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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Report: ‘Prisoner X’ spy Ben Zygier tipped off Hezbollah

SYDNEY (JTA)—The man known as Prisoner X unwittingly leaked classified information to Lebanese authorities, leading to the arrest of two Hezbollah agents who were spying for Israel.

Ben Zygier, an Australian-Israeli citizen who was working for the Mossad, botched an attempt to recruit a spy for the agency, according to an expose in Der Spiegel.

Zygier was attempting to restore his reputation in the Mossad by attempting to turn an enemy into an ally, according to the magazine. He had been returned from the field to a desk job at Mossad headquarters.

In the end, however, Hezbollah managed to extract from Zygier the name of two Lebanese men working for Mossad—Ziad al-Homsi and Mustafa Ali Awadeh—who were arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in jail.

The report said Zygier started working with the Mossad in 2003 but was ordered back to Israel in 2007 because he was not delivering for the spy agency. He returned to Melbourne and operated independently in an attempt to restore his reputation, the magazine claimed.

But as he tried to prove his bona fides to a man linked to Hezbollah who he wanted to become a double agent, he was the one who became the double agent, leaking the classified information.

On Dec. 15, 2010, the 34-year-old father of two was found dead in his Tel Aviv cell. Later reports said he hanged himself.

Israel places closure on West Bank for Passover

JERUSALEM (JTA) -- The Israeli military imposed a general closure of the West Bank through the end of Passover.

The closure went into effect at midnight Sunday and will remain into effect until the night of April 2, according to a statement from the Israel Defense Forces. It was ordered by the minister of defense in accordance with IDF assessments, the statement said.

Those in need of medical attention or humanitarian aid, or in exceptional cases, will be allowed to leave the West Bank with the authorization of the Civil Administration, according to the IDF.

Female performers excluded from Jerusalem music festival

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Three female singers were asked not to perform at a music festival in the haredi Orthodox-dominated Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Liat Zion, the only female member of The Diwan Project musical ensemble, left the stage after performing for a half hour after being asked politely to do so by a production manager on the opening night of the four-day Sounds of the Old City music festival, which ended March 21.

Two religious men had threatened the production manager if Zion continued to remain on stage, Ynet reported.

Zion told The Jerusalem Post that she chose to leave the stage and understood that her performance in a haredi section of the Jewish Quarter made some of the residents and audience members uncomfortable.

A second Jewish group with 15 members was asked prior to the event not to include its two female members in their performance. The group, Marsh Dondurma, refused to perform without the entire group and eventually went on stage as scheduled.

Women sang and performed in other music festival locations throughout the city.

The festival features Jewish, Armenian and traditional Arab music groups, as well as a mixed religious-secular audience.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat in a message posted on Facebook condemned the exclusion of women from the festival.

Liverpool shoring up abandoned synagogue

(JTA)—The British city of Liverpool will spend $100,000 to save a 77-year-old synagogue.

The Greenbank Synagogue in South Liverpool, which was built in 1936, was listed as being “at risk” in 2010, three years after the area’s Jewish community stopped using it, the Liverpool Echo reported, but the city hopes to secure its long-term future and help find a new use for it.

The synagogue’s decline was partly due to the falling Jewish population in the city, which in the last century has dropped to approximatey 3,000 from 11,000, according to the paper.

Tunisian chief rabbi opposes reserving parliament seats for Jews

(JTA)—The chief rabbi of Tunisia reportedly added his voice to those opposing a plan to allocate special seats in the country’s parliament to the Jewish community.

Rabbi Haim Bittan told the online magazine African Manager last week that while he appreciated the sentiments behind the proposal, it ran against civil law and contrary to the principles that characterized Tunisia over the centuries as a country that did not make distinctions between those of different faiths.

Wiesel, Edelstein to help select Genesis Prize winner

(JTA) -- Elie Wiesel, the speaker of Israel’s Knesset and two former Israel Supreme Court justices are among those who will select the winner of a new $1 million prize for serving as a role model for Jewish values.

The Genesis Philanthropy Group, a consortium of mega-wealthy philanthropist-businessmen from the former Soviet Union, announced the formation of the two committees that will determine the inaugural winner of the Genesis Prize, which will be given out annually.

Dubbed the Jewish Nobel Prize by Time Magazine, the $1 million Genesis Prize will be awarded to an accomplished, internationally renowned professional from anywhere in the world who is a role model in his or her community and who can inspire the younger generation of Jews worldwide. The inaugural Genesis Prize will be awarded in the spring of 2014 in Jerusalem by the prime minister of Israel, the Genesis Prize Foundation said in a statement.

Kutsher, a Borscht Belt matriarch, dies at 89

NEW YORK (JTA)—Helen Kutsher, the face of her family-owned resort in the Catskill Mountains for decades, has died.

Kutsher, who came to be known as the matriach of what was called the Borscht Belt, died Saturday in Philadelphia. She was 89 and spent much of her life in Monticello, N.Y., in a house on the grounds of Kutsher’s Country Club, according to The New York Times.

Her family owned Kutsher’s for more than 100 years, maintaining the resort while others in the area such as Grossinger’s, Brown’s and the Concord closed down. The family still owns the resort, though it was leased three years ago to another operator, the Times reported.

At the height of its popularity, the group of summer resorts known as the Borscht Belt served as the summer getaway for many East Coast Jews.

Kutsher and her husband, Milton, who died in 1998, ran the resort together. Milton handled the business side, while Helen focused on the upkeep of the place and was its gracious hostess.

Milton hired an athletic director, a young Red Auerbach, who went on to fame as the championship coach of the Boston Celtics. Milton also hired a young Walt Chamberlain as a bellhop, and the couple stayed friends with the Hall of Fame basketball player until his death in 1999.

The resort featured performers such as Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, Joan  Rivers, Jackie Mason, Jerry Seinfeld, Harry Belafonte, Billy Crystal and  Tony Bennett—celebrities that Kutsher came to know well and could call on to entertain if an act fell through.


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