Thursday 29 May 2008
Thursday, May 29th 2008
BY MATTHEW KALMAN in Jerusalem and BILL HUTCHINSON in New York
DAILY NEWS WRITERS
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faced mounting pressure Wednesday
to resign as friends and foes said the growing bribery scandal has
gnawed at his ability to lead.
A day after a Long Island businessman charged Olmert was a
high-styling, bribe-taking scoundrel, the embattled politician
rejected calls to quit.
Political observers fear Olmert's downfall could doom peace talks with
the Palestinians that President Bush has championed and fuel the
reemergence of opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu's hawkish Likud
Defense Minister Ehud Barak led calls for Olmert to "disconnect
himself from the day-to-day running of the government."
"Olmert cannot deal with the challenges Israel faces, like Hamas,
Hezbollah, Syria, Iran and the kidnapped soldiers, and run his
personal affairs at the same time," said Barak, leader of the Labor
Party and a chief partner of Olmert's coalition government.
He offered Olmert the choice of "suspension, vacation, resignation or
leave of absence."
Barak, the country's former prime minister, threatened to force a
special election unless Olmert quit or his Kadima Party replaced him.
"If Kadima doesn't act and this parliament doesn't see another
government that is to our liking, we will act to set an agreed-upon
date for early elections," Barak said.
Recent polls indicate Likud would romp to power in a snap election.
Olmert's political adviser Tal Silberstein said, "The prime minister
was not considering taking a vacation or suspending himself before
Barak spoke and does not intend to do so after Barak's announcement."
Barak's ultimatum was delivered a day after shocking court testimony
from Morris Talansky, a 75-year-old Long Island businessman who said
he gave Olmert up to $150,000 in cash-stuffed envelopes. Prosecutors
have not yet decided whether to press corruption charges against
A haggard Talansky arrived at JFK Airport last night flanked by his
lawyer Neil Sher and an entourage of seven.
He repeatedly refused to comment on his testimony.
Wednesday 28 May 2008
Inquiry hears how Israeli premier had 'envelopes of cash' which he spent on hotels, flights and luxury goods
By Matthew KalmanA businessman has told a corruption inquiry how he handed cash-stuffed envelopes to Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert.
Morris Talansky, a Jewish-American, said he suspected some of the money was spent on fine hotels, first-class flights and luxury goods for the politician.
The revelations are likely to further hurt Mr Olmert, whose affairs have been investigated four times by police since he took office in 2006.
Ehud Olmert (left) has had his affairs investigated four time by police while Morris Talansky (right) has said he handed him 'envelopes of cash'
Mr Talansky, 75, described handing over £75,000 at meetings in New York and Jerusalem over a 15-year period.
He said there was no record of how the money was spent.
'I only know that he loved expensive cigars. I know he loved pens, watches. I found t strange,' he said.
In at least one case, Mr Talansky said he used his personal credit card to pay a £2,500 hotel bill for Mr Olmert's three-day stay at the Ritz Carlton in Washington in 2004.
The politician called him to say his own credit card was 'maxed out', he said.
Police believe Mr Olmert took up to £250,000 from Mr Talansky in illegal campaign contributions or bribes before becoming premier.
Jewish-American businessman Morris Talansky, second right, arrives at the court in Jerusalem
Mr Olmert's lawyer Eli Zohar labelled the testimony 'twisted' and said the truth would be revealed in his crossexamination set for July 17.
The prime minister, 62, has not been indicted for corruption but has promised to step down if he is.
His downfall would dash U.S-backed efforts by Israel and the Palestinians to work out a peace agreement by the end of the year.
Wednesday, May 28th 2008
By MATTHEW KALMAN in Jerusalem
and CORKY SIEMASZKO in New York
DAILY NEWS WRITERS
Breaking down in tears, a Long Island businessman described Tuesday
how he gave the future Israeli prime minister envelopes stuff with
cash - and never got a nickel back.
"I figured we don't need notes from him," Morris Talansky, 75, said.
"His word was gold. He was a friend, a very close friend."
Talansky, who testified before a panel of judges and a prosecutor who
is weighing possible corruption charges against Israeli Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert, said giving him $150,000 in cash "disturbed" him but
insisted the money was a "loan."
Olmert's promises to pay them back turned out to be "famous last
words," Talansky said.
"I asked him why I couldn't write a check and he said it's because of
the way the money is channelled," he said.
So while Olmert waited in his Manhattan hotel room, "I went to a bank
near the hotel and made a withdrawal," Talansky said. "I gave him the
money in an envelope because it was a sizeable amount."
Sometimes, said Talansky, he passed money to Olmert via his private
secretary, Shula Zaken.
Talansky said he loaned Olmert $25,000 to finance a family vacation in
Italy in 2004. He said he suspected his Israeli friend was using his
money to live large.
"He loved expensive cigars," he said. "I know he loved pens, watches.
I found it strange."
Talansky insisted he "never had any personal benefits from this
relationship whatsoever." But he conceded that Olmert offered to help
him with his mini-bar business.
"It never even occurred to me that I would have any personal stake,"
he said. "I truly loved him."
When the money trail from Talansky was exposed this month, Olmert
insisted he wasn't a crook and said the money was used to finance
successful 1993 and 1998 campaigns to be elected Jerusalem mayor and
his failed 2003 run to lead the Likud Party.
Olmert, who has been in office for two years, said he would step down
if he is indicted.
President Bush has called him an "honest man."
Tuesday 27 May 2008
NEWS BLOG - May 27, 2008
Jerusalem — Junior lecturers in Israel called off a series of work stoppages today after they reached agreement on salaries and working conditions with university heads.
The breakthrough removed the threat of another crippling strike at Israeli colleges, where studies have been disrupted twice in the past year because of labor actions by students and by senior professors.
According to the new agreement, nontenured lecturers and teaching assistants, who are mostly drawn from the ranks of master’s and doctoral students, will enjoy a 17.5-percent pay rise, contracts extended beyond their current eight-month duration, and, for the first time, a package of social benefits that includes pension rights.
The deal was reached after the personal intervention of Israel’s education minister, Yuli Tamir.
Menachem Magidor, president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and newly appointed head of the Committee of University Presidents, said he was satisfied with the outcome. “I am pleased that the principles of the agreement have been agreed so that studies can continue as normal,” he said. “We have reached a good arrangement which provides a framework for the employment of the junior lecturers.” —Matthew KalmanPosted on Tuesday May 27, 2008
Monday 26 May 2008
NEWS BLOG - May 26, 2008
Jerusalem — An American professor who received a prestigious Israeli mathematics prize on Sunday has donated the $100,000 in prize money to a Palestinian university and a group that works for freedom of movement for Palestinian students.
David Mumford, a mathematics professor at Brown University, was awarded the Wolf Prize by President Shimon Peres in a ceremony at Israel’s Knesset parliament for his groundbreaking theoretical work in algebraic geometry. In his acceptance speech, Mr. Mumford announced that he was donating half the prize to Birzeit University, in the West Bank, and half to Gisha, an Israeli human-rights group that campaigns on behalf of Palestinian students.
Mr. Mumford said that mathematics had been able to flourish around the world because of the frequent interchange between scholars in different countries, and that international exchanges with other scholars had been important in his own career.
“Mathematics in Israel flourishes today on this high international plane. Its lifeblood is the free exchange of ideas with scholars visiting, teaching, learning from each other, traveling everywhere in the world. But this is not so in occupied Palestine, where education struggles to continue and travel is greatly limited,” he said. “Therefore I have decided to donate my part of the Wolf Prize in Mathematics to the cause of helping the university community in occupied Palestine survive and flourish.” —Matthew KalmanPosted on Monday May 26, 2008 | Permalink |
NEWS BLOG - May 26, 2008
Jerusalem — Israeli universities are being hit by their third strike in a year today as junior, nontenured lecturers begin a labor action to protest their working conditions.
Last year students staged a five-week strike to protest planned cuts in government support for education and increases in tuition. Last fall tenured professors stopped work for 90 days to protest budget cuts and erosion of their salaries. That work action caused the fall semester to start three months late and affected the summer semester.
Besides a pay increase, the junior lecturers are demanding that they be granted benefits. The instructors now are fired every eight months to prevent them from attaining employee rights under Israeli law. Talks with university heads are continuing as a rolling series of “warning strikes” begins.
Today the lecturers stopped work at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa, and a different university will be the target each day. Strike leaders said there would be an all-out stoppage if the dispute was not settled by week’s end. —Matthew Kalman
Posted on Monday May 26, 2008 | Permalink |
Wednesday 21 May 2008
Wednesday, May 21st 2008
BY MATTHEW KALMAN
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS
JERUSALEM - There'll be no sex in two Israeli cities - at least not on the billboards.
Ad execs in Jerusalem and Petach Tikvah, near Tel Aviv, have censored their billboard campaigns for the "Sex and the City" movie, telling the film's distributor to remove the word "sex" from the ads for fear of offending religious Jews.
Maximedia, the Israeli billboard company handling the "Sex and the City" campaign, ordered Forum Film distribution to remove the offending word and replace it with three dots.
Instead of "Sex and the City," it will simply be "... and the City."
"This is simply ridiculous. The word 'sex' is part of the movie's title," complained Arye Barak of Forum Films. "The news was a great shock. We have not asked to advertise nudity."
"This is the name of the movie," he said. "We feel that it is ridiculous to prohibit us from advertising the brand without naming it."
Meir Shamir, assistant director of sales and marketing at Maximedia, said the company has long had an understanding with local authorities who "have requested not to put up the word 'sex' because it bothers them."
"If we don't leave out the word [sex], it's probable that the past will repeat itself and our signs will be mutilated. It certainly bothers a certain population," Shamir said.
Provocative campaigns for fashion, movies and lingerie have in the past triggered outraged responses from the ultra-orthodox, who dress modestly.
Sometimes the protests have turned violent, with billboards and other property being damaged or burned down.
A "Spider-Man" movie poster was redesigned for Jerusalem when advertising executives decided that Tobey Maguire was too close to Kirsten Dunst.
Monday 19 May 2008
19 May 2008
By MATTHEW KALMAN
Britain's largest faculty union was described as "racist" and
"McCarthyite" on Wednesday after its annual congress approved a
resolution asking members to question Israeli academics on their
political views before working with them.
The new policy for the 120,000-member University and College Union was
adopted by a show of hands of the 300 delegates in attendance after an
hourlong debate in Manchester, England. The question of how to carry
out the policy was referred to the organization's leadership.
The debate was the third to address the issue in recent years. In 2005
one of the unions that merged to create the UCU the following year
adopted a widely criticized policy calling for an academic boycott of
Israeli universities. Last year a UCU debate on the issue plunged the
newborn union back into controversy.
Wednesday's motion, titled "Palestine and the Occupation," stopped
short of calling for an immediate boycott. It noted "the humanitarian
catastrophe imposed on Gaza" by Israel and the European Union and the
"apparent complicity of most of the Israeli academy."
The motion then proposed that "colleagues be asked to consider the
moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli
institutions and to discuss the occupation with individuals and
institutions concerned, including Israeli colleagues with whom they
are collaborating." The motion also called for "a wide discussion by
colleagues of the appropriateness of continued educational links with
Israeli academic institutions."
Delegates rejected amendments, proposed by members from University
College London, that aimed to make the motion more "fair and
"At the moment, the motion can be read as rather one-sided, and the
assumption about complicity, apparent or otherwise, would appear to be
unhelpful," said Dave Guppy of University College.
Tom Hickey of the national executive committee and Brighton
University, which proposed the motion, told delegates: "Being a
student or teacher in Palestine is not easy. ... We are talking about
not just impediment but serial humiliation, and that's the order of
the day in Palestine."
Representatives of the union's national executive committee, who were
cosponsors of the resolution, attempted to deflect criticism in a
statement issued immediately after the vote.
"We have passed a motion to provide solidarity with the Palestinians,
not to boycott Israel or any other country's academic institutions,"
said Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU. "I made clear to
delegates that the union will defend their right to debate this and
other issues. Implementation of the motion will now fall to the
national executive committee."
Racist and Discriminatory
But a group representing the mainstream of Jewish opinion in Britain
slammed the new policy as racist and discriminatory. It pointed out
that none of the other international policy resolutions adopted by the
union on Wednesday called on members to engage in similar discussions
with academic colleagues in any other country, no matter how serious
the human-rights violations there.
"The resolution demands of its members, including Jewish and Israeli
academics, that they explain their politics as a precondition to
normal academic contact," said Ronnie Fraser, director of the Academic
Friends of Israel.
He described this "blatant McCarthyite demand" as "discriminatory,
anti-Semitic, and, we believe, in clear violation of the UK Race
"It beggars belief," he said.
"By passing the motion," Mr. Fraser continued, "the UCU has become
institutionally racist by creating a discriminatory atmosphere on
campus towards Jewish academics, many of whom are members of the UCU.
Are the UCU intending to make it a condition of membership that all
academics conform to this policy? If not, how do they intend to
implement this resolution?"
Dan Ashley, a UCU spokesman, refused to answer when asked to explain
why the national executive committee had proposed a policy that
singled out Israeli academics for different treatment than the
scholars of any other country. At the same session, the congress
adopted resolutions expressing support for academics and noting
human-rights abuses in Cuba, Darfur, Egypt, Myanmar, and Zimbabwe. No
one suggested that the potential academic collaborators in those
countries be subjected to the same preconditions as Israeli academics.
British university heads also expressed their displeasure at the
union's insistence on continuing to discuss the possibility of
boycotting Israeli academics.
"We believe a boycott of this kind, advocating the severing of
academic links with a particular nationality or country, is at odds
with the fundamental principle of academic freedom," said a statement
issued by Universities UK, which represents vice chancellors of
British universities. "Speculation about a potential boycott serves no
useful purpose and damages the international reputation of UK higher
Monday 12 May 2008
Monday, May 12th 2008
BY Matthew Kalman
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS
Israeli motorists got a sneak preview of a world without gasoline Sunday when an entrepreneur showed off test models of a new electric car.
Whiz kid Shai Agassi predicted that the new vehicle - with just a plug where the gas tank should be - would take the tiny nation by storm when it hits the market in 2010 or so.
"It's one of the most fun cars I've ever driven in my life," Agassi said of his own plug-and-go car.
"Every time I go by a gas station," he added, " I feel like I cheated."
The new car, produced by Renault, is powered by a 125-pound battery and can run for about 125 miles before recharging.
That's okay for pint-sized Israel, which is just 260 miles long. Agassi's company plans to install a network of charging stations nationwide and swap dud batteries for fresh ones.
Tax breaks could mean the cars will cost less than a regular gas-gulping vehicle. And drivers will take pleasure in knowing they are helping to rid the world of pollution and dependence on oil.
In fact, most of the extra electricity to power the cars in Israel could come from solar panels in the Negev Desert.
For long drives, motorists will be able to replace the battery at about 150 swap stations expected to be built around the country.
The battery swap is expected to take the same amount of time as filling a tank of gas.
For shorter journeys, drivers will be able to recharge the batteries at home or at the office.
Drivers will pay a monthly subscription for the batteries, with different plans like those of cell phone users.