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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA

 


Boxer reintroduces enhanced Israel ally bill with broad support

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Citing the Gaza war as a catalyst, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) re-introduced with broad bipartisan support a bill that would enhance U.S.-Israel strategic ties.

“While we work toward a just peace in the Middle East and an end to the tragedy of war, it is critical that we reaffirm our enduring commitment to Israel’s security and the historic ties between our two nations,” Boxer said in a statement Monday reintroducing the bill with its lead GOP co-sponsor, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). “This legislation sends a clear message that America’s bond with Israel remains unbreakable, and I am proud that it has the support of more than three-quarters of the Senate.”

The House version of the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act passed by 410 to 1 in March, but the Senate bill had been held up since its initial introduction in March 2013, at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference, for numerous reasons. With 79 co-sponsors in its latest iteration, it appears guaranteed to pass. AIPAC has made passage of the bill a priority.

In addition to its original provisions requiring more frequent assessments of Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region and advancing cooperation in a number of areas, including energy and cyber security, the new version modifies controversial language concerning a visa-waiver program.

Earlier versions of the bill had faced opposition from the State Department because the language enabled Israel to bypass some requirements of a program allowing visa-free travel between the United States and its partners.

One such exemption would have permitted Israel to discriminate against certain U.S. citizens seeking entry. A number of Arab-American groups have complained of discriminatory treatment for Arab and Muslim Americans seeking to enter Israel, and the State Department has said in its advisories that such discrimination exists, although Israel denies it.

In the bill’s updated language, Israel must extend reciprocal privileges “without regard to race, religion, national origin, or ethnicity” in order to enter the program.

Bills condemning Hamas on ‘human shields’ introduced in Congress

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Resolutions under consideration in Congress that condemn Hamas for placing its weapons and fighters close to civilians have strong bipartisan support.

The House non-binding resolution condemning Hamas for using civilians as “human shields” during the current Gaza conflict, introduced July 16 by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the House’s Middle East subcommittee, and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), its ranking Democrat, so far has 64 co-sponsors. Ros-Lehtinen mentioned the bill to cheers in an appearance Monday at a national rally of Jewish leaders.

Similar resolutions have been introduced in recent days in the Senate, one by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and another by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

The sponsors of the House resolution also initiated a letter sent this week to Navi Pillay, the top U.N. human rights official, urging her and the U.N. Human Rights Council to condemn Hamas’ use of civilians as shields. The letter was signed by over 100 lawmakers.

“The United Nations Human Rights Council simply cannot be taken seriously as a human rights organization when it establishes a commission of inquiry to unjustly probe alleged war crimes and violations of international law by the nation defending its citizens from rocket attacks and terror tunnels, rather than the terrorist group whose depravity makes a policy of using its citizens as human shields while its terror commanders flee to fortified bunkers,” the letter said.

The U.N. Human Rights Council last week called for an inquiry into possible war crimes in the Gaza Strip. Pillay in her remarks at the July 23 session said it was “unacceptable to locate military assets in densely populated areas or to launch attacks from such areas,” but added, “the actions of one party did not absolve the other party of the need to respect its obligations under international law.”

Suspect arrested in firebomb attack on German synagogue

BERLIN (JTA)—A suspect has been arrested in an attempted arson attack on a German synagogue.

A neighbor of the New Wuppertal Synagogue in the former West German state of North Rhine-Westphalia called police at about  2 a.m. on Tuesday to report burning objects in the street next to the synagogue, according to German news reports. Three men reportedly threw Molotov cocktails at the synagogue, which was dedicated in 2002.

WDR broadcast news reported that an 18-year-old man was arrested nearby. Police did not reveal further information about the one apprehended suspect, but according to Reuters the man told authorities he is Palestinian.

There were no injuries but traces of a flammable liquid were found around the building.

A local group, the Palestinian Friendship Association, distanced itself from the incident which it condemned  “profoundly.” Association spokesperson Ismail Karsoua said such acts are counterproductive to political discussion, WDR reported.

In related news, police in the city of Essen, also in North Rhine-Westphalia, last week received a tip that an attack on the city’s Old Synagogue had been announced on Facebook for 3 a.m. on July 24. Police arrested three men at the scene at 1 a.m. that day, after they rolled down the window of their car and threatened, “We’ll see you later.” The men were later released.

100 Spanish celebrities accuse Israel of genocide in Gaza

SEVILLA, Spain (JTA)—A letter accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza was endorsed by 100 Spanish celebrities, including Academy Award winners Pedro Almodovar, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz.

On Monday the actors, writers and directors endorsed a letter that Bardem published last week in the Barcelona-based El Periodico de Catalunya, the daily reported.

“This is a war of occupation and extermination against a whole people without means, confined to a miniscule territory without water and where hospitals, ambulances, and children are targeted and presumed to be terrorists,” Bardem, himself an Academy Award-winning actor, wrote.

European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor told JTA that “Rather than outrageously attacking a fellow democracy for defending itself against radical terrorists, the time of Spanish public figures would be better put to use fighting against the rapidly growing hatred of Jews in their country, which according to recent surveys is one of the highest in Europe. The gratuitous use of the term ‘genocide’ and the fact that no similar statement has been released while hundreds of thousands are massacred and made refugees in the Middle East and Africa demonstrates grave ignorance or extreme malice.”

Kantor added: “I would be interested in reading the opinion of the same Spanish celebrities after thousands of rockets are fired at Madrid or Barcelona.”

In his letter titled “Genocide,” Bardem also wrote: “Being Jewish is not synonymous with supporting this massacre, just as being a Hebrew is not the same as being a Zionist and being Palestinian does not mean being a terrorist from Hamas. That is as absurd as saying that being German means espousing Nazism.”

Bardem also wrote: “My son was born in a Jewish hospital because I have Jewish people who are very near and dear to me.”

JDL looks to establish Montreal chapter after increase in attacks on Jews

TORONTO (JTA)—The Jewish Defense League of Canada wants to set up a chapter in Montreal, citing an increase in attacks on Jews.

The national director of the Toronto-based JDL, Meir Weinstein, told local media he has been contacted by Montreal residents who would like to see a chapter set up in the city.

In interviews, Weinstein denied his group is controversial or militant.

“We have a very serious history in Canada—fighting anti-Semitism, exposing Nazi war criminals and a variety of neo-Nazi groups in the city. … We’ve worked very hard in this country against physical threats to the community, and I’m very proud of my history with the organization.”

The FBI identified the JDL as a “right-wing terrorist group” in reports on terrorism in 2000 and 2001, citing a thwarted bomb plot in 2001 against a California mosque that involved members of the organization, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

In Canada, the JDL has not been identified as a terrorist group.

But since the start of the current round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, the group has been on the front lines of both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protests, with one of its members bloodied in a recent scuffle in Toronto.

Some observers have noted that the JDL has signified a return to the in-your-face, sometimes violent, street protests the group staged in the late 1960s and through the 1970s.

“For anyone who says we are ultra-nationalist, I’m not exactly sure what they mean,” Weinstein told Montreal radio station CJAD. “We’re proud to be Canadians, and we uphold Canadian law, and we support the state of Israel. Confrontation is part of it.”

David Ouellette of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs  said that for the first time in years the conflict in the Middle East has led to a rise in anti-Jewish sentiment in Montreal.

“I would expect that JDL is making this calculation, knowing this is a time when many in the Jewish community are concerned with their safety, that the time is right to try and make inroads,” he told CBC.

Ouellette said the JDL hasn’t had a presence in Quebec in years and has had a difficult time establishing itself in any significant way.  “They really stand on the fringes of our community,” he said.

Montreal Rabbi Reuben Poupko agreed, saying the local community already has a good working relationship with police and doesn’t need an outside group to agitate.

“There is nothing to be gained from a street confrontation,” Poupko told Montreal’s  CJAD radio news.

After 50 years, VA headstone replaced to reflect vet’s Jewishness

WASHINGTON (JTA)—A World War II soldier buried in a national cemetery in Wisconsin now has a Jewish star marking his grave, in place of the Christian cross it bore for almost 50 years.

Rabbi Avrohom Richter, director of Chabad of Howard Beach in the Queens borough of New York, learned of his distant relative Henry Dienstein while looking into his family history. Dienstein, a first cousin of Richter’s grandmother, is buried in a Veterans Affairs National Cemetery in Milwaukee.

Following appeals to the Department of Veterans Affairs by Rabbi David Niederman, executive director and president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Dienstein, a private, now has his appropriate headstone.

Memorials cannot be modified after 50 years, according to the Veterans Affairs rules. Richter realized the error 49 years and 11 months after his cousin’s burial. With the help of Niederman, Gillibrand and other family members, the paperwork was expedited and completed on time.

“We pay tribute to Mr. Dienstein’s courageous service in defense of our nation in World War II,” Gillibrand said in a statement Monday. “This headstone will ensure that Mr. Dienstein’s memory is rightly honored.”

Sydney Jewish board: Newspaper cartoon ‘racially vilifies’ Jews

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA)—The umbrella body of the Jewish community in Sydney, Australia, threatened to take action against a major newspaper for publishing a cartoon about Gaza that “racially vilifies” Jews.

Yair Miller, president of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, wrote to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald Tuesday claiming that the cartoon by Glen Le Lievre in the July 26 edition was in breach of the Anti-Discrimination Act.

“In our view this is racial vilification, not only in the sense of offending, insulting, humiliating and intimidating Jews as a group, but also in the sense of inciting third parties to hatred of Jews,” Miller wrote.

The cartoon, published alongside a virulently anti-Israel article by columnist Mike Carlton, showed a yarmulke-wearing, hooked-nose Jew sitting in an armchair etched with a Star of David, using a remote control to detonate a collection of buildings, presumably in Gaza.

The Anti-Defamation Commission of the B’nai B’rith also lodged a formal protest against the “anti-Semitic” image.

“This is the venomous propaganda of Der Stumer recycled for a modern-day audience,” fumed commission chair Dvir Abramovich. “The cartoon portrays not just Israelis, but all Jews, as heartless, cold-blooded murderers.”

The furor comes as an Islamic leader called for a law prohibiting Australian citizens from joining the Israeli army. Samir Dandan, president of the Lebanese Muslim Association, claimed that Australians who fight in Iraq and Syria face prosecution whereas those who fight for Israel do not.

“It’s hard when you say something to one side and they look and say ‘how come we’re not being treated the same’—it’s not fair,” he told the Australian Associated Press this week.

But Dr. Danny Lamm, president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, told JTA: “The law is to prevent?Australians from going to fight for proscribed groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, etc., who are trying to undermine established states or commit terrorist acts.”

Dutch watchdog reports record levels of online anti-Semitism

(JTA)—A Dutch watchdog group said it was observing record levels of anti-Semitic hatred online.

Meldpunt Discriminatie Internet, or MDI, said the current volume of reports on punishable hate speech against Jews is unparalleled during the organization’s 17 years in existence, the AT5 television channel reported Monday.

“Usually, we get three to five reports [of incidents] per week, but now we have received 73 reports,” MDI cofounder Suzette Bronkhorst told AT5. “We are talking about 200-300 incidents of anti-Semitic hate speech within 10 days,” Bronkhorst added. The jump is connected to Israel’s offensive in Gaza, she said, and largely consists of statements on Twitter.

One Twitter message flagged by MDI read: “I want all Jews, but really all of them, to drop dead until not a single one is left.” Another, belonging to the Twitter user “goldmocro,” identified as James Rodriquez, read: “Hitler needs to come back to kill the Jews. #FreePalestine.”

In France, the hashtag #PalestineVivraIsraelBrulera, or “Palestine will live, Israel will burn,” was ranked third-most popular among users from the Toulouse region on Tuesday.

Hashtags are words or phrases preceded by the number symbol that are used to index messages on Twitter and other social networks.

Grinspoon Foundation names new president

(JTA)—Harold Grinspoon, a prominent Jewish U.S. philanthropist, is stepping down as president of his foundation.

The Harold Grinspoon Foundation announced Monday that Grinspoon was stepping down as president of the organization and would be replaced by his daughter-in-law, Winifred Sandler Grinspoon. Sandler Grinspoon, 51, is an attorney and has been a trustee of the foundation since its inception in 1993, according to a statement released by the foundation. She also serves on the  executive committee of the Boston Jewish Community Women’s Fund and on the boards of the Cornell Hillel and the Jewish Funders Network.

The Grinspoon Foundation focuses on Jewish education and continuity, as well as programs related to Western Massachusetts, where the foundation is headquartered.

The foundation is best known for its PJ Library initiative, in which it partners with local Jewish federations and organizations to send free Jewish books to families with young Jewish children. Started in 2005, the program has now expanded to communities throughout North America and Mexico, and to Israel under the Hebrew name Sifriyat Pijama.

Harold Grinspoon, 85, made his fortune as a developer and owner of middle-income apartments, first in Western Massachusetts and then nationally. According to a report by the Boston Globe, he began focusing on philanthropy after surviving a brush with cancer in the late 1980s. He and his wife, Diane Troderman, have given away well over $100 million and have willed their estate to the Grinspoon Foundation.

 

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