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Bodies of kidnapped Israeli teens found in West Bank field

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The bodies of three kidnapped Israeli teenagers were found in the West Bank in a field north of Hebron.

The families of Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach had been notified of the discovery, the Israeli media said at about 8:30 p.m. Monday. The bodies were positively identified.

It is believed that the bodies were dumped in haste and covered quickly. The teens reportedly were killed shortly after they were abducted on June 12.

The teens were last seen trying to get rides home from a junction in Gush Etzion, a bloc of settlements located south of Jerusalem.

One of the teens, Naftali Frenkel, is a dual American-Israeli citizen.

President Obama in a statement offered condolences to the teens’ families on behalf of the American people.

“As a father, I cannot imagine the indescribable pain that the parents of these teenage boys are experiencing,” he said. “The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms this senseless act of terror against innocent youth.”

Obama called on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to continue to work together to find the murderers.

“I also urge all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation. As the Israeli people deal with this tragedy, they have the full support and friendship of the United States,” he said.

Israeli television showed images of relatives and friends flooding the homes of the families shortly after a gag order was lifted and the discovery reported.

Shortly after the news was made public, rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip on southern Israel.

Israel’s Shin Bet security service and the Israel Defense Forces on Thursday identified two West Bank Palestinian men affiliated with the terrorist group Hamas, Amer Abu Aysha and Marwan Kawasme, as the alleged kidnappers. The suspects, who live in Hebron, have been missing since the kidnapping.

The bodies were found by a volunteer civilian search team working with an elite Israeli army unit on land belonging in the Kawasme family. The bodies, which were tied up, reportedly were in poor condition when they were discovered.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a Facebook post said, “Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay.” He called the victims “pure and young.”

Israeli politicians weighed in with their thoughts about the teens and the fight against terror.

President Shimon Peres, who made a plea to President Obama last week in the United States to help find the boys, said, “Alongside the deep mourning, we remain determined to bring down an iron fist on the criminal terrorists. Our war against terror will only grow and not weaken so that the murderous terrorists will not dare to raise their heads. At this difficult hour, I warmly embrace and strengthen the hands of the mothers, the wonderful fathers and family members of Naftali, Gilad and Eyal.”

Israeli President-elect Reuven Rivlin met the teens’ parents on Sunday night for the first time.

“What we feared has come to pass,” he said. “Our fear was deep but we carried in our hearts the hope that even murderous terrorists would spare the teens.”

And from Isaac Herzog, the opposition leader and Labor Party head: “The kidnapping and murder of innocent boys under cover of night is a despicable and unforgivable crime. There is no justification or excuse, and I am convinced that the long arms of the security forces will reach the murderers.”

Hamas warned Israel against taking revenge for the murders.

“If the occupiers carry out an escalation or a war,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told the French news agency AFP, “they will open the gates of hell on themselves.”

Police officers demoted for mishandling kidnapped teen’s call

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Several senior police officers were demoted for “severe failure of conduct” in their handling of the phone call from one of three kidnapped Israeli teenagers.

A committee investigating the call found that the police officers at the Judea and Samaria Police emergency call center considered the call a prank and did not follow up by notifying the army, according to protocol.

The center received the call at 10:25 p.m. June 12 from someone who whispered “We’ve been kidnapped,” according to the panel’s findings released Monday. The call was cut off after two minutes.

A senior officer who called the number back eight times received busy signals and then the voice mail. The officer did not tell her supervisors about the call.

The soldier who received the call initially was found to have acted properly by transferring the call to a supervisor.

“Not providing a proper response to a man’s cry of distress is an unforgivable event by every measure that can ultimately undermine the public confidence in the police, which is a cornerstone of police activity,” Israel Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino said after the release of the report.

Presbyterians delete sale of anti-Zionist tract from website

WASHINGTON (JTA)—The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) removed the sale of an anti-Zionist tract from its website.

The move comes a week after the church voted to divest from three companies that do business with Israel’s security sector in the West Bank.

“Effective immediately, the publication ‘Zionism Unsettled’ will no longer be sold on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) website,” the church said Friday in an online statement. “Last week in Detroit, the 221st General Assembly passed a resolution declaring that the booklet ‘Zionism Unsettled’ ‘does not represent the views of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).’ “

The study guide, published in January by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, a church committee, outraged many Jewish groups by claiming that Zionism is triumphalist and suggesting that it is not an authentic Jewish theology.

Following the divestment vote at the General Assembly, Jewish leaders said that the combination of the booklet’s sale and the divestment would precipitate a rupture in Jewish-Presbyterian relations.

Presbyterian leaders have been at pains in recent months to distance themselves from the booklet, although they never made clear why the process of removing it for sale was so involved.

The statement Friday said that the Israel/Palestine Mission Network may continue to sell the booklet and a companion DVD study guide through other avenues. It also explained the removal as a matter of addressing a distraction but did not address the materials in the study guide that Jewish groups found offensive.

“We need to keep our focus on supporting and communicating the decisions of the General Assembly,” it quoted the Rev. Gradye Parsons, the church’s stated clerk, a leading clergy member, as saying. “And responding to a recent increase in feedback about the book is impacting our ability to do that.”

Church leaders also went to great lengths to underscore that the disinvestment did not mean the church was opposed to business with Israel and explicitly distanced themselves from the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

“We support the decision of the General Assembly regarding divestment in its effort for peacemaking in Israel-Palestine, and are hearing from those within the denomination who support it,” Linda Valentine, the executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, said in the statement. “We are also hearing from church leaders expressing pain and frustration over the divestment decision and its impact on interfaith relations.”

Kansas City shooting suspect dying, friends tell newspaper

(JTA)—Kansas City shooting suspect Frazier Glenn Miller is dying of lung disease, the Kansas City Star reported, citing Miller’s friends.

Miller has been housed full time in the infirmary in a jail in Mercer County, N.D., since May 30, according to the newspaper.

According to the newspaper, Miller has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Miller quit smoking about two years ago.

Miller is charged with two counts of capital murder in the killings outside the Overland Park JCC in suburban Kansas City of William Corporon, 69, and his grandson, Reat Griffin Underwood, 14, and one count of first-degree murder in the killing of Terri LaManno, 53, who was at the Village Shalom senior center visiting her mother. None of the victims were Jewish.

FBI agents found anti-Semitic paraphernalia, including a copy of “Mein Kampf” and a book Miller had written titled “A White Man Speaks Out,” at his home in Aurora, Mo. They also found a user’s manual for a shotgun, three boxes of ammunition and computer printouts with directions to area synagogues and kosher eateries as well as the details of a Kansas City-area talent contest.

Alleged Brussels museum shooter appeals extradition order

(JTA)—Mehdi Nemmouche, the Frenchman suspected of killing four people at the Jewish museum in Brussels, has appealed a French court-ordered extradition.

Nemmouche filed an appeal, his lawyer, Apolin Pepiezep, told Reuters on Sunday, of the order approved last last week by a Versailles court allowing Nemmouche’s extradition to Belgium to face murder charges. The court has 40 days to rule on the appeal.

Nemmouche reportedly appealed the order because Belgium has not given assurances that it would not extradite him to a third country. He originally had refused extradition, then changed his mind on condition that he not be ordered sent to a third country, namely Israel, for trial. Two of the people murdered in the attack were Israeli.

Nemmouche has been in police custody on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and possession of weapons since his arrest on May 30 in the southern French city of Marseille.

French police said June 1 that they believed Nemmouche committed the May 24 murders at the Jewish Museum of Belgium and then traveled to Marseille on a bus. He was arrested at a routine customs inspection of the passengers on the bus, which left from Amsterdam via Brussels to France.

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.

Anne Frank story to be told in street theater across Amsterdam

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (JTA)—A Dutch Jewish broadcaster is co-organizing the launch of an annual Holocaust commemoration event featuring theater shows about Anne Frank and other victims at their former homes.

A blueprint of the event by the Joodse Omroep Jewish broadcaster, or JO, and its Christian partner, the Evangelische Omroep, or EO, was leaked last week to the Dutch blog GeenStijl.nl.

The initiative, titled “National Remembrance Walk,” is set to debut next year, the 75th anniversary of the murder of the Dutch Jewish diarist Anne Frank at a German concentration camp, with an event called “Anne Frank: One face out of millions.”

According to the blueprint, the event will launch on May 4, the Netherlands’ official day for Remembrance of the Dead, at several locales connected to Anne’s life. The concept has participants walking in a silent procession from one location to another in Amsterdam, the Dutch capital.

But the plan is in an early phase and “may change before the actual date,” said Alfred Edelstein, JO’s director. “We still need to look at the various elements.”

The project aims to produce “an integrated account of a victim and their personal story in a way which places the lessons of the past at the center of the present,” according to the leaked document, which also describes the initiative as a way to combat persistent anti-Semitic attitudes and indifference and ignorance of the Holocaust among young Dutch people.

According to the document, National Remembrance Walks from 2016 onward will focus on other Holocaust victims from elsewhere in the Netherlands, which lost 75 percent of its Jewish population of 140,000 in the Holocaust, the highest death rate in Nazi-occupied Western Europe.

The concept, which was drawn up with assistance from the communications firm Eye2Eye Media, has Dutch actress Carice van Houten of the hit series “Game of Thrones” portraying Miep Gies, a resistance fighter who tried to save Anne Frank and her family during their two years in hiding from the Nazis before their capture in 1944. The cast will include additional Dutch actors and celebrities, and the walks will feature public singing of songs from World War II, the concept said.

But in a statement on Twitter, van Houten wrote that she had been unaware of the plan before it was leaked.

Germany: We’re watching situation of Ukrainian Jews

BERLIN (JTA)—Germany will not loosen its immigration restrictions for Jews from Ukraine, a spokesman for the German Interior Ministry said.

The statement to JTA this week followed conflicting reports as to whether Berlin was planning to greatly ease its immigration regulations to enable Ukrainian Jews to come to Germany.

According to the spokesman, the government was keeping a close eye on developments regarding anti-Semitism in Ukraine and would react quickly if needed.

In a June 26 letter to Berlin Jewish community members, Berlin Jewish community head Gideon Joffe applauded an easing of immigration restrictions for Ukraine’s Jews following reports of increased anti-Semitism. He said he had received numerous appeals from community members with family or friends in the region.

On June 17, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, included a list of measures to which he said the responsible ministries and authorities had agreed to expedite emigration of Ukrainian Jews who wish to come to Germany. The list of measures was repeated in the Joffe letter.

However, the spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which has a department dedicated to Jewish immigration, told JTA that “a change in the requirements for admission is not planned.”

He said the Foreign Ministry had not found any general increase in anti-Semitic tendencies in Ukraine, but rather an increase in “hooliganism that affects the entire population and not specific population groups.”

Jews from the former Soviet Union, with the exception of the Baltic states, may apply as always to immigrate to Germany, he added.

The spokesman did confirm that there was an agreement with the Foreign Ministry to expedite applications from Ukraine in general, and that an additional employee had been sent to Kiev to help with such applications.

“The federal government will continue to observe the situation carefully and will react quickly if there is a general concrete danger to the Jews of Ukraine,” he added.

American Jews leave African Union summit after protests

WASHINGTON (JTA)—An American Jewish delegation at an African Union summit left after summit delegates objected to its presence.

The nine-person delegation, which included Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations, had been invited by summit organizers to attend last week’s events in Equatorial Guinea.

Hoenlein said last Friday that he considers the visit a success. He and the members of the delegation, who attended in individual capacities and did not collectively represent any organization, had 12 to 15 meetings with African leaders on June 25, the day before the official summit launch.

“We were received across the board with presidents who have not before met with us, who are anxious for closer ties to Israel, with the Jewish community,” Hoenlein told JTA, noting it was the first time there was a Jewish presence at such a summit.

On June 26, the group settled in to watch the opening ceremonies, when the Egyptian delegation, noticing that some of the men wore kippahs, objected to their presence, calling them an Israeli delegation. The South African delegation also complained.

A summit organizer told Hoenlein of the objections, and Hoenlein told him it would be “outrageous” to complain about an Israeli delegation, but that in any case, the people in his group were Americans.

The organizers returned to engaging with the Egyptian and South African delegations, Hoenlein said, but the group, which had planned to leave right after the opening ceremony, left two hours early.

“The behavior was unacceptable and we decided to leave,” he said. “It demonstrates again, whether we’re Israelis or Americans, it’s the Jewish part of us” to which some people object.

Hoenlein said afterward that summit officials expressed their regret for the incident.

 

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