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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


At odds over Iran stance, Netanyahu tried to nix Mossad briefing for U.S. senators

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly tried to cancel a Mossad briefing for visiting U.S. senators because of the Israeli security agency’s warnings on an Iran sanctions bill.

Netanyahu removed the Jan. 19 briefing from the itinerary of six senators visiting Israel, led by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Time magazine reported Saturday.

Corker reportedly threatened to abort the trip to Israel to protest the move, Time reported, citing unnamed sources it said were familiar with the incident. The briefing went forward after Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, became involved.

Mossad chief Tamir Pardo warned that the Kirk-Menendez bill, which would have imposed new sanctions on Iran if it did not agree by June 30 to a long-term deal to regulate its nuclear program, would be like “throwing a grenade” into the diplomatic process with Iran.

The apparent position by the Mossad is in conflict with the Israeli government’s stated position urging additional sanctions.

The senators at the briefing were Corker and fellow Republicans John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Barrasso of Wyoming, along with Democrats Tim Kaine of Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Angus King, an independent from Maine.

Corker later proposed a new bill that would impose new sanctions only if Iran walked away from a November 2013 agreement with the world powers in which Iran agreed to freeze its nuclear program and allow international inspections, as well as the removal of medium-enriched uranium, in exchange for no new economic sanctions.

Tony Blair to step back as Mideast Quartet envoy

(JTA)—Tony Blair is preparing to step back as envoy for the Middle East Quartet but wants to remain part of the peace process.

Blair has realized that his high-profile role is no longer appropriate, the London-based Financial Times reported Sunday, citing “several people familiar with the situation.”

On Saturday, the former British prime minister reportedly met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in the Red Sea resort city Sharm el-Sheik to discuss a job change, according to the newspaper. Blair also spoke with U.N. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Blair has weak relations with senior Palestinian Authority figures and major business interests, the Financial Times reported, and that has caused distress in some circles of Washington and Brussels.

He has served as envoy to the Quartet—the diplomatic grouping of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations that guides the Middle East process—for nearly eight years.

While trying to “recast” his role, Blair is “determined to remain part of the peace process,” according to the newspaper, which said an announcement of his new role could come later this week.

Blair was appointed Quartet envoy in 2007 at the request of the administration of President George W. Bush shortly after stepping down from a decade as British prime minister.

Donors provide Copenhagen teen a bat mitzvah celebration in Israel

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The bat mitzvah whose celebration in Copenhagen ended abruptly after the shooting death of a volunteer synagogue guard was feted in Israel.

Hannah Bentow, 13, on Sunday night in Jerusalem had a ceremony and a dance party for girls and women with a DJ. The party took place at the headquarters of the Matan women’s study program.

The Feb. 15 celebration of Bentow’s bat mitzvah at the central Copenhagen shul, or Krystalgade Synagogue, had been put off a year due to the year of mourning for her grandmother, according to Josh Salmon of Toronto, one of the philanthropists who helped fund the trip.

The teen reportedly had said to her mother after the shooting attack by an Islamist fanatic that killed guard Dan Uzan, “I wish I didn’t have a bat mitzvah, and then Dan would still be alive.”

The Dan Hotels chain and some private family foundations paid for Bentow and her family to hold the bat mitzvah party in Israel as well as vacation there for a week. In Eilat, the family spent time at the dolphin reef in a program designed specifically for victims of trauma.

Also, they distributed care packages to soldiers at army bases.

Janice Silverman Rebibo, American-born Israeli poet, dies at 65

BOSTON (JTA)—Janice Silverman Rebibo, an acclaimed American-born Israeli poet, has died.

Rebibo, of Brookline, Mass., and Rehovot, Israel, died on March 11 following a yearlong battle with cancer. She was 65.

She was known for her bold, vivid and often humorous poetic voice in English and Hebrew.

Over many decades, Rebibo was widely published in Israeli newspapers and literary journals, and authored many books of poetry, including the 2014 English collection “How Many Edens.” Her 2007 collection “Zara Betzion,” or “A Stranger in Zion” earned her a number of honors, including from the Office of the President of Israel.

Rebibo also was highly regarded as the main translator into English of the works of the late noted Israeli poet Natan Yonaton.

Her eclectic style evoked a strong sense of vulnerability and musicality, according to Israeli composer Matti Kovler, with whom Rebibo collaborated on the librettos for two of Kovler’s operas.

“She had a great ear for puns and nuance,” Kovler told JTA.

In addition to her writing, Rebibo was a senior staff member at the Hebrew language institute Hebrew at the Center in Boston and had a long association with Hebrew College. Last year, she was scholar in residence at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University.

Rebibo, who will be buried in Israel, is survived by her father, Henry Silverman, and two children.

Arson probed at Moroccan Jewish cemetery

(JTA)—A Jewish-owned building was set on fire in a possible anti-Semitic attack in the Moroccan town of Oujad.

The March 10 suspected arson in Oujad, located 120 miles south of the capital Rabat, happened at a structure inside a local Jewish cemetery, the news site Telquel.ma reported the day after the fire.

No one was injured in the incident. The report did not specify what damage was caused to the structure.

Police are looking for the culprits, the news site reported, citing interviews with a police spokesman and with Kenza Elbiar of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, or AMDH.

Elbiar said the perpetrators also wrote anti-Semitic slogans on some adjacent surfaces, though police denied the text was anti-Semitic. The report did not quote the slogans.

Elbiar also said that the caretaker of the cemetery had threatened the rabbi in charge of the cemetery, who was not named and does not reside in Oujad, saying he would burn the structure in the cemetery because he claims he is owed money.

The caretaker was questioned by police and released pending further investigation.

Some 250,000 Moroccan Jews left Morocco in the 19 years that followed Israel’s establishment in 1948. A few dozen Jews were killed in at least three pogroms that occurred between 1938 and 1954, according to Shmuel Trigano, a lecturer of political sociology at Paris University Nanterre.

Zionism was outlawed in Morocco in 1959 and defined as a “serious crime.” Morocco ended that official animosity in the late 1980s and since then has maintained ties with Israel. In recent years, the royal house has undertaken the reconstruction of dozens of Jewish heritage sites.

Ethiopian wins Jerusalem Marathon

(JTA)—A 26-year-old Ethiopian, Tadesse Dabi Yae, won the fifth annual Jerusalem Marathon.

Dabi defeated some 25,000 runners from 60 countries in last Friday’s race, The Jerusalem Post reported. His winning time of 2 hours, 18 minutes, 20 seconds was about 2 minutes slower than the record set last year by Ronald Kimeli Kurgat, 28, of Kenya, who won in 2:16:09.

Some of the runners participating in the race, which began shortly after 6 a.m. in order to prevent heat exhaustion, ran in groups, including those organized by Jewish organizations.

Dror, a Beit Shemesh-based organization helping young girls achieve their potential through education and sports, sent a team of 126 runners.

The Koby Mandell Foundation, which helps families that lost loved ones to terrorist attacks, had 60 runners.

IDF’s top education officer: No place for rabbis at swearing-in ceremonies

(JTA)—The Israeli army’s chief education officer recommended that rabbis no longer be allowed to speak at swearing-in ceremonies for recruits.

The recommendation by Brig. Gen. Avner Paz-Tzuk was revealed on March 11 when a screenshot of an undated letter that Paz-Tzuk sent to Maj. Gen. Hagai Topolansky, who heads the Israel Defense Forces’ Manpower Directorate, appeared on the news site rotter.net.

The letter comes amid a polarizing debate within Israeli society about the role of religion in the public sphere in general and especially in the IDF, which has traditionally been regarded as the country’s melting pot. Recent walkouts by troops who, for religious reasons, refused to attend ceremonies featuring women’s singing have been decried by secular Jews as evidence of radicalization.

“I believe it is flawed that the central figures in the ceremony, alongside the unit commander, are the corps rabbi and the unit rabbi. The ceremony is not religious and there is no reason for it to appear religious,” Paz-Tzuk wrote.

Paz-Tzuk recommended canceling all public functions for rabbis at swearing-ins, proposing that one of the recruits’ commanders, instead of the rabbi, reads from the Bible.

“The rabbinate does not have exclusivity over the Bible,” he wrote. “There is no reason for a rabbi, of all people, to speak at a swearing-in ceremony for the IDF and the state,” he added.

Most IDF soldiers are Jews, and a majority are secular. In addition, the IDF has tens of thousands of Muslim and Christian soldiers and officers.

In an interview March 12 for Army Radio, Aryeh Deri, the head of the Orthodox Sephardic Shas party, said the recommendation would exclude religious Jewish soldiers from service.

Report backs Nisman’s claims on Argentina-Iran conspiracy in AMIA bombing

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (JTA)—Iran financed the 2007 campaign of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in exchange for impunity for Iranians in the AMIA bombing, a Brazilian magazine reported.

According to Veja on Saturday, the deal brokered by Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, also provided the Iranians with nuclear know-how.

“I need you to broker with Argentina for aid to my country’s nuclear program,” Iran’s then-president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told Chavez on Jan. 13, 2007, according to the testimony of three former Chavez Cabinet members who now live in the United States and are collaborating in the investigation by Argentina. “We need Argentinians to share their knowledge on nuclear technology; without this collaboration it is impossible to advance our program.

“Don’t worry about the expenses required for this operation; Iran will support everything necessary to persuade the Argentines,” Ahmadinejad added. “I have another issue. I need you to discourage the Argentinians from insisting that Interpol capture the authorities of my country.” Chavez agreed.

Six Iranians have been on the Interpol international police agency’s most wanted list since 2007 in connection with the 1994 AMIA Jewish center bombing in Buenos Aires that killed 85 and injured hundreds.

The revelation backed the accusation made in January by the late prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who claimed that Kirchner decided to “not incriminate” former senior officials of Iran and tried to “erase” their roles in planning the bombing, but added that the agreement started in 2007 in Venezuela.

Argentina has accused the Iranian government of directing the AMIA attack and the Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah of carrying it out, but no arrests have been made in the case.

Venezuela bought $6 billion in Argentina’s bonds to cover the latter’s debt in 2007 and 2008, according to the Veja report. The Argentine government also received cash for the agreement.

One of the cooperating Venezuelan officials said that a suitcase carried by a Venezuelan-American businessman, Guido Antonioni Wilson, containing $800,000, which he brought into the country without claiming and was seized, came from the Iranian regime and was bound for the presidential campaign of Kirchner. The official said that Chavez was the middleman.

Kirchner and Chavez have denied the allegations.

Veja reported that the exchange of nuclear secrets was managed in Argentina by Minister of Defense Nilda Garre, now ambassador to the Organization of American States in Washington. Iran was interested in the Argentine experience with its heavy-water nuclear reactor Atucha because it wanted to produce plutonium for use in nuclear weapons using only natural uranium.

“I can’t say that the government of Argentina gave nuclear secrets, but I know it took a lot by legal means and illegal means in exchange for something valuable to the Iranians,” the former officials told Veja.

Speak out against anti-Semitism, actor Michael Douglas urges in Op-Ed

(JTA)—Actor Michael Douglas spoke out against anti-Semitism in an Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times.

Douglas recalled that last summer his son, Dylan, was verbally assaulted at a pool at a resort in southern Europe because he was wearing a Star of David necklace.

“Afterward, I sat down with my son and said: ‘Dylan, you just had your first taste of anti-Semitism.’” Douglas wrote in the piece published Saturday.

The Academy Award winner said he began reconnecting with Judaism since his son began to connect with the faith several years ago through friends. Dylan started attending Hebrew school and studying for his bar mitzvah, he said.

Douglas, who has a Jewish father—the famed actor Kirk Douglas—and a non-Jewish mother, as does his son, wrote, “While some Jews believe that not having a Jewish mother makes me not Jewish, I have learned the hard way that those who hate do not make such fine distinctions.”

He reviewed some of the root causes of anti-Semitism, including economics, hatred of Israel, and noted the large number of Muslims living in Europe.

“It is time for each of us to speak up against this hate,” Douglas asserted. He called on religious leaders, political leaders and citizens to speak out against anti-Semitism.

“So that is our challenge in 2015, and all of us must take it up. Because if we confront anti-Semitism whenever we see it, if we combat it individually and as a society, and use whatever platform we have to denounce it, we can stop the spread of this madness.”

Douglas will receive the 2015 Genesis Prize, which carries a $1 million honorarium, in June in Israel. The award recognizes an internationally renowned individual who is a role model in his or her community and whose actions and achievements express a commitment to Jewish values, the Jewish community and Israel, and who can inspire the younger generation of Jews worldwide.

Interfaith peace ring brings over 1,000 to Copenhagen synagogue

(JTA)—More than 1,000 people formed a peace ring around a Copenhagen synagogue that came under deadly attack last month.

Muslim, Jewish and Christian participants held hands and called for peace during the display of solidarity at the central Copenhagen shul, or Krystalgade Synagogue, on Saturday afternoon, according to reports.

On Feb. 14, a volunteer Jewish security guard, Dan Uzan, was shot and killed there by a lone Islamist gunman. Hours earlier, the same gunman killed one in a shooting at a free speech event at a cultural center in the Danish capital. The gunman was killed in a shootout with police.

Among the participants in the peace ring was Uzan’s father, as well as Denmark’s chief rabbi, Jair Melchior, and government ministers Morten Ostergaard and Sofie Carsten-Nielsen.

The ring was the initiative of Niddal El-Jabri, a Copenhagen Muslim who told the news website thelocal.dk that he wanted Jews to feel safe and welcome in the city.

Police had cited security concerns for rejecting the original request for such a rally, which was made a week after the shootings.

The Copenhagen organizers duplicated a similar initiative that took place last month in Oslo, where reports said that more than 1,000 people, including many Muslims, formed a human chain around a synagogue in a show of support for Jews.

A separate Danish Muslim group held a peace vigil in Copenhagen’s City Hall Square on Feb. 27 that was attended by an estimated 300 people, thelocal.dk reported.

Swastika painted on car of Dallas rabbi running home-based synagogue

(JTA)—A large white swastika was spray-painted on the car of a Dallas rabbi who is being sued by the city over a synagogue he runs in his home.

Rabbi Yaakov Rich discovered the swastika on his car on March 11, the local media reported over the weekend. He runs the small Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim from his home; services have continued there.

Rich said in a statement that he feels “completely violated.”

“As a Jew, the swastika is the most offensive symbol that there is,” he said. “They didn’t just attack me; they attacked every Jew in the City of Dallas.”

Last month, the city of Dallas sued Rich and the congregation, demanding some $200,000 in improvements to bring the home up to city code for a place of worship.

In early February, a neighbor sued Rich, seeking $50,000 in compensatory damages, claiming the synagogue lowered his property values.

The mezuzah has been ripped from Rich’s door in the past, the CBS affiliate in Dallas reported.

U.S. anti-Semitism envoy: Security costs threaten European Jewish communities

(JTA)—Jewish communities in Europe are “being bankrupted” by the need to provide security for their institutions, the U.S. special envoy on anti-Semitism said.

“Every Jewish community in Western Europe certainly needs security support,” said Ira Forman, the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, said Friday in Stockholm, the French news agency AFP reported. “Many of them are being bankrupted by the money they have to spend to protect their institutions.

“If current trends continue, and they’re not good... we have to worry about small Jewish communities in Europe and their very viability.”

Last week, Forman launched a tour of western Europe to meet with Jewish leaders, nongovernmental organizations and government officials. From Stockholm he traveled to Malmo, a Swedish city that has been hit with a number of hate crimes against Jews.

From Tuesday to Thursday he is scheduled to visit Copenhagen, where a volunteer Jewish security guard was shot and killed last month outside a synagogue by a lone Islamist gunman.

Along with the synagogue shooting, Jewish sites in Europe have been the target of other recent high-profile attacks, including the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris and the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels, causing unease in the continent’s Jewish communities.


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