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Newsdesk July 9, 2004

Austrian President Dies

Austrian President Thomas Klestil, the first head of the Alpine state to visit Israel, died Tuesday, two days before his scheduled retirement.

Klestil became president in 1992 and restored the reputation of the Austrian presidency after his predecessor, Kurt Waldheim, was revealed to have had links to the Nazis. He also opposed the far-right Freedom Party, which entered government in 2000. Earlier this year, he hosted more than 100 Orthodox rabbis at the Hofburg Palace and received a blessing from Israel’s chief rabbi, Yona Metzger.

Klestil penned an opinion article in the June 18 issue of the Forward, in which he argued that “antisemitism is often disguised as anti-Zionism.” The Austrian president wrote the piece in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the death of Theodor Herzl, the Vienna-born father of Zionism. Klestil was 71.

Britain To End Reparations

The British government announced that at the end of August it will shut down a program that compensated Nazi victims who had their property confiscated by Britain during World War II.

During World War II Britain enacted a law allowing the government to confiscate the property of all residents of enemy countries, including Jews from Germany and its allies. After the war many of these assets were returned, but in 1997, in the midst of a world-wide spate of Holocaust restitution cases, British research showed that the government had not returned everything.

The Enemy Compensation Advisory Panel, which was established in 1999, has paid out almost $30 million to 377 of the 1121 claims that were made, but administrators say the claims have been dwindling. Among the material assets held by the government, only a bracelet and diamond tie-pin remain, both of which will be given to the Imperial War Museum until heirs come forward.

Elections Set for 2006

Israel’s next general elections will be in 2006, a year earlier than planned. On Tuesday, the High Court of Justice brought the election date forward, ruling in favor of petitions filed by opposition Knesset parties. The Central Elections Committee had said the Knesset term should end in November 2007, a finding backed by Prime Minister Sharon’s government. But the court determined that sticking to this timetable would overextend lawmakers’ four-year mandate, and thus scheduled elections for November 2006.

Vatican: We Helped Jews

The Vatican released documents this week supporting its claim that it helped Jews during World War II. Among the two volumes of documents and eight DVDs released by the Vatican was a letter from a bishop who complained in 1943 that the Vatican was doing too much to help Jews. The Anti-Defamation League welcomed the release of the documents, but said that important archives remain closed. The behavior of the Vatican and its wartime pope, Pius XII, has long been a thorn in Catholic-Jewish relations.

Israeli Eyes on U.S. Border

The United States is using Israeli surveillance drones to help patrol its border with Mexico. The Israeli firm Elbit Systems announced Wednesday that a subsidiary, the Texas-based EFW Inc., was providing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection officers with an unspecified number of Hermes 450 unmanned air vehicles. The aircrafts are being used to track illegal activities along the Arizona section of the American-Mexican border, the first use of unmanned air vehicles for frontier patrols, Elbit said. Reuters put the value of the deal at $10 million.

Liz Taylor Fights Art Case

Elizabeth Taylor has filed a lawsuit seeking a pre-emptive court declaration that she is the rightful owner of Vincent van Gogh’s “View of the Asylum of Saint-Remy,” according to The Associated Press. The film star is fighting claims by descendants of Margarete Mauthner that the painting, which hangs in the living room of Taylor’s Bel Air estate, was taken from the German woman by Nazis. The A.P. reports that appraisers said the van Gogh could fetch $10 million to $15 million at auction.

Egypt Seeks Redress

According to the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, the Egyptian government wants Israel to pay compensation for its forces’ execution of captured Egyptian soldiers. Reportedly, Egypt has formally requested that Israel set up a military inquest into “crimes by Israeli soldiers against Egyptian prisoners” during the 1956 and 1967 wars. Prompted by a former Israeli army commander’s confession to a newspaper that he had executed Egyptian prisoners during battle, Jerusalem set up an internal probe that concluded such actions had indeed taken place on both sides. According to Asharq al-Awsat, Egypt intends to use the results of a formal inquest as the basis for a damages claim with the High Court of Justice in Jerusalem.

Nader Slams ‘Puppets’

The Congress and White House are “puppets” of Israel, presidential nominee Ralph Nader said in an interview with Pat Buchanan that appears in this month’s American Conservative magazine. “The subservience of our congressional and White House puppets to Israeli military policy has been consistent,” Nader said. “Both parties concede their independent judgment to the pro-Israeli lobbies in this country because they perceive them as determining the margin in some state elections and as sources of funding,” he said. Nader, who in discussing Israeli policies stated that Israelis enjoy greater freedoms than do Americans, said he would heed Israel’s peace movement in formulating his own policies.

Allstate Changes Policy

Allstate reversed its decision to deny life insurance to travelers to Israeli and Palestinian areas. It was one of several American insurance companies that denied coverage to those who had traveled or planned on traveling to Israel. Democratic Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois lauded the insurer’s decision Tuesday but said other companies’ policies made it necessary to pass legislation on the issue. “Allstate’s decision is a good first step, but we need to make sure that all insurance companies stop discriminating based on either past or future travel,” the congressman said.

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