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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Maccabi Tev Aviv upsets its way to Euroleague basketball crown

ROME (JTA)—Maccabi Tel Aviv upset favored Real Madrid to win the Euroleague basketball championship.

Maccabi defeated the Spanish squad, 98-86, in overtime on Sunday night in Milan in the title game. Tyrese Rice led the Israeli club with 26 points, including 14 in overtime. The game was tied at 73 following regulation.

A huge contingent of Israelis traveled to Italy for the game—some estimates said at least 10,000. Many of the Maccabi fans dressed in the team’s yellow and waved yellow-and-blue banners and the team’s flag, a yellow-and-blue version of the Israeli flag, with the star of David in the center.

Manuel Berti on the Italian Basketinside blog called the victory a “masterpiece” that was “incredible, crazy, surreal.” He added, “It is the triumph of an entire people, who arrived en masse to fill and color the streets of Milan.”

Maccabi had reached the finals with another upset victory, over CSKA Moscow, in the semifinals on Friday. The Israeli club rallied from a 15-point deficit to win.

President Shimon Peres phoned Coach David Blatt after the finals victory to congratulate him—and said the dramatic game had almost given him a heart attack, The Jerusalem Post reported.

It was the sixth Euroleague title for Maccabi Tel Aviv and its first since 2005.

Netanyahu distances himself from Abbas-Livni meeting

TEL AVIV (JTA)—An official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Justice Minister Tzipi Livni did not officially represent Israel in a recent meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Livni and Abbas met May 15 in London, where they were holding separate previously scheduled meetings. Both also met in the British capital separately with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, according to Haaretz.

The official in Netanyahu’s office told Haaretz that though Netanyahu knew of the meeting in advance, he told Livni that she would be “representing only herself and not the Israeli government.”

Israel suspended negotiations with the Palestinian Authority last month after Abbas’ Fatah party signed a reconciliation agreement with Hamas, the terrorist organization that governs Gaza. The official said that at her meeting with Abbas, Livni explained Israel’s aversion to the deal and sought to understand Abbas’ intentions following the suspension of talks.

“There is a Cabinet decision on freezing negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, and Livni supported this decision,” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman told Israel’s Channel 2, which first reported the meeting. “I suppose she was in London and privately met whoever she wanted to meet. I am sure it’s not related to negotiations. Even if they played checkers, that’s their right.”

The pro-settler Jewish Home party called on Livni to resign following the meeting, according to the Times of Israel.

Rabbi retracts statement urging yeshiva students to kill politicians

TEL AVIV (JTA)—A haredi Orthodox rabbi who encouraged yeshiva students to assassinate Israeli politicians retracted his remarks.

In a recorded speech, Rabbi Nissan Kaplan of Jerusalem’s prominent Mir Yeshiva had equated Israel’s current political leadership to Amalek, the biblical enemy Jewish law traditionally commands Jews to eradicate.

The comparison follows passage of a law in March that includes haredi men in Israel’s military draft, from which they were previously exempt. Haredi leaders have vehemently opposed the law and organized a protest that drew hundreds of thousands in March.

“We have today Haman and Amalek, all this government, and really the way is to take knives and to kill them,” Kaplan said, attributing the statement to leading haredi Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman. “So why are we not doing it? Because, he said, I don’t know yet who is the general who could run the war. But if I would know who’s the general, we’d go out with knives. This is what Rav Shteinman said.”

According to The Jerusalem Post, Kaplan retracted the remarks and said that he and Shteinman hadn’t met for six months.

“I am completely against such words,” Kaplan told the Post. “They’re disgusting. I regret what I said and I am deeply sorry for using such examples. I am also sorry for hurting people’s feelings and I hope they can forgive me.”

Israeli journalist escapes Palestinian attack, vows return

TEL AVIV (JTA)—An Israeli journalist who escaped an attack in Ramallah wrote that he would return to report in the West Bank.

Avi Issacharoff, a Middle East affairs analyst for the Israeli news website Walla and for the Times of Israel, an English-language Israeli news website, was covering a demonstration May 15 commemorating Palestinian displacement following Israeli independence, which Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or catastrophe. A cameraman, Daniel Book, accompanied him there.

In an account in the Times of Israel, Issacharoff wrote that two people began threatening him, telling him and Book to leave the rally. When he refused, Issacharoff said dozens of people surrounded him, waving their fists. A few kicked and punched him in the legs and back, he wrote.

The reporter said he was extricated when two older men, whom he later learned were Palestinian Authority security forces, removed him from the rally and drove Book and him to a police station.

Issacharoff described the incident as “an attempt to lynch me.”

“Yes, I felt that my life was in danger,” Issacharoff wrote. “Yes, I felt absolutely helpless during those seconds when, from nowhere, a mob descended upon me, bent on doing me harm. That’s a feeling that leaves me particularly angry.”

Issacharoff wrote that threats against Israeli journalists in the West Bank have intensified recently in retaliation for Israel’s banning Palestinian journalists from its territory. Despite the experience, he wrote that he will return to covering Palestinian affairs in the West Bank.

Israeli in Egyptian prison pushes Netanyahu to secure his release

TEL AVIV (JTA)—An Israeli held for 14 years in an Egyptian prison accused Israel’s prime minister of not doing enough to secure his release.

The prisoner, Ouda Tarabin, is a former resident of the Bedouin city of Rahat, in Israel’s Negev Desert. He was arrested in 2000 while visiting Egypt, charged with being an Israeli spy and given a 15-year prison term. In a letter addressed to Benjamin Netanyahu and shared with Israeli media, Tarabin accuses the prime minister of a lackluster effort to secure his freedom because Tarabin is an Arab.

“If I were a Jew or a Druze, the government would be fighting for me and my freedom, and I wouldn’t have been sitting in an Egyptian prison for 14 years,” the letter says, according to Ynet News. “Mr. Prime Minister, this is the truth that everyone knows. Mr. Prime Minister, this government is a tragedy for my country, that’s supposed to be a democracy in the Middle East.”

Tarabin called on the government “to act immediately to put an end to my suffering and the suffering of my family, to engage the Egyptian government, and act quickly to ensure my release.”

There was no immediate response from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Israeli men have world’s fourth-highest life expectancy

TEL AVIV (JTA)—Israeli men have the fourth-highest life expectancy of any nationality, according to a new analysis by the World Health Organization.

Israeli males born in 2012 can expect, on average, to live slightly longer than 80 years, according to the WHO’s World Health Statistics 2014. That figure ranks behind only Iceland, Switzerland and Australia.

Israeli women did not make the World Health Statistics top 10 list, but a separate WHO data set shows Israeli women born in 2012 with a life expectancy of 84, equal to Portugal, which placed 10th on the list. Japanese women placed first, with an average life expectancy of 87.

Israel is the only Middle Eastern country on either top 10 list. Most of the countries on both lists were European. The United States did not make either list.

Israel withholds P.A. tax revenue, restricts banking

TEL AVIV (JTA)—Israel barred Palestinian banks from making shekel deposits in Israeli banks and will run Palestinian electricity at half-strength for an hour each day.

In addition, Israel is withholding $116 million of Palestinian tax revenue.

The punitive measures are in response to the reconciliation agreement signed last month between the Palestinian Fatah party, which rules the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and Hamas, the militant group that governs Gaza, according to Haaretz.

Israel, the United States and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization. Israel suspended peace talks with the Palestinian Authority in April and said they would not resume so long as the two Palestinian factions are working together.

The reduction in electricity will take effect on West Bank Palestinians daily between 1 p.m. and 1:30, and 7 p.m. and 7:30. The Israel Electric Company pointed to a $154 million debt owed by the Palestinian Jerusalem District Electric Company as the reason for the measure.

With the restriction on shekel transfers, Palestinian banks now will be unable to exchange shekels for foreign currency, a right established in a 1994 Israeli-Palestinian economic agreement.

Two Israeli soldiers dismissed for right-wing Facebook protests

TEL AVIV (JTA)—The Israel Defense Forces dismissed two soldiers after discovering that they pledged on Facebook to refuse orders to evacuate West Bank settlements.

The incident came days after the IDF evacuation of portions of three illegal Jewish outposts in the West Bank.

The Facebook post that resulted in the soldiers’ dismisal was a photo of a piece of paper that said, in Hebrew, “A real border policeman doesn’t evacuate Jews!” The post reportedly went viral among soldiers, including those not serving in the West Bank.

The two soldiers in question were not posted in the West Bank at the time of the incident.

The protest comes two weeks after dozens of Israeli soldiers posted anonymously on Facebook protesting the suspension of a soldier  from the Nahal Brigade identified as David who had threatened a Palestinian youth with a rifle. Those posts featured Israeli soldiers holding pieces of paper over their faces reading, “I am also with David from Nahal.”

“Facebook is not a command tool,” said IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, according to Haaretz. “It’s not an alternative or even a parallel channel for dialogue between commanders and their soldiers.”

Netanyahu to Hagel: Iran missile report shows insincerity

(JTA)—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that a report suggesting Iran is pursuing development of ballistic missiles is evidence that the country is insincere in its participation in nuclear negotiations.

“I wasn’t surprised and I’m sure you weren’t surprised by the U.N. report,” Netanyahu said last Friday during a joint media briefing in Jerusalem with Hagel.

The report by the U.N. Panel of Experts, revealed last Friday by Reuters, said Iran’s overall attempts to illicitly procure materials for its banned nuclear and missile program appear to have slowed down as it pursues negotiations with world powers that Iran hopes will bring an end to sanctions.

However, apart from holding off on test-firing one type of rocket, the report said, Iran shows no sign of putting the brakes on the expansion of its missile program.

“Iran is continuing development of its ballistic missile and space programs,” the experts said, according to Reuters. “A new missile launch site 40 km (25 miles) from the city of Shahrud was identified in August 2013. A larger launch complex is assessed to be close to completion at the Imam Khomeini Space Center at Semnan for ballistic missiles and satellite launch vehicles.”

Iran and six world powers including the Unites States are engaged in talks over Iran’s nuclear program, which world powers are demanding be subject to supervision to ensure no nuclear weapons are being produced.

The latest round of talks ended last Friday in Vienna. The sides are currently focused on the degree of uranium enrichment Iran would maintain as part of an agreement. Israel is opposed to any enrichment capacity. President Obama and other U.S. officials have said low levels of enrichment likely will continue.

“I think as the talks with Iran continue one thing must guide the international community, and that is we must not let the Ayatollahs win,” Netanyahu told Hagel during their news conference. “We must not let the foremost terrorist state of our time, Iran, develop the capability to produce nuclear weapons.”

Hagel replied with assurances that the United States was committed to keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. “I want to assure you, Prime Minister and the people of Israel, of the United States’ continued commitment to ensuring Iran does not get a nuclear weapon, as President Obama has said, and that America will do what we must to live up to that commitment,” he said.

Iran has said its nuclear program is peaceful.

Israel sends aid to victims of deadly Serbia and Bosnia floods

(JTA)—Israel sent aid to help rescue efforts in flood-ravaged Serbia and Bosnia.

Local media reported that Israel sent a first shipment of emergency aid this weekend including medicine, food, blankets and rain gear, and will soon send pumps. The aid was delivered by helicopter because submerged cities were cut off by the record floods, which have left more than two dozen dead and thousands homeless.

The town of Doboj in Bosnia’s Republic of Serbia region, which has a small Jewish community, was especially hard hit, with the city center totally under water and at least 20 dead, the mayor told local media. Doboj’s Jewish community building, which has a synagogue on an upper floor, is located in the town center.

Jasna Ciric, the president of the Jewish community in Nis, Serbia, said she understood that all members of the Doboj Jewish community were safe but some were trapped in their homes without electricity, water or telephones.

Aleksander Nikolic, the assistant chief representative of the Republic of Serbia in Israel, said the Israeli aid was a “very human gesture” and “proof of friendship in a most difficult moment,” according to local media.

Polish lawmaker calls for end to Jewish property restitution

WARSAW, Poland (JTA)—A parliament member in Poland called for shuttering the country’s commission that restores property owned by Holocaust victims to their legal heirs.

Slawomir Kopycinski, a candidate for the European Parliament, on May 15 called the Regulatory Commission for Jewish Communities “the fourth partition of Poland,” alluding to previous partitions of the country in the 1700s and again in 1939.

The Regulatory Commission was established in 1997 to return Jewish-owned property seized after World War II by Poland’s communist government to its legal heirs.

“Based on the whims of several unknown men, the public buildings are returned to Jewish communities,” Kopycinski, of the center-left Europa Plus party, said at a news conference.

Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, called Kopycinski’s statement “disgusting.”

“All cases are investigated and verified,” Kadlcik said in a statement Sunday. “Returning this property can hardly be called ‘a partition of Poland’ because the Jewish community is not an alien invader, but rather the citizens of the Republic of Poland, who have the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else.”

Latest round of Iran talks inconclusive

(JTA)—Talks aimed at drafting an agreement between Iran and six world powers on the Iranian nuclear program ended with large gaps remaining between the two sides.

Iran has been negotiating with the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China since last year toward an accord that would lift international sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program. The sides, which set a July 20 deadline for the talks, had hoped to draft an agreement on Saturday.

No draft emerged, according to the French news agency AFP, because Iran refused to stop or convert its heavy-water reactor in the city of Arak, which can be used to make nuclear weapons-grade plutonium. Iran is widely believed to be seeking nuclear weapons, though it insists the program is for civilian purposes only.

“This has, candidly, been a very slow and difficult process, and we are concerned with the short amount of time that is left,” a senior U.S. official said. “In any negotiation there are good days and bad days, and there are ups and downs. This has been a moment of great difficulty but one that was not entirely unexpected.”

No date has been set for the next round of negotiations.

Palestinians to receive oil from Venezuela

(JTA)—The Palestinian Authority and Venezuela inked a deal in which the South American nation will provide the P.A. with oil and diesel fuel. 

Under the deal signed last Friday in Caracas by visiting P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas, the Venezuelan petroleum company PDVSA will send 240,000 barrels of oil and diesel to the P.A. No date was given for the shipment in a deal known as “Petro Palestine.”

“We welcome the Palestinian people and the Arabs,” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said. “Our people supports your right to a land of prosperity. Today, Petro Palestine has been born.”

Abbas, who is on a three-day visit to Latin America, thanked Maduro for providing the Palestinian Authority with a fuel source outside Israel.

“Thank you Venezuela for supporting Palestine,” Abbas said. “Thank you Venezuela for helping to break the monopoly that Israel has over our economy. Thank you Venezuela for responding to our needs. Thank you Venezuela for being available to continue to lend the Palestinian people more support in their fight.”

Abbas has requested that Palestine be granted observer status in three South American organizations: the Union of South American Nations, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.


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