Shorts: mideast

Leaven or liberty of loaves?

jerusalem (jta) | Israel’s matzah law is the focus of a dispute between the prime minister and interior minister.

“Passover is the festival of liberation, and that includes one’s freedom to eat bread and pita as well as matzah,” Interior Minister Avraham Poraz of the secular Shinui party said at a Sunday, April 4, Cabinet meeting, explaining his decision not to enforce the 1986 ban on displaying leavened items in public eateries.

However, according to a report in the Ha’aretz daily, Ariel Sharon reacted by directing Poraz to enforce the law, which is implemented by Druze inspectors who conduct surprise inspections and fine violators.

Jailed whistleblower wants out of Israel

jerusalem (jta) | Nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu reportedly wants his Israeli citizenship revoked.

Israel’s Channel Two television reported Saturday, April 3, that Vanunu, who winds up his 18-year jail sentence for treason on April 21, told the Interior Ministry of his plans.

According to the report, Justice Ministry sources suspect the former technician at Israel’s Dimona nuclear plant intends to seek political asylum in a foreign embassy and thus circumvent Israeli restrictions on his movements.

Vanunu was jailed in 1986 after discussing Dimona with the Sunday Times newspaper in London.

The Justice Ministry wants to withhold his passport for a probationary period to ensure he does not try to spill more secrets about Israel’s nonconventional weaponry capabilities.

Divorce vs. jail time

jerusalem (jta) | Israeli rabbis ordered a woman jailed for refusing to divorce her husband. On Monday, April 5, Ha’aretz quoted the Rabbinic High Court as describing the unprecedented ruling as an effort to impose the same penalties on recalcitrant wives as on husbands.

“We did a great deal of the freeing of women from their agunot, ” Rabbinical Judge Shlomo Dichovsky said, using the Jewish legal term for wives denied divorces by their husbands.

“To the same degree we must remember that a husband has human rights.” The Rabbinic High Court was closed for Passover, and thus confirmation of the ruling was unavailable.

The Belgian-born wife has the right of appeal to the Supreme Court against the prison sentence. According to the newspaper, she refused to grant her husband the divorce pending resolution of her $10 million lawsuit against him.

Making a killing in Yassin candles

jerusalem (jta) | An Israeli is making a killing by manufacturing memorial candles for assassinated Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin. Don Avni, a candlemaker from Mitzpe Ramon, said Monday, April 5, that the Israeli air strike that killed the terrorist leader last month saved his business.

“Thanks to these candles, my factory managed to survive financially. The orders are massive,” Avni told the Ma’ariv newspaper, adding that the 3-foot-high candles bearing Yassin’s image were selling briskly in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“It is absurd that because of Yassin my factory will not close down, but what can you do when the Israeli market is dead?”

Report: Arafat paid anti-Zionist Jews

jerusalem (jta) | Yasser Arafat reportedly has given money to the fervently religious but anti-Zionist Neturei Karta Jewish group.

Documents the Israeli army captured in the Palestinian Authority president’s Ramallah headquarters during Operation Defensive Shield two years ago showed that Arafat paid the group’s leader, Rabbi Moshe Hirsch, $55,000 just two months before the military campaign, the Israeli daily Ma’ariv reported.

The Neturei Karta, who believe Jews should not have a state until the Messiah arrives, are common fixtures at pro-Palestinian demonstrations, and Hirsch has served as the Palestinian Authority’s minister of Jewish affairs.

Hirsch’s son called the report “evil slander” and denied any financial tie to Arafat, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported.

Card offers Shabbat observance perks

jerusalem (jta) | A new Israeli credit card will offer perks to consumers who keep the Sabbath.

To combat the growing wave of malls staying open on Saturday, the Sabbath Rest Association is set to unveil a credit card that will give discounts to shoppers who frequent stores that remain closed on the Sabbath, the Israeli daily Ma’ariv reported.

Cardholders will receive coupons for use at Sabbath-observing stores.

Sacrifice gets the goat of Israeli police

jerusalem (jta) | Religious Jews sacrificed a paschal goat outside Jerusalem’s Old City after being turned away from the Temple Mount. Dozens of members of the messianic Temple Mount Faithful attended the Monday, April 5, ceremony on the Mount of Olives, in which a goat was sacrificed in accordance with Jewish law and divided up to be eaten at the evening Passover seder.

The Temple Mount Faithful want to bring in the messianic era by building the Third Temple in Jerusalem.

Police routinely reject the group’s requests to hold religious rites on the Temple Mount, fearing Muslims would see it as a provocation.

In biblical times, Jewish practice called for a paschal lamb to be sacrificed at Passover, but goats were an alternative. However, animal sacrifice is no longer acceptable to most Jews.

Judge rules against PLO in U.S. trial

jerusalem (jta) | Palestinian leaders must pay more than $232 million for the killing of two West Bank Jewish settlers, a U.S. judge ruled. A federal magistrate in Rhode Island ruled this week that the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Palestinian Authority provided safe haven to a Hamas gunman in the 1996 drive-by shooting of Yaron Ungar, a U.S. citizen, and his Israeli wife, Efrat, the Associated Press reported.

Ungar’s family filed a $250 million lawsuit under the 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act. A federal judge ruled in January that Hamas must pay the family $116 million as well.