Swiss see ‘terrorist threat’ in Geneva, hunt for suspects


The Swiss city of Geneva raised its alert level on Thursday and said it was looking for suspects who, according to national officials, had possible links to terrorism.

A security guard at the United Nations' European headquarters told Reuters that Swiss authorities were searching for four men believed to be in or near the city.

Another guard said the U.N. compound was on maximum alert, and Geneva prosecutors said they were investigating the preparation of criminal acts. 

Separately, the Swiss attorney-general said it opened an a criminal inquiry on the basis of a “terrorist threat in Geneva” against unknown persons suspected of belonging to a criminal organisation and of violating the ban on al-Qaeda or Islamic State operating in the country.

The Geneva daily Le Temps reported that a friend of Salah Abdeslam, the latter wanted in connection with the deadly Paris attacks on Nov. 13, was in a van spotted by Geneva police on Tuesday after a tip from French authorities that the two men in the car were strongly suspected of ties to radical Islam. 

The van, which had Belgian plates, crossed the border into France, the paper said. Geneva officials could not confirm the report.

A French police source said Swiss authorities had been in touch to ask for information, about some suspects, including photographs.

Swiss federal police in the capital Berne said they had passed on information about people with possible links to terrorism, but were not connecting them to Islamist militant attacks in Paris last month in which 130 people were killed.

Earlier, the newspaper Le Matin said a Belgian-registered car that drove through a police check prompted police to examine a photograph of four suspected Islamist militants provided by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The paper said it had obtained a document describing the men as “armed and dangerous”.

Two sources confirmed that the CIA had provided the photo, which shows the four bearded men seated, with their faces blurred but index fingers raised in the air. A CIA spokesman in Washington declined to comment.

Swiss television said the city's Jewish community had been told to be vigilant. 

“Sensitive sites have been alerted,” a Swiss official said.

The guards stationed at vehicle entry points to the U.N. grounds were, unusually, carrying Mp5 sub-machine guns on Thursday. One guard said the U.N. premises had been evacuated for a time late on Wednesday night “as a precaution”.

The sprawling complex sits at the heart of “international Geneva”. The headquarters of the World Health Organization, the U.N. human rights office, the refugee agency UNHCR, the World Trade Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross are a short walk away.

“The heightened security affects the entire Geneva area, and the U.N. is taking measures that are commensurate with those taken in the host country,” U.N. spokesman Rheal LeBlanc said.

Senior U.S. and Russian diplomats are set to hold talks on Syria in Geneva on Friday, but the United Nations said the location would be kept secret.

Swiss and French officials say they have been working closely together since the Paris attacks. The Swiss Attorney General's office is currently conducting 33 criminal proceedings linked to Islamist militancy, and opened nearly a dozen new investigations in October and November, a spokeswoman said.

Evidence supports Arafat poisoning theory, wider probe needed


The remains of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat showed test results consistent with polonium poisoning and should lead to a judicial investigation even if they were not absolute proof that he died that way, Swiss experts said on Thursday.

The two forensic experts were part of an international team that opened Arafat's grave in the West Bank city of Ramallah last November and took samples from his body to see if there was evidence he was poisoned with the radioactive element. Their report was released on Wednesday.

“Our observations are coherent with a hypothesis of poisoning, in any case more consistent than with the opposite hypothesis (of no poisoning),” Patrice Mangin, director of Lausanne University Hospital's center of legal medicine, told a news conference.

Doubts remained, although they had exhausted all forensic investigations into existing specimens, he said. Biological samples taken from Arafat's body at the time of his death in a hospital in France in November 2004 have been destroyed.

“The doubt is enough to induce more investigation, but at a judicial level, to open an inquiry to look at other kinds of evidence, not measurements, but contacts between Palestinians and other people,” Mangin told Reuters in an interview.

“From my point of view, the evidence is more in the country where President Arafat was living,” he added.

Francois Bochud, director of the university's Institute of Radiation Physics, said the evidence was not conclusive.

“Can we say with certitude that polonium was the cause of death of President Arafat? Unfortunately for those of you who want a clearly-defined answer, the answer is no. That is to say, our study did not permit us to demonstrate categorically the hypothesis of poisoning by polonium.”

Bochud told Reuters: “We cannot tell how much polonium actually was ingested, only that our observations are compatible with the poisoning hypothesis.”

Arafat died in a French hospital in Nov 2004, four weeks after falling ill after a meal with vomiting and stomach pains.

The official cause of death was a massive stroke but French doctors said at the time they were unable to determine the origin of his illness. No autopsy was carried out.

His widow Suha initiated Swiss testing on his personal effects in 2012 to probe whether he had been poisoned and the results lead to analyses on samples taken from his corpse, including bones, hair and his shroud.

GATES OF HELL

The technical report of 108 pages was handed over on Tuesday at a secret meeting in a Geneva hotel to representatives of Suha and the Palestinian Authority, who commissioned the report and split the costs equally.

It opened “the gates of hell”, one insider told Reuters.

The report was posted in full on the website of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera's television news channel. http://link.reuters.com/zuk54v

There are few known cases of polonium poisoning, the most famous recent example being that of defecting Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who drank a poisoned cup of tea in a London hotel in 2006. From his deathbed, Litvinenko accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder.

Bochud said a few micrograms of polonium would be enough to kill somebody.

“For example, it could be put in a drink, or food would be a possibility, 5 micrograms is almost nothing at all,” he said.

“What we know about the timelag between ingestion of radioactive poisoning and death is that usually it lasts around one month. This is commonly observed in radiation poisoning and this is actually also the case that we observed with Mr. Arafat,” Bochud said.

Arafat's widow Suha told Reuters in Paris on Wednesday: “We are revealing a real crime, a political assassination.”

“It is scientifically proved that he didn't die a natural death and we have scientific proof that this man was killed.”

She told Reuters the polonium must have been administered by someone “in his close circle” because experts had told her the poison would have been put in his coffee, tea or water.

She did not accuse any country or person, and acknowledged that the historic leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization had many enemies, although she noted that Israel had branded him an obstacle to peace. Israel denied any involvement in his death.

Arafat signed the 1993 Oslo interim peace accords with Israel and led a subsequent uprising after the failure of talks in 2000 on a comprehensive agreement.

No autopsy was carried out on Arafat, whose official cause of death was a stroke. The Swiss report said that blood, urine, faecal and cerebrospinal samples taken during his hospitalization in France were “subsequently destroyed”.

“Certainly if we had access to biological samples taken from Mr. Arafat in Paris (at the time of his death), if they had been preserved, we might have been more categorical,” Bochud said.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Ralph Boulton

Palestinian leader Arafat was murdered with polonium, widow says


Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was poisoned to death in 2004 with radioactive polonium, his widow Suha said on Wednesday after receiving the results of Swiss forensic tests on her husband's corpse.

“We are revealing a real crime, a political assassination,” she told Reuters in Paris.

A team of experts, including from Lausanne University Hospital's Institute of Radiation Physics, opened Arafat's grave in the West Bank city of Ramallah last November, and took samples from his body to seek evidence of alleged poisoning.

“This has confirmed all our doubts,” said Suha Arafat after the Swiss forensic team handed over its report to her lawyers and Palestinian officials in Geneva on Tuesday. “It is scientifically proved that he didn't die a natural death and we have scientific proof that this man was killed.”

She did not accuse any country or person, and acknowledged that the historic leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization had many enemies, although she noted that Israel had branded him an obstacle to peace.

Arafat signed the 1993 Oslo interim peace accords with Israel and led a subsequent uprising after the failure of talks in 2000 on a comprehensive agreement.

Allegations of foul play surfaced immediately. Arafat had foes among his own people, but many Palestinians pointed the finger at Israel, which had besieged him in his Ramallah headquarters for the final two and a half years of his life.

“President Arafat passed away as a victim of an organized terrorist assassination perpetrated by a state, that is Israel, which was looking to get rid of him,” Wasel Abu Yousef, member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The publishing of the results by the Swiss institute confirms his poisoning by polonium and this means that Israel carried it out.”

The Israeli government has denied any role in his death, noting that he was 75 years old and had an unhealthy lifestyle. It made no comment on the new findings.

An investigation by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television news channel first reported last year that traces of polonium-210 were found on personal effects of Arafat given to his widow by the French military hospital where he died.

That led French prosecutors to open an investigation for suspected murder in August 2012 at the request of Suha Arafat. Forensic experts from Switzerland, Russia and France all took samples from his corpse for testing after the Palestinian Authority agreed to open his mausoleum.

“SMOKING GUN”

The head of the Russian forensics institute, Vladimir Uiba, was quoted by the Interfax news agency last month as saying no trace of polonium had been found on the body specimens examined in Moscow, but his Federal Medico-Biological Agency later denied he had made any official comment on its findings.

The French pathologists have not reported their conclusions publicly or shared any findings with Suha Arafat's legal team. A spokeswoman for the French prosecutor's office said the investigating magistrates had received no expert reports so far.

One of her lawyers said the Swiss institute's report would be translated from English into French and handed over to the three magistrates who are investigating the case.

Professor David Barclay, a British forensic scientist retained by Al Jazeera to interpret the results of the Swiss tests, said the findings from Arafat's body confirmed last year's results from traces of bodily fluids on his underwear, toothbrush and clothing.

“In my opinion, it is absolutely certain that the cause of his illness was polonium poisoning,” Barclay told Reuters. “The levels present in him are sufficient to have caused death.

“What we have got is the smoking gun – the thing that caused his illness and was given to him with malice.”

The Swiss scientists' report, posted in full on Al Jazeera's website, was more cautious. It concluded: “Taking into account the analytical limitations aforementioned, mostly time lapse since death and the nature and quality of the specimens, the results moderately support the proposition that the death was the consequence of poisoning with polonium-210.”

Al Jazeera said the levels of polonium found in Arafat's ribs, pelvis and in soil that absorbed his remains were at least 18 times higher than normal.

The same radioactive substance was slipped into a cup of tea in a London hotel to kill defecting Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. From his deathbed, Litvinenko accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder.

The British government refused to hold a public inquiry into his death after ministers withheld some material which could have shed light on Russia's suspected involvement.

Barclay said the type of polonium discovered in Arafat's body must have been manufactured in a nuclear reactor.

While many countries could have been the source, someone in Arafat's immediate entourage must have slipped a miniscule dose of the deadly isotope probably as a powder into his drink, food, eye drops or toothpaste, he said.

BRIEF RECOVERY

Arafat fell ill in October 2004, displaying symptoms of acute gastroenteritis with diarrhea and vomiting. At first Palestinian officials said he was suffering from influenza.

He was flown to Paris in a French government plane but fell into a coma shortly after his arrival at the Percy military hospital in the suburb of Clamart, where he died on November 11.

The official cause of death was a massive stroke but French doctors said at the time they were unable to determine the origin of his illness. No autopsy was carried out.

Barclay said no one would have thought to look for polonium as a possible poison until the Litvinenko case, which occurred two years after Arafat's death.

Some experts have questioned whether Arafat could have died of polonium poisoning, pointing to a brief recovery during his illness that they said was not consistent with radioactive exposure. They also noted he did not lose all his hair. But Barclay said neither fact was inconsistent with the findings.

Since polonium loses 50 percent of its radioactivity every four months, the traces in Arafat's corpse would have faded so far as to have become untraceable if the tests had been conducted a couple of years later, the scientist said.

“A tiny amount of polonium the size of a flake of dandruff would be enough to kill 50 people if it was dissolved in water and they drank it,” he added.

The Al Jazeera investigation was spearheaded by investigative journalist Clayton Swisher, a former U.S. Secret Service bodyguard who became friendly with Arafat and was suspicious of the manner of his death.

Suha Arafat called for an investigation inside the Muqata Palestinian government headquarters and said she and her student daughter, Zahwa Arafat, would pursue the case through the courts in France and elsewhere until the perpetrators were brought to justice.

Hani al-Hassan, a former aide, said in 2003 that he had witnessed 13 assassination attempts on Arafat's life, dating back to his years on the run as PLO leader. Arafat claimed to have survived 40 attempts on his life.

Arafat narrowly escaped an Israeli air strike on his headquarters in Tunisia in 1985. He had just gone out jogging when the bombers attacked, killing 73 people.

He escaped another attempt on his life when Israeli warplanes came close to killing him during the 182 invasion of Beirut when they hit one of the buildings they suspected he was using as his headquarters but he was not there. In December 2001, Arafat was rushed to safety just before Israeli helicopters bombarded his compound in Ramallah with rockets.

Additional reporting by Gerard Bon in Paris and Crispian Balmer in Jerusalem; Writing by Paul Taylor; editing by Crispian Balmer and Ralph Boulton

Russian official rules out Arafat polonium poisoning


The head of a Russian forensics agency said on Tuesday that samples from the body of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had revealed no traces of radioactive polonium, a Russian news agency reported.

However, the government scientific body later denied that it had made any official statement about the research, saying only that it had handed its results to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

If confirmed, the findings would deal a blow to Palestinian suspicions that Arafat was assassinated by Israel – a theory fuelled by a Swiss lab report last year which found unusual amounts of the deadly isotope polonium on his clothes.

A Palestinian medical team took samples from Arafat's corpse in the West Bank last year and gave them to Swiss, French and Russian forensic teams in an attempt to determine whether he was murdered with the hard-to-trace radioactive poison.

“He could not have been poisoned with polonium. The research conducted by Russian experts found no traces of this substance,” the Russian news agency Interfax quoted Vladimir Uiba, who heads the Federal Medico-Biological Agency (FMBA), as saying.

Uiba said experts from the FMBA had conducted a detailed study of Arafat's remains.

The agency later sought to distance itself from the comments. “The FMBA of Russia has made no official statement about the results of research on the remains of Yasser Arafat,” the FMBA's press service said.

It added that it had completed its tests and given the results to the authorities.

The Russian Foreign Ministry declined immediate comment, but state-run news agency RIA cited a source in the ministry as saying it was up to the Palestinian authorities to release any information about the tests.

Arafat died aged 75 of an unexplained ailment he developed while confined to his Ramallah headquarters by Israeli tanks at the height of an armed Palestinian uprising in 2004.

Palestinians saw the veteran guerrilla as a hero of their national cause. Israel regarded him as a terrorist, though it denied responsibility for his death.

A negative result from the samples may not totally preclude a poisoning, as experts warned last year that his partial exhumation might have occurred too late to detect polonium.

The Lausanne-based hospital which first found the isotope on Arafat's clothing said that eight years would be the limit to detecting it on his remains and questioned whether such a late examination would provide conclusive results.

A spokesman for the hospital said at the time of the exhumation that findings might be reached by early this year.

No explanation has been given for the lengthy delay in presenting the results.

Reporting by Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Writing by Noah Browning in Ramallah; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Robin Pomeroy

Swiss polling firm wants to know if Jews have too much power


A Swiss polling company working for an undisclosed client is conducting a survey about Jewish power.

Annie Mumenthaler, a representative of Switzerland’s ruling UDC party from the Lausanne suburb of Pully, told the news site 24 Heures that an employee of the Demoscope polling firm interviewed her last week and asked whether she believed Jews had too much power in politics.

“I answered all the question to see just how far this ignominy could go and I was not disappointed,” 24 Heures quoted her as saying Thursday. She said the employee asked her: “Do you find Jews are omnipresent in key positions in the finance industry?” and whether Jews have “too much influence” in American and Swiss politics.

Demoscope, Switzerland’s third largest polling company, conducted the poll for a German contractor working for a Canadian client, both of whom Demoscope would not name, 24 Heures reported. The company began conducting the survey last week, according to the site.

Mumenthaler said she found the questions “shocking, shameful and racist.” Antoine Reymond of the Swiss chapter of the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism, or LICRA, said, “The ideas presented in the survey are reminiscent of the sinister notions propagated during the [Nazi] occupation of France.”

But Johanne Gurfinkel of the Swiss CICAD watchdog group on anti-Semitism said the condemnations were premature.

“We need to know who commissioned the survey and what their goals are before we can say anything for certain,” he said, adding: “Sometimes, provocative and closed questions are presented to respondents by watchdog groups because that way one knows what the population really thinks about a minority.”

Gurfinkel also said that the poll “may relay the stereotypes, but may also show how prevalent they are.”

French Nazi hunter: Swiss Shoah record better than believed


Swiss authorities turned away only 3,000 Jewish refugees during the Holocaust and not 24,500 as believed, French Nazi hunter and historian Serge Klarsfeld said.

Klarsfeld told Switzerland’s Der Sonntag newspaper that the figure of 24,500 came from imprecise archive material processed by the authors of the 1999 Bergier report on Switzerland’s Holocaust-era record and called for a new examination of the issue.

The Bergier commission, which named the figure of 24,500, did not possess information which specified the rejection of Jews or the reasons for denying people entry, Klarsfeld said.

Last month the Swiss SRF television station aired a documentary which suggested the Swiss government turned down refuges despite knowing of German leader Adolf Hitler’s extermination plan and the existence of German concentration camps as early as 1942, the year that Germany decided on its so-called “final solution” for the Jews.

Klarsfeld called on Switzerland to create a new commission to examine the question of the acceptance and rejection of Jewish refugees at the Swiss border during the war years.

“The number of 24,000 is totally wrong,” Klarsfeld told Swiss public radio earlier this week. “It’s unfair to let international opinion believe that 24,000 Jews were turned away from Switzerland and died because of that when the figure of people denied entry is closer to 3,000.”

Klarsfeld also pointed out that 30,000 Jews were admitted into Switzerland at the same time.

“It should be known how many Jews managed to find refuge in Switzerland and how many were turned away and what happened to them. This is about Switzerland’s image in the world, and that’s important for the country,” he said in the Sonntag interview.

Klarsfeld is famous, along with his wife Beate, for their success in tracking down the infamous Gestapo commander Klaus Barbie in Bolivia in the 1970s. The 77-year-old now devotes himself to researching the destiny of French wartime Jews, according to the Netherlands-based news agency IEDE.

Report: Swiss kicked out Jews despite knowing of ‘final solution’


The Swiss government knew about the Nazi program to wipe out Jews in 1942 — earlier than previously known — documents publicized by a Swiss television station suggest.

A report aired by the German-language station SRF on Sunday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, said the government was aware of German leader Adolf Hitler’s extermination plan and the existence of German concentration camps as early as 1942, the year that Germany decided on its so-called “final solution” for the Jews.

Switzerland, which was neutral throughout World War II, was nonetheless throwing asylum seekers out of Switzerland that year as it tightened immigration quotas.

The TV show was aired hours after the release of a speech by Swiss President Ueli Maurer that described Switzerland as “a land of freedom and justice” during a “dark era, thanks to a generation of brave men and women.”

On Monday, three Swiss Jewish organizations condemned Maurer's words as “a simplistic and exclusively positive” presentation that “hides the weakness and errors” of Swiss authorities in dealing with refugees. The organizations — CICAD, FSCI and PJLS — noted that the problems were documented in the 2002 final report of the Bergier commission of inquiry.

The information revealed on Sunday was in hundreds of letters, telegrams and detailed reports collected by Swiss diplomats and sent to the federal cabinet during World War II. The government also received information about the Nazi activities through photos, SRF reported.

“We can prove that the information about the murder of Jews was known in Bern as of May 1942,” Sascha Zala, director of  Diplomatic Documents Switzerland, told SRF.

The previously unpublished documents were received by Eduard von Steiger, federal justice and police minister, according to the station.

Several thousand Jewish refugees managed to enter Switzerland illegally during the war, according to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, in addition to 30,000 Jews who entered legally.

Swiss army officer slammed for praising Nazi-era German general


A Swiss army commander reportedly praised Nazi-era German general Erwin Rommel before a group of officers, holding up Rommel as an example for the Swiss army to follow.

According to a report in the Swiss newspaper Der Sonntag, the officer, a lieutenant colonel identified only as “PL,” defended his words as “no praise for Rommel the person, but merely highlighting his leadership.”

Rommel was the World War II field marshal who led German forces in North Africa. He conspired against Adolf Hitler late in World War II. Once the conspiracy was discovered in 1944, he committed suicide after being presented with a choice between killing himself or standing trial for treason.

The Swiss newspaper article, which appeared online on Dec. 8, said the lieutenant colonel delivered his talk on Rommel, who was known as the “Desert Fox,” to a group of soldiers, telling them Rommel “possessed leadership skills and was a model general in combat.”

“I was shocked that one of our officers praised a Nazi as a role model,” one of the soldiers told the newspaper.

The Swiss Ministry of Defense said in a statement that “because of his role in the Third Reich” mentioning Rommel was “inappropriate.”

“There are plenty of Swiss examples which can be used such as Henri Guisan, a symbol of self-assertion in dangerous times,” the ministry added.

Swiss report: Museums should investigate Nazi-era art


A Swiss government report has concluded that the country’s museums should more intensively investigate whether they hold artwork looted during the Nazi era.

The report, published this week by the Federal Culture Office, summarizes the results of a survey of 551 Swiss museums on the state of their provenance research, according to the Claims Conference, the main Jewish organization on restitution issues.

The Swiss government commissioned the survey in 2008, in advance of the of the 2009 Holocaust Era Assets Conference in Prague. The outcome of the conference is also summarized in the newly released report.

The report of the survey’s results found that information and awareness of the issue of Nazi-looted art should be improved in public and private museums; that museums need to intensify provenance research; and that access to the results of provenance research should be simplified.

Of the 416 museums that responded to the survey, 25 stated that works in the possession of their institutions may be affected by the issue of Nazi-looted art, while 43 reported that they had undertaken provenance research on works owned by their institutions.

Some 108 museums established after 1945 indicated that they have not conducted any provenance research.

At the end of the Prague conference, Switzerland was one of 47 countries that signed the Terezin Declaration, which included a commitment to continue working on this issue

The Nazis looted an estimated 650,000 art and religious items from Jews and other victims, according to the Claims Conference.

Congress OKs bill barring military chaplains from mentioning Jesus in official prayers


Congress OKs bill barring military chaplains from mentioning Jesus in official prayers
 
The U.S. Congress rescinded language in Pentagon orders that allowed military chaplains to mention Jesus in official prayers. Controversy over including similar language in the Defense Authorization Act, a critical spending bill, dogged attempts to pull the bill out of a Senate-House conference committee before Congress recessed for midterm elections.
 
The conferees ultimately decided to strike the language and order the Pentagon to rescind its earlier instructions. Mikey Weinstein, a former U.S. Air Force officer who led the battle to remove the language, applauded the decision.”We welcome the opportunity Congress has afforded to discuss the appropriate role of religion and chaplains in the military,” Weinstein, who is Jewish, said last week in a statement issued by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which he founded. “The passage of this bill will be a victory for those of us who have been fighting so assiduously to protect both the rights of the men and women in our armed forces and the United States Constitution.”
 

Austrian extremists gain in elections
 
Two far-right parties with a history of anti-Jewish rhetoric made gains in Austrian elections. National elections held over the weekend saw a 50 percent rise since 2002 elections in the percentage of votes for the Freedom Party and the Alliance for Austria’s Future. Members of both parties have expressed antipathy toward Israel and are known for their campaigns against Muslims living in Austria.
 
The left-leaning Social Democrats won the election with nearly 36 percent of the vote, followed by the center-right People’s Party with 34 percent. The Freedom Party came in third with 11 percent, and the Alliance for Austria’s Future, run by right-wing extremist Jorg Haider, received 4 percent of the vote. The Social Democrats and People’s Party are expected to form a governing coalition.
 
Federal legislation Includes grant for Federation model elderly care program
 
A Jewish federation model to facilitate care for the elderly in their home communities will be included in federal grant legislation. The United Jewish Communities, the umbrella body for North American federations, launched the “Aging in Place” initiative in 2002, helping 40 communities in 25 states obtain federal dollars for naturally occurring retirement communities.The model was featured in a U.S. Senate hearing this year to consider re-authorization of the Older Americans Act. As a result, a federal grant program for the retirement communities is included in language agreed to by House-Senate conferees.
 
Swiss stage pro-Israel rally
 
Approximately 3,000 demonstrators held a pro-Israel rally in the Swiss capital. Saturday’s rally in Bern called for the Swiss government to support Israel’s right to exist and show solidarity with the Jewish state’s fight against terrorism. Twenty organizations signed a resolution urging the government to refuse negotiations with terrorist groups that reject the existence of the Israeli state.
 

British House of Lords member faces probe by party over Israel lobby remarks
 
A member of Britain’s House of Lords will be investigated by her party for comments about the “pro-Israel lobby.” Liberal Democrat Party members have announced that Baroness Jenny Tonge’s position in the party will be reviewed in response to her public remarks.
 
In a speech that recently aired on BBC Radio, Tonge said, “The pro-Israeli lobby has got its [financial] grips on the Western world. I think they’ve probably got a certain grip on our party.”
 
More than 20 of her peers in the House of Lords wrote a letter to the Times condemning Tonge’s comments, stating, “Baroness Tonge evoked a classic anti-Jewish conspiracy theory,” and that her language “as a member of the House of Lords, was irresponsible and inappropriate.”
 
In early 2004, she was fired from her position as Liberal Democrat spokeswoman on international development for saying she could understand why a Palestinian would become a suicide bomber and also that she would consider becoming one were she a Palestinian.
 
Remains of Czech Jewish graveyard found
 
Evidence of a medieval Jewish cemetery was discovered in the Czech Republic.Researchers from a preservationist organization in the city of Pilsen say they found documents in the city archive revealing details of what they believe was one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in Czech lands in the 14th century.
 
The cemetery’s existence was already known, said archaeologist Radek Siroky of the West Bohemian Institute for Heritage Conservation and Documentation, but the new documents reveal more specifics about its location.
 
He said that only excavations, approved by religious authorities, could provide more details about the cemetery’s size and the nature of the Jewish community there.
 
Briefs courtesy of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

World Briefs


Thousands March for Israel in New
York

Tens of thousands gathered in New York to salute Israel. Marchers and onlookers filled Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue on Sunday for the annual Israel Day Parade.

Palestinians Fake Jenin Funerals

Palestinians reportedly have been holding phony funerals in the Jenin refugee camp, apparently to make the death toll there appear worse than it is. An Israel Defense Force drone filmed a funeral procession on April 28, during which stretcher-bearers dropped the purported corpse. The “dead” man hopped back onto the stretcher, but the next time he was dropped, he walked away in a huff.

House May Seek More Funds for Israel

Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives are considering adding $200 million in aid to Israel. Congressional sources say the additional money, which has not been earmarked by the White House as part of its annual supplemental aid package, is expected to be debated Thursday by the House Appropriations Committee and could go before the full House next week. Lawmakers passed a resolution last week expressing solidarity with Israel and seeking additional funds for the Jewish state.

Italy Balks at Bethlehem Deal

Italy stood by its refusal to take in 13 Palestinian terrorists holed up in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. Despite U.S. pressure and appeals from the Vatican, Italian officials said Wednesday that the European Union as a whole should deal with the issue of who takes in the 13 men. “I am opposed to it,” the Italian daily La Stampa quoted Deputy Premier Gianfranco Fini as saying. “If we took in the 13 Palestinians, we would be exposing our country to a series of grave risks.” Jordan, Egypt and other Arab nations also have refused to take in the 13.

On Tuesday, Italy complained that it was not sufficiently briefed on the details of a deal for ending the standoff at the church, where more than 100 Palestinians have been surrounded by Israeli troops for more than a month. Under the terms of the deal, Israel and the Palestinians agreed that 13 of the militants wanted by Israel would be exiled to Italy. In addition, some 26 gunmen would be sent to the Gaza Strip, where they would be imprisoned under the watch of American and British jailers, Palestinian sources said. The remaining Palestinians not wanted by Israel would be freed.

Pro-Israeli Dutch Politician Slain

A Dutch politician who often spoke out on behalf of Israel was shot and killed. Right-wing Pim Fortuyn, who often spoke out against Islam and immigration, was shot at close range Monday night, nine days before national elections. Four people who were with Fortuyn at the time of the attack chased the gunmen, and police are now holding a suspect, according to reports. There are no details about the gunman’s identity or motive.

‘Suspicious’ Fire at Oakland
Synagogue

Officials are investigating what they’re calling a “suspicious” fire at a California synagogue. No one was hurt and there was little damage after the fire burned the outside of the Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland. On Sunday morning, firefighters extinguished three small fires at the site and found what appeared to be gasoline around the building. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Anti-Defamation League are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrators. The Orthodox shul has ben vandalized before when three security cameras were stolen. — Mike Levy, Staff Writer

Florida JCC Scammed?

Top employees at a Florida Jewish Community Center (JCC) may have bilked the institution of hundreds of thousands of dollars. According to the Palm Beach Post, the State Attorney’s Office is investigating a suspected credit card scam at the Jeanne Levy JCC in West Palm Beach, allegedly involving the top executive and several others. The alleged embezzlement was first discovered by the local Jewish federation, which was suspicious after the JCC overspent its $7 million budget.

U.N. Condems Israel

The U.N. General Assembly approved an Arab-sponsored resolution condemning Israel just hours after a Palestinian terror attack on a Tel Aviv suburb. The 189-member world body condemned Israel’s recent military operation in the West Bank and its rejection of a U.N. fact-finding mission to Jenin. The resolution was approved 74-4, with 54 countries abstaining. The United States voted against the resolution

Swiss Fund Wraps Up

A Swiss fund set up to help needy Holocaust survivors wrapped up its work. Created five years ago, the fund paid out some $180 million to nearly 310,000 people around the world, according to officials. The fund was established after Swiss banks were accused of having close financial ties to the Nazis and of hoarding the contents of long-dormant bank accounts opened by Holocaust victims.

All briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Whose Money?


Since 1996, Jewish groups and their lawyers have gone to the mat with the likes of the Germans, the Swiss and the French, extracting $9 billion in restitution for the evil wrought in Europe by Nazi forces and their collaborators.

While the entire process is gradually winding down, a few more battles loom: with the Austrian government, with museums holding looted art-work and with the U.S. companies whose wartime German subsidiaries profited from slave labor.

But the clash that promises to be particularly wrenching will actually pit Jew against Jew: what to do with the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in “residual” funds, those without direct heirs or claimants.

On Sept. 11, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) will formally announce the creation of a foundation – tentatively named the Foundation for the Jewish People – that will determine the spending priorities.The foundation was actually established in June in Jerusalem, but the WJC chose to announce it at a gala event in New York to honor the politicians who have played a key role in restitution, including President Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The foundation board will be made up of representatives of various Jewish organizations, Holocaust survivor groups and the Israeli government. Among the ideas floated are funding Jewish and Holocaust education, restoring Jewish communities in Europe or building Holocaust museums and memorials, said Elan Steinberg, WJC’s executive director.

“The Nazis sought to wipe out not only the Jewish people but Jewish communities and Judaism itself,” Steinberg said.

“Obviously, this has been 50 years too slow,” he added. “But I think the issue we have to address, are now forced to address, is to ensure that how these residual assets are used reflects the best interests of the Jewish people as a whole.”

Many Holocaust survivors vehemently disagree.

While they support the general need for education, commemoration, documentation and research, they believe there are more pressing needs: health care for the 250,000 survivors worldwide, including 130,000 in the United States. An estimated 1,000 survivors die each month.

“Yes, money should be spent for Jewish education and culture, but that is the obligation of klal Yisrael – of all Jews,” said Roman Kent, a survivor who serves as chairman of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and vice-president of the Claims Conference.

“But to me, this money has one specific purpose,” Kent said. “All of it should go to the survivors. As long as there are still survivors who are old and sick and needy, they are the first obligation.”

The $9 billion figure is a bit misleading, and most of it is already spoken for, according to the WJC’s Steinberg.

Per an agreement reached with Germany in July, $5.2 billion will go to some 1.25 million forced and slave laborers. In real terms, Jewish laborers will receive 30 percent of the sum, with 140,000 slave laborers collecting up to $7,500 apiece.

Of the $1.25 billion from the Swiss banks, $200 million went into a humanitarian fund for the 250,000 Jewish survivors around the world. Lump-sum payments ranged from $500 to $1,400. In the United States, nearly $30 million was allocated to more than 60,000 survivors, or $502 apiece.

According to Steinberg, France has committed to $700 million; Holland, $400 million; German insurers, $350 million-plus; various settlements for stolen artwork amount to $200 million; Italian insurer Assicurazioni Generali, $150 million; Norway, about $70 million; and Great Britain, roughly $50 million.In addition, in negotiations with the Claims Conference in the 1950s, Germany agreed to pay annual pensions to some 85,000 survivors. That total has run to nearly $50 billion and about $500 million a year.The Claims Conference is also responsible for selling off unclaimed property from the former East Germany, which now generates close to $80 million per year.

Twenty percent is allo-cated for Holocaust-related research and documentation, while 80 percent goes for social welfare programs for survivors in the former Soviet Union, Israel and the United States. This includes home care assistance for 18,000 survivors in all three regions and 3 million hot meals and 800,000 food packages per year in the former Soviet Union, said Gideon Taylor, the conference’s executive vice-president.

“We’ve been able to make a huge difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people,” Taylor said. “The question is, how do we use the limited resources available from restitution to help the neediest survivors all around the world? It’s what our allocations process grapples with: balancing resources with competing needs.”

Taylor concedes that not everyone will come away satisfied.

But what lies at the heart of this intracommunal debate are two contentious issues: Who are the rightful heirs to all that was lost in Europe, and who has the right to decide how the money should be spent?

Holocaust survivors and their advocates say the stolen property and assets lost did not in fact belong to “the Jewish people as a whole” but to European Jewish communities and individuals. Furthermore, they say, it is the survivors, and they alone, who are entitled to decide the spending priorities, not the groups that negotiated on their behalf.

“We’re not going to be around forever,” said Joe Sachs, co-chairman of the Florida Survivors Coa-lition. “Let’s give these people their due. Just a little justice. A little peace of mind from their health care problems in their last few years.”

Holocaust Survivors To Receive Payments


Payments from a $1.25 billion settlement reached last year with several Swiss banks will start reaching Holocaust survivors by the second half of next year, according to the executive director of the World Jewish Congress.

Some details of the payout plan still need to be worked out by a U.S. District Court later this year, said Elan Steinberg. Details about eligibility are being spelled out this week in newspaper ads throughout the world, and applications must be submitted by Oct. 22.

Individuals who believe they are eligible may call (888) 635-5483 or visit the Web site at www.swissbankclaims.com. — Staff Report

Conflicting Stories


During World War II, did an anti-Semitic Swiss government split upJewish refugee families, require the men to perform backbreaking workin forced labor camps, and treat Jews markedly worse than Christianrefugees?

Or, on the contrary, were Jewish refugees generally treated withdecency and respect at a time when all Swiss had to work for thecommon good and share tight rations?

Talk to former refugees who escaped the Nazi dragnets and foundsafety in Switzerland, and their reports are often wildlycontradictory.

The latest furor about Switzerland’s questionable role in WorldWar II was triggered earlier this month by a British televisiondocumentary on Channel 4 that amounted to a powerful indictment ofSwitzerland’s treatment of Jewish refugees.

Historian Alan Morris Schom presents his report, “TheUnwanted Guests:

Swiss Forced Labor Camps, 1940-1944.” Photocourtesy Simon Wiesenthal Center

The harsh picture took on even darker hues in a report byhistorian Alan Morris Schom, “The Unwanted Guests: Swiss Forced LaborCamps, 1940-1944,” commissioned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center andreleased last week in Los Angeles as Wire services, newspapers and TVnetworks immediately picked up on the report and delivered it aroundthe world, often with provocative headlines and graphics. And it’snot over, with both Time and Newsweek coming out with major stories.

The new list of accusations hit Swiss officials like a blow to thesolar plexus. They were already reeling from earlier charges thatSwiss banks had filled their vaults by appropriating the accounts setup by Holocaust victims and by laundering Nazi gold — but at leastthese transgressions dealt mainly with bankers and money. The newreport went further by attacking the fundamental image of the Swissas a decent and humane people.

An official with the Swiss Embassy in Washington phoned The JewishJournal and reported, in a choked voice, on a CNN news segment thatopened with footage of Nazi concentration camps.

The implied comparison was obviously odious, and even the harshestcritics of Switzerland have rejected it. No Jews were killed in Swisscamps — though there were some cases of medical negligence — andnone were deliberately worked to death.

Now a number of Jewish veterans of Swiss camps have rallied to thedefense of Switzerland, hailing the country as the savior of some28,000 Jewish refugees (although roughly the same number were turnedback at the Swiss border).

Al A. Finci of Sherman Oaks, a native of Sarajevo, crossed theSwiss border as a teen-ager with his family in the spring of 1944. Atall times, he said, “we were treated courteously and with respect …and sent to a boarding school for me, a Swiss family for my 10-yearold sister, and a vacant hotel, used to accommodate refugees, for myparents.”

In an interview, Finci said, “I have no special love for theSwiss; they are a cold and often gruff people, but they saved mylife.”

Arthur P. Stern, a Holocaust survivor who spent much of the war inSwitzerland, described parts of the Schom report as “a lot ofgarbage.”

A self-described “professional Jew,” who holds leadershippositions in numerous Jewish organizations and retired as presidentof Magnavox Advanced Products, Stern said that it violates Jewishtradition when false accusations are leveled for the sake ofpublicity.

The Swiss government did a number of bad things, such assuspending the country’s traditional right of refuge to limit Jewishimmigration, but “compared to Portugal, Spain and Sweden, and eventhe United States, which only admitted 50,000 Jews when 600,000unused visas were available, Switzerland comes out very well,” Sternsaid.

Alex Koron, a native of Munich now living in Desert Hot Springs,was assigned to a camp at Birmensdorf in October 1942.

“We lived in military barracks and slept on straw mats. The foodwas sufficient and was rationed even for the Swiss. I worked in thekitchen, did repairs, removed tree stumps and blew up rocks to clearfields to grow food,” said Koron.

“I worked eight hours a day, there were no guards, no barbed wire.Almost every weekend, I went into town. I never encounteredanti-Semitism.”

Despite such testimony, the Wiesenthal Center, Dr. Schom, theauthor of “Unwanted Guests,” and Simon Reeve, the writer of theBritish documentary, stand fully by their reports and have witnessesto back their charges.

Reeve said in a call from London that he interviewed 25 veteransof the Swiss camps, of whom only one “had a positive experience.”

“I found that there was a broad policy of anti-Semitism inSwitzerland before and during the war, and there is no doubt thatJewish refugees were exploited, not just for Switzerland’s survivalbut to further the country’s economy,” Reeve said.

One of his witnesses was Manfred Alexander, who, after escaping aGerman concentration camp, made it to Switzerland.

Alexander told The New York Times: “[There], I was put in a prisonwith murderers. Then I was sent to camps where they put us intostriped uniforms and we worked from daybreak to sundown in thefields. A guard beat people. Those who tried to escape, they sentdogs after them.”

Other former inmates cited examples of senseless cruelty or sheergreed. Michael Jacobovitz of New York, then a 17-year-old OrthodoxJew from Cologne, would not eat non-kosher food in his camp, and whenhe begged a guard for a second slice of bread, he was threatened withforcible