Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA
Chabad center taking in Oklahomans displaced by deadly tornado
(JTA)—A Chabad center in Oklahoma City opened its building as a shelter for those displaced by a deadly tornado.
The Chabad Community Center of Southern Oklahoma also is collecting supplies for those left homeless by the tornado that tore through an Oklahoma City suburb on Monday afternoon, leaving at least 24 people dead, including several children, and injuring hundreds.
“While we feel the pain of others, we’re very thankful that we’re able to respond—to use all our energy and all our resources to let the community know we’re here to help,” Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, the Southern Oklahoma Chabad’s co-director, told Chabad.org.
Goldman said he has received calls from individuals and organizations in New York, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, California and abroad with offers to help with relief efforts.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a letter of condolence to President Obama on Tuesday morning in the wake of the tornado.
“On behalf of the Government and people of Israel, I offer our heartfelt condolences to you and to the people of the United States on the massive tornado that struck in Oklahoma and exacted such a horrific toll in human life,” Netanyahu wrote. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this tragedy and their families at this difficult time.”
Complaining rabbi’s case vs. airline landing in U.S. Supreme Court
(JTA)—The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of a rabbi who said he was grounded from a frequent flyer program for complaining too much.
Rabbi Binyomin Ginsberg of Minnesota sued Northwest Airlines Corp. after his membership was revoked from the WorldPerks frequent-flier program.
In 2009, he filed a class-action suit against Northwest, which is now part of Delta Air Lines.
The case will be heard in the high court’s next term, which begins in October.
It was dismissed by the U.S. District Court in San Diego, but reversed in 2011 by a three-judge panel of a San Francisco appeals court.
Ginsberg said he complained about not being notified of flight cancellations and about lost or delayed luggage.
The rabbi said the airline told him he was removed from the program for booking too many full flights in order to receive free flights in exchange for being bumped.
Alleged N.J. synagogue bombers plead not guilty
(JTA)—Two New Jersey men accused of firebombing several synagogues in the state pleaded not guilty.
Anthony Graziano of Lodi and Aakash Dalal of New Brunswick, both 21, made their pleas on Monday in state Superior Court in Hackensack, The Record reported.
They were indicted in March on charges of bias intimidation, conspiracy to commit arson on a synagogue and aggravated arson, as well as attempted murder and terrorism charges.
Graziano was arrested in January 2012 shortly after the attacks in northern New Jersey’s Bergen County. Dalal was arrested two months later. Both remain in jail in lieu of millions of dollars in bail.
One of the alleged attacks, on Congregation Beth El in Rutherford, injured Rabbi Nosson Schuman, who lives with his family in the synagogue residence. Molotov cocktails thrown at the synagogue set fire to the bedroom of the rabbi’s family.
P.A. ready to join dozens of U.N. agencies
JERUSALEM (JTA)—The Palestinian Authority said it can join dozens of U.N. agencies, but has held off as the United States attempts to revive the peace process.
Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Monday that the legal work has been prepared to allow the P.A. to join 63 U.N. agencies and conventions.
He said the Palestinians are working to make sure that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry succeeds in restarting the stalled peace negotiations.
“Make no mistake, we are exerting every possible effort in order to see that Mr. Kerry succeeds,” Erekat said. “No one benefits more from the success of Secretary Kerry than Palestinians, and no one loses more from his failure than Palestinians.”
Erekat also said Monday that the Palestinians have no conditions to resume negotiations with Israel, saying that a settlement freeze and the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails were obligations that Israel must fulfill.
The Palestinian Authority was upgraded last November at the United Nations to a non-member observer state. After that, it was approved for membership in UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the only U.N. agency it has joined to date.
The United States cut UNESCO funding in the wake of the vote and Israel severed contact with the organization.
On Monday, Israel canceled a UNESCO inspection of sites in Jerusalem’s Old City, saying the Palestinians had politicized the agency’s visit.
Netanyahu reassures on Israel’s readiness for Syrian threat
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel is ready for “any scenario” in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, amid reports that Syria will hit Tel Aviv if Israel launches another raid on Syrian soil.
“We are following developments [in Syria] closely and are readying for any scenario,” Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting.
Netanyahu’s comments followed a report in The Sunday Times of Britain that Syria has put its most advanced missiles, the Syrian-made Tishreen, or M-600 rockets, on stand-by with orders to hit Tel Aviv if Israel strikes again on Syrian soil.
Earlier this month, two alleged Israeli airstrikes on Syrian military sites reportedly targeted long-range missiles in transit from Iran to Hezbollah.
CIA head Brennan makes unannounced Israel visit
JERUSALEM (JTA)—CIA director John Brennan made an unannounced visit to Israel to discuss the situation in Syria.
Brennan and Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, in their meeting last Friday reportedly compared intelligence assessments on Syria and its two-year civil war. They also talked about Israel’s intent to continue striking shipments of advanced weapons destined for Hezbollah from Iran via Syria.
Brennan also met with Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Mossad head Tamir Pardo, according to reports.
Israel Radio reported that the Central Intelligence Agency chief and Israeli leaders also discussed Iran’s nuclear program and other regional threats.
Evacuated Homesh settlement’s land going back to Palestinian owners
JERUSALEM (JTA)—The land on which the northern West Bank settlement of Homesh was built will be returned to its Palestinian owners.
Israel’s Justice Ministry late last week informed the nation’s Supreme Court that the original 1978 military order seizing the land for an army base that was never built would be rescinded and the land returned to its owners.
‘Death to Jews’ tattoo costs Hungarian martial artist Prague gig
(JTA)—A Hungarian martial arts fighter was disinvited from a tournament in Prague because of his Nazi tattoos, including one reading “death to the Jews.”
Some sponsors of the Heroes Gate event told organizers that Attila Petrovszki was not allowed to attend last Friday’s event because he had a tattoo of Adolf Hitler and a swastika on his body and the anti-Semitic words, Radio Prague reported.
Norwegian Jewish politician Benkow dies at 88
(JTA)—Jo Benkow, a popular Norwegian Jewish politician, writer and photographer, has died.
Benkow, a Holocaust survivor, died in an Oslo hospital last Friday. He was 88.
“Jews in Norway have lost a wise role model,” Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg wrote Saturday on Facebook.
Benkow survived the Holocaust by fleeing Norway and its pro-Nazi government with his father and brother into neutral Sweden in 1942. The women of his family stayed behind and were murdered in Auschwitz that year.
The Trondheim native, born Josef Benkowitz, returned to Norway and in 1965 was elected to parliament as a representative of the Conservative Party, which he later headed for four years, beginning in 1980. Benkow resigned in 1993, several years after he was elected parliament speaker.
His 1985 autobiography, “From the Synagogue to Lovebakken,” became a best-seller and broke the sales record for Norwegian nonfiction books.
Benkow, who in recent years had been a frequent defender in the media of Israel, had told the Dutch Jewish journalist Maurice Swirc that he had decided to “stay out of discussions about Israel” until 2000, when he “came to the conclusion that it was no longer possible … because of the biased manner in which Israel was portrayed.”
New synagogue dedicated in Moscow
(JTA)—A Russian chief rabbi dedicated a Torah scroll at a new synagogue in Moscow.
Rabbi Berel Lazar, who is affiliated with the Chabad movement, installed the scroll at the Michurinsky synagogue, which opened two months ago, the Interfax news agency reported. The dedication ceremony was held May 14.
According to Interfax, the Michurinsky congregation is the sixth operational synagogue in Moscow. The Russian capital has a Jewish population of at least 100,000, according to the European Jewish Congress.
Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg—Russia’s second largest city with at least 40,000 Jews—the board of the Grand Choral Synagogue said it would celebrate the institution’s 120th anniversary this month by opening for the first time to the general public, the news site regnum.ru reported Saturday.
Gross settles lawsuit with U.S. government’s contractor
(JTA)—Alan Gross, the American-Jewish contractor imprisoned in Cuba since 2009, settled a lawsuit with a contractor for the U.S. government.
Gross and his wife, Judy, settled with Development Alternatives Inc., a Maryland-based contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to a notice issued at the end of last week. The notice did not disclose the settlement amount.
The Grosses in November filed a $60 million lawsuit charging that Alan Gross should have been better trained and informed of the risks before going to Cuba to set up Internet access for the Jewish community there.
Gross, 64, was arrested in December 2009 as he was leaving Cuba for “crimes against the state.” He spoke virtually no Spanish and traveled to Cuba five times under his own name before his arrest.
Gross’ family and U.S. State Department officials say that Gross was in Cuba on a U.S. Agency for International Development contract to help the country’s 1,500 Jews communicate with other Jewish communities using the Internet.
The main Jewish groups in Cuba have denied any contact with or knowledge of Gross or the program.