<< Deep readers might be forgiven for finding a trace ofself-satisfied partisanship in the accounts because in some placesin the world 5.6 percent of the vote is not enough to get acandidates deposit back.< But Mr. Bubis, who is 70 and chairman of the Central Council ofJews in Germany, the countrys principal Jewish organization,received overwhelming credit for turning his good reputation intothe vehicle for returning the liberal Free Democratic Party to theFrankfurt city legislature this week after an absence of 16 years.< Even before the votes were counted, the weekly Die Zeit hadpushed things a bit last week by saying that Mr. Bubiss place atthe top of the Free Democrats candidate list was part of a strugglefor the normality of Jewish life in Germany.< Mr. Bubis mulled over whether the commentators werent gettingahead of themselves on the afternoon after his victory. He had cometo Berlin for a meeting and now, late in the day with his tieloosened and collar open, he folded and unfolded his hands. Hewanted to say something diplomatic, something that would keep himadmired, respected and, in Helmut Kohls words, beloved. But heclearly did not want to run away from his idea of the truth.< Yes, the German papers are happy to show the world andthemselves that Jews can go into politics here. They like that. ButI foresee only very few Jews becoming part of the politicalprocess. Perhaps I shouldnt say this, but Im sure the right-wingextremists got an extra point because of me. So I mobilized thedemocrats and I think the right, too.< Normalization? Everybody says it, but because they do, it showsit isnt true. As long as you have to talk about it, it hasnthappened. Germany is the only country that I know of that knows howmany of their Nobel Prize winners are Jewish, and this is theproblem. The language here still divides us into Jews and Germans.< It will take another two generations for things to change, hecontinued. Nothing that has to do with Jewish things is normalhere. When the victims and those who victimized them are gone, thenmaybe we can start to talk about normalization.< This comes without particular heat, and almost smilingly. Mr.Bubis thinks it may be this approach, particularly suited totelevision, and a willingness to speak positively about life inGermany, that has brought him his slice of popularity amongGermans. He is openly pleased that German politicians have heapedpraise on him, though occasionally it has been of thesome-of-my-best-friends-are variety. When the embrace is tightest,Mr. Bubis has been called a kind of moral institution.< In contrast, some younger German Jews have made the point thatthey have no ambitions to be a moral institution, and that normalcyfor them in Germany would come when they could run for city councilwithout any saintly virtues ambition, intelligence and hard workshould suffice.< In line with this, the best known Jewish political figure in thecountry besides Mr. Bubis is Michel Friedman, a lawyer in his 40s,whose quick lip and occasionally confrontational style has only thevery limited admiration of Mr. Bubis.<
Deep readers might be forgiven for finding a trace ofself-satisfied partisanship in the accounts because in some placesin the world 5.6 percent of the vote is not enough to get acandidates deposit back.<
But Mr. Bubis, who is 70 and chairman of the Central Council ofJews in Germany, the countrys principal Jewish organization,received overwhelming credit for turning his good reputation intothe vehicle for returning the liberal Free Democratic Party to theFrankfurt city legislature this week after an absence of 16 years.<
Even before the votes were counted, the weekly Die Zeit hadpushed things a bit last week by saying that Mr. Bubiss place atthe top of the Free Democrats candidate list was part of a strugglefor the normality of Jewish life in Germany.<
Mr. Bubis mulled over whether the commentators werent gettingahead of themselves on the afternoon after his victory. He had cometo Berlin for a meeting and now, late in the day with his tieloosened and collar open, he folded and unfolded his hands. Hewanted to say something diplomatic, something that would keep himadmired, respected and, in Helmut Kohls words, beloved. But heclearly did not want to run away from his idea of the truth.<
Yes, the German papers are happy to show the world andthemselves that Jews can go into politics here. They like that. ButI foresee only very few Jews becoming part of the politicalprocess. Perhaps I shouldnt say this, but Im sure the right-wingextremists got an extra point because of me. So I mobilized thedemocrats and I think the right, too.<
Normalization? Everybody says it, but because they do, it showsit isnt true. As long as you have to talk about it, it hasnthappened. Germany is the only country that I know of that knows howmany of their Nobel Prize winners are Jewish, and this is theproblem. The language here still divides us into Jews and Germans.<
It will take another two generations for things to change, hecontinued. Nothing that has to do with Jewish things is normalhere. When the victims and those who victimized them are gone, thenmaybe we can start to talk about normalization.<
This comes without particular heat, and almost smilingly. Mr.Bubis thinks it may be this approach, particularly suited totelevision, and a willingness to speak positively about life inGermany, that has brought him his slice of popularity amongGermans. He is openly pleased that German politicians have heapedpraise on him, though occasionally it has been of thesome-of-my-best-friends-are variety. When the embrace is tightest,Mr. Bubis has been called a kind of moral institution.<
In contrast, some younger German Jews have made the point thatthey have no ambitions to be a moral institution, and that normalcyfor them in Germany would come when they could run for city councilwithout any saintly virtues ambition, intelligence and hard workshould suffice.<
In line with this, the best known Jewish political figure in thecountry besides Mr. Bubis is Michel Friedman, a lawyer in his 40s,whose quick lip and occasionally confrontational style has only thevery limited admiration of Mr. Bubis.<
In the 1970s, Mr. Bubis was designated an enemy of the people byradical leftists who accused him of ruining Frankfurts West End bybuying up old brownstones to clear the way for high-rise apartmentconstruction.<
A decade later, he and other demonstrators succeeded in closingdown a production of a play by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, revolvingaround the Frankfurt real estate scene, that they contended wasanti-Semitic.<
Mr. Bubiss national reputation grew out of these events. Whilerising to the leadership of the Jewish community, he joined theFree Democrats, who have been the junior partner with the ChristianDemocratic Union in the governing coalition in Bonn since 1982.<
This year, with citizens of other European Union countriesvoting in the Frankfurt municipal elections for the first time, theparty asked Mr. Bubis if he would consider bringing his image as aparticularly reasonable man, formed at the head of the Jewishcommunity, into the campaign.<<
AS CHAIRMAN of the Central Council of Jews in Germany a namethat translated from the German embodies all the awkwardness of therelationship Mr. Bubis says he has been determined to take anotherapproach than that of Heinz Galinski, his best-known predecessor.<
Galinski never said anything was right here. When there areunjustified attacks on Germany, I defend it. I shout, too, but not24 hours a day. If there is something positive, I say it.<
Mr. Bubis reacts with ease rather than irritation when asked howhe feels about critics within the Jewish community who say he ismore a house Jew than a statesman a mostly tame, establishmentapparatchik who too often says what the Germans want to hear. Forexample: his view that Germany will not dominate a united Europe;Mr. Bubis sees the country instead as much more of a worry to itsneighbors outside the European Community than in.<
Im not expecting that everybody will like my way of thinking, hesays. Many Jewish people outside Germany only want to hear shoutingfrom someone in my job. They loved Galinski because he never had agood word for anyone here. If the French Jews come and complain, Idtell them to look at the 15 percent Le Pen gets.<
He was referring to Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the extremeright in France, who is credited with commanding about 15 percentof the voter pool.<
The Bubis approach had an illustration the week before theelection when Mr. Bubis described himself as choosing to respondsoftly to an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, hislocal newspaper, in which Malcolm Rifkind, the British foreignsecretary, was referred to as the Jew Rifkind.<
The young woman who wrote the article is 28 years old, he said.She doesnt know the difference between the Jew Rifkind and Rifkind,who is Jewish. She didnt understand the difference. <
But Mr. Bubis said the German press had not quoted his entireresponse. The papers grabbed the smooth part and trimmed thenettle. Referring to the reporters attempt to link Mr. Rifkindsquotation of Martin Luther in a speech and the foreign secretarysreligion, Mr. Bubis insisted, If a Catholic had said what Rifkinddid, the reporter would not have called him a Catholic. Thats thereal problem.<
Someone asked me during the campaign if I was campaigning asthis or as that. I told them I was running as a Frankfurter. <<
In the aftermath of the national telecast of Steven Spielberg's``Schindler's List,'' I've reflected on Thomas Keneally's novelthat inspired the much-awarded film; and I've wished that Spielbergor some other genius of world cinema would conjure a movie versionof Leslie Epstein's ``King of the Jews.''
You've heard of ``Schindler's List'' and may have read thenovel, which sold in greater numbers after the movie's 1993 releasethan before. But you probably haven't heard of ``King of the Jews''and that's a shame. ``Schindler's List'' is a fine novel, but Irate ``King of the Jews'' a greater one. I'll try to explain.
Tod Swindellmine own sonin reviewing Terry Kay's novel``Dark Thirty'' some years back, found it more involving thanTruman Capote's much earlier ``In Cold Blood.'' Both worksconcerned senseless murders, and Capote's bookcelebrated as agroundbreaking ``nonfiction novel''was an account of thewholesale slaughter of an actual family. Yet Capote infused hisnarrative with imagined incidents and dialogue.
Tod professed that in reading ``In Cold Blood,'' one cannot tellwhat is real and what is only made up; but because the fictional``Dark Thirty'' is powerfully rendered, all of it becomes real. Sowith ``Schindler's List'' vis-a-vis ``King of the Jews.''
When the former was a just-published workpreceding the filmversion by a decadeI interviewed Australia's Thomas Keneally,who explained that ``Schindler's List'' was conceived asnonfiction, but became a novel to give its author freedom toinvent, to improvise, to orchestrate.
I would have liked also to interview Leslie Epstein, but knowlittle about him. He's the son of one of the screenwriting Epsteintwins who took Oscars for their ``Casablanca'' script, but I don'tknow if Julius or Philip was his father. My main question forLeslie Epstein would be how muchif anyof ``King of the Jews''is true. Accepting it as fiction, as a feat entirely of creativeimagination, I can only honor it as an amazing work of literaryart.
``King of the Jews,'' the greatest novel of the Holocaust formost who have read it, is lost for the general readership.Published in 1979 to superlative reviews, it sold poorly whilemissing out on some major awards it came near to winning. Itcertainly did not help matters that its publisherCoward, McCann& Geogheganwas a lame-duck imprint soon to expire.
A custom of Nazi conquest was to set up in every city a Judenrat_ a council of Jews to govern inhabitants of the walled ghettos.The Judenrats were empowered only to enforce Nazi orders, whicheventually included the drawing up of lists of those to go to thedeath camps. The Judenrat in an unnamed Polish city is the centerof Epstein's novel; and the center of the Judenrat is I.C.Trumpelman, council elder and monarch of all he surveys in theBaluty ghetto.
The flamboyant, larger-than-life Trumpelman is one of the greattragic figures in late-20th-century literature, as outrageous as heis paradoxical. As a doctor he is a quack; as an insurance brokerhe is a cheat; but this king of Jews is a bravura personality,almost a sorcerer in his egomaniacal wheeling and dealing with theNazis.
Trumpelman's driving mission, like Oskar Schindler's, is to savehis Jews. But there's an important difference: Where Schindlermanaged to save almost all of his Jewish workers, Trumpelman couldonly be selective, with the god-playing function of determiningwhom to save. So he'll sacrifice 50 to save a thousand; and by hismethods, his ghetto will outlast all others.
Holocaust fiction is inherently grim but ``King of the Jews'' isleavened by triumphant humor, by the pulsating vitality of theghetto itself. No other novel is quite like this one, and aforthright movie edition could redeem it from near-oblivion. Butwhat king of actors could portray Trumpelman?
(Larry Swindell is books editor for the Fort WorthStar-Telegram. Visit the Star-Telegram's online services on theWorld Wide Web: www.startext.net; www.arlington.net; andwww.netarrant.net)
c.1997 The Boston Globe
The cloning of a sheep in Scotland, and its possibleimplications for the cloning of humans, have placed humans evencloser to the center of creation, usurping a role some theologianssay is properly reserved for God.
The birth of ``Dolly,'' the cloned sheep, has triggered anavalanche of discussion among religious scholars, with somelikening its impact to that of splitting of the atom.
``I'm not saying technology itself is sinful,'' said the Rev.Rebekah Miles, a United Methodist minister and assistant professorof Christian ethics at Brite Divinity School at Texas ChristianUniversity in Fort Worth. ``But I do think sometimes our reach goestoo far and we claim too much for ourselves, that perhaps ought tobe left to what we call divine mystery,'' Miles added.
Just as the Atomic Age raised the specter of people's capacityto destroy one another with nuclear weapons, so cloning andespecially the cloning of humans raises a host of questions abouthuman intervention with the divine.
``The most troublesome thing about the technology is its effortto be God, that is, to call beings into existence at will and toseek to control and manipulate beings at the most basic level ofour biological existence,'' said C. Ben Mitchell, a consultant onbiomedical and life issues for the Christian Life Commission of theSouthern Baptist Convention.
The Rev. Lance Johnston, a Pentecostal minister and ethicist inHouston, noted that he survived cancer because of manmade drugs andmedical procedures.
``But I still believe that creation is one of the Lord'sgreatest gifts,'' Johnston said. ``I trust the Lord's geniusimplicitly. I certainly don't trust human beings.''
The dawn of the age of cloning also poses fundamental questionsabout the definition of life, the meaning of family, and what thepurpose of creating human copies would be.
``I was listening to a talk show about cloning and it turnedinto a circus,'' said the Rev. Robert Friday, a professor ofbioethics in the Religion Department at Catholic University inWashington. ``Callers were saying things like, `Get me six KimBasingers' or `I want eight Michael Jordans.' It really trivializessomething that is very sacred. Even if you don't believe in a god,there is a certain sacredness about human life and this sort oftrivializes it.''
Many theologians and clerics were quick to make a distinctionbetween animal and human cloning, arguing that animal cloning, ifit were intended to eradicate disease or hunger and were strictlycontrolled, could be a force for good.
Within the Reform movement of Judaism, ``there is support forgenetic engineering ... in animals that is intended for thebetterment and the saving of human life,'' said Rabbi RichardAddress, director of the committee on bioethics of the Union ofAmerican Hebrew Congregations, which represents 1,000 synagogues.
Imam Tahib Adid, a Muslim cleric and leader of a mosque inChicago, said that from an Islamic perspective, ``Knowledge isgiven to us by God'' and so the onus is on humans to use thatknowledge wisely.
``The question, for me at least, is not that we should not usethis divinely-given creativity, but how,'' Adid said. ``To use itfor evil purposes would be a sin against God.''
For many Christian and Jewish theologians, the Bible and historyprovide many examples of how human intellect has been misused withhorrific consequences.
Miles and others also said cloning humans would be contradictoryto divine creation because it would seek uniformity, whereas mostreligious beliefs embrace diversity.
Rabbi Burton Visotzky, a professor at the Jewish TheologicalSeminary, noted that it was human hunger and greed for knowledgethat led to Adam and Eve's banishment from the Garden of Eden.
``God worries that they will eat from the Tree of Life and liveforever and be like God,'' Visotzky said. ``So from our earliesttimes we have worries about man playing God.''
c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<
NEW YORKIn a bitter encounter in a federal courtroom, abreakaway faction of the Satmar Hasidim Tuesday accused thedominant group of religious persecution in the way it governs theHasidic village of Kiryas Joel in Orange County. The group said itwas even denied the right to build an adequate synagogue.
But the majority responded that the rebels are lawbreakers whoare resentful of their lack of power in the village and are raising``sham'' issues of religious tolerance to conceal their flouting ofvillage laws.
The civil case thus brought into a courtroom a family feud thathas been raging since 1989 and has involved embarrassing charges ofbeatings, tire slashings, car burnings and the torching of anursery within a group that prides itself on its intense piety.
To avoid such a public airing, both sides had moved feverishlyin the hours before the trial began to reach a settlement. But theyfailed, and by afternoon Judge Jed Rakoff of U.S. District Court inManhattan asked lawyers to begin arguments.
The dissident group is seeking compensatory damages of $6million for what it says is ``a consistent and continuing patternintended to disallow the free exercise of religion in the villageof Kiryas Joel.''
In his opening statement, Michael H. Sussman, a lawyer for the500-member dissident group Khal Charidim Kiryas Joel (Congregationof the Devout), pointed out that most of the political leaders ofthe village are the same as the religious leaders of the dominantcongregation, Yetev Lev (Good Heart), and have selectively enforcedthe building and zoning laws to oppress the rebellious religiousminority.
Discrimination was particularly evident, he said, in the villageleaders' refusal to permit the dissidents to open a more spacioussynagogue. So intertwined are the roles of village administratorand congregational leader, Sussman argued, that developers mustcontribute $10,000 to the congregation's yeshiva for each house orapartment they build.
``There was a blurring of lines between church and state,'' saidSussman, who has previously described Kiryas Joel as ``atheocracy.''
But Frederick Hafetz, the lawyer for the dominant Satmar group,which has 10,000 adherents, said the dissidents had occupied asynagogue that was a firetrap, and flouted efforts of the villageelders and a state court to close it down.
``This is not a case about the Pilgrims,'' he said, shruggingoff the dissidents' contention of religious persecution. ``This isa case about a few disgruntled individuals who have taken it uponthemselves to vent hostility and stir trouble.''
The feud has its origins in the death in 1979 of Grand RabbiJoel Teitelbaum, who was the worldwide leader of the SatmarHasidim, including the large concentration in Williamsburg,Brooklyn, and who founded Kiryas Joel (Joel's Village) as a ruralHasidic outpost. A nephew, Moses Teitelbaum, was chosen as hissuccessor over the objections of Joel Teitelbaum's widow. Thedissidents are basically those who are allied with the widow andoppose Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum.
The rebels have challenged Kiryas Joel's leadership over anumber of issues, most significantly the village's decision to setup a public school district for handicapped children. That districtwas declared an unconstitutional establishment of religion by theU.S. Supreme Court.
The dissidents contend that they have been the targets of acampaign of intimidation. Rabbi Joseph Waldman, a dissident leader,said that his car has been torched three times, that the windows ofhis house have been smashed and that one dissident was beatenbrutally. He said that his six children were thrown out of thevillage's main yeshiva, and that dissidents have been barred fromvisiting relatives' graves in the congregation's cemetery.
Village leaders say that the beatings and burnings were done byhotheads and that the other actions were taken by the religiouscongregation, not the village leadership, because of generaldisapproval of some dissidents' behavior. It is not clear whatcharges of violence the judge will allow the jury to hear.
The suit is narrowly about the village's refusal to grant acertificate of occupancy for a large addition to a home at 3 VanBuren Drive that the dissidents had converted to a central place ofworship.
The dissidents say that the village's building inspector andother government leaders took an unusual number of punitive steps,including the imposition of a $25,000 fine, for building violationsthat have been overlooked in structures owned by adherents of themajority faction.
Hafetz argued, however, that authorities closed 3 Van BurenDrive because it was a flammable wooden structure. Far frompersecuting the dissidents, he said, village leaders permitted themto open a dozen home synagogues and provided the same garbage andsnow removal services for them as for residents allied with themajority.<
c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<
WASHINGTONThe Commerce Department has settled a lawsuit in ahighly unusual case, in which it charged the Justice Department andthe Air Force with violating a law that prohibits Americancompanies from respecting an Arab boycott of Israel and Jews.
The settlement papers, filed recently at the CommerceDepartment, show that officials from the Justice Department and theAir Force ordered a private contractor to exclude Jews and`` Jewish-surnamed personnel'' from a government project in SaudiArabia in deference to the Saudis.
The papers said there was no evidence that the government ofSaudi Arabia had played any role in the exclusion.
The idea was initiated by an Air Force colonel and approved by aJustice Department official, the papers said.
The Air Force and the Justice Department have apologized andsaid they would take steps to insure that their behavior would notbe repeated.
The Commerce Department, which enforces the anti-boycott law,recently reported that violations had become increasingly rare ascompanies had come to understand the law. Department officials saidthey believed that until now, no government agency had been foundin violation.
Jess Hordes, the Washington director of the Anti-DefamationLeague of B'nai B'rith, who had asked the Commerce Department toinvestigate, said Wednesday, ``It is astounding that two governmentagencies were complicit in illegal discriminatory behavior.''
Hordes also noted that there was a written project proposal,explicitly excluding Jews, that apparently was reviewed throughseveral drafts at the Justice Department.
``This seems to underscore a certain systemic blindness in animportant government agency,'' he said.
The problem began in 1991 when the Air Force and the JusticeDepartment began to work together when Boeing brought a lawsuitagainst the government having to do with military sales abroad. Inpreparation for the lawsuit, the Government needed to copythousands of microfilmed documents in Saudi Arabia, a job for whichit hired an outside contractor, CACI Inc., of Virginia.
As a result of comments made by the Air Force officer, Col.Michael J. Hoover, the proposal included the provision: ``No Jewsor Jewish-surnamed personnel will be sent as part of the DocumentAcquisition Team because of cultural differences between Moslemsand Jews in the region.''
At least one Jewish worker was denied employment on the projectand received a cash settlement from CACI, people familiar with thecase say.
In the settlement, which was first reported Wednesday by TheJournal of Commerce, the Commerce Department imposed a fine of$15,000 against CACI, which signed a statement that it was mistaken``to follow orders from two federal government agencies'' on theassumption that the orders were legal.
A $15,000 fine against a company official was suspended, as werefines of $20,000 against Hoover and the Justice Departmentofficial, Jane Hadden Alperson.
Frank W. Hunger, the assistant attorney general in charge of thecivil division, said in a letter to the Commerce Department thatMs. Alperson had been unaware of the law.
Arab countries cut most economic links with Israel when itgained independence in 1948. In 1954 the Arab League adopted aresolution calling on Arab countries not to trade with Israel.
The Arab League drew up regulations in 1972 to administer theboycott, and in 1979, Congress passed legislation that barredcompliance.<
c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<
NEW YORKThe founder of a spiritual movement in India thatemphasizes self-knowledge and awareness of God's love for all hasbeen named recipient of the world's largest monetary award, theTempleton Prize for Progress in Religion.
The announcement that the $1.21 million prize will be given toPandurang Shastri Athavale, 76, was made Wednesday at the ChurchCenter for the United Nations in New York.
The annual prize was established in 1972 by Sir John Templeton,an American-born resident of the Bahamas and creator of severalinvestment funds, including the Templeton Growth Fund and TempletonWorld Fund. The prize's first recipient, in 1973, was MotherTeresa, founder of the Missionaries of Charity. Last year, theprize went to Bill Bright, head of Campus Crusade for Christ.
Since 1954, Athavale, who lives in Bombay, has inspired aloosely organized, volunteer movement by preaching swadhyaya (aSanskrit word for self-study), a practice he has said leadsindividuals to cultivate greater self-respect and love for othersby believing that God dwells in all people.
His followers, called swadhyayees, have taken the message, hehas said, to about 100,000 Indian villages, preaching love for Godand God's love for all to people across caste lines, eventuallystarting cooperative farming, fishing and tree-planting projects.Athavale (pronounced ah-TAH-vah-lee) drew his principles from theBhagavad Gita, a philosophical poem that forms a profoundlyinfluential, sacred text of Hinduism.
Appearing somewhat frail, Athavale was helped to a lecturn byhis daughter, Jayashree Athavale-Talwalkar. He then said he hadtried to raise people's consciousness that all were ``the childrenof the same God.''
``It is my experience that awareness of nearness of God andreverence for that power creates reverence for self, reverence forthe other, reverence for nature and reverence for the entirecreation,'' he said. ``And devotion as an expression of gratitudeto God can turn into a social force to bring about transformativechanges in all aspects of human life and at all levels ofsociety.''
He said the prize money would go to projects run by hisfollowers.
An informational paper prepared by his movement, titled ``ASilent Revolution through Swadhyaya'' said the movement believedthat service to God was ``incomplete'' unless it included raisingpeople's consciousness about their dignity and closeness to God,and that ``every human being is good'' and can change for thebetter if approached with love and respect.
Rajat Saha, a counsellor at the Indian mission to the UnitedNations, who attended the prize announcement, said Athavale'smovement was known in India for focusing its work on ``the poorestof the poor.''
The juries that select Templeton winners tend to be eclectic,combining people in religious work and secular professions; some ofthem are famous. Among the nine judges this year were theEcumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, top spiritual leader of theOrthodox Church; former President George Bush; the Rev. NichikoNiwano, president of Rissho Kosei-Kai, a Buddhist organizationbased in Tokyo, and Robert John Russell, a United Church of Christminister who founded the Center for Theology and the NaturalSciences in Berkeley, Calif.
Athavale was nominated for the prize by Betty Unterberger, whoteaches foreign relations and Asian history at Texas A&MUniversity.
A formal ceremony to present Athavale with the prize will beheld on May 6 at Westminster Abbey, London.
c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service=
BERN, SwitzerlandThe Swiss government Wednesday proposed thecreation of a $4.7 billion fund whose interest would be used tohelp victims of the Holocaust and other calamities, vastlyincreasing Switzerland's financial commitment.
Under the proposal, Switzerland would increase the stated valueof its gold reserves to correspond to current world market prices,and use the difference to create the principal for the new fund.The plan represents the boldest financial maneuver yet by the Swissto gain moral high ground in the dispute over the country'sdealings with Nazi Germany in World War II.
At the same time, the Swiss National Bank offered to donateabout $70 million to a separate fund set up last week forshort-term help to Holocaust survivors, doubling the value of thatfund.
Both proposals require the Swiss Parliament's approval to takeeffect, and they could face major opposition if right-wing Swisspoliticians decide to campaign against them.
The government's proposal Wednesday, announced at an unusualbreakfast-time session of Parliament by President Arnold Koller,represented not only a far greater copy commitment of money thanpreviously discussed but also an attempt to walk the thin linebetween international pressure and domestic reluctance to usetaxpayers' money for what many Swiss regard as an unjustifiedacknowledgment of wartime guilt.
The plan would not involve extra spending by the government.
Switzerland, which has been under increasing pressure from theWorld Jewish Congress and its political allies in New York andWashington to atone for both its wartime dealings with Nazi Germanyand the resistance of its private banks to helping relatives gainaccess to bank accounts and other assets belonging to Holocaustvictims.
Last month the Swiss government finally agreed to share with Jewish organizations the administration of a separate fund,financed principally by Swiss private banks and, as of Wednesday,the Swiss National Bank, to compensate Holocaust survivors livingin Eastern Europe, Israel, the United States and elsewhere.
But the proposal Wednesday went much further, offering, asKoller told a meeting of the upper and lower houses of Parliamentin Bern, to create a ``Swiss Foundation for Solidarity'' drawn fromfunds accruing from the increased estimate of the value of its golddeposits.
Switzerland has kept the value of its gold fixed low byestimating the worth of its deposits at about one-third of theprice they would bring on world markets.
The interest from the new fund would ``be destined for victimsof poverty and catastrophes, of genocide and other severe breachesof human rights, such as of course victims of the Holocaust,''Koller said. He did not specify other likely beneficiaries from theproposed foundation.
Koller said the foundation could be created by next year, the150th anniversary of Switzerland's foundation as a modern state,and would be used ``half in Switzerland, half abroad.''
He put the overall value of the proposed fund at ``about sevenbillion Swiss francs,'' or $4.7 billion at current exchange rates,yielding several hundred million dollars a year in interest.
``This shows us that the Swiss people have finally got it,''Israel Singer, the secretary general of the World Jewish Congress,said in a telephone interview from New York, reflecting a broadlypositive response by Jewish groups in the United States, Israel andSwitzerland.
But the proposal could further deepen a rift in Swiss society,particularly between younger people who believe that their countryplayed an ambiguous, if not collaborationist, role toward NaziGermany and older Swiss who see outside pressure for atonement as aJewish conspiracy.
``The Federal Council has lost its head,'' said ChristophBlocher, a leading rightist. ``These are public assets, not justany money.''
Swiss government officials say they fear that Blocher could tryto organize a referendum to block the entire proposal.
Until Wednesday, the Swiss government and the Swiss NationalBank had held back from committing themselves financially.
But Koller's largely conciliatory speech sought to defendSwitzerland against its critics and acknowledge that Switzerland'swartime neutrality had ``its bright sides and its dark sides.''
``Today we do not have to feel ashamed that we escaped thewar,'' Koller said Wednesday. ``Every country defended primarilyits own interests. And we, too, were entitled to this right. We hadthe right to survive.
``But nevertheless the question arises as to whether and to whatextent all Swiss citizens managed to satisfy the high moral demandsduring the war period,'' he said. ``That means that we have topublicly admit self-criticism and admit the dark sides of thatdifficult period.''
The announcement coincided with the opening session of acommission of foreign and Swiss historians, appointed by thegovernment, to investigate Switzerland's dealings with NaziGermany.
In addition, a separate commission led by Paul Volcker, theformer chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, is investigating thequestion of dormant accounts left by people killed in theHolocaust. And a third inquiry into the affair is being conductedby an interagency group in Washington led by Stuart Eisenstat,deputy commerce secretary for international trade.
That group is set to publish a report of its findings thismonth, leading to speculation that one reason for the timing ofWednesday's announcement was to pre-empt further criticism fromWashington of Switzerland's wartime behavior.
``None of this would have happened without outside pressure,''said an American Jewish official with close knowledge of thenegotiations leading to the Swiss reversal.
According to Hans Meyer, the chairman of the Swiss NationalBank, Switzerland's gold deposits are calculated for central bankbookkeeping purposes at a fixed price equivalent to $117 per ounce,compared to the current market price of about $350 per ounce.
By calculating its gold deposits at the free market price, Meyersaid, ``several billion francs could be transferred in gold'' tothe proposed foundation.
``This would permit investments yielding annual income ofseveral hundred million francs which would be available forfulfilling the foundation's objectives,'' he said. ``It isenvisioned that the foundation would sell the gold transferred toit in the market of a period of approximately 10 years and investthe proceeds in interest-bearing assets.''
Those sales, he said, should not affect the market price ofeither gold or the Swiss franc. Dealers reported, however, that thegold price dipped Wednesday after the announcement.
Werner Abegg, a spokesman for the National Bank in Zurich, saidthe Swiss bookkeeping price of gold deposits predated agreements inthe 1970s that created a floating open market for gold.
While the Swiss gold deposits are currently valued overall at11.9 billion Swiss francs, he said, their market value is muchhigher. But, he said, the process of changing the Constitution topermit a revaluation of gold assets would take time and couldrequire a referendum among the Swiss people.
Swiss government and banking officials, and American Jewishofficials, said that while the previous fund established by privateSwiss banks and the National Bank would provide short-term help forneedy Holocaust survivors, the latest proposal offered the prospectof long-term commitments.
In addition, said Abegg at the Swiss National Bank, the proposedfoundation would mean that only interest on investmentsnot theprincipalleft Switzerland.<
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