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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA

 


Far-right parties gain in European elections

(JTA)—Far-right parties across Europe won an increased share of the vote in elections for the European Parliament.

Centrist, pro-European Union parties won a majority of Sunday’s vote led by the conservative European People’s Party. Far-right parties made significant gains, however, in France, the United Kingdom and Greece, among other nations.

In Greece, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party finished third despite a government crackdown on its leadership and will send three representatives to the European Parliament. With 96 percent of the vote counted by Monday morning, Golden Dawn had won 9.4 percent of the popular vote, up from the 7 percent it won in the 2012 national elections, according to official results.

The results, taken together with a solid showing by Golden Dawn in last week’s municipal polls, dashed hopes that the crackdown would dent popular support for the party, which has been blamed for dozens of attacks on immigrants in Greece. Many of the party’s leaders had been jailed, and its 18 members of parliament had been stripped of their parliamentary immunity.

In France, the far-right National Front won a plurality of the vote with 26 percent, spurring Socialist President Francois Hollande to seek an urgent meeting of top government ministers. National Front leader Marine Le Pen called for new national elections. Le Pen is the daughter of party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has been convicted several times for Holocaust denial.

The U.K. Independence Party was forecast to win 30 percent of the vote, up from 18 percent in the 2009 elections. The party wants Britain to withdraw from the European Union.

Dutch politician Geert Wilders and his right-populist, anti-Islam Party for Freedom suffered a setback, finishing fourth and losing two seats. The party now has three representatives on the European Parliament out of the Netherlands’ 26 total seats.

Wilders plans to form a European Freedom Alliance with the National Front and like-minded parties across Europe.

The results come on the heels of anti-Semitic attacks in France and Belgium. A day before the election, a gunman killed four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels.

Spanish Jews welcome village’s decision to drop ‘kill Jews’ from name

(JTA)—The federation of Spanish Jewish communities welcomed the decision to remove the words “kill Jews” from the name of a small village in northern Spain.

The statement Monday by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain, or FCJE, came after a majority a day earlier at a town hall meeting in favor of changing the village’s name, Castrillo Matajudios, to Castrillo Mota de Judios, which means “Castrillo Jews’ hill.”

The decision corresponds with “the municipality’s desire to remain faithful to the true history of the village, whose name became Matajudios because of an error in translation and not because of any bias against Jews,” the statement read.

Spanish media reported last month that Lorenzo Rodriguez, the mayor of Castrillo Matajudios, near Leon, was urging residents to agree to the name change. He said Castrillo Mota de Judios was the original name but was changed during or near the Spanish Inquisition of 1492.

In parts of Spain, and especially in the North, locals use the term “killing Jews” (matar Judios) to describe the traditional drinking of lemonade spiked with alcohol at festivals held in city squares at Easter, or drinking in general.

French Jewish brothers attacked

(JTA)—Two French Jewish brothers were attacked while on their way to synagogue.

The brothers, aged 18 and 21 from the Paris suburb of Creteil, were attacked from behind Sunday by two men on bicycles, according to a statement from the French Jewish organization SPCJ. The attackers, men in their 20s, wore brass knuckles and hit the brothers in the face. The attackers fled after the brothers defended themselves.

A passing car stopped to pick up the men and drove them to the hospital. According to SPCJ, the victims’ faces are “heavily injured” and  will need surgery, but the brothers are expected to recover.

The attack comes one day after four people were killed in a shooting at the Jewish Museum of Brussels. Police are still searching for the gunman and any accomplices.

Anti-terror expert: Brussels museum attack follows Toulouse pattern

(JTA)—The pattern that emerges from the deadly shooting at Brussels’ Jewish museum matches the one observed during the 2012 killings in Toulouse and Montauban, a Brussels-based expert on terrorism said.

Claude Moniquet, a former agent of the France’s DSGE spy agency, told JTA that Saturday’s slaying of four people in Brussels “is reminiscent of Toulouse and Montauban killings and resembles other similar attacks, including by Islamists.”

In 2012, Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old French Islamist, killed four Jews at a Jewish school in Toulouse several days after he killed three soldiers in the suburb of Montauban. French authorities believe Merah, who was killed in a shootout with police, was aided by his brother and possibly a few other accomplices.

On Saturday afternoon, two individuals pulled up in an Audi car in front of Brussels’ Jewish museum. One man entered the building and killed four people, two women and two men, according to the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism, or LBCA. The police have no suspects.

Unlike many Jewish institutions in Brussels, the Jewish Museum of Belgium is not under constant police protection, according to Baron Julien Klener, president of Belgium’s Consistoire, the organization responsible for religious services.

“The characteristics of this attack mean it was planned for some time, a few days at the least,” said Moniquet, who heads the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center, a Brussels-based think tank. “This is evident from the fact that the perpetrators selected one of the only Jewish institutions that are not protected.”

Carrying out an attack like the one at the museum “does not necessarily require a large network—a cell of two perpetrators with assistance from another five or six,” Moniquet added. “The small dimensions of this cell make it harder to detect.”

Belgium’s interior minister, Joelle Milquet, said at a news conference in Brussels that “maximum security has been deployed around places frequented by the Jewish community,“ adding there was no concrete threat in Belgium or on Belgium’s federal elections, which were scheduled for Sunday.

But Moniquet said the decision to elevate security was “necessary because the perpetrators presumably knew they were on a no-way-out operation. They are working under the assumption that they will be caught within days, and therefore have a motivation to maximize the attack by striking again if capable.”

DePaul students approve Israel divestment in referendum

(JTA)—DePaul University’s student body voted in a referendum to approve a divestment resolution targeting Israel.

The student government ballot initiative passed with 54.2 percent of the vote, with 45.8 against, The DePaulia student newspaper reported last Friday.

A total of 2,908 votes were cast by students at the Chicago Catholic university.

The ballot question asked: “Do you think that DePaul should follow socially responsible investment practices and divest its funds from companies that profit from Israel’s discriminatory practices and human rights violations?”

According to the paper, the university’s president, the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, sent an email to students and faculty after the vote calling the request “problematic in a number of ways.”

He wrote that “what is socially responsible to one organization or set of interests may be objectionable to another.”

The school’s student senate previously passed a divestment resolution in March, but it was vetoed by the student body president.

Limmud Moldova draws 400 Jews

CHISINAU, Moldova (JTA)—Some 400 Moldovan Jews gathered for the country’s second Limmud Jewish learning conference.

Held two years after Moldova’s inaugural Limmud conference in 2012, the event in the country’s capital also drew journalists from five national-circulation newspapers and four television channels, according to Limmud FSU, which funded the event.

“This is a unique event for Moldovan Jews because it unites a number of smaller organizations in one place,” one of the event’s volunteer co-organizers, Yulia Sheinman, told JTA.

A few thousand Jews live in Moldova, but its present-day territory once had a Jewish community of more than 300,000 when it was part of Romania before the Holocaust, according to the European Jewish Congress. Nearly all of them were deported to concentration and death camps by German and Romanian troops.

“We think about the past, but we live in the here and now,” said Elena Roitman, another volunteer. “The first Limmud conference [in Moldova] rekindled interest in Jewish life here. Then it subsided. I hope the second conference will have a cumulative effect.”

Limmud FSU’s Moldova conference is one of eight active projects funded and co-organized by Limmud FSU in the former Soviet Union and other countries with Russian-speaking Jewish communities, including the United States, Israel and Germany.

Roman Kogan, Limmud FSU’s executive director, said the organization is planning to have conferences for Russian speakers in Canada, Australia and in the Los Angeles area.

The Limmud conference in Moldova is headed and co-funded by Aleksandr Bilinkis, co-chairman of the Jewish Community of the Republic of Moldova. The U.S. Embassy in Chisinau is also a sponsor.

“The local involvement is a principle that helps empower local communities by having them take ownership of the event, rather than introduce it as a foreign element,” said Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler.

Tunisian Jew reportedly stabbed in Djerba

(JTA)—A Jewish Tunisian man was stabbed in the chest after a fight at the Jewish market in Djerba.

Tunisia’s chief rabbi, Chaim Bitan, was quoted as telling the news site AfricanManager.com that the unnamed victim sustained wounds that are not life threatening in the stabbing May 22 and was in the hospital. The report did not say what led to the stabbing, but it said the attacker was a Muslim man.

Last month, a member of the southern Tunisian island’s 2,000-strong Jewish community was wounded in another stabbing, which Tunisian police said was not a hate crime.

Approximately 1,500 Jews, including Israelis, visited Djerba this month for the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the El Ghriba synagogue.

But this year the pilgrimage was mired in controversy as opposition lawmakers accused the government of normalizing ties with Israel because it was letting in Israeli tourists.

Israel recently advised its citizens not to visit Tunisia for fear of terrorist attacks, according to the Israeli daily Yedioth Acharonot.

Four rabbis indicted on kidnap conspiracy charges

(JTA)—Four Orthodox rabbis and one of their sons were indicted on charges of conspiring to kidnap and torture Jewish men to force them to grant religious divorces to their wives.

Rabbi Mendel Epstein and his son David Epstein, Rabbi Martin Wolmark, Rabbi Jay Goldstein and Rabbi Binyamin Stiller were charged May 22 in a New Jersey federal court with participating in a kidnapping ring. According to the indictment, the ring was organized to force reluctant husbands to grant their wives a get, or a Jewish divorce, in exchange for fees running to tens of thousands of dollars.

The ring operated between 2009 and 2013 and employed methods such as beating the victims and shocking them in their genitals with electric cattle prods, the indictment said.

The four rabbis were previously indicted on separate kidnapping-related charges in October of 2013 as part of a larger group, according to a statement from U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman. That group included two of Goldstein’s sons, both of whom have since pleaded guilty to extortion charges related to that indictment.

Attorneys for Wolmark, Goldstein and Still denied the charges, The Associated Press reported.

According to the indictment, Mendel Epstein stated to an undercover agent that the fee for the kidnapping would be $10,000 for the beth din, or rabbinical court, to issue the divorce, and $50,000 to $60,000 for the “tough guys.”

A sworn statement by FBI agent Bruce Kamerman quoted Epstein as saying that it was essential that the torture of the kidnapped husband not leave a mark so that police would dismiss any allegation as “some Jewish crazy affair.”

The defendants face fines of up to $250,000 for each kidnapping count as well as prison sentences of up to life in prison, according to the U.S. attorney.

Pope visits Western Wall, Yad Vashem on final day of trip

TEL AVIV (JTA)—Pope Francis visited an array of religious sites and national memorials on his final day in Israel.

His itinerary on Monday included visits to the Western Wall and Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, where he gave a speech condemning anti-Semitism and hatred. He also met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.

The pope began his day with a visit to the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock, where he met with the Grand Mufti Muhammad Ahmad Hussein of Jerusalem, the highest Muslim religious authority there. He then went to the adjacent Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, where he prayed and left a note. He also met with Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz.

Francis also visited the grave of Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, and made an unplanned stop at a memorial for victims of terror.

At Yad Vashem, the pope met with Holocaust survivors, laid a wreath and said, “Never again, Lord, never again.”

“A great evil has befallen us, as such that has never occurred,” he said in a speech. “Grant us the grace to be ashamed of what men have done, to be ashamed of this massive idolatry.”

Francis also met with Israel’s chief rabbis, David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, as well as a group of sick Christian-Arab Israelis before traveling to Peres’ official residence.

A day earlier, the pope had referred to the “state of Palestine” in a speech in Bethlehem and stopped to pray at Israel’s security fence there. The gestures were widely seen as endorsing Palestinian national aspirations. Also in Bethlehem, he visited the Church of the Nativity—the traditional site of Jesus’ birth—and gave a speech alongside Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The pope arrived in Israel Sunday afternoon, where he gave a speech at Ben Gurion Airport before meeting with his Eastern Orthodox counterpart, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The two leaders signed a joint declaration and called for greater Christian unity.

“I greet all the people of Israel with prayerful good wishes that their aspirations of peace and prosperity will achieve fulfillment,” Francis said at the airport. “We all know how urgent is the need for peace, not only for Israel but also for the entire region. May efforts and energies be increasingly directed to the pursuit of a just and lasting solution to the conflicts which have caused so much suffering.”

The pope had arrived in the region on Saturday and spent the day in Amman, Jordan.

Israeli yeshiva students to lose stipends

TEL AVIV (JTA)—Israel must stop providing monthly living stipends to haredi Orthodox yeshiva students, the nation’s Supreme Court ruled.

The stipends, which were intended to encourage integration into Israel’s workforce, were not having the desired effect, the court ruled Sunday in a unanimous opinion. Instead, the court said the funding amounted to discrimination against university students, who do not receive such stipends.

The yeshiva students receive approximately $1,100 per month for four years.

Set to take effect in January, the ruling was responding to a suit filed by the National Union of Israeli Students and an array of religious pluralism groups. The suit was based on a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that state scholarships to yeshiva students amounted to preferential treatment, according to reports.

Israel had increased financial aid to university students in the intervening four years, but the court said the measure had not resolved the inequality between yeshiva and university students.

“The claim that funding yeshiva students over a long period of time—four years, without obligating them to acquire any professional training or skill set during this time—encourages them to enter the workforce at the end of said period is extremely problematic,” Judge Elyakim Rubinstein wrote in the unanimous opinion, according to the Times of Israel.

 

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