Shorts: U.S.

Pentagon presses Syria, Lebanon on Hezbollah

washington (jta) | The U.S. military is coordinating with Lebanon and Syria in an attempt to stop Hezbollah from launching rockets into Israel.

“We are only initiating our relationships with those two countries, and we expect that to increase,” Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, deputy commander of Centcom, the U.S. Central Command, said Nov. 18 in a Washington news conference. “But we obviously have great concern about the rockets and the efforts of Hezbollah in the area.”

U.S. and U.N. officials condemned recent rocket attacks on northern Israel believed to have been fired by the Lebanese Shi’ite militia.

Scalia says U.S. not religion-neutral

new york (ap) | Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia says a religion-neutral government doesn’t fit with an America that reflects belief in God in everything from its money to its military.

Scalia told an interfaith conference at a New York synagogue that courts should consider that heritage in making their rulings.

In Europe, Scalia noted, religion-neutral leaders almost never publicly use the word “God.” But he asked, “Did it turn out that, by reason of the separation of church and state, the Jews were safer in Europe than they were in the United States of America?” He added, “I don’t think so.”

Scalia said official examples of the presence of faith go back to America’s Founding Fathers — the word “God” on U.S. currency, chaplains in the military and the legislature, real estate tax-exemptions for houses of worship and the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Lobbyist wanted Indians to benefit Jewish school

washington (jta) | A Jewish lobbyist under investigation by Congress reportedly asked American Indian tribal elders to name a Jewish school as a life insurance beneficiary in payment for lobbying services.

The Senate Indian Affairs committee heard evidence Nov. 17, regarding allegations that Jack Abramoff charged the Tigua tribe excessive fees for lobbying to allow the tribe to open casinos in Texas, the Washington Post reported Nov. 18.

Abramoff allegedly had been paid previously by competing tribes in a successful effort to shut down the Tiguas’ casinos; he then offered his services to the Tiguas, who were unaware of his earlier work. When the Tiguas ran out of money in 2003, having paid Abramoff millions of dollars in lobbying fees, he offered to continue representing them if elders named the Eshkol school he founded in suburban Maryland in their life insurance policies. The elders refused.

Federations blast divestment

new york (jta) | The North American Jewish federation system is opposing efforts by the Presbyterian Church USA to divest from companies that do business with Israel.

In the wake of the church’s decision to begin a “phased selective divestment” process and the subsequent move by Episcopalians to consider divestment, the United Jewish Communities’ board of trustees voted unanimously last week to take opposing action.

The UJC resolution “recommends that federations, community relations councils and other Jewish organizations take actions at the national and local levels aimed at convincing the leadership of the Presbyterian Church to rescind its divestment decision, and demonstrating to other church groups both the seriousness with which the American Jewish community views divestment and that divestment from Israel is counterproductive in helping to build an enduring peace between Israel and her neighbors.”

Bush honors neoconservatives

washington (jta) | President Bush awarded Humanities Medals to two prominent Jewish neoconservatives, Gertrude Himmelfarb and Hilton Kramer. The two joined other Arts and Humanities medal winners at a White House ceremony on Wednesday, Nov. 17.

Himmelfarb is an essayist and historian. Kramer is editor and publisher of New Criterion, a neoconservative journal of cultural criticism.

Specter OK’d after all

washington (jta) | Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) — under fire for two weeks for suggesting that judicial appointees who oppose abortion would have a hard time being confirmed in the Senate — won the support of colleagues to serve as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Several conservative groups did not want Specter, the senior Jewish Republican senator, to serve as chair of the committee, which reviews judicial appointments.