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Newsdesk August 1, 2003

Israel, Austria Renew Ties

Israel is resuming full diplomatic ties with Austria and will soon appoint an ambassador to Vienna, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom announced Tuesday at a joint press conference in Jerusalem with his Austrian counterpart, Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

Israel downgraded relations with Austria in February 2000 after the far-right Freedom Party, then led by the controversial Joerg Haider, joined Austria’s coalition government. Similar measures were taken by European Union members.

The E.U. lifted its sanctions in September 2000, following Haider’s resignation as Freedom Party head, leaving Israel alone in the boycott.

Israeli officials credit their firm stance with spurring Austria to sign historic agreements promising some $1 billion in reparations to victims of Nazism, as well as to adopt balanced Middle East positions in international forums.

Shalom said Israel was renewing full ties because Austria had taken steps to address its past and recognize its responsibilities toward Holocaust victims.

The Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot reported Wednesday that Austria was obstructing efforts by Israel’s police and Justice Ministry to investigate suspected campaign-finance fraud and bribe-taking by Prime Minister Sharon and his sons. Officials close to the investigation said Austria had refused repeated requests to subpoena bank documents, despite international agreements requiring cooperation. One investigator said Austria’s behavior appeared to be related to its efforts to upgrade its relations with Israel.

Israel: Hand Over Torturers

Israel is seeking the extradition of former Argentine military officials allegedly involved in kidnapping Argentine Jews under the country’s dictatorship, from 1976 to 1983. This week’s decision also demands the opening of mass graves to allow Jewish victims a religious burial. Along with the parliamentary debate, a special report was made public on missing Jews during Argentina’s “dirty war,” in which government agents were behind the disappearance of thousands of people. Argentine President Nestor Kirchner recently ruled that those accused of violating human rights during military rule may be extradited.

Rudy Meets Terror Victims

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani told Israeli terror victims that peace in the Middle East will come only when the Palestinians give up terrorism. “You can’t convince people to negotiation if they’re being killed,” he told a gathering Monday night sponsored by the One Family Fund at the B’nai Zion House in New York. “People that live in freedom will always prevail over people who live in oppression.” Giuliani said that the way the United States reacted to terrorism in the past “made the situation for all of you much worse” in Israel. But America has been committed to ending international terrorism since the September 11 attacks, he added.

Iraqi Jews Immigrate

Six of Iraq’s 34 remaining Jews have immigrated to Israel.

A specially chartered plane departed Iraq last Friday evening, carrying the six elderly Iraqis and Rachel Zelon, a vice president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which is leading the operation with the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Zelon traveled to Baghdad earlier this summer to assess the community’s situation in person.

“This is clearly a community at great risk, given the increasing tensions within Iraq and the increase in open antisemitism,” she said.

Black Hebrews Recognized

Israel has given permanent resident status to the Black Hebrew community.

Some 2,000 Black Hebrews, African Americans who first emigrated from Chicago in the 1960s, live in the Negev. Their exact number is unknown because as unregistered aliens their births are not tracked by the Interior Ministry.

Monday’s decision by Interior Minister Avraham Poraz means the group will be able to serve in the army, receive social services and attend public schools.

Black Hebrews are believed to be an offshoot of Marcus Garvey’s 1920s-era “Back to Africa” movement. Other branches live in the United States and practice Orthodox Judaism.

Lebanon Jails Israel Visitor

A Canadian man has been imprisoned in Lebanon for visiting Israel. Lebanon has held Bruce Balfour since July 10 because records show he once visited Israel. Balfour wrote to the Canadian ambassador in Lebanon July 22: “My freedom has been taken away and I have been treated horribly.”

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