Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA
Netanyahu and Trump to meet Feb. 15
WASHINGTON (JTA)—President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel will meet in Washington, D.C ., on Feb. 15.
Trump “looks forward to discussing strategic technological military and intelligence cooperation with the prime minister,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday at the daily briefing for reporters.
”Our relationship with the only democracy in the Middle East is crucial to the security of both our nations,” Spicer said.
Netanyahu confirmed and welcomed the invitation.
“I deeply appreciate President Trump’s kind invitation to come to Washington and the warm words about Israel,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to discussing with him the areas of cooperation between us that are so vital to the security and well-being of our two countries.”
Trump and Netanyahu are expected to discuss a range of issues where Israel and the Obama administration had strong disagreement, including the Iran nuclear deal, settlements policy and moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
This weekend, Trump suggested he was less enthusiastic about moving the embassy than he was during the campaign, when he pledged to do so, or even in the days leading up to his Jan. 20 inauguration, when he repeated the pledge.
“I’m looking at it, we’re studying it, as you know we’ve discussed this before,” Trump told the Christian Broadcasting Network in an interview broadcast Saturday. “We’re studying it very long and hard. You know it’s a very big decision because every president for the last number of presidents, large number, they’ve come in and they were going to do it and then all of a sudden they decide they don’t want to get involved.”
Trump and his spokesman have said since the inauguration that they are at the early stages of deciding on when to move, but Trump’s CBN interview was the clearest sign yet he is reconsidering the idea.
“I’ve always liked the concept of doing it, I’ll tell you that. I’ll have a decision in the not-too-distant future,” Trump said. “There’s certainly a chance of it, absolutely, but we’re doing very detailed studies on that and we’ll come out very soon.”
Vice President Mike Pence, meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah in Washington, discussed the embassy issue and told the king that discussion was still in its “early stages,” Spicer said at the news briefing.
Trump’s nominated ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, one of Trump’s longtime lawyers, has said he would prefer working from Jerusalem.
Congress recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 1995, but presidents have since then exercised a waiver should the move pose a risk to national security.
Netanyahu wants to reverse the sanctions relief for nuclear rollback deal reached last year between Iran and six major powers. Trump has said it is a bad agreement but has not indicated he will pull out of it.
Last week, Netanyahu announced major building launches in the settlements and in eastern Jerusalem, shortly after the Obama administration in its final month allowed through a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning settlements.
Sean Spicer: Complaints about omitting Jews from Holocaust statement ‘pathetic’
WASHINGTON (JTA)— President Donald Trump’s spokesman said complaints about the president’s omission of Jews from a Holocaust commemoration statement were’s “pathetic” and “disappointing.”
Sean Spicer, speaking Monday at the White House briefing for reporters, was asked about the complaints about the statement Friday marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which did not mention Jews.
“By and large he’s been praised for it,” Spicer said, although only the World Jewish Congress appears to have praised it, while a broad range of others raised concerns.
Reporters asked specifically about complaints from two groups otherwise supportive of the Trump presidency, the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Zionist Organization of America.
In response, Spicer noted the tensions between Israel’s government and the Obama administration, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s praise for Trump.
“There’s been no better friend than Donald Trump, especially after the last eight years, the tremendous respect he’s shown Israel, the Jewish people, and to suggest anything otherwise frankly is a little disappointing,” he said.
“The president went out of his way to recognize the Holocaust and the suffering that went through it, and to make sure America never forgets the people that were affected by it and the loss of life.”
Spicer listed Jews and Roma, gays, the disabled and priests as victims of the Holocaust.
“To suggest that remembering the Holocaust and acknowledging all of the people—Jewish, gypsies, priests, disabled, gays and lesbians—I mean it is pathetic that people are picking on a statement,” he said.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, without mentioning Trump, weighed in on the controversy on Monday afternoon.
“Millions of other innocent civilians were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis, but the elimination of Jews was central to Nazi policy,” the statement said.
“As Elie Wiesel said, ‘Not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims,’” it said. “The Holocaust teaches us profound truths about human societies and our capacity for evil. An accurate understanding of this history is critical if we are to learn its lessons and honor its victims.”
Spicer said critics were “nitpicking a statement.”
He said the statement was written “with the help of an individual who is both Jewish and the descendants of Holocaust survivors.” Asked if it was Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a leading adviser, Spicer refused to say.
Since the United Nations launched the remembrance day in 2005, marking the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have noted in their statements that the principal aim of the Holocaust was the genocide of the Jews.
Jewish critics have said that omitting Jews from Holocaust commemoration statements, wittingly or not, plays into the agenda of groups that seek to diminish the Nazi genocide of the Jews.
While the Nazis persecuted an array of groups because of their ethnic origins, professions, political beliefs and sexual orientation, scholars say only Jews and Roma were targeted for genocide. (There is some dispute about whether to class the mass murder of Roma as a genocide because, unlike with Jews, Nazi policies on Roma varied between regions.)
Since the controversy erupted, Trump administration spokesmen, including his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, have doubled down on the argument that it is better not to single out Jews in order to be “inclusive.”
Socialist primary winner in France had backing of prominent anti-Semites
(JTA)—A left-wing politician in France who was endorsed by the founders of the country’s Anti-Zionist Party handily defeated Prime Minister Manuel Valls in the Socialist presidential primaries.
Benoit Hamon, who supports dramatically expanding welfare payments and has called for his party to support Palestinian causes to increase its appeal to Muslim voters, beat his hard-line challenger Sunday with 58 percent of the vote in the second and final round of the balloting.
Last week, the comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala and the far-right author Alain Soral—who along with founding the Anti-Zionist Party both have multiple convictions for Holocaust denial and inciting racial hatred against Jews—endorsed Hamon publicly. Hamon disavowed Soral and Dieudonne.
Soral wrote on his website that voting for Hamon was necessary to “knock Valls out of the race” because he is “a candidate who swore allegiance to the CRIF and to Israel be it through policy, media exposure, judicial means or by deploying the police.” CRIF is the umbrella group of French Jewish communities.
Soral and Dieudonne cited Valls’ commitment to defending Jews against anti-Semitic violence. Valls is married to Anne Gravoin, a Jewish musician. In 2011 he said his marriage connected him “in an eternal way” to Israel and the Jewish people. He is also the only French prime minister who has said publicly that anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism.
Hamon will contend in the presidential elections in May against the hard-line candidate Francois Fillon of The Republicans party of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, a centrist independent.
The National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism called on Hamon to react to the endorsement, prompting Hamon to publish a statement about it two days later. Hamon said he “opposes the deceit of the far-right and the conspiratorial and anti-Semitic streams” the two represent.
Hamon supports giving every French adult, including those who are able to work but do not do so, a basic monthly salary. He and Valls clashed repeatedly on the issue and on bans on wearing Muslim garb in public spaces, which Valls supports. Valls has accused Hamon of “having an accommodating approach” to radical Islam. They also have clashed about Israel.
Both Hamon and Valls have expressed their opposition to attempts to boycott the Jewish state, which are illegal in France.
Hamon in a televised interview last month called the establishment of a Palestinian state the “best way of ensuring Israel is not attacked by its neighbors.” But in a 2014 interview, he said that supporting the establishment of such a state was the Socialist Party’s “best way to recuperate our electorate in the suburbs and the neighborhoods”—code for Muslim voters—“who did not support the pro-Israeli position taken by President Francois Hollande.”
Hamon had criticized Valls, too, for “giving in to Israel.”
In rare unity, Orthodox and liberal denominations are critical of Trump refugee ban
(JTA)—Two large groups representing Orthodox Jews responded to President Donald Trump’s executive order barring migrants from seven mostly Muslim countries and refugees from around the world by warning against policies that would place any limits on immigration based on religion.
With the combined statement by the Orthodox Union and Rabbinical Council of America, all four major American Jewish denominations have criticized the executive order in some form. The Reconstructionist movement condemned the statement ahead of its signing Friday, while the Reform and Conservative movements condemned it on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
The Orthodox statement came Sunday night. It was first issued in December 2015 after Trump called for banning the entry of Muslims into the United States --
It is extremely rare for all four movements, which have split on everything from LGBT rights to Israel policy, to unite in opposing a presidential action.
While the Orthodox organizations said they recognize the need for protections against terrorists, they urged the administration to protect religious freedom.
“We call on all Americans to reaffirm that discrimination against any group based solely upon religion is wrong and anathema to the great traditions of religious and personal freedoms upon which this country was founded,” the statement says, and calls on “the United States government to recognize the threats posed by radical Islamists, while preserving and protecting the rights of all people who seek peace, no matter how they worship God.”
Trump has denied that Friday’s executive order is a ban on Muslims, although the statements by the Reform and Conservative movements both assert that the policy is tantamount to a religious test for refugees, travelers and migrants. The executive order prohibits for 120 days all refugees from entering the country, with an indefinite ban on those from Syria. Citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, are barred from entry for 90 days.
A range of Jewish groups have opposed the order, and Jews joined protesters at airports across the country on Saturday to protest the ban.
The Zionist Organization of America appears to be the only major Jewish group to unreservedly support the executive order.
Canadian Jewish groups, others condemn deadly attack on Quebec mosque
MONTREAL (JTA)—The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Quebec and the World Jewish Congress were among the Jewish and non-Jewish groups who condemned the attack on a Quebec mosque during a prayer service that left six dead and eight wounded.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the Sunday night attack on the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre, in which gunmen fired on the some 40 people inside, a “terrorist attack on Muslims,” Reuters reported.
Two suspects—reportedly students at Laval University in the city—were arrested following the attack in the Quebec City suburb of Ste-Foy, although the specific reasons behind the shootings remained unclear.
The building, called the Grand Mosque, has experienced several isolated incidents of vandalism since its founding five years ago, including a pig’s head left on its property last June during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
One of the victims on Sunday reportedly was a convenience store owner and father of four who has stopped by the mosque for evening prayers.
“We condemn this terrorist attack on Muslims in a center of worship and refuge,” Trudeau said in a statement. “Muslim-Canadians are an important part of our national fabric, and these senseless acts have no place in our communities, cities and country.”
Rabbi Reuben Poupko, co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said the Jewish community “is horrified by the murderous shooting.”
“Nothing justifies the murder of innocent civilians assembled in a place of worship,” he said.
WJC President Ronald Lauder in a statement issued early Monday morning called it a “horrific attack” and called for “those who perpetrated this abhorrent act of mass murder” to be “brought to justice.”
Echoing previous statements, Lauder said: “We must not be intimidated by terrorism, but cherish our freedom, including the freedom to worship. We must defend each other, and we must look after one another: one religious community after the other, one country after the other. The scourge of terrorism won’t be defeated unless we are united in our resolve to defeat it.”
The American Jewish Committee in a statement said it was “appalled” by the fatal attack.
“This was an attack on Canada, not only on one mosque,” said Robert Silverman, the group’s director of Muslim-Jewish relations. “Indeed, it was an attack on any democratic society founded on religious pluralism that today faces threats against its Muslim populations. Our thoughts are with the families of the worshippers senselessly murdered, and with the injured, who are in need of our prayers.”
President Reuven Rivlin of Israel joined other world leaders in condemning the attack, first tweeting: “Thoughts & prayers with the Canadian people, @GGDavidJohnston, PM @JustinTrudeau, after the horrific attack on a house of prayer in #Quebec.”
British Board of Deputies President Jonathan Arkush, who is traveling the country to promote Jewish-Muslim relations, also condemned the attack.
“There can be no justification whatsoever for the wanton slaughter of innocents,” he said. “We pray for the victims and their families, and call on all communities to redouble efforts to defeat the evils of bigotry and terrorism for good.”
Jewish CEO of Starbucks says company will hire 10,000 refugees
(JTA)—Howard Schultz, the Jewish billionaire CEO of Starbucks, said his company plans to hire 10,000 refugees over five years in a letter to employees addressing President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning refugees from entering the United States.
“We have all been witness to the confusion, surprise and opposition to the Executive Order that President Trump issued on Friday, effectively banning people from several predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, including refugees fleeing wars,” Schultz wrote in a message sent Sunday titled “Living Our Values in Uncertain Times.”
“I can assure you that our Partner Resources team has been in direct contact with the partners who are impacted by this immigration ban, and we are doing everything possible to support and help them to navigate through this confusing period.”
Schultz wrote that the “conscience of our country, and the promise of the American Dream” are being called into question. He added: “I am hearing the alarm you all are sounding that the civility and human rights we have all taken for granted for so long are under attack.”
Schultz said the efforts to hire refugees will begin in the United States and focus on refugees who served with U.S. troops as interpreters and support personnel in foreign countries. He said refugees over the five years will come from 75 countries.
Other areas in which Schultz said he will help employees includes support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or Dreamers program, including paying the biennial fee that his employees must pay to stay in the program; continuing to assist and buy from coffee farmers in Mexico, and to continue to offer access to health care through Starbucks.
List of Auschwitz commanders and guards posted online
WARSAW, Poland (JTA)—A list of the names of Nazi SS commanders and guards who served at the Auschwitz concentration camp was published online.
The list, believed to be the most complete ever, went online Monday at the website http://en.truthaboutcamps.eu/. The list was prepared by the Polish Institute of National Remembrance in cooperation with the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.
A presentation on the project was offered Monday during a conference in Krakow. Among those on hand were Jaroslaw Szarek, director of the Institute of National Remembrance, and Piotr Cywinski, director of the Auschwitz museum.
The database also provides the SS staff members’ personal data, including date and place of birth, service number, date of arrival to and departure from the camp, education and citizenship. Photographs of some of the SS officers are shown and, in the case of those who were tried in courts after the war, their court records.
Cywinski said the database “is the result of a several-generations-long investigation started immediately after the war by the commissions prosecuting criminals, and then continued in the Auschwitz Museum. The Germans before escaping the camp exported and burned the camp administration records. They destroyed most of the documents.”
Szarek called the posting of the list a historic day
“This base is the beginning of a large project,” he said at the conference. “We start with Auschwitz, but we are planning to expand this list also to other German Nazi concentration camps.”
In 1941, the SS garrison in Auschwitz had about 700 members, in June 1942 about 2,000, in April 1944 about 3,000, and in August 1944 about 3,300. In mid-January 1945, in connection with the final evacuation of Auschwitz, there were 4,480 SS members and 71 SS female overseers.
The database does not include personal data of Wehrmacht staff used in some subcamps and external commandos as support staff and sentries of the Ukrainian military company. There also is no data of nurses of the German Red Cross who were not SS members.
This month, the Auschwitz museum appealed to Germans and Austrians for personal SS documents, photographs, personal letters or any other materials relating to the staff of the camp.