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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Controversial Jewish nation-state bill passes Israeli Cabinet vote

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s Cabinet passed a bill that would identify Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

The measure, which has engendered controversy, advanced in a 14-6 vote on Sunday. It must pass a preliminary reading and two other readings in the Israeli parliament, which will consider the so-called nation-state law on Wednesday.

The ministers of the Likud (with the exception of Culture Minister Limor Livnat), Yisrael Beiteinu and Jewish Home parties voted for the bill, which was proposed by Zeev Elkin of Likud. Five members of the Yesh Atid party and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni of Hatnua opposed the nation-state bill. Livnat abstained from the vote.

Under the bill, which “defines the State of Israel’s identity as the nation-state of the Jewish people,” Hebrew would become the official language, with Arabic having “special status.” Also, the measure also calls Jewish law a basis for new legislation, among other matters.

A softening of the legislation proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly will be substituted for the current version when it returns to committee after the preliminary reading.

The Cabinet’s closed-door discussion on the bill reportedly degenerated into a shouting match.

“The State of Israel is the national state of the Jewish People,” Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of the Cabinet meeting. “It has equal individual rights for every citizen and we insist on this. But only the Jewish People have national rights: a flag, anthem, the right of every Jew to immigrate to the country and other national symbols. These are granted only to our people, in its one and only state.”

Netanyahu: No Iran agreement is preferable to bad one

JERUSALEM (JTA)—No agreement with Iran on its nuclear program is preferable to a bad one, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday night briefed Netanyahu on the world powers’ nuclear talks with Iran, Netanyahu told his Cabinet Sunday at its regular weekly meeting.

Netanyahu said that a “bad agreement” could “endanger Israel, the Middle East and all of humanity.”

The Israeli leader said his country was monitoring developments in the talks.

“We are holding discussions with the representatives of other major powers and are presenting them with a vigorous position to the effect that Iran must not be allowed to be determined as a nuclear threshold state,” Netanyahu said. “There is no reason why it should be left with thousands of centrifuges that could enable it to enrich uranium for a nuclear bomb in a short time.”

The talks have a Monday deadline for a deal. On Sunday, a trilateral meeting featured Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union representative Catherine Ashton.

If there is no resolution of the talks by the end of Sunday, Iran and the world powers reportedly will agree to extend the deadline for the talks by several months.

Palestinian man shot was approaching Gaza fence, IDF says

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israeli troops shot a Palestinian man in northern Gaza who the Israeli military said was approaching the security fence between Israel and Gaza.

Palestinian officials said Fadil Muhammad Halawah, 32, was killed while hunting birds Sunday in the northern Gaza Strip when he was shot, according to the Palestinian Maan news agency.

The Israeli military told Maan that Halawah and another man approached the security fence and did not stop when ordered by Israeli troops.

The soldiers fired warning shots before firing at the men’s lower extremities, hitting one, the IDF said. The IDF could not confirm the condition of the man.

Halawah would be the first Gaza Palestinian killed by Israeli bullets since Israel’s 50-day operation in Gaza last summer.

Also Sunday, two Palestinians from Gaza who infiltrated into Israel were stopped near the Kerem Shalom border crossing, the IDF said. One of the men was carrying a grenade.

Jewish settlers torched widow’s West Bank home, Palestinian officials say

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A Palestinian home in the West Bank was set afire in what Palestinian officials said was an attack by Israeli Jewish settlers.

A firebomb was thrown through the window of the home located in a village near Ramallah early Sunday morning, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported. “Death to Arabs” and “vengeance” also was spray-painted on the house.

The widow who lives in the two-story house told the B’Tselem human rights groups that she heard people speaking in Hebrew outside the home at the time of the attack. Most of the damage was confined to the first story, according to Maan.

The Israel Police are investigating the arson attack.

Jordan’s parliament holds moment of silence for synagogue killers

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Jordan’s parliament held a moment of silence for the two Palestinian terrorists who killed five people in a Jerusalem synagogue attack.

The gesture, along with the reading of Koran verses, was held a day after the Nov. 18 attack, the Israeli media reported Friday.

The Jordanian government condemned the attack.

Also, Jordan’s prime minister, Abdullah Ensour, sent a letter of condolence to the families of the terrorists, Palestinian cousins Uday and Ghassan Abu Jamal of eastern Jerusalem, Israel’s Channel 10 reported. The gunmen were killed in a shootout with Israeli police.

The expressions of sympathy come less than a week after King Abdullah II of Jordan, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met in Amman. At the meeting, Abdullah and Netanyahu agreed to work to dial back escalating tension and violence in eastern Jerusalem and elsewhere.

Ashkelon mayor decides against ban on Arab workers

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimon has walked back his decision to lay off city Arab workers in the aftermath of the deadly synagogue attack in Jerusalem.

On Sunday, Shimoni agreed to allow the workers to complete construction work on bomb shelters in the city’s preschools and relocate the students to the local community center, Ynet reported. The plan was to be presented to parents at a meeting that night.

Shimoni on Friday had ordered a halt to the project, which is expected to take a week, to prevent Arab workers from entering the city. The decision followed a couple of days after five people were killed in the synagogue attack by two Palestinians from eastern Jerusalem.

The mayor said he made the decision after parents said they were uncomfortable with the Arab workers around their children and asked for additional armed security guards when the workers were present.

“Unfortunately, my decisions were taken out of proportion,” Shimoni told Ynet. “I was simply listening to the parents of the mentioned kindergartens. At no point did I order the expulsion of Arabs from Ashkelon.”

Report: Hamas plan to kill Avigdor Liberman foiled

(JTA) – Israeli security forces arrested four men suspected of plotting to kill Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman by firing a rocket at his car.

Unnamed sources from Israel’s General Security Service, or Shin Bet, said the men were affiliated with Hamas and had confessed during questioning to having planned to fire the RPG rocket at Liberman’s car near his home in Nokdim in the West Bank, Army Radio reported Nov. 20.

The men were identified as brothers Ibrahim Salim Mahmoud Zir and Ziad Salim Mahmoud Zir, along with Adnan Mahmoud Sabih and Yussuf Ibrahim Yussuf Alsheikh. Some of the alleged plotters have served time in Israeli prisons, according to the report.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the organization had no information regarding a plan to assassinate Liberman.

During their interrogation, Shin Bet uncovered “a separate terrorist activity in which military Hamas activists planned to run over settlers and army forces with a motor vehicle in the Gush Etzion area,” a Shin Bet statement read.

According to Shin Bet, the assassination plot is part of “an attempt by Hamas to restore its infrastructure in Judea and Samaria,” or the West Bank, following a crackdown by Israel this summer in the wake of the attempted abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers in June.

Two Jews lightly wounded in Jerusalem stabbing

(JTA)—Two Jewish men sustained minor injuries after being stabbed outside a religious seminary in eastern Jerusalem.

Magen David Adom paramedics rushed to the scene last Friday to treat the wounded men: a 24-year-old who sustained a back injury and a 21-year-old who was wounded in the head, the emergency service said.

The attack occurred at the Beit Orot yeshiva near the Mount of Olives. According to the news site Ynet, the victims said their attackers were Arabs. The report did not say how many suspected perpetrators were involved.

The victims were evacuated to Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem as security forces began searching for the attackers near the scene of the incident.

Two days earlier, five people were killed in an attack perpetrated by two Palestinian terrorists inside a synagogue in western Jerusalem.

Yemen minister dedicates award to country’s Jews

(JTA)—Yemen’s minister of culture is donating an international human rights prize to the country’s tiny and persecuted Jewish minority.

Arwa Othman, awarded the Alison Des Forges Award by Human Rights Watch in September, called for “tolerance” in her speech and announced she was giving her award to “brothers and friends from the Jewish community,” according to The Associated Press.

Othman made the announcement at a Nov. 20 celebration in the capital city of Sanaa, where roughly half the country’s Jewish population—numbering fewer than 90 in total—live in a guarded compound.

Arwa, a writer and former head of Yemen’s House of Folklore who was appointed this month to her Cabinet post, was praised by Human Rights Watch for her advocacy for civil rights in the country’s constitutional negotiations and her efforts to end child marriage. According to the AP, her advocacy for civil rights and the Jewish population has spurred a backlash by Yemen’s hardline Salafi Muslims.

Jonathan Pollard’s first parole application rejected

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Jonathan Pollard was turned down in his first application for parole.

“The breadth and scope of the classified information that you sold to the Israelis was the greatest compromise of U.S. security to that date,” the parole commission said in an August letter to the Israeli spy, according to The Jerusalem Post, which obtained the letter and broke the news in a cover story in its Friday magazine.

“You passed thousands of Top Secret documents to Israeli agents, threatening U.S. relations in the Middle East among the Arab countries,” the parole commission letter said. “Given all this information, paroling you at this time would depreciate the seriousness of the offense and promote disrespect for the law.”

Pollard, a former U.S. Navy analyst who was sentenced to life in 1987 after being arrested two years earlier, had not applied for parole until now, the Post said, in part because he favored a presidential commutation, which would release him unconditionally. He has been eligible to apply for parole for 19 years.

Parole likely would require a period of remaining in the United States. Pollard, 60, was made an Israeli citizen in the 1990s and wants to move to Israel.

Part of what changed Pollard’s mind was an Israeli television interview with President Obama in March 2013 in which the U.S. leader said that he would make sure that Pollard “is accorded the same kinds of review and same examination of the equities that any other individual would be provided.”

Pollard, the Post said, understood that to mean that Obama would ensure that any parole process would be fair.

Last week, Obama received a letter from former senior U.S. government officials familiar with the classified letter written by then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger that reportedly is keeping Pollard in prison strongly criticizing the parole process as “deeply flawed.”

The officials, including former CIA director James Woolsey; former U.S. National Security Advisor Robert MacFarlane; former chairmen of the Senate Intelligence Committee; and Sens. Dennis DeConcini and David Durenburger, said in the letter that by calling Pollard’s crime “the greatest compromise of U.S. security to that date,” the Parole Commission Decision document bases  its decision to deny parole on “a patently false claim.”

This claim, wrote the officials, “is false and is not supported by any evidence in the public record or the classified file.”

They also pointed out that the commission ignored documentary evidence that mitigated in favor of Pollard’s release, as well as the recommendations by top level officials with firsthand knowledge of the case that called for Pollard’s unconditional release.

The parole commission said it would review Pollard’s case again next year.

National Archives makes postwar Shanghai visa records available

WASHINGTON (JTA)—The U.S. National Archives has opened to researchers post-World War II visa application records from the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai.

The records provide a potential trove of information about Holocaust refugees in the Chinese city. Dozens already are available; more will be in the future.

“From 1938 on, an estimated 20,000 Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria escaped to Shanghai, the only place in the world that did not require a visa to enter,” according to a statement Thursday from the archives. “Between 1939 and 1940, nearly 2,000 Polish Jews escaped to Shanghai, avoiding certain death.”

The 1,300 case files for applicants for U.S. visas covers the period 1946-51 and could provide a window into the postwar movements of the refugees.

In addition to Jewish refugees, the city hosted diasporas from an array of war-battered countries.

Obama renews Iran sanctions on eve of deal deadline

WASHINGTON (JTA)—On the eve of a deadline for an Iran nuclear deal, President Obama exercised a routine renewal of sanctions against the country.

The presidential determination issued Friday, three days before the deadline, declared that there are sufficient alternative sources of oil production to justify continuing sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector.

Such determinations are required periodically by law.

The deal between Iran and the major powers would reduce sanctions over time in exchange for guarantees that Iran is not advancing toward a nuclear weapons program.

14 recognized as righteous for saving Jews in the Netherlands

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (JTA)—Fourteen non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust were honored as righteous gentiles.

The title of Righteous Among the Nations—a distinction awarded by the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem—was given posthumously on Friday to Frederika Maria Segboer and Christina Segboer, sisters who hid Jews and helped them reach safety in Spain.

Earlier this month, Israeli diplomats conferred the title posthumously on another 12 recipients during a ceremony in The Hague.

At the Friday ceremony, Frederika’s daughter, Marijke van de Meent-Segboer, accepted the honor in Gorinchem, near Rotterdam, for her mother and aunt, who directed Jews they hid to the Westerweel group—a ring of resistance fighters who helped smuggle at least 210 Jews out of the Netherlands, as well as hundreds of non-Jews who were wanted by the Nazi occupation forces.

Many of the Jews smuggled by the group to Spain would move on to prestate Israel.

Among those honored at The Hague ceremony were Cornelia Kloppenburg and her husband, Leenderd Mostard, who worked as a chauffeur near The Hague. During the Holocaust, the couple took in a 4-year-old Jewish child, Micha Konig.

“They saved my life more than once and I will be grateful to them for as long as I live,” said Konig, 75, an author, at the ceremony at the municipal building.

Israel’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Haim Divon, conferred the honor on the couple.

The Netherlands, which had 140,000 Jews before the Holocaust, has over 5,350 Righteous Among the Nations—more than a fifth of the overall number in Yad Vashem’s records and more than any other country except Poland.

Italian aliyah expected to double in ’14

MILAN, Italy (JTA) – Italy is experiencing a sharp upsurge in Jews making aliyah.

An estimated 300 Italian Jews are expected to move to Israel in 2014, the Italo-Israeli demographer Sergio Della Pergola told the Italian news agency ANSA on Friday. The Jewish Agency affirmed to JTA that the figure—more than double from a year ago—was accurate.

Some 152 Jews made aliyah from Italy in 2013, according to the Jewish Agency.

Several Italian Jewish leaders said the economic situation, including the difficulty for young people to find jobs, figured strongly in the aliyah increase, with Jews feeling that “they can lead a better life in Israel.” They said the economic crisis hit the Jewish community in Rome particularly hard—many of the city’s 12,000 or so Jews are shopkeepers or run small businesses.

Italy’s overall jobless rate tops 12 percent; for young people the figure is more than 40 percent.

The Italian Jewish community has about 24,000 registered members.

Wellesley College drops Hillel director, Jewish chaplain posts

(JTA)—Wellesley College eliminated the posts of Hillel director and Jewish chaplain.

The two part-time positions at the all-female school in suburban Boston were removed last week, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

The college, which pays the salaries of the Wellesley Hillel staffers, said it decided to restructure and will hire a full-time rabbi to serve as Jewish chaplain, according to Haaretz. An interim Hillel director was hired to work nights four to eight hours a week.

The university reportedly made the decision without input from students, alumni or other stakeholders.

“It makes me and other students feel like we just lost our support system and are on our own,” Tali Marcus, a senior psychology major who is co-president of Wellesley Friends of Israel, told the newspaper.

The campus has been beset by tensions between the pro-Palestinian and Jewish communities since early in the fall semester.

Shortly after Israel’s military operation in Gaza had ended, posters featuring the images of Palestinian children who were killed or wounded appeared on dining hall walls, Haaretz reported.

Jewish students reportedly asked the university officials to intercede on the anti-Israel incidents on campus. Haaretz reported that the Wellesley administration did not respond to questions about the request or anti-Israel activities.

Also, a monthly dialogue between pro-Palestinian and Jewish students fell apart at the first meeting of the term.

About 10 percent of the Wellesley student body of 2,700 is Jewish.

Kipah-clad New Zealand boy, 4, smacked on head

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – A 4-year-old boy wearing a kipah was slapped on his head as he walked home from a Chabad house in Auckland, New Zealand.

The boy was said to be traumatized last week by the apparent anti-Semitic attack, which was witnessed by his mother, according to a report Sunday in the New Zealand Herald.

The alleged offender was a man in his 20s “of Middle Eastern appearance,” said New Zealand Jewish Council president Stephen Goodman, according to the article. Goodman said the man apparently laughed as he fled in a car with several other men.

“Anti-Semitism in any form cannot be tolerated,” Goodman said. “Racially motivated attacks against children are cowardly and have no place in New Zealand.”

Goodman said that in the Jewish community, there had been talk of children not wearing their traditional clothes in public for fear of being abused.

“If an adult is verbally abused, they will know how to handle it. When these sort of things happen against children, it is quite a different story,” he said.

Race relations commissioner Susan Devoy in addressing the attack said, “When our Kiwi kids are scared to wear a yarmulke or a head scarf because some adult may abuse and attack them, we have failed,” she said.

Approximately 7,000 Jews live in New Zealand, mostly in Auckland, among a population of 4.5 million.

Swedish rabbi, synagogue threatened

(JTA)—A rabbi and his synagogue in the Swedish city of Gothenburg were threatened in emails that described the rabbi as an “accursed child murderer.”

The rabbi, who was not named, received the threats via email from a person with a history of threatening the Jewish community of Gothenburg, Daniel Jonas, director of the city’s Jewish community, told the Gotheburgs-Posten newspaper Thursday.

The community informed police and enhanced its security arrangements, said the report, which did not name the person who sent the threatening emails to the rabbi.

The letter refers to the rabbi, who took up his position in 2012, as a “swine” and warns him that his synagogue will be demolished. It also assures the rabbi he will be “relegated to everlasting fire.”

Jonas told the paper he feared the publication in media would generate fresh threats.

“We know that a publication always brings new emails and new threats. That is our reality,” he said.

In 2012, unknown individuals set off an explosive device outside the synagogue of Malmo, a city located 170 miles south of Gothenburg and where several dozen anti-Semitic attacks are documented annually.

Fred Kahn, the community’s president, told JTA that most attacks in Malmo are by Muslims seeking revenge for Israel’s actions.

In April, the district of Skane, where Malmo is located, declined the Jewish community’s request to increase the number of security cameras around Jewish buildings, according to Michael Gelvan, chairman of the Nordic Jewish Security Council, and Per-Erik Ebbestahl, director of safety and security in the City of Malmo.

The municipality supported the request, Ebbestahl said.

British soccer boss sorry for saying Jews chase money

(JTA)—The owner of a British soccer club apologized for saying in an interview that Jews were inclined to chase money and for defending a racial slur against Asians.

Dave Whelan, who owns the Wigan Athletic Football Club near Manchester, apologized last Friday in an interview with the BBC a day after the statements were published in The Guardian.

Whelan told The Guardian that “Jewish people chase money more than everybody else.” He was defending his decision on Nov. 19 to name Malky Mackay as the club’s manager despite a British Football Association inquiry into Mackay for alleged racism in recent email and text exchanges.

The three texts or emails Mackay had sent, Whelan said, included one describing the Malaysian businessman Vincent Tan as a “Chink.” In another, Mackay referred to the Jewish soccer agent Phil Smith, saying, “Nothing like a Jew that sees money slipping through his fingers.”

Whelan said Mackay’s slur against Tan “was nothing.” But following protests by anti-racism groups, Whelan told the BBC, “If I have upset one person, I apologize.”

Kick It Out, a platform against racism in soccer, said Whelan “has brought into question whether he is a fit and proper person who should be running” a professional soccer club.

The remarks, the Kick It Out platform wrote in a statement, “act as another example of the culture which continues to exist within football, and further proves that some in positions of power seem comfortable sharing those views either privately or publicly. These comments must not go unchallenged and have to be investigated by the Football Association.”

American Task Force on Palestine downsizes, citing stalled peace process

WASHINGTON (JTA)—The American Task Force on Palestine, a group known for working together with Jewish groups, is downsizing because of the faltering peace process.

Ziad Asali, ATFP’s founder, said his Washington-based organization canceled its annual gala because backers were increasingly pessimistic about the prospects of the two-state solution they favored. The gala, which usually takes place in the fall, comprises 50 percent of fundraising for ATFP’s annual $1 million budget.

“We see disheartened two-staters—the guys who have come to the conclusion that it ain’t gonna happen now,” Asali, a Jerusalem-born doctor, told JTA last week after Buzzfeed first reported the story.

Asali said another factor was the difficulties the group faced among Arab Americans, who are generally skeptical of the cooperation that he practiced with pro-Israel and Jewish groups, among them Americans For Peace Now, with which ATFP runs a joint intern program, and The Israel Project.

“We’ve had financial difficulties from day one,” he said. “Because of what we say and how we say it, and the prevailing mood of the community’s thinking is ‘them vs. us,’ a zero sum game. We brought in another dynamic, we understood it was not going to be popular.”

The annual ATFP gala drew top officials of both Republican and Democratic administrations, which hailed the group for emphasizing two states as a solution. In 2006, just after Hamas prevailed in parliamentary elections, ATFP published an advertisement in major newspapers insisting that two states were a sine qua non of any longterm solution.

Asali’s group also worked closely with Salam Fayyad, the reformist prime minister. Fayyad’s resignation last year left ATFP without an address in the Palestinian Authority.

Asali said it was not clear yet by how much the group would downsize, but insisted it was still viable, even if limited.

“We are not closing down,” he told JTA. “We are trimming everything as much as possible.”


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