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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Anti-Semitic, right-wing attacks rise in Germany

BERLIN (JTA)—A major increase in anti-Semitic and right-wing violent attacks in Germany is “extremely worrying,” according to the country’s interior minister.

The number of right-wing extremist violent crimes in 2014 was 22.9 percent higher than in 2013, according to the annual report of the Ministry of the Interior released this month. Anti-Semitic crimes rose 25.2 percent to 1,596 in 2014 after declining in 2013.

In releasing the statistics, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere described an “extremely worrying” situation in which “xenophobic, anti-Semitic and racially motivated crimes and violent attacks have increased. Attacks are directed specifically against churches, synagogues and mosques. Refugees and their temporary housing are increasingly coming under attack.”

Anetta Kahane, head of the Berlin-based Amadeu Antonio Foundation, noted a marked increase in anti-Jewish verbal and physical attacks during Israel’s operation last summer in Gaza.

“The feeling of insecurity among Jews reflects a real threat and has to be taken seriously,” Kahane said in a statement. “It is not acceptable that there are areas in Germany where Jews fear for their safety.”

Kahane is part of the newly formed nongovernmental Expert Commission on Anti-Semitism along with the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin director, Deidre Berger, and Julius Schoeps, founding director of the Moses Mendelssohn Center for European Jewish Studies in Potsdam.

“Way too often, Jews in Germany are held responsible for Israeli government policies and subjected to threats and attacks,” said Green Party politician Volker Beck in a statement.

“You can only combat this climate of anti-Semitism with concrete efforts and measures,” added Beck, who recently received the Shield of Keren Hayesod award for his dedication to strengthening German-Israel relations.

Israel closes field hospital in Nepal

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel closed its field hospital in Kathmandu at a joint ceremony with its Nepali counterparts.

The 60-bed field hospital, which treated over 1,400 patients during its 10 days of operation, was closed on Sunday, Reuters reported. The hospital performed 90 life-saving surgeries, and delivered eight babies, six by Caesarean section, according to the Times of Israel.

Some 150 Israelis staffed the hospital, the largest ever erected by the Israel Defense Forces.

“Let me express our sincere gratitude to the government of Israel and to the people of Israel for helping us in times of very critical hours for Nepal,” the country’s urban development minister, Narayan Khadka, said at the ceremony.

The death toll from the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on April 25 and the resulting avalanches centered near Kathmandu rose above 8,000 this weekend, with more than 16,000 injured.

Also Sunday, three new temblors struck the area, at 4.0, 4.2, and 4.4 magnitudes. No new damage was reported, though they sparked panic among the Nepalese living in the open in the quakes’ areas.

Natalie Portman to star as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in new movie

(JTA)—Natalie Portman will star as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a new film.

“On the Basis of Sex” will follow Ginsburg’s obstacles-filled career on the road to becoming the second female justice and the first Jewish female justice on the high court, Deadline Hollywood reported. President Bill Clinton appointed Ginsburg to the Supreme Court in 1993.

The producers are hoping to start filming by the end of the year.

Portman, who is Jewish and a native of Israel, is making her directorial debut with “A Tale Of Love And Darkness,” which premieres next week at Cannes. The film is based on the memoir by Israeli author Amos Oz and is largely in Hebrew.

Prosecutors seek 2nd trial in Etan Patz case following mistrial

(JTA)—Prosecutors requested a second trial for the accused killer of 6-year-old Etan Patz after a mistrial was declared.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley declared the mistrial on Friday after twice ordering the jury to continue deliberating when it said it could not reach a verdict. The jury had deliberated for 18 days, since April 15.

The suspect, Pedro Hernandez, will remain in jail while awaiting the second trial.

“We are frustrated and very disappointed the jury has been unable to make a decision,” said Stanley Patz, Etan’s father. “The long ordeal is not over,”

Jury members said afterward that the vote was 11-1 in favor of convicting Hernandez, 54, a disabled factory worker who confessed in 2012 to killing Etan in 1979. The defense claimed that the confession was the result of Hernandez’s mental incapacities exacerbated by several hours of police questioning.

Etan, who was Jewish, went missing on May 25, 1979, in the SoHo area of New York City after walking to a bus stop by himself for the first time. He was among the first missing children to have his face pictured on a milk carton. His body and personal effects were never found.

Jose Ramos, 68, a convicted pedophile who served a 20-year prison sentence for molesting a young boy, was declared responsible for Etan’s death in a 2004 civil case.

2 Spanish-language networks: Israeli aid to Nepal was cover for baby trafficking

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (JTA)—Israel used its humanitarian aid mission to Nepal as a cover for trafficking 25 Nepalese babies, two Spanish-language networks reported.

Iranian HispanTV and Venezuela’s Telesur networks broadcast the reports. Telesur is the national public television channel in Venezuela, which is rebroadcast throughout Latin America on other public television networks.

HispanTV broadcast the original report, which quotes an unnamed NGO as stating that “Israel uses humanitarian help as a cover for trafficking of 25 babies in Nepal.” Telesur picked up the report last week.

The report stated, correctly, that of the 25 babies that were taken to Israel, “15 of them were born through Tammuz, an Israeli surrogacy company which provides services to Israeli couples unable to bear children, particularly homosexual couples.” The other babies also reportedly were born to surrogate mothers for Israeli parents.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned the report.

“The ‘Tehran-Caracas axis’ even perverts humanitarian aid to victims of natural disasters such as the Nepal earthquake, just as they had accused the Israeli medical mission of harvesting body parts in the Haiti catastrophe,” said Dr. Shimon Samuels, director for International Relations of the Wiesenthal Center. “Through these Spanish-language television satellites, Iran foments anti-Semitism across the Americas, just as it sponsors global terrorism, slanders the Holocaust and pursues its nuclear program.

One year ago, Iran publicly announced a plan to increase its media influence in Latin America.

Vandalism destroys monument to Polish Jewish community killed in Holocaust

WARSAW, Poland—An act of vandalism destroyed a monument commemorating a Polish Jewish community.

Police are investigating last week’s incident at the Jewish cemetery in Rajgrod, a town of some 1,7000 in northeastern Poland. The cemetery does not have security monitoring.

The monument was unveiled last September by the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland and Israeli Avi Tzur, whose ancestors came from Rajgrod. The town’s Jewish population was liquidated in 1942.

“This type of damage is seen as a despicable attack on Holocaust victims and their families involved in a project of commemoration,” said Monika Krawczyk, director of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland. “The Foundation calls on the Polish authorities to immediately take measures to repair the damage, arrest the perpetrators, and provide care for other such sites throughout Poland.”

Polish Jewish activist Piotr Kadlcik said it was hard to call this an ordinary act of vandalism.

“The destruction of a massive monument located away from the city requires careful planning,” he told JTA.

Jews lived in Rajgrod from the 16th century through World War II. In 1857, some 1,569 Jews lived in Rajgrod, making up 90 percent of the town’s entire population.

British Jewish groups condemn upcoming play on second intifada siege

(JTA)—British Jewish groups said they are “extremely concerned” about a new play set to premiere in England about a terrorist siege during the second intifada.

“The Siege,” which will open at the Lowry Theater in Manchester on May 13, is a retelling of the April 2002 siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Over the course of a 39-day standoff, Palestinian terrorists holed up in the church, taking clergy and civilians hostage. Eight Palestinian gunmen were killed.

The Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland told the London Jewish Chronicle last week that the play is a “white-washing of the Second Intifada,” and the Board of Deputies of British Jews said that it would be “extremely concerned if it turned out to be the case that British taxpayers were funding a play that promoted terrorism as positive and legitimate.”

The Zionist Federation acknowledged that it has not seen a preview of the play.

The theater website describes the play this way: “A group of armed men seek sanctuary in one of the world’s holiest sites as the Israeli army closes in with helicopters, tanks and snipers. Along with the fighters are some 200 priests, nuns and civilians. The siege lasts for 39 days, paralysing the centre of Bethlehem and keeping tens of thousands under curfew... two dead bodies are decomposing in a cave below the church. While the world is watching, the fighters are faced with the question of whether to struggle to the end or to surrender. No matter what they choose, they will have to leave their families and their homeland behind forever.”

The European Union ended the church siege by negotiating to send 13 of the hostage takers, including Ibrahim Ibayat, who was linked to several previous terrorist attacks in Israel, into exile in Europe.

Prosecutors push for 17-year sentence for mikvah-peeping rabbi

(JTA)—Prosecutors asked a Superior Court judge in Washington to sentence Rabbi Barry Freundel to 17 years in prison for videotaping dozens of nude women at a ritual bath.

Freundel, the former spiritual leader of a prominent Washington Orthodox synagogue, pleaded guilty in February to 52 counts of misdemeanor voyeurism. He is due to be sentenced on May 15.

In addition to prison time, Freundel could be ordered to pay tens of thousands of dollars in fines.

The rabbi, now 64, was arrested last October and charged with six counts of voyeurism after investigators found hidden cameras in the National Capital Mikvah’s shower room and in his home. He was fired from Kesher Israel, the congregation he had led for 25 years and which abuts the ritual bath, or mikvah, soon after his arrest.

Bethany Mandel, who converted to Judaism under Freundel and has been outspoken about problems with Orthodox conversion oversight, told the Washington Post last week that the rabbi’s prison sentence should send a message to other would-be offenders.

“If Mr. Freundel is given a lenient sentence despite the overwhelming amount of evidence presented here, it sends the message to Jewish victims of other sex crimes that it’s not worth coming forward in the future,” Mandel said.

Arrest made in suspicious letters sent to Colorado JCC, synagogue

(JTA)—A Boulder man was arrested for sending letters containing white powder that turned out to be “benign” to two Jewish organizations in the Colorado city.

Jeffrey Thomas Klinkel, 32, was sent to Boulder County Jail on May 7 on suspicion of two counts of felony menacing, two counts of interfering with an educational institution, and two counts of using a hoax explosive or biological weapon, the Boulder Daily Camera reported.

On April 6, the Boulder JCC received a letter that read, “This Goyim is enjoying the blood of her enemies for Passover” and contained a suspicious white powder later determined to be cornstarch.

Soon after, on the same day, Congregation Har HaShem received a similar letter with the white powder.

At the time, employees who came in contact with the letter were put under quarantine.

Klinkel has an extensive criminal record that includes arrests for assault, harassment, burglary, trespassing and fraud. He is in custody and is being held on a $10,000 bond.

Danish buses burned in suspected anti-Israel attack

(JTA)—Four Danish buses that had recently removed pro-Palestinian ads were destroyed in a suspected arson attack.

The buses were found burning early last Friday morning at a Copenhagen bus station, BBC News reported. Danish police say a fifth bus was found with anti-Israel graffiti.

Police are investigating a possible link to the city’s transit department decision last week to remove from the buses ads that called for a boycott of Israeli goods. The ads were paid for by the Danish Palestinian Friendship Association, which according to BBC News works “to influence the Danish public and the Danish authorities to do more for the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.”

The Danish bus company Movia had removed the ads, which showed two Palestinian women and the words “Our conscience is clean! We neither buy products from the Israeli settlements nor invest in the settlement industry.” Movia says it received nearly 100 complaints about the ads, most of them in English.

The head of the Danish Palestinian Friendship Association condemned the act in the Copenhagen Post.

“I hope it’s not someone with a Palestinian background that is behind this,” Fathi el Abed said. “It’s a criminal act and should be treated as such.”

Jeb Bush: I turn to George W. for Israel advice

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Jeb Bush said he was likeliest to take advice on Israel from his brother, former President George W. Bush.

“If you want to know who I listen to for advice, it’s him,” the former Florida governor and likely GOP presidential contender was quoted May 7 by the Washington Post as telling a group of potential campaign funders from the pro-Israel community.

Bush faced questions at the meeting on May 5 in New York City organized by Paul Singer about including on his team James Baker, the secretary of state under Bush’s father, President George H.W. Bush.

Baker had tense relations with the Israeli government at the time, led by the late Yitzhak Shamir, and more recently criticized the current Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for his policies toward the Palestinians.

Republican Jews are fond of the younger former President Bush, seen as among the friendliest presidents to Israel, but are wary of associations with the brothers’ father.

“Gov. Bush has said before that his brother is the greatest ally to Israel in presidential history, he admires his stalwart support for our ally, and that is in line with his commitment to standing with Israel in the face of great threats to their security and our own,” his spokesman, Tim Miller, told the Post.

Singer is organizing meet-and-greet events for a number of declared and likely Republican candidates. Bush has yet to formally declare.

Ed Miliband out as Conservatives win in Britain

(JTA)—Ed Miliband, the first Jewish leader of Britain’s Labor Party, is resigning as British Prime Minister David Cameron definitively won reelection.

By midday Friday, Cameron’s Conservative Party had secured 331 of the 650 seats in the British Parliament, media reported. Cameron fell short of a majority in the last parliament and led a coalition with Liberal Democrats.

The surprisingly strong showing scuttled Miliband’s ambitions of becoming his country’s first Jewish prime minister.

“I will never give up on fighting for the Britain that I believe in,” he said at his party’s headquarters on Friday, the BBC reported.

Benjamin Disraeli, one of the preeminent 19th-century British prime ministers, was born Jewish and was proud of his heritage, but also was converted to Anglicanism as a child.

Cameron and Miliband had appeared locked in a tight race, polling prior to the balloting suggested. Labor was nearly wiped out in Scotland with the resurgence of the Scottish National Party.

According to polls, British Jews strongly favored Cameron in part because of Miliband’s relative coolness on Israel and Labor’s shift to the left since the departure of Tony Blair, who led Britain in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Poor showings by the anti-immigrant U.K. Independence Party led its leader, Nigel Farage, to resign on Friday. Also resigning was David Clegg, the leader of the centrist Liberal Democrats.

Also defeated was incumbent George Galloway, the leader of the tiny Respect Party known for his strident anti-Israel rhetoric. He was soundly beaten in Bradford, in northern England, by the Labor candidate, Naz Shah, 19,977 votes to 8,557, according to the French news agency AFP. Galloway last year had declared his district off-limits to Israelis, including tourists.

12 U.S. lawmakers, European envoys joining ‘Solidarity Sabbath’

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Twelve members of the U.S. Congress and a number of European ambassadors will attend synagogues this month and participate in other activities to show their concern about anti-Semitism.

Among 11 Democrats and the Republican who pledged to observe the May 22 “Solidarity Sabbath” is Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate minority leader, and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., one of two Muslims in Congress. The sole Republican is Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.

Also pledging to participate, according to the event organizer, the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, are ambassadors to Washington from Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Georgia and Cyprus. Noted human rights activists Chen Guangcheng, formerly of China, and Paul Rusesabagina, formerly of Rwanda, also have signed on.

In addition to visiting synagogues, options for participation include hosting a Shabbat dinner and organizing a meeting on religious intolerance.

A release from the Lantos Foundation said that “high-level” political leaders from Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Spain and Sweden will participate, although they have not been named.

The foundation set up a website for others to take the pledge.

“The Solidarity Sabbath provides a unique opportunity for leaders in Europe and North America to stand shoulder to shoulder against anti-Semitism and send a powerful message that this kind of hate will not be tolerated,” Katrina Lantos Swett, the foundation’s president, said in a statement.

The Lantos Foundation is named for Swett’s father, the late Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor elected to Congress. Lantos, a California Democrat, was noted for his focus on human rights and chaired the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee in 2007-08.

Reform movement leader to Netanyahu: Preserve pluralism

WASHINGTON (JTA)—The leader of the Reform Jewish movement urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to preserve religious pluralism in a message congratulating him on forming a new government.

“We hope that as this new government moves forward, it will take into consideration the values of inclusion and pluralism for all of Israel’s citizens—values that are at the core not only of our movement, but of Israel’s founding declaration,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said in a statement May 7, a day after Netanyahu announced his governing coalition.

“Both a Jewish and a democratic state are at the heart of Israel’s mission, and we urge the prime minister to insist on the balancing of both as he moves forward,” Jacobs said.

Netanyahu’s narrow coalition sees a return to influential government posts of haredi Orthodox Jews who have rejected a number of reforms aimed at accommodating other streams of Judaism.

Additionally, the junior partner in the coalition, Jewish Home, champions limits on nongovernmental groups that the party says harm Israel and favors policies that it claims would enhance Israel’s character as a Jewish state. Critics of those policies say they would come at a price of freedom of expression for minorities.

Israel’s outgoing Cabinet advances proposal to have more members

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s outgoing Cabinet approved a proposal to expand the number of government ministers from the current 18.

The decision overturns a law passed during its term limiting the number of Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly plans to appoint 20 ministers and four deputy ministers, and possibly others, in the new government in order to satisfy his coalition partners and his own Likud party. Much of the outgoing Cabinet will sit in the new one.

Netanyahu will ask the full Knesset to hold a final vote on the matter on Monday. Wednesday is the deadline for swearing in the new Cabinet.

If the proposal, an amendment to the Basic Law, is not approved by the full Knesset with a simple majority of 61, coalition partners could pull out and another party leader could be asked to form a government, likely Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union.

Herzog on Sunday said he would remain in the opposition to quickly bring down the government, despite rumors that Netanyahu plans to hold the Foreign Ministry portfolio in order to bring Herzog into the government.


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