group, considered the world’s largest asset manager, managing $1.7 trillion in institutional assets in 27 countries worldwide, has decided now, of all times, to enter the Israeli market.

Moreover, Austria‘s largest corporate venture capital fund, www.danubequity.com, the Danube Equity Investment Management is seeking investment opportunities in Israeli companies.

Several large acquisitions recently took place including St Jude Medical – named Fortune Magazine’s ‘Most Admired Medical and Precision Equipment Company’ for the second year in a row – acquired the Israeli medical-technology company MediGuide, which develops technology to guide catheters in minimally invasive medical procedures, for $283 million in cash and Johnson & Johnson’s procurement of Omrix for $438 million.

Investors also continue to express confidence in the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.
This is not to say that the global financial crisis will not have an impact on the Israeli economy. The impact of the global financial crisis on the Israeli market is moderate. The Israeli banks are financially robust – strict fiscal policy and a process of privatisation by the Israeli governments since 2003 placed the economy in a relatively good position vis-a-vis the crisis. And if the latest announcement that large quantities of natural gas found off the coast of Haifa, more than 3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, are reliable, this revelation could potentially assist Israel in establishing a more independent economy.

Forecasts for growth in the global economy have been reduced significantly in the last month. The effects of the global crisis on real economic activity in Israel are evident, with the data indicating a marked decline in demand and economic activity. World trade, which inevitably has a major influence on domestic activity, has declined, and is expected to fall further and we’ll face a slowdown in Israel – but much less than across the EU and the USA.

Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that he would “dramatically” cut personal and corporate taxes if elected. “Over the course of four years, we will lower the top personal tax rate from today’s 46 percent to a level of 35 percent, and we will lower the top corporate tax rate from 27 percent to only 18 percent,” he claimed. It is quite possible that the other candidates, Livni or Barak, if elected will adopt a similar economic policy.

As a result of the economic slowdown that will influence the decrease of the government’s income from tax and increasing budget needs due to some national investment plans and the operation in Gaza, the government of Israel will have to raise resources in the financial markets.

One of the channels is the State of Israel bonds. At a time when “there is no money” some people still have some cash that they want to invest in Israel.
Israel’s flawless record for debt payment has been recognised by financial agencies and institutes for good reason. Since the first bonds were issued, almost 60 years ago, every payment of principal and interest has been met on time and in full.

The double benefit received is what makes Israel bonds a unique investment: a useful means of achieving the goal of portfolio stability in what has become a highly unstable environment and a financial resource for the state of Israel to build a vibrant and dynamic nation that has emerged as a world leader in technological innovation.

- Moti Besser is Managing Director of State of Israel Bonds UK.

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Nazi suspect found in Austria

The Sun newspaper recorded 95-year-od Milivoj Asner, a Nazi-era police chief accused of deporting hundreds of Jews to concentration camps, sipping wine and walking around the Austrian town of Klagenfurt amongst football fans.

Asner is wanted by international policing group Interpol and is number four on the SWC’s Top 10 list of living alleged Nazi war criminals.

His alleged crimes include standing by as a police chief in Croatia while a synagogue was looted and burned in Pozega in 1941 and 1942, and singing documents ordering the deportation of Serbs and Jews to the Jasenovac concentration camp where around 700,000 people died.

But Austrian authorities have so far refused to send him back to his native Croatia to face charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, claiming he is too old and frail.

However, SWC Director Dr Efraim Zuroff said the images showing Asner, who goes by the name Dr Georg Aschner, walking around and drinking show he is fit enough to face trial.

Zuroff told the Jewish News: “I have written a letter to the Austrian justice minister urging her to take immediate action to send him to Croatia for trial. The revelations that he is in good health shows that he can stand trial.

“We have tried every legal means that are possible, this new information gives us an opportunity and encourages Austria to do what should have been done ages go.”

Asner escaped to Austria following the launch of Operation Last Chance in 2004, a campaign by the SWC to locate the remaining alleged Nazi war criminals.

He told The Sun that he was not guilty of war crimes and said he did not have a high enough rank to make any decisions, “I didn’t have anything to do with it. I was just an officer within the justice department, a lawyer. I never did anything against anybody.”.

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Roots: ‘I didn’t recognise myself’

Serina Weiss was shocked to see herself under her maiden name of Zigman amongst the photos featured last month in our promotion of the World Jewish Relief Roots programme.

With the help of the Jewish News, WJR has been trying to trace hundreds of refugees who were brought over to Britain as the threat of Nazism spread across Europe.

The charity recently found hundreds of photos they’d taken of the new arrivals and are now attempting to find out what became of them.

Serina, who spotted her photo two weeks ago, told the Jewish News: “If my name wasn’t on the picture I would not have recognised myself. I don’t even remember having that photo taken. It was nearly 70 years ago. I was around 14 or 15.”

The 83-year-old told us that she left her parents behind and came to London on the Kindertransport in 1939 fleeing the Nazis in Austria. She said: “I liked Vienna, we had a wonderful life before Hitler came to power.
“When the Nazis came we were not allowed to go to the park or go shopping. My parents were sent to Treblinka.”

They did not survive the camps. And though she’d escaped the horrors that befell her mother and father, the young Serina found little joy in London when she was placed with a family in Hampstead Garden Suburb.

“The mother didn’t treat us very nice,” she said. “I didn’t like her. She didn’t think I was domestic enough, I was only 15 but she wanted me to make tea and clean the boiler.”

Serina later moved to Lordship Park in Stoke Newington with her sister Hilda who had escaped Vienna a few months earlier. One evening at a local social club she met her future husband Eric Weiss. He had fled Vienna through Switzerland, was interned in France and later joined the British Army. They married in 1953, but he later died in 1998.

Serina, who sold leather goods in Golders Green for around 30 years, said she has never been able to return to where she was brought up in Vienna, “The first time I went I couldn’t even go out onto the street, I said I did not ever want to go back.”

For now she is happy playing cards with her friends and, of course, reading the Jewish News.

Could you or someone you know be one of the youngsters in the WJR photos? To see the pictures, click here

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Oxford Union is no place for Irving

I spoke out against the invitation at the Union’s Middle East debate on 23 October and soon after I placed a petition on the Prime Minister’s website. The strength of opposition to the invitation can be seen from the popularity of the petition: In less than three weeks nearly 1400 signed, making it one of the fastest growing petitions ever. We now await Gordon Brown’s response.

We have been accused of opposing free speech, but that is a gross misrepresentation. David Irving is a Holocaust Denier and Nick Griffin is the Chairman of the BNP which incites race hatred. Let’s take each in turn. In German and Austria, Holocaust denial is a crime. Because the UK’s history is very different, it would be a mistake to make denial illegal. But that does not mean that Irving should have a platform at the Union – which remains one of the most sought after debating societies in the world. Since his release from an Austrian prison nearly a year ago, Irving’s public appearances have been rare and confined to fringe events – a bizarre World War Two re-enactment in a field in Kent, for example. That is where a deliberately fraudulent academic – whose purpose was to rehabilitate the Nazis – belongs – not at Oxford, a place of careful scholarship. For Irving to speak at the Union is insulting to the ethos of the University and to those who strive to uphold it. It also sets a dreadful precedent. There is no doubt that Irving would try to use his appearance to give respectability to his obscene cause and to gain other platforms. Similarly for the BNP, for which Griffin has strived to gain respectability, particularly in the fertile climate of growing opposition to Islamism. Racists have no place in an institution which prizes scholarship, regardless of the race of the scholar.

Furthermore, the pair are entirely the wrong speakers at a forum on ‘Free Speech’. What the ‘free speech’ advocates at the Union miss is that the right cannot exist without legal and other constraints. Presumably one purpose of such a forum is to explore how those constraints might change over time and space. But using the analogy of a football game, the appropriate people to do this are the referees, not the players. That points to speakers such as Trevor Phillips or Chris Smith (the Chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority) – not Irving or Griffin.

Indeed the law surrounds the right of free speech with constraints. The Human Rights Act (1988) says that it is conditional on security and public safety and the rights of others. Wherever racist speakers have a platform, the incidence of racist attacks tends to rise. The trophy of the invitation to these two has been held aloft on Far Right websites which have also published the names of the Presidents of the JSoc. How can it now be responsible – or indeed legal – for the University Proctors not to step in?

Finally if these invitations stand, the Union would be wide open to the charge of inconsistency. Just a month ago, Norman Finkelstein – who has tried to devalue the Holocaust – was disinvited from the Middle East debate. So much for ‘free speech’ at the Oxford Union.

Jonathan Hoffman is the founder of Dayenu

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Why we need a Jewish TV channel

The Russian Jewish community is one of the largest and most influential in Europe. In fact, today we can certainly state that the world’s largest Jewish community is the one whose ancestors lived in the Russian empire. If it were not for the Russian Jews, there would have been no Israel, no American Jewry, and no Jewish communities that currently exist in Germany, Austria or New Zealand.

So, my urge to grasp the makeup, the structure of the contemporary Jewish world was critical for my work as the RJC president. But the more I pored over the operation of numerous structures that knit together thousands of Jews around the world, the more aware I became that the system lacked one crucial element – the one to help the Jewish people that is more than 5000-year old to keep pace with globalisation and mass communications.

That element is the information space uniting the Jews. Today I am more convinced than I was three years ago that the Jews need their own satellite TV channel.

Our time is marked by the formation of ethnic worlds that know no boundaries, the worlds of communities. This day you can often hear people speak about the Russian world, the Arab world, the world of the European Africa, the Chinese and Turkish worlds. These worlds have been created by globalisation.

And their first task would be information communication. The Jewish world is much older than the other modern age products, but given the changing environment, even Jewish communities need a binding information space, a common information code. This is one of the conditions for the effective operation of the community, since in absence of a broad information outlook and exchange, it would be difficult for the Jewish communities to preserve their national and cultural memories and be inventive in cultivating their spiritual heritage in such a world. This calls for consolidation and enrichment of the “Jewish world” noosphere.

There is no doubt that global TV broadcasting is the most effective information channel existing. This is obvious and beyond any dispute. Just one example: At the end of the last century the pan-Arabism gurus sought to unite the Arabs, take a common stand and a common vision of global events, an opportunity to feel a single, united community. Today the Arabic satellite channels are more successful in implementing what those gurus failed to achieve.

A satellite TV channel is not only a “great consolidator”. It will help to address current global challenges more effectively. Throughout history, Jewish communities have successfully integrated in the countries they inhabited, preserving their national identity and protecting their interests. In the new 21st century they are unlikely to “nest” in their national flats – global challenges can be addressed only through global integration.

In the past anti-Semitism was more aggressive in some countries (like Germany) and virtually unobservable in others (like the UK). Today anti-Semitic sentiments can be felt everywhere. Take the recent violation of the Jewish cemeteries in Manchester (UK). Anti-Semitism is not a rare thing in Russia, France or the United States.

What about the ultra-nationalist group that formed in the European Parliament in late 2006, which has mustered 23 million votes in Europe? It consists of 20 deputies from seven EU countries, all famous people, including Benito Mussolini’s granddaughter and French ultra-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. The London “Independent” gave a comprehensive description of their platform and political views calling them “the Gypsy-haters, the Holocaust-deniers, the xenophobes and the anti-Semites.”

Then there is the religious dimension. Unfortunately, the relationship between the world’s two greatest religions, Christianity and Islam, takes the form of a civilisation clash between the West and Muslims. Fundamental Islam is more aggressive, more intolerant. Textbooks used in one of the Muslim schools in London called Jewish children apes and Christians pigs.

When two years ago I shared my idea of the Global Jewish TV with my close associates, their reaction was mixed. Some were even sceptical. Yet today there are just a few steps left before this idea becomes reality.

The channel will launch its English round-the-clock broadcasting in 2008 in one of the EU countries. Creative, financial and organisational arrangements are being currently finalised with investors. The idea of such a channel made its mark. A leading Russian paper – the Kommersant – once asked me if I could summarise my vision of the global Jewish TV in one, concise phrase – I said: “today it is an absolute must.”

Vladimir Sloutsker works for Global Jewish TV

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Papal Act Of Repentance

Standing with Vienna’s Chief Rabbi Paul Chaim Eisenberg in Judenplatz – Jews’ Square – Benedict XVI fell silent before a memorial to the tens of thousands of Austrian Jews who perished in the Shoah.

The Church has over many years been accused of action in the face of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis.

The Pope – who only hours before embarking on his three-day visit to Austria had held talks with new Israeli President Shimon Peres – also said he hoped the visit to the memorial would demonstrate the friendship with “our Jewish brothers”.

The Pope’s visit was welcomed by Holocaust Educational Trust Chairman Lord Janner, who told the Jewish News: “I am very pleased that the Pope went to pay his respects to the Jews murdered in Austria. We should not forgot that Hitler was Austrian, and that the Holocaust in that country was vicious, evil and the worst of all crimes.”

The German-born pope, who as a teenager was a member of Hitler Youth, paid a visit to Auschwitz last year at the end of a trip to the birthplace of his predecessor John Paul II.

Clearly feeling the weight of the death camp’s history, the pope told those gathered at the time: “Pope John Paul II came here as a son of the Polish people. I come here today as a son of the German people. It is a duty to the truth, and the just due of all who suffered here.”

Meanwhile, during a meeting at the Pope’s summer retreat last Thursday, he and Peres expressed hope that Israeli and Palestinians would exploit the “current international context that seems particularly favourable,” according to a Vatican statement. It has also been reported that the pontiff agreed to exert pressure on Hezbollah over the two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by the group.

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Questions remain after Waldheim’s death

The disgraced former Austrian president died of heart failure in Vienna at the age of 88, prompting a negative obituary from Jewish campaigners tat the Simon Weisenthal Centre.

Waldheim led the UN between 1972 and 1981, and was President of Austria between 1986 and 1992.

He was isolated by most of the international community during the 1980s after wartime documents revealed he had been an interpreter and intelligence officer for the Nazi Party in the Balkans and had deported most of the Jewish population of Salonika, Greece to concentration camps in 1943.

A spokesperson for the Centre said: “He left the world with a huge question mark about his past and his activities during World War Two.

“He was in a position to know about Holocaust crimes and didn’t do anything to stop them.”

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