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Iran won't free Jews or meet with Israelis

NEW YORK (JTA) — Iran maintained Tuesday that it would not buckle to pressure from Western countries for the release of 13 Iranian Jews arrested earlier this year as alleged Israeli spies.

"The pressure and propaganda by the West will have no effect on the court proceedings against the suspects," a Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted as saying by the state-run IRNA news agency. "This is an internal affair and the arrests of these people have nothing to do with their religion. They will be guaranteed justice as suspects in other cases."

Iran also denied a report in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz that President Mohammad Khatami wants to open secret talks with Israel.

The report, which ran Sunday, is part of a "baseless disinformation campaign by the Zionist propaganda machine," a Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted as saying Monday by the Iranian state news agency IRNA.

Cousteau's letter shows anti-Semitism

LONDON (JTA) — The biographer of Jacques Cousteau has uncovered evidence that the late underwater explorer harbored anti-Semitic attitudes.

A letter written 58 years ago by Cousteau during the wartime rule of the pro-Nazi Vichy government was published last week in the French daily Le Monde after being found by the biographer.

Cousteau, then a 31-year-old naval officer, wrote to a friend on May 1, 1941, to say that he and his family could find nowhere suitable to live in Marseilles.

"There will be no decent apartment available until we have kicked out all these ignoble yids who are burdening us," wrote Cousteau, who died two years ago.

Biographer Bernard Violet noted that Cousteau often made racist remarks in private, while writer Erik Orsenna, who delivered the Academie Francaise eulogy, told Le Monde that while the letter was "clearly ignoble," it reflected its times.

Jews being blamed for Belgrade bombing

ATHENS (JTA) — Jews were responsible for the NATO shelling of Yugoslavia, according to a statement circulated among theology students in the northern Greek city of Salonika.

The accusation — which is periodically surfacing in the Balkans, making reference to the Jewish background of leading figures in the Clinton administration — has prompted the concern of Yugoslav Jews, who fear they may become the target of a backlash.

At the University of Salonika, the accusation was attributed to the school's Socialist Student Movement — which is a part of the governing Socialist Party's nationwide youth organization.

It contained some slurs that have been made against Jews for centuries, including the charge that "Jewish Zionists are controlling world developments through the Masonic lodges and associations they have created around the world."

It also stated that U.S. Jews — whom it charged with creating the Monica Lewinsky scandal — used that scandal to blackmail President Clinton into taking action against Yugoslavia.

Moscow TV show seen as anti-Semitic

MOSCOW (JTA) — A Moscow television station aired a show June 17 that included anti-Semitic slurs. "Russian House," which focuses on social and political issues, included comments that Jews are part of a conspiracy to dominate the world.

A Russian writer who appeared on the show said Jews "are waiting for the coming of the Antichrist — whom they call HaShem — and they are making preparations for his coming." Known for its ultranationalist leanings, the TV-Center Channel that broadcast the show is controlled by the Moscow city government.

Two Jews in S. Africa assist in inauguration

JOHANNESBURG (JPS) — Two Jews played a prominent part in last week's inauguration of South African President Thabo Mbeki.

The president of the Constitutional Court, Judge Arthur Chaskalson, administered the oath of office to Mbeki, while Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris was one of five religious leaders to offer a prayer at the June 16 inauguration.

In his benediction, Harris asked for forgiveness for the failings of all South Africans.

"Instead of coming closer together as brothers and sisters of one land, we carry old hatreds in our hearts," he said, adding that "our country at this time has too much violence and too much crime, too little love and laughter."

Reform, Orthodox at odds in Ukraine

MOSCOW (JTA) — Add Ukraine to the list of countries wracked by tensions among Judaism's different streams. A letter recently issued by the office of Ukraine's top Orthodox rabbi is angering Reform Jewish leaders in the former Soviet republic — and in the United States.

The letter signed by Rabbi Yaakov Bleich, chief rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine, states that the Reform movement, which was virtually non-existent in most of Ukraine until restrictions on religious freedom were lifted in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, has no legal right to reclaim synagogues that originally belonged to Orthodox Jews.

The letter also sharply criticizes Reform Judaism for what the document calls an abandonment of Jewish law and the creation of "an undemanding religion."

Reform believe the letter could discredit the Reform movement in the eyes of the Ukrainian authorities. They insist that the letter was actually a reaction to requests from several Reform congregations for the return of synagogues in Crimea and that it reflects Bleich's fear of the growing popularity of the Reform movement in Ukraine.