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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


New visa allows ‘X Factor’ winner to work in Israel as singer

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Rose Fostanes, the Filipina caregiver who won Israel’s “X Factor,” will be allowed to work in Israel as a performer.

On Monday, Israeli Interior Minister Gideon Saar ordered the Population and Immigration Authority to issue Fostanes an artists’ visa, which will allow her to be employed as a singer. The visa also requires Fostanes to stop working as a caregiver for her employer of the past five years.

Saar interceded when it was revealed that Fostanes’ work visa was valid only for employment as a caregiver.

Fostanes, 47, chose the artists’ visa over one that would have allowed her to continue working as a caregiver while singing on the side, Ynet reported.

Her prizes on the “X Factor” include professional representation and the opportunity to record an album with an Israeli record label.

The family that employs Fostanes had to agree to the change in the visa status.

Fostanes has been working as a caregiver in Tel Aviv for the past six years and lives in a small apartment in Tel Aviv with seven other Filipinos. She has been working abroad in order to send money to her family and partner since she was 23, and has not been home to see her family in two years.

At least 20,000 Filipinos work in Israel, mostly as caregivers.

Some Ashdod schools closed over rocket fears

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Classes at schools in Ashdod not fortified against rockets were canceled over fears of retaliatory attacks into the southern Israel municipality from Gaza.

Some 4,000 students stayed home Monday; there are about 54,000 schoolchildren in Ashdod.

On Sunday, the Israeli military in a targeted attack critically injured an Islamic Jihad operative who the Israel Defense Forces said was directly responsible for five rockets fired last week at Ashkelon. The rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Municipal officials feared retaliatory attacks.

An Iron Dome battery was moved to Ashdod early Monday morning, according to reports.

Israeli begins transferring bodies of Palestinian terrorists to West Bank

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel began a court-ordered transfer of the remains of 36 Palestinian terrorists to the Palestinian Authority.

The first body, which had been buried in a cemetery in Israel for enemy casualties, was exhumed Sunday night and handed over for reburial in the West Bank, according to reports. More will be handed over during the week.

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of returning the bodies to the P.A. over the course of several weeks following an appeal by the families of the dead terrorists with the assistance of Israeli rights organizations.

Last year, the remains of 91 Palestinians were transferred to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and to Gaza.

Iran suspends high-level uranium enrichment under international deal

(JTA)—Iran has suspended high-level uranium enrichment as part of an interim nuclear deal signed with the world powers.

Iranian authorities halted the enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, Iranian state television reported Monday.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he hoped the implementation of the first phase of the joint action plan signed with the P5+1 world powers—the United States, Germany, Russia, England, France and China—would mean “a positive outcome for the country and would bring further peace and stability to the region and the world,” Islamic Republic News Agency, Iran’s official news agency, reported Monday.

The United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, confirmed that the centrifuges at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility had been taken off line, according to The Associated Press.

Under the plan first agreed to in November, Iran will freeze most of its nuclear enrichment capability, including not installing or starting up additional centrifuges or using next-generation centrifuges.

In return, the world powers will provide Iran with some economic sanctions relief. Iran also will allow new and more frequent inspections of its nuclear sites.

Under the deal, Iran will continue to enrich uranium up to 5 percent.

The interim deal will last for six months as Iran and the world powers work to negotiate a final deal.

U.S. State Department spokewoman Jen Psaki said in a briefing Monday that the United States and the European Union will begin implementing the limited sanctions relief.

“Iran has begun to take concrete and verifiable steps to halt its nuclear program,” Psaki said. “These actions today are significant steps in our efforts to achieve a diplomatic solution to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“The coming negotiation to reach a comprehensive agreement that addresses all of the international community’s concerns will be even more complex, and we go into it clear-eyed about the difficulties ahead. But today’s events have made clear that we have an unprecedented opportunity to see if we can resolve this most pressing national security concern peacefully. “

Knesset bill would eliminate one chief rabbi post

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A Knesset committee advanced a bill that would reduce the number of chief rabbi positions to one from two.

The Knesset Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted Sunday to approve the legislation, which was proposed by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni of the Hatnua party, and co-sponsored by Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett and lawmaker Eli Ben-Dahan of the Jewish Home party.

The bill was moved to the Cabinet, which would send it to the full Knesset for consideration. It would take effect following the expiration of the 10-year terms of the current chief rabbis—Rabbi David Lau (Ashkenazi) and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef (Sephardi).

“In a state where there is only one president, one Supreme Court president, one prime minister and one chief of general staff, there is no way to justify the doubling of the position of chief rabbi,” Livni said. “We have to rid ourselves of the old-fashioned division of ancestral congregations and start bringing the country together.”

The measure also makes the rabbinical courts independent of the office of the Chief Rabbinate rather than the current situation in which the two chief rabbis alternate serving as the head of the Rabbinate Council and as chief religious court judge of the Higher Rabbinical Court.

Netanyahu slams UNESCO for nixing Jews in Israel exhibit 

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed UNESCO, the cultural arm of the United Nations, for canceling the opening of an exhibition on the Jewish presence in the land of Israel.

“The explanation given was that it would harm the negotiations,” Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting. “It would not harm the negotiations. Negotiations are based on facts, on the truth, which is never harmful.”

UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova said Jan. 15 in a letter to the Simon Wiesenthal Center that the exhibit, titled “The People, the Book, the Land—3,500 years of ties between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel,” would be postponed indefinitely. She said the decision arose out of UNESCO’s support for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“The one-sided approach toward Israel does not advance peace – it pushes peace further away,” Netanyahu said. “It strengthens the refusal of the P.A. to make actual progress in the negotiations.”

He added, “The one-sided and unfair attitude toward the State of Israel does not advance the diplomatic process.”

Complaints by Arab states led the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to cancel the exhibition organized by the Wiesenthal Center along with the governments of Canada and Montenegro. It was scheduled to open Jan. 20 at the Paris UNESCO headquarters.

Chief Rabbinate and RCA reach agreement on ‘status’ letters

(JTA)—The Chief Rabbinate of Israel has reached an agreement with the main American Orthodox rabbinical association to automatically accept letters from council members vouching for the Jewish status of Israeli immigrants.

The agreement, described as “historic” in a news release Thursday from the Rabbinical Council of America, comes after the Chief Rabbinate refused to accept status letters from Rabbi Avi Weiss, an Orthodox rabbi and council member who has sparked controversy for ordaining women clergy and founding the “open Orthodox” rabbinical school Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. The Chief Rabbinate’s refusal sparked widespread outrage, ultimately leading it to reverse course.

Under the terms of the agreement, letters vouching for Jewishness will still be prepared by individual rabbis, but the RCA will issue, upon request from the rabbi, a supporting document directly to the Chief Rabbinate. The RCA endorsement will assure the letter is accepted immediately and without question.

Situations in which conversion or divorce are involved will be reviewed by the Beth Din of America, according to the RCA release. Rabbis who are not members of the RCA may also seek similar endorsements.

“Since the earliest days of the RCA we have worked together with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel,” RCA President Rabbi Leonard Matanky said in a statement. “We are proud that we can expand that partnership to better serve our constituents and resolve issues that might appear before the Chief Rabbinate.

Romanian president: Israel must be recognized as Jewish state

BUCHAREST, Romania (JTA)—Romania supports in principle Israel’s demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state but encourages compromises on this and other issues, Romanian President Traian Basescu said.

Speaking to JTA at his presidential palace two days before an Israel visit that  began Sunday, Basescu said that “if they [the Palestinians] want peace, they must follow the request of the Israeli people.”

Yet when asked whether Israel should condition progress in peace talks on Palestinian compliance, he said, “Well, all of us must be wise. Of course, compromises are needed because otherwise we won’t find the solution and here maybe [late Israeli prime minister Ariel] Sharon is an example.”

Basescu, whose second and final term in office will end this year, landed in Israel on Sunday for his second presidential visit there. He said his objectives for the visit were to consolidate progress in bilateral relations with Israel and relations with Romanian-speaking Israelis, who number approximately 500,000, according to the president.

Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has demanded the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as the Jewish state as a means of guaranteeing that an agreement on the partition of land would end all territorial claims.

Basescu compared the situation to Romania’s recognition of the Republic of Moldova as the homeland of the Moldavian people, despite the presence of a large contingent of Moldovans who consider themselves Romanians.

“Even in Europe, we fully support the idea that each person must assume his national belonging,” he said. “For example, in order to be more clear, we have the Republic of Moldova, which was part of Romania before World War II. But in Moldova, there are people who [consider] themselves as being Romanians as well as people who [consider] themselves as being Moldavian. We recognize the right of both to be what they want to be.

“The same situation [applies to] our relations with Israel and we’ll always support the idea that if the Israelis want to be declared as a Jewish state, they must be recognized [as such].”

He noted that Romania has “excellent relations with the Arab world, credible relations. Especially with the Palestinians.” He added that “a lot of Palestinians were educated here. We have a relation of trust with the Palestinians. And on my visit I will also visit the Palestinian Authority.”

According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Romania is the only former Soviet country to have maintained diplomatic relations with Israel after 1967. Romania also recognized the 1988 first unilateral declaration of independence by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

But Basescu said Romania “took a step back” from this position in 2011, when it abstained in a vote at the United Nations General Assembly on upgrading the Palestinian Authority’s status.

Report: Secret Vatican archives on Pius not ready to be opened

ROME (JTA)—Should Pope Francis decide to open the secret Vatican archives regarding the World War II pontificate of Pope Pius XII, it could still take another year and a half before the thousands of documents in question are fully catalogued.

“It is a very complex operation, which we have been working on for six years,” Monsignor Sergio Pagano, the prefect of the Secret Vatican Archives, told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera on Monday.

Pagano said it could take “another year or year and a half” before the organization of the files and documents is completed. “After that, the pope will decide.”

Critics have long accused Pius of not having done enough to help Jews during the Holocaust and have called for the archives to be opened to clarify the issue. The Vatican asserts that he worked behind the scenes to save Jews.

Pius XII was declared “venerable” and put on the path to sainthood in 2009.

In an interview in the Sunday Times, Francis’ longtime friend, the Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka, said he and the pope discussed the Pius case when they met at the Vatican last week.

Skorka told the Sunday Times that Francis felt that no decision on Pius’ beatification and canonization should be taken before the archives have been opened and the issue cleared up.

“The question is very delicate and we have to continue to analyze it,” he told the Times.

Francis had already expressed his view that the World War II archives should be opened in “On Heaven and Earth,” a book he co-wrote with Skorka in 2010, when he was Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio.

“Opening the archives of the Shoah seems reasonable,” he wrote. “Let them be opened up and let everything be cleared up. Let it be seen if they could have done something [to help], and until what point they could have helped. If they made a mistake in any aspect of this, we would have to say: ‘We have erred.’ We don’t have to be scared of this—the truth has to be the goal.”

U.N.’s Ban visits N.Y. synagogue to mark Holocaust

(JTA)—United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited a New York City synagogue to honor the memory of Holocaust victims in advance of the worldwide commemoration.

Speaking Saturday at Park East Synagogue at its memorial service for Holocaust victims, Ban also paid tribute to Holocaust survivors and called for collective action to prevent future holocausts.

“My hope is that our generation, and those to come, will summon that same sense of collective purpose to prevent such horror from happening again anywhere, to anyone or any group,” Ban said.

The International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust is observed annually on Jan. 27, the anniversary of the liberation in 1945 of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.  More than 1 million Jews and other minorities died at the camp during World War II.

Ban recalled his visit to Auschwitz last November, during which he was “profoundly saddened” by what he saw as he walked around the death camp.

“Even today, the Holocaust is hard to grasp,” Ban said. “The cruelty was so profound; the scale so large; the camps spread so far and wide. The Nazi worldview was so warped and extreme, yet attracted so many followers.”

The featured speaker at the Jan. 27 memorial ceremony at U.N. headquarters in New York will be filmmaker Steven Spielberg, whose Shoah Institute for Visual History and Education is a landmark in preserving survivor testimony.

“Each of us has a role to play in combating intolerance, incitement and the manipulation of ethnic or religious identity that we see in conflicts and political campaigns,” Ban said. “All those involved in atrocities—whether head of state or head of militia—should be held accountable.”


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