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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Mikvah-peeping rabbi appeals prison sentence

(JTA)—Rabbi Barry Freundel is appealing the length of his prison sentence for filming women nude at a ritual bath.

Freundel, who was sentenced in May to 6 1/2 years for videotaping dozens of women at a Washington, D.C., mikvah, is arguing that he should have been sentenced to no more than one year in prison, the Washington Post reported last Friday.

A hearing on the appeal will be held in Washington Superior Court on July 31.

Freundel, 63, was given 45 days for each of the 52 counts of misdemeanor voyeurism for the videotaping that took place between 2012 and 2014. He will serve the sentences successively.

His attorney is arguing that the rabbi should not have been sentenced separately for each of his victims and instead only for one act of videotaping, the Post reported.

Freundel is being held in isolation in a Washington jail after prison officials received threats against him.

The rabbi also recorded an additional 100 women beginning in April 2009 who were not part of the criminal complaint due to the statute of limitations.

As Iran nuclear deal nears completion, Netanyahu blasts ‘parade of concessions’

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Nuclear talks between Iran and the world powers are expected to end with a provisional agreement, though a U.S. State Department official attempted to lower expectations.

Unnamed diplomats told The Associated Press on Sunday that final details were being worked out and that an official announcement of the deal would come on Monday. The seven countries involved in the talks will then have to approve the deal.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday morning on his way to church services in Vienna that “a few tough things” remain to be settled but that he was “hopeful” after a meeting the previous day with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Sunday, “I hope that we are finally entering the last phase of this negotiation.”

A deal would exchange sanctions relief for guarantees that Iran is not advancing toward a nuclear weapon.

But in the hours after reports that a deal was imminent, an unnamed senior State Department official in attempting to tamp down expectations told the Washington Post, “We have never speculated about the timing of anything during these negotiations, and we’re certainly not going to start now—especially given the fact that major issues remain to be resolved in these talks.”

The Post also cited an Iranian official in Vienna as saying it was “too optimistic” to predict a deal could be completed by the end of the day Sunday, saying it will take hours to review the paperwork.

Israel objects to the emerging deal being worked out in the Austrian capital, saying its terms will leave Iran a nuclear threshold state and increase its ability to disrupt the region.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday morning blasted “the parade of concessions to Iran” in the deal, “even on issues that had been marked as red lines in the Lausanne package, which is a bad deal in its own right.” He was referring to the preliminary accord reached in Switzerland.

Netanyahu referred to Al-Quds Day marches on Friday in Iran, including one led by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani where U.S. and Israeli flags were burned and the crowd chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” Al-Quds Day expresses solidarity with the Palestinian people and denounces Israel’s existence.

“Iran does not hide its intention to continue its murderous aggression even against those with whom it is negotiating,” the Israeli leader said. “Perhaps there is someone among the great powers who is prepared to capitulate to this reality that Iran is dictating, which includes its unending calls for the destruction of Israel. We will not pay the price for this.”

Cousin of Michelle Obama to serve as ‘black chief rabbi’

(JTA)—Rabbi Capers Funnye of Chicago was nominated to become what an international organization is calling the first “black chief rabbi” of the 21st century.

A recent statement from the International Israelite Board of Rabbis declared that Funnye would serve as the “titular head of a worldwide community of Black Jews.” Along with the United States, the community has branches in the Caribbean, South Africa, Uganda and Nigeria.

Funnye, a cousin of first lady Michelle Obama, is expected to officially assume his duties in the fall.

His nomination was unanimous; Funnye ran unopposed. The position has been vacant since the 1999 death of Rabbi Levi ben Levy.

Funnye is the spiritual leader of the Beth Shalom Bnai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation and the only black rabbi on the Chicago Board of Rabbis. He was ordained by the Israelite Rabbinical Academy in New York and not by one of the mainstream Jewish branches.

His goal as chief rabbi is to build closer ties with the Ethiopian Jewish community that was transplanted to Israel, the International Israelite Board said in its statement.

The Black Hebrew Israelites are not recognized as Jews by the mainstream Jewish community. Funnye converted to Judaism, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Funnye has traveled to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Jedwabne pogrom marked at site of ‘41 massacre

JEDWABNE, Poland (JTA)—A 1941 pogrom in the Polish town of Jedwabne was commemorated at the site of the atrocity.

Representatives of the Jewish community and local residents came out for last Friday’s ceremony to remember the hundreds of Jews who were killed on July 10, 1941, by dozens of their Jedwabne neighbors.

Yitzhak Levin, an Israeli with roots from Jedwabne, said the Mourner’s Kaddish, and Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich read Psalm 23 and the El Malei Rachamim prayer.

Israel’s ambassador to Poland, Anna Azari, also spoke.

“I’m lucky to meet in Poland very good people, the righteous and those who do a lot for Jewish history and culture,” Azari said. “We need to look in the mirror of history and remember what is good and what is bad.

“Some say that the book by Jan Tomasz Gross, ‘Neighbors,’ or movies such as ‘Ida’ and ‘Aftermath’ are bad for the image of Poland. I think that it is not true. Authors like them are an honor for good and democratic Poland.”

In the Jedwabne pogrom, most of the victims were burned alive in a barn. The massacre was one of several that summer committed by ordinary Poles against Jews.

Anna Chipczynska, president of the Jewish Community of Warsaw, stressed that the sites of mass murder are inviolable. She noted the connection to the exhumation of a mass grave in Wasosz, located 100 miles east of Warsaw, the site of a mass attack in September 1941 on its Jewish community, planned for this fall by the Institute of National Remembrance.

3 Jewish kids snubbing dad freed from juvenile detention

(JTA)—Three American-Israeli children can spend their summer at camp rather than juvenile detention, where they were sent for refusing to see their father.

A family court judge in Michigan lifted her contempt of court order against the Detroit-area kids last Friday, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Liam Tsimhoni, 14, and his siblings, Rowie, 10, and Nathalie, 9, had been held in detention since June 24.

Judge Lisa Gorcyca of Oakland County Family Court had threatened to detain the children until they turned 18 unless they started speaking to their father. Their parents, Maya and Omer Tsimhoni, both originally from Israel, have waged a divorce and now a custody battle for five years.

The children live with their mother in suburban Bloomfield Hills and claim that their father hit their mother. Gorcyca has blamed Maya Tsimshoni for poisoning her children against their father.

“The court finds that it is in the children’s best interests to grant the father’s and the guardian ad litem’s motion to allow the children to attend summer camp,” the judge said. It is not known what will happen when camp ends.

The attorney for Omer Tsimhoni, who according to the Detroit Press lives in Israel, said she plans to file a motion granting him custody of the children. Omer Tsimhoni reportedly was in court for a hearing on June 24, but not on Friday.

The case has drawn national and international attention.

Germany giving $3.2M to help Tel Aviv preserve Bauhaus buildings

BERLIN (JTA)—Germany will invest $3.2 million in the next nine years to help save Bauhaus-style buildings in Tel Aviv.

The investment for buildings in the so-called White City district was announced recently by the German government and will help Israel preserve an architectural legacy that recalls Jewish design pioneers who fled the Nazi regime in the 1930s.

The first installment has already been presented to Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai.

Reportedly the buildings have been adversely affected by the salty sea air, and original items such as windows and doors cannot be easily replaced.

The funding will also go toward creating a Bauhaus Center in the city’s Max-Liebling House, which is due to open in 2017. Reportedly the center will serve as a hub for experts involved in planning and overseeing restoration work.

The White City, the world’s largest Bauhaus settlement with more than 4,000 buildings, was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003. Its architects were students of the German architect Walter Gropius (1883-1969); many brought building materials to then-Palestine with them.

CUFI’s David Brog to lead new anti-BDS campus group

WASHINGTON (JTA)—A new initiative that aims to combat the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement on campuses named as its leader the director of a Christian Zionist group.

David Brog, who directs Christians United for Israel, will assume the leadership of Campus Maccabees, the Forward reported last week.

Campus Maccabees is an initiative of the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and the Israeli-American entertainment mogul Haim Saban. Adelson is a major supporter of Republican candidates and Saban backs Democrats, both are prominent pro-Israel donors and have cooperated in the past.

Brog, who is Jewish, is expected to resign as CUFI’s director but remain involved with the organization, the Forward reported.

CUFI’s annual Washington conference takes place this week.

Quebec panel: Province mishandled child abuse at fringe Jewish sect

TORONTO (JTA)—Child protection officials in Quebec mishandled reports of child abuse within the fringe Jewish sect Lev Tahor, a provincial report said.

In November 2013, about 250 Lev Tahor members fled the town of Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, north of Montreal, to avoid a hearing in youth court.

The group was facing allegations of child abuse and neglect from Quebec’s youth protection department, including corporal punishment, underage marriage, sexual abuse of minors, squalid living conditions and the forced ingestion of drugs that pertained to some 130 minors.

The Lev Tahor community settled in Chatham-Kent, outside Toronto, and some families later fled to a small town in Guatemala.

The Quebec Human Rights Commission report, which was released July 9, noted many failures in how the province’s child protection system handled the case.

Commission official Camil Picard said delays were “incomprehensible,” considering that it took 17 months for youth protection officials to seize the children after problems were first identified.

It also took school board officials 15 months to get proper schooling for the children in the community, The Montreal Gazette reported.

“Other considerations” than the well-being of the children were made priorities, commission president Jacques Fremont told a news conference.

“Clearly, youth protection interventions regarding the children of this community did not fully respect the principle of the child’s best interests,” he said.

The report also recommended better coordination among youth protection officials, the courts and other authorities to act when children are threatened.

“This must not happen again,” Fremont said. “Our role is to provide Quebec with a wake-up call, and that’s what we’re doing. We dearly hope this will not happen again.”

14 French Islamists sentenced for targeting kosher shops

(JTA) – A Paris court jailed more than a dozen Islamists for planning jihadist attacks on French Jews and other targets.

The Correctional Tribunal of Paris on Friday handed down its harshest punishment, a nine-year prison term, to the leader of the banned terrorist group Forsane Alizza, Le Figaro reported.

Mohamed Amchalane, 39, and 13 other members of Forsane Alizza were convicted of “participating in a group formed with a view to preparing terrorist acts.” The accomplices received lighter punishments of varying severity, ranging from a suspended sentence of one year to six years in prison, Le Figaro reported.

The trial began last month.

Among the group’s alleged targets were five Jewish supermarkets of the Hyper Cacher chain, the news site ouest-france.fr reported, and several other Jewish businesses. A Hyper Cacher market in the Paris area was the scene of a deadly terrorist siege in January.

The names of the businesses targeted were recovered from a computer seized in 2012, when Amchalane was arrested with other suspects during a police raid in the vicinity of Nantes, in western France.

Police also found in Amchalane’s possession three AK-47 assault rifles, a grenade and a pistol, Le Figaro reported. He also had manuals on how to carry out terrorist attacks using explosives, including dirty bombs, which contain radioactive material.

Amchalane maintained in court that he was neither involved in violent activity nor planning to become involved.

Forsane Alizza, Arabic for “knights of pride,” was a group dedicated to fighting Islamophobia, Amchalane’s lawyer said.

Rare Holocaust-era hideout preserved near Warsaw

(JTA)—Polish officials registered a rare hideout used by Jews during the Holocaust as national monument.

The hideout in Rekowka, a village situated 90 miles south of Warsaw, was used by two non-Jewish families, the Skoczylas and Kosiorows, for sheltering several Jews in 1942, according to the Holocaust commemoration organization From the Depths, which facilitated the registration process until its completion last week.

The subterranean hideout, which is connected by a trapdoor to the house that the two families shared, was home to six Jews, who were absent when German troops showed up at the house in December 1942 to search the premises, probably acting on an informant’s tip. Upon discovering the trapdoor, the Nazis killed 10 of the families’ members.

Only four survived, and they sealed the hideout and left it untouched for 72 years, according to Jonny Daniels, founder of From the Depths, whom descendants of the victims contacted to inspect the hideout. His organization is trying to find the Jews who occupied the Rekowka hideout or their descendants.

“It is very important that future generations be able to personally touch a site such as this one, on which one learn in memoirs and historical studies. Therefore the basement in the house in Rekowka has been protected and will be conserved, due to its historic and scientific value, as one of few hiding places existing today,” said Rafal Nadolny, a local representative of the Polish National Monuments Conservatory.

“They paid the ultimate price for their bravery,” Daniels said of the Poles killed at Rekowka. Preserving the hiding place is “the least we could do as a foundation,” he added.

Poland has very few well-preserved hiding places of Jews in the Holocaust, though thousands survived the war in them. One hideout which authorities identified and preserved inside a Warsaw apartment was destroyed by occupants sometime between 2002 and 2012.

House resolution would urge European law enforcement to partner with Jewish communities

WASHINGTON (JTA)—A bipartisan slate of members of the U.S. House of Representatives urged the Obama administration to press European security authorities to partner with Jewish communities.

The nonbinding resolution introduced July 9 calls on European governments and umbrella bodies like the European Union to “formally recognize, partner with, and train Jewish community groups focused on strengthening preparedness, mitigation, and response related to anti-Semitic attacks.”

It notes spikes in anti-Semitic attacks in recent years and praises the efficacy of partnerships between law enforcement and Jewish communities in the United States, Britain and France.

Law enforcement in Europe, the resolution says, should help Jewish communities develop standards that “focus on preparedness, mitigation, and response, including for training, controlling access to physical facilities, physical security measures, crisis communications, emergency exercises and simulations, mapping access to facilities, and sharing of information with law enforcement agencies.”

The bill was introduced by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., the co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission, the congressional body that monitors compliance with human rights overseas.

Joining him in co-sponsoring the resolution were his co-chairs of the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism: Reps. Nita Lowey, Eliot Engel and Steve Israel, all D-N.Y.; Ted Deutch, D-Fla.; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.; Kay Granger, R-Texas; and Peter Roskam, R-Ill.

Jewish boy beaten and robbed in Paris anti-Semitic attack

(JTA)—A Jewish boy from Paris was beaten and robbed outside his school by six young men in an anti-Semitic attack, a local watchdog said.

The incident occurred on July 7 in Paris’ 19th arrondissement, or district, near the Gare du Nord train station, according to a report published by BNCVA, the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism.

The 13-year-old boy, who was not named, was followed by six men of African descent as he exited the school while wearing a kippah, the report said. One of his aggressors shouted, “Take that, dirty Jew” while the group was hitting the boy. One of the alleged assailants also stole the victims’s cellular phone before fleeing.

The victim was taken to a hospital, where he received stitches to wounds on his head.

Last year, the Jewish community recorded a total of 241 violent attacks on Jews out of a total of 851 anti-Semitic incidents. The previous year, those figures were 105 and 423, respectively. In January, an armed Islamist killed four Jews at a Paris kosher supermarket. Belgium, Britain and the Netherlands are among the other countries that saw increases in anti-Semitic attacks over the same period.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee last week concluded an international two-day conference in Barcelona aimed at strengthening European Jewish communities’ resilience in the face of this adversity.

Approximately 100 community leaders and representatives attended workshops on trauma treatment and crisis management during the conference, according to Marcelo Dimentstein, the operations director for JDC’s International Centre for Community Development.

“There’s no place that’s free of fear, neither in Europe or Israel,” Rabbi Michael Melchior, the chief rabbi of Norway and a former Israeli Cabinet minister, said at the conference. But, he added, Jewish communities will not succeed in recovering if the keep “thinking everyone is a terrorist.”

Diego Ornique, the JDC regional director for Europe, told JTA that since 2012, when an Islamist killed four people at a Jewish school in Toulouse, “we realized we are living in a different reality. And while some choose to emigrate, most European Jews are staying. We need to, and are indeed finding ways to cope with this reality.”

Arrests made in suspected arson attack on historic Israeli church

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Several arrests were made in connection with an alleged arson attack on a historic church in northern Israel.

The arrests took place on Sunday morning, Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, adding that the investigation into the June 18 incident was continuing.

Details of the arrests, including the number of suspects and their home communities, are under a gag order.  The Shin Bet security service said in a statement that the arrests were part of “a covert, strenuous and professional investigation that began right after the church was torched.”

Police initially detained 16 youths, reportedly all Jewish residents of the West Bank who were hiking in the area on the evening before the attack on the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. The attack was believed to have been nationalist in nature.

Along with the fire that struck the church, located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, graffiti reading “False idols will be smashed” and “pagans” were found on its walls. The site is where Jesus is believed to have fed thousands of people with five loaves of bread and two fish.

Built on the site of a fifth-century church, the church contains restored mosaic floors from the time period.

The attack was roundly condemned in Israel and around the world.

Netanyahu visits family of Ethiopian-Israeli missing in Gaza

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the home of an Ethiopian-Israeli man presumed to be held in Gaza.

In reporting on last Friday’s meeting in Ashkelon with the family of Avera Mengistu, Netanyahu told the Cabinet on Sunday morning, “We are doing everything in our ability to bring Avera back to Israel.”

He added that government officials also are in contact with the family of a second Israeli citizen, reported to be a Bedouin-Israeli, who also crossed the border into Gaza in April and has not returned.

“We expect the international community, which is constantly calling for humanitarian aid for the residents of Gaza, to intervene and demand the most simple and basic humanitarian assistance from Hamas – returning to Israel its two citizens,” Netanyahu said.

The visit comes in the wake of accusations by the Mengistu family that Netanyahu has ignored their appeals and letters.

Mengistu, 28, is believed to have climbed over the security fence between Israel and Gaza last September. His presumed captivity, which Hamas denies, was under a gag order that was lifted late last week.

Also Sunday, the family of a Bedouin-Israeli man held in prison in Egypt for 15 years, Ouda Tarabin, complained that Netanyahu and two former prime ministers have not visited them because they are Arabs.

Tarabin, a former resident of the Bedouin city of Rahat, in the Negev Desert, was arrested in 2000 while visiting Egypt and charged with being an Israeli spy. He was given a 15-year prison term.

It is not the first time that Tarabin has made such an accusation. In a letter sent to Netanyahu a year ago and released to the media, Tarabin wrote, “If I were a Jew or a Druze, the government would be fighting for me and my freedom, and I wouldn’t have been sitting in an Egyptian prison for 14 years.”

Tarabin then called on the government “to act immediately to put an end to my suffering and the suffering of my family, to engage the Egyptian government, and act quickly to ensure my release.”

Hunger-striking Palestinian released early from Israeli prison

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A Palestinian imprisoned in Israel who went on a 55-day hunger strike was freed early.

Khader Adnan, 37, was taken to a crossroads near Jenin in the West Bank and released on Sunday, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported. No one, including his family, knew where or when he would be released to prevent “celebrations,” according to Maan.

Adnan did not give any interviews following his release, which was reported to be part of the agreement to free him.

He ended his hunger strike late last month after the Israel Prison Service agreed to release him from administrative detention, where he had been held for a year without charge or trial. He was rearrested nearly a year ago for “activities that threaten regional security.”

In 2012, Adnan was released in exchange for ending a 66-day hunger strike to protest his administrative detention.

A prisoner can be held in administrative detention, without charges being brought, for up to six months. The detention can be renewed indefinitely.

Israel shuts down Palestinian TV station

(JTA)—A new Palestinian TV station geared toward Israeli-Arabs cannot broadcast from Israel for six months, Israel’s public security minister decreed.

Gilad Erdan signed an order on July 9 barring the Palestinian Authority-funded station F48, or Palestine 48, from operating from its headquarters in the northern Israeli city of Nazareth. The decision was made because of the P.A.’s role in the station, not because of questionable content being shown on the channel.

Erdan said that he does not want “Israel’s sovereignty to be harmed” or for the Palestinian Authority to gain a “foothold” in the country.

Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the head of the Communications Ministry to work on shuttering the station. Netanyahu urged ministry staffers to investigate the channel’s legality, particularly with regard to P.A. funding.

Riad Hassan, head of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corp., called the move “illegal” and said that two Israeli companies who produce content for the channel will contest the action in Israel’s Supreme Court.

The channel, which debuted last month, will continue to produce content from its other headquarters in Ramallah, in the West Bank. Hassan has said the station’s goal is to illuminate the “social, cultural and economic difficulties” of Arab-Israelis.


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