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Argentina Calls for Arrests of Former Iranian Officials in 1994 Bombing

By VOA News

Argentine prosecutors have asked a judge to issue an arrest warrant against top Iranian officials in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Chief prosecutor Alberto Nisman said Wednesday that Argentine officials had determined senior Iranian authorities ordered the attack on the Argentina Israeli Mutual Association. He said the attack was carried out by the Lebanese-based militant group Hizbullah. The bombing killed 85 people and injured some 300 people. Iran has repeatedly denied involvement in the bombing.

Olmert Persuades Labor to Accept Ultranationalist in Coalition

By VOA News

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Labor Party leader Amir Peretz has agreed to remain in the Cabinet despite Olmert's decision to include an ultranationalist party in the ruling coalition.

Olmert's office announced Wednesday, that Peretz's left-center party has agreed to an expanded coalition that includes far-right leader Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) party.

The prime minister's office says Peretz was assured there will be no change in the government's guidelines and that his role as defense minister would not be harmed.

Lieberman's party calls for annexing Israeli settlements in the West Bank and excluding Israeli Arab towns from Israel's final borders. Labor objects to stripping Israeli Arabs of their citizenship.

Under the coalition deal with Olmert, Lieberman would become a deputy prime minister in charge of monitoring strategic threats facing Israel. Lieberman said he would focus on Iran, which he calls the primary threat.

The addition of Lieberman's party would expand the ruling coalition from 67 to 78 seats in the Israeli parliament. His party is mostly made up of Russian immigrants.

Germans Claim Israeli F-16s Fired at Warship Near Lebanon

By Reuters

An Israel Defense Forces spokesman on Wednesday confirmed that Israel Air Force jets had been involved in an incident with a German vessel and helicopter, but denied reports that the jets had fired shots over the ship.

The Germany daily Der Tagesspiegel earlier on Wednesday quoted a junior German defense minister as telling a parliamentary committee that two Israeli F-16 fighters flew low over the German ship and fired two shots.

The jets also activated infra-red countermeasures to ward off any rocket attack; the paper quoted him as saying, in an advance release from Thursday's edition.

The IDF spokesman denied that the air force had attacked a ship or opened fire in the vicinity, but said that IAF jets had been launched early Tuesday when a helicopter took off from a German aircraft carrier in waters close to Rosh Hanikra without identifying itself in accordance with United Nations regulations. The incident was quickly solved without confrontation, the spokesman said, and only flares were fired.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz on Wednesday denied the reports in a call to his German counterpart, Franz Jozef Jung, and said Israel had no reason to attack German forces. He also said that Israel wanted to increase its coordination with UNIFIL forces in preventative actions. UNIFIL told Channel Two Wednesday that it had received no complaint of Israeli fire.

Germany assumed command of a United Nations naval force off Lebanon 10 days ago, and has sent eight ships and 1,000 service personnel to join the international peace operation in the region.

The naval force is charged with preventing the smuggling of weapons and helping maintain a ceasefire between Israel and the Lebanese Islamic terrorist group Hizbullah.

Peretz said earlier Wednesday that the IAF would continue to patrol Lebanese skies in an effort to gather information and prevent terror groups from smuggling weapons from Syria into Lebanon.

Peretz raised the issue on the Knesset plenum agenda, saying, "We see ourselves not just as free, but as having the right to continue carrying out these necessary flights, as part of our challenge against the flow of arms from the Syrian-Lebanese border."

The defense minister added that in light of Israel's desire to coordinate these efforts with Lebanon, it had reduced the scope of the flights to a minimum. He said the flights were being carried out with precision to avoid friction with United Nations troops and the Lebanese army. He said the flights presented no threat to the peace or security of the international forces deployed in Lebanon.

In response to threats by French forces to open fire on IAF over flights, Peretz said, "We will in no way take these threats, and we've made that clear in conversations with all parties."

The defense minister said that since the end of the war the Hizbullah has been involved with the rehabilitation of the Lebanese infrastructure, has attempted to smuggle weapons through the Lebanese-Syrian border, and has continued to try to harness aid from external sources. Hizbullah had maintained its stronghold in southern Lebanese areas still closed off to UNIFIL and Lebanese forces.

The Leica Freedom Train

I carry my Leica camera a bit more proudly these days. The reason? A story I had never heard before - a tale of courage, integrity and humility that is only now coming to light, some 70 years after the fact.

The Leica is the pioneer 35mm camera. From a nitpicking point of view, it wasn't the very first still camera to use 35mm movie film, but it was the first to be widely publicized and successfully marketed. It created the "candid camera" boom of the 1930s. It is a German product - precise, minimalist, and utterly efficient.

Behind its worldwide acceptance as a creative tool was a family-owned, socially oriented firm that, during thee Nazi era, acted with uncommon grace, generosity and modesty. E. Leitz Inc., designer and manufacturer of Germany's most famous photographic product, saved its Jews.

And Ernst Leitz II, the steely eyed Protestant patriarch who headed the closely held firm as the Holocaust loomed across Europe, acted in such a way as to earn the title, "the photography industry's Schindler."

As George Gilbert, a veteran writer on topics photographic, told the story at last week's convention of the Leica Historical Society of America in Portland, Oregon, Leitz Inc., founded in Wetzlar in 1869, had a tradition of enlightened behavior toward its workers. Pensions, sick leave, health insurance - all were instituted early on at Leitz, which depended for its work force upon generations of skilled employees - many of whom were Jewish.

As soon as Adolf Hitler was named chancellor of Germany in 1933, Ernst Leitz II began receiving frantic calls from Jewish associates, asking for his help in getting them and their families out of the country.

As Christians, Leitz and his family were immune to Nazi Germany's Nuremberg laws, which restricted the movement of Jews and limited their professional activities.

To help his Jewish workers and colleagues, Leitz quietly established what has become known among historians of the Holocaust as "the Leica Freedom Train," a covert means of allowing Jews to leave Germany in the guise of Leitz employees being assigned overseas.

Employees, retailers, family members, even friends of family members were "assigned" to Leitz sales offices in France, Britain, Hong Kong and the United States. Leitz's activities intensified after the Kristallnacht of November 1938, during which synagogues and Jewish shops were burned across Germany.

Before long, German "employees" were disembarking from the ocean liner Bremen at a New York pier and making their way to the Manhattan office of Leitz Inc., where executives quickly found them jobs in the photographic industry.

Each new arrival had around his or her neck the symbol of freedom - a new Leica. The refugees were paid a stipend until they could find work. Out of this migration came designers, repair technicians, salespeople, marketers and writers for the photographic press.

The "Leica Freedom Train" was at its height in 1938 and early 1939, delivering groups of refugees to New York every few weeks. Then, with the invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, Germany closed its borders. By that time, hundreds of endangered Jews had escaped to America, thanks to the Leitz's' efforts.

How did Ernst Leitz II and his staff get away with it? Leitz Inc. was an internationally recognized brand that reflected credit on the newly resurgent Reich. The company produced range-finders and other optical systems for the German military. Also, the Nazi government desperately needed hard currency from abroad, and Leitz's single biggest market for optical goods was the United States.

Even so, members of the Leitz family and firm suffered for their good works. A top executive, Alfred Turk, was jailed for working to help Jews and freed only after the payment of a large bribe.

Leitz's daughter, Elsie Kuhn-Leitz, was imprisoned by the Gestapo after she was caught at the border, helping Jewish women cross into Switzerland. She eventually was freed but endured rough treatment in the course of questioning.

She also fell under suspicion when she attempted to improve the living conditions of 700 to 800 Ukrainian slave laborers, all of them women, who had been assigned to work in the plant during the 1940s. (After the war, Kuhn-Leitz received numerous honors for her humanitarian efforts, among them the Officier d'honneur des Palms Academic from France in 1965 and the Aristide Briand Medal from the European Academy in the 1970s.)

Why has no one told this story until now? According to the late Norman Lipton, a freelance writer and editor, the Leitz family wanted no publicity for its heroic efforts. Only after the last member of the Leitz family was dead did the "Leica Freedom Train" finally come to light.

It is now the subject of a book, "The Greatest Invention of the Leitz Family: The Leica Freedom Train," by Frank Dabba Smith, a California- born rabbi currently living in England.

Study: Israelis and U.S. Jews No Longer Seen as One Nation

By Ha'aretz

Two recent studies challenge the customary perception that Jews living in Israel and the United States, which make up 80 percent of the world's Jewry belong to the same nation.

One study indicates that Israel occupies a marginal place in the younger generation's Jewish identity. The other finds that Israeli pupils' knowledge of American Jewry is negligible. Both studies were conducted by the American Jewish Committee (AJC). The study on Israeli pupils was conducted by the Levinsky College of Education among 150 history and civics teachers.

Only 13 percent of them said that the subject of U.S. Jewry had been studied at their school "at least once." More than 60 percent said the subject had not been studied at all and 25 percent could not answer the question.

Rabbi Edward Rettig of AJC, who coordinated the study, said he was not surprised by the findings, which indicate to his mind "educational failure and slipping down the slope of mutual alienation."

Rettig said senior Education Ministry officials had tried to sabotage the study and forbade the researchers' direct access to teachers. The Knesset's Education Committee chair, Rabbi Michael Melchior, initiated the debate held in the Knesset on Wednesday on the studies' findings. He said Israeli education ministers' promises to expand Jewish studies were mere lip service and that all the study programs on this subject had been ignored.

Education Minister Yuli Tamir promised recently to increase Jewish studies and said it would "contribute significantly to mold the pupils' Jewish identity." But in Wednesday's Knesset debate it transpired that the Education Ministry was not acting to implement new Jewish studies programs, although they had been prepared long ago.

The implementation of a new history study program has recently been postponed by a year, and a civics program is pending the minister's decision whether to expand civics studies from one to two units. An additional ninth grade program on Diaspora Jews has been taught for the past two years as a mere pilot.

The study held in the U.S. summed the findings of all the studies conducted among 1.5 million American Jews in their twenties and thirties. They all concluded that Israel was not a central component in the young people's Jewish identity. For example, in a study conducted in 2000, Israel was placed 11th out of 15 identity components presented to the interviewees.

All the studies found that the younger the interviewees, the less sympathy they felt for Israel. The sense of belonging to the Jewish nation also fell with age. For example, a study from 2001 found that less than 30 percent of the young people felt they belonged to "the Jewish nation" compared to 42 percent of the 65 year olds and older people.

Melchior, the only MK to sit throughout the Knesset debate on Wednesday, asked high school pupils who were there by chance whether they could name any Jewish American figure. Nobody could. The pupils said they had studied the subject of American Jewry between the world wars in history classes, but said the lessons were not interesting and the material was not included in the matriculation exams.

One pupil, Tamar Moshe, said the program could have been much more interesting and relevant had it included meetings with Jewish Americans of her age group.

Dr. Rafi Sheniak, who founded the Jewish Studies center in Levinsky College, said the debate did not deal with fundamental issues in the relations between Israel and the Diaspora, such as "are the Jews still one nation." Sheniak said that in the U.S. Judaism was becoming a "normal" religion, while in Israel Jews were becoming a "normal nation."

American Jewish attitudes to Israel and Hebrew are like those of American Catholics to the Vatican and Latin, he said. In Israel, however, Jewish identity becomes defined as Hebrew language and culture.

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