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Simon Wiesenthal Center Accuses Venezuelan President of Anti-Semitic Comments

By VOA News

A prominent Jewish rights group is demanding an apology from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for making what it calls anti-Semitic comments, even though the president did not directly mention Jews. The Simon Wiesenthal Center said Wednesday it has sent a letter to Chavez condemning remarks he made on December 24. The group said that during a celebration of Christmas, Chavez referred to "the descendants of the same people who crucified Christ" saying they "have taken over all the wealth of the world." Chavez did not specifically mention people of the Jewish faith. But the Center condemned the remarks, saying those two arguments have long been used to justify the persecution of Jews.

Sharon Fights for His Life

By VOA News & Ha'aretz

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is fighting for his life in a Jerusalem hospital after suffering a massive stroke late Wednesday. His illness has thrown both Israeli politics and resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into great uncertainty.

Sharon's illness sent shockwaves through Israel and caused concern worldwide. The focus has been on prayers for his recovery and messages of support, but the widespread assumption, even if not publicly spoken, is that Sharon will not return to office.

The obvious question is, what happens now? It's too early to tell, says political columnist Akiva Eldar of Ha'aretz, who spoke to VOA from Tel Aviv. "It seems that it's not only that Sharon is out of the political arena, it's that Sharonism is out of the arena," he said.

Ariel Sharon, nicknamed the bulldozer, was a forceful individual most of his life - first as a military commander, as a proponent of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land and later as a skillful politician who pushed his new vision of unilateral withdrawal from some Palestinian areas and the dismantling of settlements.

Eldar said Sharon took a political risk and won the overwhelming support of the Israeli people. "Many Israelis were very anxious about tearing apart the territories, or 'greater Israel,' [that it] would tear apart the nation, which didn't happen," he explained. "So, he [Sharon] took this risk and he proved that this is possible."

Eldar said Sharon's plan was seen by many Israelis as a viable option, a way to enhance their own security by unilaterally disengaging from the Palestinians without having to go through the tough process of negotiations.

To push his plan forward, Sharon recently left the right-wing Likud Party that he helped found, to form a new centrist party called Kadima. Kadima has scored high in opinion polls, but was built almost exclusively around Ariel Sharon. With him out of the picture, it is uncertain if the party will survive or how well it might do in the March elections.

Sharon reluctantly supported President Bush's plan for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, to be brought about via the Road Map peace plan. The Bush administration initially gave its lukewarm support to Sharon's plan to pull out of Gaza. But, Washington then focused on that withdrawal as a way to jump-start renewed peace negotiations.

Sharon sustained vast brain damage as a result of his stroke and ensuing cerebral hemorrhage, sources at Hadassah Hospital Ein Karem in Jerusalem said on Thursday evening.

On Friday morning, doctors will perform a CT scan on the premier's brain, to check his condition. However, only on Sunday will doctors try to revive Sharon from his induced coma to determine the effects of the hemorrhage for the first time since it happened on Wednesday night.

The hospital director, Professor Shmuel Mor-Yosef, said on Thursday evening that predictions for the future are almost impossible to make. "We can't know what the results of the surgery will be, whether it will have influenced his motor skills or his ability to think. Only after he comes out of the induced coma will we be able to make an assessment."

After the sedation period, doctors hope to gradually waken the prime minister. Mor-Yosef said doctors had not received a "no resuscitation order," which would bar them from trying to revive a patient whose heart or breathing has stopped.

"We are fighting for the life of the prime minister, with no compromise," Mor-Yosef said, adding that Sharon's pupils were responding to light, "which means the brain is functioning."

The hospital chief also defended the decision to take Sharon to the Jerusalem hospital, a journey of an extra 30 minutes, rather than drive to the nearer medical center in Be'er Sheva. He said that it was better for the prime minister to have been treated at the hospital that knew his case.

Mor-Yosef said the operation on Sharon had focused on the right side of his brain, and that he was paralyzed during the procedure. "The paralysis was a paralysis that we, the doctors, created," he said.

Neurosurgeons had fought to stabilize Sharon's condition and stop new bleeding detected in his brain Thursday morning, more than eight hours after the prime minister was rushed into emergency surgery. "The situation is still serious, but it's stable," Mor-Yosef said earlier Thursday, as Sharon lay in intensive care.

Sharon emerged from hours of surgery Thursday morning with vital signs showing "functional and stable" levels, and with a CT scan showing that the bleeding in his brain had been halted. But the prime minister's condition remained grave, Mor-Yosef said.

"The prime minister had a CT scan that showed that the bleeding has stopped," Mor-Yosef told reporters at the entrance to the Jerusalem hospital. "He was then put in the neurological emergency unit for observation."

According to Mor-Yosef, "All vital signs are functional and stable. The prime minister is in critical condition." There was no word as to the damage Sharon may have suffered.

Israel Radio, noting that Sharon was in intensive care, said, "The assessment is that he is in a life-threatening state."

On Wednesday night, Sharon's prime ministerial authority was transferred to Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the course of a telephone call with Olmert, Maimon and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz. Olmert convened the cabinet for an emergency meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday, where he conveyed the government's hopes for Sharon's recovery.

Sharon adviser Ra'anan Gissin stressed that the government was functioning despite the prime minister's illness. "A state isn't run only by the people who stand at its head... all the ministers and all the ministries are functioning... The prime minister has fought many battles and he has survived them all, and I think that he will win this battle too."

Mor-Yosef said he believes that it would not be possible for Sharon to return to work under the current circumstances. He also defended the decision to drive Sharon to Jerusalem late Wednesday, rather than treat him at a hospital near his Negev Desert farm, saying the decision was made because doctors at the Hadassah Hospital were better able to treat Sharon.

In one of his first official duties Olmert spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who expressed hope for Sharon's quick recovery. Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Quereia told reporters that Palestinians are prepared to work with any future Israeli government.

"No doubt Israelis will miss Mr. Sharon as a leader and as a decision maker," said Quereia. "For us the Palestinians, what concerns us first is that we hope he will recover, and secondly we are looking for an Israeli leader to be in favor of peace, to be ready to sit with the Palestinians to start a serious civil negotiation. This is what we need."

Israel's cabinet on Thursday agreed to go ahead with plans to hold national elections on March 28. There is intense speculation in Israel about how Sharon's absence will affect Israel's upcoming election. Polls prior to his stroke showed Ariel Sharon was well ahead of all rivals in his bid to win a historic third term.

U.S. Evangelist: Sharon's Stroke Result of God's 'Enmity' for Gaza Pullout

By Ha'aretz

Conservative Christian evangelical broadcaster Pat Robertson on Thursday linked Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke to God's "enmity against those who 'divide my land.'"

"He was dividing God's land and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU, the United Nations, or the United States of America," Robertson said on his television program, "The 700 Club," broadcast from his Christian Broadcasting Network in Virginia Beach. "God says 'This land belongs to me. You better leave it alone.'"

Last year, Sharon, a longtime hawk and supporter of Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, changed tack and withdrew from the Gaza Strip and some settlements in the West Bank - as the best hope for achieving a peace deal with the Palestinians.

The unilateral Israeli pullout was supported by the European Union, the United Nations, and the United States. But it was strongly opposed by many members of Sharon's right-wing Likud party, prompting the Israeli leader to quit and form a new centrist party.

Some U.S. evangelical Christians also opposed the Israeli withdrawal from lands that they believe constitute the biblical land of Israel and link to prophecies foretelling the second coming of Jesus.

Robertson said that he had personally prayed about a year ago with Sharon, whom he called "a very tender-hearted man and a good friend." He said he was sad to see Sharon in this condition.

Robertson also said that in the Bible, the prophet Joel "makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who 'divide my land.' God considers this land to be his," Robertson said. "You read the Bible and he says 'This is my land,' and for any prime minister of Israel who decides he is going to carve it up and give it away, God says 'No, this is mine.'"

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said a religious leader "should not be making callous political points while a man is struggling for his life."

"Pat Robertson has a political agenda for the entire world, and he seems to think God is ready to take out any world leader who stands in the way of that agenda," Lynn said in a statement.

In August, Robertson suggested on "The 700 Club" that American agents should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has long been at odds with U.S. foreign policy.

Robertson later apologized for his remarks. "Is it right to call for assassination?" Robertson said at the time. "No, and I apologize for that statement. I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying he was hoping for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's death, the Reuters news agency reported on Thursday.

"Hopefully, the news that the criminal of Sabra and Shatila has joined his ancestors is final," the semi-official news agency ISNA quoted him as telling a group of Shiite clerics in the holy city of Qom.

The United States quickly responded, blasting the comment as "hateful and disgusting. This is a man who wraps himself in the cloak of a peaceful religion, Islam, and yet you hear remarks like this coming from him," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. "I can only say that those remarks are hateful and disgusting. And I think that it is, again, a window into the true nature of this particular Iranian Government."

President George W. Bush said that he was praying for the prime minister. "Laura and I share the concerns of the Israeli people about Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's health, and we are praying for his recovery," Bush said in a written statement. "Prime Minister Sharon is a man of courage and peace. On behalf of all Americans, we send our best wishes and hopes to the prime minister and his family."

Israel's Ashkenazi and Sephardic chief rabbis called on Jews to recite psalms and pray for Sharon's health. "We are very, very worried," said Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, and prayed for "mercy from Heaven."

Highest Jewish Population Centers: Israel and Palm Beach


Palm Beach, Florida has the highest concentration of Jews than any other city in the world outside of Israel, according to the city's Jewish Federation statistics. It reported that 20 percent of the county's 1.2 residents is Jewish. Palm Beach County includes the highly concentrated Jewish areas of Delray Beach and Boca Raton.

Other statistics show that the suburb of Boynton Beach has experienced a 63 percent in its Jewish population since 1999. Other county areas reported increases of 45 percent.

Chinese City to Host Exhibition of its Jewish Past


Harbin, the capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, will host a large-scale exhibition this month on the history and lives of the city's Jewish population, once the largest Jewish settlement in the Far East. The exhibition, covering more than 3,000 square meters of floor space, will open January 8.

From the end of the 19th century to the mid 20th century, more than 20,000 Jews migrated to Harbin from Russia, Eastern Europe and other areas. China's news agency reported that more than 400 pictures and dozens of installations to be displayed at the exhibition come from Israel, the United States, Germany, Australia, Britain and France, as well as original materials from Harbin itself. In addition, Harbin has invested 20 million yuan (about $2.5 million) to restore the Jewish areas of the city.

Xinhuanet reported that Qu Wei, president of the Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, said his academy has established a Jewish research center. According to Qu, the exhibition would ultimately be made a permanent part of the northeastern Chinese city.

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