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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Arson seen as cause of Jerusalem forest fires

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Arson is suspected in several Jerusalem-area forest fires that have destroyed nearly 250 acres of trees.

Israeli firefighters on Saturday battled blazes in the forests of kibbutz Maale HaHamisha near Jerusalem that are believed to have been started by Molotov cocktail firebombs hurled from a nearby Palestinian village. Israel Police have launched an investigation.

Seventeen teams of firefighters, along with four firefighting aircraft, put out the blazes.

The fires follow a blaze on Thursday at the kibbutz and on Friday afternoon into Saturday morning in the woods near Kibbutz Tzora. In both cases, fragments of firebombs were found where the fires were believed to have been started.

No injuries were reported in any of the fires.

ISIS affiliate says it fired 3 rockets at Israel

JERUSALEM (JTA)—An ISIS affiliate claimed responsibility for firing three rockets on southern Israel.

Sinai Province claimed responsibility for last Friday’s attack from the Sinai Peninsula, saying it fired the long-range Grad missiles at “occupied Palestine.”

Israel Police found the remains of the rockets last Friday and Saturday in open areas. There were no injuries.

The attack caused Code Red sirens to sound throughout southern Israel, sending residents to shelters.

It came days after ISIS mounted coordinated attacks on Egyptian checkpoints that left dozens of Egyptian soldiers dead.

U.N. Human Rights Council adopts report on Israel-Gaza conflict

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The United Nations Human Rights Council voted to adopt a report on last summer’s Israel-Gaza conflict.

The resolution to adopt the report passed last Friday by a vote of 41-1, with five abstentions. Only the United States voted against the resolution; Israel is not a member of the council.

India, Kenya, Ethiopia, Paraguay and Macedonia abstained. India has traditionally voted for anti-Israel resolutions.

While the report accused both Israel and the Palestinians of possible war crimes, its findings focused more on what it considered Israeli wrongdoing in its operation known as Protective Edge.

The resolution drafted by the Arab states, which calls for the implementation of the report and its recommendations, ignores the criticism of the Palestinians and does not mention rockets launched by Hamas from Gaza on Israel. It also calls for Israeli officials to be held responsible for alleged war crimes.

Among dozens of recommendations, the report called on Israel to hold its soldiers and officers accountable for the breaches of international law during the conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the council following the vote.

“The UN Human Rights Council is not interested in the facts and is not really interested in human rights,” Netanyahu said. “On the day on which Israel was fired at from Sinai, and at a time when ISIS is committing vicious terrorist attacks in Egypt, as Assad slaughters his people in Syria and as the number of arbitrary executions per annum climbs in Iran – the UN Human Rights Council decides to condemn the State of Israel for no fault of its own, for acting to defend itself from a murderous terrorist organization.

“The council that has hitherto adopted more decisions against Israel than against all other countries cannot call itself a human rights council.”

Israel and the United States boycotted the Human Rights Council session that discussed the report, which focused more on Israel’s role in the conflict and accepted Palestinian casualty figures. Israel did not cooperate in the investigation, saying the commission was biased against Israel.

Israeli Cabinet reverses conversion reform policy

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s Cabinet reversed regulations reforming conversion policy that were passed by the previous government.

On Sunday, the Cabinet repealed a measure that would have allowed as many as 30 courts made up of municipal rabbis for the purpose of conversion. Currently there are 33 rabbis and four conversion courts that can perform conversions throughout Israel.

The measure had been enacted by government order in November.

Repealing conversion reform reportedly was part of the coalition deal struck between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party and the haredi Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, which did not sit in the last government.

Conversion reform had been opposed by Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef and the haredi Orthodox political parties.

The reform would have especially helped more than 300,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union who are not Jewish according to halachah, or Jewish law.

Also Sunday, the Cabinet also transferred authority over the country’s rabbinical courts from the Justice Ministry to the Ministry of Religious Services, which is headed by David Azoulay of the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, both of the Jewish Home party, voted against the two measures.

Dome of the Rock tops CNN list of structures on verge of extinction

(JTA)—The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Old City tops CNN’s list of “25 magnificent structures on the verge of extinction.”

“A holy city for three different religions, it attracts millions of tourist with over 200 monuments, including the majestic Dome of the Rock. But political tension has hardened relations between Israel and UNESCO, preventing any preservation plans from moving forward,” CNN wrote in its feature.

The Old City and its walls have appeared on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations List of World Heritage Sites in Danger since 1982.

The media watchdog Honest Reporting condemned placing the Dome of the Rock on the list, saying it is not under threat of extinction.

“CNN was under no obligation to buy into this outrageous nonsense, particularly as the Old City is probably the most protected heritage site in the Middle East,” Honest Reporting said in a statement. “All religious sites are protected by law and freedom of religion. Even the most disputed of those, the Temple Mount, is under the control of the Muslim Waqf under an agreement to maintain the status quo.

“In fact, the biggest threat to the heritage of the Old City is from the Palestinians themselves who have carried out unsupervised excavations on the Temple Mount, destroying many priceless antiquities in the process.”

No. 2 on the CNN list is the ancient city of Petra in Jordan. The United States had two sites: the Union Terminal in Cincinnati, Ohio, at No. 9, and the Portland Public Services Building in Oregon, at No. 24.

Israeli troops kill Palestinian, 17, near Ramallah

(JTA)—Israeli troops killed a 17-year-old Palestinian they said hurled stones at their army vehicle.

Hani al-Kusbah was shot to death near Ramallah on Friday morning after Palestinians threw stones and rocks at an Israeli army command car while it was driving through the Palestinian village of A-Ram en route to an nearby army base, the Ynet news site quoted the Israel Defense Forces spokesman as saying.

None of the Israelis were hurt, but their windshield was shattered from the volley of hard objects, the IDF spokesman said. Al-Kusbah was taken to a hospital in Ramallah, where he died of his injuries.

Palestinian medical sources, disputing Israel’s version of the incident, claimed that al-Kusbah was shot while trying to climb over a walled section of the security fence that Israel has built in the West Bank.

Last week, another Palestinian was killed in the Jordan Valley after firing at an IDF post. In recent weeks, the West Bank and Jerusalem have seen a spate of lethal and near-lethal attacks by Palestinians on Israelis.

IDF and Border Police officers reinforced their deployment in anticipation of violent riots around al-Kusbah’s funeral.

Separately, Palestinian Authority officers in the West Bank arrested dozens of individuals suspected of involvement in terrorist activity by Hamas.

Israeli rabbi arrested at airport on rape charges

(JTA)—Israeli police arrested a prominent rabbi trying to leave the country amid accusations that he committed rape and other sex crimes.

The rabbi was arrested Thursday night at Ben Gurion Airport based on a complaint to police by a woman who claimed that he raped her several years ago, Israel’s Channel 2 reported. According to the news site nrg.co.il, the rabbi was on his way to Brazil.

The rabbi’s name was not published in the Israeli media, but he was identified as a yeshiva head from the Safed area who belongs to modern Orthodox Zionist circles.

The woman came forward after another woman told local rabbis that the suspect committed an indecent act 13 years ago.

The man’s lawyer and his wife denied the accusations to Walla News.

A panel of rabbis in the Safed area led by the city’s chief rabbi, Shmuel Eliyahu, has been reviewing complaints against the rabbi. For the duration of the internal probe, the suspect was forbidden to contact members of his congregation and agreed to leave Safed. He also closed his Facebook account.

Earlier this week, a Dutch court ordered the extradition of an Israeli rabbi, Eliezer Berland, who is accused of having sexual relations with minors before 2012, the year he fled Israel. Berland has denied the allegations.

Kerry: Iran talks ‘could go either way’

(JTA)—U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Iran and the world powers have made “genuine progress” in negotiations on a nuclear deal but that it “could go either way.”

“We are not yet where we need to be on several of the most difficult issues,” Kerry told reporters Sunday in Vienna, Austria, following one-on-one talks with Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif. “And the truth is that while I completely agree with Foreign Minister Zarif that we have never been closer, at this point this negotiation could go either way.

“If hard choices get made in the next couple of days and made quickly, we could get an agreement this week. But if they are not made, we will not.”

Kerry said if there is no movement on a deal that the United States is “prepared to walk away.”

On Saturday, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the top contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, said she hopes that “a strong, verifiable deal will put the lid on Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.” But she also warned that even with an agreement, “Iran’s aggressiveness will not end.”

“Even if we do get such a deal, we will still have major problems from Iran. They are the world’s chief sponsor of terrorism,” Clinton, the secretary of state during President Barack Obama’s first term, said at a campaign event in New Hampshire. “They use proxies like Hezbollah to sow discord and create insurgencies to destabilize governments. They are taking more and more control of a number of nations in the region and they pose an existential threat to Israel.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday strongly condemned the final negotiations push, calling it “a collapse, not a breakthrough.”

“The major powers’ concessions are increasing,” Netanyahu charged in a statement at the beginning of Sunday’s Cabinet meeting. “The deal being formulated will pave Iran’s path to the production of very many atomic bombs, and it will also channel to Iran hundreds of billions of dollars that will serve its aggression and terrorism campaigns in our region and around the world.”

Netanyahu called the deal “both a nonconventional threat and a very large conventional threat against Israel, the countries of the region and the world.”

Report: Soros, Saban give total of $3 million to Clinton campaign

(JTA)—Jewish billionaires George Soros and Haim Saban reportedly have donated a total of $3 million to the presidential campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Saban, an Israeli Hollywood mogul, has given $2 million to Priorities USA Action, Clinton’s super PAC, while Soros, a Hungary-born business magnate, has donated $1 million, according to a Politico article published Thursday.

Clinton’s super PAC, which is dedicated to airing ads supporting the Democrat’s bid for the 2016 presidency and attacking her opponents, revealed Thursday that it had raised a total of $15.6 million during the first half of the year.

Other heavy donors included DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and director J.J. Abrams and his wife, Katie McGrath, as well as California investor Herb Sandler and Boston philanthropist Barbara Lee.

According to an analysis published Friday, also by Politico, Clinton is privately signaling to wealthy Jewish donors that no matter the result of the Iranian nuclear negotiations, she will be a better friend to Israel than President Barack Obama, whom she served as secretary of state during his first term.

But on the Iranian nuclear deal, which the Obama administration is working to close in the near future despite strong-worded objections by Israel’s government, Clinton has been noncommittal, according to the report.

Donors who oppose the deal are under the impression that she shares their reservations, while those supporting the agreement believe that she agrees with them, according to the Politico article based on interviews with more than 10 Jewish donors. Saban in April suggested that Clinton oppose the deal but later said he has “no idea” where she stands on the issue.

The Iranian issue has further strained relations between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel opposes the deal being discussed in Switzerland because of concerns that it “paves Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb,” as Netanyahu has repeatedly warned. But Obama said he is working toward closing the deal because it’s “the best way to prevent” a nuclear Iran.

The deal offers Iran some sanctions relief in exchange for verifiable scaling back of its nuclear program. But Netanyahu insists Iran should not be allowed to retain any equipment for the enrichment of uranium or the development of other nuclear weapons, which Iran claims it does not seek.

Rioters chant ‘Jewish murderers’ in Muslim Dutch neighborhood

AMSTERDAM (JTA)—Dozens of people chanted anti-Semitic slogans during riots that broke out in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood of The Hague after a man being arrested died in police custody.

More than 100 people chanted “Jewish murderers” on July 2 in the Schilderswijk, where a handful of Jews live in a Jewish-owned enclave surrounded by project apartments populated by low-income families, according to a report on The Post Online.

The riots took place at a theater stormed by protesters approximately a mile away from the enclave, the De Telegraaf daily reported.

More than 200 people have been arrested since protests broke out in the Schilderswijk over the death of Mitch Henriquez, a citizen of the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba. Police officers are accused of suffocating Henriquez during his arrest at a park; preliminary autopsy findings appeared to support the allegation.

The Schilderswijk has one of the highest crime rates in the Netherlands. Last year, the neighborhood saw riots that broke out on the margins of rallies in support of the ISIS terror group and featured its flags. Protesters hurled stones at riot police during an anti-ISIS march last year. During Israel’s war in Gaza, at least two demonstrations in Schilderswijk against Israel featured calls to slaughter the Jews.

The Jewish-owned enclave was purchased in the 19th century by the Jewish community to accommodate impoverished Jews fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe. But the Jewish population of The Hague was almost totally annihilated during the Holocaust. The area around it became populated by families of migrant workers in the 1960s and 1970s. The city is now believed to have a few hundred Jews.

Lody van Der Kamp, a Dutch rabbi who has spoken out on the need to facilitate dialogue between Muslims and Jews, wrote in an Op-Ed for the Joodse Omroep Jewish broadcaster on July 2 that “when the calm returns, it is time to take these young men by the hand and show them their own Schilderswijk’s history.”

Dutch lawmakers oppose slashing aid to Holocaust survivors

AMSTERDAM (JTA)—Dutch lawmakers called on the government to spare six Holocaust survivors whose assistance would be slashed by cutbacks.

The predicament of the Jewish survivors from The Hague was reported last week by the Algemeen Dagblad daily. According to the report, they are among approximately 2,000 elderly and disabled people whose eligibility for care at government-funded facilities has been revoked. Instead, they have been offered a plan that gives financial compensation to relatives willing to step in and act as caretakers.

The survivors have almost no family. Approximately 75 percent of Dutch Jewry was annihilated during the genocide, a higher percentage than anywhere else in Western Europe except for Germany and Austria.

“These vulnerable individuals need to receive the aid they deserve,” Sjoerd Potters, a lawmaker for the ruling VVD party, said on Twitter.

Opposition lawmakers Linda Voortman from GreenLeft and Mona Keijzer from the Christian Democratic Appeal also called on the government not to change the survivors’ aid package.

Across Western Europe, “Holocaust survivors are living in poverty, many of them absolutely alone in the world,” according to Anita Winter, who last year set up the Gamaraal Foundation in Switzerland, where she lives, to support several dozen survivors.

Winter, whose foundation’s work received coverage in leading Swiss media, said she was shocked to discover that even in an affluent country like Switzerland, survivors are left with inadequate assistance.

“The world is not very aware of their situation,” she told JTA on July 2. “Projects like the Gamaraal Foundation and efforts to help them should have come earlier. Now it’s a bit too late because every month more of them die, but better late than never.”


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