Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA

 


Witnesses attacked as neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party trial opens

(JTA)—Witnesses in the trial of Golden Dawn party leaders reportedly were attacked outside the courthouse by supporters of the Greek neo-Nazi party.

The trial convened Monday in the high-security Korydallos prison outside Athens, where the party leaders are being held, but was adjourned until May 7 amid reports of the attacks, the Kathimerini newspaper reported.

Sixty-nine leaders and activists, including Golden Dawn head Nikolaos Michaloliakos and several lawmakers, are charged with running a violent criminal organization behind the murder of an anti-fascist musician and several attacks on immigrants.

Many of the party leaders have been held since October 2013, when they were arrested in the wake of the killing of Pavlos Fyssas, a rapper also known as Killah P. Prosecutors charge that he was killed on the orders of the party hierarchy.

Golden Dawn has maintained its political strength in recent years despite the crackdown on its leadership. It currently has 17 lawmakers in the national parliament.

The party, which frequently uses Nazi imagery, has been accused of being behind dozens of racist attacks on immigrants. Its leaders have denied the existence of Nazi death camps and gas chambers.

Biden: No major sanctions relief at front end of Iran deal

WASHINGTON (JTA)—An Iran nuclear deal will not include substantial sanctions relief at the front end, Vice President Joe Biden said.

“If at the front end they expect there to be total sanction relief or significant sanction relief, there will be no deal,” Biden said in an address in Cambridge, Mass., on Friday to a Democratic political action committee, Politico reported. “This will be, ‘You have to earn it.’”


Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has said that there will be no deal between Iran and the major powers unless there is immediate total sanctions relief.

Iran and the major powers earlier this month announced the outline of a deal that would swap sanctions relief for strictures aimed at keeping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

President Barack Obama on Friday said that the sides would have to come up with “creative” formulas that would make a deal acceptable to their publics.

Australian companies remove kashrut certification symbols over halal fears

(JTA)—A number of companies in Australia have removed kosher certification symbols from their packaging due to pushback over halal certification.

Rumors that money raised from halal certification helps fund terrorism are spurring the pushback, the general manager of the Kosher Australia certification, Yankel Wajsbort, told the Australian Jewish Times, and companies have called the Victorian-based kashrut certification authority and asked that the kosher symbols be removed.


The companies reportedly believe it is better to have no identifying religious certification at all.

The Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre and the Australian Crime Commission both reject the halal-terrorist link rumors, saying there is no evidence to support them, according to the AJN.

“In the last three months we have probably received 10 requests from companies that say they support kosher and want to stay kosher, but how do they argue that it’s different to halal,” Wajsbort told the newspaper. “Of those 10, we have had four or five companies that have asked to remove our symbol.”

Elio Toaff, chief rabbi of Rome for 51 years, dies at 99

ROME (JTA)—Elio Toaff, the chief rabbi of Rome for 51 years, has died, two weeks before his 100th birthday.

Toaff, who died on Sunday, served as chief rabbi from 1951 to 2002 and is considered an important figure in the history of Italy and European Jewry.

He welcomed Pope John Paul II on his historic April 1986 visit to the Great Synagogue, the first known visit by a pope to a synagogue in some 2,000 years.

During World War II, already a rabbi, Toaff fought Nazi fascism with the Italian partisans and witnessed the crimes committed by the Nazis in the Sant’Anna di Stazzema massacre.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said of Toaff’s death, “We have lost a giant.”

Renzo Gattegna, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, said Toaff “was a leader and a point of reference. We will never forget him.”

Toaff will be buried Monday afternoon in the Jewish cemetery in his hometown of Leghorn.

European chief rabbis meet Pope Francis to discuss anti-Semitism

(JTA)—A delegation of chief rabbis from Europe met with Pope Francis at the Vatican to discuss rising anti-Semitism.

After meeting Monday with the delegation of 10 rabbis representing the Conference of European Rabbis, the pope was scheduled to meet privately with the chief rabbi of France, Haim Korsia, who is a prominent promoter of interfaith ties.

The meeting will be the first time that a Conference of European Rabbis delegation is received at the Vatican, Korsia’s office wrote in a statement that was sent Friday but authorized for publication only Monday for security reasons.

Noting the meeting came 50 years after the Nostra Aetate—the declaration on the relation of the Catholic Church with non-Christian religions—Conference of European Rabbis President Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt told JTA that the event is “vitally important and gives us a chance to further strengthen the relationship between the two communities.”


The rise in recent years in anti-Semitic violence and hate speech will feature prominently in the talk, added Goldschmidt, the chief rabbi of Moscow.

Interfaith work, Goldschmidt said, “is particularly relevant in the wake of recent attacks on the Jewish communities of Europe and the Catholic communities in Africa and the Middle East.”

Korsia, whose community has been among the most affected by violent anti-Semitism, last year compared the persecution of Christians in the Middle East to the Holocaust-era persecution of Jews.

“The situation of religious minorities all over the world and especially in the Middle East resonates, unfortunately, with our commemoration today,” Korsia said in September during a commemoration ceremony in Paris for Holocaust victims. “As our parents wore the yellow star, Christians are made to wear the scarlet letter.”

Citing Abu Dhabi’s involvement, N.Y. Jewish leaders object to mixed martial arts legalization

NEW YORK (JTA)—Several Jewish leaders are urging New York State lawmakers not to legalize mixed martial arts in the state, citing the role that Abu Dhabi plays in the sport.

In a letter to state lawmakers shared exclusively with the Daily News, 17 leaders said that the United Arab Emirates country, which does not recognize the State of Israel, owns a 10 percent stake in the sport’s biggest league, Ultimate Fighting Championship. Among those who signed the letter are the executive vice President of the New York Board of Rabbis, Joseph Potasnik, and Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a City University of New York trustee and board member of numerous Jewish organizations.

The letter notes that the Anti-Defamation League recently ranked Abu Dhabi as one of the most anti-Semitic countries in the world.

“This is a country that refuses to recognize Israel as a nation, refuses to allow Israeli citizens to travel in their country, and has banned the teaching of the Holocaust in their schools,” the letter says.

It is believed to be the first objection to the sport on Jewish or pro-Israel grounds.

“At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise, we cannot stand by while Albany cuts a deal with a company whose profits will go directly into the hands of an enemy of Israel,” the letter says. “It is our hope that New York will continue its proud tradition as a staunch friend to the Jewish community by rejecting the legalization of mixed martial arts and saying no to a company and country that is clearly no friend of Israel.”

Ultimate Fighting Championship officials responded by saying that Abu Dhabi is a United States ally and has business dealings with numerous New York developers, including Jewish ones.

Ex-Auschwitz guard, 93, going on trial as accomplice in murder of 300,000

BERLIN (JTA)—A former Waffen-SS member is going on trial, charged as an accomplice in the murder of 300,000 victims at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

Oskar Groening, 93, will be tried at the District Court of Luneburg, near his hometown in Germany. The trial will begin on Tuesday.

Groening has admitted to being a guard at Auschwitz and, unlike most others brought to trial in recent years, has publicly expressed shame for having been “a cog in the killing machine that eliminated millions of innocent people.” He gave a long interview about his experiences to Der Spiegel magazine in 2005.

Plaintiffs in the case against him include the state as well as more than 60 Holocaust survivors and their relatives. Attorney Thomas Walter, who represents some 30 of the co-plaintiffs, said his clients are seeking belated justice and simply want to know the truth from Groening.

Among Groening’s alleged duties was removing luggage from the death camp train platform, so that new arrivals would not see evidence of murder of those who had preceded them. He also had to count the money removed from the luggage and send it on to the SS in Berlin, according to dpa, the German news agency. Groening reportedly was aware that those prisoners deemed unfit for labor would be murdered in gas chambers almost immediately after their arrival.

The charges relate specifically to the murder of at least 300,000 Hungarian Jews in the summer of 1944. There is no statute of limitations on murder in Germany, and if found guilty Groening could get a life sentence, which in Germany translates to 14 years. But the state prosecutors would have to determine whether he was fit to serve even a part of such a sentence.

Groening is one of several former concentration camp guards charged with crimes against humanity in the past year.

U.S. diplomat apologizes for FBI director’s remarks about Polish wartime behavior

(JTA)—The U.S. ambassador to Poland apologized for the FBI director’s comments about Poles being accomplices in the Holocaust.

Stephen Mull said Monday that FBI director James Comey was not speaking for the United States government when he accused Poles and Hungarians of complicity in Nazi atrocities during a speech April 14 at a benefit for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Fox News reported. Comey’s speech was published April 16 in the Washington Post with the headline “Why I require FBI agents to visit the Holocaust Museum.”

Any suggestion that “Poland or any other countries other than Nazi Germany bear responsibility for the Holocaust is a mistake, harmful and insulting,” Mull said Monday. “Nazi Germany alone bears responsibility.

Comey’s speech spurred Poland’s Foreign Ministry to demand an apology on Sunday.

“This statement is offensive to Poles, for the memory of the victims of the Nazi occupation of Poland and a profound ignorance of the history of this period,” said Poland’s ambassador to the United States, Ryszard Schnepf, adding that Comey was “accusing Poles of perpetuating crimes which not only they did not commit, but which they themselves were victims of.”

Hungary’s Foreign Ministry also voiced objection to the remarks in a note of protest to the U.S. Embassy in Budapest.

Hungary “rejects stereotypes and allegations against Hungary and the Hungarian people,” the Budapest-based Foreign Ministry said in an email on Monday, adding that Comey’s remarks showed “incredible insensitivity and unacceptable superficiality,” Bloomberg News reported.

In first, Women of the Wall read from full-size Torah scroll at Kotel

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Women of the Wall for the first time read from a full-size Torah scroll during the group’s monthly prayer service at the Western Wall, contravening regulations there.

The Torah scroll, one of 100 available for public use on the men’s side of the Wall, was passed across the barrier between the men’s and women’s sections by male supporters of the 26-year-old organization on Monday during services for the new month of Iyar.

Regulations at the site set by the office of the Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites of Israel, headed by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, have prevented women from using a Torah scroll in their section.

An April 2013 Supreme Court ruling acknowledged women’s right to pray at the Western Wall according to their beliefs, claiming it does not violate what has come to be known as “local custom.”

Haredi Orthodox men praying at the Wall physically attacked the men who helped the women with what the group described in a statement as their “carefully planned help” to obtain the scroll, and then broke through the mechitzah barrier and attempted to take the scroll away from the women.

Police reportedly removed the men, and the women completed what the organization said in a statement was “a full and deeply moving service.”

In October, the women smuggled a miniature Torah scroll into the women’s section, despite their bags being searched, and held a bat mitzvah using the 200-year-old Torah, which was brought  from Britain for the prayer service.

Women of the Wall gather at the Western Wall at the start of each Jewish month for the morning prayer service. The group’s members have clashed frequently with staff from Rabinovitch’s office and with police for holding services that violate the rules enforced by that office, including singing, wearing prayer shawls and other customs that are forbidden to women under the office’s interpretation of Orthodox Jewish law.

 

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