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Cablegate: New Mayor of Dimona Eager to Assist Embassy's

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TEL AVIV 001389

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

Dept for CA/OCS/ACS/NESA; CA/OCS/CI; NEA/IPA;
DS/IP/NEA; DS/ICI/CR; DS/ICI/PF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ASEC CASC KFRD IS ISRAELI SOCIETY
SUBJECT: New Mayor of Dimona Eager to Assist Embassy's
Investigation of Hebrew Israelite Community

Ref: A)Tel Aviv 000935; B)03 Tel Aviv 6216; C)03 Tel
Aviv 6217

1. (SBU) Summary: ACS Chief, ARSO, Conspec and RSO
investigator met with newly-elected Mayor of Dimona,
Meir Cohen on March 2, 2004 to discuss the Embassy's
ongoing investigation into criminal activity by the
Hebrew Israelite Community (HIC). Also present at the
meeting was ex-Deputy Mayor, Albert Assaf, who also
served under Mayor Cohen's predecessor and is well
known to post. The new Mayor, especially, was shocked
by Emboffs' account of the results of the Embassy's
ongoing investigation of the HIC and appeared eager to
cooperate. End summary.

2. (SBU) The meeting began with few formalities, as the
Mayor, an independent elected with Labor support,
immediately guessed at the purpose of the meeting and
launched into an overview of the relationship between
the City of Dimona and the Hebrew Israelite Community
(HIC) from his perspective. He added that after being
elected, he had visited the Community and advised them
that he wanted to be open to their needs. He told us
that he was aware the HIC had supported his opponent in
the electoral campaign, but he had wanted to offer an
olive branch to the Community by approaching them. He
said that he knew that there had been problems in the
community, but that he had a duty to ensure that all
people living in Dimona had some guarantee of at least
the basic human necessities, including food and
shelter. As part of this effort, he mentioned that a
plot of land had been allocated to the HIC but the
project was on hold pending financial support. The
banks, he said, are refusing to grant mortgages to the
HIC despite the assurances of HIC leader Ben Ammi
Carter, who advised the Mayor several weeks ago that
USAID had approved a 4 million dollar grant to them.
(Note: Embassy is not aware of any such grant.) The
Mayor also said that he had spoken with the Prime
Minister urging him to give the HIC the same status as
enjoyed by the Ethiopians.

3. (SBU) After an introduction by the ACS Chief
regarding the U.S. government's concern over the safety
and welfare of American citizens within the HIC, ARSO
presented a summary of the major allegations of
wrongdoing that members and leaders of the HIC are
accused of committing, including reported child abuse,
fraud, drug trafficking and even murder (see reftels).
The mayor seemed genuinely shocked by what ARSO
presented, and reacted for a moment as if the chair
legs had been kicked out from under him. He said that
he had no idea of how serious the level of criminal
activity really was. He added that, as a result of the
presentation, he would put his program of outreach on
hold. He promised to assist in any way possible.

4. (SBU) Early in his presentation the Mayor had
mentioned that 37 HIC students were scheduled to be
enlisted into the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) in August
2004, and that all expressed enthusiasm for serving in
the army and wanted to serve in a front line fighting
unit. As a result of the revelations described above,
the Mayor suggested that the Embassy should consider
discussing its investigation with the IDF, pointing out
that the introduction of automatic weapons to the HIC
community might not be a positive development.

5. (SBU) ARSO also briefed the Mayor on the recent
visit to the Dimona garbage dump described in reftel A
and showed him the photographs of fresh mounds in
several areas of the site. The Mayor said he would look
into the possibility of obtaining a court order to
disinter the remains, which he said was logistically
possible (Note: RSO and Consular requested to be
present during the disinterment and subsequent autoposy
of remains. The Mayor agreed and advised that he would
notify post accordingly.) He expressed concern at the
thought of the HIC still burying their dead in that
dump. The Mayor noted Deputy Finance Minister
Shitrit's statement earlier this week that there were
two factions in Israel who were not reporting deaths
while continuing to claim national insurance benefits.
The Finance Ministry estimates that the National
Insurance is currently paying 15 million shekels ($3.3
million USD), in effect to deceased recipients.

6. (SBU) The Mayor informed us that the HIC owe the
municipality half a million shekels ($2.2 million USD)
for unpaid water and municipal taxes. He said that he
had spoken to HIC leader Carter, and the HIC are now
paying off their debt in bi-monthly payments of 25,000
Israeli shekels ($5,700 USD), which community leaders
always pay in cash. In addition, the Israeli Welfare
Ministry sends the City of Dimona 17,000 ($3,900 USD)
Israeli shekels each month to purchase vegetables for
the HIC. It is the Mayor's understanding that one of
the sources of this money is USAID. Finally, a Trust
Fund for the School still exists, run by an Israeli
Attorney (ex-Ministry of Education officer with whom
Post worked closely while dealing with the HIC in the
early 90's). Two HIC members also preside on that
Committee.

7. (SBU) Albert Assaf, the ex-Deputy Mayor who has long
worked with the Embassy on issues regarding the HIC,
was not as shocked about these revelations. While he
expressed some surprise about the allegations of drug
trafficking, he indicated that his greatest surprise
was that U.S. authorities had waited so many years to
do anything about it. He said that he had heard of
most of the allegations raised, even the most severe
child abuse cases, involving the amputation of fingers
and thumbs, but only anecdotally, without names and
dates.

8. (SBU) Comment. The meeting was extremely
productive and encouraging, in dramatic contrast to
others with GOI officials on this issue. The Mayor
appeared genuinely interested and eager to assist the
Embassy with its investigation. Whether or not he will
follow through and whether he is actually able to
mobilize resources is another question. Mayors do not
oversee police forces in Israel, and it is among the
Israeli police where the main resistance to an active
investigation has been encountered. End Comment.

KURTZER

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