Israel to evacuate more babies born to surrogates in Nepal following new quake

Israel will evacuate four Israeli babies born to surrogate mothers in Nepal following the second major earthquake to hit the Asian nation in three weeks.

A Magen David Adom mission was scheduled to leave for Nepal on Tuesday night, Ynet reported, after one of the fathers called for assistance from Israel earlier in the day following the 7.3 magnitude quake. The father’s twins were born Saturday.

The four babies, all born prematurely, were in neonatal intensive care units at the Grande International Hospital in Kathmandu at the time of the earthquake. One of the fathers, Yoav Elani, said that when the earthquake struck, all of the fathers grabbed their babies, disconnected them from tubes and machines, and ran outside.

The Israeli government is currently working with Nepalese officials on the approval needed to bring the babies to Israel.

The surrogate mothers and hospital staff also were safe, the Tammuz surrogacy agency, which facilitates the pregnancies, told the Hebrew language NRG news website. The babies and their parents will spend the night in a car in the parking lot of the hospital trying to keep the babies warm, according to NRG.

Following the 7.8 magnitude quake on April 25, Israel evacuated 25 Israeli babies born to surrogate mothers in Nepal, as well as some late-term surrogate mothers.

At least 42 people have been reported killed and several buildings destroyed in Tuesday’s earthquake in the hours after it struck. The earlier earthquake has killed more than 8,000 people and injured upwards of 16,000.

The area had faced numerous aftershocks and smaller earthquakes since the April 25 temblor centered near Kathmandu, the capital. Many families had moved back to their homes, however.

Rabbi Chezky Lifshitz, co-director of the Chabad of Nepal with his wife, Chani, said soon after Tuesday’s quake that 133 Israelis have again taken shelter at the Chabad center, according to the website.

“Although everyone we know appears to be safe, we are sad to report that there are many more casualties in Nepal again today,” Lifshitz said. “There is so much more work that now needs to be done.”

On Tuesday morning, the Israel Defense Forces delegation to Nepal returned home. In his welcome to the delegation at Ben Gurion International Airport, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that Israel could send a second delegation in the wake of the new earthquake.

Israel evacuates Jordanian embassy ahead of protest

Israel evacuated its embassy in Jordan, amid fears that a planned anti-Israel protest could turn violent.

The ambassador and staff of the embassy, located in Amman, returned to Israel Wednesday night. Jordanian activists have called for a “million man march” against the embassy for Thursday. The protest was organized on Facebook. A similar demonstration in Egypt lead to the evacuation a week ago of Israel’s embassy in Cairo and the emergency rescue of several members of the embassy’s security staff.

The staff of Israel’s Jordanian embassy regularly return to their homes in Israel on Thursday for the weekend. Their families reside in Israel. The evacuation order sent them home one day earlier, with plans to return on Sunday, according to reports.

Security near the embassy reportedly has been increased.

Australian Jews evacuating in face of huge floods

At least a dozen Jewish families in northeastern Australia have been evacuated from their homes as a major flood ripped through Queensland this week, killing at least 12 people.

More than 40 people are still missing, and one Jewish man remains unaccounted for near the rural town of Toowoomba, which was flattened Monday by what police described as an “inland instant tsunami.”

The bulk of Queensland’s 6,000 Jews live in the state’s capital, Brisbane, which was bracing for its river to peak early Thursday morning as analysts revised up their predictions of the damage bill to $13 million, or 1 percent of the gross domestic product.

Three-quarters of the state, an area larger than California and Texas, has been declared a disaster zone, with Premier Anna Bligh describing it as the “worst natural disaster in our history.” Prime Minister Julia Gillard deployed the army to assist in the rescue efforts.

Jason Steinberg, the president of the Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies, said that “A number of Jewish families have been impacted, a lot are reporting difficulties. We are still trying to get details. There have been Jewish people evacuated from several towns. We are trying to assess their needs.

“Homes are being evacuated as a precautionary measure. It’s an amazing sight,” said Steinberg, of Brisbane, Australia’s third-largest city. “Where you once had a clear road, it’s a lake. The major arterial roads around Brisbane are now cut off.”

He added that “The main shul is OK. The second shul is fine and the temple is fine.”

Rabbi Levi Jaffe of the Brisbane Hebrew Congregation transferred four Torah scrolls to his house, which is on higher ground.

“It’s just a precaution,” said the Chabad rabbi. “In the 1974 floods, the water didn’t reach the shul. We’re hopeful it won’t.”

Jaffe said services have been canceled this week but he would be holding prayers for the 200-member families at his house.

“We are bracing. They’re saying the worst is yet to come,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this. I stocked up to an extent, but at the supermarket the shelves are completely empty of basic staples. People are quite concerned; there’s a bit of a siege mentality.”

The rabbi said he and his sons helped evacuate a Jewish couple from their high-rise inner-city apartment Wednesday afternoon amid fears that the electricity would be cut, leaving the wheelchair-using woman unable to escape.

“The chances of water reaching them was very high and their family in Melbourne was really worried, so we helped them evacuate,” Jaffe said.

Ari Heber of the response unit at Queensland Jewish Community Services said the agency has identified a dozen homes in Brisbane that it believes will go under.

“We are not aware of anyone officially missing, we just don’t know where people are at the moment and communications are difficult,” he said.

“Everyone is frightened. It’s quite scary, the volume of water the water is quite high and the speed is phenomenal. Tomorrow [Thursday] is going to be the worst, everyone has time to plan. It’s a very surreal situation just waiting for the water to arrive.”

Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Dr. Danny Lamm called on Jewish Australians to give generously to assist victims of the floods.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with them [the casualties] and their families”, he said, appealing to the Jewish community “to dig deep.”

In Sydney, a food kitchen run by Chabad began preparing supplies to be transferred to Jewish families in Queensland.

Rabbi Moshe Loebenstein of the Melbourne-based Chabad of Rural and Regional Australia said he was organizing Melbourne and Sydney families to host affected Jewish families and was sending up dry goods, clothing and towels.

What Is U.S. Jewish Role in Gaza?


A desk cluttered with papers — things to do, meetings to arrange. A demanding computer monitor — so many e-mails relentlessly calling for response. Yet my sense that we are approaching a watershed moment in Jewish history makes me want to push everything else aside.

I ask myself what we might do in the organized American Jewish community, the largest and most influential Diaspora community, to help prevent a looming confrontation — possibly heaven forbid violent in nature — between opposing forces in Israel.

This July, Israel will implement the government’s plan to evacuate Jews living in the Gaza Strip and areas of the West Bank. Opponents of this policy, as we have been hearing and reading, are preparing a series of measures, including massive civil disobedience intended to prevent this from taking place. Other, more radical opponents, we have been informed, may be planning even more extreme actions.

There is the appearance here of two speeding trains on a collision course. Not just any trains, but ones carrying our Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel.

I firmly believe that there is a Jewish community consensus position on this issue. While there are thoughtful people on both sides of the disengagement policy, the organized Jewish community overwhelmingly supports it. And it is not simply because it is a policy of the democratically elected Israeli government in Jerusalem.

I believe the support is fundamentally rooted in the merits of the initiative, which was intended not as a reward to the Palestinians, but as a necessary step to preserve Israel’s Jewish and democratic character. The fact that it will now be coordinated with a new Palestinian leader, who appears to be serious about a peaceful resolution of the conflict, is a bonus.

I believe our Jewish community has great empathy for Jewish residents in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, who must make painful personal sacrifices by leaving their homes of many years. In addition, there is recognition of the national sacrifice associated with departing parts of our beloved Land of Israel.

We also respect the right of those who disagree with the government’s policies to engage in legal protest. But we reject and denounce any call for violence or efforts to delegitimize the country’s democratic processes. With deep emotions rising on both sides, it is incumbent upon all responsible leaders, whatever their position may be on disengagement, to express their views with civility.

It has been a basic principle in our community that as American Jews — who live here and not there, whose children are not asked to serve in the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] — we should avoid becoming enmeshed in Israel’s internal political discussions. Over time, that principle has served us well and has reinforced an understanding of our primary role, which is to advocate for a strong

U.S.-Israel relationship and to help Israel meet the social and economic challenges it faces.

But there are rare times when it is much more than a simple political debate, when what is happening goes to the core of Israel’s identity as the state of the Jewish people, when the very future of the Zionist enterprise is on the line. I believe we are at such a juncture in Jewish history.

Even though 10 years have passed, I remember the moment as though it was yesterday, when my wife came to me with the shocking news that Prime Minister Rabin had been assassinated by a Jewish extremist. Her words went through me like a knife, and I cried off and on all day — my grief accentuated by the fact that we at the JCPA [Jewish Council for Public Affairs] had just met with him in Tel Aviv the week before.

Did we recognize sufficiently the poisonous climate that led up to this tragedy? Could we have taken some action to calm the situation? I continue to ask myself those questions.

Our choice is clear. Either we can be observers of this unfolding drama from the sidelines and pray for the best. Or, in the remaining months before July, we can come together as a community, representing the full spectrum of religious and political perspectives, to consider how to communicate our convictions and feelings to the Israeli people directly, in the hope that we will help shape — and not merely be witnesses to Jewish history.

Martin J. Raffel is acting executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.


Gaza Withdrawal a Risk for Sharon

In announcing a plan to evacuate nearly all of the Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is signaling that he’s serious about creating large blocs of Palestinian territory free of Israelis — and that he is willing to gamble with his political future.

Sharon hopes to convince the United States that his plan for unilateral disengagement from the Palestinians not only is consistent with the internationally approved "road map" peace plan, but that he has every chance of taking it forward.

However, as soon as Sharon made his dramatic announcement Monday about a Gaza withdrawal, a chorus of angry right wingers in his coalition, including some in his own Likud Party, threatened to topple his government — with some accusing the prime minister of conjuring up grandiose schemes to deflect attention from corruption investigations swirling around him and his sons.

A few days earlier, Sharon had given instructions to Giora Eiland, his newly appointed national security adviser, to prepare a detailed disengagement plan regarding the West Bank security fence that would give the Palestinians maximum freedom and give Israel maximum security.

A close Sharon aide told JTA that the need to get international support for the disengagement plan, and the desire to cause the Palestinians as few humanitarian problems as possible, could lead to the fence being rerouted closer to the pre-1967 boundary, known as the Green Line.

"The more consensus there is over the route and the fewer humanitarian problems it creates, the more likely is it to be accepted as a positive stage in the road map," the aide said.

Indeed, if the plan is to fly, American support will be crucial. Sharon will take a detailed draft of Eiland’s proposal when he goes to Washington later this month to meet President Bush. Before that, American envoys are expected in Jerusalem to discuss it.

So far, the American response has been encouraging. Until recently, the official U.S. position had been that the road map, though stalled, was the only game in town. After a late January visit to Washington, however, Sharon’s bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, reported that the administration was ready to listen to other ideas. For Sharon, that was the signal to proceed.

Skeptics point out that Sharon did not give any deadline for the planned evacuations. But his deputy, Ehud Olmert, the Likud Cabinet minister most supportive of the disengagement policy, says a pullback will begin around June or July.

That is, if Sharon is still in power by then. The right-wing National Union bloc and the National Religious Party both have made clear that they will quit Sharon’s government if a single settlement is touched.

If they do, however, Sharon may well be able to form an alternative government with the Labor Party. Labor’s temporary leader, Shimon Peres reportedly told party colleagues Tuesday that he would support the Gaza evacuation — possibly clearing the way for another national unity government.

On the face of it, a coalition with Labor would give Sharon a strong coalition of 74 in the 120-member Knesset: 40 legislators from Likud, 19 from Labor and 15 from the centrist Shinui Party.

Paradoxically, however, that would leave him at the mercy of the right-wingers in his own Likud, since 15 Likudniks voting against the government would be enough to bring it down. A rival like former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could trigger a party rebellion that would topple Sharon and bring Netanyahu to power.

Sharon, though, is confident that public support for disengagement will deter his Likud rivals. A poll in Tuesday’s Yediot Achronot newspaper showed that 59 percent of the public support the Gaza evacuation plan — 34 percent oppose it — while 57 percent believe Sharon is acting for reasons of state and only 24 percent think he is motivated by the corruption investigation.

To build on that support, Sharon’s office has launched a campaign to convince the public that the plan is in Israel’s best interest. Sharon’s aide, for example, paints a rosy picture in which disengagement helps produce a Palestinian peace partner by improving the Palestinians’ quality of life.

The goal, he says, is to have Palestinian areas in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank with no Israeli soldiers, no Jewish settlers, no blockades and no roadblocks. The Palestinians would have absolute freedom of movement and would run their own affairs.

With help from the United States and the European Union, the Palestinians could rebuild their economy and provide jobs.

According to the official, Sharon hopes that once the Palestinians taste freedom and prosperity, their attraction to terrorism will decrease and a new, widely backed Palestinian leadership will emerge that is ready to talk peace based on the road map, with all issues — including final borders — on the table.

But there is another, far less upbeat scenario. Israeli officials acknowledge that the current situation on the Palestinian side is increasingly chaotic and that the Palestinian Authority is not in control.

Although they long have demanded an Israeli withdrawal, many Palestinian officials reportedly fear that a unilateral and uncoordinated one could lead to a complete breakdown of law and order — from which a strengthened Hamas could come to power, refusing to negotiate peace with Israel.