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Turkish Prime Minister Strongly Criticizes Israel

By Sonja Pace (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel has received more stinging criticism from its only Muslim ally, Turkey. In an interview, published Thursday in a major Israeli newspaper, Turkey's prime minister accused Israel of treating Palestinians the same way Jews were treated 500 years ago, when they were persecuted and driven out of Spain. It is unusually harsh criticism, especially coming from a close ally.

In an interview with Ha'aretz, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey hoped to use its traditional role in the Middle East and its close ties to Israel to act as mediator and advance peace efforts. But, he said the Israeli government has not contributed to peace.

For the second time in just over a week, Erdogan likened Israeli actions against the Palestinians to what he called state terrorism. When asked about this in the interview, the Turkish Prime Minister cited Israel's targeted assassinations of Palestinian militant leaders and said how else can you interpret it.

Turkey and Israel have close military and economic ties, and last week they concluded an $800 million deal to build natural gas power stations in Israel. Israel's Infrastructure Minister Joseph Paritzky was in Ankara for the signing of the agreement and was treated to some harsh criticism from Erdogan at that time.

Turkish media reported that the prime minister told Paritzky that Turkey was becoming increasingly concerned about Israel's actions in the Palestinian territories, especially its military offensive in the Gaza Strip at the time, which left more than 40 Palestinians dead and hundreds homeless. Erdogan reportedly told the visiting Israeli minister that one couldn't fight terrorism with terrorism.

In Thursday's interview, Erdogan said Israel is today treating the Palestinians the same way Jews were treated 500 years ago when they were persecuted and driven out of Spain during the Inquisition. He specifically criticized the use of helicopters to kill civilians and bulldozers to demolish Palestinian homes.

Erdogan said Turkey has an obligation to speak out -- as a friend and ally of Israel's. He said countries must work together to fight global terrorism. But, he said it is wrong for any country to say, in his words, I am strong and can name anyone I want as a terrorist and kill them.

Israel: Vanunu's Lawyers Ask Court to Lift Legal Restrictions

By VOA News

Lawyers for convicted Israeli nuclear traitor Mordechai Vanunu have asked the Israeli Supreme Court to lift legal restrictions placed on him after his release from prison. Vanunu was freed in late April, after serving 18 years for spying and treason. He was convicted of providing pictures and descriptions of Israel's top-secret Dimona nuclear reactor to a British newspaper in 1986. Based on the information, experts concluded Israel had stockpiled between 100 and 200 nuclear weapons.

Under conditions of his release, Vanunu is barred from meeting with foreigners, leaving the country or giving interviews about the nuclear reactor. In a petition submitted to the high court Thursday, Vanunu's lawyers argue their client has no more secrets to tell, and contend the restrictions violate Vanunu's civil rights. No date has been set for a court ruling.

Former Israeli Soldiers Mount Exhibition of Photos, Videos from Hebron

By VOA News

A group of former Israeli soldiers who served in the volatile West Bank town of Hebron have erected a controversial exhibition of photos and video from their time in the occupied Palestinian town. The former soldiers served in Hebron during their three years of required military service. They described the town as complex and disturbing and say they were taught to view Palestinians as terrorists first and human beings last. Some of the most extreme Jewish settlers live in the area and they often clash with Palestinian residents.

The pictures show Palestinian men lying blindfolded on the road and Palestinian children playing in the shadow of Israeli soldiers. Televisions play video clips of soldiers - whose identities have been obscured - giving sometimes-disturbing testimony about the treatment of Palestinians. The soldiers also talk about confrontations with the settlers trying to destroy Palestinian property.

The exhibition, being shown at a Tel Aviv photography school, has drawn both praise and criticism. Jewish settlers say it only tells half the story. But Israeli military officials who visited the show say they respect the soldiers' right to freedom of expression, and wish the soldiers had brought up their concerns while they were still in the army.

Reviving Jewish Life in Southern Spain


A Jewish community in southern Spain is gearing up for a special seminar this weekend aimed at reaching out to the region's large numbers of crypto-Jews - people whose ancestors were forcibly converted to Catholicism during the time of the Spanish Inquisition.

Dozens of people are scheduled to attend the event, which will include traditional Sabbath prayers, festive meals and lectures. Delivered by Spanish, Portuguese and Israeli rabbis, the lectures will be on topics such as "The Dynamics of the Oral Law" and "Renaissance and Recognition of Bnei Anousim [crypto-Jews]."

The event is being organized together with the Jerusalem-based Amishav organization (, which assists "lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish people.

Aharon Franco, a Jewish community leader in the event's host city of Murcia, says that Murcia has a long and rich Jewish history. "Many local families observe Jewish customs, such as lighting candles on Friday evening," he says, "although the origin of these practices is not always familiar to them. But political changes in Spain in the past few decades, along with the spread of Jewish culture, have caused many of them to begin to identify once again as descendants of Jews."

Franco estimates that at least 20% of Murcia's population of 350,000 can trace their ancestry back to Jews. In recent years, the community has restored the ancient synagogue at in the nearby town of Lorca, which is now once again being used for prayers.

Franco, himself a crypto-Jew who formally returned to Judaism last year, said that his journey of return began when he was young: "When I was 12 years old, I already felt Jewish, even before I learned that my grandfather was from a Spanish Jewish background and that my grandmother was from the Anousim. It was then that my quest and my struggle to find my place within my people began." It wasn't easy, he said, but "thankfully, organizations such as Amishav are opening the doors and enabling many of this nation's lost sons to return home. This is not just an act of historical justice, but also a matter of great importance to Jewish continuity at a time when assimilation is destroying our communities."

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