Passport

Flying rabbis fight swine flu

No, this is not a Mel Brooks movie:

On Monday morning an Arkia airlines plane took off from Ben Gurion Airport carrying rabbis and kabbalists and flew over the country in a flight aimed at preventing the swine flu virus from spreading in Israel through prayers.

"The purpose of the flight was to stop the epidemic, thus preventing further deaths," explained Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri whose father, Rabbi David Batzri had initiated the flight. "We are certain that because of our prayers danger is already behind us," he added.

During the flight the passengers blew the shofar seven times and said prayers intended for abolishing illnesses.

There have been over 2,000 recorded cases of swine flu in Israel.

Hat tip: On Deadline 

Passport

Assistant Secretary of State to meet with Lukashenko

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Philip Gordon will travel to Belarus tomorrow where he will have a rare meeting with authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko. Lukashenko's government expelled U.S. diplomats last year after the U.S. imposed sanctions on Belarus.

The meeting comes amid signs of a warming in ties between the West and Lukashenko's Belarus, which was dubbed "Europe's last dictatorship" by the previous US administration of president George W. Bush.

It's a big week for talking to dictators. Senator Jim Webb is also planning a (presumably White House sanctioned) meeting with Burma's General Than Shwe.

Hat tip: The New Republic's Michael Crowley