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JTA 

Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA

 


U.S. immigration to Israel drops 13 percent

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Immigration to Israel rose slightly in 2013 to 19,200, but that included a significant drop in immigrants from the United States.

Last year Israel absorbed 18,940 new immigrants.

The most dramatic increase in aliyah came from France, with 3,120 immigrants, a 63 percent increase over the previous year. The Jewish Agency for Israel credited its own programs to introduce French young people to Israel for the rise. Israel’s Ministry of Immigration and Absorption and the Jewish Agency are set to introduce new programs next year to ease the immigration and absorption process and make it easier for Israelis residing in France to return to Israel, the Jewish Agency said in a statement.

Some 2,680 immigrants arrived in Israel from the United States in 2013, compared to 3,070 in 2012, a 13 percent decline. Canada sent 321 immigrants, compared to 319 last year. The countries of the former Soviet Union sent Israel 7,520 immigrants, compared to 7,629 last year. Some 1,240 immigrants came to Israel from Latin America in 2013, a 34 percent increase over last year’s 926.

The new immigrants to Israel were younger than in the past, with 60 percent under the age of 35, including 37 percent between the ages of 18 and 34. The oldest immigrant was a 103-year-old man from the United States. The youngest was a 5-week-old American baby.

Some 2,400 new immigrants chose to settle in Jerusalem; 1,650 moved to Tel Aviv, according to the Jewish Agency.

“The 2013 data proves that more and more Jews around the world realize that Israel is their home,” Minister of Immigration and Absorption Sofa Landver said. “Every immigrant who arrives in order to make his or her home in Israel fills me with joy, and I hope aliyah continues to increase.”

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said, “This is an era of aliyah by choice, rather than aliyah of rescue, and so it is important that we continue the Jewish Agency’s efforts to strengthen the young generation’s Jewish identity and deepen their connections to Israel.”

Knesset committee approves bill to annex Jordan Valley

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A Knesset committee gave preliminary approval to a proposed bill to annex the West Bank’s Jordan Valley to Israel.

The bill would apply Israeli law to the eastern part of the West Bank, which currently is considered captured territory. A similar bill annexed the Golan Heights in 1981. The proposed law is designed to prevent an Israeli withdrawal from the Jordan Valley if and when a peace deal with the Palestinians is achieved.

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation gave its OK to the bill Sunday by a vote of 8 to 3, sending it to the full Knesset for consideration. The bill was proposed by Miri Regev of the Likud Party and is opposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several key Knesset leaders, including Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

Israel has called for leaving troops in the Jordan Valley under any peace agreement; Palestinian negotiators have said the area should be completely free of Israelis and Israeli troops.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the bill would destroy efforts to advance the peace process, Ynet reported.

Warren Buffett to donate $10 million to Haifa’s Rambam Hospital

JERUSALEM (JTA)—American billionaire Warren Buffett is donating $10 million to Rambam Hospital in Haifa.

The gift was announced last week by Israeli businessman Eitan Wertheimer during a dinner to celebrate Rambam’s 75th year, the Israeli business daily Globes first reported.

Wertheimer and Buffett reportedly have been friends since the 2006 purchase by Buffett of 80 percent of Iscar, a Wertheimer family company. In May, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway purchased the remaining 20 percent of the company.

Wertheimer is former chairman of the board of KMR Inc., the Rambam Hospital – Medical School and Research Institute.

Kerry to return to Jerusalem, Ramallah

JERUSALEM (JTA)—U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will return to Jerusalem and Ramallah in a bid to boost Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Kerry will leave for the Middle East on Jan. 1, the State Department said Saturday.

Kerry will meet separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to “ discuss the ongoing final-status negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, among other issues,” the State Dept. said.

Kerry will arrive days after the planned release of 26 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons, the third of four planned releases agreed to in the current round of U.S.-backed peace negotiations. The final release is set for sometime in 2014, before the April deadline set for the end of the current negotiations, at which time a framework agreement is supposed to be announced.

Israeli media reported over the weekend that Kerry has offered to free jailed spy-for-Israel Jonathan Pollard as part of the fourth scheduled release of Palestinian prisoners. However, President Obama reportedly has not signed off on this offer.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said Sunday morning in an interview with Army Radio that there is “no direct link” between Pollard and the peace negotiations.

Government ministers approve list of Palestinian prisoners to be freed

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A committee of government ministers approved a list of 26 Palestinian prisoners to be released as part of the revived Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

It is the third round of Palestinian prisoner releases since the American-backed peace negotiations began in July.

The list was published late Saturday night on the Israel Prison Service website. Any objections to the release of the prisoners must be filed with Israel’s Supreme Court within 48 hours of the announcement.

The prisoners to be released committed their crimes before the Oslo Accords and have served at least 19 years of their sentences, according to a statement released Saturday night by the Prime Minister’s Office. “If any of those to be released resume hostile activity, they will be returned to serve the remainder of their sentences,” the statement said.

The prisoners will be released late Monday night or early Tuesday morning.

New construction in West Bank settlements is expected to be announced at the same time as the release or immediately after, according to reports.

The announcement Saturday night came as dozens of protesters, including victims’ family members, demonstrated in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s home in Jerusalem.

Some 22 more Palestinian prisoners are set to be released early next year as part of the diplomatic process agreed upon by Israel at the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians.

Supreme Court denies Vanunu’s request to leave Israel

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s Supreme Court dismissed a request by Mordechai Vanunu, who served 18 years in prison for disclosing Israeli nuclear secrets, to leave Israel.

Vanunu, who was released from prison in 2004, was jailed in Israel for discussing details of his work as a technician at the Dimona nuclear facility with the Sunday Times of London. He reportedly revealed Israeli nuclear secrets and gave the newspaper photographs of the plant’s operations.

Under the terms of his parole, Vanunu is prohibited from leaving Israel, visiting the West Bank, or approaching foreign embassies and speaking with foreign nationals.

Sunday’s decision by the Supreme Court is the seventh time since his release from prison that the restrictions have been extended.

Vanunu told the court he no longer wants to live in Israel. “I cannot live here as a convicted spy, a traitor, an enemy and a Christian,” he said, according to the Times of Israel. Vanunu converted to Christianity in the 1980s.

His attorney told the court that any information Vanunu has about Israel’s nuclear program is very outdated.

The three-judge panel ruled that the state had successfully demonstrated that the restrictions should remain in place but that they should continue to be reviewed periodically.

Rockets fired from Lebanon at northern Israel

JERUSALEM (JTA)—At least five Katyusha rockets were fired from Lebanon at northern Israel.

Two of the rockets fired Sunday morning exploded near the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona; others reportedly landed in Lebanese territory. No injuries or damage were reported in Israel.

The Israeli military returned fire in the direction of the rocket launches.

“This morning’s rocket attack is an inexcusable & blatant breach of #Israel’s sovereignty. We maintain the right to self defense,” the Israel Defense Forces Spokesman’s Office tweeted shortly after the attack.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

“Today, the IDF responded quickly and forcefully to the rocket fire from Lebanon,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of his weekly Cabinet meeting. “This is our policy regarding Lebanon just as it is with the Gaza Strip. We will not allow a drizzle and we will respond strongly and, if need be, will carry out preventive action.”

Netanyahu said Israel holds the Lebanese government responsible for the firing of rockets from within its borders. He said that the terrorist organization Hezbollah is “perpetrating two war crimes simultaneously” by firing rockets at Israeli civilians and using Lebanese citizens as human shields. “We also know that Iran, of course, is behind this arming by Hezbollah,” Netanyahu said.

Maj.-Gen. Paolo Serra, force commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, called on both sides to exercise “maximum restraint” to prevent an escalation of the situation.

“This is a very serious incident in violation of U.N. Security Council resolution 1701 and is clearly directed at undermining stability in the area,” Serra said in a statement. “UNIFIL’s first imperative is to ensure that there is no further escalation of the situation and I have been assured by the parties of their full cooperation with UNIFIL in this effort and of their continued commitment to the cessation of hostilities.”

Rockets were last fired at Israel from Lebanon in August. Earlier this month, an Israeli soldier was killed near an Israeli army post at Rosh Hanikra, a town along Israel’s border with Lebanon, by what appeared to be a rogue Lebanese soldier.

U.S. Holocaust museum returns barracks to Auschwitz

(JTA)—The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has returned a section of wooden barracks that was given on long-term loan by the Auschwitz museum 24 years ago.

The barracks—half of a wooden building in which Jewish prisoners slept while imprisoned in the death camp—arrived at Poland’s port of Gdynia on Sunday, the Associated Press reported, citing the website of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp museum.

The barracks will undergo conservation and be joined with their other half before going on display, according to AP.

The U.S. museum borrowed the barracks in 1989; the contract was renewed in 1999 for another 10 years. In 2003, Poland enacted a law barring the loan of Polish historical artifacts abroad for more than five years.

The return of the barracks comes after several years of negotiations between Polish officials and Holocaust museum officials.

The barracks, a centerpiece of the Washington museum’s permanent collection, will be replaced by another set from Birkenau to be owned by the museum.

Star French athlete probed for anti-Semitic gesture

(JTA)—A star athlete from France is facing disciplinary action for showing support for an anti-Semitic comedian whose shows soon may be banned by the French government.

Britain’s Football Association said Saturday it was considering punishing Nicolas Anelka, a French national who plays for the West Bromwich Albion soccer team, for performing the quenelle—a quasi-Nazi salute that representatives of France’s Jewish community have termed anti-Semitic—during a match.

Following an outcry, the 34-year-old athlete said on Twitter: “This gesture was just a special dedication to my comedian friend Dieudonne,” a reference to the comedian who invented and is promoting the gesture, which is said both to mock and circumvent France’s laws against displaying Nazi symbols with intention of causing offense.

A spokesman for the Football Association told the British tabloid The Daily Mirror that the organization would be launching a probe into the actions of Anelka, who was filmed placing his outstretched left palm on his right shoulder after striking the first of two goals during the match.

The decision came after French Sports Minister Valerie Fourneyron called Anelka’s gesture “a shocking provocation, disgusting.” She added: “There’s no place for anti-Semitism and incitement to hatred on the football field.”

Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, said in a statement: “We expect that the English Premier League officials as well as the police will give Anelka the appropriate punishment.”

The discussion about Anelka comes one day after France’s interior minister, Manuel Valls, declared that his ministry would look into banning all public performances by Dieudonne, the inventor of the quenelle.

“Despite his conviction for defamation, causing offense and inciting racial hatred and discrimination, Dieudonne M’bala M’bala doesn’t seem to recognize any limits any more,” Minister Manuel Valls said in a statement last Friday announcing the legal review aimed at banning his public appearances.

On Saturday, some 200 of Dieudonne’s supporters protested against Valls’ plans, according to the news site JSSnews.com.

Dieudonne, who also invented the word “shoananas” – code for suggesting the Holocaust is a myth without breaking France’s laws against denying the genocide—is scheduled to perform in Bordeaux on Jan. 26.

Dieudonne has been convicted several times for inciting racial hatred against Jews in films, shows and articles.

 

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