Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA

 


Obama calls on Israelis and Palestinians to ‘exercise restraint’

NEW YORK (JTA)—President Barack Obama, making a surprise address, told a Haaretz-sponsored conference in New York that Israelis and Palestinians must “exercise restraint.”

“Inexcusable violence has taken too many lives—Israelis, Palestinians, Americans and others,” Obama said via teleconference on Sunday morning at HaaretzQ, the liberal Israeli newspaper’s event with the New Israel Fund. “I’ve been clear that Palestinian leaders have to condemn the ongoing attacks and stop the cycle. Individuals responsible for violence, including violence against Palestinians, have to be brought to justice, and we call on both sides to work to diffuse tensions, exercise restraint, prevent more loss of life and restore hope.

“Of course, the best way to reduce tensions and ensure Israel’s own security is to continue working in concrete ways towards a two-state solution.”

A spate of attacks since October has killed 22 people, according to the Israeli government. In the same period, 106 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers, police or civilians either while committing attacks or in their aftermath, on suspicion that they were about to carry out attacks or clashes with Israeli forces, Reuters reported last week.


The U.S. leader, who was not on the program of speakers, told the audience of approximately 600 at the Roosevelt Hotel that they would always have a partner for peace in him and in the United States.

“Peace is necessary, just and possible,” Obama said.

Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, in his keynote address noted his visit last week with Obama and emphasized that “the president’s commitment to a secure Israel is beyond any question.”

Saying peace is important for Israel’s safety and security, Rivlin said, “For that we need to think outside of the box.”

The conference, the first of its kind for Haaretz in the United States, is designed to provide a “unique platform for robust debate and intelligent reflection” on key issues regarding Israel, according to the newspaper.

“Isolated under [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, the editors of Israel’s leading liberal newspaper are coming to New York to try to restore a sense of reason,” Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of Haaretz, wrote in the Daily Beast on Friday. “We begin by turning to our American friends whose voices have been drowned out for too long.”


Rivlin, saying he sometimes is “annoyed and angry” by what he reads in Haaretz, said however that the newspaper is “a beacon for freedom of expression in Israel” and “I am here today because I believe the free market of ideas is a holy principle.”

With Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization of military veterans that accuses Israeli soldiers of mistreating Palestinians, presenting on one of the panels, Rivlin praised the morality of the Israel Defense Forces and earned vigorous applause.

“The IDF does everything in its power to keep the highest moral standard possible, even under impossible conditions,” he said, adding that no other army in the world is as moral.

Tzipi Livni, a Knesset lawmaker from the center-left Zionist Union party and Israel’s former justice minister, in her address criticized the settlements.

“Settlements don’t give security to Israel,” she said, “settlements take security from Israel.”

Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the PLO and a leading negotiator for the Palestinians, said the source of the current violence is failed peace talks.

“When every day we bury our loved ones—it’s for one thing,” Erekat said. “It’s our failure to achieve peace. It’s out failure to achieve a two-state solution.” He begged the audience not to give up on the idea.

Erekat insisted that Israel has a partner for peace with the Palestinians, saying the conflict with Israel is purely political. He also called the Islamic State terrorist group “criminals and thugs,” saying they have nothing to do with Islam.


Others scheduled to speak are the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, and Arab-Israeli Knesset member Ayman Odeh.

Trump: ‘Inappropriate’ of Netanyahu to slam plan on US ban of Muslims

(JTA)—Donald Trump said it was “inappropriate” of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to condemn his plan to bar Muslims from entering the United States.

“He modestly condemned them, and I thought it was sort of inappropriate that he condemned them, but that’s OK,” Trump, the front-runner in polls among Republican presidential candidates, said Sunday morning during an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. “He wanted to condemn them, that’s what he does. OK? But we have a problem.”

Despite the condemnation from Netanyahu, Trump said, the Israeli prime minister and other world leaders are not distancing themselves from him.

“I had a meeting with Netanyahu. I could be at the meeting right now,” Trump said.

Netanyahu and Trump had a meeting scheduled for Dec. 28 in Jerusalem, but Trump canceled it on Thursday, saying on Twitter the two would meet “at a later date, after I become President of the U.S.” The meeting was arranged about two weeks before he made his statements earlier this month about barring Muslims temporarily.

In condemning Trump’s proposed ban, Netanyahu said: “The State of Israel respects all religions and strictly guarantees the rights of all its citizens. At the same time, Israel is fighting against militant Islam that targets Muslims, Christians and Jews alike and threatens the entire world.”

While Netanyahu condemned Trump’s statements, he stopped short of canceling his meeting with the candidate and former reality show star, saying that he is committed to meeting with every presidential candidate that requests a meeting.

On CNN, Trump said he has been told he is doing Muslims “a favor.”

“Again, my relationship with the Muslim community is excellent. I’ve had people call me at the highest level saying, ‘You’re doing us a favor’ because they know they have a problem very well,” he said. “They really know they have a problem.”

Far-right National Front roundly defeated in French runoff elections

(JTA)—The far-right National Front failed to claim victory in any of France’s 13 regions in runoff elections after winning the vote nationally in the first round.

Exit polls on Sunday evening showed the center-right Republican Party of former President Nicolas Sarkozy taking more seats than the ruling Socialist Party, The New York Times reported.

Last Sunday, the National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, garnered 28 percent of the vote nationally and claimed victories in six of the 13 regions. The party had been expected to win in the northern region, and the setback there damages Le Pen’s expected bid for the presidency in 2017.

The National Front had been successful in the first round based in part on its anti-immigrant stance and in the wake of the Paris attacks.

The Socialist candidates reportedly pulled out in the northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie and in the South’s Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, where LePen’s niece was on the ballot, allowing their voters to support the Republican candidates in the runoffs.

Le Pen’s father, National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, has a history of anti-Semitism, though his daughter in recent months has distanced herself and the party from him and his record.

Reform movement raps Arab-Israeli lawmaker’s snub of Presidents Conference

(JTA)—The Reform movement expressed “deep disappointment” in the refusal of an Arab-Israeli lawmaker to enter a meeting with U.S. Jewish leaders because it was taking place in space shared by the Jewish Agency.

“This was an opportunity for us to engage in the complexities of the issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the internal Jewish-Arab issues in Israel,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said in a statement issued Friday, a day after Ayman Odeh, who heads the Arab Joint List, the third largest faction in the Knesset, refused to enter the offices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

A meeting with the Presidents Conference “would have provided another opportunity to further the conversation and come closer to a solution,” Jacobs said.

The Reform leader said he was “pleased and proud” that the Presidents Conference decided to invite Odeh to the meeting.

“I am profoundly disappointed by MK Ayman Odeh’s decision to walk away from that important opportunity for him, for the cause of equality in Israel, and for the Conference of Presidents,” Jacobs said.

In refusing to enter the premises, Odeh citing the Jewish Agency’s role in advancing immigration to Israel and its affiliation with the Jewish National Fund and the World Zionist Organization. He said policies favoring Jewish immigration to Israel are seen among Arab-Israelis as a means of demographically marginalizing them. Odeh also said the JNF, which administers much of the land in Israel, discriminates against non-Jews and that the WZO funds settlement in the West Bank.

Odeh on his U.S. trip intended in part to recruit U.S. Jews to the cause of advancing Arab equality in Israel.

In a Facebook post, Odeh said: “I believe in the power of talking to one another, because isolation is the wrong way. But as for major institutions of the Zionist movement or government offices like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, and the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption: it isn’t that we have a problem with them; it is that they are the problem.”

Odeh, who balked in the Manhattan building lobby after realizing the Presidents Conference office space was shared with the Jewish Agency, offered to meet elsewhere. But Presidents Conference officials refused, calling his demand for a move of the meeting “outrageous.”

Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, posted on Facebook a rejoinder, listing agency programs that specifically assist the Arab sector.

“Along with our core mission of ingathering the exiles of the Jewish people via aliyah, the Jewish Agency is proud to serve all the citizens of Israel, regardless of religion or ethnicity, which we view as an integral part of our Zionist vision,” he said.

Jacobs, who had hosted Odeh earlier in the week at a meeting at a Manhattan synagogue that the Reform movement described as “inspiring,” said the lawmaker missed an opportunity.

“His decision doesn’t support the important cause of dialogue to promote equality and coexistence in Israel,” Jacobs said. “We hope MK Odeh finds the way to repair the damage and build bridges of dialogue in good faith.”

Jews for Jesus denounces Vatican for no converting Jews policy

(JTA)—The Jews for Jesus organization has denounced the Vatican for saying the Catholic Church must not try to convert Jews to Christianity.

David Brickner, executive director of Jews for Jesus, said in a statement issued last Friday that his organization finds the position “...egregious, especially coming from an institution which seeks to represent a significant number of Christians in the world.”

The pronouncement against converting Jews came in a major document released a day earlier by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. It was issued to mark the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, a declaration promulgated in 1965 by the Second Vatican Council that opened the door to formal Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

Brickner accused the Vatican of pandering to Jewish leaders.

“How can the Vatican ignore the fact that the Great Commission of Jesus Christ mandates that his followers are to bring the gospel to all people? he asked. “Are they merely pandering to some leaders in the Jewish community who applaud being off the radar for evangelization by Catholics? If so, they need to be reminded that they first received that gospel message from the lips of Jews who were for Jesus.”

Jews for Jesus, which calls itself the “largest Jewish mission agency in the world,” has branches in 13 countries and 25 cities, according to the statement.

The new Vatican document, titled “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable,” discussed at length how Christianity is rooted in Judaism. Because of this, it said, the Church is “obliged to view evangelization to Jews, who believe in the one God, in a different manner from that to people of other religions and world views.”

It added, “In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.”

Jewish Agency head raps Arab-Israeli lawmaker for refusal to meet Jewish leaders

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky criticized Arab-Israeli lawmaker Ayman Odeh for refusing to attend a meeting with American-Jewish leaders because it was being held in office space shared with the agency.

“It is unfortunate that members of Knesset from the Joint List are more interested in scoring cheap and expedient political points than they are in advancing the well being of their communities,” Sharansky said in a statement, referring to the refusal by Odeh, who heads the Arab Joint List party, to meet with dozens of leaders from the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.

The Presidents Conference leaders were waiting in a meeting room in its offices when Odeh arrived at the building and realized that the Presidents Conference is on the same floor as the Jewish Agency for Israel. Odeh offered to meet in another venue but was rebuffed by the Presidents Conference.

“I came here to represent the Arab public in Israel to American audiences,” Odeh said in a statement after refusing to attend the meeting. “As their representative, I cannot in good conscience participate in meetings in the offices of organizations whose work displaces Arab citizens, just as in the Knesset, we do not participate in the Ministry of Defense, the Foreign Ministry, and the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption.

Sharansky noted that thousands of Arab-Israeli families participate in Jewish Agency programs.

“It is high time MK Odeh and his colleagues did the same,” he said.

The Joint List party, the result of four Arab parties coalescing, won 13 seats in Israel’s national elections in March, making it the third largest faction in the Knesset.

Holocaust film ‘Son of Saul’ nominated for Golden Globe

LOS ANGELES (JTA)—The searing Holocaust film “Son of Saul” is one of five foreign-language movies nominated for a Golden Globe Award.

The Hungarian movie is also an early favorite in the foreign-language Oscar race, which includes entries from 81 countries.

In “Son of Saul,” the character of Saul Auslander is a member of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz-Birkenau who is forced to cremate the bodies of fellow prisoners gassed by the SS. In one corpse, Saul believes he recognizes his dead son.

As the Sonderkommando men plan a rebellion, Saul vows that he will save the child’s corpse from the flames and find a rabbi to say Kaddish at a proper funeral.

Saul is portrayed by the Budapest-born Geza Rohrig, the founder of an underground punk band during Communist rule. Moving to New York, he studied at a Hasidic yeshiva and graduated from the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Another entry bearing on the Holocaust, the German film “Labyrinth of Lies,” failed to make the cut. Set in the post-war 1950s, when most Germans preferred to deny or ignore the Holocaust, “Labyrinth” focuses on a young German prosecutor determined to bring the Nazis who ran Auschwitz to trial before a German court.

The winners will be presented at the usually wild and unpredictable Golden Globe ceremony on Jan. 16.

Winners and nominees, picked by a small group made up of members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, gain publicity but none of the prestige reserved for Academy Award winners.

Recognizable Jewish names among Golden Globe nominees include writer Aaron Sorkin, nominated in the Best Screenplay category for the film “Steve Jobs.”

 

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