Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA
Trump administration to host White House seder
(JTA)—The Trump administration will host a Passover seder at the White House.
The Jewish Insider first reported over the weekend that the seder is set to take place on Monday night, citing unnamed sources at the White House. An administration official on Sunday confirmed to The Times of Israel news website that the seder would take place.
It is not known whether President Donald Trump or his Jewish daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will participate in the White House seder, according to the report. The rest of the guest list also has not been made public; there are several Jewish members of the Trump administration staff.
Holding a White House seder became a tradition during the Obama administration. Barack Obama joined a seder organized by campaign staffers in Pennsylvania during the 2008 primary season, when he first ran for president. As president, he made the White House seder a custom, inviting among others Jewish staffers and backers.
Tufts student senate passes Israel divestment resolution
(JTA)—The Tufts University student senate passed a resolution calling on the university to divest from four companies that do business with Israel.
The resolution, titled “A Resolution Calling for Tufts University to End Investments in The Israeli Occupation,” passed the Tufts Community Union Senate on Sunday night by a vote of 17 in favor and six opposed, with eight abstentions. More than 100 students attended the senate debate prior to the vote, according to the Tufts Daily student newspaper.
The resolution calls for the university to divest from or not begin investing in Elbit Systems, G4S, Northrop Grumman and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and to screen its investments for human rights compliance. It is unclear whether Tufts currently invests in those four companies.
The symbolic resolution is not binding on the university.
Students associated with the Students for Justice in Palestine group put forth the resolution last week. Some students during the question-and-answer period of Sunday’s Senate meeting expressed concern that holding the vote the day before the start of the Passover holiday prevented Jewish students who went home for the holiday from expressing their opinions, according to the Tufts Daily.
Tufts Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Jeffrey Summit, who is also a research professor at the university, told the Algemeiner Journal on Sunday that Hillel was working to combat the resolution.
“The Hillel Jewish community is deeply disturbed by this vote, and by the way the resolution was brought so close to Pesach, at a time when many of our students are home with their families readying themselves for the holiday,” Summit told the Algemeiner.
Several other student governments at colleges and universities have passed similar resolution. They include Stanford, the University of Chicago, Northwestern, Oberlin, Vassar, Wesleyan University, and a number in in the University of California network—Los Angeles, Berkeley, Irvine, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Cruz and Davis.
Holocaust memorials in Greece vandalized
(JTA)—Two Holocaust memorials in Greece were vandalized.
In Kavala, a city in northern Greece, the marble veneer was smashed with hammers on Wednesday night, the Athens-based daily newspaper Ekathimerini reported. There are no suspects.
The monument unveiled about a year ago commemorates 1,484 Jews from the city who died in Nazi death camps during World War II.
“Every act of vandalism on a monument opens a new wound in regards to the history and culture of Kavala, a community that has always been open, always tolerant and respectful of other cultures and religions,” the municipal authority said in statement, according to Ekathimerini.
Days earlier, a memorial in Arta, in northwestern Greece, was vandalized with paint and the aphorism “Yolo,” you only live once.
The attack came several days after the community held a ceremony to remember its pre-Holocaust Jewish community. In 1944, some 352 Jews in the town were arrested; most would eventually be sent to Auschwitz and their death.
“It is obvious that there are still people disturbed by their Jewish fellow citizens even if the latter are dead. They cannot tolerate even their memory,” the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece said in a statement.
“We are confident that both the municipality of Arta and the vast majority of its citizens will not allow the desecration of memory by a few nostalgic obscurantists who vulgarly aim at staining the image of the city. We are also confident that soon the monument will stand again to fulfill its purpose: remind the visitors of the atrocity that led to the annihilation of the Jews of Arta simply because they were Jews and awaken the society that such an absolute evil can happen again unless we strongly preserve our democratic and humanitarian principles.”
Jared Kushner and Stephen Bannon meet to smooth tensions
(JTA)—President Donald Trump’s top strategist, Stephen Bannon, and his adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner reportedly met in an attempt to smooth tensions that have roiled the administration.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus ordered the meeting at the request of the president, according to reports. The meeting was confirmed to the political news website Politico by two unnamed White House officials.
Reuters cited an unnamed White House official in reporting that Priebus’ message to Bannon and Kushner was to “stop with the palace intrigue” and focus on the president’s agenda.
Both aides left having agreed that it was time to “bury the hatchet and move forward,” the official said, according to Reuters.
Rumors have surfaced about an upcoming White House shake-up that could see Bannon and Priebus leaving their positions.
News of tensions between Bannon and Kushner, who reportedly were close during the campaign, followed Trump’s order last week removing Bannon from the National Security Council.
According to the reports, Kushner believes Bannon went too far in pushing for the Muslim travelers’ bans and in playing hardball with Congress in an attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Both initiatives failed.
Bannon reportedly resents Kushner for bringing figures associated with Democrats into the White House.
A Daily Beast report on Thursday said Bannon called Kushner a “cuck” and “globalist,” terms familiar to “alt-right” conspiracy theorists. “Cuck,” a play on “cuckold,” is the alt-right term for conservatives who allowed themselves to be played by liberals and the establishment. “Globalist” refers to theories of a conspiracy of elites to maintain control of the global economy.
Rioting disrupts Paris memorial for Jewish woman allegedly killed by neighbor
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Rioting erupted at a Paris memorial for a haredi Orthodox woman who is believed to have been pushed out of her third-floor apartment by a neighbor to her death.
An estimated crowd of 2,000, mostly French Jews, attended the rally Sunday outside the home of Sarah Halimi. The event became contentious when some young Jews, reported by Israel Radio to be from the Jewish Defense League, began arguing with Halimi’s neighbors and reportedly threw objects at the homes and tried to break into them.
French riot police were called to the scene to disperse the demonstrators, who left after singing the national anthems of both France and Israel and waving Israeli flags, Israel Radio reported.
Halimi was found dead April 3 on the street in front of her apartment in the crime-ridden 11th district of the French capital. Her 27-year-old neighbor, reported by Israel Radio to be Muslim, was later arrested in connection with her death. He has been sent for psychiatric evaluation, according to reports.
Relatives of Halimi said that she had previously experienced anti-Semitic harassment by a relative of the man under arrest. The woman was beaten before she fell from the third floor, Israel Radio also reported.
French police have not classified the woman’s death as a hate crime. French Jewish lawmaker Meir Habib asserted to Israel Radio Sunday that the woman was murdered because she was Jewish and not because her alleged killer is mentally ill.
Demolition begins on Jewish Theater building in Warsaw
WARSAW, Poland (JTA)—Work began on demolishing the Jewish Theater building in Warsaw.
The demolition of the building at Grzybowski Square began Friday, but actors, staff and spectators came to the site on Saturday to say goodbye to the 50-year-old building. The demolition could last for several weeks as it is dismantled in accordance with environmental laws.
A new office building and skyscraper is planned to be built in the place of the theater building by the investor that bought the property more than six years ago, when the theater was forced to sell due to financial problems. The developer has said there will be a place in the new building for the theater.
The theater was built in the late 1960s with the financial support of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. JDC could not transfer funds directly to the theater at the time because it was a state institution, but instead granted it to the association, or TSKZ, which became the owner of the building. In 2011, TSKZ sold the property to a developer, Ghelamco.
In June 2016, Ghelamco closed the building and locked out the theater, citing a decision by the district construction supervisor’s office, which called the building a threat to public safety.
Theater director Golda Tencer was dropped from the membership of the Jewish Social and Cultural Society in Poland, or TSKZ, for her protests against the closure of the building and its demolition.
“We just came to say goodbye to our house, which was built for Ida Kaminska, the first director of this place. Here are our dybbuks, our actors whom we leave behind. It hurts terribly,” Tencer said Saturday.
Two weeks ago Tencer received a letter from TSKZ informing her that she is no longer a member of the organization because “she was acting to the detriment of TSKZ by blocking the emergence of a new building and defaming the organization’s reputation.”
The Jewish Theater currently presents its performances in two temporary spaces in Warsaw.
Formed in 1950, the troupe is a link to the rich pre-Holocaust culture of Poland’s Yiddish-speaking Jewish community. The Jewish Theater in Warsaw is the only theater in Poland performing in Yiddish, and one of two in Europe, including the Jewish Theater in Bucharest.
Children of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner perform for Chinese president
(JTA)—The children of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the Jewish daughter and son-in-law of the president, performed for the Chinese president and his wife during their official visit to the United States.
Arabella, 5, and Joseph Kushner, 3, sang a Chinese folk song and recited verses from classic Chinese poetry.
Ivanka Trump posted a short video clip of the performance and wrote in a tweet: “Very proud of Arabella and Joseph for their performance in honor of President Xi Jinping and Madame Peng Liyuan’s official visit to the US!”
President Donald Trump retweeted the praise of his grandchildren.
Trump met with the Chinese first family on April 6 and 7 at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
The children reportedly have a Chinese nanny who has taught them the language.
Headstones toppled at second Philly cemetery not vandalism, police say
(JTA)—Thirty headstones that toppled at a Jewish cemetery in the Philadelphia area fell due to age and environmental factors and was not vandalism, as first reported, police said.
The damaged headstones were discovered Friday at Mount Sharon Cemetery in Springfield, Pennsylvania, and reported by a woman who visited her father’s grave and noticed the overturned and cracked headstones.
The damage was initially reported as vandalism, which caused concern in light of the vandalism in February at the Mount Carmel Cemetery, where about 175 gravestones were toppled in a vandalism attack shortly after a Jewish cemetery in the St. Louis area was vandalized. No suspects have been identified in either attack.
Police said Saturday that the damage was caused by external factors, including recent bush and tree removal. The cemetery management said it would fix the toppled headstones, police told local media.
Israel condemns Marine Le Pen for denying French responsibility for deporting Jews
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel condemned far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen for saying that her country is not responsible for the deportation of thousands of Jews to death camps in 1942.
“This declaration is contrary to historical truth, as expressed in the statements of successive French presidents who recognized France’s responsibility for the fate of the French Jews who perished in the Holocaust,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued Monday, a day after Le Pen made the statement during an interview in Paris for the RTL network and Le Figaro daily newspaper.
The ministry’s statement also said: “This recognition underpins the annual events marking the anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from France and the study of the Holocaust in the education system, both of which are important elements in the battle against anti-Semitism, which unfortunately is once again raising its head.”
Le Pen, the head of the National Front Party who is at or near the top of polls, was asked about the roundup and deportation of 13,152 from the Vel d’Hiv stadium in Paris on July 16-17, 1942, which the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem defines on its website as “a symbol of the responsibility of the regime and the French nation for the Holocaust.”
Le Pen responded, “I think France is not responsible for Vel d’Hiv,” and added, “I think generally, and in very general terms indeed, if anyone is responsible, then it is those in power at the time, not France as such. It wasn’t France.”
Since National Front was established by Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, the party has been accused of espousing anti-Semitism, hatred of Muslims and other forms of xenophobia. The elder Le Pen has been convicted multiple times for Holocaust denial and incitement to hatred against Jews.
Under Marine Le Pen, the party has softened its image, including by kicking out anti-Semitic members like Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was excluded from the party in 2015.
France will hold its presidential vote on April 23. Should no candidate win a majority, a runoff election between the top two candidates will be held on May 7. Le Pen and centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron are the front-runners in the polls.
Rocket fired from Sinai hits Israel hours after border crossing closed
JERUSALEM (JTA)—A rocket fired from Sinai landed on a greenhouse in southern Israel near the Gaza border hours after Israel closed its border with Egypt, citing fear of an imminent attack.
The rocket was fired on Monday morning, causing Code Red alerts to sound in several Israeli communities on the border with Gaza. No injuries were reported, but a tomato greenhouse was damaged. The Islamic State terror organization later claimed responsibility for the attack.
Earlier in the morning, in an unusual move, the Taba border crossing between Israel and Sinai was closed following an alert by Israel’s National Security Council Counter-Terrorism Bureau of concrete information of a planned attack targeting Israeli citizens. Under the closure, Israelis citizens will not be allowed to cross into the Sinai, but may return to Israel through the crossing point.
The border closure and the announcement of the threat come a day after two attacks on Egyptian churches that left nearly 40 people dead and dozens injured. The Islamic State also claimed responsibility.
Israelis were requested to leave Sinai and return to Israel due to the threat. The Taba crossing is located near Eilat and allows Israelis to enter Sinai.
The closure will remain in effect until April 18, the day after Passover ends. The holiday is a popular time for Israelis to vacation at resorts in Sinai.
Several government ministries made the decision to close the border and request the return of Israeli citizens.
All cigarettes kosher for Passover, Israel’s Sephardi chief rabbi says
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s Sephardi chief rabbi ruled that it is permitted to smoke cigarettes that are not certified as kosher for Passover during the holiday.
Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said in a satellite television broadcast that cigarettes do not need to be certified as leaven-free for Passover, though some cigarettes manufactured in Israel or abroad are certified as kosher for Passover.
He appeared to be responding to questions about whether American cigarettes need to be certified as kosher, according to The Jerusalem Post.
Yosef seemed to base part of his ruling on the fact that leaven is not forbidden if a dog will not eat it.
“If you put a cigarette in front of a dog, who is always hungry—he will eat anything. But put a cigarette in front him, will he smoke it? He won’t touch it,” the rabbi said in the Hebrew-language broadcast.
Yosef did indicate that it is better not to even start smoking, but added that if a person is already addicted, he doesn’t need certification.
Israel offers condolences for victims of Egypt church attacks
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel offered condolences to the families of the victims of two bombing attacks on churches in Egypt and called for a worldwide fight against terrorism.
The attacks on Palm Sunday, a week before the Coptic observance of Easter, left nearly 40 people dead and dozens injured. Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Egypt later this month. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks.
“Israel sends condolences to the families of those murdered in the attack in Egypt and wishes for recovery for the injured,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement. “The world must unite and fight terrorism everywhere.”
At least 25 people were killed and 60 injured in a bombing at the Coptic church in Tanta, located north of Cairo. Hours later, a suicide bomber killed at least 11 people and injured 25 in front of a church in Alexandria, according to reports.
Following the first attack, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said in a statement, “Terror doesn’t stop in Stockholm, St. Petersburg, Berlin, London or Jerusalem. Today’s terror attack near Cairo reminds us that Egypt too is under attack. Alongside the sorrow and grief, we need to join forces against the forces of evil and terror with an iron fist. Israel is part of the international campaign against terror wherever it strikes and is ready to assist in order to rein it in.”
Israel’s Supreme Court calls on government to respond to Western Wall prayer lawsuits
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s Supreme Court called on the Israeli government to respond to lawsuits regarding the establishment of an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall.
On Friday, the court set a deadline of June 4 for the government to respond to the lawsuits and resolve the crisis, Haaretz reported.
The court combined three lawsuits dealing with aspects of egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall. The government has delayed responding to the lawsuits for at least six months.
Last month, Netanyahu told a delegation from the Union for Reform Judaism that he had appointed government minister Tzachi Hanegbi to help resolve issues between the haredi Orthodox parties and the Reform movement and other liberal groups to allow the plan for egalitarian prayer at Robinson’s Arch at the Western Wall to go forward.
An agreement passed in January 2016 by the government for an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall was negotiated by the Reform and Conservative movements, the Women of the Wall organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government.
Under the agreement, which was approved by the Cabinet, the egalitarian section of the wall near Robinson’s Arch would be expanded and placed under the authority of a pluralist committee. The plan called for solidifying haredi Orthodox control over the site’s traditional Orthodox section.
Haredi Orthodox lawmakers and some from the Jewish Home and Likud parties in December submitted a bill to the Knesset to prevent non-Orthodox public prayer at the Western Wall.
Israel will continue to care for Syrian wounded, Netanyahu vows
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel will continue to care for Syrians wounded in their country’s civil war as part of its “humanitarian effort” to help the embattled land, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu also reiterated Israel’s full support of the U.S. airstrike on a Syrian military installation in the wake of a chemical attack on the rebel-held province of Idlib in northern Syria believed to have been delivered by government airstrike. Some 86 men, women and children died in the attack, which was believed to have released deadly sarin nerve gas.
“Israel fully supports the American attack on Syria. They did this for moral reasons in light of the harsh scenes from Idlib, and also to make it clear that there is a price for using chemical weapons,” Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting, echoing his backing from two days earlier of the strike ordered by President Donald Trump.
“There is an international commitment from 2013 to remove all chemical weapons from Syria. As we have seen, this commitment has yet to be fully implemented. We call on the international community to complete the work, and this is an opportunity for American-Russian cooperation in this specific area. This work needs to be completed.
Israel reportedly has treated some 3,000 Syrians wounded in the fighting at field hospitals on the border or in Israeli hospitals.
“Israel is caring for wounded Syrians as part of a humanitarian effort. We will continue to do so,” Netanyahu said.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, Syrian students protesting the gas attack outside the offices of the United Nations in the Syrian capital of Damascus shouted “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”
The same day, Trump officially notified Congress of the attack on Syria, saying that he “acted in the vital national security and foreign policy interests of the United States, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations and as commander in chief and chief executive” and that the U.S. “will take additional action, as necessary and appropriate, to further its important national interests.”
In his letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and the president pro tem of the Senate, Orrin Hatch, the president also wrote that “I directed this action in order to degrade the Syrian military’s ability to conduct further chemical weapons attacks and to dissuade the Syrian regime from using or proliferating chemical weapons, thereby promoting the stability of the region and averting a worsening of the region’s current humanitarian catastrophe.”