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World Briefs Dec. 19

By JTA

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Hezbollah eyes Israeli war film

Hezbollah voiced interest in screening Israeli films about the southern Lebanon conflict zone.

Avichai Henig, an Israeli producer behind the feature-length drama “Beaufort” and the documentary “Wasted,” both of which deal with the final days of Israel's “security zone” in southern Lebanon, had an unusual encounter at a recent film festival in Italy.

Henig told Ma'ariv Dec. 18 that he was approached by a reporter from Hezbollah's Al-Manar television asking for copies of the films. The reporter wanted to know how Henig thought the leader of the Iranian-backed militia, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, would respond to them.

“I said that in my opinion, he would be pleased to see how weak the Israeli soldiers were in such a situation, but that it is important for him to know that his people are in the same situation,” Henig said.

“Beaufort” was critically acclaimed, but its release in Israel shortly after last year's Lebanon war stirred controversy. Military veterans protested the fact that some of the actors who portrayed soldiers never served in uniform.

Separately, a Lebanese film about the 34-day conflict between Israel and Hezbollah swept the top prizes at the Dubai International Film Festival this week. “Under the Bombs” tells the story of an unlikely love affair between a Shi'ite woman and Christian man during the fighting in Lebanon. Its director dedicated the prize to the war's victims.

Bush sets Mid East trip

President Bush will visit Israel and the West Bank as part of a nine-day trip to the Middle East. Bush will travel to the region Jan. 8-16, the White House announced Dec. 18. The U.S. leader also will visit Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

In Jerusalem, Bush will meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Shimon Peres, and in the West Bank with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. No three-way meeting is scheduled with Bush, Olmert and Abbas. The trip comes on the heels of the Annapolis Israeli-Palestinian peace conference and following the beginning of direct talks between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams.
 
Recruiting begins for anti-Iran coalition

Jewish umbrella groups have asked constituents to recruit non-Jewish supporters to an anti-Iran coalition. A letter sent Dec. 14 by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and United Jewish Communities was spurred by a U.S. spy assessment playing down the Iranian nuclear threat.
The National Intelligence Estimate issued last week said Iran had shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003, a revelation seized upon by opponents of intensifying the tough U.S. posture against Iran.

The letter to Jewish groups suggested that the NIE had underemphasized Iran's continuing threat. Raising a broad-based coalition to confront Iran is “now all the more essential, as difficult as it may now be for such a body to be brought into being,” the letter said. “We are reaching out to you to think of those organizations and individuals in the broader community you believe would be prepared to add their names and join in coalition efforts to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, to advocate for economic and diplomatic efforts, and to help advance greater awareness of the Iranian threat.”

The new coalition will be called the American Coalition Against a Nuclear Iran.

Third guilty plea in LA terrorist plot

A third man has pleaded guilty to plotting attacks on Jewish targets in southern California.

Gregory Patterson, a 23-year-old college student, pleaded guilty Dec. 17 to charges of conspiracy to levy war against the United States through terrorism and conspiracy to possess and discharge firearms. He will be sentenced on April 14 and could face up to 25 years in prison.

On Dec. 17 two leaders of the Muslim terrorist ring—Kevin James, 31, and Levar Haley Washington, 28—pleaded guilty to charges relating to the plot to blow up synagogues, Jewish community centers and other Jewish or Israel-related sites in and around Los Angeles.
 
Energy bill with Israel grant passes

President George Bush is set to sign a bill that includes a provision for Israeli-U.S. energy cooperation.

The Energy Independence and Security Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives Dec. 18 by a 314-100 vote, includes a provision that establishes a U.S. grant program in cooperation with the Israeli Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure. That program would promote solar, biomass, wind, geothermal, wave and tidal energy, as well as advanced battery technology and energy efficiency.

Joint ventures between businesses, non-profits, academic institutions, national laboratories and the federal government in the U.S. and Israel qualify for the grants. A new “International Clean Energy Foundation,” whose board will include high-ranking U.S. and USAID officials, will oversee the awarding of funds.

Jewish groups including the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had lobbied for the bill. This particular provision was spurred in part by a speech Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made to the U.S. Congress in May 2006.

“Israel is an ideal research partner because Israel’s strategic position has required it to be at the cutting edge of research to reduce reliance on fossil fuels,” said U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), one of the lead sponsors of the bill's language. The Senate version of the bill passed by an 85-12 vote in June. President Bush is set to sign it on Dec. 19.
 
Israel inks free trade pact

Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, signed a free-trade pact with Israel. The agreement, signed Dec. 18 during the organization's two-day summit in Uruguay, is the bloc's first trade pact with a country outside of Latin America.

The new partnership, which follows two years of negotiations, marks Israel’s first trade agreement in Latin America. Under the new plan, trade is expected to double between Israel and the Mercosur member nations: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Associate members of Mercosur include Chile, Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia and Peru.
Trade between Israel and Mercosur member countries totaled $1.1 billion in 2006. The agreement comes at a time of growing Iranian influence in the region, backed by Venezuela.

“Free trade sustains democracies, and strengthens relations between these countries, some of which have had strong ties with Israel since its creation,” said B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin, who applauded Mercosur on the pact. “This further cements ties between these countries.”
 
GOP Jewish group: Don't impose beliefs

The Republican Jewish Coalition urged candidates to be “mindful” of not imposing their beliefs on others.

“RJC urges the presidential candidates to uphold the long-held American tradition of religious tolerance and respect for religious diversity,” said a statement from Matt Brooks, the coalition's director. “While expressing the importance of one's personal faith is perfectly understandable, I hope the candidates will be mindful of not imposing their religious beliefs on others. Questions involving theology have no place on the campaign trail.”

The statement did not name a candidate, but Republican Jews are known to be uncomfortable with statements by Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor. Huckabee has called himself a “Christian leader” in ads, and his campaign workers reportedly have made an issue behind the scenes of the Mormon faith of another candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Mitzvah Mobile hits Moscow streets

Chabad launched its first Mitzvah Mobile in Moscow. The vehicle, a large trailer home adorned with Jewish symbols, has been driving the streets of the Russian capital since the beginning of Hanukkah. Its mission is to expose people, especially secular Jews, to Jewish traditions and customs.

Rabbis, distributing Shabbat candles to women and teaching men to don tefillin, ride along on the missions. The response has been extremely positive, according to a news release by the Chabad-led Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia.

“I was shocked by the overwhelmingly positive response we got from strangers on the street,” said Rabbi Shmuel Kuperman, who made the inaugural run. “People were streaming into the mobile with only smiles and good cheer. It was not what we expected to happen in the center of Moscow.”

The Mitzvah Mobile has been a fixture in large American cities since 1974, but was making its Russian debut in Moscow.

Israeli journalists investigated

Israeli police are investigating three Israeli journalists who traveled to Lebanon and Syria. Israeli citizens require permission from the Interior Ministry to travel to an “enemy state.”

The journalists being probed by the National Serious and International Crimes Unit are travel writer Tzur Shizaf, who traveled to Lebanon; Ynet reporter Ron Ben-Yishai, who traveled to Syria; and freelance Canadian-Israeli reporter Lisa Goldman, who visited Lebanon twice and reported from there for Israel's Channel 10.

“I entered Lebanon legally, with a legitimate Canadian passport, and without criminal intent,” Goldman said in an op-ed published in Ha'aretz. “I have never had access to classified information. The police are fully aware of these facts.”

Police say the journalists endangered their own lives as well as Israeli security. The crime is punishable by up to four years in prison.
 
Israel slow to prosecute abusive troops

Israel rarely prosecutes soldiers accused of abusing Palestinians, military data indicate. According to statistics obtained by the Yesh Din human rights group and released to the media Dec. 18, since the outbreak of violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in September 2001, approximately 1,100 military police investigations have been conducted against Israeli troops suspected of unlawfully harming Palestinian civilians or their property. Those probes produced only 118 indictments and a handful of convictions, Yesh Din said, adding that the figures suggested an atmosphere of impunity in the Israeli armed forces when it comes to abuse of innocent Palestinians.

Israel says its military abides by high ethical standards, but a study commissioned recently by the top brass found widespread accounts of harassment of Palestinians by soldiers at checkpoints—a yardstick of abuse. The chief of Israeli forces in the West Bank, Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni, has ordered troops to undergo workshops on the need to treat the Palestinian public humanely despite the ongoing risk of terrorist infiltrations.
 
4 arrested in Jewish school attacks

Police have made four arrests in connection with attacks on a Jewish school in Russia. Officers in the city of Bryansk, located 235 miles southeast of Moscow, charged three teenagers and one university student in a string of attacks on a local Jewish school. According to a report on the Jewish.ru news portal, the youths attacked the Ohr Avner school five separate times within the span of one month beginning at the end of October. They allegedly knocked out eight of the school’s nine windows while shouting anti-Semitic slogans. The four suspects have admitted to being members of a neo-Nazi group.
 
Australia doubles funding to P.A.

The new Australian government pledged to double its annual funding of the Palestinian Authority to $39 million. Bob McMullan, Australia’s parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, made the announcement Dec. 18 at a donors’ summit in Paris. A total of $7.4 billion was raised from the representatives of the 60 countries at the one-day conference, far exceeding Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ expectations of $5.6 billion. The biggest donors were the European Union, which pledged $652 million for 2008, and the United States, which pledged $555 million.

“Australia’s pledge sends an important signal that Australia remains committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which will see a viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel,” McMullan told ABC Radio.

The donors’ summit comes one month after the Annapolis peace conference, where Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed to negotiate a final settlement by the end of 2008.
 
Dodd letter supports peace talks

U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) is asking fellow senators to sign a letter urging more steps toward Middle East peace. Dodd, a presidential candidate, on Dec. 17 began circulating a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice among his colleagues praising the progress made at the recent Annapolis peace conference and requesting further action be taken.

His letter called on the United States to continue to “play a vigorous and proactive role” in the negotiations. Dodd asked Rice to call on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to continue denouncing terrorist attacks and unconditionally recognize Israel’s right to exist. He also asked Rice to assist Abbas in confrontations with Hamas and provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinian Authority.

“As the only democracy in the Middle East, the United States must remain a steadfast supporter of Israel and its right to defend itself from terrorist threats,” Dodd wrote, adding that Israel must maintain a commitment to a freeze on new settlements, the dismantling of illegal West Bank settlements and a reduction in the number of roadblocks and checkpoints.

“The memorandum of understanding issued ahead of the Annapolis Conference by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas illustrates not only the leaders’ commitment to peace, but also the value of proactive U.S. engagement in the peace process,” Dodd wrote.
 
Reps aim to stop funding for Durban II

U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) wants to stop an anti-racism parley that he believes will unfairly attack Israel. Cantor and three of his colleagues in the House of Representatives sent a letter to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, on Dec. 13 urging him to pressure the United Nations not to fund the Durban Review Conference.

The review conference would be a continuation of the 2001 forum in South Africa, which the U.S. delegation walked out on after it digressed into an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel forum. Reps. Dave Weldon and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both Florida Republicans, and Mike Pence (R-Ind.) also signed on to the letter.

“It is clear to us that the 2009 conference, much like its predecessor, will reject Western values like tolerance and set back our efforts to foster peace in the Middle East,” Cantor wrote. “With dishonorable countries such as Iran on the conference’s planning committee, Durban II promises to deliver both anti-Semitism and unfounded allegations of Western Islamophobia.”

Cafe cited for coexistence efforts

Since its launch in 2003, the Yaffa Cafe has been a popular venue for the mixed-race district, offering with its food a selection of books in Hebrew and Arabic about politics and culture. The cafe was selected from among 30 candidates for the Yisraela Goldblum Prize, which is awarded for initiatives that promote Jewish-Arab coexistence in Israel. Goldblum was a director of the New Israel Fund and a founder of the dovish Peace Now. Her husband, Amiram, told Ma'ariv that at the Yaffa Cafe “there is a genuine dialogue between Arabs and Jews. It is a living thing.” President Shimon Peres was to bestow the $15,000 prize on the cafe's owners Dec. 18.
 
Ban on cursing Mohammed sought

An Israeli Arab lawmaker wants to criminalize public cursing of the Prophet Mohammed. Ibrahim Sarsour, an Islamist who heads the United Arab List faction in the Knesset, said this week he is preparing legislation that would impose a three-year prison sentence and $25,000 fine on those found to have desecrated Mohammed's memory or other concepts that Muslims consider sacred.

The bill was inspired by a recent soccer game at which fans of the Betar Jerusalem team, which is closely identified with the Israeli right wing, mocked Arab rivals with catcalls about Mohammed.

“I felt an earthquake inside me,” Sarsour told Ma'ariv. “Such behavior should cause offense to those of any faith, and I intend to ask lawmakers who are religious or fervently Orthodox to support my bill.”

Sarsour's legislation is unlikely to be ratified, however, given free-speech principles in Israel. There are no legal constraints on profaning Judaism or Christianity if the remarks do not constitute incitement to violence.
 
Scientific American credits Israelis

Scientific American magazine credited three Israelis with groundbreaking research. The influential magazine, in its listing of the year's most important scientific discoveries, cited Professors Eshel Ben-Jacob and Beka Solomon and Dr. Itay Baruch, all from Tel Aviv University, as innovators in the field of “neurological insights.” Ben-Jacob and Baruch are experts in artificial intelligence who have been seeking the means of building a computer that can think creatively. Solomon is a researcher specializing in the treatment of Parkinson's disease.

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