Newsdesk May 5, 2006

Published May 05, 2006, issue of May 05, 2006.

GOP Chairman Booed

The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman, was booed at an American Jewish Committee event because of his comments on Iraq.

Mehlman, who is Jewish, was greeted with hisses and boos when he said that Iraq posed less of a challenge now than it had under Saddam Hussein. The GOP leader was otherwise politely received when he spoke Tuesday at the AJCommittee’s 100th anniversary celebration in Washington, and he got warm applause when he said that the Bush administration would not tolerate an Iranian nuclear bomb and that it always would stand by Israel.

The room burst into applause, however, when AJCommittee board member Edith Everett asked Mehlman to “take a message” to President Bush to stop linking Israel and Iran.

“It does not help Israel and it does not help American Jews to appear to be stimulators of any action against Iran,” Everett said. She added that “it’s easy to understand why Iran is not worried about us” because Iraq is consuming so many American. resources.

It was then that Mehlman made his remarks about Iraq.

Olmert Names Cabinet

Israel’s new coalition government under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was to be sworn in this Thursday.

The swearing-in session at the Knesset was set Monday, after Olmert’s Kadima party clinched enough partners for a coalition. Kadima will be joined by the Labor Party, Shas and the Gil Pensioners Party, giving the prime minister-elect a parliamentary majority. The Cabinet is expected to have 25 ministers. Meanwhile, Labor leader Amir Peretz faced down a rebellion from senior members of his faction over planned ministerial appointments.

Peretz was given the power Sunday by a narrow 667-633 margin as the Labor Central Committee voted to appoint the Labor lawmakers of his choice to the seven ministerial portfolios, which the party is to receive in the next government.

Peretz, who agreed last week to join Olmert’s coalition government, called a meeting of the Labor committee earlier Sunday to ratify the deal and his list of proposed ministers. But he was challenged by senior Labor lawmakers Danny Yatom, Matan Vilnai and Ami Ayalon, who submitted a motion for ministers to be selected through a central committee vote.

The Labor “rebels,” none of whom is on the current ministerial roster and all of whom are veterans of the Israeli military top brass, were galvanized by Peretz’s decision to take over the Defense Ministry in the next government. They argue that Peretz lacks the security credentials and that he undermined Labor’s influence during the coalition bargaining.

One Israeli poll found that 76% of Israelis felt it was a mistake to make Peretz defense minister.

Sex Scandal at Air Base

Israel’s air force was rocked by allegations of serial statutory rape at one of its bases. Police lifted a gag order Sunday on a year-long investigation into allegations that as many as 30 airmen at a base in southern Israel had sex with a local girl when she was 13 and 14. According to media reports, the suspects told police investigators that the girl, whose father serves on the base, claimed she was 16 — the age of consent in Israel. The teen told investigators that the sex was consensual. Air force chief Eliezer Shkedy, who recently fired a senior officer for running an illicit stockbroking operation for soldiers, ordered a crackdown in the latest scandal.

Charity Heads Nominated

United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization of local Jewish charitable federations in North America, nominated businessman and communal leader Joseph Kanfer to serve as chairman of the board. Kanfer is CEO of the Ohio-based GOJO Industries and chairman of UJC’s Jewish Renaissance and Renewal Pillar, vice chairman of the UJC Board of Trustees and chairman of the UJC 2005 General Assembly. He also is past national chair of the Jewish Education Service of North America and past president of the Akron Jewish Community Federation. UJC’s nominating committee also chose UJC treasurer Kathy Manning, a North Carolina attorney specializing in immigration law and chairwoman of the group’s executive committee.

Michael Gelman, chair of the UJC Consulting Committee, was nominated as UJC treasurer. The board of trustees of UJC will consider the nominations in November.

Polish Extremists Tapped

The conservative minority government of Poland’s Law and Justice party has agreed to enter a coalition with two extreme-right parties. The two parties that signed the agreement, the League of Polish Families and Self-Defense, have a history of antisemitic stances.

Democrat Tapped

The Israel on Campus Coalition hired a Democratic Jewish activist as its director. Starting next month, David Harris, who currently is deputy executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, will head the umbrella organization of some 30 campus Israel advocacy groups.

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