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Bush Wishes Jews a Happy Passover


President George W. Bush Wednesday told Jews that the upcoming Passover holiday "reminds us that even in the face of struggle, hope endures." Sending wishes for a happy holiday to Jewish Americans, the president recalled the exodus of Jews from Egypt. "Through songs and prayers, they remember the blessings and mercy of a just and loving God. By passing this story from generation to generation, they teach the triumph of faith over tyranny and celebrate God's promise of freedom."

Israel Praises Election of Pope Benedict XVI

By Robert Berger (VOA-Jerusalem) & Ynet News

Israel has welcomed the election of Pope Benedict XVI despite his past association with a Nazi party youth group. Israel said it hopes that Pope Benedict will follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

"Israel welcomes the election of the new pope," said government spokesman Mark Regev. "We are sure that under his papacy we will continue to see a strengthening relationship between Israel and the Vatican and between the Jewish people and the Catholic Church."

Pope John Paul II won the praise of Israelis by establishing diplomatic ties between the Vatican and Israel. And during his historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land five years ago, he asked the Jewish people for forgiveness for centuries of persecution by the Catholic Church.

Joseph Ratzinger was a 12-year-old in Germany when Hitler's army invaded Poland to begin World War II. But the new pontiff's association with a paramilitary Nazi youth group has raised questions here, even though membership for children was compulsory. The banner headline in Israel's biggest newspaper said: "White smoke, black past."

Nevertheless, Rabbi David Rosen, a leader in interfaith dialogue who has met Pope Benedict several times, said his past is not a problem. "All young people were enrolled in the Nazi Youth, this was an enforced enrollment, and there is actually nothing to suggest he had any ideological association with Nazism," he said. "On the contrary, his family was well-known as being anti-Nazi."

Rosen told Israel Television that it is more important how Pope Benedict has behaved as an adult. "And in all matters of anti-Semitism, Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, has been absolutely resolute in his understanding of the evil and the danger and in condemnation of this phenomenon," he said.

The pope has had an up-and-down relationship with the Jewish community. He is said to share the late pope's affinity for Jews, and is a member of the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews. The German-born pope has participated in Catholic-Jewish dialogue, and has strongly condemned anti-Semitism. He has called for dialogue with the Jewish community, and said that discussions must start with a prayer for "greater esteem and love toward this people, the Israelites." He also said Catholics must acknowledge the "gift that they (Jews) have made to us," meaning Jesus.

However, Ratzinger's relations with the Jewish community have not always been smooth. He was criticized for a 2000 treatise entitled "Declaration Dominus Iesus," which said non-Catholic religions are "gravely deficient." Some Jewish leaders said the statement pushed Pope John Paul II to beatify Pius IX, the 19th century pope who severely restricted the civil and religious rights of Jews. The new pope's writings on Jews show belief that Jews will embrace Jesus - but the time and place will be up to God, not man.

Israel Begins Pullout from Gaza

By Robert Berger (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel has begun moving military equipment out of the Gaza Strip in preparation for its summer pullout. And the Palestinians are urging Israel to coordinate the withdrawal with them. IDF troops removed about 30 shipping containers from an army base in the Gaza Strip, the first visible step toward implementation of the planned pullout this summer.

The containers, packed with furniture, computers, weapons, and uniforms, were loaded on to trucks, which drove out of the base and headed to Israel. For the 8000 Gaza settlers slated for evacuation this summer, it is a bad sign. "This is only the beginning of the expulsion of the Jewish people from Jewish land," said Rachel Sapperstein, who lives in Gaza's Gush Katif settlement bloc.

West Bank settlement activist Eve Harrow fears for the worst. "We must block the establishment of a terror state in the Gaza Strip, because the effects of that can be an existential threat on the state of Israel, and that is the danger here."

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is not optimistic either. He told Cabinet ministers that he expects Palestinians to loot Jewish settlements immediately after Israeli forces leave Gaza. But Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said he is prepared to keep order when the Israelis withdraw.

Israel should coordinate the pullout with the Palestinian Authority, Abbas told reporters. But Israel is losing confidence in the Palestinian leader. Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Abbas (who is also known as Abu Mazen) has not kept his commitment to fight terror under the internationally backed "Roadmap" peace plan. "The time has come for Abu Mazen and the Palestinian leadership to take the strategic decision to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorist organizations," said Shalom.

Sharon is determined to implement the pullout, with or without the Palestinian Authority. And with the settlers promising fierce resistance, it's shaping up to be a long, hot summer.

Denmark: Report of WWII Deportation of 19 Jews


A Danish government study has revealed that authorities in the Scandinavian country willingly deported at least 19 Jews to Germany during World War II, despite warnings that the Nazis might kill them. In the wake of the report, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was considering issuing an official apology for the country's treatment of Jews during the war, according to an e-mail he wrote to the newspaper Politiken.

The report, which has yet to be completed, reveals that the deportations were authorized between 1940 and 1942 by high-level justice ministry officials in occupied Denmark, but without pressure from Germany, according to Politiken. At the same time, as was noted by the World Jewish Congress, which publicized the Danish reaction to the report, Danes did help Jews escape to Sweden and actively resisted the Nazis during World War II.

In contrast to Rasmussen, Iceland's government last week said that it did not see the point of apologizing for the country's deportation of Jews to Nazi Germany in the run-up to World War II. "To whom should the Icelandic government apologize?" asked the prime minister's press secretary, Steingrimur Olafsson.

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