Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA
Jewish journalist sticks up for Trump after being called a ‘liar’
(JTA)—The Jewish reporter whom President Donald Trump interrupted and accused of lying at a news conference defended Trump’s actions as owing to a misunderstanding.
Jake Turx, a reporter for Ami Magazine, told Fox News that he believed Trump acted defensively to his question about rising anti-Semitism in America because of the “unfair” treatment the president was receiving in the media and allegations connected to anti-Semitism.
“It’s very unfair what’s been done to him and I understand why he’s so defensive,” Turx, who wears a large kippah and a beard, told Fox News Thursday, hours after the incident. “And I’m with him when it comes to being outraged about him being charged with this anti-Semitism.”
Turx in a Twitter post said “President Trump clearly misunderstood my question. This is highly regretful and I’m going to seek clarification.”
After a harsh-toned exchange with several reporters—some of whom Trump interrupted, told to “sit down” or be quiet—Trump said he wanted to take a question from a friendly reporter.
Turx said “I’m friendly,” and began by saying that “despite what some my colleagues have been reporting, I have not seen anyone in my community accuse either yourself or anyone of your staff of being anti-Semitic.” He added: “We understand that you have Jewish grandchildren, you are their zayde,” Yiddish for grandfather.
Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka, converted to Judaism several years ago prior to marrying Jared Kushner, who is also Jewish.
However, citing dozens of bomb threats against Jewish institutions in recent months, Turx said, “What we haven’t really heard being addressed is an uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it.”
Trump interrupted Turx, said his question was “not fair” and said: “OK, sit down, I understand the rest of your question.” Trump replied that he was “the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen I your entire life.” Trump then turned to the reporters, said “quiet” three times and added: “See, he lied about, he was going to get up and ask a very straight, simple question, so, you know, welcome to the world of the media.”
He then said: “I hate the charge because I find it repulsive.” Trump referenced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remark Wednesday during a joint news conference at the White House, where Netanyahu said, “There is no greater supporter of Israel or the Jewish state than President Donald Trump” to a reporter who asked about the rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States.
“I think we can put that to rest,” Netanyahu said.
During the Fox News interview, Turx said he believed Trump’s emotional reaction to the subject is a hopeful sign because “it shows a president who is so committed against this problem of anti-Semitism that it bothers him on a personal level, a deep personal level.”
Bomb threat forces evacuation of Israeli consulate in Miami
(JTA)—A bomb threat directed at the Israeli Consulate in Miami caused the evacuation of the building in which it is located.
Unidentified callers made the threat to managers of the New World Tower on Thursday, the Miami Herald reported. Workers were allowed to return to the building after a sweep by the bomb squad did not turn up any explosive devices.
“Our station received a call in reference to a possible explosive device being planted in the Israeli consulate,” Miami police officer Christopher Bess was quoted as telling the Herald, adding that the phone call came from the building.
On Jan. 18, the Alper JCC in Miami Beach was among some 30 Jewish institutions across the country to receive bomb threats. It was also targeted in a wave of bomb threats to Jewish community centers on Jan. 9.
Reform movement opposes David Friedman as US envoy to Israel
NEW YORK (JTA)—The Reform movement became the largest Jewish body to oppose the nomination of David Friedman as United States ambassador to Israel.
In a statement released Friday, one day after the launch of Senate hearings to confirm Friedman, Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs released a statement saying Friedman is “the wrong person for this essential job at this critical time.”
The statement says President Donald Trump’s longtime bankruptcy lawyer lacks the qualifications for the position, noting he has never been involved in professional foreign policy issues “other than as a zealous partisan and financial supporter of settlement activity.”
Friedman serves as president of American Friends of Bet El Institutions, which supports a large West Bank settlement. He has expressed skepticism about the two-state solution and harsh criticism of left-wing pro-Israel groups in a series of op-eds in Arutz Sheva, a news site serving Israel’s settlement movement.
“Mr. Friedman’s views on key issues suggest he will not be able to play a constructive role,” said the URJ statement, which was signed by the leaders of its main clergy as well as congregational and membership bodies. “The U.S. Ambassador to Israel has the important responsibility of advising, shaping, and helping implement the President’s foreign policy goals. Indeed, it appears that Mr. Friedman’s extreme views on key issues related to the two-state solution, Israel’s borders, settlements, and the location of the U.S. Embassy are already reflected in the White House. Such positions are detrimental to peace and a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.”
The statement also made note of Thursday’s confirmation hearing, during which Friedman said there was “no excuse” for his past rhetoric targeting liberal Jews, and which was interrupted at least three times by protesters.
“Just as we are critical of Mr. Friedman’s lack of diplomatic temperament, we wish to distance ourselves from the protesters who repeatedly interrupted his hearing,” the URJ statement said.
The Reform movement, representing the largest and most liberal of the major denominations, has long been a proponent of a two-state solution. It has never opposed a nomination for the ambassadorship.
Friedman’s nomination has already divided Jewish groups along ideological lines, with centrist and left-leaning groups expressing concerns and right-leaning groups urging his confirmation.
On Friday, following the release of a letter from five former U.S. ambassadors to Israel urging the Senate to reject Friedman’s nomination, the Zionist Organization of America released a long statement accusing the former envoys of being “hostile to Israel.”
The five signatories—Thomas Pickering, Daniel Kurtzer, Edward Walker, Jr., James Cunningham and William Harrop—damaged U.S.-Israel relations and exacerbated the situation in the Middle East,” the ZOA said in its statement.
Dutch Muslim who preached ‘harmony’ unmasked as ‘rabid anti-Semite’
AMSTERDAM (JTA)—A Muslim baker who moved many viewers in the Netherlands with his televised plea for coexistence and acceptance had called in the past for a genocide against Jews, Dutch papers revealed.
Rachid el Hajoui, an immigrant from Morocco who works at a pizza eatery in Tilburg, made his emotional appearance during an expose on the growing feeling of insecurity and estrangement in the Netherlands aired on the Feb. 14 evening news edition of the NOS public broadcaster, the country’s best-viewed station.
In the interview, el Hajoui confessed he feared going to mosque “because some crazy person might attack” there.
“Intelligent people incite to the most stupid actions. And stupid people do it,” he said.
El Hajoui complained about “the hateful voices” on Twitter and in the political establishment, ostensibly against Muslims.
“I stand for democracy, and I want my family and everyone to live in harmony,” he said.
But on Wednesday, the de Dagelijkse Standard conservative blog found some hateful statements by el Hajoui, whom they also discovered was once an activist for the Socialist Party and later with the progressive D66 party.
An English-language message posted on el Hajoui’s Twitter account in 2014 read: “Hitler was nothing compared to the Israelis. Someone would had to finish his work 60jr ago.” He also wrote in Dutch: “Only answer to Israel is total extermination, annihilate the cockroaches #1945 #wehateisrael.”
He also praised Recep Tayyip Erdoan, Turkey’s authoritarian and Islamist leader, as “the only real man among Muslim leaders.”
The revelation exposed NOS to scathing criticism in other media for affording el Hajoui the opportunity to preach tolerance without addressing his past statements, which were revealed by Twitter users and bloggers who took an interest in him following the news broadcast.
The Center for Information and Documentation for Israel, the country’s main watchdog group on anti-Semitism, filed a complaint for incitement to hatred against el Hajoui.
But Esther Voet, the group’s former director and currently the editor-in-chief of the Nieuw Israelitisch Weekblad, wrote in an op-ed in her weekly that while what she called el Hajoui’s hatred and hypocrisy are not surprising, what “is big news is that NOS made a hero out of this rabid anti-Semite.” She also called el Hajoui a “pet Moroccan.”
Separately, the Christian organizers of a festival for peace in the eastern city of Apeldoorn last week apologized for offering a podium to an anti-Israel activist whom they said had used anti-Semitic terminology in speaking about the Jewish state during the event last week.
Ending a protracted dispute, the Foundation Jewish Apeldoorn and the organizers from the Church Group Peace Week Apeldoorn signed a joint statement on Feb. 10 denouncing the remarks of the anti-Israel activist Cornelis Blok as “anti-Semitic.” The parties said that Blok, of the Sabeel group, used the term “Jewish race” during his speech and equated Palestinian jihadists with anti-Nazi resistance fighters.
Blok denied harboring any anti-Semitic intent.
The chief organizer, Eddy Anneveldt, also apologized for writing to Blok a friendly email stating: “Because of you, my view of Jews has not particularly improved.” In the statement, Anneveldt wrote this was a generalization.
Lithuanian nationalists celebrate Holocaust-era quisling, Pepe the Frog near execution site
(JTA)—Lithuanian ultranationalists marched near execution sites of Jews with banners celebrating a pro-Nazi collaborationist who called for ethnic cleansing and a symbol popular with members of the U.S. “alt-right” movement.
Approximately 170 people attended Thursday’s annual march in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second city that is also known as Kovno, the website Defending History reported.
The main banner featured a picture of the collaborationist Kazys Skirpa modified to resemble Pepe the Frog, a cartoon figure that was used by hate groups in the United States during the 2016 presidential elections, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
The banner also included a quote attributed to the Pepe-like portrait of Skirpa, an envoy of the pro-Nazi movement in Lithuania to Berlin, that read “Lithuania will contribute to new and better European order.”
Skirpa, who has a street named for him in Kaunas, “elevated anti-Semitism to a political level” that “could have encouraged a portion of Lithuania’s residents to get involved in the Holocaust,” the Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania asserted in 2015. But Skirpa “proposed to solve ‘the Jewish problem’ not by genocide but by the method of expulsion from Lithuania,” the center said.
The procession passed near the Lietovus Garage, where in 1941 locals butchered dozens of Jews. Thousands more were killed in an around Kaunas by local collaborators of the Nazis and by German soldiers in the following months.
“Kaunas is ground zero of the Lithuanian Holocaust,” Dovid Katz, a U.S.-born scholar and the founder of Defending History, told JTA on Friday. He condemned local authorities for allowing the march by “folks who glorify the very Holocaust-collaborators, theoreticians and perpetrators who unleashed the genocide locally.” Katz was one of five people who attended the march to protest and document it.
Lithuania is the only country that officially defines its domination by the former Soviet Union as a form of genocide. The name of the state-funded entity that wrote about Skirpa in 2005 refers both to the Holocaust and the so-called Soviet occupation.
The Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius, which until 2011 did not mention the more than 200,000 Lithuanian Jews who died in the Nazi Holocaust, was established in 1992 to memorialize Lithuanians killed by the Nazi, but mostly Soviet, states.
Another placard seen at the march on Feb. 16, one of Lithuania’s two independence days, featured a list of 33 names, supposedly of Jews who allegedly were involved in Soviet repression. “Information on Jews and Vanagaite,” the poster also read. In previous years, marchers also displayed Nazi swastikas.
Vanagaite referred to Ruta Vanagaite, a Lithuanian writer who last year co-authored an influential book about the Holocaust in Lithuania with Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The book triggered an acrimonious public debate about the longtime taboo issue of local complicity in the Holocaust.
Chabad House opens in Pacific archipelago of New Caledonia
(JTA)—Chabad, the Hasidic movement that operates Jewish centers in more than 90 countries, has set up shop in the Pacific island archipelago of New Caledonia, which has 250,000 residents and 250 Jews.
The movement’s emissaries to the island, which is a French territory, are Rabbi Menachem and Bassie Sabbach.
The rabbi is a fluent French speaker; his parents were raised in France. He was raised in Melbourne, Australia, which is located 1,600 miles southwest of his new posting.
Bassie Sabbach is from Manchester, England, according to a report last month on Chabad’s website about the opening of a Chabad house there.
The couple, who have two sons younger than 4, will work with the local community, which on Rosh Hashanah has a festive dinner comprising 70 guests, and with Jewish tourists who come to Caledonia for its renowned beaches and natural beauty. The Le Monde newspaper in December described the archipelago as being a “pristine natural paradise.”
New Caledonia, which in 2014 received approximately 100,000 tourists, is the 91st country where Chabad maintains a center, according to the movement. The center there opened last month.
Separately, Chabad on Thursday published a book that the movement said is the culmination of 15 years of research on the life of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the third rebbe of the Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty who died 22 years ago in New York at 92.
Titled “Early Years: The Formative Years of the Rebbe,” the 550-page book written by Boruch Oberlander and Elkanah Shmotkin is based on primary sources and original documents, including some that for decades had been forgotten in state and other archives in the former Soviet Union, Chabad wrote in a statement about the book.
J Street Israel boss rejects David Friedman’s remorse for ‘kapos’ remark
(JTA)—The Israel director of J Street rejected the expression of regret by David Friedman, President Donald Trump’s pick for ambassador to the Jewish state, for calling her group “kapos.”
Yael Patir maintained during an interview Friday with Army Radio that the regret expressed Thursday by Friedman for applying the term—the Nazi designation for Jewish helpers in the oppression and annihilation of other Jews—was neither sincere nor worthy of being considered a real apology.
“I provided some context for my remarks, but that was not in the nature of an excuse,” Friedman said during a Senate confirmation hearing. “These were hurtful words and I deeply regret them. They’re not reflective of my nature and character.”
Asked whether she accepted his apology, Patir said, “He did not apologize. He said ‘I used words I shouldn’t have.’ There’s a difference. There’s nothing accept or not accept.”
Pressed to acknowledge Friedman’s apologetic tone, Patir repeated her position, adding: “When he apologizes, I’ll gladly accept his apology.”
During the hearing, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., pressed Friedman also about past statements that appeared to oppose a two-state solution addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and noted his backing for settlements, including some deep inside the West Bank.
Friedman replied that he had been skeptical of a two-state solution, but would welcome any solution arrived at by the Israelis and Palestinians that ended suffering for both peoples.
On Thursday, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said her country “absolutely supports a two-state solution, but we are thinking out of the box as well, which is—what does it take to bring these two sides to the table, what do we need to have them agree on?” she said.
The previous day, Trump at a White House news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu diverged with the official line of several previous presidents when he implied that he had no preference for that solution.
“I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” the president said.
Patir, who began running the Israel activities of the liberal Middle East policy group in 2012, doubted Friedman’s sincerity, saying “He’d say anything to receive the confirmation.”
Her organization is among several left-of-center Jewish groups in the United States and in Israel fighting the nomination.
During the interview with Army Radio, Patir fielded critical questions about her organization’s pro-Israel credentials but provided no answer beyond saying she was not familiar with the cases cited and that she would study them.
One question concerned J Street pulling out from a 2014 Boston rally in support of Israel’s retaliatory strikes on Hamas in Gaza, which Haaretz reported on.
In informing the Boston Jewish federation of J Street’s decision to quit the rally, Northeast Regional Director Shaina Wasserman wrote: “There was no voice for our concerns about the loss of human life on both sides.”
Patir said “reports about J Street are often shaped by the political tendency of the media doing the reporting” and reaffirmed her organization’s “commitment to stand by Israel and stand up for its security.”
She was also asked to explain J Street’s stated objection to lobbying by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee for U.S. support for Israel amid rebuke over the slaying by Israel troops of nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists aboard a Gaza-bound ship. The troops opened fire after being attacked by the activists.
Patir said she was not familiar with J Street’s response to the AIPAC push.
J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami wrote in 2010 that AIPAC’s move was “primarily for domestic political consumption rather than to advance the U.S. interest.”
January tally of terrorist attacks in Israel bloodiest in 6 months
(JTA)—Five Israelis were killed in January by Palestinian terrorists, making the month the deadliest since June, according to Israel’s security service.
The Shin Bet recorded a total of 100 attacks in January, which left 16 wounded, according to its monthly report published earlier this week.
Four of the victims were killed in Jerusalem on Jan. 8 when the assailant drove his truck into a crowd of soldiers. One man was killed the previous week in Haifa.
Of the attacks documented last month, 81 involved the hurling of firebombs.
The previous month had seen 98 attacks.
January 2016 also had five fatalities.
Separately, on Thursday, Palestinians accused a driver they claim is an Israeli settler of deliberately hitting with his car a Palestinian man at the entrance to the West Bank town of Beit Ummar, near Hebron.
Rafat Muhammad Shihdeh Abu Arrar Masalmeh, 36, was hit while approaching the parked car of his brother on the shoulder of the road, according to a report by the Palestinian Maan news agency. The report did not specify his condition or name the driver.
The report quoted a man described as a “local activist” of saying the settler hit Masalmeh deliberately and then fled the scene.
According to the report, Israeli police later questioned the driver, who reportedly said he hit Masalmeh by accident.