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Yellow Star Protest in Germany Sparks Furor

By IsraelNationalNews.com

A pro-smoking organization has shocked German Jews by selling a "yellow star" T-shirt to protest Germany's tough anti-smoking laws that came into affect on January 1.

The T-shirts bear a yellow star carrying the word "smoker" on the left breast. Dieter Graumann, the deputy president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said the creator of the shirts was "either evil or stupid," and local authorities are considering prosecuting the company for breaking Germany's touch laws regarding Holocaust imagery.


US to Sell Precision-Guided Bombs to Saudi Arabia. (Are They Really Aimed at Iran?)

By David Gollust (VOA-State Department)

The Bush administration officially notified Congress Monday of its intention to sell sophisticated precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia. The action, coinciding with the president's visit to Saudi Arabia, is part of a broader U.S. effort to bolster Gulf allies in the face of a more assertive Iran.

The Bush administration has already briefed Congress on its arms sales plans for Saudi Arabia. Monday's announcement sets in motion a 30-day period in which the House and Senate can block the plan with a joint resolution - action that appears highly unlikely.

Under the proposed deal, worth more than $120 million, the United States would provide Saudi Arabia with 900 kits and associated equipment to convert conventional gravity bombs into laser-guided smart-bombs, known as JDAMs.

The weapons are a mainstay of the U.S. military arsenal and their accuracy would vastly enhance the capability of the Saudi Air Force, which has top-of-the-line U.S.-made fighter-bomber aircraft.

The sale is part of a broader $20-billion arms package for Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states announced by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates last August on a mission to the Gulf, aimed at shoring up U.S. allies concerned about Iranian influence in the region.

Several elements of the broader package including sales of Patriot anti-missile systems to Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, and upgrades for Saudi Arabia's AWACS airborne command and control planes, have already gotten congressional assent. Officials here say they also expect the Saudi J-DAMS sale to proceed despite concerns expressed by some congressional supporters of Israel.

At the time the Gulf weapons sales package was announced last year, the Bush administration also committed to a 10-year, $30-billion arms package for Israel, representing a 25 per cent increase in annual U.S. arms aid to that country.

Briefing reporters, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the administration has assured Congress it would do nothing to upset Israel's military edge over potential enemies in the region.

"We've spent a lot of time assuring that we abide by our commitments to a qualitative military edge for Israel," said McCormack. "This is something that President Reagan first talked about and it's been reiterated and reconfirmed by each successive president after that. We're committed to maintaining that qualitative military edge for Israel."

Israel itself has not protested the pending sale. Israeli officials have said they anticipate being provided with a new-generation U.S. smart bomb more capable than J-DAMS, which have been in service for more than a decade.

A spokesman for House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, a prominent advocate for Israel in Congress, said he does not intend to push a resolution of disapproval. However one House member, New York Democrat Anthony Weiner, said he would introduce such a measure and already has more than 30 co-sponsors.

Critics of the package have faulted Saudi Arabia's record in combating terrorism and advancing political reform. Under questioning here, McCormack said the Saudi government has made "quantum leaps" in action against terrorist cells and financing in recent years and has begun the process of reform, though not necessarily at a pace that would please some critics.

Two-thirds majorities of the members in both houses would be required to block the sale and officials here say chances for that appear nil.


Israeli, Palestinian Negotiators Hold Talks on Core Issues

By Jim Teeple (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have held their first bilateral talks since President George Bush visited Israel and the Palestinian territories last week.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Queria met at a Jerusalem hotel to discuss the core issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - borders, the status of Jerusalem, the issue of Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Queria described the talks as positive, but said the road ahead would be difficult. Aryeh Mekel the spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry said both sides want the talks to be private. "I think that while both sides agreed these talks will not be secretive, we will try to push them away from the limelight to enable a constructive process of negotiations," he said. "They will also be intensive, these negotiations."

Before the meeting got underway, Livni said she believed previous negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians had been hurt by publicity.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he wants the talks to result in a peace treaty, which would allow him to declare a Palestinian state by the end of this year. Israeli negotiators say they want the talks to result in a framework for a Palestinian state, but that no state will be possible until Palestinians can control Palestinian militants.

The talks were condemned by Hamas leaders in Gaza. The group refuses to recognize Israel or renounce violence. Speaking late Sunday President Abbas criticized Hamas. Abbas said the time has come for Hamas to return Gaza to Fatah control, saying he would be willing to talk to Hamas if the group renounced violence.

Abbas also said moving forward in talks with the Israelis would be difficult as long as Israel continues expanding its settlements on land it captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.


High Court to Rule on Falash Mura Aliyah

By IsraelNationalNews.com

More than 1,400 members of the Falash Mura community in Ethiopia will be allowed to immigrate to Israel, whether the State voluntarily agrees or is instead forced to do so by the High Court of Justice.

The immigration to Israel of the Falash Mura has long been a bone of contention much debated by Israeli officials and officials within the Ethiopian Jewish community.

Unlike the Beta Israel of Ethiopia, who lost much Jewish legal knowledge through the centuries of isolation but remained true to their faith, the Falash Mura are descendants of Jews who converted to Christianity roughly 100 years ago. Many are practicing Christians and their motivation to convert to Judaism is considered suspect by many in the Ethiopian Jewish community.

Spiritual leaders of the Ethiopian Jewish community called in February 2007 for an end to the aliyah (immigration) of the Falash Mura. The Kessim ("Kohanim") and rabbis said that the arrival of the Falash Mura led to a drastic increase in missionary activities among the Ethiopian community.

According to leaders in the Ethiopian Jewish community, many of the Falash Mura have returned to their practice of Christianity since arriving in Israel. They also do missionary work among Ethiopian Jews. According to the leaders, "the missionary activity crosses red lines, and is likely to incite the community and lead to bloodshed."

Thousands of Falash Mura claim their Jewish ancestors were forcibly converted to Christianity, and express the wish to be allowed to convert to Judaism and live in Israel. The state argues that the entire Falash Mura community has already been allowed to apply for Israeli citizenship, while Ethiopian groups argue that thousands more Falash Mura remain in Ethiopia.

A cabinet decision made on Feb. 16, 2003 determined that "the offspring of Ethiopian Jewry from their maternal side who wish to return to Judaism may enter Israel according to the [Law of Return] in order to formally return to Judaism and be reunited with the Jewish people."

No specific numbers were set, nor was there any decision made on whether family members, with or without Jewish ancestry, would be eligible to immigrate as well. It was not until November 2004 that a government resolution was passed stating that the Interior Ministry would process applications from more than 17,000 Falash Mura who requested permission to immigrate to Israel. Since those applications in 2004, children have been born to the families who were waiting to come to Israel.

Most of those whose applications were reviewed at that time – approximately 14,600 – are already here. Another 1,455 have not yet arrived but are expected soon. According to state attorney Yochi Gnessin, some 650 Falash Mura did not show up for their processing.

Realizing that the flow of Ethiopians fleeing the country's harsh conditions would never end, the government resolved in 2005 to make a final determination of who was eligible to immigrate to Israel, and who was not.

The list now being used to determine who is still considered eligible to immigrate has 1,413 fewer names than the list compiled in 2004. It is this group of 1,413 would-be immigrants that Justice Ayala Procaccia has said the state must accept into the country.

A separate petition on behalf of 8,000 other would-be immigrants who were allegedly included in a 1999 census but were not deemed eligible will not be considered by the court, said Procaccia.

The state argues that all applications from the estimated 20,811 potential Falash Mura immigrants were processed, and that the state must put an end to Ethiopian aliyah, as there will always be more requests to immigrate to Israel. Opponents argue that the state is unfairly restricting immigration from people of Jewish descent who wish to live as Jews.


Divorce Bill Aims to Prevent Extortion

By IsraelNationalNews.com

The Knesset has given initial approval to a bill that would allow both civil and rabbinical courts to order couples to divide their property before officially divorcing. The law is meant to prevent one partner from refusing a Jewish divorce (get) in order to get more of the couple's shared property. Current laws require couples to obtain a divorce before splitting their assets.

The bill would allow couples to split property before a divorce if a year has passed since one partner requested a divorce, if the two partners have been living separately for at least nine months, or if one or both partners are abusive. While both secular and religious Knesset members have backed the law so far, some have expressed concern that the hareidi-religious Shas party will oppose the law.

According to a 2007 study, approximately 180 Israeli men refuse to grant their wives a Jewish divorce, and approximately 190 Israeli women refuse to grant their husbands a divorce. A woman who does not receive a divorce from her husband is unable to remarry, and any children conceived by another man will be illegitimate according to Jewish law.


Israeli Cowboys Take on American Wilderness

By YnetNews.com

A group of six Israeli cowboys will soon depart on a unique journey across the United States aimed at marking Israel's 60th anniversary and raising awareness to the historic date in the American media.

The six travelers will be riding on Israeli born-and-raised horses and carry Israeli flags with them. They plan to cross the country from north to south, possibly taking the Continental Divide National Trail, leading from the Canadian border to the Mexican one through the Rocky Mountains.

On the way, they will stop over in Jewish and Christian Zionist communities. "We plan to take it easy," said Uri Peleg, a Golan Heights rancher and the trip's organizer. "All of us are highly-skilled riders, and we could have done a much rougher trek. But we plan to ride about 19 miles a day and enjoy the scenery."

According to Peleg, the ride's main objective is "to mark Israel's 60th anniversary, which is why six riders will be taking part in the expedition, each one representing a different decade."We want to show the Americans the beautiful side of nature-loving Israel, which also has cowboys and adventurers."

The trip involves complex logistical issues and is estimated to cost about $200,000. Organizers are currently in negotiations with sponsors that have agreed to support the cause, and hope that the Foreign and Tourism Ministries will also decide to back the initiative.

Foreign Ministry officials believe that the Israeli riders will arouse the interest of the US media, and Israeli missions on their route are expected to host events dedicated to the wild bunch.





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