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April 10, 2009

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, APRIL 10, 2009 PAGE 13. A i As Olmert exits, there are creeping doubts about his ouster By Leslie Susser terms for the sale of Bank of Olmert, was more forth- with the Bank Leumi allega- the state has enough evi- In 1999. as mayor of Jeru- Leumi to help a friend, coming, tions was then-accountant dence to convict, salem, Olmertwasinvestigat- JERUSALEM (JTA)--After finally leaving office last week. Ehud Olmert will have his hands full fighting the corruption charges against him. There is little sympathy in Israel for the outgoing prime minister, who is widely viewed as a corrupt politician who failed to achieve the lofty goals he set for himself when he took office. But there are some nag- ging doubts about the system that brought down Olnert: An elected prime minister has been forced out of office even though he has yet to be found guilty of any crime. Three major investiga- tions against Olmert for allegedly tampering with and receiving substantial discountsjn the rental and purchase of two Jerusalem apartments in return for favors--have been closed for lack of evidence. It's possible that Olmert was forced out of office by muckraking .political op- ponents without his having committed any crime. Ol- inert confidants say. In a mid-February inter- view in Israel's daily Yediot Achronot, Olmert's wife, Aliza. implied as much. saying politically motivated people had been out to get her husband. She declined to go into detail. Amnon Dankner. a for- mer chief editor of the daily Ma'ariv and a close friend "From the moment he placed himself as the pre- dominant leader of the peacemaking left," Dankner wrote of Olmert in Ma'ariv last August, "right-wing elements started digging through his affairs going back down the years to pro- duce suspicious material for the authorities." On the face of it, Dankner's allegations seem to have merit. Yoav Yitzhak, the inves- tigative journalist who pro- duced the allegations on the two Jerusalem apartments, was instrumental in bring- ing down another peace- leaning politician, the late President Ezer Weizman. The official who came up Coalition plans interfaith campus in Omaha By Ben Harris NEW YORK (JTA)--An in- terfaith coalition in Nebraska is testing the viability of what is believed to be an American first: a joint campus to house a Jewish, Muslim and Christian house of worship. The plan. under develop- ment by a local nonprofit _ called the Tri-Faith Initiative. would join a mosque, a Reform synagogue and an Episcopal church in a suburban Omaha location. No site has yet been found, but organizers are hopeful the project will come to fruition. "The first week we thought about it we put the odds at a million to one," Bob Freeman. the chairman of the Tri-Faith board, told JTA. "I think now there is areal possibility and I don't quote odds anymore per se but I think there's a real possibility it could work." The plan, which has been under discussion for years, was to have received a sig- nificant boost March 27 when national leaders of all three faiths were to join together for an event being billed as "Dinner in Abraham's Tent." The evening was to begin with worship services for each of the three faiths fol- lowed by a panel discussion, "Conversations on Peace." featuring Rabbi Peter Knobel, past president of the Central Conference of American Rab- bis; Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America: and the Rev. Katha- rine Jefferts Schori. presid- ing bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States. Mark Pelavin of the Reform movement's Religious Action Center was to moderate. Hundreds were expected to attend the event, which was held at a convention center in Omaha and broadcast live on the Internet. "The question thatyou need to ask me is why not to do it." said RabbiAryehAzriel, whose synagogue, Temple Israel. is the Jewish partner in the Tri-Faith Initiative. "It's something that needs to be done." Azriel told JTA. "and I really believe that there is no time to wait to establish apeaceful relationship among the three groups." Founded four years ago, the Tri-Faith Initiative is a join project of Temple Israel. the Ipiscopal Diocese of Nebraska and the American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture. an organization founded in 2006 principally to be the Muslim counterpart in the initiative. Though the viability of the camp_us is still being deter- mined, some members of the Omaha Jewish community have not waited to voice their concerns about the plan. In a recent letter printed in the Omaha Jewish Press. Phil Schrager, a Temple Israel member and major donor to local Jewish charities, ex- pressed "strong reservations about the efficacy" of the plan because a Palestinian-borh member of the Tri-Faith board had signed on to a cultural and academic boycott of Israel. "I think that Rabbi Azriel ought to be applauded for the time and effort that he's put- ting forth to try to promote peace among the religions and promote dialogue and conversations," Schrager t01d JTA. "but I separate that from the Tri-Faith campus, which I have concerns about." Both Freeman and Azriel said they were pained to learn about the boycott, but never- theless they vowed to continue the dialogue. A walk to remember Alpha Epsilon Pi will hold its first AEPi's A Walk to Remember at 5:30 p.m. April 21 at the University of Central Florida, as part of the fraternity's Yom HaShoah ob- servance. It will be a silent walk through the UCF campus. Organizers are expecting more than 100 students to participate in what they plan as an annual event. At the conclusion Of the walk, there will be a two-hour name-reading ceremony at UCF's Reflection Pond to remember those who perished in the Holocaust. Donations will be accepted with the money going toward AEPi's national philanthropyflthe United State Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. For more information, contact Adam Brock, 954-612-6032; Scott Streigold, 561-386-1385; or Kevin Wolkenfeld, 305-527-1951. general Yaron Zelekha, who is close to Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu, a prime Olmert rival. And Moshe Talansky, the American Jewish busi- nessman who allegedly gave Olmert envelopes stuffed with cash. and who then testified against the prime minister, has spoken of his disappointment in the once hawkish Olmert's transfor- mation to a political dove. The trouble with the picture of Olmert as victim. however, is that some of the allegations against him seem to carry merit: Police have recommended that Olmert be indicted in three separate cases. If Olmert's political enemies found serious instances of fraud and breach of trust, what difference does it make if their initial muckraking motivation was political, Olmert's critics ask. In two of the cases. Israel's attorney generalhas decided to indict Olmert pending a hearing: the Talansky affair, in which Olmert is alleged to have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash over a 13-year period, and the Rishon Tours affair. in which Olmert allegedly double-billed for trips and lectures he made abroad. using the excess money to finance travel by family members. The fact that the attorney general has decided to indict is no small matter. It means that after going through all the material he is convinced Indictment by the at- torney general is gener- ally considered the signal in Israel for ministers under investigation to resign. In Olmert's case. the pressure on him to step down was so great that he tendered his formal resignation last September, even before the attorney general announced his intention to indict. Two other Olmert investi- gations are ongoing: award- ing contracts to his former law partner Uri Messer and appointing cronies when Olmert was minister of trade and industry from 2003 to 2006. The sheer weight of police probes and corruption scan- dals with Olmert's name on them may be about to catch up with a man who long has operated under a cloud of investigations. In 1981, Olmert received a $50.000 loan via Yehoshua Halperin, CEO of the Bank of North America. which he was never pressed to pay back. Although the circumstances suggested a possible attempt to bribe a sitting Knesset member. Olmert was not prosecuted. In 1997, Olmert was ac- quitted in court of respon- sibility for an election scam in Which Likud officials provided fictitious receipts to donors in 1988. when Olmert was the party's co- treasurer. Olmert success- fully pleaded ignorance, but three other Likud officials were convicted. ed for arranging a reception for the mayor of Athens as an alleged favor to an Israeli developer seeking to build an ambitious tourist facility on a Greek island. The developer had just promised to support Olmert in an upcoming race for Likud leader. The case was dropped. The problem facing the Is- raeli legal system is finding a balance between fighting cor- ruption in high places and not allowing political opponents of incumbent politicians to abuse the system to subvert the democratic process. Hebrew University's Sh- lomo Avineri, one of Israel's top political scientists, says the main problem is the slow pace of investigation. In the case of public figures, drawn-out investigations are not only unfair to the politicians, but they hamper government functioning and can pervert democracy, Avineri says. Investigations should be expedited, he says. Some have suggested adopting the French system, under which the country's leader cannot be investigated while in office. Another pos- sibility would be something akin to the U.S. system of impeachment: no indictment unless and until a politician is impeached by a two-thirds majority in the Knesset. As for Olmert. he's still hoping his name will be cleared and once it is. he will fifid a way back to the top sooner than most people think. that includes a performing arts center, Italian bistro, health and banking services, movie he wait is over. Oakmonte Village at Lake Mary a brand new, st'ate-of-the-art senior living commumty is coming to Central Florida. 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