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Newsdesk January 3, 2003

Survivors To File Lawsuits

American Holocaust survivors who formerly owned property in Poland are planning to file a battery of lawsuits in Europe to put greater pressure on Poland to pass a satisfactory property restitution law.

The effort comes in response to legislation introduced into Poland’s Parliament last month that would return only meager compensation. After trying diplomatic means as well as a lawsuit dismissed last year in an American court, survivors have decided to open another front in the restitution battle in the courtrooms of Strasbourg, France, where they say property claimants have had some luck. They have also appealed the lawsuit.

“It’s like talking to Arafat,” said Jehuda Evron, head of the Polish Property Committee. “They don’t listen, they don’t care about survivors.” Evron said dozens of survivors in his group are willing to file suit in Europe. He said they will try to raise funds for their project from monies already awarded in other restitution settlements.

Leaders of Jewish restitution organizations also expressed anger at the proposal for re-privatization legislation, which was introduced before the treasury committee of the Parliament’s lower house by the Ministry of State Treasury. The proposal would cover fewer claims than previous versions of similar bills, and appears to only grant between 8% and 10% compensation of the value of properties whose owners file valid claims.

“We are shocked by this proposal,” said Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Restitution Organization and president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. “Obviously, restitution cannot make up for the wrongs of the past, but survivors and victims’ families are entitled to at least a small measure of justice. This proposal does not even approach that.”

Singer has written letters to Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Prime Minister Leszek Miller protesting the proposal.

Vatican To Open Archives

The Vatican is set to open up secret archives that document its relations with Nazi Germany before World War II, but it may be years before a full picture of the Vatican’s role in the Holocaust is known.

Responding to criticism that the wartime pope, Pius XII, did not do enough to oppose the Holocaust, the Vatican announced Saturday it would release on February 15 diplomatic documents from the tenure of the previous pope, Pius XI, who reigned from 1922 to 1939. During those years, the future Pope Pius XII served as Vatican ambassador in Berlin and Vatican secretary of state.

The documents to be released include material from the Vatican diplomatic missions in Berlin and Munich as well as a series of documents relating to the rise of Nazism and the “condemnation of racism,” papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in a statement.

The Vatican announced last February that it would begin opening archives relating to Pius XII, starting with the prewar years. Documents relating to Vatican-German relations during Pius XII papacy itself will be made available only starting in 2005.

Bush Lauds Met Council

President Bush is singling out a New York Jewish charitable agency as the kind of organization he hopes to benefit by his so-called faith-based initiative.

In a speech December 12 at the Regional Conference on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in Philadelphia, Bush held up the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and described his outrage at learning that Met Council had been warned against applying for federal funds because the word “Jewish” was in its name.

“If a charity is helping the needy, it should not matter if there is a rabbi on the board,” Bush said.

Met Council’s chief executive, William Rapfogel, served as a panelist at the conference, which sought to promulgate the expertise of organizations that have successfully partnered with the federal government to provide services to the needy.

Met Council, with a budget of $101.1 million, was recently listed among the 25 top not-for-profits in New York by Crain’s New York Business.

Hezbollah Missiles Eyed

Israel is checking reports that the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah conducted missile tests in recent days. On Sunday, a powerful explosion was heard in the Lebanon Valley, in close proximity to the Syrian border. The explosion took place in a Hezbollah training camp, in the northeastern section of the Lebanon Valley. According to the French news agency Agence France-Presse, the explosion was heard at a distance of 20 kilometers away.

The Beirut-based An-Nahar daily, which does not support Hezbollah, reported Monday that the explosion was the result of an experimental missile produced by Hezbollah. Sources said that the Hezbollah military leader in the area had informed residents of the region of an expected explosion, but sources close to Hezbollah told the newspaper that the explosion did not take place in a Hezbollah camp, but in a rock quarry.

It is likely that Hezbollah tried to send a message to Israel, following statements made in Israel in favor of attacking Hezbollah during an expected American strike against Iraq. The head of the Hezbollah faction in the Lebanese parliament, Muhammad Raed, warned on Sunday that Israel would pay a heavy price for any attack. He said that his organization was preparing for an Israeli attack. Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud established a panel to deal with the possible dangers of an Israeli attack against Lebanon.

Mubarak Aide Slams Writers

The Egyptian president’s political adviser has criticized Arab writers for attacking Israel, saying many use the same “racist” allegations resorted to by the Nazis to discriminate against Jews, according to the Associated Press.

In a series of articles published last week in Egypt’s semi-official Al-Ahram newspaper, Osama el-Baz criticized the anti-Jewish sentiment being expressed in the Arab world and urged Egyptians not to be blinded by racist views.

“Our prejudices have turned us blind so we are not able to differentiate between good Israelis and bad Israelis,” he said in one of his articles.

El-Baz, a long-time adviser to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, also criticized extremist Jews for treating Arabs as a lower race, recalling “one cleric who described Arabs as insects that drink blood… while another Israeli minister said that Arabs are like snakes and scorpions.”

El-Baz wrote that Arab writers have enough evidence of Israeli aggression against Palestinians to support the Palestinian cause without resorting to racist-like attacks against Jews and “reviving old, negative European myths such as… describing Jews as sons of monkeys and pigs.”

“We have to understand that whenever we hurt Jews, we are committing a fatal mistake as attacking them reflects a racist tendency [in Arab societies] that may harm both our national interests and the Palestinian cause,” he said. “Jews were exposed to the most brutal mass slaughters by Hitler and I wonder how can some Arab writers and politicians back his Nazi movement.”

Bomber’s Driver Sentenced

A taxi driver from Jaffa who drove two suicide bombers to the old central bus station in Tel Aviv has been sentenced to 15 years in prison. In a plea-bargain arrangement, Khaled Ashwar was convicted by the Tel Aviv District Court of aiding and abetting the terrorists. He drove them from Umm el-Fahm to Tel Aviv on July 17, despite the fact that on that day — the eve of the Tisha B’Av fast — Palestinians were not allowed to enter Israel without a permit. The bombers also told Ashwar they were looking for a place to blow up. Five people were killed and 38 wounded in the ensuing blast.

Israel’s U.N. Reps Replaced

Israel’s top two United Nations diplomats ended their terms Tuesday. Yehuda Lancry, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, was to be replaced Wednesday by Dan Gillerman, head of Israel’s Chambers of Commerce. Lancry’s deputy, Aaron Jacob, was to be succeeded by Arye Mekel, who has worked for Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

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