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Newsdesk September 3, 2004

Israel Blames Syria

Israel implicated Syria in Tuesday’s double suicide bombing in Beersheva. Syria has continued to offer logistical and financial backing to terrorist organizations operating out of Damascus, a senior military official told Ha’aretz. At least 16 people died in the bombings. This is the first time that Palestinians have succeeded in carrying out such an attack in six months, despite repeated attempts. Thousands of Palestinians in Gaza celebrated the attacks, The Associated Press reported.

French Backlash Feared

French Jewish leaders fear they may have cried wolf once too often after a Jew was arrested in connection with the well-publicized arson of a Jewish community center in central Paris.

Paris police said that a 52-year-old Jewish man arrested Monday morning in connection with the August 22 torching of the Judeo-Spanish social center in the capital’s 11th district is the principal suspect in the arson. Police said the man, identified only as “Raphael B.” and described as unstable, is a former caretaker at the institution who had received free meals in return for his volunteer activities.

It is believed that the center wanted to part company with the man, provoking what police think was an act of vengeance.

The arrest shocked Jewish communal leaders who had successfully mobilized the French political establishment to condemn what appeared to be an antisemitic attack.

Moise Cohen, president of the Paris Consistoire — the country’s principal Jewish religious group and the organization that owns the burned building — was sharply critical of Jewish communal reactions. “From the beginning, we thought this wasn’t normal,” Cohen said. “The building is in a very quiet neighborhood, and there was no indication on the outside that it was a former synagogue. From the start of the investigation, the police thought it was someone connected to the institution.”

Political reaction following the incident was strong, particularly since swastikas and various antisemitic slogans were daubed around the gutted building.

President Jacques Chirac was among those quick to suspect antisemitic motives, while Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin rushed back to the capital from his hometown of Poitiers to visit the scene and reassure the Jewish community.

In the aftermath of the attack, Jewish leaders sought to link the incident to recent cases in which judges had been lenient with antisemitic offenders.

The recent arson is only the latest example of politicians and community leaders incorrectly claiming that an attack was motivated by antisemitism.

In July, an incident in which a young woman claimed that she and her baby were attacked on a suburban train drew fierce condemnations from politicians and religious leaders — until it was discovered that the woman had made up the story. Similarly, the recent knifing of a yeshiva student in the Paris suburbs apparently was not motivated by antisemitism. And police still are investigating claims by a rabbi that he was stabbed outside his synagogue in 2003. Reports allege that the rabbi may have stabbed himself.

Sharon Left Alone

Ariel Sharon’s security entourage inadvertently left the prime minister home alone Tuesday, leaving for the Knesset without him. The Israeli prime minister, who had stopped by his official residence in Jerusalem on his way back from his farm in the south of Israel, was left with only one personal bodyguard. It was only when his entourage reached the Knesset that they realized they had left Sharon behind, army radio reported. Security officials told the radio that had the incident taken place anywhere but the official residence, which is heavily fortified with security, a serious breach of security would have occurred.

Israeli Minister Resigns

Israel’s minister of internal security quit his post until a criminal probe against him is over. Tzachi Hanegbi’s temporary resignation came Tuesday after Attorney General Menachem Mazuz elected to investigate allegations that Hanegbi made illegal political appointments while he was environment minister from 2001 to 2003. Mazuz also has decided to investigate other senior civil servants in connection with the appointments. Prime Minister Sharon accepted the resignation of Hanegbi, who will serve as minister without portfolio during the investigation.

IBM Seeks To Block Suit

IBM asked a Swiss court to block a lawsuit claiming the country’s punch-card machine helped the Nazis murder Gypsies. The lawsuit, filed by a Gypsy group, follows a 2001 book by Edwin Black arguing that the punch cards helped the Nazis make their killing operation more efficient. IBM says its German subsidiary was taken over by the Nazis before World War II and that it had no control over how IBM machines were used by the Nazis.

Iranian Athlete Paid

Iranian officials reportedly awarded $120,000 to an athlete who refused to compete against an Israeli in the Olympics. The amount given during the weekend to Arash Miresmaeli was equal to what he would have received for winning a gold medal. “Miresmaeli’s act was extremely valuable, and therefore we are awarding him the gold medalist award,” Mohsen Mehralizadeh was quoted as saying in the Iranian media. Miresmaeli officially failed to make weight for his judo bout against Ehud Vaks at the Athens Games, but most observers believe that was just a cover.

Olympic Award Protested

The International Olympic Committee is awarding the Olympiart Prize to Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, who said that “Jews are at the root of all evil.” Known for his score for “Zorba the Greek,” Theodorakis has explained his remarks by saying of Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and American Jews: “I am totally opposed to Sharon’s policy and I have stressed this repeatedly, just as I have repeatedly condemned the role of prominent American Jewish politicians, intellectuals and theorists in the shaping of today’s aggressive Bush policy.”

The Anti-Defamation League condemned the award to Theodorakis, whom the group called “an unrepentant antisemite.”

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