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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Ukraine’s religious communities ask Russia to pull out troops

(JTA)—Religious communities in Ukraine, including the Jewish community, called on Russia to “stop its aggression against Ukraine” and pull out its troops.

The religious communities also appealed to the international community, including the United States, Great Britain, the European Union, the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, to “stop foreign invasion into Ukraine and brutal interference into our internal affairs.”

Rabbi Jacob Dov Bleich, president of the Jewish Federation of Ukraine and a chief rabbi in the country, was among the signatories of the letter circulated by the Institute for Religious Freedom. Other signatories include the heads of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate; the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church; the Evangelical Baptist Union of Ukraine; the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Ukraine; and the Ukrainian Lutheran Church.

“Dear Brothers and Sisters in Russia! The Ukrainian people have only friendly, fraternal feelings toward the Russian people. Do not believe the propaganda that enflames hostility between us. We want and we will continue to build friendly and fraternal relations with Russia but only as a sovereign and independent state,” the letter states.

Meanwhile, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee said Sunday that it has activated emergency plans to help needy Jews in Crimea, which is home to about 17,000 Jews who live in and around Simferopol, Sevastopol, Feodosia and Yalta. The assistance includes delivering food and medicine to the homes of elderly and poor, establishing emergency phone chains and increasing security around Jewish community centers.

The JDC said in a statement that it has “prepared appropriate contingency plans in case the situation worsens.”

In a statement released Friday, Rabbi Michael Kapustin of the Ner Tamid Reform synagogue in Simferopol, in the Crimean Peninsula, said he would go to his synagogue to light candles even though services were canceled for security reasons.

“The city is occupied by Russians. Apparently Russians intend to take over the Crimea and make it a part of Russia,” Kapustin said. “If this were the case I would leave the country. In this case, I will leave this country since I want to live in democratic Ukraine.”

AIPAC conference opens with appeal for bipartisanship

WASHINGTON (JTA)—The pro-Israel lobby AIPAC opened its annual conference with an appeal for bipartisanship.

“Bipartisanship is essential,” Michael Kassen, the board chairman of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said Sunday in his opening statement to the conference, which drew a record 14,000 activists.

“We must affirm bipartisanship in our own ranks if we want support for Israel to be championed by Democrats and Republicans alike, he said. “AIPAC’s political diversity is critical to our continued success.”

The conference opening Sunday follows a period of tension between the lobby and the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress over AIPAC’s backing for new Iran sanctions, which Obama opposes as a detriment to nuclear talks now underway between Iran and the major powers.

AIPAC last month retreated from pressing for an immediate Senate vote on the sanctions, not wanting to undercut its influence with Democrats. The group is still backing the sanctions bill but is not pressing for a vote until the measure has enough endorsers to bust a promised Obama veto.

A number of conservatives and Republicans have since urged the group to resume its pressure for a Senate vote, even if it would land AIPAC in a partisan battle. Advocates of renewing pressure for a sanctions vote say the stakes with Iran are too high to consider Democratic sensibilities.

Kassen’s remarks seemed directly aimed at those who would advocate for an immediate vote.

In addition to seeking additional endorsers for the sanctions bill, AIPAC delegates who will meet Tuesday with lawmakers will press for the passage of an enhanced U.S.-Israel security relationship bill. AIPAC activists backed the same bill at the last conference a year ago, but it has only made limited headway.

The delegates also will seek signatories on a bipartisan Senate letter to Obama outlining the “core principles” that must come out of the talks with Iran. Chief among them is preventing Iran from “having a uranium or plutonium path to a nuclear bomb.” A similar letter may also come out of the U.S. House of Representatives in time for the Tuesday lobbying blitz.

The “path” wording allows for a degree of flexibility between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s outspoken advocacy for ending Iran’s uranium enrichment capability and the Obama administration’s warnings that Iran likely will have some limited civilian enrichment capability.

Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s executive director, told delegates they would encounter a degree of resistance to their Iran-related advocacy on Capitol Hill.

“When you’re up on the Hill, no matter what reception you receive, no matter how forcefully your member of Congress may express reservations,” he said, “be gracious and be respectful and make clear that the conversation cannot end here, that you will come back.”

One-third drop in French anti-Semitic incidents falls short of watchdog’s expectations

(JTA)—The number of anti-Semitic attacks in France last year decreased by 31 percent from 2012—short of the level the Jewish community’s monitoring group was seeking.

In its annual report released Sunday, the SPCJ security organization recorded 423 anti-Semitic incidents in 2013 compared to 614 the previous year. The SPCJ is the French Jewish community’s watchdog on anti-Semitism.

“The decrease in anti-Semitic incidents in 2013 compared to the previous year failed to meet the level we had expected and hoped for,” SPCJ wrote in its report.

The 2013 figure was 8 percent higher than the 2011 numbers, the watchdog said.

According to SPCJ, hate crimes against Jews in 2013 constituted 33.2 percent of all 1,274 racist incidents recorded in France by the French Interior Ministry. Jews make up only 1 percent of the French population.

Among the 2013 incidents, 49 were classified by SPCJ as involving “physical violence” compared to 96 cases in 2012—the year that an Islamist killed four Jews at a school in Toulouse—and 57 in 2011. SPCJ said the 2012 murder unleashed a wave of approximately 100 attacks on Jews across France and mainly in Paris within 10 days.

“Anti-Semitism in France cannot be considered anymore as a temporary situation associated with the situation in the Middle East; it is a structural problem that has not been fought as such and has not been halted yet,” SPCJ wrote in a statement released to the media with the report.

Threats and verbal abuses of an anti-Semitic character accounted for 152 cases, or 35 percent, of the total. In 2012 the figure was 219. Fifty-two incidents in 2013 involved “defacing and vandalism.”

About 100 incidents were recorded in the Paris area. Incidents in and around Marseille and Lyon accounted for another 48 combined.

One of the documented assaults was an attempted stabbing on Sept. 24 of a Jewish schoolboy in Paris. A passer-by saw the boy being attacked by a young man who was hurling anti-Semitic insults at the boy. The passer-by intervened and gave the boy a ride away from the scene on his scooter.

Accused Nazi war criminal ruled unfit for trial

(JTA)—An accused Nazi war criminal is unfit to stand trial, a German court ruled.

Hans Lipschis, 94, who allegedly was an SS guard at Auschwitz, suffers from dementia and will not understand what transpires at his trial, the court in Ellwangen in southwest Germany ruled last Friday, according to reports. The court has refused to open the trial.

“The chamber is of the opinion that the 94-year-old is incapable of standing trial,” the decision from the court said, Reuters reported. “It bases this judgment on its own personal impression and the opinion of a psychiatrist.”

Lipschis is living in a nursing home, The Associated Press reported. He has said he was a cook at Auschwitz; prosecutors believe he was a guard.

The Lithuania native, who reportedly moved to Chicago in 1956, was stripped of his American citizenship and deported in 1982 after U.S. immigration authorities determined that he had lied about his Nazi past in order to gain entry into the country.

His arrest in Germany last May followed the release of information to German courts on about 50 former Auschwitz guards.

Lipschis had been No. 4 on the Simon Wiesenthal Center list of most wanted Nazi criminals and was charged with being an accessory to 10,510 counts of murder.

‘Mein Kampf’ inscribed by Hitler fetches $64,850

(JTA)—A two-volume set of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” inscribed by Hitler sold at an auction in Los Angeles for $64,850.

The books, from 1925 and 1926, were sold Feb. 27 to an anonymous U.S. buyer. They were inscribed to Josef Bauer, one of the first members of the Nazi party.

There were 11 bids for the set, which had a minimum bid of $20,000 at Nate D. Sanders Auctions.

Signed copies of the book, which details Hitler’s hatred of Jews and lays his vision for the future of Germany, reportedly are quite rare.

Soccer players can wear religious head coverings, FIFA rules

(JTA)—The FIFA world soccer association will allow players to wear head coverings for religious reasons during official matches.

Under the ruling announced Saturday, a Muslim woman can cover her head with a hijab or her face with a veil, and a Jewish man can wear a kippah, among others.

The head covering must be the same color as the uniform, according to the FIFA board.

The decision followed a two-year trial period first requested by the Sikh community of Canada, the French news agency AFP reported.

Head coverings had not been allowed previously because FIFA believed them to be a safety risk.

Last month, Israel’s soccer association suspended its ban on wearing kippot for its minor leagues.

French JDL praises Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of Palestinians

(JTA)—France’s Jewish Defense League published a eulogy of Baruch Goldstein that celebrates his massacre of Palestinian worshipers in Hebron 20 years ago.

The group, known locally as Ligue de Defense Juive or LDJ, posted the eulogy on its website ahead of the Feb. 25 anniversary of the massacre during which Goldstein, a U.S.-born physician, shot dead 29 Palestinians while they were praying at the Cave of the Patriarchs.

“Baruch Goldstein is an Israeli physician who in 1994 killed 25 Arab settlers and wounded another 125. He was killed in the confrontation and became a hero for many Israeli patriots,” the eulogy dated Feb. 22 said.

The text also listed commemorations of Goldstein as a “tribute to the memory of Dr. Baruch Goldstein, the saint, may God avenge his blood.”

LDJ officials say the group has several hundred members in France. The group adheres to the doctrines of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, a radical Jewish-Israeli nationalist who was born in the United States. Kahane was murdered in 1990 in New York by a Palestinian gunman.

Kahane’s Jewish Defense League is considered a terrorist group in the United States. Israel also outlawed the Kach movement founded by Kahane after he moved to Israel in 1971.

In France, LDJ is not an illegal organization, although its members have been involved in violent confrontations, most commonly in vigilante actions against people they accused of anti-Semitism or anti-Semitic violence.

The Jewish-French Union for Peace, a small group that supports the boycott of Israel, called on French Jewish groups to condemn the LDJ for glorifying Goldstein’s actions.

“French authorities criminalize BDS,” the union wrote in a Feb. 27 statement, referencing the French judiciary’s restrictive policy on activists of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. “Yet they let this band of hoodlums do as they please and enjoy impunity despite their criminal actions. Why?  We are awaiting an answer.”

Norwegian YMCA embraces boycott Israel policy

(JTA)—The Young Men and Women’s Christian Association in Norway aligned itself with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, or BDS.

The Norwegian YMCA-YWCA “encourages broad economic boycott of goods and services from Israel and Israeli settlements to pressure the Israeli government to follow up on U.N. resolutions and end the illegal occupation of Palestine,” the organization wrote in a statement published on its Norwegian-language website last week.

With 30,000 members in more than 500 chapters and affiliated Scouts groups, the Norwegian Y—KFUK-KFUM in its Norwegian acronym—is among the country’s largest and oldest youth groups.

Conrad Myrland, director of Norway’s With Israel for Peace group, or MIFF, told the Vart Land daily that he considers the youth organization’s move “too weak to be considered tragic. Boycott of Israel is stupid and immoral independently of the support it has from YMCA-YWCA.

“The only result is that YMCA-YWCA now supports boycotting the only democracy in the Middle East,” Myrland said. “I encourage all individuals and churches to withdraw their support of YMCA-YWCA until the immoral boycott action is abandoned.”

On its website, the Norway Y group wrote that it decided to embrace BDS “because a long series of U.N. resolutions and negotiations for decades have not yielded results. We believe it is now appropriate to initiate an economic boycott of Israel to put increased pressure on the Israeli authorities.”

Greek doctor arrested for ‘Jews Not Welcome’ sign

(JTA)—A Greek doctor who posted a “Jews Not Welcome” sign outside his office was arrested for inciting racial hatred.

The doctor, a 57-year-old neurologist from Thessaloniki, also was charged with weapons possession and pro-Nazi beliefs, according to the Greek Reporter.

The sign was written in German. The doctor, who has not been named, is a member of the Greek ultranationalist Golden Dawn party and an avowed Nazi supporter, according to reports. The party is known for its Nazi swastika-like flag and Holocaust-denying leadership.

Police found three daggers, 12 knives and pills without prescriptions at the doctor’s home. Two of the daggers were engraved with Nazi symbols.

The Jewish community of Thessaloniki was an important center of Sephardic Jewry for 450 years following the expulsion from Spain. It had a pre-World War II Jewish population of 55,000; now about 1,000 Jews live there.

Ex-Illinois Obamacare worker was jailed in Jerusalem bombings

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Illinois briefly employed as a health care navigator a woman convicted in a 1969 terrorist bombing in Israel.

The Illinois Department of Insurance in November revoked the certification of Rasmieh Yousef Odeh, National Review Online reported this week, after her Israeli conviction was revealed subsequent to her arrest on immigration charges.

The insurance department had hired Odeh, an activist in Chicago’s Arab-American community, as a “navigator,” an official who assists people seeking health care options through the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature health care reform. Illinois is among a number of states that with the federal government launched what is known as Obamacare late last year.

Israel jailed Odeh for life for her involvement in a number of Jerusalem bombings in 1969, including one at a supermarket that killed two Hebrew University students, Leon Kanner and Eddie Joffe.

She was released in a prisoner exchange with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 1980, and immigrated to the United States from Jordan in 1995.

Odeh, who became a naturalized citizen in 2004, was arrested in October for failing to mention her conviction in her immigration papers.

Yeshiva U. agrees to ordain student it rebuked over ‘partnership minyan’

NEW YORK (JTA)—Yeshiva University said it will grant rabbinic ordination to a student after previously threatening to withhold it stemming from his having once hosted a so-called “partnership minyan.”

“An agreement has been reached and the student will be receiving Semikha,” Rabbi Yosef Blau, a senior counselor at Y.U.’s seminary, told the Forward in an email, referring to ordination.

The Forward received confirmation of the move from the university’s media relations director.

In a partnership minyan, women lead many aspects of the Sabbath service and are called to the Torah. Most halachic sources prohibit the practice, including Rabbi Hershel Schachter, a rosh yeshiva at Y.U.’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, or RIETS.

Rabbi Menachem Penner, acting dean of RIETS, had previously sent a letter to the student ordering him not to participate in partnership minyans “nor create a public impression that he supports such activities in normative practice,” The New York Jewish Week reported Thursday. The letter was posted on The Jewish Channel’s website.

The student, who is identified as Shalom in the letter dated Jan. 13, has chosen to remain anonymous. He told The Jewish Week that he had intended to host the partnership minyan at his home only once at the request of his then-ailing wife.

The letter indicated that the student will not be a “musmach,” or graduate, of the seminary unless he is able to subscribe to the principles laid out therein, including to “defer, in matters of normative practice, to the opinions of recognized poskim,” or decisors of Jewish law.

News of the letter spurred objections from some Modern Orthodox rabbis.

Y.U. and RIETS issued a statement late on Thursday saying that the student could receive ordination next month.

“To be clear, the issue at hand has never been just about partnership minyanim, nor was there consideration of condemning or punishing a student for a single misdeed,” the statement said.

Rather, the statement continued, the partnership minyan issue spurred discussions that raised questions about whether the student’s views of the Jewish legal, or halachic, process were consistent with those of the seminary’s faculty, which does not consider such minyans valid.

Ultimately, the statement concluded, an agreement was reached with the student “reflective of his commitment to the principles of our institution.”

Mass haredi Orthodox rally in Jerusalem protests draft bill

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Hundreds of thousands of haredi Orthodox men gathered at the entrance to Jerusalem to protest a bill that would require yeshiva students to serve in the military.

The main haredi factions were represented at what was dubbed the “million man protest” on Sunday afternoon. The protest did not have any speeches, just prayers and psalms. Police estimated the crowd at 300,000; protest organizers said it was 500,000.

More than 3,500 police and security personnel were at the site of the demonstration to protect the protesters. The main entrance to Jerusalem was closed to traffic at 1 p.m.; the Jerusalem Central Bus Station closed at 2:30 p.m.

Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, made up mostly of modern Orthodox members, called on his party members to stay away from the rally.

“You won’t find any mention of criminal sanctions in the bill,” Bennett said Saturday night. “Those who shout that they need to speak out know that no yeshiva student will be sent to jail. The bill is fair. Military service is not an edict, it’s a mitzvah.”

Under the proposed military draft law being prepared by the Shaked Committee, haredi men would be criminally charged for evading the draft, but the penalties would not go into effect until 2017. In addition, draft orders for haredi men up to age 26 will not go into effect until up to a year after the law is implemented.

The measure is likely to be brought before the Knesset plenum this month.

The Tal Law, which allowed haredi men to defer army service indefinitely, was invalidated by the Supreme Court in February 2012 and expired in August that year. Haredi yeshiva students since then have had their drafts deferred.

Modern Orthodox leader Rabbi Haim Druckman on Saturday night called on his community to stay away from the rally.

Another rabbinic leader of the movement, Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira, head of the Ramat Gan yeshiva, changed his mind on Sunday regarding participation in the rally, saying that movement leaders would not attend despite announcing their intent last week to join the rally. Expressions of disrespect by the haredi Orthodox community toward the modern Orthodox reportedly was the reason for the change of heart, according to Israel National News, a modern Orthodox news service.

The Belz Hasidic sect has threatened to leave Israel en masse if the law is passed.

Israel halted Iranian assassination campaign at U.S. urging

(JTA)—The Obama administration pressured Israel to stop assassinating Iran’s top nuclear scientists, according to a CBS News report.

Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency ran an assassination campaign for several years, during which time at least five Iranian scientists were killed, most by bombs planted on their cars, national correspondent Dan Raviv reported Saturday on the CBS News website.

“Remarkably, the Israeli assassins were never caught—obviously having long-established safe houses inside Iran—although several Iranians who may have helped the Mossad were arrested and executed,” Raviv wrote.

His report was published a day before the book Raviv co-authored, “Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars,” was coming out with an updated edition.

“Recently, as I sought to update a book I co-wrote about the history of Israel’s intelligence agencies, sources close to them revealed that they felt pressure from the Obama Administration—more than a hint—to stop carrying out assassinations inside Iran,” he wrote, without elaborating.

Raviv, citing sources “close to” Israel’s intelligence agencies, reported that Mossad officials decided that the campaign had become “too dangerous” and decided to pull out before any of their spies were caught and killed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the Mossad to concentrate on finding evidence that Iran is violating the interim agreement it signed with the world powers in November, Raviv reported.

Israel’s security is paramount, Netanyahu says before leaving for D.C.

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed security prior to departing for the United States and his meeting with President Obama.

On Sunday, before leaving for the United States, Netanyahu called the five-day trip this week “important.” He is set to meet with Obama on Monday.

“I will stand steadfast on the State of Israel’s vital interests, especially the security of Israel’s citizens,” Netanyahu said.

“In recent years the State of Israel has been under various pressures. We have rejected them in the face of the unprecedented storm and unrest in the region and are maintaining stability and security. This is what has been and what will be.”

The two leaders reportedly will discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Iran, though the Ukrainian crisis and tension with Russia also could enter into the conversations.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference in Washington. He also will meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and congressional leaders.

Netanyahu will then travel to California’s Silicon Valley, where he is scheduled to meet with the heads of high-tech companies such as Apple, WhatsApp, eBay and LinkedIn. He reportedly also will sign a “strategic cooperation agreement” with California Gov. Jerry Brown.

Injured Israeli soldier proposes in front of 1,000 cheering onlookers

(JTA)—An Israeli soldier who lost his arm in a Hamas terror attack proposed to his girlfriend from the stage of a Friends of the IDF event in Florida.

Cpl. Ziv Shilon proposed on Feb. 27 in front of about 1,000 people at the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces’ Greater Miami Chapter Solidarity Gala in Hollywood. His girlfriend, Adi Sitbon, said yes.

The theme of the evening, which raised more than $3.3 million, was “Saluting the Women of the IDF.”

“We, the combat soldiers, are not the only ones who are doing a great job, but so are our wives, sisters, mothers and girlfriends who support us and give us the opportunity to serve Israel,” Shilon said. “FIDF says that our job is to protect Israel; their job is to give us the reason.

“I wanted to take this opportunity to ask my girlfriend, Adi, just one question. You are my hope, my rock, and my everything. I wanted to ask you, will you marry me?”

Shilon put a diamond engagement ring on Sitbon’s finger using his prosthesis. The audience cheered and applauded.

Obama to meet Abbas two weeks after Netanyahu visit

WASHINGTON (JTA)—President Obama and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will meet two weeks after Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The President looks forward to reviewing with President Abbas the progress in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations,” said a White House statement Thursday announcing the March 17 meeting. “They will also discuss our continuing effort to work cooperatively to strengthen the institutions that can support the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

Obama plans to meet Monday with Netanyahu. The meetings come ahead of plans by John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, to unveil a proposed framework for a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Israel blasts IAEA’s reported shelving of Iran nuke report

(JTA)—Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz criticized the International Atomic Energy Agency’s reported decision to shelve for now a report on Iran.

Steinitz was responding on Friday to a Reuters report that the IAEA decided not to publish a report it had prepared last year so as not to disrupt talks with Iran over its nuclear program.

According to Reuters, the contents of the report are unknown but may have included what the IAEA calls possible military dimensions, or PMD. In his statement, Steinitz said that postponing release of the report “does not appear to be a valid move.”

The task of the IAEA “is to expose to the international community any information regarding the military aspects of the Iranian nuclear program and not to shelve it out of considerations pertaining to diplomatic sensitivity,” said Steinitz, whose official titles are minister of intelligence, minister of international relations and minister of strategic affairs.

“I call on the IAEA to complete and publish the report as soon as possible, precisely because of the importance of the PMD issue for a final agreement with Iran,” he added.

Iran struck an interim nuclear deal with six world powers in November, which Israel denounced as an “historic mistake” as it did not require Tehran to dismantle its uranium enrichment sites. The deal removes some sanctions in exchange for a rollback of some nuclear activity. Iran and the six nations—Germany, the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China—are conducting talks on reaching a final agreement.

The IAEA’s dossier in November 2011 contained a trove of intelligence indicating past activity in Iran which could be used for developing nuclear weapons, some of which it said might still be continuing. Iran rejected the allegations.

The dossier helped Western powers step up the sanctions pressure on Iran, including a European Union oil embargo imposed in 2012.

The IAEA had no immediate comment to the Reuters report, the news agency said.

Kenyans nab top spots in Tel Aviv Marathon

(JTA)—Kenyans took the top three spots among some 40,000 runners in the Tel Aviv Marathon.

Koech Ezekiel Kiprop was the overall winner on Friday in a record 2 hours, 14 minutes and 40 seconds. Kiprop was followed by Keter Emmanuel Triop and Sammy Limo, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Margaret Mjugna, also a Kenyan, finished first among the women in 2:44:20.

Emergency medical services treated 65 runners, Army Radio reported, most from heat exhaustion. One was in serious condition.

The Tel Aviv municipality said there were 150,000 spectators.

Last March, a 29-year-old man died and dozens more were hospitalized with heat stroke and dehydration while running the half marathon in Tel Aviv. The run was in unseasonably warm weather and led the city to cancel the full marathon that was to be held a few days later.


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