Vatican Mulls AIDS Effort
The World Jewish Congress and the Vatican are discussing a joint initiative to combat AIDS in Africa. The details of the initiative were being ironed out this week in Rome during meetings between top Jewish and Vatican officials, including the new pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI. The WJC and the Vatican, who were at loggerheads in recent years — most notably over the role of the church’s World War II-era leader, Pope Pius XII — have been improving relations by launching humanitarian initiatives and avoiding public spats. They already have a joint program to fight poverty in Argentina, and the Africa initiative is seen as a follow-up to those efforts.
French: Bias Widespread
According to a recent poll, 70% of French citizens think that antisemitism is a widespread phenomenon in France. But 91% of the 1,000 people surveyed by the French Association of Friends of the University of Tel Aviv said an acquaintance’s Jewishness would have “no effect whatsoever” on them, as opposed to 83% who said this in 1987. Ninety-five percent said they wouldn’t care if they had a Jewish doctor; 92% would think nothing of having a Jewish boss. Nine percent said they would be opposed to having a Jewish son- or daughter-in-law, and 17% would be opposed to the election of a Jewish president. Some members of the Jewish community have criticized the poll for ignoring areas of France such as heavily Muslim suburbs of Paris, where antisemitic attitudes are believed to be more prevalent.
Ethiopian Plan Approved
The North American Jewish Federation system approved a major fund-raising initiative to help promote Ethiopian immigration to Israel and to aid elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union.
The board of trustees of the United Jewish Communities voted Sunday for a campaign to raise $160 million over several years — separate from the federation system’s annual fund-raising campaign. About $100 million will go toward the expedited immigration and absorption of the Falash Mura, Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity, and for the integration of Ethiopian Jews already living in Israel. The remaining funds are intended to support poor, elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union and to support Jewish identity-building programs for youth there.
Texas Governor Rebuked
The American Jewish Committee criticized Texas Governor Rick Perry for signing two “values-related” bills in a Christian school. Perry signed measures requiring parental consent for abortion and expressing support for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage during a visit Sunday to the Calvary Christian Academy, located in Fort Worth, Texas. The move prompted THE AJCommittee’s general counsel, Jeffrey Sinensky, to accuse the governor of “blatantly mixing political and religious affairs.” He argued that Perry sent a message that he is “politically aligned with one particular religious movement, working to advance its interests while they work to advance his.”
Perry and his spokesmen had dismissed such criticism earlier, saying that it was an excuse to target the values in the bill. A rabbi for a congregation of “messianic Jews,” which tries to convince Jews to accept Jesus as their messiah, blessed the event.
Al-Arian Trial Opens
Prosecutors accused a former professor at an American university of living a “double life” as a conduit for Islamic Jihad. The trial of Sami Al-Arian opened Monday in Tampa, Fla., and prosecutors alleged that the former University of South Florida professor raised money and organized operations for the terrorist group.
His defense attorney suggested that the case is about Al-Arian’s right to free speech, including making aggressively anti-Israel statements. Al-Arian was fired from the school in 2003, after he was indicted. He has been under investigation for more than a decade, and the case was at the center of last year’s Florida Senate race.