NEWS BRIEFS

Olmert for Jerusalem

Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert was re-elected during the early November municipal elections that also saw ultra-orthodox parties increase their influence in the capital. Olmert ran on a ticket calling for a strong, united and undivided Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. While he got 61,2 per cent of mayoral vote, his "United Jerusalem" list won just 6,2 per cent of the total municipal vote. Only around 40 per cent of total registered voters voted, but 90 per cent of haredi voters turned out, increasing the religious bloc (United Torah Judaism-Agudat Israel-Degel haTorah, Shas and the National Religious Party) from 13 to 15 seats. The Palestinian Authority called for a boycott of the "illegal" election in Jerusalem, and a mere trickle of Arab voters was reported in eastern parts of the capital. Elsewhere, Labour candidates won control of other large cities, including Tel Aviv, Be'er Sheva and Haifa. In Netanya, the Likud's Miriam Fireburg became the first woman mayor of a major Israeli city. Both Likud and Labour agreed beforehand that the outcome of the elections would not accurately reflect the current national political balance.

'Swiss grapple with anti-Semitism'

Anti-Semitism is spreading in Switzerland, according to an early November report in the New York Times. Although the Swiss had believed they were not generally anti-Semitic, a new study has uncovered latent prejudice. Swiss inhibitions against expressing anti-Jewish sentiment have reportedly been swept away by the national debate over compensating Holocaust victims for assets lost during World War II. The report found that prejudice against Jews existed throughout society, but was not organised and was seldom linked to right-wing extremism.

Bending backwards (and upside-down) to keep Islam happy

The company owning Wall's ice-cream has scrapped a new logo from its products in Gulf states after fears of a Muslim backlash resulting from the perception that the logo--if viewed upside-down and back-to-front--could read "Allah" in Arabic. The owners, Unilever, "had intended to launch the new branding in the Arab states in March or April," the Sunday Telegraph reported on October 25. "Instead, the company will have to go through the costly and embarrassing process of redesigning the badge and re-ordering the merchandise." The new logo, replacing one used since the 1980s, features a pair of red and yellow intertwining hearts. It already appears on Wall's vans, fridges, signs and ice-cream wrappers in Israel, where 50 per cent of the Strauss ice-cream company is owned by Unilever, and in some European countries. Unilever isn't the first company to make costly decisions to appease the Muslim world. The giant sportswear manufacturer, Nike, withdrew 40,000 pairs of basketball shoes from stores in 1997 because Muslims complained that its logo, meant to look like the word "Air" like flames, was also perceived to look like "Allah" in Arabic, when viewed from a certain angle. Nike also launched a programme of "sensitivity training on Islam" and made a donation to an Islamic school (Newsweek, July 7, 1997)

Rabbis against abortion

A group of Jewish rabbis--orthodox, conservative and reform--joined Christians at a pro-life gathering in Washington DC on November 12. The rabbis said the Jewish community should speak out more vocally against abortion, and agreed that Jewish law forbids abortion unless the mother's life is threatened. "But in every other situation, when there is no such mortal threat, abortion is prohibited," said Rabbi David Novak of the University of Toronto. Rabbi Yehuda Levin of Brooklyn, New York said the "Orthodox Jewish community is not doing enough in getting the message out. It's the world's greatest secret that we care about this."

'CIA protected Arafat'

Back in the 1970s, even as Washington officially shunned Yasser Arafat as a terrorist, the Central Intelligence Agency warned the PLO chief of plots to assassinate him, according to claims by Frank Anderson, a former CIA operations chief for the Middle East. He said that covert contacts between the PLO and CIA began in 1969, and that in 1974 the two parties reached a deal in terms of which the PLO would not stage terrorist attacks outside Israel. In return for this commitment to murder innocents only inside Israel, the US did not object to Arafat's appearance that year before the UN General Assembly, Anderson said. He confirmed the CIA had notified Arafat of plots on his life, "especially in the 1970s. [Dissident PLO terror chief] Abu Nidal was trying to get him. The Libyans sent someone after him. I am not aware of any Israeli plots." Anderson identified the chief PLO contact as Ali Hassan Salameh, head of Arafat's notorious Force 17, and linked to the 1976 murder of Israel's Olympic athletes in Munich. Salameh's main CIA contact was Robert Ames.

Anderson's claims appear to be in line with those made by specialists Neil Livingstone and David Halevy in their Inside the PLO: "There is evidence that Ames, in the aftermath of the 1973 Khartoum incident, in which two American diplomats were murdered by the PLO, reached an 'understanding' with Salameh whereby the United States provided the PLO with an annual payment for the 'protection' of the embassy in Lebanon and other US facilities in the Middle East" (New York: Quill/William Morrow, 1990). Salameh, known as the Red Prince, was hunted down and killed by the Israelis in Beirut in 1979, according to reports.


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