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Newsdesk July 23, 2004

Chirac: No Note to Sharon

French President Jacques Chirac denied reports that he rescinded an invitation to Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to visit Paris.

On Monday, it was reported that Chirac had sent a letter to Sharon after the Israeli leader called on French Jews to move to Israel because of antisemitism in France. Sharon’s statement incensed French officials. In a statement late Monday, Chirac’s office denied that a formal letter had been sent to Sharon, saying instead that “a possible visit to Paris by the Israeli prime minister, for which no date had been fixed, will not be examined until the explanations demanded have been furnished.”

The controversy erupted after Sharon told a visiting delegation of American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem on Sunday that French Jews should move to Israel immediately in order to flee rising antisemitism.

“If I have to advise our brothers in France, I’ll tell them one thing: Move to Israel, as early as possible. I say that to Jews all around the world, but there, I think it’s a must and they have to move immediately,” Sharon said.

Sharon blamed Muslims for the “wildest antisemitism” in France, which he said was “based on anti-Israeli feelings and propaganda.”

The comments drew immediate criticism from French government officials, and Jacques Revah, Israel’s charge d’affaires in Paris, was called in to the ministry to account for the remarks. French Jewish leaders also complained.

Yves Kamami, an executive member of the CRIF umbrella organization of French Jews, said that he feared Sharon’s remarks could have the effect of “cutting ourselves off even more from the general community.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations argued that Chirac had overreacted. “I think perhaps Mr. Chirac is attempting to divert attention from their failure to address the antisemitism, to apprehend those responsible” for attacks on Jews, Hoenlein told The Associated Press.

U.N.: Tear Down the Fence

The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to order Israel to dismantle its West Bank security barrier. The vote was delayed several times as European nations tried to negotiate a compromise with the Palestinians, but the nonbinding resolution passed Tuesday night by a vote of 150-6, with 10 countries abstaining.

All 25 members of the European Union voted in support of the resolution, which affirmed the July 9 International Court of Justice opinion that the fence is illegal and must be dismantled. Israeli officials note that since construction of the fence began, the number of successful Palestinian terrorist attacks has fallen precipitously, and far fewer Israelis have been killed or injured. “Thank God that the fate of Israel and of the Jewish people is not decided in this hall,” Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, said after the vote.

McKinney Wins Primary

Former Rep. Cynthia McKinney won enough votes to avoid a runoff in her quest to return to Congress. McKinney, who was targeted by Jewish donors two years ago because she was seen as anti-Israel, won 51% of the vote in the Democratic primary Tuesday in Georgia’s Fourth District, avoiding a runoff. Jewish donors who had backed McKinney’s opponent in 2002 did not contribute heavily to this year’s race, and several said they were waiting for a runoff to fund a challenger. McKinney will face Republican Catherine Davis in November in the heavily Democratic district.

Powell Trip in Flux

Secretary of State Colin Powell’s aides advised him this week to skip Israel and the Palestinian Authority on his trip to the Middle East next week, which likely will be his last visit to the region before November’s presidential election.

As of Wednesday morning a final decision on Powell’s Middle East itinerary had not been made.

Powell is leaving Monday for a short trip to the Middle East and Eastern Europe. In all likelihood, he will visit Egypt and one or two Gulf states.

His senior advisers, State Department sources said, counseled him not to stop in Jerusalem, the West Bank or Gaza because of the “instability” in the region.

Bill To Limit Citizenship

The Knesset on Wednesday approved in a 59-28 vote the first reading of a bill that would tighten significantly Israel’s immigration policies and reduce the authority of the interior minister regarding immigration policy.

All the members of Shinui abstained from the vote. Shinui lawmaker Avraham Poraz currently holds the interior portfolio.

The new bill proposes to strip the interior minister’s authority to confer citizenship rights to those who are not eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return.

The bill is aimed at addressing the controversial demographic changes that are lowering the proportion of Jews in the Israeli population. Three main groups that would be affected include foreign workers, immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Palestinians from the territories who marry Arab Israeli citizens.

Justice Minister Yosef Lapid said after the vote that legislation would have to be revised before final passage to preserve the Law of Return, which currently grants immigrant rights to Jewish immigrants and their non-Jewish relatives.

Among other things, the proposal would nullify the interior minister’s power both to confer citizenship on a non-Jewish spouse of an Israeli citizen, and to authorize residence for elderly parents from the former Soviet Union who have a child married to someone who gained Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. The new law also would block the immigration of children by former marriages of non-Jewish spouses of Israeli citizens.

Police: Judge Hit Personal

Police investigating the murder of Tel Aviv District Court Judge Adi Azar, gunned down outside his suburban Tel Aviv home Monday evening, now believe that the motive for the mob-style hit was personal and had nothing to do with his judicial rulings.

The killing of Azar, 49, the first assassination of a judge in modern Israeli history, left Israelis stunned and groping for answers. Initial speculation centered on terrorism or organized crime, but investigators said evidence pointed to neither.

Hundreds of people filed past his coffin, which lay in state in the Tel Aviv courthouse lobby, where Azar had worked for more than two decades. Hundreds more attended his funeral, where eulogies were delivered by Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, Public Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and others.

Barak told the assembled mourners: “We, Israel’s judges, will not be deterred from seeing justice done, and upholding the state’s guiding principles.”

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