Briefs: Holocaust denial resolution goes to U.N.; Swiss admit Israel-Syria mediation; Survivors owed


Holocaust Denial Resolution Goes to U.N.

The United States presented a resolution condemning Holocaust denial to the United Nations General Assembly. The text, introduced Tuesday in advance of the U.N.-designated International Day of Commemoration for victims of the Holocaust on Jan. 27, urges member states “to reject any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event” and “condemns without reservation any denial of the Holocaust.” Although it does not mention Iran, the measure is seen as a reaction to last month’s Holocaust denial conference hosted by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a reaction to, but certainly the conference in question only reminds us that there are those among us who actually minimize or deny the Holocaust, and we find that frightening,” said Richard Grenell, the U.S. mission’s spokesman. “And this resolution makes clear it’s unacceptable to even minimize it.”

The resolution, which has some 25 sponsors, is expected to go to a vote Friday.

Pole Wins Jerusalem Prize

This year’s Jerusalem Prize will go to Leszek Kolakowski in recognition of his critiques of the repressive aspects of Soviet communism and his championing of human liberty. The prestigious literary prize will be presented at next month’s Jerusalem International Book Fair.

Born in 1927, Kolakowski earned a doctorate from Warsaw University and went on to serve on the faculties of Harvard, Oxford and the University of Chicago before retiring in 1995. Past recipients of the prize include Bertrand Russell, Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, Mario Vargas Llosa, Milan Kundera and Simone de Beauvoir. Some of the recipients went on to receive the Nobel Prize for literature, including V.S. Naipaul and J.M. Coetzee.

Swiss Admit Israel-Syria Mediation

Switzerland confirmed that it had been mediating secret efforts to launch Israeli-Syrian peace talks. Swiss President and Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said Monday that top emissaries from her government were currently in Damascus. She refused to elaborate, but the disclosure appeared to confirm a Ha’aretz report earlier this month that a European country had mediated two years of unofficial talks between a retired Israeli diplomat and a Syrian American businessman about how the two countries could resume peace talks that were cut off in 2000. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert dismissed the contacts as unauthorized, while the Syrian government called the Ha’aretz report baseless.

Survivors Owed Billions, Study Says

Holocaust survivors are still owed as much as $175 billion in reparations, according to a new study. The Jewish Political Studies Review in Jerusalem said European nations had promised $3.4 billion in reparations, but only half of that had been paid by 2005. Only about 20 percent of Jewish assets have been returned overall, according to the study, which was made public last Friday by Reuters. The study said payments slowed after the United States stopped pressuring Europe on restitution. Holocaust survivors, many of them poor, are frustrated with the lack of payments. “Things are moving much too slowly,” said Menachem Rosensaft, founder of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. The Claims Conference said it would not comment on the report.

Katsav to Face Rape Charges

Israel’s attorney general decided that President Moshe Katzav should be charged with rape. Menachem Mazuz’s office issued a statement Tuesday saying it had collected enough evidence to support charging Katsav with rape and sexual harassment of former employees, obstruction of justice and fraud. A final decision on whether to indict Katsav will be made after a hearing in which the president may present his case. The president has immunity while in office, but said last month that he would resign if indicted. Katsav has denied any wrongdoing.

JDub, Matisyahu End Legal Troubles

In a release issued Tuesday, nonprofit Jewish record label and management team JDub announced it has resolved all legal disputes with Matisyahu, although its business relationship with the artist remains severed. In a surprise move last March, the Chasidic reggae star abruptly ended his management agreement with JDub’s Aaron Bisman and Jacob Harrison on the eve of the release of his first major studio album, “Youth.” JDub claimed their agreement with the artist had three years remaining on a four-year contract when Matisyahu moved to representation by former Capitol Records president Gary Gersh.

— Staff Report

Rap Mogul Addresses Jewish Congress

Rap mogul Russell Simmons called on Jewish entertainers to fight racism. In a speech Monday to the World Jewish Congress titled “Unity: Fighting Our Fights Together,” Simmons spoke about his public service announcements against racism and anti-Semitism that will be aired in Europe later this month. The ads, produced by Simmons, co-leader of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, feature Simmons and rapper Jay-Z encouraging young people to fight racism and anti-Semitism in their communities. Simmons called on the Beastie Boys and other Jewish entertainers to create another public service announcement with him, this one focusing on Islamophobia.

Saddam Chroniclers Look to Yad Vashem

Iraqis documenting Saddam Hussein’s crimes have been consulting with Yad Vashem. Yediot Achronot reported Tuesday that a group of Iraqi exiles that want to honor the late dictator’s victims visited the Jerusalem-based Holocaust memorial last year and also met with Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, who has documented the stories of Holocaust survivors. “It is difficult for me to make a comparison between the story of the Iraqi victims and the Holocaust of the Jews in Europe,” Kanan Makiya, one of the researchers, told Yediot. “Yet there are many basic similarities. Saddam behaved toward some parts of his people as Hitler did toward the Jews. Both cases are tragedies and there were innocent victims in both cases.”

Shipwreck Found Off Israel’s Coast

An eighth-century shipwreck was discovered off Israel’s northern coast. Though the 50-foot-long boat was discovered almost a decade ago, Haifa University’s Institute for Maritime Studies announced the find Tuesday after completing its research into the vessel.

“We do not have any other historical or archaeological evidence of the economic activity and commerce of this period,” said the university’s Ya’acov Kahanov. “The shipwreck will serve as a source of information about the social and economic activities in this area.”

In addition to the wooden hull, many of the boat’s contents were preserved. Among them are 30 vessels of pottery of different sizes and designs containing fish bones, ropes, mats, a bone needle, a wooden spoon, wood carvings and food remains, mainly carobs and olives.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The Settlers of Golan


Emotions ranging from hope to uncertainty to anger fill the 16,000 Golan Heights residents as their fate is again the topic of Israeli-Syrian peace talks.

Negotiations resumed Wednesday in Washington, and residents here know that the price for peace with Syria is likely to be the return of all or most of the Golan, the strategic plateau Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.

“We are praying for peace — a peace with the Golan,” says Sammy Bar-Lev, head of the regional council of Katzrin, the Golan’s largest town, with 6,500 residents.

Bar-Lev, a 30-year resident of the Golan, talks of years of uncertainty as successive governments debated the territory’s fate. He is sure that the Israeli public will reject any agreement with Hafez Assad, Syria’s president, that involves the return of the Golan.

In part, the moderation reflects the differences between Golan settlers and their counterparts in the West Bank, which include those who are vehemently opposed to any Israeli withdrawal from those areas.

For West Bank settlers, life has been a constant struggle against the indigenous Palestinian population who accuse Israel of stealing their land, yet the Golan’s land was virtually uninhabited when Israel entered, aside from a few Druze villages.

In addition, while most West Bank settlers are driven by a religious-nationalist ideology, many Golan settlers are left-leaning. They moved to the Golan either to bolster Israel’s security or to improve their quality of life in 32 small towns peppered throughout the eerie but breathtaking landscape of brown, scorched earth and volcanic rock formations.

“This is like a small city, but we still have the mountain air,” says Leah Ravid, 37. In this year’s elections, Ravid voted for Barak, as did more than 57 percent of Golan electorate. She also voted for the Third Way Party, which campaigned on a single issue — keeping the Golan — and failed to win enough votes to return to the Knesset.

In 1978, Ravid became one of the founding members of Katzrin, and her first marriage was also the first Jewish marriage in the Golan Heights. She later lived in the United States between 1982 and 1994, returning to Katzrin with her second husband, Avishai, to open a small gift shop at the local shopping center.

“I am worried because I do not want to live in Tel Aviv and I do not want to move back to New York,” Leah Ravid says. If the government decides to evacuate the Golan, Ravid may petition or protest, but in the end, will leave peacefully.

Her husband, Avishai, is even more willing to leave for peace with Syria. He also challenges the traditional Israeli security doctrine that deems the Golan — overlooking the kibbutzim along the Sea of Galilee to the west and the Syrian lowlands to the east — to be essential for Israel’s security.

“Israel is no longer a country of heroes and Syria does not need to send soldiers to make war — they can send missiles — so a mile here or there does not matter,” he says. “The secret for security is peace.”

He is also convinced that many Golan residents quietly agree with this position. “Under the table, all everyone is waiting for is compensation,” he says.

Compensation will not help the Golan Heights Winery, the most well-known industry on the Golan. Established in 1983 on the outskirts of Katzrin, the winery now produces 3.6 million bottles a year, and generated revenues of $15 million in 1998, including $3 million in exports. Its labels have won dozens of medals at international wine competitions. The secret to success, says Adam Montefiore, the company’s international marketing manager, is Golan grapes.

“The high altitude and the soil makes this a unique vineyard area,” says Montefiore. “To leave the Golan would be a disaster for the Israeli wine industry.”

Although the winery steers clear of political campaigning, it does have a message for the policymakers.

“It is up to the politicians to be creative enough to come up with a solution that will allow us to continue,” he says. “You do not need a flag to grow grapes.”

Back in Katzrin, workers at the Golan Residents Committee have just finished toasting the New Year over a couple of bottles of local white wine. In recent years, the organization has led a sporadically vociferous campaign against returning the Golan, and they are gearing up for another battle.

“We have to work on Israeli public opinion to show that returning the Golan would be a total disaster,” says Avi Zeira, outgoing chairman of the group, presenting the traditional Israeli position against trading the Golan for peace with Syria.

It would, he says, endanger Israel’s security to relinquish its strategic foothold overlooking the Syrian frontier while at the same time, Syria remains a sponsor of terrorist groups and does not really seek normalization with Israel.

Zeira also cites monthly polls by Peace Watch, conducted at the Tel Aviv University, which consistently show that less than 30 percent of Israelis currently back a withdrawal for peace.

Instead, the cash-strapped group is focusing on lobbying policymakers. It is also reviving a fund-raising drive this month in the Diaspora from offices in New York and Los Angeles. Between 1992 and 1996, the committee raised about $1 million a year in the United States, which made up the lion’s share of its budget.

Yigal Kipnis has no budget to get his message out. From his leafy home in Ma’aleh Gamla, a moshav on the western slopes of the Golan overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Kipnis, a farmer by day, has been coordinating a small peace movement of Golan settlers to counter the Residents Board since late 1995.

“Peace with Syria is a vital interest of the State of Israel,” Kipnis says. “I would be very happy if we could make peace without leaving the Golan, but we will accept with understanding an agreement that includes returning the Heights.”

His group does not actively demonstrate, but Kipnis —who first came to the Golan in 1978 — says that in small meetings he finds more and more residents signing on to his message.

Israel, he says, conquered the Golan for two reasons: to provide a security buffer to the northern settlements from Syrian aggression and to ensure Israel’s water interests. The Golan’s streams are the source of about 30 percent of Israel’s water.

If Israel can achieve these same two goals with a peace treaty, argues Kipnis, then why should the settlements remain?

“This is a Garden of Eden that we have never had, but a treaty with Syria will not be decided by our personal interests,” he says. “The only reason the settlements are here is because Israel believed that peace with Syria was an impossibility. All of Israel’s leaders realize this is no longer true.”

Meanwhile, like other Golan residents, Kipnis is continuing with his daily routine despite the uncertainty. As if hoping against all odds for a future unlikely to arrive, Kipnis has just planted 52 acres of mango trees that will yield fruit in only four years.