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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA

 


Senior Orthodox rabbis resign in wake of Australia’s sex abuse probe

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – Three senior Orthodox rabbis have resigned in the wake of Australia’s Royal Commission into the child sex abuse scandal at two Chabad institutions.

On Monday, Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, president of the Organization of Rabbis of Australasia, stepped down from several posts after a text message was revealed during the commission’s hearings last week in which he accused one of the whistleblowers of being a “lunatic” who is “killing us.”

Rabbi Avrohom Glick, the principal of Yeshivah College in Melbourne when two convicted pedophiles were perpetrating their attacks in the 1980s and 1990s, resigned from his college duties last week. However, he remains on the spiritual committee of the Yeshiva Center.

Rabbi Yosef Feldman, a director of Sydney’s Yeshivah, also resigned from several posts last week following a slew of controversial comments he made at the Royal Commission, including an admission that he did not know in 2002 that it was illegal for an adult to touch a child’s genitals. His position as rabbi of a synagogue in Sydney remains under scrutiny.

The Royal Commission spent the last two weeks probing how rabbis and senior officials responded to the child sex abuse scandal at both Chabad institutions. Three Orthodox men were convicted of crimes, with two receiving jail terms. The third, who now lives in the United States, received a suspended sentence.

“We are appalled and deeply pained to learn of the allegations against individuals associated with some of the Chabad institutions in Australia,” said a statement Monday from the educational arm of Chabad in New York.

“The information that has emerged is utterly disturbing, a profound violation of the non-negotiable principles implicit – and explicit – in any and every situation where the wellbeing of a child is entrusted to the care of an educational institution.”

Kippah-wearing Israeli reporter harassed in Paris while filming

(JTA)—An Israeli journalist who walked around Paris for hours while wearing a kippah to test attitudes to Jews documented multiple threats and insults hurled at his direction.

Zvika Klein, a reporter for the news site nrg.co.il and the Makor Rishon daily, on Sunday released the footage from his excursion last week around Paris and its suburbs. Many anti-Semitic incidents occurred in the heavily Muslim suburb of Sarcelles, Klein told JTA last week, while Paris’ center was considerably calmer by comparison.

In one scene, a person wearing a black knit cap says “Jew” and walks alongside Klein, who was being filmed secretly by a colleague. In two separate incidents, one involving a man and one a woman, passers-by look in Klein’s direction as he walks past them.

In another part of Paris, passers-by call out “Vive Palestine” at him. In several cases, locals hurl profanities at Klein, calling him a homosexual and suggesting he had come to their neighborhood looking for sex.

The video, titled “10 Hours of Walking in Paris as a Jew,” was inspired by a video last year that shows Shoshana Roberts being sexually harassed repeatedly while walking in New York. Since it was published on YouTube, her video has registered more than 39 million views.

Anti-Semitic incidents recorded in France more than doubled in 2014 over the previous year, reaching a five-year-record of 851 instances.

Boise woman allegedly harasses, attacks Jewish neighbor in conversion bid

(JTA)—A woman in Boise, Idaho, allegedly harassed and physically attacked her Jewish neighbor in order to convince her to convert to Christianity.

Marguerite Haragan, 58, was charged last week with two counts of malicious harassment in the attack, which police have labeled a hate crime, the KTVB television station in Boise reported. She could face up to five years in prison for each count.

Haragan first harassed the alleged victim, who was identified in court as A.G., with phone calls. On Feb. 5, she went to A.G.’s home and banged on her window while shouting that she “better believe in Jesus,” and that she would not leave until A.G. did, the Idaho Statesman reported, citing a recording of Haragan’s arraignment.

When AG opened the door to get Haragan’s license plate number, Haragan slapped her in the face, pulled her hair and threw her to the ground, then kicked her in the stomach before pressing her foot into A.G.’s throat until the Jewish woman said she would believe in Jesus. Haragan returned to the home two days later and wrote “death” on A.G.’s mailbox.

The court barred Haragan from talking to A.G. or going near her, according to KTVB.

Hundreds of graves vandalized in Jewish cemetery in northeastern France

(JTA)—Several hundred graves were vandalized in a Jewish cemetery in northeastern France.

Gravestones were toppled and broken in the Jewish cemetery in Sarre-Union, located in the Bas-Rhin region in Alsace, the French Jewish news website JSSnews reported Sunday.

No bodies were dug up in the cemetery, which is still in use, according to JSSnews. The vandalism was the work of more than one person, Philippe Richert, president of the Regional Council of Alsace, told the news website.

“The cemetery contains 400 graves and about half were desecrated,” Sarre-Union Mayor Marc Senna, told JSSnews.

“The country will not tolerate this new injury which goes against the values that all French people share,” French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told the French news agency AFP. “Every effort will be made to identify, question and bring to justice the person or persons responsible for this ignominious act.”

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls in a tweet called the vandalism “a vile, anti-Semitic act, an insult to the memory” of the dead. He vowed to find those responsible.

The Jewish cemetery in Sarre-Union has been attacked in the past. In 1988, 60 Jewish headstones were overturned, and in 2001, 54 graves were vandalized.

Jewish cemetery in Germany vandalized

BERLIN (JTA)—A Jewish cemetery in the northern German city of Oldenburg was desecrated.

Swastikas were daubed on the entrance columns, a wall and two cars parked near the cemetery over the weekend, the Oldenburger Online newspaper reported. Police are investigating.

Over the past few years, the cemetery has been targeted by right-wing extremists, one of whom was sentenced to two years’ probation for throwing paint balls on the gravestones.

Obama officials: Claims Israel cut out of Iran loop ‘patently false’

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Obama administration officials flatly rejected a claim that it was cutting Israel off from updates about nuclear talks with Iran.

Israel’s Channel 2 on Sunday quoted unidentified sources as saying that Susan Rice, the national security adviser, and Wendy Sherman, the lead U.S. diplomat in the talks between Iran and the major world powers, had cut out Israel because of anger over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s acceptance of an invitation to address Congress.

“This report is patently false,” National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey said in an email to JTA in answer toa query.

“National Security Advisor Rice maintains regular contact with her Israeli counterpart National Security Advisor [Yossi] Cohen on the full range of issues of mutual concern to our nations, and will in fact meet with him later this week at the White House,” Baskey said. “We also continue our frequent and routine contact at various professional levels within the intelligence, military, and diplomatic spheres.”

A senior State Department official delivered the same message in an email to JTA.

“Conversations continue with Israel on the Iran nuclear negotiations,” the official said. “Under Secretary Sherman met with Israeli NSA Cohen and Minister for Intelligence and Strategic Planning [Yuval] Steinitz in Munich and will see NSA Cohen again this week (the Iran negotiations were obviously the main topic of conversation). And Secretary [John] Kerry continues his conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu about this issue, as has always been the case.”

The Israeli ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, coordinated the March 3 speech with Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, without consulting with the White House. Boehner has said he wants Netanyahu to rebut claims by Obama that nuclear talks underway between Iran and the major powers may have a positive outcome.

Dozens of Wisconsin homes hit with anti-Semitic graffiti

(JTA)—Anti-Semitic and racial slurs and swastikas were spray-painted on at least 30 homes in Madison, Wis.

The graffiti attack occurred late Friday night and early Saturday morning, Madison police told local media. The graffiti was found on homes, cars, garage doors, mailboxes and driveways. The total damage was estimated at more than $10,000.

One of the properties vandalized belongs to Jim Stein, the president of the Jewish Federation of Madison, WSAU-Wheeler News reported.

Police have not called the attack a hate crime.

(JTA)—French police arrested a Muslim teenager for emailing death threats to two Jewish leaders in France.

The 19-year-old, identified only as Amin, according to reports, emailed videos of the decapitation of Islamic State hostages to Israel’s consul general in Marseille, Barnea Hasid, and Meir Habib, a Jewish member of France’s parliament. In the email, he threatened the Jewish leaders with “a similar fate.”

Police interrogated Amin for three days last week, Ynet reported, and he was ordered to remain under house arrest until the April 2 start of his trial.

His family reportedly said that Amin was confused and had recently been reading informational material on Islamic Jihad.

British artists announce cultural boycott of Israel

(JTA)—More than 100 British artists said they have launched a cultural boycott of Israel.

“We will not engage in business-as-usual cultural relations with Israel,” the artists said in a letter to The Guardian newspaper on Saturday. “We will accept neither professional invitations to Israel, nor funding, from any institutions linked to its government.”

“Now we are saying, in Tel Aviv, Netanya, Ashkelon or Ariel, we won’t play music, accept awards, attend exhibitions, festivals or conferences, run master classes or workshops, until Israel respects international law and ends its colonial oppression of the Palestinians.”

The artists join some 600 other British artists who have already pledged to boycott Israel. They are all part of an initiative called Artists for Palestine UK. They include musicians, writers, lighting designers, producers, architects and filmmakers.

Denmark chief rabbi rejects Netanyahu call to make aliyah

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Denmark’s chief rabbi rejected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for European Jews to move to Israel in the wake of a terror attack on a Copenhagen synagogue.

“Terror is not a reason to move to Israel,” said Denmark Chief Rabbi Jair Melchior said Sunday.

His remarks came in response to a statement Netanyahu made on Sunday morning before Israel’s Cabinet approved a $46 million plan to encourage immigration and adapt the absorption process to Jews from France, Belgium and Ukraine.

“Of course, Jews deserve protection in every country but we say to Jews, to our brothers and sisters: Israel is your home,” Netanyahu said. “We are preparing and calling for the absorption of mass immigration from Europe. I would like to tell all European Jews and all Jews wherever they are: Israel is the home of every Jew.

“To the Jews of Europe and to the Jews of the world I say that Israel is waiting for you with open arms.”

Two policemen and a volunteer civilian guard were shot in the synagogue attack as they guarded outside the building in which a bat mitzvah party was taking place. The civilian guard died later from his injuries.

The shooting after midnight Sunday at Copenhagen’s central synagogue in Krystalgade occurred several hours after a fatal shooting at a free speech event at a cultural center featuring the Danish cartoonist Lars Vilks, who is under police protection because of his cartoons caricaturing Mohammed.

Police later shot and killed the suspected gunman in the two attacks during a shootout in the Noerrebro district of Copenhagen.

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt visited the synagogue late Sunday morning, laying a bouquet of flowers at its gate, and vowing that Denmark “will do everything” it can to protect its Jewish community.

“Jews are a very important part of Danish society,” she said earlier at a news conference. “I say to the Jewish community - you are not alone.”

Copenhagen police said Sunday that the shooter may have been influenced by the Paris terror attacks last month at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine and at the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket.

Copenhagen synagogue shooting victim named as Dan Uzan, 37

(JTA)—The volunteer guard killed outside Copenhagen’s synagogue was identified as Dan Uzan, 37.

Uzan, whose father is Israeli and whose mother is Danish, died early Sunday morning shortly after sustaining fatal gunshot injuries, the Jewish Community in Copenhagen wrote in a statement published on the website of the Security and Crisis Center by the European Jewish Congress.

The shooting after midnight Sunday at the Danish capital’s central synagogue in Krystalgade occurred hours after a fatal shooting Saturday afternoon at a free speech event at a cultural center featuring the Danish cartoonist Lars Vilks, who is under police protection because of his cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Muhammad. It is not yet clear if the two shootings are related.

On Sunday morning, Danish police killed a man during a shootout they suspected of being involved in the attacks. He began shooting after he was approached in Copenhagen’s Norrebro district by police, who had been following him for weeks and wanted to detain him in connection with the shootings.

Uzan was standing guard outside the synagogue, which was closed at the time of the attack, for an event held at an adjacent building for approximately 80 people who had gathered there to celebrate a family event, reportedly a bat mitzvah.

The statement, titled “Terror at Copenhagen Synagogue,” also said that two police officers were attacked during the same incident. The officers are in stable condition, the report said.

Met Council’s ex-insurance brokers sentenced in $9 million scheme

NEW YORK (JTA)—Two former insurance brokers for the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty were each sentenced to five years probation and ordered to pay $1.5 million in restitution.

Solomon Ross and William Lieber, who together with the nonprofit’s former CEO, William Rapfogel, stole approximately $9 million in a 20-year scheme, will also surrender their broker’s licenses, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced last Friday.

Both Ross and Lieber, insurance brokers for the now defunct Century Coverage Corporation, pleaded guilty to grand larceny, criminal tax fraud and conspiracy.

Met Council’s main funding comes from government sources, but it also receives support from individual philanthropists and is a beneficiary agency of UJA-Federation of New York. The Jewish social service organization assists poor and elderly New Yorkers of all backgrounds.

The $9 million scheme, which dates back to 1992, was created by Ross’ brother and Century Coverage leader Joseph Ross and former Met Council CEO David Cohen. Met Council knowingly paid inflated insurance premiums to the company in exchange for cash kickbacks to Cohen and former Met Council Chief Financial Officer Herb Friedman. When Rapfogel became CEO, he continued the scheme.

All six defendants charged in connection with the scheme have pleaded guilty, the attorney general’s office said in a news release. Last July, Rapfogel was sentenced to 3 1/3 to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay $3 million in restitution. Friedman was convicted and sentenced to four months in jail and ordered to pay $775,000 in restitution.

Joseph Ross is expected to be sentenced on March 9 to 18 months in jail along with restitution, the attorney general’s office said.

 

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