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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Netanyahu, citing IAEA report, incredulous that Iran nuke talks are advancing

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it “astonishing” that nuclear talks with Iran are proceeding despite a report saying that Iran is hiding military components of its nuclear program.

On Sunday, Netanyahu at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting also reiterated his intention to travel to the United States next week to deliver an address on the Iran talks to Congress that has stirred controversy.

The U.N. atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, in a report released Thursday said that Iran is limiting its testing of its uranium refinement capacities, yet failing to cooperate with international nuclear inspectors, by hiding “nuclear-related activities involving military-related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”

Talks between Iran and the world powers resumed Sunday in Geneva.

“It is astonishing that even after the recent IAEA report determined that Iran is continuing to hide the military components of its nuclear program, the nuclear talks with it are proceeding,” Netanyahu said. “Not only are they continuing, there is an increased effort to reach a nuclear agreement in the coming days and weeks.”

The target date for the outline of an agreement, which Netanyahu said will “threaten [Israel’s] existence,” is March 24, with a signed agreement by June 30.

“The agreement that is being formulated between Iran and the major powers is dangerous for Israel, and therefore I will go to the U.S. next week in order to explain to the American Congress, which could influence the fate of the agreement, why this agreement is dangerous for Israel, the region and the entire world,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet.

Israel to buy 14 more stealth fighter jets from U.S.

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel signed a contract to purchase 14 more F-35 stealth fighter jets from the United States.

The agreement was signed over the weekend for the purchase of the jets manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp. The planes will cost about $3 billion, Israel’s Defense Ministry said.

Israel’s Cabinet approved the purchase in November. Israel has an option to purchase up to 17 more of the planes; it purchased 19 of the F-35s in 2010.

Israel is scheduled to take delivery of the first two F-35s at the end of 2016. All of the planes should be delivered by 2021.

IAEA: Iran limiting but also hiding nuclear activities

(JTA)—Iran is limiting its testing of its uranium refinement capacities yet failing to cooperate with international nuclear inspectors, the U.N. atomic watchdog said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency made the assertions in a report released Feb. 19, the Deutche Welle newspaper reported.

“The agency remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear-related activities involving military-related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile,” the IAEA report said.

While failing to cooperate with inspectors, Iran has refrained from expanding tests of more efficient models of a machine used to refine uranium, complying with a nuclear agreement with six world powers, Reuters reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the IAEA’s report proved Tehran is hiding its nuclear weapons ambitions.

The IAEA “once again notes that Iran is refusing to reveal to the world its preparations for the production of  nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “Iran insists on hiding this from the international community at a time when the major powers are continuing to try and allow Iran to produce the core of such weapons, enriched uranium. These go do not go together.”

The IAEA document nonetheless is allaying concerns that Iran might be violating the accord reached in 2013 by Iran and representatives of the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia. That agreement stipulated that Tehran could continue but not ramp up its research and development of nuclear capabilities, according Reuters.

Israel has accused Iran of using the talks to stall for time while furthering its plans to build nuclear weapons; Tehran has denied this.

The talks between the powers are design to find an agreed-upon formula that would prevent Iran from reaching nuclear weapons capabilities while allowing it to retain some of its nuclear program. Netanyahu has warned against a bad deal that would allow Iran to become a threshold nuclear state.

Talks resumed Sunday in Geneva between Iran and the world powers.

Israeli chief rabbi says he won’t validate municipal rabbis’ conversions

(JTA)—Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi said he will ignore a government directive recognizing conversions performed by municipal rabbis.

Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef vowed to block the conversions in remarks that were captured on tape and published Feb. 18 by Kikar.co.il. Yosef said he would withhold his signature, which is required to complete the conversion process.

“They went ahead and made a law that municipal rabbis can perform conversions and then went over my head,” Yosef said.

“The chief rabbi of Jerusalem can perform conversions, the chief rabbi of Shoham can perform conversions—they already converted a few people in Arad,” he said. “The chief rabbi has the authority to stop this. I gave an order to the head of the [Chief Rabbinate’s] Conversions Department that all the conversions they are now performing, I won’t sign them, I won’t approve, I won’t sign something that is contrary to halachah”—Jewish religious law.

Last November, the government adopted legislation that ended the monopoly on conversions held by the Chief Rabbinate’s Conversions Department.

The chief rabbis, as well as municipal rabbis, are public servants in Israel.

Following the recording’s release, Elazar Stern, an Orthodox member of the Knesset who has led attempts to reform the conversion process, called on Yosef to resign.

“The chief rabbi is forgetting that decisions made by the Israeli Knesset are his sole source of authority,” Stern, a lawmaker for the Yesh Atid party, was quoted as saying on the news site Srugim.co.il. “If he is unwilling or unable for some reason to follow the state’s laws and the resolutions of its government, than he has only one choice: Resign.”

Oslo synagogue ‘peace ring’ marred by organizer’s anti-Israel remarks, some Jews say

(JTA)—More than 1,000 people, including many Muslims, formed a human chain around an Oslo synagogue in a show of support for Jews.

However, some Norwegian Jews said the so-called “peace ring” on Saturday night was tainted because one of its organizers said over the weekend that he dislikes people who support Israel. The organizer, Ali Chishti, had also made anti-Jewish and anti-Israel statements in 2009 that he disavowed.

The seven organizers, many of them Muslims, had planned the initiative with the endorsement of the Jewish community to protest the slaying on Feb. 15 by an Islamist of a Jewish volunteer guard at the main synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Ervin Kohn, head of the Jewish community of Oslo, told JTA that he thought the initiative was “extremely positive” and could change the dynamics of minority relations in Scandinavia.

But Chishti confirmed on Saturday in an interview with Verdens Gang, a Norwegian tabloid, that he delivered a speech in Oslo on March 22, 2009 on the alleged involvement of Jews in planning the 9/11 World Trade Center bombings in New York. The speech’s title was “Therefore I Hate Jews and Gays,” the newspaper reported, though Chishti said he was not the one who came up with the title.

“There were several thousand Jews away from work in the World Trade Center, and why there were more Jews in Mumbai when Pakistani terrorists attacked than usual?” he said then, repeating the conspiracy theory that Jews knew in advance of the 2001 Twin Towers attack that killed thousands. “Jews are a small group, but everyone knows that they have a lot of power.”

In Saturday interviews, he retracted his statements. In an interview with the daily Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet, he said they were “anti-Semitic” and “unacceptable.”

“I was angry,” he told Verdens Gang. “I have since changed my views.” But he also said he “dislikes” people who support “an occupying force that has been condemned in several United Nations resolutions.”

“I think it is important to distinguish between being critical of Israel and anti-Semitism,” he also told Verdens Gang.

Eric Argaman, a pro-Israel activist and member of Norway’s Jewish community, said Chishti’s involvement “stained the event, which now feels more like a spin on our backs than a gesture of good will.”

Ukrainian Jewish soldier killed in fighting separatists buried in Kiev

(JTA)—A Ukrainian Jewish soldier who was killed last month amid Russian-backed separatist fighting was buried in Kiev.

Yevgeni Yatsina, who was nearly 26, was brought to burial in the Ukrainian capital on Friday following the discovery of his body, which was covered by debris since he died in an explosion last month in the country’s east, the news website newsru.co.il reported. Prior to burial at the Berkovetskaya Cemetery, a ceremony was held at a Kiev synagogue.

Yatsina was Jewish according to religious Jewish law, the Jewish Community of Dnepropetrovsk wrote Friday in a eulogy that it posted on its website, which refers to Yatsina as a hero. He died at Donetsk’s airport on Jan. 19, the report said.

Former classmates at the economics faculty of Kyiv National Linguistic University described Yatsina as cheerful, witty and upbeat, a Ukrainian Jewish news website reported.

Ukrainian troops have been fighting since March with separatists in and around Donetsk, Lugansk and a number of other cities, where their fight is supported by Russia. Thousands of soldiers and civilians have died in the fighting, which diminished earlier this month following the signing of a cease-fire agreement in Minsk, Belarus.

While many Ukrainian Jews support the government’s fight, many others—especially in the areas directly affected by the fighting—oppose it and support the secessionists.

Lithuania chief rabbi may be dismissed for criticizing community leader

VILNIUS, Lithuania (JTA)—The chief rabbi of Lithuania may lose his title after he criticized a community leader on Facebook, the leader said.

Faina Kukliansky, chair of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, told JTA that her community was considering dismissing Rabbi Chaim Burshtein in connection with two statements he made on the social network about what he said was her lacking transparency and centralism in running the community.

“Chaim Burshtein is not worthy of being called a rabbi, as his actions and inaction clearly demonstrated,” she told JTA last week.

Kukliansky said she supported the rabbi’s freedom of expression, but following the confrontational statements, “we are nearing a situation where he will no longer serve this community.”

On Dec. 24, Burshtein ripped Kukliansky in a post titled “official statement” in connection with what he called “the excessive concentration of power in her hands.” The community, he wrote, “already looks like the Soviet police department in which Ms. Kukliansky used to work as an investigator.”

Reminding members that he was formerly “a refusenik, who fought leave the USSR and sat in a Soviet prison,” he called on Lithuanian Jews to support him against Kukliansky. The following month he wrote that he had tried and failed to explain the importance of “transparency when using the resources of the destroyed Jewish communities’ restitution” to Kukliansky.

Burshtein declined to speak to JTA about the fight, saying it was “an internal matter.”

Other members of Lithuania’s fractious community of approximately 3,000 Jews connect the conflict also to Kukliansky’s recent appointment of non-Jews to salaried community positions. In addition, some Lithuanian Jews believe the community should not have settled for a restitution deal supported by Kukliansky for several million dollars, deeming it insufficient.

Some local Jews also believe that Kukliansky’s law practice representing foreigners seeking citizenship from the government constitutes a conflict of interest that they say rendered Kukliansky cooperative with the Baltic state’s controversial and unique claim that the Soviets perpetrated a genocide there. Kukliansky is on record as opposing this policy, which she says banalizes the Holocaust.

“My excellence as an investigator and later as prosecutor prepared me to lead tough negotiations over restitution,” she said.

Nominating non-Jews to key community positions “helps build bridges” to the general population.

Kuliansky denied claims of any conflict of interest, noting her position is unsalaried.

“The claim that lawyers can’t lead communities is laughable,” she said.

Sydney rabbi removed as Chabad emissary over child sex abuse scandal

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA)—A senior Chabad rabbi was delisted as an emissary from the New York-based organization as the fallout continues from Australia’s Royal Commission into a child sex abuse scandal.

Rabbi Yosef Feldman, a former director of Sydney’s Yeshivah Center, which houses Chabad headquarters there, was delisted last week after making controversial comments to the commission, including his suggestion that pedophiles who had not committed sex crimes for two decades should be treated with leniency.

Feldman, a son of Chabad’s chief rabbi in Sydney, sparked a storm of protest by Orthodox rabbis and mainstream Jewish leaders.

His delisting came as Rabbi Avrohom Glick, who had resigned from all his posts at Yeshivah College in Melbourne, where he was principal during the time of the abuse in the 1980s and ‘90s, also tendered his resignation from the spiritual committee of the Yeshivah Center. Victims were outraged that he had kept the post, which Glick had described as “his calling” during the commission hearings.

The resignations come in the wake of the two-week hearing into the child sex abuse scandals at Chabad headquarters in Sydney and Melbourne.

A third rabbi, Shlomo Kluwgant, resigned as president of the Organization of Rabbis of Australasia after it was revealed at the hearing that he had sent a text message describing Zephaniah Waks, one of the whistleblowers, as a “lunatic” who was “killing us.” His son, Manny Waks, the only Jewish victim in Australia to go public, is still demanding more resignations.

“Every rabbi and every leader of peak Jewish bodies should publicly acknowledge what happened and apologize for their silence about intimidation shown towards myself, my family and other victims,” Manny Waks told Fairfax Media. “And the Yeshivah Center boards in Melbourne and Sydney need to apologize and resign, along with other leaders who’ve been implicated.”

Polish culture ministry rejects request to renovate historic synagogue

WARSAW, Poland (JTA)—Poland’s Ministry of Culture and National Heritage turned down a request to help fund the renovation of a historic synagogue in Przysucha.

The total estimated cost to renovate the synagogue in southern Poland, about 60 miles from Warsaw, is $52,000. The foundation had requested $43,000 from the culture ministry.

The synagogue’s titleholder, the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, said it was trying to convince federal officials to change their minds on the decision they made last week.

“We do not understand why it is not in the interest of the Polish state to assist in caring for Jewish monuments,” Monika Krawczyk, the foundation’s director general, told JTA.

Between 2012 and 2014, the culture ministry had provided financial assistance that had allowed the foundation to perform necessary rescue work on the Przysucha synagogue, including securing the foundation and restoring the roof. The poor condition of the synagogue, which was returned to the Jewish community at the beginning of the 21st century, is the result of decades of neglect following World War II.

The foundation began revitalizing the synagogue with support from the World Monuments Fund, the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture and the Cahnman Foundation.

The synagogue is a monument to late Baroque architecture, the only such facility in the Mazovia region and one of the most important in Poland. At the end of the 18th century, Przysucha was a vital center of Hasidism in Poland. After World War II, the building was used as stables and to store fertilizer.

Israeli envoy to Germany: Jews should come to Israel

BERLIN (JTA)—Israel’s ambassador to Germany reiterated that Jews who feel unsafe in Europe due to recent anti-Semitic attacks should “come to [Israel] at any time”—an approach rejected by the head of German Jewry.

In an interview published Sunday in the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman echoed last week’s invitation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Jews in Europe “consider Israel your home” following deadly attacks on Jews in Denmark and France the past two months.

Hadas-Handelsman said he “really does not envy any Jew living in Europe today.”

Last week, Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, had responded to Netanyahu’s invitation by noting that threats against Jews and Jewish institutions were a “worldwide phenomenon” and that “life in Israel as a Jew is not any more secure.” While Schuster said he recognized that it is only natural for Israel to encourage aliyah, he personally saw no special reason for Jews to consider emigrating now, even with the increased risk of attacks by home-grown jihadists.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week that her government would do everything possible to ensure the safety of Jews and their institutions in the country.

“We want to continue living together well with the Jews who are in Germany today,” she said.

In Sunday’s interview, Hadas-Handelsman commended Merkel for making it clear that “it is not normal for synagogues and Jewish schools to need police protection.”

In related news, at least two independent experiments were conducted last week in which kipah-wearing Jews were filmed walking through Berlin neighborhoods. In both cases there were no unpleasant encounters reported. But one of the testers, Israeli-German actor Amit Jacobi, said the results by no means meant there was no anti-Semitism in Germany.

Germany’s Jewish population is estimated at more than 240,000, consisting mostly of former Soviet Jews who came to Germany since 1990. Fewer than half are members of Jewish communities, in part because they do not qualify under Jewish law, which requires having a Jewish mother or an Orthodox conversion.


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