A Syrian refugee child holds a bread at a camp for Syrian refugees near the town of Qab Elias, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, Aug. 8. Photo by Jamal Saidi/REUTERS.

A modest proposal: Short-term camps for Syrian refugees in America

What to do about Syrian refugees?

Their ongoing flight from civil war and poverty continues to challenge America socially, economically, and morally. While the United States did not create the conditions for the migration, human beings in distress surely deserve our compassion. But absorbing people who are completely alien to the American lifestyle endangers both our cultural values and our economic well-being.

There is a third way: admit Syrian refugees, but house them in camps rather than set them loose on our streets – where they are already attempting to join American society. Segregated villages for Syrian refugees would solve their short-term problem – finding a place to survive (however uncomfortably) – without creating long-term problems for the United States and our cultural unity. Most importantly, once things return to normal in Syria, these temporary foreign guests (and their descendants) can simply go home.

Wait, that’s offensive to you? You think it would shock the conscience of good people everywhere? Funny, because that’s precisely how the world has treated Palestinian refugees living in Arab countries neighboring Israel over the last 70 years.

During Israel’s 1948 War for Independence, at least 700,000 Arabs were expelled or fled from what became Israel. Most went to refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt, which expected them to return to their homes when the fighting ended. But Israel, busy building a Jewish homeland for refugees of their own group, blocked their re-entry. The 1967 Six-Day War produced another 300,000 migrants, and today the total number of Palestinian refugees and their descendants is nearing 5 million.

Life for Palestinian refugees has been hard, in large part because the countries where they’ve lived (except the Kingdom of Jordan) have made no effort to integrate them, and in fact created obstacles to their absorption. Egypt had no interest in absorbing the Arabs living in Gaza in the 1950s, for example, and in fact when poised to regain the Sinai Peninsula as part of the Camp David Accords, Egypt rejected annexing the adjacent Gaza Strip, despite a shared ethnic and religious background with Palestinians. The story has been similar for refugees mired in camps in Lebanon and Syria.

Displaced persons present moral and practical challenges to civilized nations, but that’s nothing new. Since World War II alone the world has unfortunately had to succor refugees hundreds of times – Chinese flooding British Hong Kong in the early 1950s, say, or Hungarians moving to Austria in 1956.

In fact, the United Nations constantly deals with such emergencies through its Refugee Agency, whose mission statement defines its job as “finding solutions that enable refugees to live their lives in dignity and peace.” They specify three strategies: voluntary repatriation, resettlement and integration.

So for decades, the world’s nations have had a simple goal for all the world’s refugees: that they stop being refugees.

Well, that’s been the goal for all the world’s refugees except Palestinians.

You see, Palestinians are the only category of refugees “helped” by a separate agency – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Armed with an annual $1.2 billion budget, UNRWA’s structure prevents Palestinians from thriving in the places where they live. Unlike with other ethnic and national groups, the United Nations treats even the descendants of original displaced persons as permanent refugees, and eschews most steps to integrate them.

The reason is clear: a deliberate Arab-led campaign to embarrass and delegitimize Israel.

Arab leaders have been remarkably blunt about their motivations. In 2004, Arab League spokesman Hisham Youssef, told the Los Angeles Times that Palestinians live “in very bad conditions,” but said the official policy is meant “to preserve their Palestinian identity.” After all, he continued, “if every Palestinian who sought refuge in a certain country was integrated and accommodated into that country, there won’t be any reason for them to return to Palestine,” he said.

Under the status quo, all the Arab elites win. Arab nations escape the upheaval of integrating a poor and alienated subgroup, and Palestinian leaders keep their ideology that the refugees already have a home – the future nation of Palestine to be built on land currently occupied by the Jews.

But the refugees themselves don’t win. Their physical, political, and legal suffering continues. Outside Jordan, they and their children are not citizens of the countries where they live, and they face legal and practical obstacles to progress in areas like employment, education, and health care. Many can’t even own property.

Now, here’s the truly obscene part: some of the Palestinian refugees living in Syria have joined the exodus to Europe, where they are being resettled like everyone else. Think about that: When their suffering was agitprop theater to hurt Israel, they were stateless. But with a non-Zionist antagonist, suddenly they’re on track to becoming French and Dutch.

Migrations and displacements are a regular feature of world history – and Jews have been no exception. From our days weeping by the waters of Babylon to the mass transfer of nearly a million Jews from Arab and Muslim nations soon after Israel’s founding, our people have known dislocation and exile. Absorption of foreigners has placed many countries on trial, as the Syrian crisis is doing today. But nobody’s suffering should be part of an international puppet show designed to jerry-rig an impractical solution to a longstanding morass.

Here’s another modest proposal: Israel’s neighbors can welcome – as equal citizens – the Palestinians who for generations have lived within their borders. Would that be so hard?

David Benkof is a frequent contributor to the Jewish Journal. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or Facebook, or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.

Arab citizens of Israel feel tensions

This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

This weekend, Israel’s security services went on high alert as rumors spread that an Israeli soldier had been kidnapped near Israel’s border with Syria. When the gag order was lifted, it turned out that a 23-year-old Arab citizen of Israel had used a paraglider to cross the border into Syria, apparently to join Islamic State.

He is not the first to do so. A spokesman for Israel’s Shin Bet security service told The Media Line that about 40 Arab citizens of Israel and Palestinians from East Jerusalem have joined Islamic State over the past few years. In most cases, Israel has taken away their citizenship.

The paraglider added to the tensions swirling around Arab citizens of Israel who make up just over 20 percent of Israel’s population. The current wave of violence has sharpened these tensions as three of the attackers have been Arab citizens, and many of the others have been teenagers from east Jerusalem, which Israel acquired in 1967 and annexed.

“In every clash between Israel and the Palestinians, the Arab citizens of Israel will side with their brethren – you have to take it for granted,” Sami Smooha, a professor of sociology at Haifa University and himself an Arab citizen of Israel told The Media Line. “That said, they don’t really take any action. We see that even the demonstrations have died down and I don’t expect to see any more.”

Arab citizens of Israel say that the last month of dozens of Arab attacks on Jews has increased suspicion on all sides. Arab employees in Jewish schools have been told not to come to work, or to work only after the children go home. A poll by the New Wave Economic Institute found that 60 percent of Jewish Israelis say they have avoided buying from Arab-owned shops since the beginning of the month. Many Israeli Arabs say they have taken to speaking in Hebrew in public, fearful they could be a target for angry Jewish attacks. In several instances, Arab citizens of Israel have been beaten by Jewish mobs. Arab citizens also held a commercial strike to protest the violence.

Smooha believes that the overall framework of relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel remains intact, despite suspicion on all sides.

“There is a lot of interdependence between the communities and there is a commitment by Jews, Arabs and the state to continue this system of peaceful relations,” Smooha said. “I don’t see what is happening now as a real threat to Arab-Jewish relations.”

Arab citizens of Israel have more political power than ever before. In the last election, four separate Arab parties united to form the Joint List, which won twelve Knesset seats, becoming Israel’s third largest party. Long-time Knesset member Ahmed Tibi, known for firebrand speeches in the Israeli Knesset was elected Deputy Speaker.

Yet there is a sense of deepening separation among the communities. Someone on Facebook recently posted that he was looking for a small Jewish community in Israel to move to outside the main cities. Thrown into his description of a “nice balance of religious groups” and “great community vibe” was two words “Arab-free”. His post sparked a Facebook storm with some calling him a racist and others applauding his sentiment. He eventually modified the post.

With the exception of Haifa, Ramla, and Akko, there are few places were Jews and Arabs really live side-by-side. Even in Haifa, the largest mixed Arab-Jewish city, there are mostly-separated neighborhoods.

Several cities in Israel including Ashkelon and Rehovot, announced that Arab construction workers would no longer be allowed in their cities.

“”We are going through a difficult time. There is a wave of attacks, and no one can guarantee that that wave is over,” Israel’s Economy Minister and head of a hardline party called the Jewish Home Naftali Bennett opened his speech. “We are working every day until late at night, including yesterday, to combat terrorism. But you have to know 99.9% of Arab citizens are loyal to the State of Israel. It is only a very small minority acting out against.” 

“Therefore, the policy of the government of Israel should be a tough hand against terrorists, but extending a hand of embrace to faithful citizens. The hard line I wield against terrorists in the Cabinet will continue with new efforts in light of the security situation. But in my job as Economy Minister, I will not permit harm against any employee on the basis of religion or race. Something like that will not happen in Israel.”

Polls have consistently shown that Arab citizens of Israel want to stay, and not become part of any future Palestinian state. At the same time, they demand full equality, and not to be treated with suspicion by their Jewish neighbors and co-workers.

Palestinians offer to mediate Syria conflict

This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Palestinian officials have met their Syrian counterparts as well as Syrian rebels in an effort to mediate a solution to the long-running civil war in Syria, Palestinian officials told The Media Line. The offer came after Saudi Arabia asked Abbas, who has good relations with Syria, Iran, and Russia to push forward a Saudi proposal for a deal in Syria.

Abbas met the Syrian officials in Cairo recently when Arab leaders gathered to celebrate the opening of the newly expanded Suez Canal. He was acting on a request from Saudi officials, Tayseer Khaled, a longtime member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) told The Media Line.

“We are suggesting the formation of a transitional government in Syria with broad powers,” he said. “All sides should stop using weapons, and there should be elections for a new president.”

He said that a constituent assembly should be elected for one year to draft a new constitution which would mark the beginning of a transition to a democratic state, and that parliamentary elections would be held under the new elected legislative authority.”

The proposal is very similar to the Saudi plan, which also eliminates Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad as a potential candidate for the country’s next president. Iran, which has poured money and sent thousands of fighters to help Assad, has offered a different proposal, according to recent media reports, in which Syria would be divided into mini-states according to which part of Syria various groups control. The city of Aleppo, which has been the focus of much of the fighting, would be under international control.

The Syrian civil war has ground on for more than four years, leaving at least 240,000 people dead. Millions of Syrians have become refugees with neighboring countries in the Middle East straining their resources.

The Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia have long been bitter enemies, and rancor has grown over Saudi attacks on Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are supported by Iran. In many ways, the two countries are jockeying for position in the Middle East, and perhaps ironically, it is the Palestinians who have ties with both sides.

Ahmed Majdalani, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, was in Iran last week to discuss a series of issues with Iranian officials, including the deal to limit Iran’s nuclear weapons, which is sharply opposed by Israel. Abbas has announced his intention to visit Iran in the next few months.

After his visit, Majdalani told Palestinian Radio that his trip had been successful and that Iran and “Palestine” will cooperate in several spheres, including economic and diplomatic.”

“Palestine is keen to end the crisis in Syria, because the Palestinian refugees there have paid a heavy price,” Basem Zubaidi, a political analyst at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank told The Media Line. Hundreds of Palestinians in the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus have been killed in the fighting in Syria, and the camp, which used to house 160,000 Palestinians is virtually deserted.

Zubaidi also said that Abbas has close ties with new Saudi King Salman, and the Palestinian president is also close to Russia.

“The Palestinian Authority (PA) is not a party to any dispute or any axis and that is very important,” he said.

The budding relationship between the PA and Iran has grown as ties between Iran and the Islamist Hamas movement which control the Gaza Strip, have cooled. Iran has sharply cut its financial assistance to Hamas, and has been angry over Hamas support for Saudi Arabia’s attacks on the Houthis in Yemen. Hamas leader Khaled Meshal’s planned visit to Iran recently was cancelled, to show Iran’s anger over Hamas’ efforts to move closer to Saudi Arabia.

Palestinian officials say they are the only ones with close ties to all of the parties involved in Syria, and hope to boost their diplomatic credibility as they plan to approach the United Nations in the coming months with a new UN Security Council resolution to recognize them as an independent state.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

The other refugees

Is there a more loaded word in the Arab-Israeli conflict than “refugee”? Is there anything more visceral or emotional than the sight of millions of Palestinians living in miserable refugee camps for three generations?

If any one thing has symbolized the Palestinian cause and put Israel on the defensive, it is this image — this powerful and constant reminder to the world that Israel’s creation 60 years ago came with an “original sin,” and that Palestinians deserve the “right of return.”

You can debate the fairness of this claim, but in our world of easy sound bites, the image of Palestinian suffering has become an albatross around Israel’s neck. The fact that few Jews would ever agree to this right of return — which would erode Israel’s Jewish character — has made this an enormous obstacle to any reconciliation between the two people.

But here’s the question: Will Israel ever be able to claim the high ground when it comes to justice for refugees?

This week in Montreal, where I am spending Passover with my family, I met a man who thinks the answer is yes. He is one of the leaders of the Jewish community here, and he is actively fighting for justice for Middle Eastern refugees.

Jewish refugees, that is.

As Sylvain Abitbol explains it, the expulsion and exodus of more than 850,000 Jews from Arab countries is among the most significant yet little-known injustices against humanity of the past century. For hundreds of years, and in many cases for millennia, Jews lived in countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Lybia, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Iran, Iraq and Yemen. In several of these countries, the Jewish population was established more than 1,000 years before the advent of Islam. From the seventh century on, special laws of the Dhimmi (“the protected”) subjected the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa to prohibitions, restrictions and discrimination — not to mention harsh conditions of inferiority. Still, many Jews managed to prosper despite these circumstances.

Things took a turn for the worse after the birth of Israel in 1948. Between the 1940s and 1980s, the Jews of Arab countries endured humiliation, human rights abuses, organized persecution and expulsion by the local governments; Jewish property was seized without compensation; Jewish quarters were sacked and looted and cemeteries desecrated; synagogues, Jewish shops, schools and houses were ransacked, burned and destroyed; and hundreds of Jews were murdered in anti-Semitic riots and pogroms.

To this day, Arab countries and the world community have refused to acknowledge these human rights violations or provide compensation to the hundreds of thousands of Jews forced to abandon their homes, businesses and possessions as they fled those countries.

But activists like Abitbol are fighting back, all the way to the White House and the U.S. Congress. Abitbol, the first Sephardic Jew to lead the local Jewish Federation in Montreal and now co-president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, connected with this movement a year ago when he joined the board of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC). Together with other organizations like the American Sephardi Federation (ASF) and the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC), the movement, which is officially called the International Rights and Redress Campaign, toiled for years in obscurity.

A few weeks ago, they hit the jackpot.

That’s when the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passed the first-ever resolution to grant recognition as refugees to Jews from Arab and Muslim countries. House Resolution 185 affirms that all victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict must be treated equally, which means it will now be official U.S. policy to mention “Jewish refugees” whenever there is mention of Palestinian refugees in any official document.

It’s a huge victory, but only a beginning. The United Nations and the world media are the next fronts in this battle for Jewish justice. Abitbol, a sophisticated man in his mid-50s who’s fluent in French, English, Arabic, Hebrew and Spanish, has no illusions about Israel’s precarious image in the world. But he’s far from being a cynic. He’s passionate about fighting for the rights of Jewish victims, and he is also a Jewish refugee (from Morocco). Yet he hardly acts like either a refugee or a victim.

Over tea at my mother’s house, he reflected on the major influences of his life. One of the things that stuck with me was something Abitbol said he learned early in his career, when he was in sales. Abitbol, who has two engineering degrees and is chairman of an innovative software company called uMind, calls the technique “listen and adapt:” You adapt your strategy and your communication to the values of your audience.

He gave me a fascinating example. While in Dubai recently on business, an Arab businessman confronted him on the situation in Israel. Abitbol, seeing that the man was a devout Muslim who believed that everything comes from God, gently explained — in Arabic — that if Israel has survived so many wars over 60 years, maybe it’s because it is “Inshallah” (God’s will). Abitbol got the other man’s attention.

Same thing when he spoke recently at a United Nations conference in Geneva on the subject of Jewish refugees. Directly facing representatives of Arab countries, he used the language of indignation and human rights that Arabs have used so successfully against Israel for so many decades, only this time it was on behalf of Jews.

Of course, he added that there is one major difference: Jews didn’t put their 850,000 refugees in squalid camps so they could have a powerful image on the evening news. They helped them resettle, so that one day, one of them would learn five languages and fly to Geneva to speak up on their behalf.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

World Briefs

Report: Saudi Sponsorship Hidden

Saudi Arabia’s sponsorship of an anti-Israel radio campaign
in the United States last year was reportedly hidden. The Saudi government,
through a Washington public relations firm, Qorvis Communications, spent
$679,000 alone on anti-Israel radio ads that ran in 15 U.S. cities last spring,
Time magazine reported this week. Qorvis initially said the ads were sponsored
by a consortium of Mideast policy groups called the Alliance for Peace and Justice.
But in a filing with the U.S. Justice Department last month, Qorvis revealed
that the funding actually came from the Saudi government, according to the

The Saudis spent at least $14.6 million on anti-Israel
public relations in the United States last year, according to The New York Sun

Sharon Seeks Help From California Rep.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reportedly asked a U.S.
congressman of Lebanese descent to assist in negotiations on a possible
prisoner swap between Israel and Hezbollah. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)
briefed Lebanese and Syrian authorities about the Israeli request and his plan
to comply with it, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported, citing the
Arab-language Al-Hayyat newspaper. In recent months, Issa has met with
relatives of captured and missing Israelis in Lebanon, the report said.

Protests Spur Hitler Show Revision

Under fire by Jewish groups, CBS executives will rework an
upcoming TV miniseries about the young Hitler. CBS President Leslie Moonves
said the upcoming “Hitler: Origins of Evil” will include new material in
addition to the biography upon which it’s based, due to concerns by some Jewish
scholars and organizations that the series would humanize Hitler, the New York
Daily News reported. “I don’t think anybody is going to walk out of this
miniseries saying, ‘Gee, you made Hitler into Tony Soprano,'” Moonves said.

Report: Arabs Threaten Olympic

Islamic extremist groups reportedly have threatened to bomb
the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens if security is assigned to a consortium that
includes Israeli companies.

In addition, Arab nations are threatening to boycott the
Olympics if the SAIC Team gets the security contract for the Games, according
to the Greek newspaper Avriani.

According to Avriani, a classified report from Greece’s
government security service mentions that the possibility of using a “Jewish
company” for security at the Games “will blow the Olympics into the air.”

The so-called “Jewish company” — the SAIC Team — actually is
a U.S. consortium that includes two Israeli companies and several Greek

The report says that some SAIC Team employees come from the
Israeli secret services. The report also notes the possibility of attacks
before the Games, as Muslim groups reportedly have threatened a bombing blitz
if a Jewish company receives the Olympic security contract.

Greece also is reportedly concerned that one of the Israeli
companies on the team has signed a cooperation agreement with Turkey, Greece’s
longtime rival. Greece’s Ministry of National Defense noted that national
security could be compromised if the Israeli company gains access to classified

For this reason, the Israeli company’s insignia has been
dropped from a recent SAIC Team advertising campaign.

U.S. Holocaust Museum Turns 10

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum will soon commemorate its
10th anniversary. To mark the anniversary, the museum will present selections
of Anne Frank’s writings. The display opens on June 12, which would have been
the famed diarist’s 74th birthday, and runs through Sept. 12.

“Our first decade taught us that Holocaust history has the
power to speak to everyone — from inner city students to religious leaders,
from Naval Academy midshipmen to the police and FBI,” said the museum’s
director, Sara Bloomfield.

Since its dedication on April 22, 1993, the Washington-based
museum has welcomed nearly 19 million visitors, including 5.5 million school
children, 2.2 million international visitors and 72 heads of state, according
to museum officials.

Muslim Helps Save Brooklyn

A Muslim from Pakistan helped save a Brooklyn synagogue. The
man, who worked at a gas station near the Congregation Young Israel of Kings
Bay, became suspicious when another man came by several times to fill a
container with gasoline. The man called police when he saw the second person
dousing the synagogue with the gasoline. Police soon arrived at the scene and
arrested the alleged perpetrator, who said he wanted to “get back at the Jews.”
The gas station attendant, who was applauded by local Jewish officials and
politicians, said his religious beliefs prompted him to contact the police.

French Leaders Support Rabbi Injured in

Four former prime ministers of France came to a solidarity
service for a Paris rabbi who was stabbed earlier this month. Rabbi Gabriel
Farhi said his assailant yelled in Arabic, “Allah is Great,” but police say
they have not ruled out the possibility that the attacker was a Jew with
far-right political views who opposed Farhi’s Reform movement. Farhi was
lightly wounded in the Jan. 3 attack.

Last Friday’s ceremony in a small Paris synagogue was so
full that members of the crowd, which included France’s interior minister and
other government officials, had to stand outside. A letter of support also was
read from British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Chummy Dolphins Penned

Vacationers at the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat will no
longer be able to swim with the dolphins, after the sea mammals became a little
too chummy in hitting up bathers for snacks. Nature Reserve Authorities said
the dolphins had become accustomed to being fed by visitors and became
aggressive when they were met empty-handed, Israel Radio reported. As a result,
officials warned the public to stop feeding the dolphins and restricted the
mammals to the Dolphin Reef.

Russia Denies Reactor Deal with Syria

An announcement from the Russian Foreign Ministry that Moscow
is building a nuclear reactor in Syria was mistaken, according to a Russian
official. A senior adviser to the Russian minister of atomic energy, Nicolai
Shingrab, said that even though Syria and Russia have been holding “very
general” discussions on the matter for the past two years, no agreement has
been reached because Syria could not afford to buy

Bin Laden Key Chain a Hit

An Osama bin Laden key chain reportedly is popular among
Palestinians. “They’re very popular, especially among taxi drivers and
children,” a shopkeeper in Ramallah told the Jerusalem Post. According to the
merchant, the popularity of the key chains reflects anti-U.S. sentiment among

Three Palestinians Killed in

Three Palestinians were killed during Israeli operations in
the West Bank on Wednesday. In Tulkarm, Israeli troops shot and killed a
Palestinian youth who threw firebombs at them. Palestinians said another youth
was killed during clashes there. Near Jenin, a 45-year-old Palestinian was
killed during an army operation to arrest two Tanzim members armed with rifles,
grenades and ammunition. In Jenin, troops arrested four other wanted
Palestinians, including a local military commander who planned suicide attacks
in Israel.

Meanwhile, Israeli police and soldiers on Wednesday
destroyed the homes of an East Jerusalem-based terrorist cell responsible for
killing 35 Israelis. The attacks attributed to the so-called Silwan cell
include last July’s bombing at the Hebrew University and suicide attacks at a
Jerusalem cafe and a pool hall in Rishon le-Zion. In another development, on
Tuesday, the army closed two Islamic colleges in Hebron. The action was part of
Israel’s response to the Jan. 5 double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv in which 23
people were killed.

Germany Bans Islamic Group

Germany’s interior minister outlawed an Islamic organization
that he accused of spreading anti-Semitic propaganda. The group, Hizb
ut-Tahrir, “is distinguished by the fact that it is active in universities with
anti-Semitic slogans,” Otto Schily told a Germany TV station Wednesday. He
added that the group had long been under observation by German authorities. The
Interior Ministry said the group advocates the destruction of Israel and the
killing of Jews.

Campaign for ‘Portuguese Dreyfus’

A Jewish group reportedly launched a campaign to clear the
name of a man known as the “Portuguese Dreyfus.” The Jerusalem-based Amishav
organization is trying to persuade the government of Portugal to posthumously
clear the name of Arthur Barros Basto, according to The Jerusalem Post. Basto
was a Jewish army captain driven out of the Portuguese military on trumped-up
charges in the 1940s. “This year marks the 60th anniversary of Capt. Barros
Basto’s discharge from the military,” said Amishav’s director, Michael Freund.
“He was a Jewish hero and role model, and his only transgression was that he
sought to inspire people to return to Judaism at a time when that was not
popular with either the Portuguese government or the Church authorities.”

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

World Briefs

U.S.: Syria willing to stop terror

Syria reportedly said it will look into ways to shut down terrorist organizations operating out of Damascus. American officials informed Israel of the new Syrian position after Jerusalem raised the problem of terror in Syria and Lebanon during strategic talks with the United States two weeks ago, Ha’aretz reported. Some U.S. officials reportedly are becoming more receptive to Israel’s request that the United States put Lebanon on its list of state sponsors of terrorism. These sources believe the threat of being added to the list could persuade Lebanon to take a tougher line with Hezbollah.

Rare attack on Israel-Jordan border

An Israeli minister said it’s unlikely the border with Jordan will become a trouble spot, despite a terrorist attack there Tuesday. An Israeli soldier was killed in the ambush, which began when two gunmen armed with hunting rifles fired on an Israeli patrol near the border fence, wounding two soldiers. When other troops came to investigate, the gunmen fired on and threw grenades at them, killing reserve Sgt. Michael Sitbon and wounding two others. The attackers, believed to be Palestinians, were killed when Israeli helicopter gunships gave pursuit. There was no claim of responsibility for the attack. Israel praised the close security cooperation with Jordanian forces on their side of the border during the incident, which occurred just inside Israeli territory.

Terror Cells Uncovered

Israel uncovered three Palestinian cells responsible for shooting attacks in the West Bank. The Shin Bet revealed Wednesday that arrests of at least 17 members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine had been made in villages between Nablus and Kalkilya. The suspects admitted to three shooting attacks on Israeli cars and attempting to plant a roadside bomb. There were no injuries in any of the incidents.

Bush Issues Terrorism Update

President Bush issued an update on the first 100 days of the war on terrorism. In the report, released Dec. 20 by the White House, Bush discusses freezing the finances of terrorist groups accused of attacking Israel and of American charities accused of funneling money to those organizations. The report does not stipulate new actions that will be taken to combat terrorism in the Middle East.

Poll: Palestinians Support Peace

A majority of Palestinians support a cease-fire and return to

negotiations with Israel. Sixty percent of those surveyed in a new Palestinian public opinion poll support Yasser Arafat’s call for a cease-fire in the conflict with Israel. While 71 percent support a return to negotiations with Israel, only 21 percent believe the armed attacks against Israel would stop and negotiations resume soon. And 61 percent believe the current intifada helped achieve Palestinian political aims. The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research conducted the survey Dec. 19-24.

Funeral Firm Accused

The largest funeral company in the United States was accused of desecrating remains in several Jewish cemeteries in Florida.

Several families have filed a class-action lawsuit against the Houston-based Service Corporation International, alleging that its staff broke open burial vaults and dumped the contents in the woods, crushed vaults to make room for others and dug up and reburied remains in locations other than the plots purchased.

Florida’s attorney general is investigating the company and issued a subpoena for all its burial records. SCI owns numerous Jewish funeral homes and cemeteries throughout the United States.

‘The Greatest’ Takes a Hit

Muhammad Ali is coming under attack for making ethnic jokes last week. The Anti-Defamation League said the former boxing great had disappointed them with the jokes. One joke insulted Jews, while the other insulted Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and African Americans. The jokes came before Ali, who is Muslim, was asked to make a public service announcement explaining American policy to Muslims in the Middle East.

S.F. Attack Under Investigation

An Orthodox Jew in a liberal San Francisco suburb says he was punched on his way to Shabbat services. Jason “Yakov” Ashworth says a man dressed like a black Muslim attacked him on a recent Friday afternoon in Berkeley. Police are investigating the incident. Ashworth is a kosher overseer in for the Va’ad Hakashrus of Northern California.

Ex-Iranian Leader: Nuke Israel

The former president of Iran is calling on the Muslim world to develop nuclear weapons to annihilate Israel.

At a Dec. 14 lecture at Tehran University, Ali Hashem Rafsanjani said that if “the world of Islam” obtains nuclear weapons, it should use them against Israel, whose second-strike capability is not enough to destroy the entire Muslim world.

“Nothing will remain after one atom bomb is dropped on Israel, while a similar attack would only hurt Islam,” Rafsanjani said.

Still one of the most powerful leaders in Iran, Rafsanjani described the founding of Israel as “the worst event in all of history.”

Afghans to Welcome Israeli Aid

Afghanistan’s deputy president said her country would welcome Israeli humanitarian aid. But Sima Samar said she would prefer that the aid come from nongovernmental agencies. Samar, the only woman in Afghanistan’s new government, said her country likely would consider diplomatic relations with Israel if Israel and the Palestinians come to a peace agreement.

Jerusalem Post Gets New Editor

The Jerusalem Post newspaper named a new editor. Bret Stephens, an editorial page writer for the Wall Street Journal Europe, will become the new editor of Israel’s largest English-language daily. The current editor of the Post, Jeff Barak, will become deputy editor of the Jewish Chronicle in London.

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency