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Jewish leaderspraise Pope Benedict
(JNS.org) Following the stunning announcement by Pope Benedict XVI that he is resigning on Feb. 28 after eight years at the helm of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, Jewish leaders were quick to praise the Pontiff for his work in continuing to improve Jewish-Christian relations, picking up where his predecessor Pope John Paul II had left off.
“I think he deserves a lot of credit for advancing inter-religious links the world over between Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” Ashekenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger said through his spokesman.
Rabbi Arthur Schneier of Park East Synagogue in New York City, whose hosting of Pope Benedict XVI in April 2008 represented the first-ever visit by a Pope to an American synagogue, called this Pope “a man of conscience” who “clearly understood that his physical limitations made it unfair for him to continue to serve.”
Israel and the Vatican recently reached a historic agreement that formalized diplomatic relations between the two nations. It included agreements on the status of the Catholic Church in Israel, sovereignty over Catholic sites, taxation and expropriation.
Pope Benedict XVI also became the first pontiff to make a sweeping exoneration of the Jewish people for the death of Jesus Christ. In his book Jesus of Nazareth-Part II, Benedict explained why there is no basis in Scripture for blaming Jews for Jesus’s crucifixion and death. Pope Benedict XVI’s tenure also included a trip to Israel in 2009, where he visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum.
Late last year, however, the Vatican supported the Palestinians’ upgrade bid at the United Nations.

Hagel: Israel, not Iran, would start ‘nuclear exchange’
(Israel Hayom/Exclusive to JNS.org) While defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel awaited confirmation, his latest controversial statements on Israel surfaced Sunday with the revelation of video footage of a 2008 event in which the former Nebraska senator postulates that the Jewish state would be the first to wage a nuclear attack on Iran, not vice versa.
“Someone was asking me the other day about a nuclear exchange in the world, where that would come from,” Hagel says on the video, posted on YouTube (http://is.gd/TjJYFB). “I said, ‘well, I’ll give you a scenario that’s very real. If Israel gets backed up enough into a corner and Israel uses a tactical theater nuclear weapon, you want to talk about seeing some things unravel in the world.’” Hagel goes on to say that in such a scenario, “the United States shouldn’t even be thinking about options of bombing Iran or anybody else.”
A report on the Breitbart.com website claims that one of the reasons Hagel failed to turn over documents on foreign contributions is that one of the names listed is allegedly “Friends of Hamas.”

Iran, Hezbollah build Syrian terror network
(JNS.org) Amid the Syrian civil war, Iran and Hezbollah are building a network of terror militias in Syria in the event of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s downfall, according to U.S. and Arab officials, the Washington Post reported.
Current reports indicate upwards of 50,000 militiamen are fighting in Syria on Assad’s behalf with Iran’s backing. Officials, however, believe their long-term goal is to maintain operatives in Syria if the country collapses. “One is to support Assad to the hilt, the other is to set the stage for major mischief if he collapses,” an Arab official told the Washington Post.
Syria remains a deeply fractured country. The government is controlled by Assad’s minority Alawite clan — an offshoot of Shi’a Islam — and receives support from its Shi’a brethren, Iran and Hezbollah. Meanwhile, the rebellion has largely been driven by Syria’s Sunni majority, with support from Sunni Arab oil giants like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. But extremist Sunni groups like al-Qaeda have increasingly joined the rebellion as well. Other minorities like the Kurds, Christians and Druze have been caught in the crossfire.

Samsung to invest in Israel
(JNS.org) Samsung Electronics has opened a $100 million fund dedicated to innovative applications of product systems and components of its various digital gadgets. Part of the fund will be directed to projects in Israel. “We’re going to support early stage entrepreneurs and academia. We want to make sure we’re part of the disruptive forces sweeping the technology industry,” said Samsung Electronics chief strategy officer Young Sohn, according to Globes. This renewed innovation can impact Samsung products ranging from televisions and mobile phones to computers and more. Some of the money will also be invested in projects in California’s Silicon Valley as well as Cambridge, Mass., and will address cloud infrastructure, human interface and mobile health.

Bulgaria implicates Hezbollah in attack on Israeli tourist
(JNS.org) The Bulgarian government has announced that it believes Hezbollah was behind the terror attack against an Israeli tour bus that killed five Israelis and one Bulgarian last summer in the seaside resort of Burgas. At a news conference Tuesday, Feb. 5, Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said that investigators found Canadian and Australian passports that belong to two of the attackers. Bulgarian investigators had “a well-founded assumption that they belonged to the military formation of Hezbollah,” Tsvetanov said of the terrorists, the New York Times reported. “We have followed their entire activities in Australia and Canada so we have information about financing and their membership in Hezbollah,” Tsvetanov added.
Despite the Bulgarian investigation that implicated the group in last summer’s bombing of the tour bus carrying Israelis, it remained unlikely that the 27-member European Union (EU) would vote to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, due to the opposition of countries such as France and Italy. The EU’s top counter-terrorism official, Gilles de Kerchove, had told EUobserver last month that a conclusion by the Bulgarian investigation that Hezbollah was the perpetrator would not automatically lead to Hezbollah being placed on the EU’s terrorism blacklist. “First, we need to reach conclusions with strong evidence that it was the military wing of Hezbollah. That’s the prerequisite, even in legal terms, but then, as always in the listing process, you need to ask yourself: ‘Is this the right thing to do?’” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, after the Bulgarian findings were released, urged global governments “and particularly our partners in Europe” to “take immediate action to crack down on Hezbollah.” But Italy, Cyprus and Malta are all influencing French opposition to taking action against Hezbollah, according to AFP. Daniel S. Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, wrote in a column for EUobserver that the EU in its refusal to blacklist Hezbollah “has refused to declare the obvious, often defending its intransigence by claiming Hezbollah has two distinct faces: a ‘political’ wing and a ‘military’ faction.”

Jewish youths attacked in France
(JNS.org) Two young Jews were attacked in France this week, one in Marseille and one in the same Toulouse school where a gunman killed a rabbi and three Jewish children in March 2012. On Monday, a young man wearing a Star of David pendant was assaulted outside Marseille’s main railway station, Gare Saint-Charles, by a group of men who approached him on a scooter, shouted antisemitic slurs at him, hit him, stole his MP3 player and 100 euros, tore the pendant off his neck, and drove away.  Meanwhile, on Wednesday at the entrance to the Ohr Torah school in Toulouse, which was renamed from Otzar Hatorah after the shooting last year, a student left the school wearing a kippah and was approached by a woman brandishing a knife. School guards immediately arrested the woman. Since the March shooting at the Toulouse school, antisemitic incidents in France have increased by 45 percent, reported SPCJ, the security service of the French Jewish community.

Christian leaders learn about Judaism
(JNS.org) Prominent Christian leaders from across the denominational spectrum gathered in Los Angeles Feb. 8-10 for the inaugural Christian Leadership Initiative (CLI) Alumni Study Retreat. The CLI was launched in 2008 as a partnership between the Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) with the goal of providing Christian leaders the opportunity to gain a more profound understanding of Judaism and the Jewish people, according to its website. “CLI gathers a unique core group of Christian scholars and introduces them to classical Jewish text study in the context of modern Israel,” Rabbi Noam Marans, AJC’s director of interreligious and intergroup relations, said in a statement. The Alumni Study Retreat is covering advanced topics, including themes of God, ethics and community in Judaism. It is also introducing a new curriculum on Israel called “New Paths: Christians Engaging Israel.” More than 28 Christian leaders were expected to attend.

Israel closes Haifa Airport
(JNS.org) The Israel Defense Forces has ordered the closure of Haifa Airport amid growing tensions with Syria and Hezbollah. The closure may be related to “mock raids” the Israeli air force has been conducting over Lebanon, according to the Lebanese Ministry of Information. But the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit told Israel Hayom that the “security needs relating to the air space in the area have been addressed.” Furthermore, the IDF has placed a third Iron Dome battery in northern Israel. This comes on the heels of Israel’s reported strike on a Syrian military base near the Lebanese border. Israeli aircraft reportedly destroyed a Syrian military convoy carrying advanced Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles preparing to leave the Jamarya military base, possibly to be delivered to Hezbollah. According to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Hezbollah has an arsenal of 40,000 to 50,000 short and long-range missiles that can easily reach Tel Aviv.

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