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Newsdesk October 24, 2003

Senator Backs Sephardim

The chairman of the powerful Senate Republican Conference, Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, is spearheading congressional efforts to seek redress for Jews displaced from Arab countries.

The senator has joined other high-profile political figures signing up to back Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, a coalition of Jewish groups and diplomats charged with documenting the loss of property and potential property for use in future Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Members of the coalition include the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and former American ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke.

Syria Bill Passage Expected

The Senate is expected by early November to pass legislation imposing a range of sanctions on the Syrian regime.

“There is an urge on Capitol Hill to show resolve by passing this bill quickly and decisively,” said a pro-Israel activist in Washington.

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed similar legislation, a move lauded by Jewish organizations of various political stripes.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee scheduled hearings for the bill early next month, but sources on Capitol Hill said the Senate may decide to skip the hearings and proceed to vote on the bill, first in the committee and then on the floor.

The Syria Accountability Act, which pro-Israel activists are hoping will be signed into law by the end of November, authorizes the president to impose sanctions on Syria if it does not end its support of terrorist groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah; cease its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, and withdraw its forces from neighboring Lebanon.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who played a pivotal role in fast-tracking the bill and in securing overwhelming support for it, said: “Syria is a government at war with the values of the civilized world and a violent threat to free nations and free men everywhere. We’ll send a clear message to President Assad and his fellow travelers along the axis of evil: The United States will not tolerate terrorism, its perpetrators or its sponsors. And our warnings are not to be ignored.”

Bush To Honor Kennedy

George H.W. Bush next month will honor one of his son’s staunchest adversaries, Senator Ted Kennedy, with the George Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service. Some Washington insiders are calling the award the first significant public sign of a division between the two Bushes over the war in Iraq.

Kennedy was one of 23 senators who opposed the war in Iraq, and in early October, just weeks before the announcement of the award, he called the war a “fraud” that was “made up in Texas.”

Representatives from the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation have attributed the fact the announcement was made after Kennedy’s comments to poor timing and insisted that the award was more about “contributions of the individuals, and it didn’t have anything to do with politics.” But many in Washington are skeptical about that explanation, according to Richard Murphy, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and an ambassador in the first Bush administration.

“This has been described as a signal to the son, that the father found common ground with Kennedy on the handling of Iraq,” Murphy said.

Still, Murphy said, he has trouble believing that the elder Bush would deliver the rebuke in such an obvious way: “It’s so out of character for a relationship that has been totally masked in confidentiality. It’s tempting to see it as a weird policy signal to the son, but I find it hard to fit into the pattern of that relationship.”

Many conservative commentators have dismissed any suggestion of familial discord.

“It is incomprehensible to me,” said Dan Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va. “If this was the Simpson family or the Bunker family, okay. But that kind of argument is a load of crap.”

Survivors Get Medical Care

In a few weeks, as part of a new program, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany will fly four Holocaust survivors from their homes in Argentina to Vienna for medical procedures unavailable in South America.

Over the next year, 10 to 12 South American survivors originally from Austria will make similar trips, and the Claims Conference hopes to extend the program beyond the trial year.

“There are certain operations that can be done more easily here,” said Moshe Yehuda, director of the Claims Conference’s Vienna office, who designed the program.

According to Saul Kagan at the New York office of the Claims Conference, Yehuda “persuaded the Austrians that they have a special, moral obligation to help out in a way. And they were ready to do it, which is obviously a positive step.”

The city of Vienna has agreed to take care of the healthcare and lodging costs, while the transportation costs will be paid for by the Austrian National Fund, a Holocaust restitution fund administered by the Austrian Parliament.

The Claims Conference has overseen other programs with money from the Austrian government to provide healthcare for Holocaust survivors, but always in the country where the survivor lived.

Though small, this new program is something new and unique, according to Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Claims Conference.

“For a country that inflicted so much harm on its citizens,” Taylor said, “it is in a very unique and personal way, to acknowledge a type of personal penance beyond any other type of restitution program.”

The relationship between Jewish organizations and the Austrian government has been frosty in recent years, due to the presence of the far-right Freedom Party in the governing coalition.

While Yehuda said that the Freedom Party was supportive of this new program, Taylor was careful to point out that most of the negotiations for the new program were done with the municipality of Vienna, which is governed by the Social Democratic Party.

“This does not signal a change in any direction,” Taylor said.

Ross: Hamas in on Attack

Hamas and Hezbollah probably helped bomb the American convoy in Gaza, former American special Middle East envoy Dennis Ross said.

Ross made his comments October 15 at a Senate subcommittee hearing on the Middle East. That same day, Palestinian police arrested members of the Popular Resistance Committees, a coalition of former Palestinian Authority security men and breakaway terrorists, in connection with the bombing.

The October 15 attack killed three Americans assigned to the security detail of a diplomat at the American embassy in Tel Aviv, who had been en route to Gaza City to interview candidates for Fulbright scholarships to study in the United States.

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