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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA

 


ADL: Killing of N.Y. police officers ‘heinous, senseless, shocking’

(JTA)—The Anti-Defamation League called the killing of two New York Police Department officers a “heinous, senseless and shocking assault.”

The officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, were shot in the head through the window of their patrol car in Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon.

Shortly before the killings, the gunman, identified as Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, threatened to shoot two “pigs” in retaliation for death of Eric Garner at the hands of police officers in July. “I’m putting Wings on Pigs Today,” Brinsley wrote on Instagram minutes before the attack.

Brinsley had traveled to New York from Baltimore, where he shot and wounded his girlfriend. Brinley killed himself after shooting the officers.

“This was a heinous, senseless and shocking assault on two New York City Police officers whose only crime was in reporting for duty. It is hard to find words to explain why anyone would think it appropriate to kill police officers in cold blood,” Evan Bernstein, ADL’s New York regional director, said in a statement Saturday night.

“Violence, particularly violence borne of racism or hatred, is never the appropriate response in a civil society. The rule of law must prevail. When men and women sworn to serve and protect the public are targeted for senseless acts of barbarism, our democracy suffers and society breaks down into lawlessness,” Bernstein said.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sunday ordered flags flown at half staff throughout the city.

Czech Jewish community decries Putin invitation for Shoah commemorations

(JTA)—The Czech Jewish community has protested as “inappropriate” an invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Czech Republic President Milos Zeman issued the invitation last month. Putin has neither accepted nor rejected the invitation, according to the French news agency AFP.

Putin was invited last month along with other world leaders.

The commemorations organized by the European Jewish Congress are scheduled for Jan. 26 and Jan. 27.

“The regime Putin established and embodies doesn’t respect international treaties, is aggressive and uses its power to occupy the territory of a neighboring state,” the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic said in a statement emailed to news agencies. The statement also made a reference to Russia’s involvement in the current conflict in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has accepted an invitation to the ceremonies. President Obama has said he cannot attend, according to reports. Parliamentary leaders from some 23 countries have signaled that they will attend, according to AFP.

 Right-wing extremists from around Europe meet in Milan

ROME (JTA)—For the second time in less than a month, right-wing extremists from around Europe met in Milan.

About 300 people, among them representatives of Greece’s Golden Dawn and the British National Party, met at a Milan hotel on Saturday, according to local media.

The gathering, organized by the Italian far-right party Forza Nuova, was intended as the first meeting of a new pan-European party called Alliance for Peace and Freedom.

The group aims to “protect, celebrate and promote our common Christian values and European cultural heritage” and is opposed to “the advocates of US hegemony” in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, according to its website.

Speakers at the Saturday gathering defended “traditional family values” and criticized “Zionist globalism” and immigration, according to local reports.

Also Saturday, several hundred people held an anti-fascist counter-demonstration outside Milan’s provincial government building.

On Nov. 29, several hundred skinheads and other right-wing extremists from around Europe gathered in an outlying district of Milan for a neo-Nazi concert and rally called Hammerfest 2014 that was associated with the white supremacist group Hammerskin.

Obama signs law strengthening U.S.-Israel alliance

(JTA)—President Obama signed a law that strengthens the U.S.-Israel alliance.

The 2014 United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, which unanimously passed both the House of Representatives earlier this month and the Senate in September, declares Israel a “major strategic partner” of the United States and expands the value of American weapons stockpiled in Israel and upgrades Israel’s trade status to expedite export licensing.

President Obama signed the legislation on Friday in Washington.

The law also encourages the inclusion of Israel in the United States’ visa waiver program if it meets program requirements. Cooperation between the two countries in the fields of energy, water, homeland security, agriculture and alternative fuel technologies also is included in the legislation.

Jewish organizations commended Congress for passing the bill.

“I applaud the President for signing this bill to strengthen our historic relationship with Israel,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who introduced the bipartisan legislation with Sen. Blunt (R-Mo.). “This law will enhance cooperation between Israel and the United States on a wide range of issues—from defense to energy to cyber security—so we can work together to address the many challenges facing both countries.”

Kindertransport documentary selected for permanent preservation

LOS ANGELES (JTA)—The Oscar Award-winning film “Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport” was selected for permanent preservation in the Library of Congress by the National Film Registry.

The film, released in 2000, documents the rescue of some 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Nazi-dominated Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia in the months leading up to World War II.

All of them found refuge in Great Britain, but many were scarred by separation from their parents, most of who subsequently perished in the Holocaust.

Deborah Oppenheimer, producer of the documentary and herself the daughter of a Kindertransport, or Children’s Transport, survivor, said: “With the passing of so many eyewitnesses to that tumultuous period, the preservation of the film will recognize for all time the tremendous resilience of the children, the courage of their parents who were willing to entrust them to strangers, and the compassion of the British families who took them in at a time when so few would help.”

Mark Jonathan Harris, the film’s director, noted, “This recognition is a tribute to the character of our subjects as much as it is to our film. I know that those [survivors] who are still alive will be gratified that their wrenching stories will be preserved for generations to come and that others may be inspired by the courage and resilience they displayed in the face of harrowing circumstances.”

Each year, the National Film Registry adds 25 feature films, documentaries and even home movies judged to be historically, culturally and aesthetically important enough to preserve for future generations.

Among the films joining “Kindertransport” as new additions this year are “Saving Private Ryan,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Big Lebowski.”

‘Ida’ makes Oscars shortlist

LOS ANGELES—A Polish movie about a Catholic nun who learns she is the daughter of Jews killed during the Holocaust made the Oscar Award shortlist for best foreign-language film.

“Ida” was among nine films that made the shortlist on Friday. “Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem,” the Israeli entry that depicts the five-year legal struggle of an Orthodox wife to obtain a religious divorce, did not make the cut.

Among other contenders for the foreign-language Oscar are Russia’s “Leviathan,” in which a simple worker battles a corrupt city hall, and Sweden’s “Force Majeure,” depicting a family facing down an avalanche while on a ski vacation.

While such traditional cinematic powerhouses as France, Italy and Germany failed to qualify, outsiders Mauritania (“Timbuktu), Estonia (“Tangerines”) and Georgia (“Corn Island”) made the shortlist.

Rounding out the list of nine are Argentina (“Wild Tales”), Holland (“Accused”) and Venezuela (“The Liberator”).

The slate of nine nominees will be winnowed down to five finalists when the 87th Academy Award nominations are announced on Jan. 15. The Oscars will be held Feb. 22 in Hollywood.

Tampa-area agency head dead in murder-suicide

(JTA)—A Jewish agency head who had been deeply involved with caring for migrant children was found dead with her longtime partner in what police are calling an apparent murder-suicide.

Rochelle Tatrai, the president and CEO of Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services, and partner Sean Ray were both found dead of gunshot wounds on Thursday at Tatrai’s Largo, Fl., townhouse, according to a report by the Tampa Bay Times. As of the Times’ Thursday report, police had not yet determined who was the shooter and had not released a motive.

The 16-year-old daughter of Tatrai and Ray discovered the bodies.

According to the Times, police were not certain whether Tatrai and Ray were married, although Tatrai has been identified in previous news reports as Rochelle Tatrai-Ray. Ray did not live with Tatrai at the time of their deaths. The couple also had a 20-year-old daughter.

Tatrai had appeared prominently in local news media over the summer as she and her organization worked to shelter unaccompanied children who had fled to the United States from Central and South America. According to a previous report by the Tampa Bay Times, GCJFCS was housing 16 children in a shelter and was seeking to expand its shelter to 32 beds.

In an interview with the Times, Tatrai argued against fear and mistrust of the children in the community.

“These are children and they’re scared,” she told the Times. “If people had better perception and knowledge of the situation, they’d feel better, I think.”

She added, “It’s the lack of knowing that breeds fear.”

French far-right mayor’s city hall menorah sparks controversy 

(JTA)—A French mayor with ties to the far-right National Front party lit a menorah in city hall despite protests that doing so violated the separation of church and state.

Robert Menard of Beziers, who was elected mayor earlier this year, lit the menorah Tuesday, the first night of Hanukkah, at the seat of his municipality, the Actualite Juive newspaper reported Thursday.

Aime Couquet, a well-known former leader of the French Communist Party who lives in Beziers, told the Midi Libre daily that it was “a violation of the French constitution and of the law on the separation of church and state” and that the mayor “installed a new ostentatious religious symbol inside city hall.”

Maurice Abitbol, president of the local Jewish community, told Actualite Juive that he asked the mayor to erect a menorah but that the local branch of the Consistoire—French Jewry’s organization responsible for religious services—“applied heavy pressure” to prevent the event from taking place due to  Menard’s National Front affiliation.

Representatives of France’s Jewish community are boycotting the National Front, which they say needs to distance itself from party officials like honorary president and founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has multiple convictions for inciting hate against Jews and for Holocaust denial. His daughter and successor as party leader, Marine Le Pen, has tried to reach out to French Jews.

Abitbol said Menard was ”impartial.”

On Friday, an administrative court in the nearby city of Montpellier rejected a motion filed by a local human rights group requesting that the court issue an injunction against a nativity scene, or crèche, that Menard had placed at city hall several weeks ago.

Judge Marianne Hardy ruled that the crèche posed neither a danger to public order nor to “the principles of secularism and neutrality.”

Secularism in the public sphere, or laicite, is a principle of the French government and constitution. Many are concerned the principle is being eroded, in part because of the arrival to France of millions of Muslims from the 1950s onward.

Washington Institute names former Palestinian negotiator as fellow

WASHINGTON (JTA)—The Washington Institute for Near East Policy named a former Palestinian negotiator to its think tank team.

Ghaith al-Omari, who until recently directed the American Task Force on Palestine, is joining the think tank as a senior fellow, a Washington Institute statement said.

Al-Omari worked with the Palestinian team during the 1999-2001 talks with Israel.

The Washington Institute is known for its ties in the U.S. and Israeli governments and for hosting guest speakers from a broad range of Middle Eastern countries.

Dennis Ross, a Washington Institute counselor, was a top Middle East adviser to President Obama, and among its previous fellows is Moshe Yaalon, currently Israel’s defense minister.

The ATFP, the premier Palestinian advocate in the United States of a two-state solution, recently downsized, citing difficulties in fundraising.

Tunisian Jewish leaders endorse secularist’s presidential bid

(JTA)—In advance of the second round of Tunisia’s presidential elections, the head of the country’s Jewish community endorsed the campaign of secularist hopeful Beji Caid Essebsi.

Joseph Roger Bismuth, president of the Jewish Community of Tunisia, or CJT, gave Essebsi his support in an interview published Thursday by the news site AfricanManager.com ahead of the Dec. 21 vote.

He is quoted as saying that Essebssi will win the election because “he has worked for a long time for Tunisia and he has many contacts and relations that allow him to work better” than other candidates.

In an interview for the news site earlier this week, René Trabelsi, who heads the Jewish community of Djerba, also endorsed the campaign of Essebsi, who is the leader of the secularist Nidaa Tounes. In October’s parliamentary elections, his party emerged as the country’s largest after it won 86 seats of the Tunisian parliament’s 217.

Bismuth also said that the Islamic Ennahdha party, which after the elections became the country’s second largest, “will complement the next government, and this will serve socio-political stability” in Tunisia.

The Dec. 21 election is the first regular presidential election after the Tunisian Revolution of 2011 and the adoption of the constitution in January.

Some 1,700 Jews live in Tunisia, according to the European Jewish congress. The country used to have more than 100,000 Jews.

Obama signs ‘No Social Security for Nazis’ act

WASHINGTON (JTA)—President Obama signed into law a bill that ends Social Security payments to former Nazis.

The “No Social Security for Nazis Act” Obama signed Thursday was passed unanimously by both chambers in Congress earlier this month.

The measure closes a loophole that had allowed ex-Nazis who lied about their past when immigrating to the United States—and had been identified and deported by the Justice Department—to continue receiving Social Security and other government benefits.

News of the continued benefits was uncovered in October when The Associated Press published an expose.

There are at least four living beneficiaries, including Jakob Denzinger, a former guard at Auschwitz. Denzinger, 90, lives in Croatia, where he receives approximately $1,500 a month in Social Security payments.

Separately, Congress last week allocated $2.5 million to assist impoverished Holocaust survivors as part of an omnibus funding bill. Obama signed the $1.1 trillion bill Tuesday.

The Obama administration, together with Florida lawmakers Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, have been pushing for extra programs and funding to assist the survivors.

The Jewish Federations of North America, which has led lobbying and fundraising to meet the needs of the survivors, praised the allocation of the funds.

“Because of this action, we will be able to continue to provide valuable services that survivors are unable to find elsewhere,” Mark Wilf, who chairs the JFNA effort on behalf of survivors, said in a statement.

The Obama administration also launched a drive to recruit volunteers to assist survivors through the federal anti-poverty volunteer program, Americorps-VISTA.

According to JFNA, there are about 113,000 Holocaust survivors in the United States, of which about 25 percent live below the poverty line.

 

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