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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA

 


Jewish center in Sweden decides to close after anti-Semitic threats

(JTA)—A Jewish center in northern Sweden will close after receiving anti-Semitic threats.

The members of the Judisk Föreningen, or Jewish Association, in Umea, decided Sunday at a meeting to shut down its building and end its activities, The Local-Sweden reported.

The association has received threatening emails, and the building was vandalized with stickers of swastikas and spray-painted threats such as “we know where you live,” The Local reported, citing the Swedish-language SVT News Västerbotten.

“Too many things have happened lately which mean that Jewish parents don’t feel safe having their kids at the schools,” Umea Jewish Association spokeswoman Carinne Sjöberg told SVT. “Our children shouldn’t live in a world where they have to be ashamed for what they are, but it’s not possible to operate if people are scared.”

Holocaust survivor, 91, celebrates her bat mitzvah in Buenos Aires

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (JTA)—Eugenia Unger, who usually displays the number tattooed on her arm by the Nazis, covered it with her Shabbat clothes and her tallit as she celebrated her bat mitzvah eight decades late.

Unger, 91, a Poland native who survived the Majdanek and Auschwitz concentration camps and often talks about her experiences at the Buenos Aires Holocaust Museum and in schools, was called to the Torah on Saturday at the Herzliya Jewish community center and temple in Buenos Aires

She told the Argentine radio program Radio Cultura on Thursday of her upcoming celebration that “the culmination of my whole life is my bat mitzvah. It is a ritual that is very important in Jewish life.”

The temple also organized a birthday celebration for Unger, a co-founder of the Holocaust Museum of Buenos Aires in 2000, on Friday night.

Unger, born Eugenia Rotsztejn in Warsaw, lived in the Warsaw Ghetto as a teen and was later taken to the two Nazi camps with her family, including her parents, two brothers and a sister. Unger is the only member of her family who survived the Holocaust. When she was liberated by Soviet forces, she weighed slightly more than 59 pounds.

After a journey across central Europe, she lived for two years in a refugee camp in Modena, Italy, where she met her future husband, David Unger. Both immigrated to Argentina in 1949.

She was part of the group that founded the

Unger now has two sons and six grandsons, and has written three books about her experiences. In 2011, she was declared Outstanding Personality by the Buenos Aires city parliament.

Jewish descendants can sue Germany for return of Nazi-looted collection, US court rules

(JTA)—A U.S. court has cleared the way for descendants of Jewish art collectors to sue Germany in the United States over objects allegedly obtained from their ancestors under duress during the Nazi era.

In what lawyers for the complainants are calling a landmark decision, the District Court for the District of Columbia ruled March 31 that claims regarding a collection known as the Guelph Treasure can be filed in a U.S. court.

Three years ago, a German investigative commission found that the original owners of the collection, which the Dresdner Bank purchased on behalf of Hitler’s deputy, Hermann Goering, in 1935, were not forced to sell it by the Nazis.

It is the first time that a court has held that Germany can be sued for the return of Nazi-looted art and artifacts under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

For several years, heirs to the consortium of Jewish collectors that bought the 82-piece collection in 1929 as an investment have been demanding the return of the portion sold to Goering. They have estimated its value at approximately $227 million.

The collection is on display at Berlin’s Bode Museum.

Attorneys filed the suit in the United States in February 2015 against Germany and the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, one year after the Limbach Commission, the German advisory board for Holocaust-related claims, rejected the plaintiffs’ contention that the 1935 sale had been forced.

In its ruling last week, the court rejected the German defendants’ contention that the Limbach Commission recommendation bars later litigation in a U.S. court. It also agreed with the plaintiffs that the sale may be considered a taking of property in violation of international law.

Reacting to the ruling, Hermann Parzinger, head of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, said in a March 31 statement  that he did not believe the case belongs in a U.S. court. He said the foundation would “look at the decision carefully and consider further steps.”

Parzinger also emphasized that the foundation does not believe evidence shows that the sale was forced.

Rasmea Odeh, Linda Sarsour slam ‘Zionists’ at Jewish Voice for Peace summit

(JTA)—A Palestinian woman who is being forced to leave the United States for not telling immigration authorities that she was imprisoned in Israel for two terror attacks told a U.S. Jewish group that they must stop the “Zionists” from their “land grab.”

Rasmea Odeh was the keynote speaker on Sunday in Chicago at a summit of the Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that backs the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Odeh, 69, accepted a plea bargain last month that forces her to leave the country and strips her U.S. citizenship. She had been fighting in the courts for years.

Also speaking at the conference was the Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, who raised hackles among liberal American Jews recently by saying that women who are uncritically pro-Israel cannot be feminist because they are ignoring the rights of Palestinian women.

Meanwhile, during Odeh’s address, the Israel advocacy group StandWithUs held a memorial ceremony at the same hotel for Edward Joffe and Leon Kanner, the two men killed in the 1969 bombing in Jerusalem for which Odeh was convicted by an Israeli military court. The group had been denied a request to rent a conference room at the insistence of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Odeh spoke about having to leave the United States.

“I thought when I came to the U.S., and made it my second home, it would be the last station in a journey of struggle that I shared with my Palestinian people in response to the Nakba [catastrophe]  and the occupation of 1967,” she told the audience of about 1,000, referring to the Palestinians’ perception of Israel’s founding, including their forced and voluntary displacement to neighboring countries.

She added: “Now I face a similar Nakba, forced to leave the country and the life that I built for myself over 23 years in the U.S., but I will continue my struggle for justice for my people wherever I land.”

Odeh, a leader of the grassroots International Women’s Strike, told the audience that Americans are “in the streets” resisting President Donald Trump every day.

She continued: “Of course, Zionists aren’t going to stop their land grab in Palestine either. The Palestinians there and the Palestinians and our supporters here have to stop them with our resistance and our organization.”

In 1970, Odeh was sentenced to life in prison for two bombing attacks on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and spent 10 years in prison before being released in a prisoner exchange in 1980.

In 2015, she was sentenced in the U.S. to 18 months in prison for covering up her conviction and imprisonment in Israel when she entered the country in 1995 and applied for citizenship in 2004, but the conviction was later vacated to allow Odeh to show that she suffered from post traumatic stress disorder over her alleged mistreatment while in prison.

In a statement welcoming Odeh as a speaker at the conference, JVP officials said that the accusations against her were the result of “persecution” by Israel and the United States.

“We are eager to hear from Odeh, a feminist leader in the Palestinian and Arab-American community in Chicago, precisely because she has survived decades of Israeli and U.S. government persecution and oppression, and also because she lives and breathes the essential work of community organizing—having spent her life as both a lawyer and organizer for the empowerment of Arab women,” according to the statement.

Sarsour, an organizer of the Women’s March on Washington who recently raised thousands of dollars to repair anti-Semitic vandalism at three U.S. Jewish cemeteries, told the crowd: “If what is being asked of me by those who pronounce themselves and call themselves Zionist is that I, as a Palestinian American, have to somehow leave out a part of my identity so you can be welcomed in a space to work on justice, then that’s not going to be the right space for you.”

“We, as Palestinian Americans, as Arab Americans, as Muslim Americans, we will not change who we are to make anybody feel comfortable. If you ain’t all in, then this ain’t the movement for you,” she said.

StandWithUs rented a regular hotel room and held its memorial there.

In a statement, the Joffe family described Jewish Voice for Peace as “another deeply misguided so-called ‘Jewish’ organization.”

“She will soon be forgotten by her supporters who have so misguidedly championed her,” the statement said of Odeh, “but the memory of Edward and Leon will live on forever.”

Dutch couple drops lawsuit for removal of Holocaust memorial

(JTA)—A Dutch couple who sued the municipality of Amsterdam over the placing of a postcard-sized Holocaust memorial plaque near their home have dropped their motion as a result of harsh criticism.

The couple, who live in the upscale Old South neighborhood of the Dutch capital, told the Volkskrant daily on Sunday that the suit prompted criticism in the Dutch media and beyond ever since it was reported  Friday.

“We’re shocked by the way in which the publicity regarding this issue has led to misunderstandings,” wrote the couple, who requested anonymity. They added that “because of the death of our child, the stumbling cobblestone is too emotional.”

They were referring to the 4-square-inch brass plaque that city workers put in the sidewalk near their doorway in 2014 bearing the name of Joachim Elte, a Jewish accountant who lived in the couple’s building on 3 Sint Maes St. before he was deported to a Nazi concentration camp during World War II and murdered in 1945.

Amsterdam has approximately 400 memorial cobblestones—part of over 50,000 artifacts installed since 1996 by a German artist in 18 countries across Europe in front of the former homes of the Holocaust victims whose names are engraved on the cobblestones.

The City of Amsterdam recently moved Elte’s cobblestone farther from the couple’s doorway at their request, but declined their requests to have it removed. Subsequently they sued the city; a judge had referred their lawsuit to a civil court.

Elte’s grandson also lives on Sint Maes Street, according to the Volkskrant.

Approximately 75 percent of the 140,000 Jews who lived in the Netherlands when Germany invaded the country in 1940 were murdered in the Holocaust. The Netherlands had the highest death rate in Nazi-occupied Western Europe.

Jewish parents pull son from Berlin school over anti-Semitic harassment

(JTA)—Allegations of anti-Semitic harassment of a Jewish student in Germany that forced him to leave his school has spurred demands for a federal investigation by Germany’s top Jewish leader.

The student’s parents said they pulled their 14-year-old son from the Friedenauer Community School in March after four months of verbal and physical harassment, culminating in a brutal attack. The parents had chosen the school because of its multicultural student body, and the harassment came from students of Arab and Turkish background, they reported.

In March, according to the parents, “he was attacked and almost strangled, and [one of the pupils] pulled a toy gun on him that looked like a real gun. And the whole crowd of kids laughed. He was completely shaken.”

Early on, when some pupils learned the boy was Jewish, one who had been friendly told him they couldn’t be friends anymore because “Jews are all murderers.”

Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, demanded on Monday that the education ministry investigate the incident and the response of the school, and state clearly where any failings might be. He also asked Muslim leaders in Germany to combat “anti-Semitic tendencies in their ranks with all the determination they can muster.”

The school leadership said on its website that the alleged perpetrators in the incident would be held accountable. Principal Uwe Runkel told the London Jewish Chronicle that he “deeply regrets” the incidents and wishes the student had not left the school.

The boy told the newspaper that the latest incident was shocking, “but I didn’t have time to think what’s happening at the time. Now when I look back, I think, oh my God.”

His parents had contacted an organization that brings Jews and Muslims into public schools, and the father’s parents, who are Holocaust survivors, had met with pupils at the school. None of this helped improve the atmosphere, they said.

The boy, whose mother is British, has been enrolled in an English-language high school.

Columbia student council votes down adding BDS referendum

NEW YORK (JTA)—A student council at a Columbia University college voted not to add a question asking about support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to a student referendum.

The Columbia College council decided Monday that it would not include the resolution, which was proposed by the student group Apartheid Divest, to the ballot, according to The Columbia Spectator.

Critics of the resolution said its wording would divide students, especially using the term “apartheid,” to describe Israel. Proponents said it was not intended to change anyone’s opinion but rather that the results would provide information that could be used to encourage divestment from Israel, the Columbia Spectator reported.

Prior to the vote, council members heard presentations from various student groups, including Columbia University Apartheid Divest, Students Supporting Israel, Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace.

Students at Toronto university vote to adopt broad definition of anti-Semitism

(JTA)—The student union at Ryerson University in Toronto has voted to adopt a broad definition of anti-Semitism.

The definition adopted last week includes the denial of the Jewish right to self-determination, the application of double standards to the State of Israel, the comparison of contemporary Israeli policies to that of the Nazis, and the use of symbols or imagery associated with classic anti-Semitic tropes, according to Bnai Brith Canada.

The definition is in line with the one used by the governments of Canada and Ontario.

“After all of the shameful incidents to occur on campus this year, it was especially important for the RSU to adopt a robust definition of anti-Semitism,” said Tamar Jaclyn Lyons, vice president of communications for Students Supporting Israel at Ryerson. “This definition will prove critical in holding bigots accountable for their actions and preventing these hateful acts from continuing in the future.”

Students Supporting Israel had attempted to convince the Ryerson Students’ Union to adopt a similar definition in 2014, but was rejected.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said it was not aware of any other university student union in Canada to adopt the Ottawa Protocol as its definition of anti-Semitism, the Canadian Jewish News reported.

At the Ryerson union’s semiannual general meeting in November, a resolution to commemorate Holocaust Education Week sparked a walkout led by the Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Students Association to stop a vote. The student board approved the resolution less than a month later.

The union voted to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel in April 2014 with a resolution that prohibits the student group from having ties with companies that do business in Israel, including Home Depot, Costco and Sears.

Singapore deporting imam who spoke against Jews, Christians

(JTA)—An Indian imam in Singapore who was ordered deported after speaking against Jews and Christians during a sermon visited a synagogue to apologize for his remarks.

Nalla Mohamed Abdul Jameel pleaded guilty last week in a state court to a charge of promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion or race for his remarks made at a mosque in January. He was fined $2,860, which he paid, and ordered deported, the Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement, the news agency AFP reported.

During a prayer session, the imam said in Arabic, “Grant us help against the Jews and Christians,” citing the Quran as his source, according to court documents, AFP reported.

“Recent events abroad have highlighted how the build-up of anger and resentment among different religious groups can lead to social friction and violence,” the Home Affairs statement said. “The government has the responsibility to act quickly and firmly to repudiate divisive speech, even if the course of action is sometimes difficult.”

On Saturday, the imam visited the Maghain Aboth Synagogue and apologized for his remarks. Rabbi Mordechai Abergel accepted the apology, the Straits Times reported. He also apologized on Friday to a gathering of leaders of several faiths, according to the report.

Abergel said the Jewish and Muslim communities here have a “very harmonious” relationship.

“This sends a message that these bonds are not affected, and we share so much more than what divides us,” the rabbi said.

Bob Dylan gets his Nobel Prize in Stockholm ceremony without media

(JTA)—American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan has received his Nobel diploma and gold Nobel medal in Stockholm.

On Saturday, the Swedish Academy with Dylan in a private ceremony in order to present him with the trappings of his Nobel Prize for Literature, according to a blog post the following day by Sara Danius, secretary of the Swedish Academy.

“Spirits were high. Champagne was had. Quite a bit of time was spent looking closely at the gold medal,” Danius wrote.

Dylan, who shuns the spotlight, had requested the small and intimate ceremony without the media.

Danius and several other members of the Swedish Academy attended one of Dylan’s two sold-out concerts on Saturday night at the Waterfront concert house in Stockholm.

Dylan must deliver a Nobel lecture by June or forfeit the $927,740 prize, though he will still be considered the laureate. Danius said in a blog post last week that he will likely send a taped version of his lecture to the academy at a later date.

After the announcement in October that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, Dylan told the academy that he would be unable to travel to Stockholm for the December ceremony to receive his Nobel Prize, citing “pre-existing commitments.”

Dylan’s prize was announced on Oct. 13 “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” The academy said later that after five days of trying to contact Dylan to inform him of the award, it had given up. Dylan acknowledged the prize two weeks later.

Born Robert Allen Zimmerman and raised Jewish in Minnesota, Dylan wrote some of the most influential and well-known songs of the 1960s. His hits include “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Like a Rolling Stone” and “The Times They Are a-Changin’.”

Dylan, 75, was the first artist seen primarily as a songwriter to win the literature award, a fact that has stirred debate in literary circles.

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