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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA

 


Matisyahu ousted from Spanish festival for not endorsing Palestinian state

(JTA)—Matisyahu was disinvited from a Spanish music festival because he would not publicly endorse Palestinian statehood.

The Jewish-American reggae singer was scheduled to perform Aug. 22 at the Rototom Sunsplash festival in Benicassim, near Barcelona. But his show was canceled after he refused to release a public statement backing a Palestinian state, according to the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, which called the disinvitation a case of “anti-Semitic cowardice.”

The organizers had been pressured to disinvite Matisyahu by activists promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement against Israel, the report said.

“As Spaniards, we are ashamed of the organizers,” the Spanish federation’s statement said. “In this case, the BDS Movement employed all its anti-Semitic arsenal against the participation on Matthew Paul Miller,” using Matisyahu’s full name.

Matisyahu, a former Hasid, was the only festival performer asked to endorse a Palestinian state because he is Jewish, the federation said.

“Such acts violate fundamental human rights guaranteed by our constitution,” the statement said. According to the El Pais newspaper, other musicians threatened to cancel their performances unless Matisyahu made the declaration.

Matisyahu is not an Israeli citizen.

In a Facebook post Saturday about the decision, Rototom mentioned its “sensitivity to Palestine, its people and the occupation of its territory by Israel.”

‘Schindler’s List’ producer raps pro-Iran deal letter by prominent L.A. Jews

(JTA)—A producer of the film “Schnidler’s List,” Gerald Molen, criticized an open letter signed by nearly 100 prominent Los Angeles Jews supporting the recent accord on Iran’s nuclear program.

Molen, who won an Academy Award for the 1993 film about the Holocaust, wrote an email opposing the agreement to LAJewishLeadersForIranDeal@gmail.com, the email account set up by the letter’s signatories, The Hollywood Reporter reported Friday. Molen wrote that Iran is not a trustworthy negotiating partner, and that the agreement will allow it to obtain nuclear weapons down the line.

Molen also expressed concern that Iran will use money freed up in the deal with the relief of sanctions to finance terrorism against Israel.

“Can we trust Iran? Do they not deny the Holocaust? Do they not invest in terror organizations?” Molen wrote, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “This will more than likely push the inevitable nuclear crises out of many of the signers’ lifetimes and onto the backs of their grandchildren or great-grandchildren.”

Molen, a critic of President Barack Obama, also produced “2016: Obama’s America,” an anti-Obama documentary written and directed by the conservative activist Dinesh D’Souza.

The open letter, published Thursday in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, has 98 signatories, including television producer Norman Lear, architect Frank Gehry and “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner. The letter says the agreement, which removes sanctions from Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear program, is the best way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“For far too long, Iran was actively developing and expanding its nuclear infrastructure, closing the gap to a nuclear weapon,” the letter says. “This agreement, negotiated by the United States, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Russia, halts and rolls back this dangerous march through verifiable and measured steps.”

Survey: Hebrew U. rises to 67th best in world

TEL AVIV (JTA)—The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is the 67th best university in the world, according to an annual ranking, while the Technion in Haifa placed 77th.

Published by the ShanghaiRanking Consultancy, the Academic Ranking of World Universities bumped up Hebrew University three notches from its 2014 ranking, while the Technion moved up one spot.

The top four universities, identical to last year’s listing, were Harvard, Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley.

Hebrew University and the Technion were named the first- and second-best universities in Israel. Four other Israeli schools placed in the top 500 overall: the Weizmann Institute of Science, and Tel Aviv, Bar-Ilan and Ben-Gurion universities.

In the global ranking, Hebrew University tied with Ohio State University, while the Technion came in just below Brown University.

Trump: Obama, Kerry ‘sold out’ Israel on Iran

(JTA)—Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry hurt Israel through the recent agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.

“Israel was sold out by Kerry and Obama,” Trump said at an Iowa campaign event Saturday, according to The Jerusalem Post. “You cannot let Iran have a nuclear weapon. You can’t have it. When they march down the street saying ‘Death to Israel. Death to the United States.’ You can’t let that happen.”

Trump seemed to imply that he would take a tougher stance on Iran, pointing to himself and saying, “Believe me, it will not happen here.”

The billionaire real estate mogul is a vocal supporter of Israel and a harsh critic of Obama’s policy toward Israel. In a February interview, Trump said Obama “is the worst enemy of Israel.”

Chicago Jewish federation comes out against Iran deal

(JTA)—Chicago’s influential Jewish federation has come out against the Iran deal.

After a three-hour discussion by the board of directors, “a majority opinion emerged and was adopted: to call on Congress to oppose the JCPOA as originally submitted, and to ask legislators to work with the Administration to produce better solutions addressing Iran’s nuclear program,” the board said in a statement released Friday.

JCPOA stands for Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the official name of the nuclear agreement reached between world powers and Iran on July 14.

With annual revenue of nearly $100 million, the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago is a major religious and philanthropic organization. In the statement, released a full month after the deal was announced, the federation’s board claimed to represent “the diversity of our beloved Chicago Jewish community.”

The board expressed gratitude for the Obama administration’s focus on the Iranian nuclear threat, but went on to say that the Iran deal should be strengthened, war is not the only alternative to the deal (Obama has claimed it is) and Israel is being singled out.

“Iran’s threats to annihilate the U.S. and Israel, its role as the leading state-sponsor of terrorism, its destabilizing of neighboring countries including U.S. allies, its theocratic, anti-democratic regime, its abysmal human rights record, and its Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism must no longer be rationalized or minimalized,” the board said. “It is long past time to place Tehran where it belongs on the world’s political map: isolated and ostracized. Hence, no nuclear accord should provide Iran with an unearned ‘express pass’ to international legitimacy.”

The Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago joins at least 17 other Jewish community groups that oppose the deal, along with many that are skeptical but not yet opposed and a couple that are unsure. Congress is reviewing the deal ahead of a vote to approve or disapprove in September.

To reach its decision on the Iran deal, the board said it met with officials from President Barack Obama’s administration, Israel, the Illinois congressional delegation and independent experts, and heard the views of “many hundreds” of its community members.

Moving forward, the board pledged to continue its past work against Iran, which it said saw the creation of the advocacy group United Against A Nuclear Iran and passage of Iran divestment legislation by Illinois, Cook County and Chicago.

The board further said it would push the U.S. government to make credible the military option against Iran, to intensify international efforts against Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and to upgrade military cooperation with Israel, including possibly making Israel a NATO member. From both Chicago and New York, the board said it would advocate for the United Nations to crack down on Iran’s Holocaust denial and genocidal statements.

Even as it took the potentially divisive stand against the Iran deal, the board repeatedly called for “communal unity,” saying: “Before and after Congress votes, every Jew is a precious, welcomed, valued member of this cherished community. No matter your views, you are us, and we are you. We are all better together.”

Through its support of the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago coordinates the collective policies and programs of 46 constituent Jewish organizations.

Ukrainian Jewish summer camp relocated due to war

(JTA)—Citing ongoing fighting in Ukraine, a Kiev-based Jewish organization transferred its summer camp for young Jews to the Caucasus nation of Georgia.

The Midrasha Zionit, or Zionist Seminary, sent approximately 140 participants of the group’s Tchelet camp to a resort in Lake Bazaleti. The move was “a response and adaptation to the difficult situation in Ukraine,” Asher Gold, a Midrasha spokesman, told JTA.

Tchelet, which has served approximately 2,500 campers, has two age groups: teens and young adults under 30. Most participants are Russian speakers from Ukraine, Russia and Israel. Some 720 Tcheelt participants have immigrated to Israel, organizers said, adding that they know of 23 couples who met at the camp.

The camp has been active since 2008. For the Ukrainian campers, Gold said, “This is also a chance to have them go abroad for a little while and catch some fresh wind.”

Russian-backed separatists have been fighting government troops in Ukraine’s east since March 2014, when the secessionists established two enclaves around Donetsk and Lugansk. The crisis, which occurred after a bloody revolution in Ukraine, severely damaged the country’s economy and sent the Ukrainian currency, the hryvnia, into a nosedive that halved its pre-revolution value.

Jewish groups have spent millions in emergency funding on helping Jewish refugees through the crisis. Among other actions, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee this summer helped several dozen children from the battle zones attend the Szarvas summer camp in Hungary, which the JDC has been operating for 26 years 100 miles east of Budapest.

British Jewish MP blasts would-be Labor Party head for ‘anti-Semitic’ ties

(JTA)—A Jewish politician from Britain’s Labor Party said the views of Jeremy Corbyn, the front-runner to head the party, are cause for “serious concern.”

Ivan Lewis, the shadow, or minority, party Cabinet minister who is also a former chief executive of the Manchester Jewish Federation, urged his party not to vote for Corbyn.

“Some of [Corbyn’s] stated political views are a cause for serious concern,” Lewis said in letter to his local party members on Friday, according to the Guardian. “At the very least he has shown very poor judgment in expressing support for and failing to speak out against people who have engaged not in legitimate criticism of Israeli governments but in antisemitic rhetoric.”

Corbyn, who has ties to the Socialist Campaign Group, Amnesty International and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, was criticized on Wednesday by the Jewish Chronicle of London, which claimed that he had ties to “Holocaust deniers, terrorists and some outright antisemites.”

“We are certain that we speak for the vast majority of British Jews in expressing deep foreboding at the prospect of Mr. Corbyn’s election as Labour leader,” the newspaper editorialized.

The editorial was written a day after The Daily Mail reported that Corbyn defended a conspiracy theorist who in February blamed Israel for the 9/11 World Trade Center bombing.

In response to the Jewish Chronicle editorial, Corbyn released a statement saying he was “proud to represent a multicultural constituency of people from all over the world and to speak at every opportunity of understanding between Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and other faiths,” the Guardian reported.

Lewis is the first senior Labor politician to attack Corbyn’s credentials on anti-Semitism.

“It saddens me to have to say to some on the left of British politics that anti-racism means zero tolerance of antisemitism, no ifs, and no buts. I have said the same about Islamophobia and other forms of racism to a minority of my constituents who make unacceptable statements,” Lewis said.

Labor Party members of Parliament will vote for their leader early next month. Britain’s last Labor leader was Ed Miliband, who is Jewish. He stepped down in May after losing the general election by a wide margin to David Cameron and the Conservative Party.

U.S. Jewish institutions alerted after call for attacks by bin Laden’s son

   NEW YORK (JTA)—The national Jewish community’s security arm asked Jewish institutions to be on the alert after Osama bin Laden’s son called for attacks on Jewish American interests.

The Secure Community Network alert last Friday said that Hamza bin Laden, who has ambitions to lead al-Qaida, the terrorist organization founded by his father, posted an audio message calling “for the targeting of Jewish American interests globally.”

“Hamza also reportedly called for attacks on Washington, London, Paris and Tel Aviv,” the alert said.

The alert by SCN, an arm of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the audio message was confirmed by “reliable sources” in law enforcement and was recorded sometime before June 15.

“While there is no information at this time to suggest a credible or imminent threat as it relates to this call for attacks, terrorist leaders and organizations have stepped up their calls for lone wolf attacks across the globe,” said the alert, noting recent attacks on Garland, Texas, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, apparently carried out by unaffiliated individuals spurred by extremist Islamist calls for violence.

The alert called for increased training for volunteers and staff at Jewish institutions ahead of Rosh Hashanah, including establishing relationships with local law enforcement and reviewing communications and plans for responding to an active shooter.

Paul Goldenberg, SCN’s director, told JTA that the call by bin Laden might be a bid to draw attention to the once preeminent terrorist organization, now on the wane because of U.S. targeting, including the assassination of his father, as well as the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“This is not the first time that senior ranking members of al-Qaida have called for attacks on world or American Jewry,” Goldenberg said. “This individual and al-Qaida are waning. With that said, their rhetoric is becoming more incendiary with the hope they will move their masses.”

Goldenberg said that because there is no imminent threat against a specific target, it is key for Jews nonetheless to attend High Holidays services next month and not to be affected by terrorist rhetoric.

“The community has dealt with similar threats, we’re asking the community that they attend Rosh Hashanah services and celebrations and to continue to have whatever plans they had to enjoy and celebrate our New Year,” he said.

In Paris, pro-Palestinian demonstrators protest Tel Aviv event with Gaza on Seine

(JTA)—Pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered near a Paris event celebrating Tel Aviv beach culture and established an alternative event called Gaza on Seine.

Tel Aviv on Seine, part of the weeklong Paris Plages (Paris Beaches) festival, went on Aug. 13 as planned despite opposition from a Paris lawmaker and pro-Palestinian groups. The festival turns the banks of the Seine River into a beach and this year is devoting each day to a beach in another country.

At the nearby Gaza on Seine, protesters flew a Palestinian flag and wore T-shirts reading “Free Palestine” and “Boycott Israel,” according to Israel Hayom.

Vice News reported that many protesters at the Gaza event said it was in poor taste to highlight Tel Aviv just a year after Israel’s Operation Protective Edge killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, including four boys struck by an Israeli missile while playing soccer on a Gaza beach.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo in an Op-Ed in the French daily Le Monde defended the decision to host the Tel Aviv event, describing Tel Aviv as “progressive.” Hundreds of police guarded Tel Aviv on Seine and checked visitors before allowing them to enter.

Lithuania’s chief rabbi fired amid dispute over construction on former cemetery

(JTA)—The Jewish community of Lithuania fired the country’s chief rabbi amid his objections to the government’s plan to build on an area that used to be a Jewish cemetery.

The dismissal of Rabbi Chaim Burshtein, an Israeli who has served as Lithuania’s chief rabbi for 11 years, was announced last Friday by Shmuel Levin, chairman of the Vilnius Jewish Religious Community, which is a part of the Jewish Community of Lithuania under Community President Faina Kukliansky.

“The Vilnius Jewish Religious Community resolved that after the current contract with Chaim Burshtein ends, it will not be extended, and that Shmuel Yatom is to perform the function of rabbi temporarily, until a new rabbi is found,” Levin said in a statement, which did not specify the reason for the discontinuation of Burshtein’s contract.

Yatom is the community’s cantor, according to Dovid Katz, a scholar of Yiddish and owner of the defendinghistory.com news and commentary site on Lithuanian Jewry.

Burshtein told JTA he would longer be chief rabbi as of September.

His dismissal follows his public criticism in February of Kukliansky, a former state prosecutor and police officer. Burshtein accused her of resorting to authoritarian tactics in running the community. She denied the claims and said she had no conflict with Burshtein but added that the community’s board was considering firing him.

Earlier this month, Burshtein announced that he would form a new organization, Beyachad. He also suggested that Kukliansky was using her contacts with officials to have him deported, though she denied this.

Burshtein said Kukliansky had approved, over his objection,  a government-led plan to build a conference center atop a dilapidated building that Soviet authorities constructed over what used to be a large Jewish cemetery.

Kukliansky defended the plan, saying it did not disturb any human remains of Jews.

N.Y. state panel to study controversial E. Ramapo school district

NEW YORK (JTA)—The New York State Education Department appointed a panel to study the operations of the haredi Orthodox-controlled school board in the East Ramapo school district.

The board in the district, located in New York’s suburban Rockland County, has stirred controversy and local ire for its decisions over the years to significantly cut public school budgets while expanding services that benefit the area’s large haredi Orthodox Jewish population, such as busing to yeshivas and special education for yeshiva students with disabilities. In addition, at least two district schools have been shuttered and their facilities sold to yeshivas.

The three-expert panel, to be led by former New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, will study the district’s operations and offer recommendations to the school board and the Board of Regents. It will not, however, have the power to override decisions by the school board.

Last fall, a former federal prosecutor appointed by the state to investigate the school board, Henry Greenberg, determined that the board had diverted money from the district’s public schools to yeshiva children and recommended the appointment of a state fiscal monitor with the power to override school board decisions. But a bill to appoint such a monitor failed to pass the State Senate.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia told The New York Times that she hoped the board would be amenable to the new panel’s recommendations.

“This is less of a powerful position for the team, but in the circumstances where we don’t have collaboration with the district, there will be action taken,” Elia said.

For example, the commissioner has the power to remove members of the school board and to order it to comply with state regulations, she told the newspaper.

East Ramapo’s public schools serve about 8,000 students, most of them black or Latino, while about 24,000 children in the district attend yeshivas, according to the Times.

Fake bomb found at Swedish Chabad house amid reported rise in hate crimes

(JTA)—Swedish police discovered what they described as a well-made fake bomb at the Chabad House in the southern city of Gothenburg.

The mock bomb was found Aug. 8, according to a report posted that day on the police department’s website. Police came to inspect the premises following a report of a suspicious-looking man who left an unidentified object there.

“Police bomb technicians shot at box that appeared to be a well-made dummy,” the report read. “Police wrote a report on serious unlawful threats.” The report spoke of a Jewish-owned establishment without mentioning specifically the Chabad House, which was nonetheless identified as the target by the Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism.

Chabad envoys and other individuals who are recognizable as Jews have suffered repeated assaults in Malmo and Gothenburg. The local communities attribute most such acts to extremists from the southern Swedish cities’ sizable Muslim communities.

Earlier this month, the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention said it has recorded 6,270 hate crimes last year nationally—an all-time high that came as a result of a 14-percent increase over 2013.

Four percent of the hate crimes documented, or 270 incidents, were anti-Semitic, according to the report, which was published Aug. 11.

Sweden’s Jewish population of 20,000 accounts for 0.2 percent of the country’s population of 9.59 million people.

In absolute terms, the 2014 tally on anti-Semitic attacks constitutes a 29 percent increase over the 193 anti-Semitic incidents recorded in 2013. But the proportion of anti-Semitic attacks in the tally of all hate crimes grew last year over 2013 only by half a percentage point, from 3.5 percent.

Hate crimes against Christians increased from 321 in 2013 (5.8 percent of the total of 5,508 hate crimes recorded that year) to 489 incidents last year, or 7.7 percent of the 2014 total.

Anti-Muslim crimes were also on the rise, from 327 incidents in 2013 to 492 last year.

Poor marks on Iran deal lower Obama’s approval rating in Gallup survey

(JTA)—Only a third of American respondents to a survey about President Barack Obama’s performance said they approved of his handling of the Iran nuclear deal.

In eight issues measured in the new Gallop survey published Aug. 13, Obama scored lowest when it came to the Iran deal—a controversial U.S.-led agreement that, if approved and implemented, will result in the lifting of some economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for scaling back its nuclear activities.

In total, Obama scored an approval rating of 47 percent in the survey, which was conducted this month in telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,011 adults from across the United States. The margin of sampling error is four percentage points.

The president’s policy toward Iran has been a major focus as he tries to drum up support for the accord. Obama earns his highest marks on race relations, education and climate change, though he does not receive majority approval on any.

As recently as February, Americans gave Iran the lowest favorable rating of 22 countries, and a strong majority felt Iran’s development of nuclear weapons posed a “critical” threat to the United States.

Consistent with partisans’ views on other issues, 56 percent of Democrats surveyed by Gallup approve of Obama’s handling of the situation in Iran, contrasted with 10 percent of Republicans.

Race relations remains the issue on which Obama receives the greatest approval (46 percent), but the number is down 5 percent from when Gallup last measured it in 2013.

Aside from Obama’s handling of Iran, his approval is low on immigration (36 percent)—but it’s up 4 points from the prior reading in August 2014.

Holocaust survivor, 91, wins international long-distance race

(JTA)—A 91-year-old Israeli Holocaust survivor won a world championship for senior runners of his age category in France.

Semion Simkin, who is legally blind, became world champion on Monday in Lyon after running 10 kilometers, or 6.2 miles, in 1 hour, 20 minutes. His impaired vision means he cannot identify objects that are farther away than 9 feet, according to Yisrael Hayom.

Only one other runner in his age category, 90-95, finished the race. Lorenzo Juvenal Perez, 93 from Argentina, arrived at the finish line 21 minutes after Simkin at the World Masters Athletics Championship.

“This is a scenario I never even dreamed of. I hope that in the future I will still have the strength to continue and to bring honor to Israel,” Simkin told Yisrael Hayom.

Originally from what today is Belarus, Simkin has two children, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, and lives in Maale Adumim, a West Bank settlement and city of 39,000 near Jerusalem.

The day before the 10K race, Simkin won the silver medal in a 5K race for men of his age group, with a time of 39 minutes, 47 seconds—4 minutes behind the winner, 90-year-old Jose Canelo of Portugal.

ADL opposes Iran deal

WASHINGTON (JTA)—The Anti-Defamation League counseled Congress to reject the Iran nuclear deal.

“Given the outstanding questions and our deep reservations about the agreement, we believe Congress should vote no on the deal,” Barry Curtiss-Lusher, ADL’s national chairman, and Jonathan Greenblatt, its national director, said in a statement released Aug. 13.

ADL last month had expressed reservations about the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal reached July 14 between Iran and six major powers.

“While ADL believes the administration has addressed some of the questions we highlighted in its July 20 letter to Members of Congress, serious concerns remain, including the effectiveness of the verification process to deter Iranian violations; the credibility of U.S. deterrence in light of the deal; the sufficiency of the nuclear limitations on Iran over the long term; and Iran’s new legitimacy and renewed financial ability to support its extremist policies,” the statement said.

Congress has until late September to decide whether to reject the deal. President Barack Obama is campaigning for the deal while Republicans mostly oppose the deal.

The ADL joins the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith International among centrist Jewish groups opposing the deal. A number of large Jewish bodies, including the Reform and Conservative movements, the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, are still mulling the deal, although several have expressed concerns about it. The Orthodox Union and the Zionist Organization of America oppose the deal.

A number of liberal Jewish organizations, including J Street, Americans for Peace Now and Ameinu, are backing the Obama administration and supporting the deal.

After all-night wait, Women of the Wall pray with Torah scroll

(JTA)—Women of the Wall prayed with a Torah scroll after bringing one to the Western Wall plaza the previous evening and keeping it there all night.

Western Wall regulations bar women from bringing a Torah scroll to the Wall. To circumvent the regulation, Women of the Wall said in a news release that members brought in the scroll at 7 p.m. Saturday, 12 hours ahead of the next morning’s morning service—the group’s monthly morning prayer service. The members stayed with the scroll all night.

The group said in the news release that it successfully appealed to the Jerusalem chief of police when asked to remove the scroll.

In the past, the group has smuggled a mini-Torah scroll into the women’s section. During another service, male supporters of the group hoisted a scroll over the divider between the men’s and women’s sections, encountering violent opposition.

 

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