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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


U.S. rented apartment to spy on Israel’s defense minister

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The United States in 2007 rented an apartment directly across the road from then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak, it was reported in the wake of revelations that the U.S. and British intelligence were spying on Israeli leaders.

Washington said the apartment was rented for a Marine working in the U.S. Embassy’s security department, Yediot Acharonot reported Sunday, adding that Israeli intelligence discovered that a large amount of electronic equipment was delivered to and set up in the apartment.

Last Friday, several news outlets, including The New York Times and The Guardian, reported that the National Security Agency of the United States and Britain’s General Communications Headquarters were  intercepting email in 2008 and 2009 to and from the offices of Israeli prime ministers Ehud Omert and Benjamin Netanyahu. The documents were leaked to several newspapers last week by former NSA staffer Edward Snowden.

Yediot cited an unnamed Israeli official as saying that the intercepted emails likely are “the tip of the iceberg” in U.S. spying on Israel.

“We do not monitor the president of the United States, the White House or the U.S. Secretary of Defense,” Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told Yediot in the wake of the reports. “We need to reach a settlement with the United States.”

Several senior Israeli officials on Sunday from across the political spectrum called on the United States to release Jonathan Pollard in the wake of the reports. Pollard is in the 29th year of a life sentence for spying for Israel while working as a civilian U.S. Navy intelligence analyst.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also brought up Pollard’s plight on Sunday during the regular weekly Cabinet meeting.

“We do not need any special event in order to discuss the release of Jonathan Pollard. We are dealing with it. I am dealing with it, with all U.S. presidents, including President Obama, all the time, including now,” Netanyahu said.

“We hope that the conditions will be created that will enable us to bring Jonathan home. This is neither conditional on, nor related to, recent events, even though we have given our opinion on these developments.”

Bomb explodes on bus near Tel Aviv; no one hurt

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A bomb exploded on a public bus in Bat Yam, a city neighboring Tel Aviv, after the passengers had been removed.

The passengers had alerted the driver to a suspicious package left on the vehicle, which was traveling from Bnei Brak to Bat Yam in central Israel.

The bomb, which was placed in a black backpack with wires sticking out, detonated as a police sapper was working to defuse it.

It is unclear if the bomb was a terror attack or criminal in nature. Police sources told the Times of Israel that it appeared to be a terror attack.

Bus passenger David Papo first identified the bomb and helped remove other passengers. In a telephone call, Israeli President Shimon Peres thanked Papo for his quick action.

Papo told Peres why he decided to  examine the bag.

“I didn’t understand how someone could leave such a big bag on the bus,” Papo said. “I tried to lift the bag, but it was so heavy that it raised my suspicion further. When I opened the bag, I saw what it was.

“When the explosion happened, we were in the road helping the police to stop passers-by and the traffic. Only afterwards when I saw the hole in the bus did I understand the damage that could have been caused.”

U.S. security proposals a non-starter for Arab League

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The Arab League rejected U.S. security proposals that would keep Israeli soldiers in the Jordan Valley after the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Keeping Israeli soldiers on the eastern border of the Palestinian state for the next 10 years achieves “Israeli security expansionist demands,” said a report given to Arab delegates ahead of an emergency session of the Arab League on Saturday, Reuters reported.

The report called the security proposals by the United States “an American retreat.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who called for the emergency session, has said he would be in favor of U.S. troops patrolling the border.

Israel and the Palestinians are scheduled to finish the current round of negotiations by April.

Mandela Foundation denies Mossad trained apartheid fighter

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The Nelson Mandela Foundation denied an Israeli newspaper report that Mandela received training from Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency in the 1960s.

“Media have picked up on a story alleging that in 1962 Nelson Mandela interacted with an Israeli operative in Ethiopia,” the foundation said in a statement on Saturday. “The Nelson Mandela Foundation can confirm that it has not located any evidence in Nelson Mandela’s private archive  … that he interacted with an Israeli operative during his tour of African countries in that year.”

In 1962, Mandela received military training in Morocco and in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, according to the statement.

“In 2009 the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s senior researcher travelled to Ethiopia and interviewed the surviving men who assisted in Mandela’s training—no evidence emerged of an Israeli connection,” the statement said.

According to a report Dec. 19 in Haaretz, Mandela was trained by Mossad agents in weaponry and sabotage in 1962. The report was based on a document in the Israel State Archives labeled “Top Secret.”

The document, a letter sent from the Mossad to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, said Mossad operatives also attempted to encourage Zionist sympathies in Mandela, Haaretz reported.

Mandela led the struggle against apartheid in his country from the 1950s. He was arrested, tried and released a number of times before going underground in the early 1960s. In January 1962, he left South Africa and visited various African countries, including Ethiopia, Algeria, Egypt and Ghana, before being imprisoned in 1964 for nearly three decades.

According to the Haaretz report, Mandela met with the Israelis in Ethiopia, where he arrived under the alias David Mobsari.

The letter was discovered several years ago by David Fachler, 43, a resident of Alon Shvut who was researching documents about South Africa for a master’s thesis.

Rally for marijuana legalization draws 1,000 in Tel Aviv

JERUSALEM (JTA)—More than 1,000 people rallied in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square calling for both the legalization of marijuana and the easing of restrictions on medical marijuana.

The rally on Saturday night featured right-wing lawmaker Moshe Feiglin of the Likud party singing the Arik Eichman song “Ani Ve’ata,” which says “you and I will change the world.”

Feiglin and Tamar Zandberg of the liberal Meretz party have proposed a bill that would legalize marijuana and ease access to it for medical use.

Last week, Feiglin spoke in the Knesset about his wife’s battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Seriously ill Israelis have difficulty gaining access to medical marijuana, including in drop form.

Israeli troops fire on Gazan Palestinians at border

JERUSALEM (JTA)—One Palestinian man was killed as Israeli soldiers fired on Gazan Palestinians approaching the border several times.

Several Palestinians also were injured in the incidents on Friday and Saturday.

On Saturday, a group of Palestinians trying to breach the Gaza security fence were spotted planting an explosive device in order to detonate it as an Israeli army patrol was driving by, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

“Concealing explosive devices is a recurring phenomenon, challenging the IDF operational activities intended to protect its forces and civilians,” IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said. “The IDF will continue to maintain the right to act upon terrorist threats that pose a clear and present danger to the troops and the operational access they require to defend the civilians of the State of Israel.”

On Friday, some 100 Palestinians rioting near the border fence with Israel in northern Gaza threw stones at the troops stationed there. Protesters attempted to break through the security fence and enter Israel, according to the IDF.

After calling on the protesters to halt, Israeli troops used live gunfire. One Palestinian reportedly was killed.

Earlier in the day, a rocket fired from Gaza landed in the Shaar HaNegev region in southern Israel.

Helmsley Trust gives $22 million to Israeli institutions

NEW YORK (JTA)—The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust announced almost $22 million in new grants to four Israeli institutions.

The four grants are being awarded to Magen David Adom, Barzilai Hospital, Haifa University and Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. The grants are intended to strengthen and protect facilities in the event of natural disasters or regional conflict, expand Israel’s environmental research of the Mediterranean seabed and provide scholarships for disadvantaged soldiers to pursue higher education, according to the trust.

The New York-based trust, which began awarding grants to Israel in 2009 and holds more than $4 billion in assets, has committed more than $110 million to organizations in the Jewish state. It also funds a range of education, health care and environmental projects in the United States.

“These grants illustrate our basic philanthropic approach toward Israel,” said Helmsley trustee Sandor Frankel in a statement. “They will strengthen Israel’s scientific, technological and medical research, which will benefit not only Israel, but the rest of the world as well.”

The Helmsleys earned their fortune in the real estate and hotel businesses.

Israeli entry out, Palestine entry still in Oscar race

LOS ANGELES (JTA)—Israel is out and Palestine is still in the Oscar race for best foreign language film.

Israel’s entry “Bethlehem,” winner as best film at the 2013 Venice Film Festival, did not make the cut when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its nine semifinalists last Friday. The Palestinian film “Omar”  was one of the semifinalists.

Both films reflect the intensity of the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In “Omar,” the title character and the beautiful Nadja pine for each other on opposite sides of the security fence. In the process of jumping the wall and participating in the shooting of an Israeli soldier, Omar, played by Adam Bakri, is caught by Israeli undercover agents, who torture him and try to turn him into a collaborator. Distrusted by the Israelis and reviled as a traitor by his own people, Omar is driven to one last desperate act.

Director Hany Abu-Assad won critical praise for two previous films, “Paradise Now” and “Rana’s Wedding.”

In “Bethlehem,” director Yuval Adler and his co-writer, Palestinian journalist Ali Waked, draw no moral judgments in the struggle between the Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security agency, against Hamas and the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade.

The shortlist of five finalists in the foreign-language and other categories will be announced on Jan. 16. The Oscars will be given out on March 2 in Hollywood.

A record 76 countries entered films. Perhaps the most surprising omission on the list of semifinalists was “The Past” by Iranian director Ashgar Farhadi, who won the Academy Award two years ago with “A Separation.” Similarly slighted was the heavily promoted “Wadja,” the first-ever submission by Saudi Arabia.

Israeli filmmakers’ record of 10 nominations place Israel among the 10 most nominated countries, though the Israeli film industry has yet to bring home its first Academy Award.

Spanish city opening museum on its ‘forgotten’ Jews

(JTA)—The Spanish city of Granada will open a museum dedicated to the culture of Sephardic Jews who lived there before the Inquisition.

The Palace of the Forgotten, as the museum is called, is scheduled to open on Jan. 2. It is housed inside the Santa Ines palace located in Albaicin—a neighborhood in the southern city’s old center where many Jews used to live before 1492, when they were forced to convert to Christianity or flee.

The museum contains Judaica artifacts as well as archaeological findings such as ceramic utensils, furniture, artworks and other valuables recovered from Jewish homes. The artifacts were donated to the museum by the Crespo Lopez family, according to a report Dec. 19 by the news site Grenadaimedia.com.

The museum will feature the restoration of a mikvah ritual bath from before the 15th century, which is among the few well-preserved mikvahs from that period ever excavated in Spain, according to a statement by the municipality.

Estimates of the size of the Jewish population of Andalucia, the region where Granada is located, ranged from 5,000 to 20,000, according to the late historian Haim Beinart of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Today, only a handful of Jews live in Andalucia.

In recent years, Spanish and Portuguese municipalities have invested millions of dollars in preserving their Sephardic heritage.

Earlier this month, Spain’s ruling party submitted a bill that would make Jewish descendants of Sephardic Jews who were forced into exile eligible for Spanish citizenship. Portugal’s parliament unanimously passed a similar law in April.

Jewish groups launch probe into record of ‘Italian Schindler’

ROME (JTA)—An Italian research group has begun investigating the case of Giovanni Palatucci, a World War II Italian policeman whose record of rescuing Jews has come under question.

The website of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, or UCEI, said last Friday that the so-called Research Group on Fiume-Palatucci 1938-1945 held its first meeting earlier in the week in Milan at the Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation.

The seven-member group was set up by the center and the UCEI, and includes Holocaust scholars, historians and archivists. Its investigation is expected to last six months; the group will publish a report on its findings.

Palatucci, a fascist police official in wartime Fiume—now Rijeka, Croatia—has long been revered in Italy as an “Italian Schindler” who saved thousands of Jews by providing them with false papers.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Jerusalem named  Palatucci a Righteous Among the Nations and he was accorded other honors.

In recent years, however, his record has come under scrutiny. While he is credited with having saved at least a few Jews, the number of 5,000 that is often quoted allegedly is greatly inflated. And while he was arrested and sent to Dachau, where he died in early 1945, recent research has shown that it was not because he helped Jews.

“A growing chorus of historians and scholars,” Italian journalist Alessandra Farkas wrote in the Milan daily newspaper Corriere della Sera last summer, say Palatucci “is nothing but a myth, a sensational fraud orchestrated by the alleged hero’s friends and relatives who claim he saved more than 5,000 Jews in a region where there lived fewer than half that number of Jews.”

Scandal-battered Met Council cleared for state funding

NEW YORK (JTA)—The Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty will be able to continue receiving New York State funds in the wake of the scandal that has seen its former CEO charged with stealing millions from the charity.

The New York State attorney general and comptroller announced Dec. 19 that they had reached an agreement with the Met Council, a leading Jewish social services agency. The agreement, which coincides with two parallel agreements reached with city agencies, provides “assurance that Met Council is implementing critical reforms to prevent the misuse of public funds,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a press release.

Among the reforms the council agreed to are implementing enhanced governance and personnel policies, hiring a general counsel and chief compliance officer, engaging a new outside auditor, appointing at least two new independent board members to be approved by state and city officials, and training board members and key personnel yearly in ethics and nonprofit compliance.

The agreement notes that Met Council’s board has already conducted its own investigation and replaced certain senior management.

The agreement comes a week after New York State’s attorney general announced that one of former Met Council CEO William Rapfogel’s alleged co-conspirators pleaded guilty to grand larceny, money laundering and tax fraud.

Joseph Ross, who pleaded guilty last week, was the owner of Century Coverage, a Long Island insurance company that submitted inflated bills to the Met Council, allegedly sharing the extra money with Rapfogel and using some of it for campaign contributions to elected officials. Rapfogel, who had headed Met Council for more than 20 years, was fired from his post in August and arrested in September.


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