Weekly roundup of new briefs from JTA


Netanyahu reportedly OKs housing plans for Jewish neighborhoods in E. Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly approved planning for at least 1,000 new housing units in Jewish neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem.

At least 600 of the apartments will be in Ramat Shlomo and 400 in Har Homa, according to Israeli media reports citing unnamed officials. The approval is only for the planning of the housing units, not the building of them.

Netanyahu also reportedly ordered the advancement of infrastructure projects in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including the paving of roads, which will serve Israelis and Palestinians.

Reports of the approvals, which the Prime Minister’s Office has not officially announced or commented  on, came a day after Israel’s Channel 2 reported that the government is planning to build 2,000 more housing units in settlement blocs in the West Bank. Those plans, as well as the infrastructure improvements in the West Bank, reportedly are to appease Netanyahu’s coalition partner, the Jewish Home party.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, criticized the reported plan to build new homes in the West Bank.

“This plan will lead to a serious crisis in Israel-U.S. relations and will harm Israel’s standing in the world,” he said.

Lapid added that while he doesn’t oppose building in the major settlement blocs, the timing of the proposals will hurt Israel.

Second light rail victim, Palestinian attacker buried in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Hundreds attended the funeral for the second victim of the driver who smashed his car into the light rail in eastern Jerusalem.

Karen Yemima Muscara, 22, who had come to Israel more than a year ago from her home in Guayaquil, Ecuador, to complete her conversion to Judaism, was buried Monday morning in the Mount of Olives cemetery in Jerusalem.

Muscara died the previous afternoon at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem from injuries suffered in the Oct. 22 attack. Her mother and her sister had been flown in from Ecuador and were with her when she died. Her father arrived in Israel to attend her funeral.

She was converting after discovering that she was descended from Conversos, Spanish Jews forcibly converted to Catholicism after 1492.

Her funeral took place shortly after the conclusion of the funeral in eastern Jerusalem for the Palestinian man who drove the car that crashed into the Jerusalem light rail stop, killing Muscara and a 3-month-old girl.

The funeral for Abdelrahman al-Shaludi was held up following disputes with Israel. He was buried at a Muslim cemetery near the Old City walls. Some 300 people reportedly participated in a funeral procession, though only family members attended the burial, according to reports.

The funeral was postponed from Saturday night following protests outside his home in the eastern Jerusalem flashpoint neighborhood of Silwan that security forces feared would grow further out of control during a funeral. The family was limited to 20 mourners at the cemetery; the names had to be submitted in advance.

Shaludi’s family had said on Sunday that it would not take his body for burial unless the restrictions on mourners was lifted.

Israel and the U.S. State Department have called the crash a terror attack. Shaludi’s parents say he lost control of the car.

Knesset committee approves conversion bill for final plenum readings

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A Knesset committee for the second time has approved a bill allowing local rabbis to oversee conversions to Judaism in Israel.

The Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Monday advanced the measure by a vote of 6 to 5. It is scheduled to be returned to the full Knesset for its second and third readings.

However, Israeli media reported last week that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had withdrawn his support for the bill in order to shore up his coalition base and not upset the haredi Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, who he might need to form an alliance in future governments.

After approving the bill in March, the committee was required to vote a second time following the addition of 38 amendments proposed by the opposition, which all were voted down by the committee. The bill, which was sponsored by Elazar Stern of the Hatnua party, already passed one reading in the Knesset this summer.

The Likud and Jewish Home parties oppose the measure, as do the haredi Orthodox parties. The country’s chief rabbis, Rabbi David Lau and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, also are in opposition.

Under the measure, as many as 30 courts made up of municipal rabbis would be allowed for the purpose of conversion. Currently there are 33 rabbis and four conversion courts that can perform conversions throughout Israel.

“We are pleased that, in the end, the lawmakers were able to see beyond the politics and reach out to potential converts in a positive way,” Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM Jewish Advocacy Center, who was involved in the drafting of the bill and participated in the hearing, told JTA. “Each day, hundreds of individuals who made aliyah as Jews but aren’t recognized as Jews by the Rabbinate are being alienated by the Jewish state.  This bill provides them a small glimmer of light.”

Though the bill is officially out of committee, it is unknown when it will move to the Knesset floor, according to Farber.

Netanyahu defends Israel’s right to build in Jerusalem

(JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel has just as much right to build in Jerusalem as France has to build in Paris.

Speaking at the opening of the Knesset’s winter session Monday, Netanyahu said Israel “has the full right to build the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem,” the Times of Israel reported.

“The French build in Paris, the English build in London, the Israelis build in Jerusalem. Should we tell Jews not to live in Jerusalem because it will stir things up?” he asked.

Netanyahu recently recommended that plans for about 1,000 housing units in eastern Jerusalem move forward. Israel’s Channel 2 news reported that Netanyahu is also in negotiations with right-wing politicians and settler leaders seeking approval for a large West Bank development project, including 2,000 new units, 12 new roads, parks, student villages and renovation of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

“The violence against us is not an outcome of the building in Jerusalem,” he said. “Terror comes from our enemies’ desire that we shouldn’t be here at all, in no place and in no part of Jerusalem. Not in Tel Aviv or Haifa. Since the dawn of Zionism, construction has been the natural and crushing answer to those who are harassing our existence and want to uproot us from our land. They want death, and we build here for life.”

U.S. slams Israel’s reported approval of eastern Jerusalem housing plans

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The United States condemned the reported approval by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to plan construction of at least 1,000 new housing units in eastern Jerusalem Jewish neighborhoods.

“If Israel wants to live in a peaceful society, they need to take steps that will reduce tensions,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday during a regular news briefing. “Moving forward with this sort of action would be incompatible with the pursuit of peace.”

Psaki said Washington was “deeply concerned” by the reports Monday that Netanyahu had approved going forward with planning for at least 600 apartments in Ramat Shlomo and 400 in Har Homa.

Netanyahu also reportedly ordered the advancement of infrastructure projects in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including the paving of roads, which will serve Israelis and Palestinians.

“We view settlement activities as illegitimate and we are unequivocally opposed to unilateral steps,” Psaki told reporters.

The Prime Minister’s Office has neither announced the plans nor confirmed the reports. Psaki acknowledged that Washington had not yet confirmed the approval.
Reports of the approvals came a day after Israel’s Channel 2 reported that the government was planning to build 2,000 more housing units in settlement blocs in the West Bank.

Knesset members from two Arab parties and a mixed Arab-Jewish party boycotted the opening, citing racism and incitement against them, the Times of Israel reported.

Jewish Agency investing $13.2M in southern Israel’s recovery

(JTA) — The Jewish Agency for Israel will invest $13.2 million to help southern Israeli communities affected this summer by the conflict with Gaza.

The aid package, announced at the agency’s Board of Governors meeting in Ashkelon, includes direct assistance to residents and businesses in areas near the Gaza border; grants for victims of rocket attacks; new and refurbished bomb shelters; loans for business owners; and support for new immigrants and students in the communities.

The gathering had been scheduled to take place in Mexico but was moved to southern Israel in a show of support for the communities after the summer.

No plans to change status quo on Temple Mount, Netanyahu says

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there are no plans to make changes in the status quo on the Temple Mount.

Netanyahu made the statement on Monday during a meeting to discuss the security situation in Jerusalem. His assurances came a day after Jordan warned that its peace treaty with Israel signed 20 years ago could be threatened by continued settlement construction and by any change in the status quo on the Temple Mount, including allowing Jews to pray there.

Several hours after Netanyahu’s statement, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah visited the Al-Aksa Mosque at the Temple Mount.

The meeting and the visit come amid tension in Jerusalem that has increased in recent days due to an attack by a Palestinian driver on a light rail station in Jerusalem and the killing by Israeli soldiers of a Palestinian teen with American citizenship accused of preparing to throw a firebomb into traffic.

Tension on the Temple Mount increased in recent months, coming to a head during the Jewish High Holidays when more Jewish pilgrims visit the site, which is holy to both Muslims and Jews.

Hamdallah visited the Temple Mount with the Palestinian Authority governor of Jerusalem, Adnan al-Husseini, and Palestinian security officials, according to reports. His visit was approved by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon.

During the security meeting, Netanyahu called for draft legislation levying severe punishment for rock throwing be advanced as quickly as possible. The legislation would call for detention and stiffer punishments for rock throwers, including criteria for the possible imposition of economic sanctions on the parents of minors who throw rocks.

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen, senior Israel Police officials, the deputy attorney general and military officials attended the meeting.

Meanwhile, also Sunday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sent a letter to the Obama administration calling on the U.S. government to “stop Israeli escalation in east Jerusalem, especially raids by settlers and extremists into the Aksa Mosque,” according to a statement released by his office in Ramallah, Israeli media reported.

Abbas threatened that the “dangerous escalation” would lead to  “a wider explosion.”

U.S. spy agencies hired at least 1,000 Nazis, new book alleges

NEW YORK (JTA) — U.S. spy agencies hired at least 1,000 ex-Nazis during the Cold War, a new book reports.

According to Eric Lichtblau’s “The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men,” excerpted Monday in The New York Times, the CIA and other American agencies employed large numbers of Nazis as spies and informants and through the 1990s protected from deportation and prosecution some who were living in the United States.

Citing newly disclosed records and interviews, Lichtblau reports that the FBI and CIA knowingly recruited officials who had occupied high positions in Nazi Germany, including some known to be guilty of war crimes. One such spy was involved in the Lithuanian massacre of tens of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust; another worked closely with Adolf Eichmann. Several spies were rewarded with U.S. citizenship.

On several occasions, the book notes, U.S. intelligence officials refused to cooperate with the Justice Department’s Nazi hunters and urged them to drop investigations for fear of exposing their ties to American spy agencies.

Polish constitutional court to discuss ritual slaughter ban

WARSAW, Poland (JTA) — The Polish Constitutional Tribunal will hold a hearing to discuss the country’s ban on ritual slaughter.

The hearing will be held Dec. 3. A request for a review of the case by the Constitutional Tribunal was submitted more than a year ago by the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland.

“The procedure lasted a long time, but I think it was the right way,” Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, told JTA. “We hope that the tribunal will rule on the admissibility of Jewish ritual slaughter on Polish territory. This will eliminate confusion as to the legality or illegality of this kind of slaughter. It also will eliminate rumors that the slaughter is done somewhere illegally. We want it to be done according to religious principles and practices of openness and transparency.”

Ritual slaughter was banned in Poland beginning on Jan. 1, 2013, after Poland’s constitutional court scrapped a government regulation exempting Jews and Muslims from a law requiring the stunning of animals prior to slaughter. Muslim and Jewish ritual slaughter requires that animals be conscious before their necks are cut. The tribunal then asked for the opinion of the Sejm, or parliament, and the Prosecutor General’s Office.

According to the Sejm, ritual slaughter for the needs of the Jewish community in Poland is legal and the person performing the slaughter cannot be punished. The Prosecutor General’s Office, however, says that “the slaughter of animals, provided by religious rites, is not permitted.”

In March, KRIR, or the National Council of Agricultural Chambers in Poland, filed a bill on the slaughter law that would legalize ritual slaughter. Parliament will take up the measure after the Constitutional Tribunal’s judgment.

Belgium university to address race issues following Gaza-themed student game

(JTA) — Following the cancellation of a Gaza-themed students’ game with anti-Semitic overtones, the University of Liege in Belgium set up a pedagogic team to sensitize students to race issues.

The game, which had been planned for Oct. 18, was an initiation ceremony for students of the university’s philosophy and literature faculty. Themed around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the pamphlet of the ceremony warned the students seeking to be initiated, whom the invitation called “little Palestinians,” to “watch out for the big, mean Jew and to settle in safely and happily, if possible.”

The university’s rector, Albert Corhay, condemned the event and demanded it be canceled and that organizers publicly apologize. The university, he said in a statement, “cannot accept this insult in the form of a folkloric activity. There can be no question of hiding behind satire or humor. The nature of this activity is simply ignominious.” 

On Friday, faculty from the university told the Belga news agency that they have set up the team for sensitizing students to ethnic issues.

In a statement issued Oct. 24, the committee responsible for planning the student event distanced itself from any intention to express anti-Semitic sentiments and condemned anti-Semitism. The rector and the union of Jewish Students of Belgium also signed the statement.


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