Jewish Groups Urge Pressure on Syria to End Abuse of Jews

Two Jewish organizations have called on the international community to put pressure on Syria to end what they see as the county’s holding of its 5,000 Jews as a “hostage community.”

The call for international action came in a 107-page report on Syrian human rights abuses released by the Council for the Rescue of Syrian Jews and the World Jewish Congress.

The report was independently prepared by Professor Irwin Cotler of McGill University in Montreal, a renowned human rights lawyer, who personally visited Syria to gather information.

“The report documents in detail Syria’s failure to comply not only with its own constitution and legal guarantees granted to all Syrian citizens, but Syria’s failure to live up to international agreements to which they are signatory,” said Gilbert Kahn, executive director of the Council for the Rescue of Syrian Jews.

The report, which accuses the Syrian government of “state-supported anti-Semitism,” was released Tuesday, a day after a delegation of Syrian Jews was reported to have called on Syrian President Hafez Assad in Damascus.

Joubran Kourieh, Assad’s spokesman, told the Associated Press that the delegation, led by Chief Rabbi Ibrahim Hamra, met with Assad to congratulate him on re-election to his fourth term as president, which began March 13.

“The participation of the Jewish citizens with other citizens in the (re-election) referendum and the popular celebrations reflected their strong identity with their nation and their pride in their citizenship,” the rabbi was quoted as saying.

“A hostage community such as described in the report is unable to act in a free manner and therefore such reports from Damascus must be minimally viewed with at least some suspicion,” said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.

But Kahn noted that the publicity given to the meeting by the Syrian government is “evi- dence of the growing international awareness of and concern for the plight of Syria’s Jews.”

Cotler’s study, entitled “Syrian Jewry, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law,” documents that in a country with widespread human rights violations, Jews are the victims of the worst discrimination.

Among the abuses against Syrian Jews listed in the report are the denial of the right to emigrate, including for family reunification; the constant “harassment, intimidation and arbitrary, even clandestine arrest”; and the fact that Jews “are the only minority whose passports and identification cards note their religion.”

The Cotler report calls for release of Syrian Jews now in jail and urges freedom of emigration and the abolishment of the mention of Jewish religious affiliation in identity documents.

The report also recommends that international organizations and human rights groups be given “access to Syrian territory to investigate charges of human rights violations.”

The WJC and the Council for the Rescue of Syrian Jews plan to submit the Cotler report to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

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