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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA

 


Cuban Jewish leaders meet with Alan Gross

(JTA)—Cuban Jewish leaders who met with Alan Gross said the imprisoned American-Jewish contractor “was in better spirits.”

Havana community President Adela Dworkin and vice president David Prinstein met with Gross on the last day of Hanukkah, two days after Gross marked his fourth year in jail in Cuba, according to The Associated Press, citing a statement from the Beth Shalom Temple in Havana.

The Cuban Jewish leaders have met with Gross for other Jewish holidays throughout his imprisonment.

“During the encounter we could see that he was in better spirits, more physically recovered,” the statement reportedly said.

Gross, 64, a subcontractor for the State Department on a mission to hook up Cuba’s small Jewish community to the Internet, was arrested in December 2009 as he was leaving Cuba. The Maryland resident is serving a 15-year sentence for “crimes against the state.

Gross says he has lost 100 pounds since his imprisonment and suffers from painful arthritis. He reportedly leaves his shared cell once a day for one hour.

In a letter sent last week, Gross asked President Obama to personally help secure his release.

The Cuban government has indicated that it wants the United States to allow the return to Cuba of five spies in prison or on probation in the U.S. in return for negotiations on Gross.

Jewish and faith groups, and Gross’ wife, Judy, demonstrated on behalf of Gross last week at Lafayette Park outside the White House along with officials from the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.

Venice court upholds expulsion of KKK leader David Duke

(JTA)—A court in Venice upheld a decision by Italian authorities to expel former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke from the country.

The decision issued Dec. 5, on the heels of Duke’s expulsion by police in the northern province of Belluno, said Duke planned “to establish an organization aiming to exterminate the black and Jewish races in Europe.”

In expelling Duke, Belluno authorities were upholding a Swiss travel and residency ban on the KKK chief dating from 2009 that was valid in Italy. The Italian province’s authorities described Duke as “socially dangerous for his racist and anti-Semitic views.”

Duke had been living in a mountain village near Belluno since 2011. He allegedly used a false name, Ernest, to enter Italy on a study visa.

Police discovered his true identity when he tried to renew his residency permit.

“We commend the police and the judiciary in Italy for recognizing that David Duke is a dangerous anti-Semite and racist who poses a serious threat to civil society,” Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement. “His recent attempts to establish a neo-Nazi group in Europe are only a continuation of his four-decade-long crusade to spread his hateful racist ideology in the U.S. and around the world.”

Italian authorities have cracked down recently on neo-Nazi extremists. In November, police raided the homes of suspected members of the Stormfront white supremacist Internet site.

Days after reward offer, new Brooklyn knockout attack reported

(JTA)—A New York City councilman tweeted about a new knockout attack days after a Jewish council offered a reward for information leading to the arrest of attack perpetrators.

A 20-year-old woman was hit in the back of the head and fell to the ground while walking in the Flatbush section on Saturday afternoon, according to Councilman Chaim Deutsch.

“Working with the NYPD—they are investigating. Remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity,” Deutsch said in a tweet Saturday night.

In the so-called knockout game, attackers try to knock out someone with one punch. Nearly one dozen such attacks have taken place in the Brooklyn borough of New York City since September, most directed at identifiably Jewish people, according to reports.

The attack on Saturday came less than a week after the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York announced a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction, or a finding of delinquency, of individuals responsible for the reported “knockout” assaults in New York.

Other incidents of knockout attacks have occurred in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., as well as other U.S. states, according to reports.

German court: Accused Nazi war criminal unfit for trial

BERLIN (JTA)—Accused Nazi war criminal Hans Lipschis was released from custody in Germany after being diagnosed with dementia.

The arrest warrant against Lipschis, 94, was canceled last Friday due to a psychiatrist’s determination that the alleged former SS guard at Auschwitz was suffering from the early stages of the illness and therefore might not sufficiently understand and respond to the charges against him, according to reports.

Lipschis had been held in the Hohenasperg prison hospital near Stuttgart since May on charges of complicity in hundreds of murders at the Nazi death camp.

A state court in Germany must decide if a trial should take place, reportedly depending on Lipschis’ state of health.

At the time of his arrest, Lipschis was called one of the 10 most wanted Nazis in a report by Zeit Online newspaper.

In April, he told the German newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag that he was in Auschwitz “as a cook the whole time.”

Lipschis, a native of Lithuania, reportedly moved to Chicago in 1956. He was stripped of his American citizenship and deported in 1982 after U.S. immigration authorities determined that he had lied about his Nazi past in order to gain entry into the country.

His arrest in Germany last spring followed the release of information to German courts on about 50 former Auschwitz guards. All the suspects are approximately 90 years old.

Austrian mayor quits after saying Jews should be hanged

(JTA)—A mayor in Austria resigned after saying journalists and Jews should be hanged.

Karl Simlinger, who led the village of Gfohl, which is 43 miles northwest of Vienna, resigned Friday, the news agency Novum reported.

Simlinger made the statement on Dec. 3 during a town hall meeting, according to the news site tips.at.

“I don’t give a shit about asylum seekers, but the journalists are at fault. They should be hanged; they are like the Jews,” he was quoted as saying.

Simlinger at first denied making the comment before releasing a statement on Friday in which he confirmed making it.

“It wholly runs contrary to my worldview,” he wrote in the statement, in which he said he would resign. “It was not my intention to cause offense and I apologize unreservedly.”

On Dec. 5, Willi Mernyi, the chairman of the Mauthausen Committee, a nongovernmental agency devoted to Holocaust commemoration, said he had petitioned the Austrian federal prosecutor’s office to prosecute Simlinger for alleged violation of Austria’s laws against racial hate speech, the OTS news agency reported.

Study: Companies with Israel ties added $6.2 billion to Mass. economy

BOSTON (JTA)—Companies with connections to Israel contributed $6.2 billion to the Massachusetts economy last year, a new study found.

The study, released on Dec. 5, was conducted by the consulting firm Stax and supported by Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston. It found that, when accounting for other business spending, the full economic impact of companies with Israel ties contribute $11.9 to the state economy. Revenues from this sector are growing three times as fast as the overall state economy.

“Massachusetts has become a home away from home for Israel’s innovation economy,” Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said.

The rapid growth is a bright spot in the state, which is home to more than 200 companies with ties to Israel, up from 78 three years ago, according to the report. The businesses, which range from information technology to life sciences and software, employed more than 6,600 people in 2012.

Israeli entrepreneurs are attracted to Massachusetts because of its high concentration of top tier academic and research institutions, a highly educated workforce, access to venture capital and concentration of high technology industries, the study found.

The higher education factor is evident in the fact that nearly one-third of the Israeli-founded companies were started by Israeli alumni of Massachusetts colleges, the study says.

Netanyahu: ‘Cold peace’ with Palestinians necessitates Israeli security force

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the case for a continued Israeli security presence in the West Bank even if his country reaches an accord with the Palestinians.

“Any peace we have is likely to be initially a cold peace,” Netanyahu said in an address delivered via satellite to the Saban Forum, an annual gathering in Washington of Israel and U.S. persons of influence.

A deal coming out of the current talks between Israel and the Palestinians must allow “Israel to defend itself by itself,” he said. “Those security arrangements must be based on Israel’s own forces.”

Netanyahu’s statement comported with a retreat in U.S. expectations of a final status agreement next year, made clear at the same forum over the weekend, where President Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry each said that Israeli security concerns necessitated a continued Israeli presence in the West Bank during a transitional phase.

Palestinian negotiators have said that a continued Israeli security presence is a deal breaker, although they are open to an international security force.

Netanyahu pushed back again against claims by Obama, Kerry and others that new Iran sanctions would derail talks between the major powers and Iran aimed at ending Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

“We shouldn’t assume that more and tougher sanctions won’t lead to a better deal,” a specific repudiation of Obama’s claim over the weekend, although Netanyahu did not name Obama.

Netanyahu said a failure to neutralize Iran’s nuclear capability would upend not only the Israeli-Palestinian talks but also could unsettle Israel’s peace deals with Egypt and Jordan.

Netanyahu’s appearance was to have been in the form of an interview with the journalist Charlie Rose; instead he decided to give a short speech.

Netanyahu, as Obama did, affirmed that the two leaders have a strong and positive relationship.

“Sometimes we differ because we have these different perspectives, but we always share our views honestly sincerely and respectfully,” the Israeli leader said. “I don’t know if there are any other two leaders of the world today who speak more openly and more frequently on such matters.”

Peres says he would meet with Iran’s Rouhani

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israeli President Shimon Peres said he would be willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

“Why not? I don’t have enemies; it’s not a matter of a person but of a policy,” Peres said Sunday in Tel Aviv at the Globes Business Conference during an on-stage interview with CNN’s Richard Quest. “The purpose is to convert enemies into friends.”

Peres said Israel and the world powers have to “concentrate all our efforts to make sure Iran doesn’t become a nuclear danger to the rest of the world.”

“President Obama constructed a coalition and he can’t go alone,” he said.

Peres said there is no question that the world prefers a diplomatic solution.

He added: “All options remain on the table to give weight to the words. The ones who are meant to listen must realize they could face a far more complicated situation. No one wants Iran to have a nuclear bomb, no one wants to have an Iranian danger hanging over our skies.”

Peres said that Israelis and the Palestinians could learn from the late South African leader Nelson Mandela.

“If there was something that seemed impossible it was solving apartheid, but it happened and it was far quicker than we thought,” he said.

Speaking on the current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Peres said, “There are two major problems. Israel’s security after our experience when we left Gaza which made many Israelis reluctant to do likewise in the West Bank. On the other hand is the problem of our existence as a Jewish state, a state where the Jewish people are a majority. It’s not a matter of declarations; it’s a matter of numbers.”

U.N. nuclear inspectors in Iran to visit Arak plant

(JTA)—Inspectors from the U.N.’s nuclear agency are in Iran to examine the Arak heavy water production plant.

The inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency will visit the plant on Monday, two days after they arrived in the country, according to Iran’s Fars news agency.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran’s atomic energy organization, told Fars that the inspectors have been provided with information about the research being conducted at nuclear plants in Iran.

The inspection is being held based on an agreement signed in November between Iran and the IAEA.

On Saturday, Kamalvandi told the official Iranian state news agency IRNA that Iran is testing more technologically advanced centrifuges and that the IAEA had been informed of the effort.

The testing does not appear to violate the interim agreement signed recently by the Tehran government and world powers, according to Reuters, but it could enable Iran to refine uranium to weapons grade much faster.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told his Parliament last week that the Islamic Republic would continue to build the Arak heavy water plant reactor, which would contravene the deal under which Iran agreed to freeze some of its nuclear production in exchange for the easing of economic sanctions.

Monday’s visit is the second to Arak by IAEA inspectors since August 2011. The plant was to be home to a plutonium reactor; its production reportedly has been suspended.

Iran claims its nuclear program is for peaceful civilian purposes only, while the West believes the country wants to build nuclear weapons.

On Sunday, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani slammed Israel and U.S. support for the Jewish state during an open session of parliament.

Israeli developer of swallowable camera bought for $860 million

JERUSALEM (JTA)—An Irish company will purchase Given Imaging Ltd., an Israeli firm that developed a swallowable camera to diagnose problems in the digestive tract.

Covidien Plc agreed to acquire Given Imaging from shareholders of IDB Holding Corp. Ltd. for about $860 million, it was reported Sunday. Given Imaging is the inventor of the PillCam, a swallowed optical endoscopy technology.

Covidien acquired three other Israeli medical device companies, all in 2012, according to the Israeli business daily Globes.

IDB subsidiaries Discount Investment Corp., Elron Electronic Industries and Rafael Development Corp. hold stakes in Given Imaging. The three companies were set to approve the deal on Sunday. The deal also must be approved by shareholders of Given Imaging.

Given Imaging is expecting to be approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration next year to sell PillCam Colon in the United States, according to Haaretz.

Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin granted Israeli citizenship

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Renowned Russian classical pianist Evgeny Kissin received Israeli citizenship, saying now he could fight for Israel as an Israeli.

“I am with you, State of Israel, I am with you, my people,” Kissin, 42, said in Hebrew upon receiving his citizenship on Saturday night in Jerusalem. “Now I can tell the whole world not only I am a Jew, but also I am an Israeli.”

He was presented with his Israeli identification card and passport by Minister of Immigration and Absorption Sofa Landver and Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky, according to the Jewish Agency.

Kissin, who travels frequently and is not permanently based in Israel, asked one year ago to become a citizen of Israel. Sharansky recommended that the Israeli government grant the request due to Kissin’s “significant contribution to Israel in the international arena,” according to the Jewish Agency, which said he has been an activist in fighting attacks on Israel’s legitimacy.

The Moscow native appears regularly with leading conductors at major music festivals and has been awarded two Grammy Awards. He received an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University in 2010.

 

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