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Palestinian Leader Threatens Crackdown on Militants

By Robert Berger (VOA-Jerusalem) &

The leader of the Palestinian Authority is threatening to crack down on militant groups opposed to the peace process. Israel is greeting the news as a step forward.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to use force against militants who violate the cease-fire with Israel. In a speech to police, Abbas said there is a national consensus regarding the truce, and anyone carrying out attacks would be "struck with an iron fist." It was his toughest threat yet against terrorist Palestinian groups, and it followed several rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip this week.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the aim was to restore law and order in the West Bank and Gaza. "One law, everyone under the rule of law, and one legal gun." Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told VOA that it is a step in the right direction. "Well, there's no doubt that Mr. Abbas isn't Mr. Arafat, and that we've seen some substantial improvements on the ground."

Israel accused Arafat of sponsoring terrorism. But Regev urged the new Palestinian leader to keep his commitments under the internationally backed "road map" peace plan. "Up until now, unfortunately, Mr. Abbas has not taken the most important step, a step the U.S. has asked him to do, a step that the Europeans have asked him to do, a step that's in the road map, which is to disarm these armed groups that ultimately want to torpedo the entire process."

Abbas faces a dilemma. He fears that confronting the well-armed militant groups head-on could lead to a Palestinian civil war. But Israel has warned him that it won't open talks on Palestinian statehood until the terrorists are disarmed.

However, Arab universities, spurred by Abbas have continued to encourage suicide attacks, according to a new report by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. Abbas addressed Bir Zeit university students two weeks ago, "I hope Allah will unite our victory with Jerusalem." In response, the students started chanting Arafat's battle cry," Millions of shahids marching on Jerusalem." The Arabic word shahid is used to mean "religious martyr" and often refers to suicide bombers.

A Hebron University pamphlet recently distributed by Hamas terrorists stated that their goal is "Islamic Palestine from the (Mediterranean) sea to the (Jordan) river."

Putin Addresses Israeli Concerns Over Russian Middle East Policy

By Larry James (VOA-Jerusalem) &

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Israeli officials Thursday on the second day of a visit aimed at strengthening ties with the Jewish state. The Russian leader responded to criticism of some of his country's Middle East policies, saying they pose no threat to Israel's security.

Despite the pomp and ceremony Israel put on for the Russian leader, the Putin visit has been overshadowed by Russia's support for Syria and Iran. The Russian leader announced before the start of this trip his country had agreed to sell anti-aircraft missiles to Syria. The Kremlin also supplies Iran with most of the technology for its nuclear program. Israel objects to both programs.

Putin addressed those concerns directly when he said after meeting with President Moshe Katsav that the arms being sold to Syria pose no threat to Israel. The Russian leader also said that Russia supports only the peaceful use of nuclear power in Iran and that Tehran is required to return depleted uranium to Moscow so that it cannot be used to make weapons. Putin conceded, however, that existing safeguards are not enough and Iran must be made to agree to a nuclear inspection program.

Still, his statements that those policies do not pose a threat to Israeli security do not satisfy leaders of the Jewish state. Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said again Thursday that Russia is selling components to Iran that can be used to make nuclear weapons and that is a cause for concern.

In a statement released prior to his arrival in Israel, the Russian leader stated the missile deal will in no way upset the balance of power in the Mideast region.

Putin arrived in Israel Wednesday evening from Egypt where he announced that he wants to host a Middle East peace conference in Moscow. The Palestinians but not the Israelis who are focusing on their plan to withdraw all Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip later this summer warmly welcomed the suggestion. They said conditions are not yet right for such a multi-party conference.

Washington was cool to the idea too. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that the time has not yet come for an international conference. The internationally backed peace plan known as the "road map" calls for such a conference during its second phase but neither party has yet fulfilled the requirements of the first phase. Putin meets with Palestinian leaders on Friday.

Aides to Putin expressed disappointment over Wednesday night's visit to the Western Wall. Putin and his entourage were not permitted to approach the wall, but were compelled to remain at the rear of the plaza.

Security officials reported that since the visiting dignitary requested to visit the holy site without providing adequate notice, security considerations prevented Putin from making his way to a more prominent place in the front of the holy site.

U.S. Think Tank: $33 Billion for PA State


The American research institute, the Rand Corporation has issued a report calling for a $33 billion investment for a new Arab state, including a high-speed railroad to link Gaza with other Arab cities. The proposed railroad would include high-speed trains that would not stop in Israel.

The plan called "Building a Successful Palestinian State" also calls for fiber optic cables to link Arab cities. The Rand report states that a new Arab state needs freedom of movement for residents and products, and an allocation of water from Israel.

Security Officials Bar Sharon from Warsaw Ghetto Site


On advice of Israeli security officials, the site of the Warsaw Ghetto has been removed from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's itinerary next week, when Jews observe Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom HaShoah). The Prime Minister is to travel to Poland for the March of the Living in Auschwitz.

Security officials said high-rise buildings around the site of the ghetto make it impossible to secure his safety. The Warsaw Ghetto was the site of a fierce uprising against the Nazi authorities.

Knesset Member Bronfman Calls to Fight for Russia's Forgotten Expats

By Ha'aretz

Knesset member Roman Bronfman (Yahad-Democratic Choice) used the occasion of Russian President Vladimir Putin's first Israeli visit to accuse Israel of neglecting the rights of Russian immigrants. He is also planning to take up the issue directly with Putin.

Israel's leadership has refused to raise the issue of Russian pension payments with Putin, Bronfman charged.

In a letter sent to President Moshe Katsav, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Bronfman wrote that denying Russian immigrants' pension rights is anti-constitutional and contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights, which Russia joined in 1998. The convention states that a person may not be stripped of his or her pension rights because of a change in citizenship or country of residence.

After signing that pact, Russia did, in fact, begin to pay pensions to a handful of Russian immigrants to Israel who retained their Russian citizenship. However, it does not pay anything to most, including veterans of World War II, who were residents of the former Soviet Union but not of post-Soviet Russia.

The Foreign Ministry has looked into the matter, but taken no steps to raise it onto the agenda of meetings with Putin. Bronfman said Israel bears the moral responsibility to assure the full rights of the Russian immigrants, adding it cannot ignore them for the sake of diplomatic convenience.

Bronfman will also present a letter to Putin requesting he look into the matter of pensions for Israeli immigrants from Russia. In his letter, Bronfman reminded the Russian leader of the European Convention on Human Rights, which it joined in 1998. For these Russian Israelis, said Bronfman, $50-$100 a month could make a significant difference to their lives.

A Russian Paradox

By Ha'aretz

President Putin's visit to Israel is taking place against a background of three apparently contradictory trends in Russian-Jewish life: Increasing reports of anti-Semitic incidents, which Putin soundly condemns, and a significant return of immigrants in Israel from the former Soviet Union back to their nations of origin.

However, most of those who return maintain an Israeli identity and retain their Israeli passport. In Moscow, the verdict in the trial against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, founder and major owner of the Yukos oil company, will be publicized in coming weeks. Human rights groups describe Khodorkovsky's trial as political window-dressing, but many Jews believe that anti-Semitic undertones accompany the trial.

There are two national Jewish organizations operant in Russia and throughout the Commonwealth of Independent States: The Federation of Jewish Communities, controlled by Chabad and supported by Putin, and the Russian Jewish Congress, which is steadily losing its independence and is also subject to the influence of Putin's constituents. The Russian Jewish Congress is connected with the World Jewish Congress, whose headquarters are in New York. The federation is led by Rabbi Berel Lazar, whom Putin promoted to the position of (second) chief rabbi of Russia.

A survey publicized by the World Jewish Congress this month concluded that current Russian anti-Semitism has its roots in traditional religious and nationalist sensibilities that consider Jews to be "strangers in the Russian landscape and Christ killers." The survey found a common belief that Jews are responsible for the rise of communism and millions of deaths during the Soviet regime. On the other hand, communist extremists blame Jews for the collapse of communism and the Soviet system. In summation, the survey stated, "the meaning of this is that the Communist Party is one of the leaders of the anti-Semitic trend."

The most prominent expressions of the current wave of anti-Semitism, besides acts of violence, are two petitions, circulated by leading political and cultural figures and signed by hundreds, calling for the banning of Jewish organizations in Russia. These petitions call Jews "enemies of the [Russian] nation and society" and "anti-Christian and inhumane, to the point of ritual murder."

Putin soundly condemned these petitions. Putin also said that his description of statements made by Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko as "Zionist, anti-Russian" slogans was a slip, and that he meant to say, "anti-Semitic, anti-Russian." However, he recently reiterated his claim that "Zionism" had a hand in Ukrainian elections "to the detriment of Russia."

Two weeks ago, the Moscow Bureau published a report for Human Rights (MBHR), a watchdog organization funded by the European Union to follow xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Russia. The report found that "the government did not adequately fight racist crimes."

According to the report, there were at least 30 murders with an ethnic background, but the actual number is probably higher, because authorities often ignore racism as a motive in such crime. There were 124 anti-Semitic incidents last year. A poll conducted last year found that 42 percent of Russians surveyed believe there is a need to "limit the influence of Jews" in government organizations, politics, business, the judicial system, education and cultural institutions.

According to the MBHR report, in the first quarter of 2005, the number of anti-Semitic incidents rose sharply and has already reached the total number of such incidents in 2004. "The most dangerous city for Jews is Moscow," where 27 anti-Semitic incidents took place last year.

One curious aspect of the recent wave of anti-Semitism is the use of anti-Semitic analogies in articles condemning Chechen terror in the Russian press. In an article published last month in a Moscovian literary journal, U.S. Prof. Anna Brodsky noted that newspapers and books describe Chechens in language lifted from the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion": fabulously wealthy, controllers of the economy, murderous chasers of Christian skirts. A blood libel recently appeared which claimed that Chechens kill Russian prisoners in order to use their blood in religious rituals. However, one must consider such statements and phenomena in a broad context, which has positive and negative aspects.

On one hand, Russian anti-Semitism has a long history that extended from the Tsarist period to the Soviet government. From slogans of "Beat the Jews and save the homeland" to Stalin's trials of physicians. The Pravoslavic Church, in the past, and with its rebirth in the present, has a significant role in the promotion of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is also an important factor in the xenophobic hatred of Asians and Africans, who are frequently victims of Russian skinheads. Xenophobia spread and was nurtured by feelings of inferiority following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Russian Empire.

On the other hand, the struggle against Chechen terror promoted cooperation with Israeli security and restrained Moscow's criticism of Israeli action against Palestinian terror. More importantly, the collapse of communism opened the gates of the former Soviet Union for more than 1 million Jews to immigrate to Israel. Synagogues and Jewish schools have flourished, mainly encouraged by Chabad, and there is a renaissance of Jewish culture. Putin has frequently condemned anti-Semitism, and, in a special gesture, visited a synagogue to participate in the lighting of Chanukah candles.

Renewed anti-Semitism apparently does not frighten all Russian Jews: A significant number of Jews from the former Soviet Union - some say 100,000 - have returned to Russia and Ukraine. But most of them continue to retain their Israeli citizenship. They see themselves as having temporarily left Israel, and even create "Israeli outposts" in major cities. Many work in Jewish organizations, teach in Jewish schools, and are central members of new synagogues.

The emigrants say that they left for two reasons: financial difficulty and the fact that they felt like second-class citizens in Israel. But "in Israel they learned not to fear" to be Jews, say synagogue officials. There are Jewish schools in which a third, or more, of the pupils have returned from Israel. They speak Hebrew and encourage other pupils to do so.

Thus, a paradox has been created, in which Jews return to the Diaspora despite anti-Semitism, and emigrants from Israel are the backbone of the renaissance in Russian Jewish life.

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