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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Iran: No traces of ex-FBI agent Levinson

(JTA)—There are no traces in Iran of Robert Levinson, the retired American-Jewish FBI agent who vanished in the country six years ago, according to Iran’s foreign minister.

Javad Zarif made the assertion Sunday on the CBS news show “Face the Nation” two days after the Washington Post reported that Levinson had been working for the CIA in a rogue operation.

The U.S. government has said publicly that Levinson, who left the FBI in 1998, was in Iran on business as a private citizen.

Emails and other documents that surfaced months after Levinson’s disappearance suggest he went to Iran at the direction of CIA analysts who had no authority to run operations overseas, the Washington Post reported.

“What we know is that he is not incarcerated in Iran,” Zarif said, adding, “If he is, he’s not incarcerated by the government, and I believe the government runs the, pretty much, good control of the country.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told ABC’s “This Week” that the United States is working to locate Levinson and is “looking for proof of life,” Reuters reported. The White House continues to maintain that Levinson was not employed by the U.S. government at the time of his disappearance.

Levinson’s family last heard from him when they received an undated photograph in 2011 in which he was seen in chains wearing an orange jumpsuit while holding up a sheet of paper that read: “4TH YEAR... You Cant or you don’t want...?”

Kerry: Final status agreement remains goal

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A final status peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians remains the U.S. goal, Secretary of State John Kerry said.

“Our goal remains as it always has been—for the Israelis and Palestinians to reach a final status agreement—not an interim agreement, a final status agreement,” Kerry said Friday in Jerusalem after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas. “And both parties remain committed to fulfilling their obligations to stay at the table and negotiate hard during the nine-month period that we set for that.”

The meeting Thursday evening between Kerry and Abbas was cut short due to a major snowstorm; officials were concerned that the Kerry motorcade would not be able to leave the area. Kerry met Friday with Netanyahu in Jerusalem in a meeting postponed a day because of the snowstorm.

Kerry told reporters in Jerusalem that the sides continue to discuss the “critical issues,” which he identified as borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem, mutual recognition, and an end to conflict and to all claims.

The secretary of state reiterated the commitment of the United States to Israel’s security.

“We are working on an approach that both guarantees Israel’s security and fully respects Palestinian sovereignty,” he said.

Kerry also said the third release of Palestinian prisoners, pledged by Israel to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table more than three months ago,would take place on Dec. 29 as scheduled despite his calls for a delay.

He wants to prevent another Israeli announcement of new settlement construction approvals that could disrupt or potentially halt the current peace process.

Knesset bill would penalize NGOs that support Israel boycott

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A Knesset committee approved a bill that would heavily tax foreign donations to organizations that call for a boycott of Israel.

The bill, which has spurred controversy, passed the Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday by an 8-4 vote.

The measure taxes at 45 percent foreign donations to nonprofit foundations and organizations whose directors or managers have publicly expressed support for a boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel or denies Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has called the bill unconstitutional and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni has vowed to fight it.

The bill was proposed by Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party and Robert Ilatov of Yisrael Beiteinu.

Thousands of Israeli households still without power after snowstorm

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Some 14,000 Israeli households remained without power in the wake of what is being called Israel’s worst snowstorm in decades.

The Israel Electric Corp. reported that 6,000 of the households still without power on Sunday, 72 hours after the storm, are in Jerusalem.

At the height of the bad weather, some 60,000 households did not have electricity, many due to downed power lines from trees that fell in the storm.

At least four people died as a result of the storm, according to reports.

On Sunday, Israel began transferring fuel to the Gaza to run the strip’s sole power plant, and has committed to sending more fuel on Monday and Tuesday. Two days earlier, Israel allowed fuel transfers into Gaza gas for home heating.

The Israeli army assisted in clearing roads in the Palestinian Authority areas of the West Bank.

Schools in Jerusalem and its environs remained closed on Sunday, as were schools in Safed, the Golan Heights and areas of the Galilee.

The major Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway on Sunday morning was open in both directions for public transportation, but was open to private vehicles only for leaving the city. The road was opened and closed several times Sunday due to dangerous ice patches.

Trains left from Jerusalem for Haifa and Tel Aviv on Saturday after the ban on public transportation on the Sabbath was lifted for the emergency.

“We were as prepared as a country should be for an event like this,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a Saturday evening news conference amid calls for an investigation into responses to the emergency.

It is estimated that repairing storm damage will cost Israel more than $34 million, according to reports.

Temperatures throughout Israel on Sunday remained colder than expected for this time of year under sunny skies.

At Reform biennial, Netanyahu calls for peaceful solution to Iran, Palestinians

(JTA)—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an address to the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial 2013 conference stressed the importance of peaceful solutions to the Iranian nuclear program and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

His speech Sunday, via video feed to the conference’s closing plenary in San Diego, also praised recent efforts to find a compromise solution to interdenominational conflict at the Western Wall.

In large part, the speech repeated the principal points of Netanyahu’s address to the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly last month in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu began by reiterating his frequent message that the best way to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is through maintaining economic sanctions alongside the threat of military attack.

“Iran is bent on a nuclear weapons program,” he said. “We would seek a peaceful solution. We cannot allow this regime to have a nuclear weapons capacity.”

Netanyahu said that Iran’s repression of civil rights at home, as well as its support for terror abroad, belie the friendly diplomatic posture its leaders have struck recently.

“It talks the talk, but it walks the walk of death every day,” he said.

Addressing ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, Netanyahu repeated his call for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He also emphasized the need for an agreement that will ensure Israel’s security.

To reach this historic peace, I’m ready to make difficult decisions,” he said. “I made these decisions because I wanted to give negotiations a chance. Peace is not a one-way street. It’s a two-way street.”

The prime minister ended his speech with a mention of the recent efforts to forge an interdenominational compromise at the Western Wall. He thanked the Reform movement for its efforts to strengthen Jewish identity and American Jews’ connection to Israel.

“I’m committed to making sure all Jews feel at home at our holiest site,” he said. “Israel is and must continue to be the home of the entire Jewish people.”

Farrakhan says Kanye West need not apologize in Jewish flap

(JTA)—Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan told rapper Kanye West not to apologize or bow to pressure over remarks that were called “classic anti-Semitism” by the Anti-Defamation League.

“You are telling Kanye West he should know better,” Farrakhan said on Saturday during a weekly address for the Nation of Islam, directing his words at ADL National Director Abraham Foxman. “He does know better, and that’s why he said what he said.”

West, defending President Obama’s difficulty in passing his policies, said in an interview late last month on the New York City radio station WWPR-FM, “Black people don’t have the same level of connections as Jewish people.”

Foxman called the statement “classic anti-Semitism, adding: “There it goes again, the age-old canard that Jews are all-powerful and control the levers of power in government. As a celebrity with a wide following, Kanye West should know better. We hope that he will take responsibility for his words, understand why they are so offensive, and apologize to those he has offended.”

Farrakhan, taking further about Foxman, said, “I wish you and I could have a dialogue. You wouldn’t pull that small-time stuff on me.”

Addressing West, Farrakhan said, “Kanye West, don’t bow to the pressure to apologize to anybody. You said nothing wrong.”

Vigil for Newtown victims urges stricter gun laws

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Hundreds gathered at a Washington vigil on the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings to call for tighter gun registration laws.

Victims, relatives and friends of those killed by guns, along with religious leaders and gun-control advocates, attended the vigil at the Washington National Cathedral.

The event began with a three-minute tolling of the cathedral’s Bourdon Bell, representing the many thousands who have lost their lives to guns since 20 children and six adults were killed last year at the school in Newtown, Conn.

“Today is a day of sorrow,” declared Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, as he began the 90-minute ceremony on Dec. 12 with a call to prayer. “Three hundred sixty five days and although there has been no appreciable legislative progress on the national level, there has been much honor with action seen all over the country.

“The Bible commands us not to stand idly by when faced with the blood of a neighbor,” he said, and while Judaism asks us to remember, “We know that memory alone is never enough.”

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton spoke of the need for persistence, reminding those gathered that it took 150 years for women to gain the right to vote. “I am not counseling patience, my friends, but I am counseling persistence.”

“We shall never forget the names, the smiles, the promises, the touch, the laughter, the vacations, the presents, the hopes of our fallen loved ones,” said the Rev. Sam Saylor, pastor of a church in Hartford, Conn., and father of a 20-year-old son who was murdered.

Rabbi Stephanie Aaron of Congregation Chaverim in Tucson, Ariz., mixed Hebrew and English, speaking and singing, as she called on people to listen to God’s small voice within and to have the courage to hear all the stories and stop the violence.

The event was organized by the non-profit Newtown Foundation and the cathedral.

Holocaust conference in Tunisia commemorates forced labor, deportations

(JTA)—A conference commemorating the effects of the Holocaust on Tunisian Jews was held in Tunis.

Historians, scholars and authors spoke at Saturday’s conference, which remembered the 5,000 Jews subjected to forced labor in Tunisia during a six-month Nazi occupation of the country in 1942-43. Some were deported to Nazi death camps on the European mainland.

It was among the first events focusing on the Holocaust to be held in an Arab country.

The conference also memorialized Muslims who saved Jews during the period, including Khaled Abdelwahhab, a Tunisian who successfully hid more than 20 Jews from the Nazis in a factory on his property.

The Tunisian Association Supporting Minorities, a Tunis-based NGO that works to defend the rights of the country’s tiny Jewish community, and the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, a New York-based group that focuses on Muslim-Jewish relations, sponsored the conference.

The forum was part of FFEU’s annual International Weekend of Twinning, during which thousands of Muslims and Jews in more than 30 countries around the world held joint events promoting Muslim-Jewish understanding and trust.

“Our work at this conference is to prevent amnesia and to ensure that something as terrible as the Holocaust should never happen again,” said Yasmina Thabet, head of the Tunisian Association Supporting Minorities.

“The terrible events of 1942-43 show us that we must be vigilant today in defending the rights of all Tunisians—including Jews and other minorities—threatened by religious extremists who in recent months have been allowed to attack their fellow citizens with near impunity.”

Italian populist leader slammed for Jews and money slur

(JTA)—A populist protest leader’s comments on Jews and banking has drawn condemnation from Jewish and non-Jewish leaders.

Andrea Zunino, spokesman for the Forconi, or Pitchforks Movement, which spearheaded widespread anti-government and anti-austerity protests in Italy last week, made the comment in an interview Friday with the La Repubblica newspaper.

“We want the government to resign,” he told La Repubblica. “We want the sovereignty of Italy, which today is slave to the bankers, like the Rothschilds. It is curious that five or six of the richest people in the world are Jews, but this is something I need to investigate.”

Zunino “is powered by the most violent and sinister anti-Semitic stereotypes,” Renzo Gattegna, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, said in a statement.

Gattegna said Zunino offends not only the memory of Holocaust victims but “above all the intelligence, democratic conscience, and maturity of the Italian people whose instances he wants to represent, clearly inadequately, in streets and piazzas across the country.”

Under the loose umbrella of the Forconi Movement, also known as the December 9 movement, thousands of Italians took to the streets last week to protest the political system, Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s government, the European Union, austerity and globalization.

The protests brought together widely divergent groups from the right and left.

Condemnation of Forconi’s statement also came from outside the Jewish world. According to the Il Messaggero newspaper, Foad Aodi, president of the Community of the Arab World in Italy organization, called Zunino’s words “delusional, dangerous and manipulative regarding religions and the Jewish religion.”

Center-right parliament member Elena Centemero said, “We cannot support those who, to express their dissent, choose violent shortcuts, lawlessness or recourse to anachronistic and unfounded accusations and stereotypes such as those against people of the Jewish religion.”

The Anti-Defamation League also condemned the remarks.

“These appalling comments display a deep-seated anti-Semitic hatred which never belongs in politics or anywhere in Italian society,” ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said in a statement. “Whatever grievances the Italian protest movement may have, anti-Semitism is simply unacceptable.”

Despite ban, institute vows to publish ‘Mein Kampf’

BERLIN (JTA)—The Institute for Contemporary History vowed to press ahead with the publication of an annotated version of “Mein Kampf” despite a ban by the Bavarian state.

In a statement, the institute said it would not abandon the project, which it considers an “important contribution toward historical-political education” and the book’s “demystification.”

The copyright on “Mein Kampf,” the manifesto by Adolf Hitler published in the 1920s, will expire in 2015. The book is currently banned in Germany, but the Bavarian Finance Ministry, which owns the copyright, last year announced it would allow the publication of an edition annotated by the institute.

The state announced last week that it will take legal measures to stop the publication. Charlotte Knobloch, the former head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, praised the decision.


Reader Comments

Tunisian writes:

The name of the heard of the tunisian association supporting minorities is YAMINA and not YASMINA thabet :)


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