Briefs: West Bank withdrawals coming, Peres says; Israel wants U.S. to stay the course on P.A.

West Bank withdrawals coming, Peres says

Israel plans to remove some West Bank settlements according to Shimon Peres.

The Israeli vice premier said Saturday that, while Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan to “realign” the West Bank deployment was shelved after last year’s Lebanon war, settlement evacuations are still on the agenda.

“Yes, settlements will be removed — not all the settlements, and I’m not even sure most of the settlements,” he told Israel’s Channel 2 television, adding that the number of communities evacuated could be in the dozens. “I think that a serious effort will be made to do that which we undertook to do, which is removing settlements.” Peres said the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority could affect the scale and pace of the withdrawals by accepting peace talks with Israel.

Israel wants U.S. to stay the course on P.A.

Israel is trying to shore up U.S. objections to the planned Palestinian Authority coalition government. Top aides of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert traveled Sunday to Washington, where they will urge Bush administration officials not to yield to European calls to engage the Hamas-Fatah unity government when it is formed.

The Palestinian Authority power-sharing pact, which was signed in Saudi Arabia last month, contains a vague reference to “respecting” past peace deals with Israel, falling short of Western demands that the Hamas-led government recognize the Jewish state and renounce terrorism. But Israel believes that some European nations are wavering for fear that the Palestinian Authority’s continued isolation will harm its president, Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader and a perceived moderate.

Separately, U.S. Under Secretary of the Treasury Stuart Levey was in Israel on Sunday for talks with local officials on the effect of the Western aid embargo on the Palestinian Authority, and whether such measures could also be applied against Iran’s nuclear program.

Jordan’s King Abdullah wants more U.S. involvement

Jordan’s King Abdullah said the United States was not balanced in its handling of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

“It is our duty to push this great nation, and others, to take balanced positions and support the peace process,” Abdullah told Jordanian television in a weekend interview ahead of a trip to the United States. He said Washington should use its influence on Israel “to prove its transparency to the peoples of the region, and that it is not biased.”

Abdullah, whose pro-Western country is considered an important regional broker, suggested that Israel was not displaying sincerity in its efforts to restart peace talks with the Palestinians.

“The main responsibility lies with Israel, which must choose either to remain a prisoner of the mentality of ‘Israel the fortress’ or to live in peace and stability with its neighbors,” he said.

Hungarian political unrest spurs anti-Semitism

Hungary’s leader warned of rising anti-Semitism. Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said in an interview published over the weekend that the hatred of Jews in Hungary has reached new heights since a wave of anti-government protests last year.

“I have to say that there have never been so many anti-Semitic remarks as now,” Gyurcsany told Britain’s Times newspaper.

Hungary’s left-leaning government was disgraced in September after it was revealed to have lied about the economy in order to win the previous election. Gyurcsany said that during the resulting demonstrations, protesters tried to blame Jewish politicians, apparently with the encouragement of right-wing opposition members.

“There is something horrible happening,” said Gyurcsany, whose wife is of Jewish descent.

Hadassah receives $75 million for Jerusalem hospital

Hadassah received a $75 million contribution for a new inpatient tower at its Jerusalem hospital. William and Karen Davidson gave the gift on behalf of Guardian Industries Corp. of Auburn Hills, Mich., of which William Davidson is president. Hadassah will name the new facility at the Hadassah Medical Center the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Tower in memory of William Davidson’s mother, who was a founder of the organization’s Detroit chapter.

“The power of family is truly a binding one, and I feel privileged to be the third generation to support Hadassah’s goals and achievements,” Davidson said in a statement.

Davidson, who owns several sports teams, including the Detroit Pistons, said he was impressed by the way Hadassah treats patients of all religions and backgrounds. The $210 million inpatient tower will be a 14-story structure with 500 beds, 20 state-of-the-art operating rooms and 50 intensive-care beds. The tower is expected to boost Hadassah’s capabilities in many fields, such as cardiology, telemedicine and laparoscopic surgery, and will facilitate the use of advanced robotics and computers.

Minister denies war crimes allegations

An Israeli Cabinet minister denied Egyptian accusations that he was involved in the killing of Egyptian prisoners of war.

Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, a retired army general, said Sunday that his record during the 1967 war with Egypt was spotless. His comments came after some of his former subordinates said in an Israeli documentary that they had killed Egyptian prisoners, a claim that was picked up by the official Cairo newspaper Al-Ahram and prompted calls in the Egyptian Parliament for Ben-Eliezer to be tried for war crimes.

“The commandos under me did not kill Egyptian soldiers,” Ben-Eliezer, who is due to visit Egypt later this week, told Yediot Achronot.

“When the commandos encountered POWs from an Egyptian battalion, they gave them food and water.”

RJC launches anti-Reform Iraq resolution

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) launched an effort opposing the Reform movement’s call for withdrawal from Iraq.

“If you or someone you know is a member of the Reform movement, you should know that the movement’s leadership is pushing the Executive Committee of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Board of Trustees to adopt a dangerous and wrongheaded resolution opposing the U.S. efforts in Iraq,” the RJC said in an action alert sent out this week.

It urged RJC members who belong to Reform synagogues to register their protests locally and nationally. “RJC will continue to speak out on this and make it clear that the Union for Reform Judaism does not speak for all Reform Jews or all Jews in general,” the RJC said.

Israel Real Estate Sales to Foreign Buyers on the Rise

Despite the vast influx of French immigrants and tourists who are buying up apartments in many parts of Israel, most notably in Netanya and Jerusalem, Americans are still in the forefront when it comes to big money properties.

There has been a tremendous growth in the foreign real estate market, according to Stuart Hershkowitz, deputy general manager and head of the international division of the Bank of Jerusalem.

“The main thrust of the Americans is on more expensive apartments,” Hershkowitz said.

Luxury market sales have shot up by 120 percent over the past 18 months, he said. “If we saw a $1 million deal once a month, we now see a $1 million deal once a week.”

Americans seeking to buy in Jerusalem prefer the neighborhoods of Talbiyeh, Rehavia, Katamon, Baka and Sha’arei Hessed, and are willing to pay up to $1million for apartments of less than 100 square meters, Hershkowitz said. Recently they have discovered Nahlaot, he added, and many people are now buying their holiday homes in this more colorful part of Jerusalem.

After the Americans, the most serious foreign buyers of real estate in Jerusalem are the British, followed by the French.

Some of the apartments are purchased as investments, Hershkowitz said, but 70 percent of buyers don’t rent out their apartments even if they come to Israel only once or twice a year. “They want their own place and they want it empty,” he said.

Hershkowitz recalled that four years ago, at the height of the intifada, few people were coming to Israel.

“Now the hotels are all full,” he said. In 2005, NIS 100 million was being spent in transactions by foreign investors per month, compared with NIS 200 million for the whole of 2000. “Whole communities are interested in buying property in Israel.”

Throughout the intifada, real estate prices either dropped or remained constant, said Hershkowitz, who envisaged that prices will now move into an upward spiral.

Former Israeli ambassador to Washington Zalman Shoval, who was one of the founders of the Bank of Jerusalem and is currently co-chairman of the First American Israel Real Estate Fund, had been to America a few days earlier in his capacity as a member of the international advisory board of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations. Anyone who listens to American economists, Shoval said, might think that America is on the verge of bankruptcy. Certainly if one looked at the deficit in the U.S. balance of payments, there is room for worry, he remarked.

On the other hand, he said, there has been an impressive improvement in Israel’s economic situation. The deficit in the budget stands at NIS 2.9 billion compared to NIS 10.6 billion in the previous year; the gross domestic product per capita has expanded by 7.5 percent, and 180,000 new jobs have been made available.

In Shoval’s perception, this positive trend will continue, but could be hampered by the fact that Israel is in an election year. This could have a reverse effect on economic gains if the political leadership gives in to populist demands, he said.


Hate in Newport Beach

As a new study shows a rise in anti-Semitism in the United States, a group accused of Holocaust denial is preparing to unleash a media campaign against what it calls “Jewish-Zionist power.”

The Institute for Historical Review (IHR) in Newport Beach, Calif., hopes to “dramatically increase” its appearances on radio and television programs to spread anti-Israel messages it says Americans are now more willing to hear. Called anti-Semitic by hate-watch groups, the IHR has a modest following and a small operation in the United States. But the institute set off alarm bells when it co-organized a Holocaust revisionism conference that was to take place in Beirut last year.

“For the first time ever, organized Jewry and its non-Jewish apologists in political life and the media are having real difficulty whitewashing Zionist atrocities,” said a statement posted on IHR’s Web site explaining the institute’s new media campaign. “The IHR is uniquely positioned to speak, factually and forthrightly, about the U.S.-Israel ‘special relationship’ … and the Zionist threat to world peace.”

Watchdog groups say that the IHR is couching its hatred of Jews in anti-Israel rhetoric in order to make it more palatable to the increasing numbers of people around the globe who are anti-Israel.

“Being anti-Israel right now is a little bit more en vogue than Holocaust denial,” said Aaron Breitbart, a senior researcher at the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center. “So they are going through the anti-Israel door to perpetuate anti-Semitism.”

In a telephone interview from his office, IHR Director Mark Weber explained why he thought the time was ripe for a media blitzkrieg: “My sense is when I have been on interviews in the last year, there is far more receptiveness to my views. Millions of Americans believe they have been deceived and lied to about the Middle East. There is a growing agitation from college campuses and a sense of alarm voiced by Jewish leaders about American public opinion and world public opinion.”

In a nationwide survey released in June, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that 17 percent of the 1,000 Americans polled hold “hardcore” anti-Semitic views. The number is up from 12 percent in 1998. The 626 anti-Semitic incidents tallied in the past five months represent an 11 percent increase over the 564 incidents that occurred during the same period last year, according to the study. The study also found that 35 percent of Hispanics, one of the fastest growing ethnic group, and the same percentage of blacks have anti-Semitic beliefs.

Although watchdog groups are alarmed by the reach the IHR and similar outfits seem to have in the Middle East and Europe, most say the institute has little chance of penetrating the American mainstream. Some, however, say that the IHR may hold sway with segments of the American population that have become increasingly anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic.

“It’s possible that they could make inroads on campuses,” said Rabbi Marvin Heir, the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “But they will be much less successful in the United States than in Europe.”

“There is more fertile soil for them to operate now,” said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman. “But they won’t be too successful because they are so extreme, and the American people have good sense. They’ll be successful with the 17 percent but not beyond that.”

Others see IHR’s entrance onto the anti-Israel stage as providing an ironic benefit to Israel, in that its presence would harm the reputation of any movement with which it associates. “I’m annoyed, I’m not alarmed,” said Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum, director of the Sigi Ziering Institute for the Holocaust and Ethics at the University of Judaism. “This just brings additional discredit to anti-Zionism.”

Marilyn Mayo, associate director of the ADL’s national fact-finding department, said there are many groups like the IHR that are looking to take advantage of a moment when the chips are down for Jews around the globe. “Neo-Nazi groups and anti-Semitic groups feel that due to the current situation in the Middle East they can exploit what they see as anti-Jewish feeling coming out of the anti-Israel feeling to further their own cause.”

Mayo said the IHR is too small and marginal to create an impact here. But Mayo said the ADL is concerned about the group’s liaisons with Holocaust denier groups in Europe and the Middle East.

The Holocaust denial conference co-organized by the IHR was set to take place in Beirut in March 2001. It was eventually called off by the Lebanese government under pressure from the American government. Titled “Zionism and Revisionism,” the event was billed as an opportunity for Western extremists to meet their counterparts in the Islamic world. A scaled-down conference took place in April 2001 in Jordan. The event was sponsored by Verité et Justice, a Swiss neo-Nazi group. The Swiss group is headed by Jurgen Graf, who fled to Iran after a Swiss court charged him with Holocaust denial in 1988.

Contrary to media reports, the ADL study showed that anti-Semitism is nearly nonexistent on college campuses. Only 3 percent of students and 5 percent of faculty polled harbored anti-Semitic beliefs, the report stated. “Education is the best vaccine,” Foxman said. The margin of error for the report is plus or minus 3 percent.

But Foxman said the results from the ADL’s most thorough survey of the burgeoning Hispanic community were “disturbing.” He noted that although 35 percent of Hispanics held anti-Semitic views, the number was inflated by foreign-born Hispanics, 44 percent of whom responded with anti-Semitic beliefs. Only 20 percent of Hispanics born in the United States fall into the anti-Semitic category.

“We are greatly concerned that many of the gains we had seen in building a more tolerant and accepting America have not taken hold as firmly as we had hoped, and have to some degree been reversed.” Foxman said.

The IHR statement was mailed to solicit funds from IHR supporters and is posted on its Web site ahead of the organization’s annual conference that took place June 21-23 in Orange County.

Weber said the IHR is neither a Holocaust denial outfit nor an anti-Semitic group. According to IHR’s Web site, the conference featured a member of the editorial advisory committee of IHR’s bimonthly journal, Robert Faurisson, a French revisionist historian who denies that Nazis used gas chambers to kill Jews. The Web site also lists among scheduled speakers Joseph Sobran, former editor of William Buckley’s conservative National Review, who will lecture on the “Jewish question,” and Tony Martin, African studies professor at Wellesley College, who will speak on the “the Jewish role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.”

Past speakers have included author David Irving, who lost a libel suit he brought against Deborah Lipstadt after she accused him of Holocaust denial.