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Newsdesk July 18, 2003

Lawmakers Back P.A. Aid

Two staunchly pro-Israel Jewish members of the House of Representatives, Democrats Gary Ackerman of New York and Howard Berman of California, joined California Democrat Rep. Lois Capps in urging fellow House members to send President Bush a letter supporting his plan to send aid directly to the Palestinian Authority.

In a letter to their colleagues, the members of Congress state that direct funding to the P.A. “will advance the U.S. objectives of fighting terrorism and achieving peace with security.”

The proposed letter to the president commends Bush for his plan to send $20 million in direct aid to the P.A., expressing hope that the money will bolster the ability of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, to fight terrorism and advance reforms.

Although most members of the House have previously indicated their support for financial aid to a reformed P.A., the issue is controversial. Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat, issued a press release last week arguing that the P.A. does not deserve direct aid as long as it has not put an end to terrorism. “A cease fire in which the firing hasn’t ceased does not deserve to be rewarded,” Weiner said in the statement. “That’s giving money for nothing in return.”

Israel: End Visa Rule

When Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom comes to Washington next week, he will urge the administration to exempt Israelis from a new regulation requiring visa applicants to undergo a face-to-face interview with an American immigration officer. The rule, which is set to take effect in August, is being widely criticized in Israel.

Shalom failed in an earlier bid to convince Secretary of State Colin Powell that Israelis should be treated like the citizens of 28 other industrialized countries who are not required to obtain a visa for travel to the United States. Now Israelis are demanding that their foreign minister broker a deal with the United States that would at least exempt them from the new interview requirement. Editorials in the daily Israeli press are expressing both concern and insult. Ma’ariv ran one such editorial with the headline: “Don’t lump us with the members of the axis of evil.”

“This is a very serious issue for Israel, which will hurt us dearly,” said a spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington. “A special relationship is not only intelligence cooperation or close military ties. It is also showing consideration and eliminating unreasonable anguish.”

Jerusalem is such a dependable partner in the war against terrorism, Israeli diplomats argue, that it should be trusted to help the American government screen for security suspects without burdening average Israeli citizens. The issue is particularly acute, Israeli diplomats said, given the high volume of Israeli businessmen and family members who visit the United States.

Pro-Israel members of Congress raised the issue last week at a hearing on Capitol Hill with Janice Jacobs, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for visa services. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has made the issue a priority.

American diplomats last week informed Israel that they will look into the issue. But the United States has its own concerns, officials say. Many Israelis have overstayed their tourist visas, they note. More important, many Israelis fit the American profile of a potential security threat. Twenty percent of Israelis are Arab, and in the past two years, dozens of cases have emerged of Arab citizens of Israel implicated in Palestinian terrorism.

Still, Israel is a special case and deserves as exemption, said Stephen Steinlight, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies who frequently advocates tougher immigration laws and more stringent visa procedures.

Reform Parley in Berlin

The international organization of Reform Judaism recently marked its 75th anniversary in Berlin. The four-day conference of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, headlined by an event in the Jewish Community Center, was hailed as another sign of the renewal of Jewish life in post-communist Germany.

The group’s kick-off in an official Jewish community venue also indicates growing acceptance of liberal Judaism by Germany’s Jewish community, which has been accused in the past of hampering non-Orthodox religious groups.

Suspect Ruled Insane

Patrick Arbelo, who held a classroom of college students at Fairfield University hostage last year, was found not guilty by reason of insanity. According to the psychiatrists who analyzed Arbelo, he suffers from a mental disease that manifests itself in a hatred of Jews and nonwhites.

During the hostage incident, Arbelo demanded that an antisemitic and racist statement be read over the radio in New York. He subsequently surrendered, leaving all hostages unscathed and his demands unfulfilled.

Adam Schupack, assistant director of the Connecticut Regional Office of the Anti-Defamation League, said that the judge probably made the right decision in this case. Still, Schupack added, he was concerned about the “growing trend of antisemitism being expressed publicly and the willingness of others to excuse it.”

“Even though Mr. Arbelo is mentally ill, “ Schupack said, “he must have been exposed to these views at some point.”

Christians Pray for Israel

Millions of Christians are expected to show solidarity with Israel in a national day of prayer next fall.

Organized by Stand for Israel, a project of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, more than 5 million Christians in the United States are expected to show support in churches on October 26. Participating churches will devote part of their Sunday services to preaching about Israel and leading the congregation in a prayer for the people and State of Israel. Israeli government officials are expected to address some congregations.

Cleveland Gets a Museum

Cleveland is getting a Jewish museum. The $13.5 million Milton and Tamar Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage is slated to break ground July 16 and be completed by Spring 2005. The museum is dedicated to two Jews who helped establish the Jewish community in northeast Ohio in the 19th century. The community later spawned such figures as actor Joel Grey; Nobel Prize-winning physicist Albert Michelson; Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, the Zionist leader; Cleveland Indians baseball player Al Rosen, and astronaut Judith Resnik.

Inmates Lose Vegan Bid

Three Jewish prisoners in the New York City jail have been denied a request to receive a strictly vegan diet.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in New York denied a request by the Rikers Island inmates, who demanded the state serve them vegan meals because consuming animal products violates their belief that Judaism prohibits cruelty to animals, The Associated Press reported. The inmates, aged 17 to 24, said they had been living on peanut butter, crackers and potato chips and were suffering from weight loss and fatigue. But Scheindlin ruled that while the trio seemed sincere, they had not proven that they would suffer seriously without vegan fare. The animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals paid the prisoners’ legal fees, and a PETA lawyer said the group might seek a trial. The three, serving terms of one to six years, were convicted of property damage and trespassing in a protest against animal testing.

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