March 17, 2017 | Year 41, No. 28

Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA

At least 7 JCCs receive bomb threats on Purim

(JTA)—At least seven Jewish community centers in the United States and Canada received bomb threats while they were hosting Purim events.

The threats, either called in or emailed, were reported Sunday at JCCs in Rochester, New York; Chicago; Indianapolis; Milwaukee; Cleveland; Houston, and Vancouver, British Columbia.

Most of the JCCs were evacuated and searched. None of the threats turned out to be credible.

For some of the centers it was their second threat in the past week.

The threats are part of a wave that has hit JCCs, Jewish schools and other Jewish institutions since the start of 2017. More than 150 threats have been received since the beginning of the year, according to the Secure Community Network, which coordinates security across Jewish organizations in North America.

On Sunday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the second such threat against the Rochester JCC in less than a week “a despicable and cowardly act” of anti-Semitism. Cuomo ordered the New York State Police to launch a more intense investigation into the threats, and to work with federal and local law enforcement on the investigation.

“Like all New Yorkers, I am profoundly disturbed and disgusted by the continued threats against the Jewish community in New York,” Cuomo said in a statement. “As New Yorkers, we will not be intimidated and we will not stand by silently as some seek to sow hate and division. New York is one family, and an attack on one is an attack on all.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said he plans to provide additional law enforcement intelligence and staffing to the JCC in Milwaukee so it “continues to be a safe place” after it was evacuated Sunday for the fourth time in six weeks.

Meanwhile, a rally was held Sunday outside the Rady Jewish Community Centre in Winnipeg, Canada, which was evacuated due to a bomb threat on Thursday, “to send a signal of unity against fear and terrorism.”

Team Israel suffers first loss in World Baseball Classic

(JTA)—Israel’s surprising squad in the World Baseball Classic lost its first game in the tournament, dropping a rematch with the Netherlands, 12-2.

Israel is now 1-1 in the second round of the 16-team quadrennial tournament and 4-1 overall. Israel likely must defeat powerhouse Japan on Wednesday to advance to the semifinals.

Didi Gregorius, the New York Yankees’ shortstop, homered and drove in five runs to power the Netherlands. The game was called after eight innings due to the mercy rule stopping a contest with a team trailing by 10 runs after seven innings or 15 runs when at least five innings have been played.

Israel was the lowest-ranked team to qualify for the showcase tournament, coming in at 41st in the world. But last week in the first round, the Israelis squeaked past third-ranked South Korea, 2-1, in extra innings, outscored fourth-ranked Taiwan, 15-7, and defeated ninth-ranked the Netherlands, 4-2, to finish first in Pool A with a 3-0 record.

This is the first year that Israel has qualified for the tournament. In 2012, its inaugural WBC squad narrowly missed advancing past the qualifiers.

Most of the players are American Jews, among them several former major leaguers. WBC rules state that players who are eligible for citizenship of a country may play on its team. Jews and their grandchildren, and the grandchildren’s spouses, have the right to become Israeli citizens.

State Dept.: Trump adviser Jason Greenblatt is on ‘listening’ tour of Israel, West Bank

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s adviser on international relations, is touring Israel and the Palestinian areas to gauge attitudes to peacemaking and there will likely not be any developments from the trip, a Trump administration spokesman said.

“He’s really there to listen to both sides and how they perceive getting to a peace process,” Mark Toner, the State Department spokesman, said Monday in the daily briefing for reporters. “I don’t expect any big developments out of this trip.”

Trump has expressed an eagerness to bring about a peace deal while retreating from 15 years of U.S. policy backing a two-state outcome to the peace process.

On Friday, Trump spoke on the phone with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, and the White House readout of the call sounded bullish on the prospects for peace.

“The President emphasized his personal belief that peace is possible and that the time has come to make a deal,” the readout said. “The President noted that such a deal would not only give Israelis and Palestinians the peace and security they deserve, but that it would reverberate positively throughout the region and the world.”

Trump on the call invited Abbas to the White House. The U.S. leader met last month with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

During that visit, Netanyahu appeared to be taken aback by a request from Trump to stop settlement expansion for now. Settlement building was a key point of tension between Netanyahu and Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, and both Netanyahu and Trump have said relations would be smoother now.

Toner said settlements would be discussed during the trip, but also cautioned against any expecting any pronouncements.

“Settlements will obviously be a topic of discussion, but I wouldn’t predict there would be any resolution of that issue,” he said. “As we said earlier just a few weeks ago, with respect to settlements, we see them as a challenge that needs to be addressed at some point.”

Greenblatt, a longtime lawyer to Trump, solicited followers this week on Twitter to track his trip.

“Honored to be meeting with Israelis and Palestinians this week as I travel to the region,” he said. “Follow me for updates on the trip!”

Greenblatt, who is an Orthodox Jew, tweeted Monday from a stop in Frankfurt, Germany, that he was saying shacharit, the morning prayer, and called on followers to “pray for peace.”

Netanyahu later posted a photo of their meeting, welcoming Greenblatt.

Greenblatt is also due to meet with Abbas in Ramallah.

Over 100 Holocaust memorial groups and scholars urge Trump to keep office monitoring anti-Semitism

NEW YORK (JTA)—Over 100 Holocaust remembrance institutions, scholars and educators called on President Donald Trump to maintain a government office dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism following a report that he was considering nixing it.

The 120 signatories—among them Holocaust museums, anti-genocide groups, Holocaust studies programs, and Holocaust scholars and educators in the United States and Europe—released a statement Monday calling on Trump to strengthen the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, which fights anti-Jewish sentiments abroad. The signatories also urged Trump to create a new office to combat anti-Semitism in the United States.

Last month, Bloomberg reported that Trump was considering cutting a number of special envoy positions, including the one dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism, as part of a budget proposal.

“The need becomes clearer by the day as hatred, like a tidal wave, sweeps across the nation,” read the statement released Monday, which was written by members of the Association of Holocaust Organizations.

It cited vandalism of cemeteries, synagogues, churches and mosques, anti-Semitic vandalism and bomb threats made against Jewish institutions.

Jewish sites, including community centers, schools, museums and Anti-Defamation League offices, have been hit with more than 100 bomb threats so far this year, all of them hoaxes. In the past three weeks, Jewish cemeteries were vandalized in Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Rochester, New York.

Congress mandated the position of special envoy for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism in 2004 with the passage of the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act. The measure directs the State Department to establish the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, to be headed by the special envoy.

Jewish groups and lawmakers have urged the president to keep the office, including the American Jewish Committee and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Earlier this month, a bipartisan House task force on anti-Semitism called on the Trump administration to rebuff reports that it was planning to cut the office.

Ira Forman, the former executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, most recently served in the envoy position under President Barack Obama. Forman’s LinkedIn page lists him as having served in the position; Trump has not named a replacement.

“I can’t believe someone at the White House won’t have better sense than to realize that this is a disaster,” Forman told Jewish Insider. “I just can’t believe that they would even think of this given the relatively small budget needed to run this office. The office exists by legislation. It’s just a matter of someone signing up to fund it. This is as bipartisan an issue as you can get, and I just hope folks at the White House come to their senses.”

Belgian policeman appeals negligence conviction in Jewish Museum murders

(JTA)—A Belgian policeman is appealing his conviction for negligence in the 2014 murder case of four people gunned down at the Jewish Museum of Brussels.

The officer received a two-month suspended jail term in 2015 for failing to process in time a tip by an informant who said he recognized the assault rifle that security camera footage shows was used in the shooting on May 24, 2014. He is scheduled to appear in October before an appeals court in a bid to prove he acted properly, the DH news website reported. The officer’s name has not been reported.

Mehdi Nemmouche, a suspected jihadist from northern France, is standing trial in Belgium for the killings, which he says he did not commit. Nemmouche was arrested in southern France several days after the shooting in a random search aboard a bus heading toward the port city of Marseille. He was carrying weapons matching the description of those used in the attack.

Separately, in the city of Toulouse in southeastern France, the first of several commemorative ceremonies was held Sunday for the seven victims of Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old Islamist who killed three French soldiers several days before he murdered four Jews at a Jewish school on March 19, 2012.

“The attack was a prelude to a national horror,” the chief rabbi of Toulouse, Avraham Weill, told the AFP news agency on Sunday. “There is a before and after the attack,” he added, using an expression that is used for watershed events.

Hundreds of Frenchmen, including four Jews who were murdered in January 2015 in a shooting attack on a kosher supermarket, have died in numerous attacks by jihadists since 2012.

Chelsea Clinton cites Purim in scoring congressman who says ‘demographics are our destiny’

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Chelsea Clinton cited the lessons of Purim to chastise a congressman who said restoring Western civilization could not be done “with somebody else’s babies”

“Clearly the Congressman does not view all our children as, well, all our children,” Clinton, the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, who lost the November presidential election to Donald Trump, said Sunday in a tweet quoting a tweet by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa. “Particularly ironic & painful on Purim.”

Clinton’s husband, Marc Mezvinsky, is Jewish Purim celebrates the triumph of Persia’s Jews over a deadly enemy, Haman. Some Jewish traditions cite its lessons as upholding diversity.

King in his tweet praised Geert Wilders, the anti-Islam Dutch lawmaker whose party is among those competing in elections this week in the Netherlands.

“Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny,” he said. “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

The tweet was reviled as bigoted almost as soon as King posted it.

“This is so offensive, it’s hard to know where to start,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League CEO, said in a tweet. “America’s greatness is the diversity of our culture, the dynamism of our demography.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., alluded to King’s closeness to Trump, and claims from Democrats that Trump’s election has spurred increased bigotry, in calling the comment “racist.”

“It’s no accident that communities across America have been threatened by emboldened racists,” she said in a statement Monday. “The GOP Leadership must stop accommodating this garbage, and condemn Congressman Steve King’s statements in the strongest and most unequivocal terms.”

In an appearance on CNN on Monday morning, King would not say whether he believed Muslims were “equals,” but defended the tweet from charges that it was racist.

“It’s the culture, not the blood,” King said. “And if you can go anywhere in the world and adopt these little babies and put them into households that were already assimilated into America, those babies will grow up as American as any other baby with as much patriotism and as much love of country as any other baby. It’s not about race.”

Dutch Muslims shout anti-Semitic slogans during protest over Turkish Cabinet minister

ROTTERDAM, The Netherlands (JTA)—Dutch Muslims shouted anti-Semitic slogans amid violent clashes with police in Rotterdam over authorities’ refusal to allow a Turkish Cabinet minister to campaign in Holland for a Turkey referendum vote.

Dozens of protesters gathered Saturday night in front of the Turkish consulate in the Dutch city to listen to Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya. Upon receiving a false rumor that she had been arrested, the crowd began roaring “cancer Jews” and “cancer Wilders” shortly before the outbreak of violence that led to the injury of five people, including one policeman, the Algemeen Dagblan reported.

Geert Wilders is an anti-Islam politician who, according to polls, is in a tight race with Prime Minister Mark Rutte ahead of Wednesday’s general elections in the country. Wilders has campaigned against allowing Turkish ministers to campaign in the Netherlands. Rutte instructed police to prevent the ministers from addressing crowds in the Netherlandsin a move that some criticized as illegal but others praised as a justified bid to prevent external intervention by Turkey in Dutch affairs.

Kaya came to the Netherlands to campaign among Turks living in Europe to vote yes on a referendum next month that would greatly expand the powers of the country’s authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Last week, Kaya accused both Germany, which also opposed Turkish campaigning on its territory, and the Netherlands of “Nazi behavior” for blocking Cabinet ministers and other officials from advocating the advantages of a yes vote in the referendum.

Zaken Mevlüt Çavusoglu, another Turkish Cabinet minister, also was prevented from campaigning in Holland, where Wilders often criticizes the center-right government of Rutte of being too soft on radical Islam.

The Turkish government threatened to impose economic sanctions on the Netherlands and ban Dutch planes from landing in Istanbul. The Dutch Embassy in Istanbul was closed briefly over the weekend weekend and thousands of protesters surrounded it while chanting anti-Dutch and pro-Erdogan slogans. The embassy was reopened Monday. The tensions were among the worst ever in Dutch-Turkish relations.

According to Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb, the Turkish consulate said he would work to de-escalate the situation but in fact had “lied and called on protesters to gather outside” the consulate. He also accused Kaya of using several convoys en route to the Netherlands from Germany to throw off police. Aboutaleb, who opposes the Turkish campaign drive in Holland, said the Turkish government’s conduct was “scandalous.”

Likoed Nederland, an organization supportive of Israel’s Likud party, accused Aboutaleb of hypocrisy in light of his refusal to ban a conference organized by a group with ties to Hamas next month. Aboutaleb told the Center for Information and Documentation that the Dutch counterterrorism authority allowed the gathering, but the same authority told CIDI that it had never told this to Aboutaleb.

CIDI also wrote that the German security service, BfV, has called the PRC group that organizes Palestinians in Europe conferences “a front for Hamas.”

“Surely a terrorist group is not more deserving of a podium in Rotterdam than a Turkish minister,” Likoed Nederland wrote Sunday.

Control over Touro Synagogue and its $7.4 million silver bells back in court

BOSTON (JTA)—Ownership of the country’s oldest synagogue and its valuable religious and ritual objects is being decided by a federal appeals court.

The hearing of the case by a three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston is the latest development in a closely watched legal battle pitting New York City’s Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in the nation, against Congregation Jeshuat Israel, located in Newport, Rhode Island.

At stake is control of Newport’s 250-year-old Touro Synagogue, the religious home of Congregation Jeshuat Israel and a pair of historically significant silver bells that are used to adorn Torah scrolls. The bells, called rimonim, are late 18th century filials handcrafted by Myer Myers, one of the most prominent silversmiths of the Colonial era. The rimonim are valued at $7.4 million.

The panel heard arguments last week in an appeal filed by Shearith Israel challenging a lower court ruling that held the Manhattan congregation is not the rightful owner of the synagogue, The Associated Press reported. Shearith Israel has served as trustee of the Touro Synagogue dating back to the early 19th century.

Last May, U.S. District Court Judge Jack McConnell ruled in favor of Jeshuat Israel, granting it control of the Touro Synagogue, including its claim of ownership of the silver rimonim.

In his decision that traced the history of the Newport Jewish community and its relationship with Shearith Israel, McConnell revoked Shearith Israel as the trustee and instead named Jeshuat Israel trustee of the building.

But the appeals court panel seemed unpersuaded by the lower court decision and the arguments by the Touro Synagogue that relied on centuries-old events and history between the two congregations, according to the AP.

‘‘You keep going back to history, but we’re dubious it has anything to do with this case,’’ Judge Sandra Lynch told a lawyer for the Newport congregation, AP reported.

Instead, Lynch referred to legal agreements from the 20th century that established Shearith Israel as the lessor of the building and the Newport congregation as the lessee.

The panel also includes retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, who occasionally sits as a judge on the court.

The current dispute began in 2012, when Congregation Jeshuat Israel, which holds regular services at Touro, attempted to sell its valuable set of silver Torah bells to establish an endowment to maintain a rabbi and care for the building, which was designated a national historic site in 1946. Shearith Israel sued to stop the sale and attempted to evict the 120-family congregation from the building.

The rimonim have been on loan from the Touro Synagogue to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which had made an offer to purchase them. The museum has since rescinded its offer.

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