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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Five Jews violently attacked in Sydney

SYDNEY (JTA)—Five Jews were hospitalized after being beaten in what was described by an Australian Jewish leader as the worst incident of anti-Semitic violence in Sydney in many years.

Eight males, mostly teenagers, reportedly taunted the religious Jews—four from the Behar family—with slurs as they were walking home in suburban Bondi from Sabbath dinner after midnight Saturday.

A violent confrontation ensued, some of which was caught on closed circuit TV cameras. Security guards from a nearby nightspot intervened before police arrived. They arrested two 17-year-olds and a 23-year-old, but the rest of the alleged attackers fled.

The three were charged—the teens were scheduled to appear in court on Sunday, while the 23-year-old will appear on Dec. 3.

The victims—four men and a woman, most of whom were from Israel—suffered various injuries.

“Some have suffered concussion,” a police spokesman said. “There’s also a fractured cheekbone, a possible broken nose, lacerations and bruising.”

The male victims, aged 27 to 66, were wearing kippot. Three of the men reportedly served in the Israeli army.

Eli Behar, 66, suffered a bleed on his brain but is expected to make a complete recovery, according to a spokesperson for St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Another victim—Zeev Aronstam, a Mizrachi Jew born in Gush Etzion—said he preferred not to discuss the incident, saying simply, “We believe in God.”

The lone victim not from the Behar family was Shlomo BenHaiem, the education emissary for the Jewish National Fund who served in an Israeli army intelligence unit.

Yair Miller, president of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, said the incident highlighted the need for effective laws against racist violence.

“The attack in Bondi is the worst incident of anti-Semitic violence in Sydney for many years,” he said.

Paul Reichmann, Canadian real estate developer and philantropist, dies

(JTA)—Paul Reichmann, a Canadian real estate developer and philanthropist who led the family’s Olympia & York company, has died.

Reichmann, whose family business developed the Canary Wharf business district in London and New York’s World Financial Center, died Friday in Toronto. He was 83.

He and his family lost most of their fortune in the early 1990s during the global real estate slowdown—the company went bankrupt in 1992—but  later were able to recoup some of it.

The Reichmann family donated up to $50 million a year to yeshivas, synagogues and hospitals around the world, according to The New York Times.

Olympia & York closed its construction sites on the Jewish Sabbath and Jewish religious holidays, as well as Christian ones. It paid overtime for workers on Sundays.

Reichmann was born in Vienna in 1930, two years after his family left Hungary. The family later fled to Paris when Germany annexed Austria, and then to Morocco.

After studying in yeshivas in Britain and Israel, Reichmann worked from 1953 to 1956 as the unpaid educational director of Ozar HaTorah, which runs Jewish day schools.

He and his wife moved to Toronto in 1957, where he joined the family’s Olympia Tile, which later became Olympia & York.

The company built nearly 100 buildings in the Toronto area during its first 15 years of operation.

He purchased eight Manhattan office buildings in 1977 for more than $300 million; 10 years later they were worth $3 billion. In 1980, the company was tapped to build the World Financial Center in New York.

Britain’s Jack Straw: Jewish funds wrecking Mideast peace possibilities

(JTA)—Jack Straw, a British lawmaker and former foreign secretary, said “unlimited” funds available to U.S. Jewish groups are used to control American policy in the Middle East.

The comments reportedly were made last week during a debate in the British Parliament’s House of Commons. Former Israeli Knesset member Einat Wilf was at the debate and posted Straw’s remarks on her Facebook page.

Straw said, according to Wilf, that the greatest obstacles to peace between Israel and the Palestinians and her Arab neighbors are the “unlimited” funds available to Jewish organizations and AIPAC in the United States, as well as Germany’s “obsession” with defending Israel.

“I guess he neglected to mention Jewish control of the media...,” Wilf added on her Facebook status.

Straw announced Friday that he would step down as a Parliament member from the Labor Party at the 2015 general election. He has served in Parliament since 1979.

He was home secretary and foreign secretary under Prime Minister Tony Blair, and as secretary of state of justice under Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Mass. transit authority to restore dozens of ads critical of Israel

(JTA)—The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said it was restoring dozens of ads critical of Israel to its transit system that had been taken down following public complaints.

On Friday, the transit system said the 80 ads would be put back in the Greater Boston area and that there had been a “miscommunication” with its advertising contractor Titan, according to the Boston Globe.

The ads, which went up on Oct. 21, were removed several days later by Titan following the complaints.

“There was a breakdown in our established procedures for handling complaints about specific ads,” according to a transit authority spokesperson.

The ads are comprised of four maps that show what is called “Palestinian loss of land—1946-2010.” A message alongside the maps reads “4.7 million Palestinians are Classified by the UN as Refugees.”

Connecticut resident Henry Clifford, chairman of the Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine, paid for the $40,000 campaign.

Similar ad campaigns caused a stir in Washington, D.C., and New York, but the ads were never removed.

Report: Israel, not U.S., may have hacked Sarkozy’s communications

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency and not the United States may have hacked into former French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s communications network.

National Security Agency documents released by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who disclosed massive amounts of secret U.S. documents, include a statement from U.S. officials that indicate the hacking of Sarkozy’s communication network in May 2012 may have been by Israel, the French daily Le Monde reported Friday.

According to the documents, some of which were published by LeMonde, French officials who discovered the breach sought clarification from American officials. The U.S. denied perpetrating the hacking and vouched for four allies: Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

About Israel, the NSA said, according to the documents, that it “intentionally did not ask either Mossad or ISNU whether they were involved as France is not an approved target for joint discussions.” ISNU is Israel’s cyberintelligence unit.

The statement has raised suspicions that Israel was responsible for the hacking, which took place in the last week of Sarkozy’s presidency.

Reports last week of NSA monitoring of calls made by French and German citizens prompted the foreign ministries of both countries to summon their American ambassadors for an explanation and, according to reports, could hamper U.S. foreign policy.

Musician Lou Reed dies at 71

(JTA)—Musician and guitarist Lou Reed, the frontman for the band Velvet Underground as well as a solo artist, has died.

Reed, who was born to a Jewish family, died Sunday at 71. A cause of death was not made public.

He had a liver transplant last year after years of alcohol and drug abuse.

Reed, born Lewis Allan Reed in Brooklyn, N.Y., became influential in rock by blending art and music in New York in the 1960s through Velvet Underground’s collaboration with pop artist Andy Warhol.  The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll of Fame in 1996.

Reed quit the band in 1970 and focused on his solo career, which featured the 1972 hit song “Walk on the Wild Side.”

He visited Israel five years ago with his musician wife Laurie Anderson during her world tour.

Reed reportedly was coy about his Jewish roots. He was quoted as saying, “My God is rock ’n’ roll” and “The most important part of my religion is to play guitar.”

Francis pledges to further Jewish-Catholic dialogue

ROME (JTA)—Pope Francis reaffirmed his commitment to fighting discrimination and furthering Jewish-Catholic dialogue.

During an audience at the Vatican on Oct. 24 with a 60-member delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Francis said that he has “repeated many times, in recent weeks, the Church’s condemnation of any form of anti-Semitism.”

Such condemnations were just part of the solution, he said, noting that Christians remain persecuted in some regions.

“I would like to underline that the problem of intolerance must be faced in its entirety,” he said, according to an official English text of his address released by the Vatican. “When any minority is persecuted and marginalized on account of its religious beliefs or ethnic origin, the good of society as a whole is placed in danger, and we must all consider ourselves affected.”

The Church has raised particular alarm about discrimination and violence against Christians in some Arab countries.

“Let us unite our strengths to promote a culture of encounter, of mutual respect, understanding and forgiveness,” Francis said, stressing that education was key in transmitting experience, and not merely knowledge, to the younger generation.

“We must be able to transmit to them not only knowledge about Jewish-Catholic dialogue, about the difficulties overcome and the progress made in recent decades,” Francis said. “We must, above all, be able to transmit to them our passion for encounter and knowledge of the other, promoting the active and responsible involvement of young people.”

During the audience, Wiesenthal Center dean Rabbi Marvin Hier called the pope “an ally in our struggles against anti-Semitism.”

“We want to reiterate to you that you have an ally in the Simon Wiesenthal Center in your struggle to secure the rights of religious minorities everywhere, especially endangered historic Christian communities in Egypt, Iraq and beyond,” Hier said.

Hier said the he hoped that Francis’s expected visit to Israel next year would “help all those committed to a lasting Middle East peace, to finally recognize the existence of a Jewish state alongside her twenty-three Arab neighbors.”

The pope has said he would like to visit the Holy Land next year but no date has yet been announced.

Soros backs putative Clinton 2016 bid

WASHINGTON (JTA)—George Soros is contributing to a political action committee that would back a Hillary Rodham Clinton run for the presidency.

The hedge fund billionaire this week pledged $25,000 to Ready for Hillary, a group that would do grassroots organizing in case of a run by Clinton, the former first lady, U.S. senator from New York and secretary of state.

Clinton, who finished second to Barack Obama among Democratic candidates in 2008, has yet to declare for 2016. Soros previously backed Obama.

Soros, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor, supports a number of liberal philanthropies, including J Street, a pro-Israel group.

Obama names three to Holocaust council

WASHINGTON (JTA)—A former JTA president, an LGBT activist and a member of the AIPAC national council were named to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.

President Obama on Thursday named Elisa Spungen Bildner, John Farahi and Dana Perlman to the council, which oversees the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

Bildner, a past JTA president, is a board member of the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale University, a co-chairwoman of the board of trustees and co-founder of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, and a board member and past chairwoman of the Jewish Funders Network. She currently serves on JTA’s board.

Bildner, of Montclair, N.J., has been a CEO of a produce processing company, and has practiced and taught both law and journalism.

Farahi, of Reno, Nev., is a casino CEO, founded a Jewish day school in Reno and is a member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee National Council.

Dana Perlman, the vice president of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission,  also is a co-chairman of the LGBT Leadership Council of the Democratic National Committee.

Council terms are typically five years.

It’s official: Flug is first female to head Bank of Israel

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s Cabinet unanimously approved the appointment of Karnit Flug as Bank of Israel governor, making her the first woman in the post.

The Cabinet on Sunday gave its support to the nomination by Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Several days earlier, an advisory panel chaired by retired Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel backed Flug for the position.

The deputy governor since July 2011, Flug has been serving as acting governor since Stanley Fischer stepped down on June 30. Fischer recommended Flug to be his replacement.

“Karnit Flug has the appropriate background and experience, and she has fulfilled her position in recent months very well,” Netanyahu said in a statement following the approval.  “In addition to the fact that we are successfully navigating the Israeli economy in the face of the global crisis, Israel’s economic leadership must continue to advance growth and employment, increase exports and lower housing prices.”

Her appointment comes after two would-be appointees withdrew their names from the nomination after embarrassing personal information came to light.

Lawrence Summers, a former U.S. Treasury secretary and president of Harvard University, also reportedly turned down the post earlier this month.

Flug had resigned from her position after being passed over to replace Fischer.

Netanyahu, after Kerry parley, decries push to lower enrichment of Iran nukes

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu derided attempts to talk Iran down from 20 percent to 3.5 percent uranium enrichment.

“The Iranians are intentionally focusing the discussion on this issue.  It is without importance,” Netanyahu said Sunday at his weekly Cabinet meeting in the wake of last week’s briefing in Rome with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

“Its importance is superfluous as a result of the improvements the Iranians have made in the past year which allow them to jump over the barrier of 20 percent enrichment and proceed directly from 3.5 percent enrichment to 90 percent within weeks, weeks at most.”

The Obama administration has not publicly said it would settle for 3.5 percent uranium enrichment as part of a final status deal with Iran, although reports say the major powers negotiating with Iran are considering such a deal.

However, Netanyahu framed his remarks in the context of the talks he had with Kerry in Rome, suggesting it was a possible outcome raised by Kerry during the meeting.

Experts say that 3.5 percent is the enrichment needed for peaceful nuclear purposes, which Iran claims, while 20 percent—the amount at which Iran is now capable of enriching—has little use except as a step toward weaponization at 90 percent enrichment.

Netanyahu says 3.5 percent is too much because Iran has developed the capacity to turn even low enrichment into weapons-grade fuel within weeks.

“Everyone understands that Iran cannot be allowed to retain the ability to be within reach of nuclear weapons,” he said. “This was the focus of the long and detailed talks that I held with John Kerry.”

Hassan Rouhani, the new Iranian president whose relative moderation sparked this month’s renewal of talks, has expressed a willingness to make Iran’s nuclear project more transparent, but has rejected any absolute end to enrichment, which is Israel’s demand.

Netanyahu has made it clear Israel will strike Iran if it verges on weaponization. He has not said whether he would do so if there were a U.S. deal in place with Iran.

On peace talks, Netanyahu in his remarks to the Cabinet appeared to sound a conciliatory note on Israel’s demand that it be recognized as a Jewish state in any final status deal with the Palestinians.

“We are not looking for the Palestinians to ratify our identity, our heritage and our connection to this land—this is not the problem from our point of view,” he said. “We are demanding from them that at the end of the negotiations, they will renounce all their claims, including national claims, and that they recognize the national rights of the Jewish people in the State of Israel.”

Netanyahu’s attempts to get the Palestinians to ratify recognition of Israel during his first term as prime minister, from 1996 to 1999, dogged U.S.-brokered peace attempts at that time.

Ahead of Palestinian prisoner release, bill to halt releases is rejected

JERUSALEM (JTA)—An Israeli government committee approved the release of Palestinian prisoners hours after another committee rejected a bill that would have prevented such releases as part of peace negotiations.

The bill, which was  proposed by the Jewish Home party, was dismissed Sunday by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.

Hours later, a ministerial panel led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a list of Palestinian prisoners scheduled to be released this week as part of the current revived Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Some 26 Palestinian prisoners will be freed on Tuesday in the second of four prisoner releases. In total, 104 Palestinians jailed for at least 20 years will be released; 26 prisoners were released in August.

All of the prisoners approved Sunday for release perpetrated offenses before the Oslo Accords of 1993, according to a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office. Twenty-one are from the West Bank and five are from the Gaza Strip.

“It should be emphasized that any prisoner who resumes hostile activity will be returned to serve the remainder of his sentence,” the statement said.

Announcements of new West Bank settlement housing construction reportedly will coincide with the release in a bid to calm critics from the right.

Ministers of the Likud, Yesh Atid and Hatnuah parties voted against the bill,  while ministers of  Jewish Home and the Yisrael Beiteinu party, which is in partnership with Likud,  voted for the bill.

The public has 48 hours to raise objections to the list of prisoners released and appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court.

The Palestinian Authority reportedly is planning a reception ceremony for Tuesday night at its Muquata headquarters in Ramallah to greet the freed prisoners.

Report: Iran weeks away from nuke

(JTA)—Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build a nuclear bomb in as little as a month, according to a new estimate by a top American think tank.

“Today, Iran could break out most quickly using a three-step process with its installed centrifuges and its low-enriched uranium stockpiles as of August 2013. In this case, Iran could produce one significant quantity in as little as approximately 1.0–1.6 months, if it uses all its near 20 percent low-enriched uranium hexafluoride stockpile,” the Institute for Science and International Security wrote in a report published on its website Oct. 24.

The new assessment comes as the White House invited Senate staffers to a briefing on negotiations with Iran as part of its efforts to persuade Congress not to go ahead with a bill to stiffen sanctions against Iran.

“Shortening breakout times have implications for any negotiation with Iran,” stated the report. “An essential finding is that they are currently too short and shortening further.”

David Albright, president of the institute and a former inspector for the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, was quoted by USA Today as saying the estimate means that Iran would have to eliminate more than half of its 19,000 centrifuges to extend the time it would take to build a bomb to six months.

The Obama administration has said Iran is probably a year away from having enough enriched uranium to make a bomb.

The White House has said new sanctions legislation should wait while current negotiations—which began last week and are scheduled to resume officially in Geneva next month—are underway.

But Israeli Intelligence and International Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz has said that Iran had made no concrete offer to resolve the conflict around its nuclear program during the last round of talks.

He made the statement during Oct. 23 talks with U.S. officials in Washington over Israeli-American strategic cooperation, Israel’s Army Radio reported last Friday. “Tehran made no offer to resolve the crisis,” Steinitz was quoted as saying.

Reports by The Associated Press and other media, however, said Iran submitted a proposal to the six world powers involved in the talks: the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

No details of the proposal were made public but Western officials meeting with Iranian negotiators indicated interest, AP reported.

“The talks in Geneva were just feelers,” Steinitz was further quoted as saying.


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