Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Alice Herz-Sommer, oldest Holocaust survivor and subject of celebrated documentary, dies at 110

(JTA)—Alice Herz-Sommer, the 110-year-old Holocaust survivor and concert pianist whose life was the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary, has died.

Herz-Sommer, who was believed to be the oldest Holocaust survivor and was still playing the piano, died Sunday morning in London.

“The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life,” the 38-minute film about her life, is up for best short documentary at the Academy Awards to be handed out next month.

The film showed her indomitable optimism, cheerfulness and vitality despite all the upheavals and horrors she faced in life.

“I know there is bad in the world, but I look for the good,” she told JTA in a brief telephone interview recently, and “music is my life, music is God.”

Trained as a pianist from childhood, Herz-Sommer made her concert debut as a teenager, then married and had a son.

In 1943, however, Herz-Sommer and her husband, Leopold, and their 6-year old son Raphael (Rafi), were transported to the Nazi model concentration camp Theresienstadt. Her husband died in the Nazi camp, but Herz-Sommer became a member of the camp orchestra and gave more than 100 recitals while protecting her son.

Liberated in 1945, Herz-Sommer and her son returned to Prague but four years later left for Israel. There she taught at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and performed in concerts frequently attended by Golda Meir, while her son became a concert cellist.

After 37 years in Israel she followed her son to London in 1986. She remained in London even after her son died 15 years later at the age of 65.

L.A. City Council approves Iran sanctions

(JTA)—The Los Angeles City Council barred investors in Iran’s energy sector from bidding on or holding contracts with the state of California or its municipal governments.

Last Friday’s 13-0 vote makes Los Angeles the first city in California to fully comply with the state’s Iran Contracting Act of 2010, according to a statement issued by the council.

“Today the City of Los Angeles is sending a strong message to an Iranian regime that has continually flaunted international law in pursuit of a nuclear weapon, while providing peace of mind to every Angeleno that our tax dollars will not support such efforts,” said City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, an author of the state law.

Among those testifying last Friday in favor of the act included Dave Rand, chair of the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California, and Sam Yebri, president of 30 Years After, a nonprofit organization that promotes the participation and leadership of Iranian American Jews in American political, civic and Jewish life.

California passed its law in the wake of the federal Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act, which authorizes state and local governments to divest from parties involved in Iran’s petroleum, natural gas or nuclear industries. and to bar the parties from state and local government contracts.

City Attorney Mike Feuer told the Los Angeles City News that his office surveyed all city agencies and did not find any that were not complying with the city’s 2010 ban on doing business with firms contracting with Iran.

Book: Prisoner X had leaked sensitive information on Iran ops

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA)—Ben Zygier, the suspected Israeli spy known as Prisoner X, leaked sensitive information about Israel’s espionage operations against Iran, according to a new book.

In “Prisoner X,” the code name given to Zygier after he was taken and imprisoned by Israel’s Shin Bet security agency in early 2010, Australian journalist Rafael Epstein claimed that Zygier, an Australia native, revealed intelligence about operations he had been involved in to an Iranian businessman at Monash University in Melbourne in 2009.

“It was this Iranian who played a key role in his downfall,” Epstein wrote in an exclusive excerpt published in The Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age newspapers Saturday. “Put simply, Ben said too much to the wrong person at the wrong time.”

Epstein’s thesis contradicts media reports claiming that in 2008, Zygier flew independently to Eastern Europe in a bid to turn a Hezbollah associate into a double agent. But his apparent attempt to prove his worth to his Mossad superiors reportedly backfired and he allegedly exposed two Lebanese nationals working for the spy agency.

Epstein believes Zygier not only revealed to the Iranian businessman that he once worked for the Mossad, but divulged “details of the operations against Iran in which he’d been personally involved.”

Although Zygier did not have a senior role in the operations against Iran, he had “worked for a Milan-based satellite company that had operations across Africa and the Middle East, he had been to Tehran, and he knew plenty about what the Mossad was trying to do,” Epstein wrote.

“It comes as no surprise, then, that when Ben babbled in Melbourne, the Mossad heard about it in Tel Aviv via Tehran,” according to Epstein.

AIPAC to Congress: Iran must dismantle nuclear program

WASHINGTON (JTA)—The American Israel Public Affairs Committee urged Congress to outline terms for a final nuclear accord with Iran that would include dismantling its nuclear program.

“We urge Congress to outline for Iran the acceptable terms of a final accord,” said an Op-Ed in The New York Times on Saturday signed by AIPAC President Michael Kassen and Lee Rosenberg, its board chairman.

“This must include, at a minimum, the dismantling of its nuclear program, so that Iran has neither a uranium nor a plutonium pathway to a nuclear weapon,” it said.

This was part of the message, the writers said, that thousands of AIPAC activists would take to Capitol Hill next week during the annual AIPAC policy conference.

Obama administration officials have said that a total dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program is an unrealistic expectation of the talks now underway between Iran and the major powers aimed at finding a formula to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

In Jerusalem to brief Israeli leaders following the latest round of Iran talks, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman said she would not count out an Iranian enrichment capacity as an end result.

“The objective here is to ensure that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon and that its program is exclusively peaceful,” she told Israeli reporters on Saturday.

“Whether, in fact, Iran will have a domestic enrichment program is part of the negotiations,” Sherman said. “In the Joint Plan of Action, it was envisioned that it was possible that Iran might have a small, discreet enrichment program.”

The Joint Plan of Action is the interim sanctions-for-nuclear rollback deal that allowed the current talks to take place. The talks, launched last month, are scheduled for six months but may be renewed for another six months.

The AIPAC Op-Ed notably did not embrace any specific legislation and noted that while the lobby still backed new sanctions that had been proposed in the Senate, it also backed delaying a vote for now.

President Obama had threatened to veto new sanctions legislation, saying it could scuttle the talks.

The Op-Ed urged Congress to assert its foreign policy prerogative, even over the opposition of the president, and press the case for a tougher line with Iran during the talks, including enhanced sanctions.

“Historically, presidents have resisted congressional involvement that would affect or constrain their diplomatic efforts,” the Op-Ed said. “At this moment, we must not allow Iran to dictate the appropriate role of Congress.”

Part of the message activists will deliver to Congress would be that lawmakers should assert a more robust oversight of the Iran-major powers talks, it said.

Jewish, Hispanic troops to receive belated Medal of Honor

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Twenty-four American soldiers, including the late uncle of musician Lenny Kravitz, will receive the Medal of Honor after most of them were overlooked because of anti-Jewish or anti-Hispanic prejudice.

The White House said in a statement issued Friday that the medals to be awarded March 18 are the result of a review mandated by a law passed in 2002 by Congress based on reports that some troops had been denied the nation’s highest military honor because of prejudice.

In the course of the review, the statement said, it was found that several soldiers not of Jewish or Hispanic descent also had been denied the medal, and that they, too, would be honored.

Three soldiers will receive the award in person from President Obama. Posthumous honors will go to other troops who fought in the Vietnam and Korean wars, as well as in World War II. The White House did not identify which of the awardees were Jewish or Hispanic or neither.

Two Florida lawmakers, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), noted in separate statements that one of the awardees is Pvt. Leonard Kravitz, who died fending off Communist forces on March 6-7, 1951, near Yangpyong in Korea. The namesake of the musician faced an ambush with a machine gun, so his fellow troops could evacuate.

Mitchel Libman, a a childhood friend of Kravitz now living in Hollywood, Fla., had championed his cause.

Thessaloniki Jews suing Germany in European human rights court

ATHENS, Greece (JTA)—The Jewish community of Thessaloniki is suing Germany for the return of a ransom paid during the Nazi occupation of Greece.

The papers were filed Friday in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, the community’s president, David Saltiel, told JTA.

The move to the European court comes after a struggle of two decades in Greek courts, including the Supreme Court, which ruled that Germany had immunity under international conventions.

“It is the end of a long process,” Saltiel said. “We have finished with the courts in Greece and now we hope that the Human Rights Court can help restore the ransom money that the Jewish community paid to Germany.”

The ransom was paid to free some 9,000 of Thessaloniki’s Jewish men, aged 18 to 45, from forced labor by the Germans, who took control of the city in 1942. The German civilian administrator of the Thessaloniki , Max Merten, demanded some 2.5 billion drachmas to release them.

“They were sick and dying and starving and working without food, so the community collected the money to pay,” said Saltiel.

In total, 1.9 billion drachmas, or nearly $69 million, was paid before the Germans began transporting Thessaloniki Jews to the death camps. More than 49,000 Jews out of the city’s prewar Jewish population of 55,000 were deported. Fewer than 2,000 survived.

U.S., France in talks for rails Holocaust reparations

WASHINGTON (JTA)—The French government is negotiating with the State Department over reparations to Holocaust survivors who were deported to Nazi death camps in trains owned by France.

Stuart Eizenstat, a veteran U.S. negotiator on reparation issues, confirmed to the Washington Post last Friday that negotiations have been underway for about a year and were initiated by the French. The most recent talks were in Paris on Feb. 6, he said.

SNCF, the rail company owned by the French government, has paid more than $6 billion in reparations to survivors in Europe but nothing to American Holocaust survivors, according to the Post article.

The Coalition for Holocaust Justice, which has been speaking out for reparations for many years, said in a statement that it was encouraged by news of the talks.

“SNCF is one of the few companies that has refused to pay reparations for its role in the Holocaust, and there is little time left to ensure that SNCF’s victims realize some measure of justice and closure in their lifetimes,” the coalition said in its statement.

SNCF transported 76,000 Jews and other prisoners to death camps. The rail firm was paid per person per kilometer to provide the trains, cars and manpower. The trains traveled from the suburbs of Paris to Nazi concentration camps from 1942 to 1944.

Judith Butler cancels Jewish Museum talk over Israel controversy

(JTA)—Literary theorist Judith Butler pulled out of a talk she was scheduled to give at New York’s Jewish Museum amid protests over her support for boycotting Israel.

Butler, who teaches comparative literature and critical theory at the University of California, Berkeley, was set to speak at an event on March 6 about the writer Franz Kafka.

But supporters of Israel took issue with the museum’s decision to invite her, the Forward reported Feb. 20. The opponents cited her support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS, and harsh criticism of Israel.

“I cancelled the event,” Butler told the Forward in an email.

“While her political views were not a factor in her participation, the debates about her politics have become a distraction making it impossible to present the conversation about Kafka as intended,” the museum said in a statement.

According to the Forward, the museum scrapped the entire event because Butler pulled out of a panel of experts. She said in a statement that she regretted having to scrap the talk.

“I was very much looking forward to the discussion of Kafka in The Jewish Museum, and to affirm the value of Kafka’s literary work in that setting,” Butler said in a statement released by the museum.

Ramaz, Orthodox Manhattan high school, nixes Rashid Khalidi talk

NEW YORK (JTA)—Some students and alumni of Ramaz are protesting the Manhattan Orthodox high school’s decision to rescind an invitation to Arab-American academic Rashid Khalidi.

Ramaz’s student-run politics society had issued the invitation to Khalidi,  the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, but the talk was nixed by Ramaz’s head of school, Paul Shaviv. The controversy was first reported by the website Mondoweiss.

Khalidi, who was born in New York to a Saudi-Palestinian father and Lebanese mother, lived in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war and was associated with the Palestine Liberation Organization. As a professor, he has said that Palestinians living under Israeli occupation have a legal right to resistance and has charged supporters of Israel with using McCarthyite tactics to silence honest debate in America about the Middle East, including falsely accusing him of anti-Semitism.

After Shaviv’s decision, Ramaz students began an online petition calling for the event to be reinstated.

“I believe it is critical that Ramaz students are exposed to different perspectives and that open dialogue be encouraged at Ramaz—not limited,” the petition says. “I call upon Head of School Mr. Shaviv to realize how important academic equitability is to the Ramaz community and reverse his prohibition on Professor Khalidi’s address.”

As of last Friday morning, the petition had garnered more than 150 signatures. One signatory, Dartmouth Hillel student president Asher Mayerson, wrote: “As a Jewish Day School graduate and a Hillel President, I support bringing open conversations on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Jewish communal spaces.”

In a statement issued to JTA last Friday, Shaviv said he was working with students to “navigate a delicate political situation, respecting their wish for open exchange of ideas, but also being mindful of multiple sensitivities within our varied school constituencies.”

The statement from Ramaz said, “The issue is not whether or not students should hear another view—they should. Our question was: ‘Is this the appropriate program?’”

The school’s administration said it believed the controversy would “massively overshadow any conversation and would make an educational experience impossible,” and that Khalidi was not the right partner for dialogue with high school students.

Shaviv said he met with Khalidi and amicably explained the situation to him, and Ramaz’s statement said the school is “working with the politics club to arrange an event that will provide the program content they originally envisaged.”

The controversy at Ramaz comes amid a wide debate in the American Jewish community about how open Jewish institutions should be to debate about Israel. Much of the recent focus has been on college campuses, with a few Hillel chapters torn between whether or not to allow the participation of Jewish groups or students supportive of the movement to use boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

Earlier this week, Vassar’s Jewish Student Union announced it was becoming an “open Hillel,” repudiating Hillel International’s guidelines rejecting partnerships with groups deemed hostile toward Israel.


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