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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA

 


White House: Trump staffer’s Western Wall comment do not reflect administration policy

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Reported remarks by a Trump administration official rejecting Israel’s claim to the Western Wall were “unauthorized” and do not represent the position of President Donald Trump, the White House said.

“The comments about the Western Wall were not authorized communication and they do not represent the position of the United States and certainly not of the president,” a White House official told JTA.

The remark that the Western Wall “is not your territory, it’s part of the West Bank” reportedly arose during conversations between an advance team planning Trump’s visit to Israel next week and officials in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.

Netanyahu wanted to join Trump on his visit to the Wall, which is unprecedented for a sitting president.

According to a report by Israel’s Channel 2, the Israeli delegation was so angry by the remark that members started shouting.

An Israeli official told the station that the Jewish state was “convinced that this statement contradicts President Trump’s policy as expressed in his fierce opposition to the latest [United Nations] Security Council resolution” and that it had asked the United States for clarification on the comment.

In December, the U.N. Security Council passed an anti-settlement resolution with the U.S. abstaining. Trump slammed President Barack Obama for not vetoing the measure, calling it “extremely unfair.”

Trump had said during his campaign he would move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, which would effectively recognize the city as Israel’s capital. He has since retreated from that pledge and is still contemplating the move.

Adelsons to answer questions in corruption case against Netanyahu

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Jewish billionaire philanthropist Sheldon Adelson and his wife will testify in Israel in a corruption investigation into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel’s Channel 2 news first reported Sunday evening that the Adelsons will testify next week during their visit to Israel.

The couple is arriving in Israel ahead of the visit by President Donald Trump on May 22-23, and will remain for a few days afterward, at which time they will testify. Adelson and his wife, Miriam, agreed to testify in the investigation into the so-called Case 2000 after being assured that they were not suspected of wrongdoing.

Adelson, a casino magnate, is the owner of the pro-Netanyahu daily newspaper Israel Hayom, which is distributed for free. Part of the case includes accusations that Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes, publisher of the daily Yediot Acharanot, discussed a deal in which Netanyahu would receive favorable coverage in Yediot in exchange for legislation that would cut into the circulation of Adelson’s paper.

Channel 2 reported that investigators will ask the Adelsons if they were aware of the deal. Miriam Adelson reportedly deals with the couple’s Israeli affairs. The couple is considered to be close friends of the Netanyahus.

Sheldon Adelson, a major giver to Republican candidates, endorsed Trump when it was clear the reality TV star and real estate magnate would be the party’s nominee. He subsequently donated tens of millions of dollars to the Trump election campaign, and later gave a record $5 million to fund inauguration celebrations.

Trump considering how moving embassy to Jerusalem would affect peace process

(JTA)—President Donald Trump is considering how moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv would affect the peace process, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“The president, I think rightly, has taken a very deliberative approach to understanding the issue itself, listening to input from all the interested parties in the region and understanding what such a move in the context of a peace initiative, what impact would such a move have,” Tillerson said at the end of a nearly 15-minute interview Sunday morning on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“As you know, the president has recently expressed his view that he wants to put a lot of effort into seeing if we cannot advance a peace initiative between Israel and Palestine.”

Tillerson added that the decision “will be informed by the parties involved in the talks.”

He said one factor would be “whether Israel views it as helpful to a peace initiative or perhaps a distraction.”

The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office later responded to Tillerson’s statement.

“Not only will the transfer of the embassy not harm the peace process, but quite the opposite,” the statement said. “It will advance it by correcting a historic injustice and by smashing the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel.”

Osama bin Laden’s son calls for attacks on Jewish targets

 (JTA)—A son of Osama bin Laden called on Muslims and followers of al-Qaida to carry out attacks on Jewish targets around the world.

In a 10-minute video released over the weekend, Hamza bin Laden urged Muslims in “America, the West and occupied Palestine” to carry out the attacks where they are.

The video includes clips of terrorist attacks that have been perpetrated around the world, including in Israel.

Bin Laden opines that it is not necessary, or even preferable, to travel to Syria and join the Islamic State.

“Know that inflicting punishment on Jews and crusaders where you are present is more vexing and severe for the enemy,” he said.

He said American and NATO targets are appropriate where there are no Jewish targets.

Monument to non-Jewish Polish resistance fighter unveiled in Warsaw

(JTA)—A monument to a non-Jewish Polish Army officer who reported on atrocities at Auschwitz after allowing himself to be captured and later fought in the resistance was unveiled in Warsaw.

Saturday’s honor for Capt. Witold Pilecki came in the presence of his son and daughter and other descendants, The Associated Press reported.

Pilecki allowed himself to be captured by German troops in 1940 in order to provide the anti-Nazi underground and their allies with reports from Auschwitz. He wrote and smuggled out reports on the death camp to his superiors before fleeing in April 1943, heading to Warsaw and fighting in the Polish resistance.

After the war Pilecki went to Italy before returning to Soviet-dominated Poland, where he was executed in 1948 for espionage and treason by the communist authorities. His body was buried in a mass grave.

ADL to train staff of Mexico’s US consulates on how to help attack victims

RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA)—The Anti-Defamation League will train the staff of Mexico’s 50 consulates in the United States on how to assist nationals who are victims of attacks and harassment.

“Through our regional offices we are the first to be called in case of a hate crime,” ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt said at a Friday news conference in Mexico City, the Elance Judio news website reported. “When a synagogue is defaced, when a Jewish person is assaulted, but also when black person is attacked or a Latino or a Hispanic person, often we get a call.

“We hope to share our expertise, to do hands-on training, to make it easier for Mexican consular officials to handle the incoming calls, to prepare their staff to reach out to understand what’s happening and track the information more effectively.”

Several Mexican consulates have recently reached out to ADL to help deal with an increase in attacks against Mexicans and Americans of Mexican background.

“Many of the immigrants who are citizens or who are not yet citizens are afraid to call the authorities. They are afraid of the questions... for this reason they call the consulates. Ambassador [Geronimo] Gutierrez is very enthusiastic,” said Greenblatt, who also praised Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto for his commitment to supporting his country’s Jewish community.

“This robust collaboration will allow your government to do its job to protect your own citizens and compatriots abroad and syncs with our mission, which is to fight discrimination.”

On May 21, Mexican-Jewish diplomat Andres Roemer, who was fired from his ambassador position for walking out of an anti-Israel vote at UNESCO in October, will receive the International Sephardic Leadership Award from the American Sephardic Federation.

In March, the mayor of Mexico City laid the foundation stone of a Jewish community center slated to cost nearly $5.3 million. Miguel Angel Mancera considered the initiative a sign of trust in the country’s growth.

Mexico is home to some 50,000 Jews, Latin America’s third largest Jewish community after Argentina and Brazil.

Jewish mayor in Virginia faces anti-Semitic tweets in aftermath of white supremacist protests

(JTA)—The mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia, was hit with anti-Semitic tweets following protests by white nationalists over the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from  a local park.

White supremacist leader Richard Spencer, who attended the nearby University of Virginia, led the protests on Saturday—one during the day and another at night with demonstrators holding tiki torches. The Charlottesville City Council had voted to remove the statues of Lee and another Confederate general, Stonewall Jackson, located in a different park.

A court injunction will halt the action for six months.

“What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced!” Spencer said during the daytime protest.

Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer, who is Jewish, issued a statement published Saturday on Facebook criticizing the protesters, calling them “profoundly ignorant.”

“This event involving torches at night in Lee Park was either profoundly ignorant or was designed to instill fear in our minority populations in a way that hearkens back to the days of the KKK,” Signer wrote on his Facebook page. “Either way, as mayor of this City, I want everyone to know this: we reject this intimidation. We are a welcoming City, but such intolerance is not welcome here.”

The statement sparked anti-Semitic and racist comments on Twitter. One tweet, from the account of someone calling themselves Great Patriot Trump, read “I smell Jew. If so, you are going back to Israel. But you will not stay in power here. Not for long.”

Signer responded: “Here is what this great country faces in this age of @realDonaldTrump—a sitting mayor subjected to anti-Semitism. I will not be intimidated.”

Signer told Reuters that the protests came on the day the city marked its annual Festival of Cultures celebrating diversity.

“You’re seeing anti-Semitism in these crazy tweets I’m getting and you’re seeing a display of torches at night, which is reminiscent of the KKK,” Signer told Reuters. “They’re sort of a last gasp of the bigotry that this country has systematically overcome.”

Parents of American-born terror victim in Israel sue to recover damages

(JTA)—The parents of an American-born yeshiva student who was shot to death in 1996 at a West Bank bus stop have sued to recover the $156 million in damages they were awarded by a U.S. jury in a landmark verdict.

On Friday, Stanley and Joyce Boim filed a federal lawsuit in Chicago against two U.S. Palestinian groups based in the city—American Muslims for Palestine and Americans for Justice in Palestine Educational Foundation—who they claim are the “alter egos” of three Islamic fundraising groups that were found guilty in December 2004 of funding the terrorism that led to the death of their 17-year-old son, David, near the city of Beit El.

One of the Boims’ lawyers, Stephen Landes, said Friday that the family has received only a small piece of the award, the Chicago Tribune reported, because the defendants claimed they had ceased operations and did not have the money to pay the judgment.

Landed said the groups named in the suit formed shortly afterward, with many of the same leaders.

“The Anti-Terrorism Act can’t be set aside simply by rebranding yourself,” he told Reuters.

The Boims, U.S. citizens who moved to Jerusalem some three decades ago, were awarded the $156 million to be paid by the Islamic Association for Palestine, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, the Quranic Literacy Institute and Muhammad Salah, a Palestinian-American who was acquitted of terrorist charges in the U.S. but spent 4 1/2 years in Israeli prison for bankrolling terrorism.

The verdict was the first by a jury holding U.S. citizens or organizations liable under a federal law that allows victims of terrorism to sue for civil damages.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the judgment in 2008.

U.S. Palestinian organizations say they have no relationship with groups outside the United States, including the four that were found guilty of funding terrorism.

“It’s a frivolous lawsuit,” American Muslims for Palestine Chairman Hatem Bazian told Reuters. “They are using the Islamophobic environment we are in to try to tarnish and defame an organization that is in good standing, and has been working diligently to provide a perspective on the Palestine cause to the American public.”

Fire seriously damages historic Lower East Side synagogue

(JTA)—A fire seriously damaged a historic synagogue on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

The Sunday evening blaze at Beth Hamedrash Hagadol burned for several hours and took at least two hours for firefighters to bring under control, according to reports. It burned for several hours afterward.

It is not clear how the fire started, according to reports. An investigation will be led by the fire marshal, though the fire chief has said the blaze started inside the building, NBC New York reported.

The Gothic-style building was empty at the time of the fire. Two firefighters reportedly were injured trying bring it under control.

Built in 1850 as a Baptist church, the building was purchased in 1885 to become the first Eastern European congregation founded in New York City and served Russian Jews. The congregation closed the synagogue in 2007 after determining it did not have the $3 million to $4 million needed for repairs. In 1967, the building was declared a city landmark, and in 2003 it was designated an endangered historic site.

Local residents told the New York Post that another fire had broken out in the building last week, though it was not confirmed by the newspaper.

The synagogue in recent years has sought to “de-landmark” the building, allowing for condominiums to be built on the site, with a small synagogue to be built on the ground floor.

Palestinians marking ‘catastrophe’ of Israel’s founding clash with troops

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Clashes broke out near Ramallah between Palestinians marking Nakba Day, referring to their perception of Israel’s founding as a catastrophe, and Israeli troops.

Eleven Palestinians were injured Monday in the fighting at a checkpoint near the seat of the Palestinian Authority after Israeli soldiers fired rubber bullets and used other riot control measures in response to dozens of Palestinian youths throwing rocks at them.

Thousands of Palestinians marched through Ramallah carrying Palestinian flags and waving keys to symbolize their former homes in Israel before 1948.

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as Arabs around the world held rallies, marches and candlelight vigils to mark the day, which is marked each year on May 15. Each year, a siren is sounded throughout the West Bank for one second for every year since the Nakba. This year, a siren was sounded for 69 seconds as cars stopped and people stood at attention.

On Sunday Marwan Barghouti, the high-profile Palestinian prisoner leading a hunger strike, issued a letter calling on Palestinians to carry out acts of “civil disobedience” on Nakba Day.

Gaza Palestinian fishing boats on Sunday night and Monday attempted to breach a buffer zone of Israel’s coast set up by Israel’s Navy. The boats were fired on Monday morning, leading to the death of one of the Palestinian fishermen, according to the Palestinians’ Maan news agency.

Saeb Erekat, the PLO’s secretary-general and the chief Palestinian peace negotiator, in a statement issued Sunday said that Israeli recognition and apology for the Nakba were a necessary condition “to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.”

“We call upon the Israeli government to open all its 1948 archives and show their own nation the truth of what was done to our people, including its ethnic cleansing policies and the policy of shooting to kill Palestinians that attempted to return home,” Erekat said.

He also called on Britain to apologize for the 1917 Balfour Declaration that led to the creation of a Jewish state.

 

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