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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA

 


Complaints about Hitler video led to firing, Jewish banker claims

(JTA)—A former executive at BNP Paribas North America Inc. filed a federal lawsuit alleging that he was fired by the bank after complaining about a training video that featured Nazi imagery.

Jean-Marc Orlando said in the suit filed Friday in Manhattan U.S. District Court that he was terminated as managing director in the bank’s fixed-income division in New York after complaining about the video portraying the head of a competing bank as Hitler, Reuters reported. Orlando, who was fired in 2012, had worked for the bank for 18 years, including in France.

He is seeking $40 million in monetary and punitive damages, according to Reuters.

Orlando, who is Orthodox Jewish, in the suit said the video was his “worst nightmare,” Reuters reported. He and other managers watched the video at a training meeting in Amsterdam in 2011.

According to the lawsuit, the video created by BNP employees parodied the 2004 film “Downfall,” which depicted the final days of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime.

Following his complaints about the video, the bank gave him an “unusually and suspiciously poor performance evaluation,” the suit alleged.

A BNP spokeswoman in New York told Reuters that she had not seen a copy of the complaint and that the bank does not comment on pending litigation.

Maccabi Tel Aviv’s David Blatt on NBA radar for coaching slots

(JTA)—David Blatt, who guided Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv to the Euroleague basketball championship, is rumored to be in the mix for several coaching jobs in the NBA.

The Cleveland Cavaliers reportedly have contacted Blatt for their vacant head coaching post, The Associated Press reported, citing a person familiar with the situation. The Cavs, who fired Mike Brown last month for a second time, have not commented on the reports.

New York, Minnesota and Golden State reportedly are interested in Blatt, who holds U.S. and Israeli citizenship, to fill slots as an assistant coach. The Boston native reportedly has turned down NBA assistant coaching jobs in the past.

Along with leading Maccabi Tel Aviv to the Euroleague title last month, Blatt coached Russia to a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

Blatt played for Princeton University from 1977 to 1981 and was a member of the gold medal-winning U.S. men’s basketball team at the 1981 Maccabiah Games. Following the games, Blatt played for several Israeli teams until he was injured in 1993 and took up coaching.

Jean-Marie Le Pen slammed for pun with Holocaust overtones

(JTA)—An apparent anti-Semitic pun by former far-right French leader Jean-Marie Le Pen has spurred calls for his prosecution.

Le Pen, the founder of the National Front party and currently a legislator, said in a video posted on the party website that “next time we will put him in an oven” when asked about French singer Patrick Bruel’s criticisms of the party. Bruel is Jewish.

On Sunday, Le Pen denied any racist overtones in the remarks, which were removed from the website over the weekend, though he reportedly has used similar wordplay in the past.

SOS Racisme said it would file a complaint “in the coming days” against Le Pen, according to the French news agency AFP. The Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between Peoples reportedly also said it will lodge a complaint and called Le Pen “an authentic anti-Semite,” according to AFP.

Le Pen, whose daughter Marine now heads the party, has a history of convictions for “inciting racial hatred” and Holocaust denial. He once described the gas chambers in Nazi death camps as a historical “detail.”

On Sunday, European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor called on the European Union to strip Le Pen of his parliamentary immunity and for French authorities to charge him with incitement.

“Le Pen has unmasked the true face of the far-Right of Europe days after their electoral successes in the European Parliament,” Kantor said in a statement. “While some have tried to whitewash and mainstream these parties, Le Pen’s comments demonstrate that they still stand on foundations of hatred, anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

“It is time for the European Union and European nations to raise the bar to what constitutes acceptable speech by anyone, Member of Parliament or not,” he said.

Jewish teens say they escaped axe attack near Paris

(JTA)—Two Jewish teenagers told police they narrowly escaped an attack near Paris by a hatchet-wielding man and three others.

The attack occurred late at night on June 4 in Romainville, a northeastern suburb of the French capital, according to a report by the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA.

The teens, aged 14 and 15, said they were walking to the Lilac Synagogue with their grandfather to attend Tikkun Leil Shavuot, a custom in which Jews study scripture all night. While crossing the town’s Market Square, the two boys and their grandfather, all wearing kippahs, said they were followed by a tall man in his 20s wearing a long beard. They described the man as having an athletic figure and an Arab appearance.

Producing a hatchet, the man began to chase the two boys, according to the BNVCA report, then whistled to three other men who joined the chase.  The boys and their grandfather filed complaints with police, BNVCA President Sammy Ghozlan wrote.

Last month, BNVCA and SPCJ, the watchdog of France’s Jewish communities, documented two suspected anti-Semitic beatings of Jews in the Paris suburb of Creteil. Also last month, police received a report about three men who were filming the entrance to the local Jewish school of Creteil, Otzar Hatora.

In March 2012, France saw a sharp increase in anti-Semitic acts following the murder by an Islamist radical of four Jews at a Jewish school in Toulouse.

On May 24, four people were killed in an armed attack at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in central Brussels.

French and Belgium police believe they were shot dead by Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old Frenchman whom French authorities said fought in Syria with jihadists last year.

Body of missing Holocaust scholar Robert Kuwalek is found

(JTA)—The body of Robert Kuwalek, one of Poland’s foremost Holocaust scholars, was found days after he had been reported missing in Ukraine.

Kuwalek, 47, had been reported missing June 5 while on a visit to Lviv. His body was found over the weekend.

The Polish consulate in Lviv confirmed his death, but no details about the cause of death were released.

Kuwalek, who was not Jewish, was an expert on the Holocaust in southeastern Poland and what is now western Ukraine. Based in Lublin, Kuwalek was a curator and educator at the State Museum at the former Majdanek concentration and death camp and also had served as director of the museum at the former Belzec death camp.

He published widely on topics relating to the Holocaust and also on Jewish heritage and history.

German parliament extends pensions for Jews who worked in Nazi ghettos

BERLIN (JTA)—The German Bundestag unanimously passed legislation approving back payments of so-called ghetto pensions for Jewish survivors.

The law, reflecting years of negotiations, was approved by the Federal Cabinet in April and sent to the Bundestag. It requires retroactive payments of a few hundred euros per month going as far back as July 1, 1997. Reportedly, about 50,000 people are eligible for the pensions, including about 13,000 in Israel.

Survivors forced to work in Nazi ghettos had to wait until 2002 for any kind of pension. Once they were granted, applicants could claim only a maximum of four years in back payments from the time of filing.

The aim of the new legislation was to find a more just compensation for both slave laborers and those who were paid at the time.

In a statement issued in April, Federal Minister of Social Affairs Andrea Nahles said Germany wanted to act quickly out of “a sense of historical responsibility for Holocaust survivors, who experienced untold suffering under National Socialism.”

Applicants will receive retroactive payments back to 1997: “And quickly, with no red tape,” Nahles said at the time.

German pension funds must now contact all known eligible survivors about the change in the law, if possible in their native language.

MLA members do not pass resolution critical of Israel

(JTA)—Members of the Modern Language Association did not pass a resolution criticizing Israel for denying academics entry to the West Bank.

The numbers of those who voted in favor of the measure fell short of the minimum 10 percent of the full MLA membership of 23,900 whose support was needed in order for it to pass.

There were 1,560 votes in favor of ratification of the resolution and 1,063 votes against ratification, meaning that the vote fell short of ratification by 830 votes, the MLA announced last week. The six-week-long voting cycle ended June 1.

The full membership was voting on a resolution passed in January by the MLA’s delegate assembly. The 60-53 vote approved a measure calling on the U.S. State Department to “contest Israel’s denials of entry to the West Bank by U. S. academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities.”

The Israel Action Network applauded the MLA’s membership for refusing to ratify the resolution, which it called “baseless and discriminatory.”

Geri Palast, the Israel Action Network’s managing director, praised “the academic community for coming together to uphold principles of academic freedom and fairness, and for setting the record straight on this complex issue. Israel does not violate academic freedom, but rather, implements reasonable security measures expected of any country.”

“Reason and truth have triumphed over the hatred and hypocrisy at the core of the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement against Israel,” the American Jewish Committee’s executive director, David Harris, said in a statement. “The MLA’s repudiation of the BDS effort is yet another failure of those who have maliciously tried to use the American campus to delegitimize the State of Israel.”

In December, the membership of the American Studies Association endorsed its national council’s call for a boycott of Israeli universities.

Spanish Cabinet approves draft bill for Sephardic return

(JTA)—The Spanish government approved a draft bill that proposes to grant citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jews who were forced into exile 500 years ago.

Spain’s Council of Ministers, the country’s Cabinet, last Friday approved the draft law, which proposes to dispense with the requirement to relinquish foreign nationalities and which sets several criteria determining ways descendants Sephardic Jews can qualify for  Spanish nationality, the Spanish daily El Pais reported.

The criteria include recognition of Sephardic ancestry by a competent rabbinical authority in the applicant’s country of residence, according to El Pais, but applicants may also present other credentials such as family ancestry records and knowledge of Ladino, the Judeo-Spanish language.

The bill still has to pass the parliament before it is implemented, according to the daily El Correo. Spanish media did not say when the bill would come up for a vote.

The draft bill was introduced in February by Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, who told JTA it was meant to “repair a historical error,” a reference to the Spanish Inquisition which began in 1492. The Inquisition forced hundreds of thousands of Jews to flee the Iberian Peninsula or convert to Christianity in an attempt to escape religious persecution led by the Catholic Church and the Spanish royal house.

The draft bill states that applications will be accepted for two years only from the moment the bill is passed and goes into effect, and up to three years in special cases.

Under current Spanish legislation dating back to 1924, Jews may apply for citizenship if they reside in Spain for more than two years and can prove family ties to expelled Spaniards. Each request is evaluated individually and approved or rejected by a senior Interior Ministry official.

The new draft bill proposes to do away with the demand for residence and to make the application process automatic and not subject to the ministry’s discretion for candidates who meet all the criteria.

The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, or FCJE, expressed “enormous satisfaction” at the cabinet’s approval of the draft bill in a statement Friday, in which it called on lawmakers to pass the bill.

Portugal’s parliament passed similar legislation in July, but the law, which retains discretionary powers for officials, is yet to be implemented.

Brussels Jewish museum suspect denies murder charges

(JTA)—The lawyer representing Mehdi Nemmouche, the Frenchman suspected of killing four people at the Jewish museum in Brussels, denied that his client committed the murders.

Nemmouche, 29, said he stole the assault rifle and handgun that customs officers found in his possession on May 30 in Marseille, Nemmouche’s lawyer, Apolin Pepiezep, said June 4 in an interview with the French broadcaster i>TELE.

The lawyer said Nemmouche stole the weapons from a parked car in Brussels and planned to sell them in Marseille. He added that his client should not be extradited to Belgium to face murder charges because “nothing connects him to the murders.”

On May 24, a man entered the museum with an assault rifle that appeared to be an AK-47 and a handgun. He killed four people, two Israeli tourists and two museum staffers.

French police said on June 1 that they believed Nemmouche committed the murders at the Jewish Museum of Belgium and then travelled to Marseille in southern France aboard a bus. He was arrested at a routine customs inspection of the passengers on the bus, which left from Amsterdam via Brussels to France.

Belgian federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said that a video found after Nemmouche’s arrest contains his voice claiming responsibility for the attack and murders. Nemmouche had tried to film the attack, according to Van Leeuw, but the camera failed.

Nemmouche, who lived in the French city of Roubaix on the border with Belgium, had spent several years in a French jail for armed robbery. French authorities believe he left for Syria via Belgium to fight with jihadists in 2012, before returning to Europe.

Citing Brussels attack, Amsterdam ups security for Jewish centers

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (JTA)—The City of Amsterdam said it will increase security around Jewish centers indefinitely in the aftermath of the deadly shootingsat the Brussels Jewish museum.

The decision was based on the recommendation of the Dutch National Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism and Security, or NCTV, the ANP news agency reported June 5. The coordinator said in an advisory notice that there was no concrete intelligence on planned attacks, The Associated Press reported, but added that the May 24 murder of four people in Brussels shows “that such an attack is perceivable,” according to the NOS broadcaster.

Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard Edzard van der Laan said the extra security measures, which were not specified in Dutch media, will come in addition to existing security arrangements made by the Jewish community of Amsterdam, where most of the Netherlands’ 45,000 Jews live.

“It will increase the community’s security and ability to resist [attacks],” ANP quoted van der Laan as saying.

Dutch politicians and Jewish community representatives have lobbied for years for their government to increase security arrangements around Jewish institutions. The Jewish community of Amsterdam estimates its annual expenditure on security at just over $1 million.

Meanwhile, in the Belgian city of Antwerp, a spokesman for the local police told the ATV channel that police will soon reduce security around Jewish institutions, which since the attack have been guarded by a special force of approximately 200 officers armed with machine guns.

“We can continue patrolling for a while longer, but not forever,” the spokesman said Monday.

French police on May 30 arrested Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old French national, whom Belgian and French authorities believe killed the four victims of the Jewish Museum of Belgium shooting in central Brussels, though he denies the allegations. French police said Nemmouche fought in Syria with jihdaists in 2013.

On June 3, the museum reopened to the public for the first time since the attack, under heavy police surveillance, the news site 7sur7.be reported.

The following day, Belgium’s interior minister, Joelle Milquet, visited the museum with her French counterpart, Bernard Cazeneuve, to express solidarity with the Jewish community and extend their condolences for the dead—two of the museum’s staffers and two Israeli tourists.

Study links circumcision, lower rates of prostate cancer

(JTA)—A new study from Canada indicates a possible connection between male circumcision and a lower likelihood of prostate cancer.

The study, published in the British urology journal BJU International, was based on interviews with more than 3,000 men in the Montreal area between the ages of 40 and 75. The study’s authors found that men who had been circumcised, whether in infancy or later in life, had lower rates of prostate cancer than those who had not.

Overall, the study found that circumcised men were 11 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer than those who were not circumcised, a differential that the authors dismissed as not statistically significant. However, the difference was much more marked among black men, with the study finding that circumcised men were 60 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer than those who were uncircumcised. The study also found that prostate cancer was 45 percent less likely to develop among men circumcised after age 35.

The authors of the study stopped short of recommending circumcision as a preventative measure to stop prostate cancer, saying their findings were preliminary.

“It’s still premature to say go ahead with circumcision to prevent prostate cancer,” lead author Marie-Elise Parent told Reuters. “But we think it could be helpful.”

Other medical professionals in the field cautioned that the number of participants in the study—particularly for subgroups, such as the number of black men—was too small to draw reliable conclusions.

U.C. Santa Cruz student government passes divestment resolution

(JTA)—The University of California, Santa Cruz student government passed a resolution calling for divestment from companies that do business with the Israeli military.

The nonbinding resolution calls on the university to divest from companies including Lockheed Martin, Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and General Electric that it accuses of profiting from violations of international law and human rights abuses against the Palestinians. The resolution was passed on May 28.

The Santa Cruz Committee for Justice in Palestine brought the resolution to the U.C. Santa Cruz Student Union Assembly.

A student activist opposed to the measure said he felt it was not a student-led effort.

“The notable difference I saw was that people speaking against the resolution were, with one exception, current students,” Jesse Barush told j. Weekly. “On the other side, there was a large number of [former] students. This is an undergraduate student assembly supposed to represent undergrads at Santa Cruz. It’s not a place for somebody who graduated 40 years ago.”

The 22-14 vote came weeks after a similar resolution was narrowly defeated at U.C. Davis.

Warsaw Jewish museum nabs prestigious award

(JTA)—The Association of Polish Architects named Warsaw’s Museum of the History of Polish Jews as the best publicly funded building of 2013.

Designed by Finnish architects Rainer Mahlamaki and Ilmari Lahdelma, part of the building was opened to the public in April 2013, although the permanent exhibition will not be accessible until later this year.

“The prize was awarded for outstanding performance by a public building,” the jury wrote in a statement that was published on the website of the Association of Polish Architects, or SARP.

The museum “functions not only as such, but also as a monument and symbol. The architects went beyond the utilitarian aspects of the building to capture its beautiful content, and then give it a wonderful form,” the statement read.

Clad in glass panels on the outside, the museum has a curved passageway inside that runs from front to back, which the building’s architect has compared to the parted Red Sea. It also features a reproduction of the colorful painted ceiling of a wooden synagogue.

The cornerstone was laid in 2007, and the structure covers about 13,000 square yards. The Polish government, Jewish groups and private donors worked together to raise roughly $100 million to construct the building.

Ready for Hillary launches Jewish outreach

WASHINGTON (JTA)—A political action committee preparing the ground for a Hillary Rodham Clinton run for the presidency launched a Jewish outreach.

Jewish Americans Ready for Hillary launched last week just before the Shavuot holiday.

It is attached to Ready for Hillary, a so-called Super PAC founded in January 2013 by former staffers and loyalists to the former first lady, secretary of state and U.S. senator from New York.

Among those spearheading the outreach are Steve Rabinowitz, a Washington publicist close to a number of national Jewish groups who is a veteran of the Clinton White House communications team; Marc Stanley, the immediate past chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council; and Fran Katz Watson, a veteran fundraiser for Democratic and pro-Israel causes.

Clinton, who lost her bid for the Democratic presidential nod in 2008 to Barack Obama, has not yet announced her intention to run again for the presidency.

Super PACS may raise and spend unlimited funds but are prohibited from donating directly to candidates. Ready for Hillary has so far raised close to $6 million.

Jewish student nominated to University of California regents board

(JTA)—A Jewish UCLA student active in Israel advocacy is expected to be named to the University of California Board of Regents following his nomination by a special committee.

Abraham Oved was nominated to the post last month by a special regents board panel, the Los Angeles Times reported.

If Oved’s selection is confirmed by the full board in July, he will join the first Muslim student representative on the board, whose appointment last year sparked controversy over her support of divestment targeting Israel.

The appointment of Sadia Saifuddin, a U.C. Berkeley student government leader who has advocated for the U.C. system to divest from companies doing business with the Israel Defense Forces, opposed by several pro-Israel groups, including StandWithUs and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Many others defended her, including some pro-Israel student activists, who said she had a strong track record and had worked to keep the U.C. Berkeley community united during the tense divestment debate on campus.

Saifuddin welcomed Oved’s nomination, calling him “an enthusiastic and capable leader, and an avid learner.”

Oved, whose parents were born in Israel, opposed divestment measures targeting Israel during his time in the UCLA student government.

George Kieffer, the U.C. regent who chairs the panel in charge of selecting student representatives, said religion was not a factor in either appointment.

“We didn’t focus on Sadia as a Muslim student last year, and we didn’t focus on Avi as a Jewish student this year,” Kieffer told the L.A. Times.

Oved said serving with Saifuddin would send a positive message to a U.C. system that has seen the Israeli-Palestinian conflict playing out on campuses with increasing ferocity in the last several years.

“I think it’s an absolutely beautiful statement for U.C. to have a Jewish student and a Muslim student work together regardless of religion or political or cultural differences,” Oved told the L.A. Times, saying they could serve as a sign that other groups could “come together and focus on similarities rather than differences.”

IOC contributing $250,000 to Munich massacre memorial

(JTA)—The International Olympic Committee will contribute $250,000 toward a memorial to the 11 Israelis killed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The donation was approved by the IOC, the organization confirmed Thursday to The Associated Press.

The German Olympic Sports Confederation has pledged $27,000 to the $2.3 million project, which also will be funded by German taxpayers.

The memorial, whose design will be unveiled on Sept. 19, is set to be completed in fall 2016.

The IOC refused to hold a moment of silence at the 2012 Summer Olympics for the Israelis killed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Games.

World Jewish Congress asks FIFA to remember AMIA Jewish center victims at World Cup

(JTA)—The World Jewish Congress called on the FIFA world soccer association to hold a tribute to the victims of the AMIA Jewish center terrorist attack before a match between Argentina and Iran at the World Cup in Brazil.

A letter sent to FIFA President Joseph Blatter and set to be delivered last Friday calls for a moment of silence for the 85 victims of the 1994 attack on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association.

Jack Terpins, a Brazilian who is president of the Latin American Jewish Congress, a branch of the WJC, also pointed out in the letter obtained by JTA that this year is the 20th anniversary of the AMIA attack. The letter also is signed by the congress’ vice president, Saul Gilvich of Uruguay.

Six Iranians are wanted by Interpol in connection with the bombing, including Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi. Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman also has presented evidence that Iran has infiltrated several South American countries through the installation of intelligence cells.

“We believe in the enormous social and cultural influence of the FIFA World Cup around the world and more specifically in Latin America, and therefore we suggest that FIFA promote, at the start of this match, a moment’s silence in memory of the victims of this attack,” the Latin American Jewish Congress letter said.

The match between Iran and Argentina is scheduled for June 21.

“Many of the spectators and players of the matches are not old enough to be aware of the atrocity of this attack,” the letter said. “We believe that it is for the youth and the sport to demonstrate that everyone should be against terrorism. We are sure that such an act of solidarity with the victims of terror will encourage the population of the two countries, as well as the entire world’s population, to see in football and the World Cup a true field of respect, tolerance and dialogue against terrorism and racism.”

There is also an initiative on Facebook by Brazilian youth to hold a moment silence for AMIA victims before the start of the match.

“I will travel from Argentina to Brazil to see only one match: the match against Iran,” said Fabio Kornblau, a former member of the AMIA board in charge of its youth department. “Of course I am in favor of one moment of silence. I also want to bring to this match an Israeli flag, to spread a stronger message in favor of the Jewish people, but I’m not sure, for security reasons.”

State Dept.: ‘Nothing has changed’ in Alan Gross case after Taliban prisoner swap

(JTA)—The United States has not changed its stance on trading Cuban prisoners for American aid worker Alan Gross, notwithstanding a recent prisoner swap with the Taliban.

Last week, the U.S. agreed to exchange five Taliban prisoners being held in Guantanamo Bay for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held by the Taliban in Afghanistan for the past five years.

In response to a reporter’s questions, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday that “nothing has changed” in Gross’ case.

Since Gross’ arrest, Cuba has sought the return to Cuba of five imprisoned spies in return for Gross.

Two of the “Cuban Five” have been released earlier than the maximum time served and returned to the island.

“Every circumstance is different,” Psaki said, while emphasizing that Bergdahl is a member of the U.S. military.

Gross, 65, of Maryland, is serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba for “crimes against the state” following his 2011 conviction. He was arrested in December 2009 as he was leaving the country. Working as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, Gross was on a mission to connect Cuba’s small Jewish community to the Internet.

Cleveland philanthropists endow $1.25 million Jewish summer camp fund

(JTA)—Cleveland philanthropists Michael and Anita Siegal have established a $1.25 million endowment to send Jewish children to overnight camp.

The endowment in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, as well as the Foundation for Jewish Camp and the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland, establishes the Michael and Anita Siegal One Happy Camper Program.

The program’s goal is to recruit Jewish children to attend an overnight camp who might not otherwise attend.

“Anita and I are both committed to sustaining and growing a vibrant Jewish community in North America,” said Michael Siegal, board chair of Jewish Federations of North America and former board chair of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. “Data has proven that overnight camping can make a substantive difference toward a child’s journey toward this goal.”

Seven out of 10 young Jewish leaders who are active in the Jewish community went to Jewish summer camp while 1 out of 3 Jewish professionals such as rabbis, cantors, and teachers were counselors at Jewish summer camp, according to a 2010 study by the Foundation for Jewish Camp.

“The Siegals’ gift advances two community priorities, the creative development of Jewish identity in young people and the cost of living Jewishly,” said Steve Hoffman, president of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. “It’s an example not just for Cleveland but for the national Jewish community as well.”

Scandals won’t delay presidential vote in Israel

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s presidential election will proceed as scheduled despite lawmakers’ requests for postponement after another candidate quit amid fraud allegations.

The 120 members of the Knesset are scheduled to vote Tuesday for president, a mostly ceremonial post. The winner for the seven-year term will succeed Shimon Peres starting next month.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several lawmakers called for the race to be pushed back three weeks, until the last possible date, to allow Labor Party lawmaker Binyamin Ben-Eliezer to rejoin the race if he is proven innocent of accusations that he illegally received millions of shekels from private sources and used the money to buy a luxury apartment in Jaffa.

Ben-Eliezer pulled out of the race on Saturday, one day after being questioned by police.

“With a very heavy heart, I have made the decision to withdraw from the race for the presidency,” Ben Eliezer wrote in a Facebook post Saturday. “I have had my good name since the day I was born, and it is my intention to keep my name, honor and truth.”

In announcing his decision to hold the election as scheduled, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said, “The harsh atmosphere that continues to surround the presidential race stirs up dissatisfaction with the process and casts a heavy shadow on the candidates and on the Knesset. The ‘first citizen’ has to be the ‘first citizen’ in integrity, trustworthiness and morality, and to reach the position of president in the most honest and guileless way possible.”

Last month, Energy Minister Silvan Shalom decided to end his bid for the presidency after allegations of sexual impropriety surfaced; the allegations were never substantiated.

The other candidates include Likud Party lawmaker Reuven Rivlin, the former Knesset speaker who is considered the front-runner; former Supreme Court judge Dalia Dorner; Kadima party lawmaker Meir Sheetrit; Nobel Prize-winning chemist Dan Shechtman; and former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik.

On Sunday, the remaining candidates began disclosing their wealth and holdings.

 

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