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Knesset approves bill calling for recognition of Jewish refugees from Arab lands

February 23, 2010 1 comment

PRESS RELEASE (WJC)– Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, has passed a bill aimed at securing compensation for Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran as part of future peace negotiations in the Middle East. According to the bill, a Jewish refugee is an Israeli citizen who left one of the Arab states, or Iran, following religious persecution. The bill stipulates that the government must include the compensation issue in all future peace negotiations. The bill was initiated by MK Nissim Ze’ev of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party.

Up to a million Jews were forced to leave Arab countries and Iran in the decades following the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948, due to wide-spread discrimination and persecution. Stanley Urman, the head of the advocacy group Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, welcomed the Knesset decision, saying: “The world must realize that Palestinians were not the only Middle‐East refugees; that there were Jewish refugees who also have rights under international law. This recognition is good for the State of Israel and it is good for the people of Israel

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Iran says it will build two new uranium enrichment sites this year

February 23, 2010 Leave a comment

 
PRESS RELEASE (WJC)–The head of Iran’s nuclear energy agency has said two new uranium enrichment facilities would be built within the next year. Ali Akbar Salehi, who is also the country’s vice-president, said the new facilities would be built in the mountains to protect them from any military attack. Salehi said the facilities would use new and more advanced centrifuges. The two sites are reportedly the first of ten to be built in a plan announced by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last year. The centrifuges might allow the Iranians to speed up the development of nuclear material.

On Tuesday, Tehran said it was willing to swap low-grade for high-grade uranium but that the exchange of nuclear fuel had to be carried out on its own territory. “In order to bring about a constructive interaction, we have declared our readiness for fuel swap, provided it is done within the country,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast as quoted by ‘Reuters’ as saying. “We are prepared for a fuel swap even though we do not regard this condition of supplying fuel to the Tehran research reactor through a swap as correct.”

Meanwhile, the Chinese government reiterated its call for greater diplomatic efforts to resolve the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program, despite growing pressure for more UN sanctions. “China believes that in the current stage all relevant parties should continue deepening diplomatic efforts to maintain and push forward the process of talks and negotiations,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said at a press conference in Beijing, adding: “We hope relevant parties can show flexibility to create conditions for completely and properly solving the Iran nuclear problem through diplomatic efforts.”

In the United States Congress, a group of lawmakers called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to reveal the names of companies with “problematic” business dealings with Iran and sanction them. In a letter the 30 Republican and Democratic lawmakers urged Clinton to the firms under the Iran Sanctions Act, which authorizes sanctions against non-US companies that invest more than 20 million dollars in Iran’s oil and gas sectors. The State Department recently told members of Congress that it had completed a preliminary investigation of companies that could be in violation of the law and has moved on to examining firms it views as “problematic.”

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Hungarian parliament votes in favor of penalizing Holocaust denial

February 23, 2010 1 comment

 
PRESS RELEASE (WJC)–The National Assembly of Hungary has voted in favor of making the denial or belittling of the Holocaust a criminal offense,  punishable by up to three years imprisonment. The law, which was introduced by the governing Socialist Party, passed with 197 deputies voting in favor, one against, and 142 abstaining. If President László Sólyom signs the bill into law, it will enter into force 30 days later. The main opposition party, Fidesz, had submitted a motion to criminalize the public denial of crimes against humanity committed by Communist as well as Fascist regimes, but it was rejected.

The president of Mazsihisz, the Jewish community federation, Péter Feldmájer, and several Holocaust survivors attended the voting. Earlier attempts to criminalize Holocaust denial were rejected by the courts for infringing the constitutional right of free speech. Efforts to modify the constitution to ensure the bill’s legality also failed.

Parliament also made participation in the leadership of a dissolved social organization punishable by up to three years in prison, raising the seriousness of such activity from a misdemeanor to a crime. The bill was passed by 177 affirmative votes and 140 abstentions, as Fidesz did not support it. This measure is targeted at the extreme-right paramilitary Hungarian Guard, which was banned by the courts last year but has continued its activities.

Some 550,000 Hungarian Jews and around 50,000 Gypsies were killed in the Holocaust. Hungary’s Jewish community of around 100,000 is among the biggest in central Europe.

The country will hold parliamentary elections in April, and currently the Fidesz led by former Prime Minister Viktor Orban is expected to return to power. Opinion polls also give the far-right party Jobbik 6 to 7 percent support, which could lead to it winning dozens of seats. Jobbik has been banking on deep public discontent over the economic crisis and rising resentment against Hungary’s large Roma minority. It campaigns on what it calls “Roma crime”.

Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai told the assembly: “This monster stands in front of our doors and is banging on the door demanding that we let it in. It became a movement … from a movement a party, and it got into European Parliament, and now it wants to make it into the Hungarian parliament,” the prime minister said. He will not run in the April election.

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Can intense believers share?

February 23, 2010 1 comment

By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–The religious and territorial dimensions of the Israel-Palestine conflict came together again with Arab assertions, demonstrations, and stone-throwing in response to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s announcement that he would include Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarch’s on a list of Israel’s national heritage sites.

The prime minister’s announcement adds nothing tangible to Israel’s control of the sites. Rachel’s Tomb is between Jerusalem’s southern suburbs and the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, and has been on Israel’s side of the security barrier, and tucked behind imposing towers and gates constructed as a result of attacks on Jewish visitors during the uprising that began in 2000. The Cave of the Patriarchs is located in Hebron, and has been accessible to Jewish as well as Muslims since the IDF began guarding it after the 1967 war.

The reality of the claims associated with these places (that the Biblical Rachel is buried in one site and that Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah are buried in the other) is no more certain than claims for the Church of the Nativity, the Holy Sepulchre, or any number of burial places claimed for historic rabbis throughout the Galilee. Christian communities have selected competing sites for the Holy Sepulchre, and Samuel was decent to leave two tombs, which facilitate a division of a hilltop structure west of Jerusalem into a mosque and a synagogue on different levels, with each claiming the prophet’s remains.

Including the sites on a list of Israeli historical sites need not preempt a political division of the Holy Land. Israel has obtain visiting rights for Jews at the tombs of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav in the Ukraine, Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira in Egypt, and several rabbis in Morocco, and is working to keep a shopping mall from encroaching on the site of Auschwitz without raising issues of national sovereignty.

Despite several year’s of Israeli control, Palestinians as well as a United Nations official have weighed in against what they claim as a change in status.

Saeb Erekat said, “The unilateral decision to make Palestinian sites in Hebron and Bethlehem part of Israel shows there is no genuine partner for peace, but an occupying power intent on consolidating Palestinian lands.”
A United Nations special coordinator said, “These sites are in occupied Palestinian territory and are of historical and religious significance not only to Judaism, but also to Islam, and to Christianity as well.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/23/world/middleeast/23mideast.html?hpw

Mahmoud Abbas has claimed that the prime minister’s announcement represents an Israeli effort to take Muslim holy sites, and threatens an escalation of tensions into a religious war.

Israeli policy about holy sites has been more accommodating to non-Jews than was the practice of the Muslims during the period of Jordanian control between 1948 and 1967. Despite an armistice agreement that holy sites would be open to members of all faiths, Rachel’s Tomb, the Cave of the Patriarchs, the Mount of Olives, the entire Old City of Jerusalem including the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, and several historic synagogues were closed to Jews. Since 1967 Israeli authorities have left day to day management of the Temple Mount to Muslim religious authorities, and they enforce a division of the Cave of the Patriarchs between Muslims and Jews. Currently Rachel’s Tomb may be accessible only to visitors from the Israeli side of the barriers, but they were constructed in response to attacks against Jewish pilgrims.

After years of recognizing the significance of Rachel’s tomb for Jews, Palestinian discourse has begun calling it Bilal ibn Rabah mosque. This resembles Muslim claims that there was never a significant Judaic presence on the Nobel Sanctuary (Temple Mount).and stands as a modern effort to bolster territorial claims with newly created historical tales. 

Archaeological research and extra-Biblical writing provides considerable evidence of the Temple destroyed by the Romans in 70. Some may see those as deserving some weight against the Muslim claim of priority on account of Mohamed’s horse ride to heaven from the site some 500 years later.

Archaeologists, preachers, myth makers, and believers contribute to the din about rightful possession or control, but the most recent conflicts and accommodations have been more important. Current reality is approaching 43 years and counting since June, 1967.

Proposals for sharing may sell better among secular politicians than claims of monopoly or priority. However, this is a birthplace of monotheism. The notion of One God too easily becomes claims of priority for my view of God. Among the intense, that does not bode well for accommodation.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.