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

Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Ex-security guard gets federal sentence for defacing Torah scroll

(JTA)—A former hotel security guard was sentenced to one year in prison for civil rights violations for defacing a Memphis Jewish school’s Torah scroll and prayer books.

Last Friday’s sentence of Justin Baker, 25, of Jackson, Tenn., comes on top of a four-year term in state prison levied in December. He will serve his two sentences concurrently.

U.S. District Judge J. Daniel Breen also ordered Baker to pay $9,999.99 in restitution to the school.

Baker had pleaded guilty to the federal civil rights charge. The Iraq War veteran was arrested in January 2013.

Students and faculty from the Margolin Hebrew Academy’s Cooper Yeshiva High School arriving at a worship service in a conference room of the DoubleTree Hotel in Jackson discovered the Torah scroll and prayer books damaged and covered with graffiti, including “Gentiles win, Jews lose” and “Submit to Satan.” Baker also admitted to spitting on the Torah.

Some 50 high school students and faculty from the school were spending the Sabbath at the hotel on their way to a ski trip in the Smoky Mountains.

The religious items Baker defaced have been returned to the Margolin Hebrew Academy, the Jackson Sun reported.

Baker has called himself an anti-Christian, anti-Semitic Satanist on social media, and says he likes to make bombs, according to the newspaper.

Murder of Jiri Fielder, Jewish heritage researcher, being probed in Prague

(JTA)—Police in Prague are investigating the murder of Jiri Fiedler, an influential researcher on Jewish heritage in the Czech Republic.

Fiedler, 79, and his wife, Dagmar, 74, were found dead in their apartment last month, but news reports at the time did not reveal their names.

Reports said the murders were believed to have occurred around the end of January, but their bodies were not discovered until mid-February.

Fiedler, who was not Jewish, began documenting Jewish heritage sites in what is now the Czech Republic in the 1970s, riding his bicycle to remote towns and villages to photograph and describe abandoned Jewish cemeteries and former synagogues, rabbis’ homes, Jewish schools and other sites that stood in ruins or were transformed for other use.

His work aroused the suspicion of the authorities, and more than once he was called in by the secret police because of his activities.

“At a time when the Jewish cultural heritage in Bohemia and Moravia was treated with utter contempt, he produced a trove of work that can be drawn on by future generations of researchers in the area of Jewish topography,” the Prague Jewish Museum, where Fiedler worked as a specialist and research director from 1996 to 2012, said in a statement.

Only after the fall of communism could Fielder publish his 1992 book “Jewish Sites of Bohemia and Moravia.” His work has been transferred into an electronic database of Jewish heritage in the Czech Republic that is constantly being updated.

The museum called his murder “a painful shock to all of the museum’s staff who knew Jiri Fiedler as a helpful colleague and a wonderful person.”

Arrest made in anti-Semitic vandalism at Albuquerque deli

(JTA)—The FBI has arrested a 56-year-old man in the anti-Semitic vandalism of a Jewish deli in Albuquerque, N.M.

John Ng was arrested last Friday in connection with two incidents at the Nosh Deli in late January and early February, according to local media.

Ng is expected to appear in U.S. District Court on Monday, according to reports. The charges to be leveled and details of his arrest are not known.

Mailing labels with anti-Semitic slurs written on them were stuck to the front door of the deli. The stickers also were pasted on parking meters and light poles on the block where the deli is located.

In the earlier incident, similar labels and messages, including “To the Kikes who should die,” were found on the deli’s front door.

“Part of me wants to meet him, part of me doesn’t want to meet him,” owner Alisa Turtletaub told KOB Eyewitness News 4 on Saturday. “I guess anybody in this situation you want to know why. Why do you have so much hate?”

AJC, ADL opposing Maryland anti-boycott measure

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Two national Jewish organizations are opposing a Maryland bill that would financially penalize colleges involved in an academic boycott of another country.

The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League in statements said that while they clearly do not support the American Studies Association’s call for a boycott of Israel, which occasioned the measure being considered by Maryland legislators, they also do not support any attempt to stifle academic freedom.

“Maryland’s proposed legislative action, which itself raises academic freedom questions, is not the answer to discriminatory acts against Israeli academics,” Alan Ronkin, the director of AJC’s Washington office, said in a March 5 statement. “More helpful would be a General Assembly call for publicly funded colleges and universities to increase their cooperation with Israeli institutions of higher learning.”

The AJC and ADL have objected to similar bills under consideration in other state legislatures.

Two lengthy hearings on the Maryland bill were held last week in Annapolis.

The bill prohibits public universities from paying for its employees to attend conferences or use public funds if they participated directly or indirectly in support of academic boycotts of countries that have a declaration of cooperation with Maryland. Israel has such a declaration.

Also, the measure reduces state funding to the boycotting universities by 3 percent.

Among regional Jewish groups, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington objects to any financial penalties, while the Baltimore Jewish Council is a strong supporter of any attempt to stop those who would delegitimize Israel. The Baltimore-Israel Coalition and Agudath Israel of Maryland also support the bill.

Canadian university’s student groups launch Sabra hummus boycott

TORONTO (JTA)—Pro-Palestinian student groups at the University of Ottawa have launched a campaign to ban Sabra hummus from campus.

Sabra is partly owned by the Strauss Group, a foods manufacturer that the students allege financially supports the Golani Brigade of the Israeli Defense Forces, according to The New York Times. The students say the Golani Brigade has been accused of human rights violations by numerous organizations.

Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights and the Palestinian Student Association are among the student groups involved in the campaign, according to the university newspaper, The Fulcrum, along with the community group Young Jews for Social Justice.

“We will be raising awareness amongst the student population, collecting signatures for a petition and encouraging students to individually boycott the product,” Assma Basmalah, a representative of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, told the paper.

The campaign coincided with the 10th annual Israeli Apartheid Week, which ended earlier this month.

Caroline Milliard, manager of media relations for the university in east-central Canada, told The Fulcrum that the main objective of the institution’s food services department is to provide healthy options at fair and competitive prices.

“The purchasing policy of our service provider is apolitical,” she said.

In an email to The Fulcrum, Susan Spronk, an associate professor at the university’s School of International Development and Global Studies, said she supports the campaign because “the struggle to liberate Palestine is this generation’s struggle against apartheid.”

After BDS event controversy, Brooklyn College issues guidelines

WASHINGTON (JTA)—The president of Brooklyn College distributed public events guidelines formulated in the wake of the ejection of four pro-Israel students from a boycott Israel event last year.

Among the guidelines distributed to staff last Friday by Karen Gould was a requirement that event organizers must be affiliated with Brooklyn College.

“The students were removed from the event based upon allegations by Carlos Guzman, an event organizer not affiliated with Brooklyn College, that the students were being disruptive and passing out flyers,” Gould said in a memo to staff describing the events at the Students for Justice in Palestine forum on Feb. 7, 2013 advocating the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

“As I stated last spring in a campus-wide communication, based upon the findings of a two-month CUNY investigation of what occurred and interviews with more than 40 witnesses, Mr. Guzman’s allegations proved to be false,” she said, referring to the probe by the City University of New York system.

The guidelines also make clear that diverse political viewpoints should be welcome at events, as long as there is no disruptive behavior.

“It seems to me likely that Mr. Guzman sought the removal of these four students from the event because they held viewpoints contrary to those being promoted by the SJP,” Gould said.

JCPA launching voting rights advocacy campaign

WASHINGTON (JTA)—The Jewish Council for Public Affairs is launching a voting rights advocacy campaign.

The umbrella body for local and national Jewish public policy groups will launch the drive at its annual conference, which is being held in Atlanta from Sunday to Tuesday.

A plenary session Monday will “strategize about how we can better our nation and ensure that every citizen can cast a meaningful vote,” according to the program.

The Supreme Court in June last year gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which had subjected changes in voting laws in a number of regions to Justice Department review, precipitating an avalanche of voter identification laws across the country that Democrats and liberal groups say effectively discriminate against minorities, the poor and the elderly.

A number of Jewish groups had strongly supported keeping the act’s provisions in place and have joined in efforts to reinstate the protections.

The JCPA conference also will include sessions on combating the boycott Israel campaign, advancing rights for the disabled and steps that communities can take “in anticipation of a possible Iran-related emergency situation.”

On Tuesday, the conference will consider a number of consensus resolutions. Each has been vetted by community leaders ahead of the conference and most are virtually guaranteed passage.

Among the resolutions are more government support for higher education, increasing the minimum wage, advocating for the disabled and for LGBT rights overseas.

The one resolution that may draw controversy updates JCPA’s stance on reproductive rights to applaud recent law mandating contraceptive coverage in health plans. Orthodox groups, which regard the law as overly intrusive, plan to dissent.

Michele Bachmann: Jewish groups selling out Israel for Obama

(JTA)—U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann said American Jewish organizations are selling out Israel in favor of the Obama administration.

Bachmann (R-Minn.) made the accusation last week during a telephone interview with Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council and host of the online radio show that is featured on the conservative Christian group’s website.

“What has been shocking has been seeing and observing Jewish organizations who, it appears, have made it their priority to support the political priority and the political ambitions of the president over the best interests of Israel. They sold out Israel,” Bachmann said.

She said this in reference to a Feb. 27 letter by major Democratic donors, many of them Jewish, to party congressional leaders urging them not to advance new Iran sanctions legislation. “This is clearly against Israel’s best interest,” she said.

President Obama in January said he would veto legislation introduced in the Senate the previous month that threatened to torpedo international negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has criticized the interim agreement reached in November between six world powers, including the United States, and Iran as “a bad deal.”

The so-called P5+1 agreement freezes some aspects of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief. Israel under Netanyahu is demanding total dismantlement of sites that are suspected as being connected to Iran’s presumed nuclear weapons program as a precondition for sanctions relief.

Earlier in the interview, Bachmann said that Obama “was helped enormously by the Jewish community. He made all sorts of promises in 2008 to the Jewish community through [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee]. He did it again in 2012 when he was running to be re-elected. He made promises that he would have Israel’s back, and in return the Jewish community gave him their votes.”

“The Jewish community gave him their votes, their support, their financial support and as recently as last week, 48 Jewish donors who are big contributors to the president wrote a letter to the Democrat [sic] senators in the U.S. Senate to tell them to not advance sanctions against Iran.”

Irish student union endorses Israel boycott

(JTA)—Students of the National University of Ireland passed a motion supporting a boycott of Israel.

The result of the March 6 referendum at the NUI Galway Students Union make it the first student body in Ireland to endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, campaign against Israel, according to the local news site Galwaybayfm.ie.

A number of student societies submitted the motion, which is nonbinding on the university.

Out of 3,013 valid votes of students who participated in the referendum on Israel, 1,954—or 64 percent—voted in favor of boycotting Israel, the voting committee announced last Friday.

Students were asked to answer with “yes” or “no” to express their support or disapproval of the assertion that, “NUI Galway Students’ Union actively supports the campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the State of Israel.”

In April, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland became the first educational trade union in Europe to adopt a boycott of Israeli academia.

Last month, the Young Men and Women’s Christian Association in Norway aligned itself with the BDS movement.

Israeli ambassador meets with Ukrainian ultranationalist

(JTA)—Israel’s ambassador in Kiev, Reuven Din El, and a Ukrainian ultranationalist movement agreed to work together to “prevent provocations.”

The agreement came at the end of a meeting held last week between Din El and Dmitry Yarosh, the leader of the Right Sector paramilitary group, which participated in the overthrow of the government of President Viktor Yanukovych.

In the meeting, “Dmitry Yarosh stressed that Right Sector will oppose all [racist] phenomena, especially anti-Semitism, with all legitimate means,” the embassy wrote on its website.

“The parties agreed to establish a ‘hotline’ to prevent provocations and coordinate on issues as they arise,” it said.

Yarosh’s troops had a decisive role in the revolution that forced Yanukovych to flee to Russia.

Last month he told the Ukrainian Pravda newspaper that his outfit shares many beliefs with the Svoboda party and cooperates with it, but rejects the xenophobia displayed by Svoboda members and leaders.

“We have a lot of common positions on ideological issues, but there are big differences. For example, I do not understand racist elements and I do not adopt them,” he said.

Yarosh said that “non-Ukrainians” should be treated according to principles set forth by the late Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera.

A onetime ally of Nazi Germany who later turned against the Nazis, Bandera said non-Ukrainian allies should be treated as brothers and neutral parties should be respected.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center and other Jewish organizations have condemned the glorification in Ukraine of Bandera, whose troops are believed to have killed thousands of Jews when they were allies of the Nazis in 1941.

Svoboda lawmakers have regularly used the pejorative “zhyd,” which is equivalent to “kike,” to describe Jews.

In response to protests from Jewish leaders, Svoboda argued “zhyd” was a correct and neutral, albeit archaic term. Svoboda’s leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, has in the past referred to a “Moscow-Jewish mafia” which he said ruled Ukraine.


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