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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA

 


Trump tells Netanyahu he ‘never mentioned Israel’ in meeting with Russians

WASHINGTON (JTA)—President Donald Trump told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he “never mentioned Israel” in a meeting with Russian government officials in which he was alleged to have revealed highly classified information.

“Just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name Israel,” Trump said Monday at a photo op with Netanyahu at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel on the second leg of his first overseas trip as president. “Never mentioned it during the conversation, they’re all saying I did, so you had another story wrong. Never mentioned the word Israel.”

By saying “you,” the president seemed to be addressing the media, collectively.

No one had alleged that Trump mentioned Israel in the meeting two weeks ago with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in the Oval Office.

Reports last week said that Trump revealed details of intelligence on Islamic State that could compromise an ally that had shared the intelligence with the United States. The ally was later reported to have been Israel.

There was no reporting that Trump had revealed the source of the intelligence with the Russians. Instead, the concern was that the level of detail in Trump’s account could be used to deduce sources and methods.

It was not clear from what during the photo op prompted Trump’s statement. Just before he brought up the information, Netanyahu said—apparently responding to a reporter—”The intelligence cooperation is terrific.”

There were concerns after last week’s revelations that Israel could limit its intelligence cooperation with the United States because of Trump’s alleged carelessness.

Trump, landing in Israel, heralds ‘rare opportunity’ to bring peace and stability

JERUSALEM (JTA)—President Donald Trump arrived in Israel for a whirlwind 28-hour visit, saying his trip to the region has given him “new reasons for hope.”

Air Force One touched down on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport shortly after 12:30 p.m. Monday. The landing represented the first direct flight ever between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the first stop of Trump’s first international trip as president.

“I have come to this sacred and ancient land to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and the State of Israel,” Trump said in remarks at the welcome ceremony after he reviewed the honor guard and was welcomed by Israel’s leaders, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.

Trump called Israel a “strong, resilient, determined and prosperous nation” and alluded to the Holocaust, saying the United States “will not allow the horror and atrocities of the last century to be repeated.”

He called his visit to the region a “rare opportunity” to bring peace and stability. “But we can only get there working together. There is no other way,” he said.

Netanyahu called the visit historic in that it is the first time that a U.S. president’s first trip abroad includes Israel.

“Thank you for this powerful expression of your friendship to Israel,” the prime minister said.

Netanyahu alluded to Trump’s speech to Muslim and Arab leaders in Riyadh the previous day.

“Mr. President, yesterday in Saudi Arabia you delivered a forceful speech on terrorism and extremism, called on forces of civilization to confront the forces of barbarism,” he said. “For 69 years, Israel has been doing just that. We’ve manned the front lines of civilization.”

Netanyahu reiterated his commitment to peace, pointing out that Israel has already made peace with Egypt and Jordan, adding that “Israel’s hand is extended in peace to all our neighbors, including the Palestinians. The peace we seek is a genuine one in which the Jewish state is recognized, security remains in Israel’s hands and the conflict ends once and for all.”

Speaking before Netanyahu, Rivlin said the Middle East and Israel need a strong United States, and the United States “needs a strong Israel.” He reminded Trump that Israel this week marks the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.

“It makes us very happy to know that Israel’s most important ally recognizes the significance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people all around the world,” Rivlin said. “Jerusalem is the beating heart of the Jewish people, as it has been for 3,000 years.”

Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner landed in a second plane and sat with the American diplomatic delegation during the welcome ceremony.

Jewish groups praise Trump call for Muslim nations to confront Islamist extremism

(JTA)—Jewish groups praised President Donald Trump for calling on Muslim nations to confront Islamist extremism during a speech to Muslim and Arab leaders at a summit in Saudi Arabia.

“Drive them out of your places of worship, drive them out of your communities, drive them out of your holy land and drive them out of this earth,” Trump said Sunday afternoon during a major speech to the Arabic Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

“Honestly confronting the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires means standing together against the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews and the slaughter of Christians,” the president also said in what was billed as a major address to the Arab world.

David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, said that “President Trump’s refreshing honesty is welcome and needed in describing the Islamist extremist threat that developed in the Middle East years ago, and spread across the region and around the world. We agree that the fight against Islamist extremism is a battle between the forces of good and decency, on the one hand, and evil and a death cult, on the other, and that victory depends, above all, on what Arab and Muslim nations do to counter and defeat this violent, deadly scourge.”

“And he could not have been clearer in his description of Hezbollah and Hamas as the terrorist groups they most assuredly are,” Harris also said.

Trump in his speech called Hamas a terror group, leading to this response from the group that controls Gaza: “The depiction of Hamas as a terror organization by Trump makes clear the American bias on behalf of the occupation, and is aligned with the enemy’s policies.”

Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein in a statement issued late Sunday called the speech “historic, important, courageous.”

Klein said his organization was pleased that Trump strongly condemned Iran, that he condemned “ISIS, Hezbollah and Hamas and Iran in the same sentence—for they are all part of the same scourge of Islamist terror.”

“However, the president should have demanded that Muslim leaders and religious leaders should likewise condemn and delegitimize these terrorist groups by name. The president should have insisted that Muslim leaders end the use of the problematic textbooks throughout the Muslim world promoting Islamist extremism and violence and urge that they examine why terrorism emanates from some Muslim societies,” he said.

“It was also disappointing that the president did not mention the refusal of much of the Muslim world to negotiate with and accept Israel as a Jewish state.”

B’nai B’rith in a statement issued Sunday evening praised Trump for calling on Arab nations to join in the fight against Islamic terrorism and for “challenging the Arab world to unite in confronting Iran—the largest state sponsor of global terror.”

Nikos Stavroulakis, activist promoting Jewish life and heritage in Greece, dies

(JTA)—Nikos Stavroulakis, an artist, scholar and prominent activist promoting Jewish life and heritage in Greece, has died.

Stavroulakis died last Friday in Chania, on the island of Crete. He was in his mid-80s.

“The world of Greek Jewry owes Nikos so much,” Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos, museum director of the Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum in New York, wrote in a post on Facebook. “He will be dearly missed.”

Born to a Jewish mother and a Greek Orthodox father from Crete, Stavroulakis was educated in England, the United States and Israel. He co-founded the Jewish Museum in Athens in 1977 and served as its director until 1993. He then moved to Chania and became the driving force behind the restoration of the Etz Hayyim synagogue there.

Built as a church in the 15th century and converted into a synagogue in the 1600s, the synagogue stood ruined after World War II following the destruction of the local Jewish community. The World Monuments Fund placed Etz Hayyim on its watch list of most endangered heritage sites in 1996, and Stavroulakis spearheaded the efforts to revive it.

After the synagogue was rededicated in 1999, it reopened as a “place of prayer, recollection and reconciliation,” with an eclectic and pluralistic congregation that as Stavroulakis put it, “accommodates Jews of every variety of self identity as well as non-Jews.”

Stavroulakis’ books included a guidebook to Jewish Greece, a history of Jews in Salonika and a Greek Jewish cookbook.

“He was a philosopher, museumologist, artist, writer, storyteller—and the finest chef in the Mediterranean region,” said Krzysztof Czyzewski, director of the Borderland Foundation in Poland.

Romania’s Parliament passes law providing more money for Holocaust survivors

(JTA)—Romania’s Parliament passed legislation that would provide increased direct financial support for Holocaust survivors.

The funds, a monthly payment of up to $97.98 per month for each year of deportation or detention, will be available beginning in July to those who were persecuted in Romania between 1940 and 1945, including deportees to ghettos and concentrations camps, survivors of the death trains and forced labor detachments, refugees and those who were imprisoned for ethnic reasons or forcefully removed from their homes in that period.

Survivors who no longer have Romanian citizenship or reside in the country, as well as the spouse of a deceased Holocaust survivor if they did not remarry, also are eligible.

The law was initiated by Silviu Vexler, a Parliament member representing the Federation of the Jewish Communities in Romania, the vice chairman of the Romania-Israel Parliamentary Group of Friendship and the vice chairman of the Labor and Social Protection Committee in the Chamber of Deputies.

“This law is a symbolic gesture to further recognize the terrifying suffering of people who have been through the darkest of moments,” Vexler said in a statement before the Chamber of Deputies following the final vote on the law. “Even though nothing can change what happened in the past, through this act, the Parliament of Romania does a true gesture of humanity and dignity.”

Before World War II, Romania had a Jewish population of over 700,000. Between 280,000 and 380,000 Jews were murdered or died during the Holocaust in Romania and the territories under its control, according to the Final Report of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania published in 2004.

Rex Tillerson says Western Wall is ‘part of Jerusalem,’ avoids mention of Israeli sovereignty

(JTA)—U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would not say that the Western Wall is part of Israel when asked about by a reporter during the presidential flight from Saudi Arabia to Israel.

Tillerson met with reporters in the back of Air Force One on Monday morning during the flight to the second stop on President Donald Trump’s first international trip since taking office.

Asked if he agrees with the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who last week asserted during an interview that “We’ve always thought the Western Wall was part of Israel,” Tillerson responded: “The wall is part of Jerusalem.” He did not expand on the statement.

The Western Wall is located in Jerusalem’s Old City and was captured by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967. This week, Israel is marking 50 years since the reunification of the city.

Tillerson said the second leg of the journey was to “Tel Aviv, home of Judaism,” though Trump is not scheduled to visit Tel Aviv, confining his 28-hour visit to Jerusalem. Ben Gurion International Airport, where Trump landed, is sometimes called Tel Aviv, though it is about 15 miles away from the city.

The secretary of state told reporters that the time is right to resurrect the Middle East peace process because of the common threat of the rise of the Islamic State, other terror groups and extremism.

“There’s a unifying element in and of itself, and I think it does allow countries that have had deep differences to look at the situation and realize that in many respects our threats are common to all of us,” Tillerson said. “Providing a certain perspective that’s not been there in the past, a perspective that is between us. That there’s something larger going on that’s affecting all of us. We need to try and come together to address that. I think that creates a different dynamic.”

Asked if he would pressure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on settlements, Tillerson responded that “settlements are part of the overall peace discussion. It’s just there are a number of elements that have presented challenges to the peace process in the past; settlements is clearly one of those.”

Tillerson said that arranging a three-way visit among Trump, Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who Trump will meet on Tuesday morning, would be too ambitious for such a short trip.

“I think there will certainly be opportunities for that in the future,” he said.

Asked if Trump would apologize to Israeli officials for sharing Israeli intelligence with Russian officials earlier this month, Tillerson responded, “I don’t know that there’s anything to apologize for.”

Drake breaks record with 13 honors at Billboard Music Awards

(JTA)—Drake continued his record-breaking ways, taking home 13 honors at the Billboard Music Awards, including as top artist.

The Jewish rapper also won as top male artist, top Billboard 200 artist and top rap artist on Sunday night at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on the way to snapping the Billboard awards mark of 12 held by Adele.

Since releasing the album “Views” last year, which broke Billboard chart records, Drake has become one of the most popular artists in the world. His latest album, “More Life,” broke online streaming records when it was released in March.

Billboard is a publication that covers the top-selling artists and songs in the country each week.

Knife-wielding Palestinian teen shot and killed in Jerusalem as Trump tours nearby

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel Police officers shot and killed a Palestinian teenager who attempted to stab them just outside the Old City of Jerusalem as President Donald Trump was visiting holy sites in the city.

The teen, who was identified by the Palestinian Maan news agency as a 16-year-old from Bethlehem, approached the Border Police officers at a guard post in eastern Jerusalem on Monday afternoon with the knife drawn and disputed with the officers before being shot, according to the police.

No Israeli security forces were injured in the attempted attack in the town of Abu Dis.

The visit by Trump raised security in the area significantly. He is scheduled to visit Bethlehem, in the Palestinian Authority, and meet with P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday.

The incident also took place amid the backdrop of Palestinian protests throughout the West Bank on Monday in support of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners seeking better prison conditions. Nearly 30 Palestinians have been injured in the protests, at least three seriously

Alan Mintz, Hebrew literature scholar and one-time student activist, is dead at 69

 

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