Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA

 


Former FEGS chief suing bankrupt agency for $1.2 million

NEW YORK (JTA)—The former chief executive of FEGS is suing the bankrupt Jewish social service agency for $1.2 million in deferred compensation.

Gail Magaliff retired in late 2014, shortly before FEGS Health and Human Services—one of the largest social service providers in the United States—discovered a $19.4 million shortfall. Soon after, in late January, the 81-year-old agency, which served a majority non-Jewish clientele, announced it would close.

In March FEGS filed for bankruptcy, and UJA-Federation of New York, which had funded several FEGS programs targeting Jewish populations, announced it was providing the group “debtor-in-possession” financing of up to $10 million.

Magaliff, who earned a base salary of more than $600,000 in 2012, said in court filings that the $1.2 million had been promised for her “services as a valuable executive employee,” The New York Times reported.

She reportedly has asked the bankruptcy court judge to bar FEGS from using the $1.2 million for other purposes.

Many of the agency’s nearly 3,000 former employees remain unemployed. In the final two years of Magaliff’s tenure, FEGS revenues fell, 74 percent of its programs were losing money and 30 percent of its budget was allocated for administrative costs, including salaries, the Times reported, citing bankruptcy filings.


According to Capital New York, a news website focused on politics and media, FEGS’ financial disclosure forms and yearly tax returns in its final years of operation “reveal an agency engaged in risky long-term behavior and slowly drowning in debt, seeking capital financing from an ever-widening array of sources to expand its operations and interests even as those operations failed to produce profit.”

Capital New York also found that FEGS “poured money into its for-profit subsidiaries, launched an ultimately unsuccessful managed long-term care providing offshoot, invested money in offshore funds in the Cayman Islands, Greenland and Iceland, engaged in unusual auditing practices, increased executive salaries even as debts mounted, and may now owe the state tens of millions of dollars because of Medicaid overcharges.”

Magaliff was not the only FEGS executive earning more than $200,000 annually. According to information filed with the Internal Revenue Service for 2012, Executive Vice President Ira Machowsky earned a base salary of $484,000, two executives earned $300,000 to $400,000, and five earned $200,000 to $300,000.


Dave Goldberg, husband of Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, died after exercising

(JTA)—Dave Goldberg, the CEO of Survey Monkey and husband of “Lean In” author Sheryl Sandberg, died suddenly after exercising while on vacation.

Goldberg, 47, was at a resort in Mexico on Friday with family and friends, The New York Times reported Monday. The cause of death was not immediately announced and was the subject of much media speculation.

“Efforts to revive him at the gym and the hospital were unsuccessful,” a person close to the family who did not want to be identified told the Times.

Goldberg and Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, were married in 2004 and have two children.

Goldberg joined Survey Monkey, an online cloud-based company that helps organizations conduct surveys, in 2008. He previously worked at Capitol Records and founded a music company called Launch Media, which was bought by Yahoo in 2006.

Sandberg has not publicly commented on her husband’s death.

Body of Israeli hiker retrieved by army buddies in Nepal

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The body of Israeli hiker Or Asraf was retrieved from a remote area of Nepal and will be returned to Israel.

The Israel rescue teams on Monday took the body extracted from a rocky mountainside in the Langtang area and airlifted it to Kathmandu. It was scheduled to be flown to Israel on Tuesday, according to reports.

Several of Asraf’s army comrades and his commander, who had arrived in Kathmandu last week to join in the search, carried the body on a stretcher after extracting it from a mountainside struck by rock slides and sent a message to his mother: “This is our last journey with our friend. We are bringing him home to you,” the IDF said in a statement.


Several European hikers also died in the same area, which was hit by rock slides and heavy rain in the wake of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25.

Asraf, 22, had been traveling with members of his former Israeli army unit, but left for a hike on his own shortly before the quake hit. The death toll as of Monday morning was at least 7,200. Hundreds of Israelis were in the area at the time of the quake; Asraf was the only Israeli fatality.

Asraf, who was injured in Israel’s operation in Gaza last summer, was on a trip to far-flung places that was due to end in July. While on his trip, he kept in touch with the mothers of his friends who fell during Operation Protective Edge, including taking pictures of himself holding his friends’ photo in the exotic places, according to the IDF. He volunteered at schools and agricultural villages in Nepal during his time there.

Jean-Marie Le Pen suspended by party he founded and now led by daughter

(JTA)—Far-right French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen was suspended from the party he founded and his daughter now leads over his anti-Semitic rhetoric.

The top executive authority of the National Front handed down the suspension on Monday after Le Pen appeared at a disciplinary hearing over statements he made last month in which he told French TV that he does not regret saying in 1987 that the Nazi gas chambers were “just a detail of World War II.”

In addition to the suspension, party members will hold a special meeting in three months to decide whether to strip the title of honorary president from Le Pen, the French news agency AFP reported.

In recent years, Marine Le Pen, 46, has rejected her father’s revisionist and anti-Semitic views and courted French Jews in a move that many observers said was designed to rehabilitate the anti-immigrant party’s name and gain mainstream acceptance. Since she took the helm in 2011, the once-isolated party has achieved victories in some town and county legislatures. Marine Le Pen has flirted with the idea of a presidential run in 2017.

Jean-Marie Le Pen was convicted of racial hatred for his observation about the gas chambers and fined.

Florida prisons ordered to serve kosher meals

(JTA)—Inmates in Florida’s prisons who request kosher meals must receive them, a federal judge in Miami ruled.

U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz issued the order late last week after the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections on behalf of 13 inmates. The decision is the latest following years of legal wrangling.

The two sides have until Wednesday to come up with a way to implement the plan.

The Florida case dates to 2010 when a Jewish prisoner serving life for the 1995 murder of his parents, Bruce Rich, said the state’s refusal to provide him with a kosher meal violated his rights under federal law.

More than 9,500 Florida prisoners have been approved for the kosher meals, The Associated Press reported.

The department canceled its kosher meal service in 2007, citing the expense. An average of 250 inmates used the kosher meal service at that time, including Muslims. The state offers vegetarian and vegan options.

The Obama administration joined the case in support of Rich in 2012.

At least 35 states and the federal government provide kosher diets in prison.

Israel warns of Tunisia terror attack as Lag b’Omer ceremony nears

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau issued a travel warning for Tunisia in advance of a traditional Lag b’Omer procession.

The warning issued Saturday night called on Israelis to avoid visiting Tunisia and to leave the country as soon as possible. It said that recent information indicates the intention to carry out terror attacks against visiting Israelis or Tunisian Jewish communities, with an emphasis on the upcoming Lag b’Omer commemoration on the island of Djerba.

The traditional festive procession near the El Ghriba synagogue on Djerba takes place on or around Lag b’Omer, a break during the 49 days of mourning between Passover and Shavuot, which this year begins on Wednesday night. It draws hundreds of Tunisian Jews and visitors from Israel.

The synagogue, in the village of Hara Seghira, or Er-Riadh, dates back to 586 B.C., although the current building was reconstructed in the 19th century. El Ghriba is sometimes cited as North Africa’s oldest synagogue. In 2002, terrorists blew up a vehicle near the synagogue, killing 21 people.

In March, 23 people were killed in an Islamic State terrorist attack at the Bardo Museum in Tunis; the Islamic state has claimed it will commit more attacks in the country.

Copenhagen church vandalized ahead of rabbi’s lecture

(JTA)—A Copenhagen church was vandalized hours before a rabbi spoke there.

“Free Gaza” and “Close the Death Camps” was spray-painted on the door of the Anna Church in the Norrebro district overnight Sunday, the Local reported. Bricks also were thrown through some of the church’s windows.

Bent Melchior, Denmark’s former chief rabbi, presented his address as planned on Sunday about the 70th anniversary of the country’s liberation from the Nazis.

“Without being totally immodest, I have to admit that it was directed at me,” Melchior told the Danish newspaper Politiken. “I am sorry that there are such idiots around, and I am full of regret that I had to be the occasion for such a thing.”

The rabbi reportedly had received repeated death threats, some very specific.

Copenhagen Police are treating the incident as being politically motivated, according to the report.

In February, a terror attack outside a Copenhagen synagogue left a Jewish volunteer security guard dead.

Merkel at Dachau ceremony condemns anti-Semitism

(JTA)—Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany condemned anti-Semitism at a ceremony marking 70 years since the liberation of Dachau.

“We are all forever called upon to never close our eyes and ears to those who today accost, threaten and attack people when they identify themselves somehow as Jews or also when they side with the State of Israel,” Merkel said Sunday at the former concentration camp during a ceremony attended by Holocaust survivors.

Merkel first visited Dachau in 2013, the first German chancellor to do so.

“There were unfathomable horrors everywhere,” she said Sunday. “They all admonish us to never forget. No, we will never forget. We’ll not forget for the sake of the victims, for our own sake, and for the sake of future generations.”

Dachau, which is about 10 miles from Munich, was the first Nazi concentration camp opened in Germany.

The ceremony was one of several at Nazi camps throughout Europe during this 70th year since the end of World War II.

The main gate of the camp, bearing the sign “Arbeit macht frei,” or “work sets you free,” was stolen last year and was re-created by a German blacksmith.

More than 200,000 people were imprisoned in the camp and its satellite locations between 1933 and 1945. Some 28,000 prisoners died in Dachau, and another 13,000 died at the external sites.

Anti-Semitic incidents in Czech Republic rose sharply in 2014

PRAGUE (JTA)—The number of anti-Semitic incidents in the Czech Republic rose by more than 200 percent last year, according to an annual report on anti-Semitism.

Prague’s Jewish community released the report on Monday.

In 2014, 46 such incidents were registered across the country, compared to 13 incidents the previous year. An escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, notably Israel’s military operation in Gaza last July and August, was seen as the main factor fueling the surge.

“It is clear that the Czech Republic’s Jewish community becomes a target of anti-Semitism in relation to the situation in the Middle East,” the chair of the Jewish community of Prague, Jan Munk, said in a statement. “Czech Jews are perceived by some groups as envoys of the State of Israel and are blamed for its political decisions.”

While the number of physical attacks against Jewish targets—persons or property—did not register any major change compared to previous years, the number of verbal attacks, hate mail and threats to Jewish people rose four times in comparison to 2013. The number of online anti-Semitic incidents increased by some 20 percent.

In most cases, the perpetrators were not identified; those who were often had no ties to extremist groups. That suggests, according to the report, that anti-Semitic sentiments are increasingly gaining ground among individuals with no links to extremism.

In a trend similar to Western Europe, the report noted a rise in anti-Zionist sentiments expressed in conspiracy theories such as those blaming the ongoing crisis in Ukraine on Jews and Israel. These were often shared by both far-right and far-left groups and reflected by some mainstream Czech news websites.

Netanyahu meets with Ethiopian-Israeli soldier beaten by police

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the Ethiopian-Israeli soldier who was beaten by police officers for coming out against violence, calling it “true leadership.”

On Monday, Netanyahu met with Damas Pakada, whose beating last week was captured on videotape. The attack spurred violent demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu told Pakada that he was shocked by the beating and said it cannot be accepted.

“The police will do whatever it takes to correct itself, but we need to fix Israeli society,” Netanyahu said. He called the violent protests a result of “genuine distress.”

Police Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino apologized to Pakada on behalf of the Israel Police and informed him that the officer who beat him was fired immediately.

Also Monday, President Reuven Rivlin said Israeli society has “erred” when it comes to the plight of Ethiopian Jews in Israel.

“The protesters, in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv, revealed an open and raw wound at the heart of Israeli society,” Rivlin said. “The pain of a community crying out over a sense of discrimination, racism and of being unanswered. We must look directly at this open wound. We have erred. We did not look, and we did not listen enough.”

Addressing the demonstration Sunday night in Tel Aviv that injured more than 40 police and demonstrators, Rivlin made his remarks prior to a meeting with the heads of haredi Orthodox municipalities and local councils.

“Among the protesters on the streets were some of our finest sons and daughters: outstanding students, those who served in the IDF. We owe them answers,” Rivlin said.

The president said that protests are “an essential tool in democracy,” but added that “violence is neither the way nor the solution” and that “we must not allow a handful of violent trouble makers to drown-out the legitimate voices of protest.”

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky in a statement called on all Israelis to “listen carefully, help foster a more constructive discourse, and mobilize to improve the situation in a real and tangible way.” He called on protesters “to exercise good judgment and moderation, to respect the law and public order, and to utilize the societal conversation that has been started” to achieve their goals.

Liberman: Yisrael Beiteinu party to sit in opposition

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Avigdor Liberman said his Yisrael Beiteinu party would not join the new government coalition and he was resigning as foreign minister.

Liberman, who heads the right-wing party, said in an announcement on Monday that he would submit a letter of resignation later in the day and that Yisrael Beiteinu would enter the opposition.

Liberman’s party garnered six Knesset seats in March’s election. In the January 2013 election, Yisrael Beiteinu and Likud, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ran on a joint ticket and won 31 seats, leading all parties.

Liberman charged in a news conference that Netanyahu plans to open up the government to the left-wing Zionist Union and form a national unity government. He also said that the new government “has no intention of building housing, neither in major settlement blocs nor in Jerusalem.”

Netanyahu has less than three days left to form a new government coalition. He already has signed agreements with the centrist Kulanu led by former Likud lawmaker Moshe Kahlon, as well as Orthodox United Torah Judaism for a total of 46 Knesset seats. A minimum 61 seats is required to form a government.

 

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