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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Bus bomb in Israel called similar to Boston Marathon type

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The bomb that exploded last month on an evacuated public bus in central Israel closely resembled the type used in the Boston Marathon attack.

The explosive in Bat Yam was enclosed in a pressure cooker and was activated by a cell phone, according to the Shin Bet security service, the Times of Israel reported.

Some 14 people have been arrested in the foiled Bat Yam attack, the Shin Bet announced after a gag order on the arrests was lifted on Jan. 2. Among them are four members of the terrorist group Islamic Jihad from Bethlehem and a Bedouin Israeli, the Times of Israel reported.

The bomb, which was placed in a black backpack with wires sticking out, detonated on Dec. 22.  The passengers were evacuated from the bus before the bomb was detonated after alerting the driver to a suspicious package left on the vehicle, which was traveling from Bnei Brak to Bat Yam.

The arrested Islamic Jihad members had intended to carry out a second larger attack, the Times of Israel reported.

The pressure-cooker bomb included more than four pounds of explosives and was surrounded by bails and screws.

At the Boston Marathon in April, three people were killed and more than 250 were injured by a bomb allegedly made by brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, possibly using an al-Qaida manual online.

Kerry staying in Israel to advance talks

JERUSALEM (JTA)—U.S. Secretary of State Kohn Kerry reportedly will remain in Israel to hold more talks leading to an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty.

Kerry,where he arrived on Jan. 2, flew to Saudi Arabia on Sunday morning to report to Arab leaders on the negotiations. He told reporters in Israel that he would return that night and could stay up to several days longer in order to continue guiding the peace process forward.

On Saturday night in Ramallah, Kerry addressed progress in the talks in remarks with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat following a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“I am confident that the talks we’ve had in the last two days have already fleshed out and even resolved certain kinds of issues and presented new opportunities for others,” Kerry said.

“That’s the name of this game. It’s a tough process, step by step, day by day.”

From Thursday to Sunday, Kerry met three times each with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his 10th visit to Israel since assuming his post.

Kerry added that both Netanyahu and Abbas “have remained absolutely steadfast to this effort and committed to the notion that two peoples living side by side in peace and security is a goal worth fighting for, and that the progress being made is sufficient to encourage people to keep going. So that’s exactly what we’re going to do, and I think over the next week we have some very serious homework—all of us—to do.”

On Friday, Kerry surprised a group of university student leaders visiting Israel through the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange by dropping in to a briefing being conducted by State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. Kerry took some questions.

The students on their trip met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Israel and Ramallah. The delegation included campus newspaper editors from across the United States and California university student leaders.

Israel dismisses ex-envoy’s claim on slaying of AMIA bombers

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel denied a claim by one of its former ambassadors that it has killed most of those responsible for the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community building in Buenos Aires.

On Saturday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement dismissed the claim by Yitzhak Aviran, the envoy to Argentina from 1993 to 2000.

“The statements by former ambassador Aviran, who has been in retirement for some 15 years, are completely disconnected from reality,” the ministry said. “These remarks, made on no authority nor knowledge, are pure fantasy and do not reflect in any way events or facts such as he pretends to depict.”

Aviran made the claim in an interview published Jan. 2 by the Jewish News Agency, or AJN, a Spanish-language service.

“The vast majority of the guilty parties are in another world, and this is something we did,” Aviran said without specifying their identities or how they were killed.

Eighty-five people died in the 1994 suicide bombing at the multistory AMIA building and hundreds more were wounded.

Aviran arrived in Buenos Aires the year before the attack and a year after a car bomb in front of the Israeli Embassy in the city killed 29 and wounded 200.

“Israel continues to cooperate in full transparency with Argentina in investigating the bombings which took place in Buenos Aires against the Embassy of Israel (1992) and the AMIA Jewish Community Center (1994),” the ministry’s statement added.

Buenos Aires Prosecutor Alberto Nisman told The Associated Press that he will ask the Israeli and Argentine governments to order an Israeli judge to make Aviran explain who was killed and what proof he has of the assassinations.

African migrants in Israel demonstrate for asylum

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Hundreds of asylum-seeking African migrants in Israel protested against the government for ignoring their requests and placing them in detention facilities.

The migrants, from Sudan and Eritrea, marched through Tel Aviv on Sunday and held a rally in the city’s Rabin Square. Another 300 African asylum seekers protested in front of the Interior Ministry offices in Eilat.

Also on Sunday, the migrants staged a nationwide strike that reportedly is scheduled to last three days.

The larger protests follow two weeks of smaller demonstrations.

Last month, the Knesset approved an amendment to the Migrant Law to allow Israel to hold African migrants in prison for up to a year without trial and indefinitely in the open detention facility in Holon.

The Holot residence is called an “open facility,” with detainees free to leave during the day and with mandatory check-in at night. They are not allowed to hold jobs.

Israel’s Supreme Court had ruled unconstitutional the law allowing officials to hold migrants without trial for three years.

U.S. officials: Hezbollah upgrades missile threat

(JTA)—Hezbollah operatives are smuggling components of advanced guided missiles from Syria to Lebanon, U.S. officials said.

Operatives from the Shi’ite terrorist group have been moving the components in parts to avoid detection and airstrikes by Israel, unnamed officials told The Wall Street Journal.

As many as 12 guided-missile systems may now be in Hezbollah’s possession inside Syria, according to U.S. officials briefed on the intelligence, the newspaper said.

In addition to aircraft, Hezbollah will be able to target ships and bases with the new systems, which include supersonic Yakhont rockets, the Journal reported last Friday.

Such guided weapons would be a major step up from the “dumb” rockets and missiles Hezbollah now has stockpiled, and could sharply increase the group’s ability to deter Israel in any potential new battle, the officials said.

U.S. and Israeli officials also said several strikes last year attributed to Israel stopped shipments of surface-to-air SA-17 anti-aircraft weapons and ground-to-ground Fateh-110 rockets to Hezbollah locations in Lebanon. Some originated from Iran, others from Syria itself.

On Dec. 31, Israel conducted its second successful experiment on the Arrow-3 interceptor missile, the Israel Ministry of Defense said in a statement last Friday. Arrow-3 is designed to intercept large, longer range missiles as part of Israel’s multilayer interception defense array.

The intercepting missile hit its target over the Mediterranean during a test conducted by the Israel Missile Defense Organization and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.

“The successful test is a major milestone in the development of the Arrow-3 Weapon System and provides confidence in future Israeli capabilities to defeat the developing ballistic missile threat,” the ministry said in a statement.

Palestinian teen dies of wounds in shooting by Israeli army

(JTA)—A teenager shot by Israeli troops in Gaza died of his wounds, Palestinian medical sources said.

The 16-year-old died last Friday afternoon from gunshot wounds sustained a day earlier after he and several other Palestinians approached the security fence separating Israel from the Gaza Strip, according to a report Friday on Israel Radio.

The teenager was identified by the Ma’an news agency as Adnan Abu Khater. He was shot near a section of the border fence near Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip, according to the report.

Separately, the Israel Air Force struck four targets in the Gaza Strip last Friday in retaliation for the shooting of a rocket the day before from Gaza into the western Negev region. No one was hurt in the explosion.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that the strikes targeted three rocket launchers in the northern strip and another target in the central strip which the IDF termed part of terrorist infrastructure.

There were no reports of casualties in the airstrikes.

Israeli soccer union suspends controversial kippah ban

(JTA)—Following protests by athletes and politicians, Israel’s soccer association suspended its ban on wearing kippot for its minor leagues.

The regulation had been handed down by the Union of Soccer Referees in recent weeks, according to a report last Friday by Army Radio. The union said it was hewing to the rules of the FIFA International Soccer Association.

“Until the end of the season, the status quo will remain for lower lower leagues, and any observant player who chooses to play with a kippah will be able to do so,” Israel’s Soccer Association siad Friday in a statement. The association did not specify its policy on major league games.

The announcement followed protests by several soccer players and Cabinet minister Uri Orbach.

“The regulation against wearing head coverings is stupid,” Orbach, Israel’s minister for pensioner’s affairs who himself wear a kippah, said in an interview Jan. 2 on Army Radio.

Israeli media reported on the new regulation after a player from Jaffa, Yair Cohen-Tzedek, protested the prohibition. According to Army Radio, he asked teammates on the minor league Maccabi Kabilio Jaffa team and fans to wear kippot at matches as a sign of solidarity with his campaign to scrap the new regulation.

A spokesman for the referees union told Army Radio that league matches are conducted according to FIFA regulations, which determine what players may wear on the field. No headgear of any kind is on the list.

“If FIFA issues a different regulation, we will act accordingly,” the spokesman said.

Pope to visit Israel in May

ROME (JTA)—Pope Francis will visit Israel in May as well as Jordan and the West Bank.

The pontiff made the formal announcement of his long-anticipated trip from his Vatican window before a crowd who had gathered in St. Peter’s Square on a rainy Sunday.

“In the climate of joy, typical of this Christmas season, I wish to announce that from 24 to 26 May next, God willing, I will make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land,” he said after celebrating Mass.

Francis said he would visit Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.  The main purpose of the trip, he said, would be “to commemorate the meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras” that took place 50 years ago, on Jan. 5, 1964.

Paul VI was the first pontiff to visit the Holy Land. Francis’ two predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVII, both made pilgrimages to the region.

Francis said his trip would include “an ecumenical meeting held at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with the representatives of all the Christian Churches of Jerusalem, together with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.” He added, “As of now I ask you to pray for this pilgrimage.”

There had been speculation for months that the trip to would take place in the spring.

Francis had been officially invited to visit Israel on several occasions since he was elected pope in April, and he expressed his desire and intention to visit the Holy Land on more than one occasion.

Dec. 30 marked the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Fundamental Agreement that established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel.

Body of kidnapped Hasidic landlord found in dumpster

(JTA)—Thousands attended the funeral in Brooklyn for a kidnapped Hasidic real estate developer whose body was found a day earlier burning in a dumpster.

The funeral for Menachem Stark, 39, was held Saturday night in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn at the conclusion of the Sabbath. Most of the mourners were Satmar Hasidim.

Stark’s body was found late Friday afternoon on suburban Long Island some 16 miles away from his Williamsburg office, from where he was kidnapped the previous evening. The father of eight reportedly was suffocated before his body was placed in the dumpster outside a Great Neck gas station and burned, according to police.

Video footage taken from his office reportedly showed Stark being taken into a van after a struggle outside his office in heavily Satmar Williamsburg. The identify of his abductors is not known.

The family had offered a reward of $100,000 for his safe return.

Public records show Stark has a string of foreclosures and a $1.3 million judgment against him, according to reports. A police source told the New York Daily News that Stark “had many enemies.” Some have accused him of being a slumlord, according to the newspaper.

At the funeral, family members and religious leaders praised his charitable giving, much of which was done anonymously.

N.Y. knockout suspect charged with hate crimes

(JTA)—A Brooklyn man accused of several so-called knockout game attacks in the New York borough was charged with hate crimes.

Barry Baldwin, 35, was charged with six counts each of assault as a hate crime and aggravated harassment as a hate crime for attacks that allegedly took place in heavily Jewish neighborhoods from Nov. 9 to late December, the New York Police Department said Saturday, according to New York media.

Others charges include menacing and endangering the welfare of a child.

The victims were all Jewish women who ranged in age from 20 to 78. One of the victims fell on the small child she was holding during the attack.

Baldwin was arrested on Dec. 28 by the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force.

“This arrest is welcome news to all of us, but I continue to urge caution,” state Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) said in a statement. “No one in our community should live in fear, but prudence is always advisable.”

In the so-called knockout game, attackers try to knock out an individual with one punch. 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.

A Long Island, N.Y., man was arrested in mid-December in connection with four other knockout attacks that date back as far as April.

Classmate assault was not anti-Semitism, Canadian judge rules

TORONTO (JTA)—A classmate setting a Jewish girl’s hair on fire was not an act of anti-Semitism, a Canadian court ruled.

In a Jan. 2 decision, the judge in Winnipeg agreed with prosecutors that the assailant had been a “jerk and bully” but said the “totally vulgar and inappropriate” incident in November 2011 was impulsive, unplanned and not racially motivated, the Winnipeg Free Press reported.

 The girl’s attacker, now 17, pleaded guilty to charges of assault with a weapon stemming from the incident at the Winnipeg high school he formerly attended.

The judge agreed to a joint submission requiring the attacker to receive counseling, write a letter of apology and perform 75 hours of community service work.

“You are fortunate,” the judge told the defendant. “I hope you take advantage of counseling.”

The defense said it was not the offender’s specific intention to burn the girl’s hair and he did not pick on the classmate because she was Jewish. It noted that a therapist who made a court-ordered psychological evaluation of the defendant said the offense “was an impulsive teenage action.”

According to prosecutors, the teen approached the then 15-year-old victim, pulled out a lighter and started flicking it near her head, saying “let’s burn the Jew.” A portion of the girl’s hair caught fire and was singed.

The girl did not suffer lasting physical injuries but, according to her victim impact statement, the incident “changed her world upside down.” She spent time in therapy to deal with the resulting fear and anger.

Gorovitz resigns as San Francisco federation chief

NEW YORK (JTA)—Jennifer Gorovitz resigned as CEO of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco.

Gorovitz, the first woman to lead a major American Jewish federation, will step down from her post on March 31, according to a news release last Friday.

In a letter dated Jan. 3, Gorovitz said that after 10 “phenomenal” years with the federation, she was leaving “to pursue a more private life with my family and to my first passion and previous career as an attorney.”

Gorovitz was tapped for the top job in 2010 after serving as acting CEO since 2009. She previously served the federation as chief of staff and director of funds and foundations.

Six months after being appointed as CEO, she was named to the annual Forward 50 list of the country’s most influential Jews.

Also in 2010, Gorovitz helped steer the federation through the controversy resulting from its decision to establish formal criteria for its funding of Israel programs.

The controversy arose after the federation-funded San Francisco Film Festival screened a film about Rachel Corrie, an American activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer while protesting Palestinian home demolitions.

Florida federations push Nelson on Iran sanctions

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Four Jewish federations in South Florida urged Sen. Bill Nelson to sign on to legislation opposed by the Obama administration that would enhance Iran sanctions.

The letter to Nelson (D-Fla.) was sent last week amid a renewed post-holiday push by some pro-Israel groups to pass the legislation initiated by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).

The Obama administration says the new sanctions will inhibit talks underway between the major powers and Iran aimed at keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The letter sent by the federations of greater Miami, South Palm Beach County, Broward County and Palm Beach County praises President Obama’s overall strategy while pressing for the sanctions.

“We believe that this congressional action will only strengthen President Obama’s hand,” the letter said.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the state’s other senator, already is a cosponsor. A query to Nelson’s office was unreturned.

Thirty-three senators have signed on to the bill. Top pro-Israel groups, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, are seeking additional sponsors.

Committing a veto-proof two-thirds of the 100-member Senate to the bill would undercut the White House pledge last month to veto the measure. A similar bill this summer overwhelmingly passed in the U.S. House of Representatives.

On Jan. 2, the American Jewish Committee on one of its Twitter accounts called on most of the senators that have not signed on to join.

A number of federations in states with senators who have not signed on are making similar overtures.

“We are encouraging our leadership around the state to reach out to Senator Brown and ask him to sign on,” Joyce Garver Keller, who directs Ohio Jewish Communities, referring to Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat.

The Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut has scheduled a meeting with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who is also a holdout.

In Rhode Island, Marty Cooper, the director of community relations for the state’s Community Relations Council, said he had spoken with staff for Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who had told him that Reed was concerned that the bill could undercut the negotiations, which he saw as important for U.S. and Israel security.

Cooper said he was not lobbying for the bill but seeking to understand where Reed stood.

The bill would expand sanctions in part by broadening existing definitions targeting energy and banking sectors to all “strategic sectors,” which would add the engineering, mining and construction sectors. It would also tighten the definition of entities eligible for exceptions and broaden the definition of targeted individuals who assist Iran in evading sanctions.

The law faces significant opposition: Ten committee chairmen in the Democratic-led Senate have pushed back against new legislation in a letter to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the body’s majority leader.

Among them are four Jewish senators with strong pro-Israel records: Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee; Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee; Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Environment Committee; and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the chairman of the Energy Committee.

Zuckerberg and wife make largest 2013 U.S. donation

(JTA)—Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife are responsible for the largest on-record charitable donation in the United States in 2013.

For the second straight year, Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan gave away 18 million Facebook shares—a gift worth more than $970 million—to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation in December, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported recently in its annual roundup of biggest donors.

The donation was the largest charitable gift on public record in 2013, and marked the first time that donors under the age of 30 were responsible for the year’s largest donation.

Zuckerberg and Chan’s 2013 donation was equal in shares to the gift the couple gave the same foundation in December 2012. That gift was valued at just under $500 million at the time, but the success of Facebook’s stock over the past 12 months more than doubled the value of the 2013 donation, the news website Mashable reported.

The Silicon Valley Community Foundation serves as a gatekeeper to a number of charitable causes. In 2013, the foundation awarded more than 10,000 grants to over 29 different countries, according to its website.

Nike Chairman Phil Knight and his wife, Penelope, were responsible for the second-largest donation on public record in 2013: a $500 million pledge to the Oregon Health & Science University Foundation for cancer research.

Of the top 16 donors occupying the top 10 spots on the list -- six were tied for 10th place -- eight are Jewish. In addition to Zuckerberg, former New York mayor and media magnate Michael Bloomberg was third, pledging $350 million to Johns Hopkins University; real estate developer Stephen Ross was fifth, pledging $200 million to the University of Michigan; real estate heiress Muriel Block was sixth, bequesting $160 million to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University; and Irwin Jacobs, the co-founder of communications giant Qualcomm, and his wife were eighth, pledging $133 million to Cornell NYC Tech.

Among those tied for 10th with $100 million pledges were investor Ronald Perelman (Columbia Business School), financier Stephen Schwarzman (Tsinghua University); and real estate heiress Deborah Joy Simon (Mercersburg Academy).

Police investigate false bomb threats against comedian Dieudonne

(JTA)—The French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala complained to police about threats to blow up the Paris theater in which he performs.

The bomb threat was made Jan. 2 against the Main D’Or theater, which Dieudonne operates, in the 11th arrondissement, according to MetroNews.fr. Police rushed to the scene but found no explosives.

Performances by Dieudonne, a professed anti-Semite and inventor of the quenelle salute that many see as anti-Semitic, have been targeted in the past by activists of the Ligue de Defense Juive, the local branch of the JDL.

Last week, six men believed to be linked to JDL were arrested in Lyon for allegedly assaulting two individuals who posted online pictures of themselves performing the quenelle, a quasi-Nazi salute which French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said Tuesday was a gesture of hate and anti-Semitism.

In recent months, several athletes in France and beyond were seen performing the quenelle, which is believed to be gaining traction in French society.

On Dec. 28, West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka performed the salute during a match, prompting strongly worded condemnations from anti-racism campaigners.

But Kick it Out, a prominent British organization working to curb soccer racism, issued a guarded statement saying only that it will assist Britain’s Football Association in investigating Anelka’s behavior. Anelka has ignored calls to apologize, saying the salute was a gesture to his friend Dieudonne.

John Mann, chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism at the European Parliament, blasted Kick it Out for not using stronger language.

“Not good enough,” Mann wrote on Twitter last week. “You should be leading on challenging this racism. Your statement is weak and puny.”


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