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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Preliminary report: No others involved in gunshot death of AMIA special prosecutor

(JTA)—There was no sign of intervention by others in the shooting death of Alberto Nisman, the special prosecutor in the AMIA Jewish center bombing, according to preliminary autopsy reports.

“There was no intervention from third parties in the death,” Buenos Aires Prosecutor Viviana Fein said Monday afternoon in a statement, citing the report given to her by the head of the judicial morgue, the Argentine media reported.

Fein also said in the statement that she would wait until the final results of Nisman’s autopsy, as well as other forensic tests, in order to rule out other possible causes of death.

Nisman, 51, was found dead on Monday morning in the bathroom of his Buenos Aires apartment with a gunshot wound from a .22-caliber pistol.

“All signs point to suicide,” Argentine Security Secretary Sergio Berni said prior to the preliminary autopsy reports, according to the French news agency AFP.

Nisman’s body was discovered 12 hours before a closed-door meeting with congressional lawmakers in which he was expected to reveal details of his allegations against President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Foreign Minister Hector Timerman for their alleged cover up of Iran’s role in the AMIA bombing, which killed 85 and injured hundreds.

According to Nisman’s accusations, contained in a lawsuit filed last week in federal court, Fernandez covered up for former Iranian officials accused of involvement in the attack. Timerman, who is Jewish, also was named in the lawsuit, which seeks a freeze on Kirchner’s assets.

In a statement expressing its condolences, the Simon Wiesenthal Center demanded an independent investigation into the circumstances of Nisman’s death and said “his denunciation regarding an alleged cover-up by the Argentine government must be investigated till the end.”

Abraham Foxman, the national director the Anti-Defamation League, in a statement called Nisman “a courageous and principled seeker of truth and justice who cared deeply for the victims of the AMIA bombing and their families and pursued his investigation wherever the facts took him.”

B’nai B’rith International said his death “creates a gaping void in the pursuit of terrorists.”

Alan and Judy Gross to attend State of the Union as Obama guests

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Alan Gross and his wife, Judy, will be guests of first lady Michelle Obama at President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.

Gross, a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, was released from a Cuban jail on Dec. 17 after spending five years imprisoned for crimes against the state stemming from his efforts to hook up the island’s small Jewish community to the Internet.

“That same day—with Alan’s unjust captivity resolved—the president announced to the world that the United States was changing its relationship with the people of Cuba,” the White House said Monday in announcing the 23 guests who will be seated in a special box when Obama addresses Congress on Tuesday night.

“In the most significant changes in policy in more than 50 years, the President directed that we would begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” it said.

The first ladies traditionally choose guests to whom their spouses can refer when announcing policy plans for the coming year. Gross’ presence signals Obama’s intention to press forward on changes with Cuba despite opposition in the Republican-controlled Congress.

Other guests named in the release suggest Obama will refer to his signature health care plan and concerns about police brutality and poverty, among other issues.

Another guest will be Scott Kelly, who will be the first American to live and work aboard the International Space Station for an entire year.

“Scientists will compare medical data from Scott and his twin brother, Astronaut Mark Kelly, to gain insight into how the human body responds to longer durations in space,” the White House said.

Mark Kelly is married to Gabrielle Giffords, the Jewish Democratic congresswoman who was shot in the head in 2011 by an assailant as she met with constituents at a strip mall in Tucson, Ariz. He retired as an astronaut that year to attend to Giffords, who left the Congress, and has since started a gun control advocacy group with her.

Auschwitz Foundation close to endowment goal

(JTA)—In advance of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation said it has nearly reached its approximately $156 million campaign goal.

The total of $140 million includes $9 million in newly announced donations from six leading philanthropists, the foundation announced last week.

The campaign was created in 2009 by the independent foundation to fund a perpetual endowment to preserve the authentic remains, buildings, ruins, artifacts, documents and artworks at the Auschwitz Memorial, which includes the Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau Nazi camps.

Jacek Kastelaniec, director general of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, calls Auschwitz a symbol of the Holocaust.

“It is also a one-of-a kind educational facility where young people may learn about the terrible outcomes of anti-Semitism, racism and hatred,” he said. “The Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation’s sole purpose is to make sure that the authenticity of this unique memorial will survive so next generations will be able to understand what the words ‘never again’ mean.”

More than 1.5 million people from around the world visited the memorial in 2014. The number of visitors has continued to rise over the last decade.

To date, 34 countries have donated $136 million, with the largest contribution from Germany, followed by the United States and Poland.

The private donors include Melinda Goldrich and Andrea Goldrich Cayton and the Goldrich Family Foundation; Elly Kleinman; Frank Lowy, a Holocaust survivor; Lily Safra and the Edmond J. Safra Foundation; Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation; and Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, whose prior funding modernized the memorial’s conservation laboratories.

Several hundred survivors are expected to attend the 70th anniversary commemoration on Jan. 27 along with donors and many heads of state. Auschwitz Memorial leaders say it is likely the last time that such a large number of survivors will be in attendance due to their advanced ages.

WJC’s Ronald Lauder gets Germany’s top honor

BERLIN (JTA)—Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, was recognized with Germany’s highest medal of honor for his support of Jewish life in Germany since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Germany’s ambassador to the United States, Peter Wittig, presented Lauder with the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit at the German Embassy in Washington on Jan. 13, the WJC announced. Among those present at the ceremony was U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Lauder has been active in supporting Jewish education across Central and Eastern Europe for more than 20 years. In Berlin, the support includes a yeshiva and rabbinical seminary.

His efforts are aimed at producing educators for a country whose official Jewish population rose more than four-fold with the influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union.

Germany’s official Jewish population stands at about 105,000. It is estimated that at least another 150,000 Germans of Jewish background are not affiliated with the Jewish community.

“We are grateful to see this new Jewish life thriving within our midst and we embrace it,” Wittig said at the ceremony.

Lauder in his remarks thanked Germany for its ongoing support of Israel.

As head of the WJC, he has strongly criticized recent attempts to erode the right to ritual circumcision for Jews and Muslims in Germany, and he slammed German art institutions for failing to identify and return works that Nazis confiscated from Jewish collectors.

Rabbi Dovid Winiarz, popular N.Y. outreach rabbi, killed in car accident

(JTA)—Rabbi Dovid Winiarz, the self-proclaimed “Facebuker Rebbe” for his outreach efforts over Facebook, was killed in a car accident on an icy road in Maryland.

Winiarz, 49, of New York, was a passenger on Sunday morning in a vehicle that lost control in the icy conditions and struck another car. He was on his way to a Jewish outreach convention in Baltimore.

More than 400 people attended his funeral on Monday morning on Staten Island. Winiarz was the father of 10 children.

The driver and the front seat passenger, as well as the two passengers in the other car, survived the crash, according to reports.

Winiarz was president of Survival Through Education Inc., which calls on Jews to discover their faith and reach out to unaffiliated Jews, and served as the rabbi at the Multi-Faith Center at the College of Staten Island, Willowbrook.

He often posted short Torah studies teachings on his Facebook page, which has nearly 13,000 followers.

Among his last Facebook posts read: “I will be travelling Motzai Shabbos/Saturday nite with the encouragement of my wife and children to a convention in Baltimore... If I am delayed in replying to messages... please bear with me.”

Contentious Iran sanctions bill has yet to be introduced

WASHINGTON (JTA)—The senators who drafted Iran sanctions legislation opposed by President Barack Obama have yet to formally launch the bill.

A draft version of the bill appeared Jan. 16 on the website of Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), the lead GOP author of the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2014, but Senate staffers tracking the bill’s progress told JTA that no date had yet been set for its formal introduction to Congress.

The Senate Banking Committee has on its calendar a Jan. 22 “mark-up,” a hearing where the committee would decide on whether to refer the bill to the full Senate, but the Senate staffers told JTA that the mark-up date was tentative.

Obama last week sparred with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the lead Democratic author of the bill, at a private meeting in Baltimore with Democratic senators, The New York Times reported.

Obama urged senators at the meeting not to pursue sanctions, saying they could jeopardize nuclear talks between Iran and the major powers aimed at trading sanctions relief for guarantees Iran will not advance toward a nuclear weapon.

In his remarks, the president said he understood senators were being pressured by donors, the Times said, and Menendez took offense, noting that his activism toward keeping Iran nuclear free dated back decades.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee will back the bill, a source close to the lobby told JTA.

Last Friday, Obama at a meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron again said new sanctions would harm the talks.

“Additional sanctions on Iran at this time would undermine that international unity and set back our chances for a diplomatic solution,” he said.

The bill, which expands existing sanctions on Iran’s energy and financial sectors, would kick in once the June 30 deadline for negotiations had passed, unless there is a deal or the major powers and Iran agree to another extension of the terms governing the talks. There have been two such extensions.

Under the bill, any deal or extension is subject to congressional review.

Report threats, U.S. Jewish security arm urges groups

WASHINGTON (JTA)—In the wake of the deadly Paris attacks, the security arm of national U.S. Jewish groups is asking Jewish institutions to report any incidents of threats, vandalism or attacks.

The Secure Community Network, or SCN, in a memo last Friday told Jewish institutions that information it gathers could assist national law enforcement agencies in discerning any national trends in threats.

Organizations should first notify local law enforcement of any threat or incident, the memo said, and then SCN.

“This will allow SCN to better identify and assess incidents and trends and share that information back out to our security director and law enforcement network to keep you all better informed of other incidents across the country and assist you in security planning and decision making,” the SCN memo said.

The memo also urged institutions to instruct staff and volunteers to review SCN’s online training on facing attackers.

The memo described increased security in Europe in the wake of the Jan. 7-9 attacks in Paris on a satirical weekly, a kosher supermarket and police that left 17 people dead.

“While we are not aware of any credible, specific threats against Jewish organizations in the U.S. at this time, in light of the recent attacks in Paris and other counter-terrorism actions against suspected terrorist plots across Europe, it is imperative that we continue our vigilance, security efforts and increased information sharing to stay ahead of this continuously evolving threat,” SCN said.

SCN is funded by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.

Separately, SCN distributed a memo at the request of the French Jewish community refuting reports that the Great Synagogue of Paris had closed on the Sabbath immediately following the Paris attacks.

“Our French communal partners advised us that the Grande Synagogue was in fact open with enhanced security measures in place and that the synagogue received more members on that day then in recent memory,” the synagogue said. “Furthermore, our community partners consider this to be a significant statement which needed to be conveyed to all Jewish communities and organizations throughout the Diaspora.”

JTA was among the agencies that reported that the synagogue had been ordered shuttered by police.

European Union to appeal decision to remove Hamas from terror list

(JTA)—The European Union will appeal the decision by an EU court to remove Hamas from the group’s terror list.

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said Monday that the EU’s council of ministers at a meeting in Brussels decided to challenge the court’s findings, Reuters reported.

Last month, the Luxembourg-based General Court of the European Union ruled that the 2001 decision to put Hamas on a blacklist of terrorist groups was based not on legal reasoning but on press and Internet reports.

The court froze Hamas assets for three months pending appeals and emphasized that the ruling did “not imply any substantive assessment of the question of the classification of Hamas as a terrorist group.”

Hamas’ military wing was added to the first EU blacklist of terrorist groups issued in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. Hamas’ political wing was blacklisted in 2003.

While the case is under appeal, Hamas will remain on the terrorism list and its assets will remain frozen pending a decision by the EU’s highest court, the Court of Justice, according to Reuters.

Mogherini also said the EU would study ways to avoid similar court decisions in the future.

Hamas called the appeal “an immoral step” and said it provides Israel “with the cover for its crimes against the Palestinian people,” the French news agency AFP reported.

Tunis memorial held for Paris supermarket attack victim

(JTA)—A memorial was held in Tunis for one of the Jewish men killed during an attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris.

The memorial for Yoav Hattab, 21, the son of the Tunisian capital’s chief rabbi, was held Saturday night outside the Great Synagogue in Tunis. About 1,500 Jews live in Tunis.

About 150 people carrying candles and photos of the victim, as well as Tunisian flags, gathered to memorialize Hattab, who had been attending university in Paris.

Hattab reportedly fought against the Islamic extremist gunman Amedy Coulibaly, who took more than a dozen supermarket customers and employees hostage, and killed four.

Chabad.org said over the weekend that among Hattab’s last texts before entering the supermarket was with a friend who he encouraged to try to observe Shabbat.

“This is a difficult time in France for Jews. At least try,” Hattab texted. He added: “Do not do everything, but at least try to do something.”

CNN’s Jim Clancy resigns after controversial Israel tweets

(JTA)—Veteran CNN anchor Jim Clancy stepped down one week after a series of Twitter posts in which he mocked pro-Israel tweeters on a thread discussing the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Neither CNN nor Jim Clancy gave a reason for last Friday’s departure, which was reported by AdWeek. Clancy had worked at CNN for 34 years.

Although Clancy’s Twitter account no longer existed as of Thursday, the tweets have been preserved on a number of websites, including Twitchy and Mediaite, and by Tablet journalist Yair Rosenberg.

On Jan. 7, Clancy posted a tweet arguing that the cartoons posted by the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which was attacked last week by Islamist gunmen who killed 12, did not mock the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

“The cartoons NEVER mocked the Prophet,” he wrote. “They mocked how the COWARDS tried to distort his word. Pay attention.”

Challenged on the accuracy of the statement by Oren Kessler, a deputy director of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Clancy tweeted, “Hasbara?,” a Hebrew term used to describe public relations efforts by the Israeli government.

In the ensuing debate, Clancy argued that “Pro-Israel voice [sic] try to convince us that cartoonists were really anti Muslim” and accused a pair of Twitter accounts of being part of a public relations campaign for Israel. One of those accounts, called Jews Making News, is an anti-Semitic account “Dedicated to fingering #Jewish main players & their minions in news stories.”

Clancy later told the Twitter account for Human Rights News, “You and the Hasbara team need to pick on some cripple at the edge of the herd.”

Jay Ruderman, head of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which is dedicated to advocacy and inclusion for the disabled, demanded an apology from Clancy and CNN. Ruderman said the use of the term “cripple” was insensitive.

European Parliament’s Israel-relations czar defends deleted anti-Semitism definition

BRUSSELS (JTA)—The chair of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Israel defended a working resolution of anti-Semitism that the European Union recently removed from its website.

Fulvio Martusciello of the Group of the European People’s Party stated his endorsement of the document in an interview with JTA last week about the anti-Semitism definition, which is controversial because it cites demonization of Israel and its comparison to Nazi Germany as forms of anti-Semitism.

“Recently, the Fundamental Rights Agency has removed the definition from its website,” Martusciello said in reference to the European Union’s body responsible for combatting anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. The working definition was first adopted in 2005 by that body’s predecessor, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. FRA replaced it as the organ within the European Union responsible for monitoring and combatting anti-Semitism and other forms of anti-Semitism.

“However, I think the definition represented a landmark in combating anti-Semitism that should pave the road to effective institutional responsibility” in the fight against all forms of discrimination and intolerance, said Martusciello, who assumed the chairmanship of the delegation in October.

Set up in 1979, the delegation is among the European Parliament’s oldest and is responsible for maintaining and developing parliamentarian ties between the Knesset in Jerusalem and its counterpart within the European Union.

Blanca Tapia of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency said the definition of anti-Semitism was removed last year “together with other non-official documents,” and that her organization had in fact never viewed the document as a valid definition. She said her organization was unaware of any other official definition of the phenomenon and that it was not able to define it.

Shimon Samuels, director of international affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal, disputed her assertion about the unofficial nature of the definition and called its removal from the FRA website a “dismaying about-face which damages the European Union’s credibility.”


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