A U.N. conference under way in Geneva is as bad as expected, watchdog groups say. In reports from Switzerland, two major U.N. watchdog groups said the conference - the first in a series of preparatory meetings for the follow-up to 2001's notorious anti-Semitic Durban conference against racism - was following the path of its predecessor.
Anne Bayefsky, editor of the Eye on the U.N. Web site, called the meeting's opening session "a slap in the face to every state and nongovernmental organization that really cares about equality and nondiscrimination."
Egypt, speaking Monday on behalf of the African group, singled out Israel for its "continued occupation of Palestine and violations arising there from." Pakistan, speaking for the Organization of the Islamic Conference, urged the conference to "move the spotlight on the continued plight of Palestinian people" and accused critics of waging a "smear campaign" against the gathering.
The conference is intended to combat racism and discrimination. Even before the conference began, critics warned that the process could lead to a repeat of the 2001 Durban conference, where an event ostensibly aimed at fighting discrimination became a platform for the dissemination of anti-Semitic propaganda and the singling out of Israel.
Sarkozy Reaffirms Pro-Israel Stance
French President Nicolas Sarkozy reaffirmed his affection for Israel and hostility toward Hamas.
"I have the reputation of being a friend of Israel, and it's true. I will never compromise on Israel's security," he said Monday in his first foreign policy speech since taking office in May.
While he said France would continue to cultivate rich ties with the moderate Arab world, Sarkozy drew a line at engaging Hamas or allowing Iran to procure nuclear weaponry. He described the Gaza Strip as "Hamastan" - a term seldom heard outside Israeli political circles - and said the Islamist Palestinian group must be curbed, lest it take over the West Bank as well.
Sarkozy, who was speaking to French diplomats, further urged Iran to abandon its nuclear program or for effective international sanctions to be imposed on Tehran. Otherwise, he hinted, there could be military intervention.
"This tactic is the only one that allows us to escape from a catastrophic alternative: an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran," he said.
Captive Israeli Soldier Turns 21
Israelis marked the 21st birthday of captive soldier Gilad Shalit. Supporters of Shalit held a rally in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, the conscript sergeant's second birthday in Palestinian captivity. Newspapers and other media carried fresh coverage of his family's ordeal.
Shalit was abducted in a June 25, 2006, cross-border raid by Hamas-led gunmen in the Gaza Strip. Two of his comrades were killed in the incident.
His father, Noam, said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was not doing enough to recover his son from Hamas, which wants a prisoner exchange. Olmert has signaled a willingness to bargain for Shalit's return but has ruled out the lopsided swap demands by Hamas.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said Monday that a deal was almost clinched to trade Shalit for 350 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, but that it fell through over the types of prisoners the Olmert government would release. Israel has said it will only release prisoners not involved in killings.
YouTube Under Fire in Germany Over Hate Videos
The Central Council of Jews in Germany has joined the call to punish YouTube for failing to remove hate material from its Web site. YouTube, the online video sharing portal, has been accused of spreading neo-Nazi material.
According to a report in the ARD television magazine, anti-Jewish propaganda from the Third Reich and music by the banned neo-Nazi group, Landser, can be viewed unhindered on YouTube. Such material is illegal in Germany. The report said some of the material had been online for several months.
The federal Ministry of the Interior has recommended filing charges. German officials reportedly have warned YouTube more than 100 times to remove the material but without a response. The vice president of the German Jewish Council, Salomon Korn, has asked that Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Justice Ministry intervene to stop the online publication of offending video clips.
YouTube, which is owned by Google, is based in California and thus beyond Germany's legal reach. But German officials could come down harder on Web companies with operations in Germany.
Israeli Holocaust Assets Listed Online
Israeli assets believed to have been left behind by Holocaust victims can now be claimed by their heirs over the Internet. The Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims Assets, which was set up in 2006 following disclosures that Israeli banks hold many accounts and properties that have gone unclaimed since World War II, has set up a Web site with the names of some 7,000 original owners believed to have perished at the hands of the Nazis.
Heirs of those who appear on the list can apply for restitution at www.hashava.org.il. The site is in Hebrew with English translation. The site does not deal with living persons or properties and accounts outside of Israel.
Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegrapic Agency.