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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Pig heads sent to synagogue, Israeli embassy and museum in Rome

(JTA)—Boxes containing the head of a pig were sent to the main synagogue in Rome, the Israeli embassy there and a museum showing an exhibition on the Holocaust.

The packages, sent via a courier service, were delivered last Friday, just days before International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

All three packages were turned over to Italy’s special terrorism and major crime police, who opened an investigation. The packages contained no message and had no information about the sender.

At the close of the Sabbath on Saturday, Renzo Gattegna, the president of the umbrella Union of Italian Jewish Communities, called the incidents “disturbing threats” that “arouse indignation and dismay.”

The “repugnant action,” Gattegna said in a statement, “recalled typically Mafia methodology.” He declared that whatever the intent of the action, “Italian Jews are not frightened now and will never be so in the future by those who demonstrate, with such blatant evidence, the profound ignorance and barbarism of their own behavior.”

He expressed gratitude for “the immediate and effective action by the forces of order that always, with great professionalism and commitment, ensure the safety of our institutions and communities.”

Rome Jewish community president Riccardo Pacifici called it a “disgusting provocation.”

Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino condemned what he called a “disgraceful act” and expressed solidarity with the Jewish community.

“Whoever sent it,” he said, “committed an offense against the entire city.”

Condemnation of the action and solidarity with the Jewish community poured in from across the political spectrum.

Nicola Zingaretti, president of the Lazio region, where Rome is located, called it “a vile and cowardly act which offends the Jewish community and all Romans on the eve of the memorial day.”

International Holocaust Remembrance Day, observed on Jan. 27, is marked throughout Italy with commemorative ceremonies, educational programs, special broadcasts and publications, and other events, including organized student study and commemoration trips to Auschwitz.

In another development, graffiti declaring that the Holocaust was “a lie” and “ ‘Hanna Frank’ was a liar” were found Saturday on walls in an outlying district of Rome.

White House taps special envoy for Holocaust survivor community

WASHINGTON (JTA)—The Obama administration named a special envoy to the Holocaust survivor community.

Aviva Sufian, a staff member at the Health Department’s Administration for Community Living, will be the special envoy for U.S. Holocaust survivor services, a White House announcement said last Friday.

“Her work as Special Envoy will focus on those survivors currently living in poverty, as well as those who may not be receiving services for which they are currently eligible,” according to the statement.

The appointment arises from a pledge last month by Vice President Joe Biden to address the needs of aging survivors and as Congress considers legislation for that purpose.

It stems in part from a growing consensus among experts that Holocaust survivors should age in place and avoid the institutional care that health providers and government services generally recommend for the infirm.

Institutionalization can trigger traumatic memories for survivors.

The White House statement said that 25 percent of the estimated 150,000 Holocaust survivors in the United States live below the poverty line, as opposed to 9 percent among the general over-65 population.

Sufian previously worked for the New York City Department for the Aging and at a “large nonprofit organization that provided support for Holocaust survivors living in the New York metropolitan area,” the White House statement said.

Also on Friday, parallel to the White House announcement, the Jewish Federations of North America unveiled a new initiative  “to assess and communicate the needs of the Holocaust survivor programs,” the umbrella group said in a statement. Mark Wilf, a major federations donor and an owner of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, will chair the initiative.

Treasury fines Luxembourg bank for hiding Iran holdings

WASHINGTON (JTA)—A Luxembourg bank paid a $152 million fine for masking the Bank of Iran’s $2.8 billion U.S. securities account.

“Clearstream provided the Government of Iran with substantial and unauthorized access to the U.S. financial system,” Adam Szubin, the director of the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a Jan. 23 statement, referring to Clearstream Banking, S.A.

“Today’s action should serve as a clear alert to firms operating in the securities industry that they need to be vigilant with respect to dealings with sanctioned parties, and that omnibus and custody accounts require scrutiny to ensure compliance with relevant sanctions laws,” he said.

According to the statement, Clearstream in 2008 said after meeting with Treasury officials that it would end its relationship with the Bank of Iran, which is subject to U.S. sanctions in part because of its involvement in Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. Instead, Clearstream disguised the account, hiding the holdings in the account of a European bank unnamed in the statement.

David Cohen, the Treasury undersecretary who supervises sanctions monitoring and enforcement, told The New York Times that the fine is part of a message that Iran is “not open for business” despite limited sanctions relief triggered by Iran’s agreement in November to negotiate its nuclear capacity.

N.Y. mayor says defending Israel is part of his job

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Bill de Blasio, New York’s newly installed mayor, said defending Israel was part of his job.

“Part of my job description is to be a defender of Israel,” de Blasio said at a private New York event of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee first reported Friday by the Capital New York news website.

“There’s no greater ally on earth, and that’s something we should say proudly,” he said at the Jan. 23 event.

De Blasio, who was inaugurated this month after being elected in November, described his visit to Israel with his family several years ago. He also said “City Hall will always be open” to AIPAC, a pro-Israel lobby.

He noted in his talk that New York has the largest Jewish population outside of Israel.

Successive New York mayors for decades have cultivated close ties with Israel.

The AIPAC event was omitted from the mayor’s public schedule distributed to the press corps, Capital New York reported in a follow-up article. The mayor said it was because AIPAC wanted the dinner to be closed to the media.

In the wake of the AIPAC speech, De Blasio promised to provide a “clearer understanding” of his schedule and speeches, according to Capital New York.

Swedish, Danish medical groups call for ban on ritual circumcisions

(JTA)—Large medical associations in Sweden and Denmark recommended banning non-medical circumcision of boys.

In Sweden, the recommendation came in a resolution that was unanimously adopted last week by the ethics council of the Sweden Medical Association—a union whose members constitute 85 percent of the country’s physicians, the Svenska Dagbladet daily reported on Saturday.

It recommended setting 12 as the minimum age for the procedure and the boy’s consent. Jewish ritual circumcision, or brit milah, is performed eight days after birth. Muslims typically circumcise boys before they turn 10.

In Denmark, the Danish College of General Practitioners—a group with 3,000 members—said in statement that non-medical circumcision of boys amounted to abuse and mutilation, the Danish BT tabloid reported Sunday.

“We are not religious experts, but for medical reasons, we cannot approve a procedure that removes tissue from the genitals in which the risk is so great for serious complications,” said the Swedish association’s ethics officer, Thomas Flodin.

The recommendation, which is non-binding, also said that circumcision should be performed only by physicians in a medical facility.

Sweden’s minister for integration, Erik Ullenhag, said existing rules that allow for ritual circumcision would not be changed.

In Sweden, non-medical and medical circumcision may be performed only by licensed professionals, as per legislation from 2001. Under the legislation, Jewish ritual circumcisers, or mohels, in Sweden receive their licenses from the country’s health board, but a nurse or doctor must still be present when they perform the procedure.

“I have never met any adult man who experienced circumcision as an assault,” Ullenhag said. “The procedure is not very intensive and parents have the right to raise their children according to their faith and tradition. If we prohibit it, we must also address the issue of the Christian ritual of baptism.”

In recent years, Scandinavian countries have seen an intensification of efforts to ban ritual circumcision by activists who say it violates children’s rights and by anti-immigration nationalists who seek to limit the effect that Muslim or Jewish presence is having on Swedish society. In September, the rightist Sweden Democrats Party submitted a motion in parliament in favor of banning ritual circumcision.

In October, the children’s ombudsmen of all Nordic countries—Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway—released a joint declaration proposing a ban on circumcision.

France returning Nazi-looted artwork from museums   

(JTA)—Government-owned museums in France will return three Nazi-looted paintings, the country’s minister for culture said.

Aurelie Filippetti identified the paintings as “Paysage Montagneux,” by the Dutch 17th century painter Joos de Momper; a painting of the Madonna and child; and another unidentified oil portrait of a woman.

Two of the paintings were in possession of the Louvre Museum and a third was found at the Museum of Dijon, according to the BFM television channel.

“I will return them very shortly to the legal beneficiaries of their owners at the time of their dispossession,” Filippetti reportedly said last week. She did not reveal the identity of the beneficiaries, but the Le Figaro daily reported they were Jewish.

The paintings are part of a list of 2,000 objects of art flagged as stolen by the Nazis that are in the possession of French cultural institutions, according to a report on the France3 television network. In 2013, French authorities returned seven artworks to descendants of Jews who had lost the objects during the Holocaust.

France has returned approximately 65,000 works of art and other objects stolen by the Nazis to their rightful owners, Le Figaro reported.

Davidson Foundation awards $30 million to Detroit Jewish community

(JTA)—The William Davidson Foundation made $30 million in grants for the Jewish community of Detroit.

The foundation, named for the late owner of the Detroit Pistons basketball team, also allocated $18 million to help improve economic conditions in southeast Michigan.

The funding for Jewish life includes a $5 million, five-year grant to support the PJ Library, which provides free Jewish children’s books and music to families; $8 million over five years to support the Hebrew Free Loan’s interest-free college loan program for students; up to $15 million for a tuition assistance program at the Hillel Day School, a nondenominational K-8 school; and $1.2 million for a three-year fellowship program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Davidson, who owned Guardian Industries, a maker of glass, automotive and building products, supported an array of Jewish causes during his lifetime, including the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, where the graduate school of education bears his name. He died in 2009 at 86.

U.S. attorney: Evidence shows N.Y. district didn’t deal with student anti-Semitism

(JTA)—Evidence collected against a New York State school district that has been accused of anti-Semitic harassment is “sufficient” to substantiate the charges, a federal attorney concluded.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York on Friday filed a memorandum in federal court in White Plains, N.Y., in support of a lawsuit against the upstate Pine Bush Central School District, The New York Times reported.

The statement of interest filed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara says, in part, that the evidence collected in the lawsuit “could support a conclusion” that the school district “ignored multiple signals that greater, more directed action was needed,” and that its efforts to prevent the anti-Semitism did not go far enough and were ineffective.

The statement also said the district’s leadership did not appear to have “engaged the school board or the faculty in any substantial discussion” about the anti-Semitic harassment, and that the district “failed to ensure that school administrators were aware of the scope and nature of the problem across the district’s schools.”

Jewish students in the district, which is located 90 miles north of New York City, have complained in recent years of anti-Semitic epithets and nicknames, jokes about the Holocaust, being forced to retrieve coins from dumpsters and physical violence. Fellow students are accused of making Nazi salutes and telling anti-Semitic jokes.

The alleged behavior caused three Jewish families to file a lawsuit against the school district and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to order investigations into the allegations of anti-Semitic harassment.

The lawsuit alleges that the students’ rights were violated by “rampant anti-Semitic discrimination and harassment” and “deliberate indifference” by school officials, according to The New York Times.

The school district says it took the appropriate disciplinary actions and that anti-Semitic behavior is not widespread in the district.

It has asked for a judgment in favor of the defendants, which include the school district, board of education and current and former administrators. The U.S. Attorney’s Office recommended that the request be denied.

Brandeis paid former president Reinharz $811,000 for unused sabbatical time

BOSTON (JTA)—Brandeis University disclosed that it paid former university president Jehuda Reinharz $811,000 for accumulated sabbatical leave that he never took during his 17-year presidency.

The payment was part of a $4.9 million lump sum payment Reinharz received Jan. 2 as deferred compensation, according to a statement issued Jan. 23 by Brandeis.

The amounts paid were set aside in previous years’ budgets and will not impact the university’s current finances, Brandeis said.

The voluntary announcement came as part of changes to the school’s executive compensation policies, unanimously approved on Jan. 22 by its board of trustees. Among the changes are a commitment to full transparency about compensation and inclusion of a faculty representative on the compensation committee.

The changes follow a harsh and vocal backlash against the school by alumni, faculty and students after disclosures about Reinharz’s pay since leaving the presidency in 2010.

Reinharz reportedly receives more than $600,000 a year in retirement pay. According to the Boston Globe, Reinharz has earned at least $1.2 million for part-time advisory work since stepping down as president at the end of 2010.

“Our new policies set very high standards,” said Perry Traquina, the university’s board chair.

Addressing the controversial payments for the first time, Brandeis University president Frederick Lawrence said, “I welcome the thoughtful approach taken by our board. Our intention is that these changes will put Brandeis on the leading edge in terms of governance best practices.”

Faculty Senate president Eric Chasolow told the Boston Globe that while the accumulated payment is a “very bitter pill for the faculty to swallow,” he hopes the changes will help avoid a similar situation in the future.

The trustees also announced that Reinharz, who it credits with an unprecedented campus expansion and more than quadrupling the school’s endowment, will maintain his half-time appointment on the faculty through 2024 at an annual salary of $180,000.

Reinharz is also director of the Tauber Institute and chairs the advisory board for Brandeis’ Crown Center for Middle East Studies.


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