A Syrian lawmaker said his country wants war with Israel. Mohammed Habash, who spoke to Al-Jazeera on Monday as part of Arab commemorations of the 40th anniversary of the Six -Day War, said the Syrians wanted to use force to retake the Golan Heights. "The Syrian street wants to restore the Golan," Habash said. But he noted recent peace overtures by Bashar Assad's regime in Damascus and said that if there is a new conflict, it would be Israel's doing. "The Israeli government feels threatened and is liable to create new tensions, even war, just to survive," Habash said. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has played down talks of a new round of fighting with Syria after last year's inconclusive war against its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah. Israeli officials said that Habash's statements, unusual for a country that controls public discourse, indicated S yria was engaging in brinkmanship.
A federal judge sentenced Lewis "Scooter" Libby to 30 months in prison. Libby was sentenced Tuesday in Washington for obstructing the investigation into who leaked the name of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame as part of a White House retaliation scheme against her husband, Joe Wilson, a prominent Iraq war critic. Libby, who is Jewish, was the top adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. More than 150 people wrote pre-sentencing letters, an unusually high number. Libby had attracted support from some of the most senior members of Washington's Middle East policy community.
Four candidates apparently have filed for the interim presidency of the World Jewish Congress. According to a WJC source, those who declared officially to the office of the WJC secretariat are Ronald Lauder, president of the Jewish National Fund; Mendel Kaplan, chair of the WJC's board of governors; Israeli writer/activist Einat Wilf, an Israeli writer and activist; and Vladimir Herzberg, a Russian-Israeli nuclear physicist. The WJC's governing bodies will meet in New York June 10 to select the interim president, who will serve until the organization's 2009 plenary meetings. While it had been assumed that Kaplan would run since Edgar Bronfman announced last month that he was retiring after 30 years as UJC president, he did not officially enter the race until Monday. Herzberg, who entered the race last Friday, is a former Russian nuclear scientist who moved to Israel in 1996 and is now an economics professor at Ben Gurion University. In 1999 he posed a long-shot challenge to Ariel Sharon for the head of the Likud Party. Herzberg believes the WJC should shift its focus to Israel. "The state is in trouble," he told JTA. "I know what it's like to live and struggle here in Israel. Lauder and others don't know the problems we face from firsthand experience. "The first thing the WJC should do is provide aid to Israelis struggling to make ends meet, and those in Sderot facing Kassam rockets. This organization needs to come down from the sky, and come down to the level of the simple people here in Israel."
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution congratulating Israel on the 40th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem and urging the Bush administration to move its embassy there. The non-binding resolution, passed in a voice vote Tuesday afternoon, "commends Israel for its administration of the undivided city for the past 40 years, during which Israel has respected the rights of all religious groups." It also called on the president to abide by the 1995 law mandating the embassy move. President Bush, like his predecessor Bill Clinton, has waived the law every six months, citing national security reasons. His most recent waiver was announced last Friday night. The Senate is considering a similar Jerusalem resolution.
Two U.S. congressmen condemned Nicaragua's president for considering renewed relations with Iran. "Iran has consistently flouted the international community by continuing its nuclear program and has provided weapons to extremists in Iraq," Reps. Ron Klein (D-Fla.) and Connie Mack (R-Fla.) said in a joint statement. "Additionally, [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad spoke yesterday of a 'countdown' to the destruction of our ally, the state of Israel." Klein and Mack introduced a resolution in the House that spotlights Iran's attempts to make inroads in Latin America. The resolution calls on the U.S. government to work with countries in the Western Hemisphere to combat terrorism. In a statement Sunday, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said he would travel to Iran on a jet lent by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in order to forge commercial ties, Reu ters reported. Ortega has also drawn Washington’s fire for his alliance with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez in what the Klein and Mack called the "Triad of Tyranny." "This relationship must be stopped in its tracks," the congressmen said.
Leaders of the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements joined an interreligious peace coalition in urging the Bush administration to make Arab-Israeli peace a priority. In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative For Peace in the Middle East called on the United States to work toward a comprehensive cease-fire in Gaza and the West Bank, and to undertake active diplomacy in support of the Arab peace initiative. The coalition's policy concerns are drawn from a December 2006 statement in which it places responsibility on the United States to "provide creative, determined leadership for building a just peace for all in the Middle East." Among the rabbis signing the letter were Rabbi Eric Yoffe, president of the union for Reform Judaism; Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; and Rabbi Toba Spitzer, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.
The Reform movement launched an online petition urging support for the expansion of federal hate crimes law. Along with a coalition of religious and civil rights organizations, the movement is calling for support for a federal law to expand protections for "individuals targeted because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability." Currently the federal government can only offer assistance when an individual is targeted because of race, religion or national origin. "Endorsement of this bill by faith leaders is especially important because opponents have all too often implied that the legislation is hostile to religion," said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. "The voices of a broad range of clergymen and women who preach that tolerance, acceptance and kindness are e ssential religious values are needed more than ever."
A mass grave holding the remains of thousands of Jews killed by the Nazis has been found in southern Ukraine. Workers laying gas pipelines near Odessa accidently found the grave that is near a former concentration camp where 5,000 Jews were killed, The Associated Press reported. Roman Shvartsman, a spokesman for the regional Jewish community, estimated that Nazis killed 240,000 Jews in the Odessa region. The director of the Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies, Anatoly Podolsky, said there were approximately 250 to 300 mass graves in Ukraine of Nazi victims, and some of them have yet to be discovered. The Nazis killed a total of 1.5 million Jews in Ukraine during the Holocaust.
Federal prosecutors named three prominent Islamic organizations among the co-conspirators in a criminal case against a defunct charity that allegedly helped fund Hamas. The New York Sun reported that in the case against five former officials of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, among the 300 individuals and entities as co-conspirators listed in a court filing released last week were the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Islamic Society of North America and the North American Islamic Trust. The three groups are not charged in the case. The document gave few details about how the three organizations were involved in the Holy Land Foundation’s alleged funneling of money to Hamas. Federal officials froze the foundation’s assets in 2001. An Islamic Society official denied that his group was involved in the scandal. Neit her the Islamic Trust or CAIR, which has been singled as being soft on Arab terror, could be reached for comment.
South Africa's deputy foreign minister said that no other country has flouted international law as much as Israel. At a reception for Arab ambassadors in Pretoria held on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the Six -Day War, Aziz Pahad said that since the war Israel has "been able to defy the international community with impunity," according to the Cape Times. "The situation 40 years on is still bad," Pahad said. "Israeli violence against Palestine is continuing. The Israeli authorities continue to arrest and imprison Palestinian ministers and legislators." The ruling African National Congress in a statement also expressed its solidarity with the Palestinian people, saying that South Africans needed to "join hands and act in solidarity with the people of Palestine as they struggle for the realization of their basic human rights." A coalition of pro- Palestinian organizations, including the ANC, under the banner "End the Occupation Campaign," is planning pickets, debates and rallies countrywide this week to mark the 40th anniversary of the war. The campaign aims to raise awareness of the Palestinians' plight and would demand a boycott of Israeli products on the part of the government and the people, according to Mohammad Groenewald, spokesman for the Palestinian Solidarity Group.
Vladimir Putin said he would donate one month's salary to the future Moscow Jewish Museum-Museum of Tolerance. The Russian president made the promise in a meeting Tuesday with Berel Lazar, one of Russia's two chief rabbis. Lazar is the leader of the Chabad-dominated Federation of Jewish Communities, the group that is creating Russia's first Jewish museum. No opening date for the museum has been announced.
The United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism decided to allow the hiring of openly gay employees. In a vote Sunday, the union representing about 700 Conservative synagogues moved to change its hiring practices, according to a press release. The change applies only to the union itself; Conservative synagogues retain the right to decide independently whether to modify their hiring guidelines or not. "As a movement that has always integrated our commitment to halachah -- Jewish law -- with our desire to see the spirit of God in all people, we are glad to be able to take this step," said Rabbi Jerome Epstein, the organization's executive vice president. The decision comes six months after the Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards voted to permit the ordination of gays and lesbians and to allow rabbis to perform same-sex commitmen t ceremonies. The committee also endorsed a rabbinic opinion upholding the traditional ban on gay rabbis and gay unions. The Jewish Theological Seminary and the University of Judaism, the Conservative movement's two American rabbinical seminaries, have both changed their admissions guidelines to permit gays and lesbians to study for the rabbinate. Raymond Goldstein, United Synagogue's international president, said that following the law committee's adoption of a more permissive stance on homosexuality, "there is no reason not to broaden our candidate pool."
Mahmoud Abbas said infighting among Palestinians could spill into civil war. "On the internal front, the cause of everybody's concern is what is called the security chaos, or more precisely, standing on the brink of civil war," the president of the Palestinian Authority said in a speech Tuesday, referring to recent street battles between his Fatah faction and the dominant Islamist group Hamas. Abbas, speaking on the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War, called the conflict in which Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip a "black date." But he also sounded upbeat about efforts to achieve a state through negotiations with Israel. "Despite all the difficulties, we are taking steps toward statehood, a target that is getting closer," he said. "We are ready to negotiate forthwith -- fully, sincerely and responsibly." Abbas is scheduled to meet Thu rsday with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, after which the latter will fly to Washington for consultations with President Bush.
International sanctions have a 50 percent chance of curbing Iran's atomic ambitions, a top Israeli official said. Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, who handles Israel's strategic ties with the United States, said in an interview published Tuesday that Jerusalem supports U.S.-led efforts to step up sanctions against Iran after it flouted two U.N. Security Council resolutions intended to halt its uranium enrichment. The alternative to Western diplomatic pressure, pre-emptive military strikes, is too risky an option to weigh lightly, he said. "I don't think that it is right today to talk about military options as long as you have not exhausted all the other options, especially sanctions," Mofaz told the Jerusalem Post. "I give the sanctions more than a 50 percent chance [to succeed]. Not 10 percent or 20 percent. Otherwise we would not be investing so much effort in it." Mofaz flies to Washington this week for talks that will include discussions of opening a possible new peace dialogue with Syria. He said that following last year's Lebanon war, Damascus was in a state of high preparedness to throw itself into a new conflict -- perhaps on behalf of Iran. "It is enough that there be a terrorist attack along the Lebanese or Syrian border, and we respond and open fire," he said. "They could interpret this, due to the high level of tension, as an attack on their sovereignty and it could set off a whole new wave [of violence]."
The diary of a Polish Jewish girl who died during the Holocaust surfaced in Israel.
Yad Vashem announced this week that it had received a journal kept by 14-year-old Rutka Laskier in Poland's Bedzin ghetto. Laskier is believed to have been deported to Auschwitz with her family in the summer of 1943 and killed.
The diary was brought to Yad Vashem by Stanislawa Sapinska, a Pole who had befriended Laskier and then kept hidden the 60-page manuscript.
The discovery enhances a canon of eyewitness Holocaust literature including perhaps most famously "The Diary of Anne Frank."
Laskier's diary, whose content ranges from musings about love to terrified contemplations of death, has been published in Polish, with translations in English and Hebrew.
A Florida-based firm is launching an initiative to help Israeli pharmaceutical firms enter the U.S. market. The Jacksonville-based Medical-Enterprise Development Group said it will start the Florida-Israel Biomedical Initiative next week. Its CEO and president, John Perry, cited Israel’s advanced medical technologies. “There is no place on earth with as much talent and as much innovation,” Perry said in a press release. “Our goal is to be instrumental in easing the transition for the Israeli scientist from the laboratory in Israel to U.S. commercial success.” Medical-Enterprise specializes in helping inventors and entrepreneurs, as well as larger firms in the United States and abroad, market their pharmaceutical products in the lucrative U.S. market. The Biomedical Initiative will assist Israeli companies in research and development, funding, market ing and sales.
A coalition of mainstream churches urged U.S. lawmakers to reject a resolution calling on the administration to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The non-binding resolution to be considered by the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday "ignores the complexities of daily life in Jerusalem and fails to recognize the growing consensus that the city must be shared by both Israel and a future Palestinian state," Churches for Middle East Peace said in a message sent to the offices of all House members. "Its statements and recommendations do not take into consideration the sensitive nature of the status of Jerusalem, but rather promote U.S. actions that would pre-judge the city's future and undermine final status negotiations." The resolution marks 40 years since Jerusalem's reunification. A similar resolution is likely to be considered soon by t he Senate. The policy of the Bush administration and its predecessors is to leave the city's status to Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. CMEP is a coalition of Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant national church bodies that promotes advocacy on issues relating to Middle East peace.
A rare manuscript of a famous biblical passage is on display for the first time in Jerusalem. The 1,300-year-old manuscript, which contains the Song of the Sea section in the book of Exodus, dates from a period scholars call the "silent era" -- a span of 600 years from the third to the eight centuries from which almost no Hebrew manuscripts survive -- The Associated Press reported. "It comes from a period of almost darkness in terms of Hebrew manuscripts," said Stephen Pfann, a textual scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem. The parchment is believed to have been left in a vast depository of medieval Jewish manuscripts discovered in the late 1800s in a secret room at Cairo's ancient Ben Ezra Synagogue. It was in private hands until the late 1970s, when its Lebanese-born American owner turned it over to the Rare Books, Manuscripts, an d Special Collections Library at Duke University. The manuscript, which is now on extended loan to the Israeli Museum, is housed near the famous Dead Sea Scroll.