Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA

 


Clinton gets key Nevada win, Bush drops out after Trump takes South Carolina

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Hillary Rodham Clinton defeated Bernie Sanders in the Nevada Democratic caucuses, which was seen as a key contest for the former secretary of state in the race for the party’s presidential nod.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, cruised to a win in the Republican South Carolina primary, while Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida were battling it out for second place. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the favorite a year ago and the candidate who attracted the most establishment Jewish donors, dropped out.

Clinton led Sanders, 52.6 to 47.4 percent, with 90 percent of the votes counted, CNBC reported, citing Reuters, on Saturday night. The Vermont senator, an Independent, called Clinton to congratulate her not long after the caucuses closed.

Nevada, the third nominating state in the campaign, is not winner take all, and both candidates leave the state with delegates.

It was viewed as key to salvaging Clinton’s campaign after she suffered a crushing defeat to Sanders earlier this month in New Hampshire—the first time a Jewish candidate has won a primary state. Clinton, who once led Sanders substantively in polls, had won a razor-thin victory in the Iowa caucus.


Her campaign said Nevada and the Feb. 27 primary in South Carolina, where she is leading in polls, would showcase her ability to turn out minorities and more moderate voters. Iowa and New Hampshire are overwhelmingly white, and Democrats in those states tend to be more liberal than the national party.

Officials in Nevada’s substantial Jewish community expressed unhappiness with the timing of the caucuses, during the Sabbath.

In South Carolina, with 99 percent of the vote counted, Trump had 32.5 percent of the vote, CNN reported. Cruz and Rubio, both second-generation Cuban-Americans, were essentially tied for second, with Rubio at 22.5 percent and Cruz at 22.3 percent. Trump has now won two of the states, New Hampshire and South Carolina; Cruz won in Iowa.

Bush languished in fourth place, with 7.9 percent of the vote. He needed to finish a strong third or better to stay in the race after performing poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire. The establishment candidate from early on, Bush’s rivalry with Trump has often been bitter and personal. He has attracted the support of the bulk of Republican Jewish donors, although Rubio and Cruz also have major Jewish backers.


Rubio and Cruz are competing for the support of Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who in 2012 spent tens of millions of dollars in a bid to get a Republican elected.

The Republican Party will hold caucuses in Nevada on Feb. 23.

2 Israeli films win top audience honors at Berlin festival

BERLIN (JTA)—An Arab-Israeli rap artist won over audiences at the 66th annual Berlin International Film Festival, gleaning a top public prize for Israeli director Udi Aloni.

“Junction 48” was one of two Israeli productions to take home Panorama Audience Awards on Saturday, winning for best feature. It tells the story of a young Arab-Israeli couple from Lod, in central Israel, who use their songs to criticize Israeli politics and the patriarchal system in their Arab village.

The lead role is played by Tamer Nafar, the front man of DAM, which bills itself as the first Arab rap band.

The other Israeli winner, “Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?,” by Israeli brothers Barak and Tomer Heymann, took home the audience award for documentary. The Israeli-British production tells the story of a gay man who was kicked out of his parents’ kibbutz and left Israel for London. The protagonist, now 40,  ultimately tries to reconcile with his family.

The Berlinale is considered the most political of the major international film festivals.

Speaking to the Berlin audience after the post-award screening, Aloni said he had been dealing for hours with vulgar emails and Facebook messages from Jewish-Israelis. He also said the Israeli government was displeased with the film.

Aloni insisted his message was that Jews and Arabs can collaborate to make a better life together, though there were few encounters with Jewish characters in the film.

“The movie tells a Palestinian story... the Palestinians are the subject,” he said.

The Jews who receive the most attention are rival rappers, ultranationalists who try to bait the Arab rappers with racist talk—all while they are sitting together in a hot tub. Unlike the Israeli police in the film, the Jewish rappers are “evil but not dangerous.”


“For me, the audience award is amazing,” Aloni said. “You felt it [what we were trying to do], and you gave it back to us.”

The Berlinale was not short on films dealing with Jewish topics. It saw the world premiere of Germany’s first feature film based on the “Diary of Anne Frank”; a feature based on Hans Fallada’s classic book “Alone in Berlin,” about an average German couple committing a unique act of resistance against the Nazis (with actors Emma Thomson and Daniel Bruhl), and a film about the epistolary relationship between poet and Holocaust survivor Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann.

As is often the case at the Berlinale, Israeli documentaries focused on the dark side of life in the region.

In “PS Jerusalem,” director Danae Elon—daughter of the late Israeli writer Amos Elon—documents her family’s failed attempt to resettle in the city of her birth, Jerusalem.

Israeli filmmaker Elite Zexer’s first feature film, “Sufat Chol,” gave touching insight into the challenges of growing up female in a Bedouin village, where modernity clashes with patriarchal values.

Israel was also a key subject in director Alex Gibney’s new documentary, “Zero Days,” which explores the phenomenon of the computer virus “Stuxnet,” which was designed—likely by the United States and Israel—to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.

The Culinary category featured “Cafe Nagler,” in which Israeli director Mor Kaplansky visits Berlin in search of the truth about the cafe run by her ancestors in the roaring ‘20s capital.

JNF Canada withdraws event sponsorship over Israeli singer Noa

VANCOUVER, Canada (JTA)—The Jewish National Fund of Canada has withdrawn its sponsorship of the Jewish Federation of Vancouver’s Yom Ha’atzmaut event over the federation’s decision to feature the controversial Israeli pop singer Achinoam Nini, known as Noa.

“Due to the views of the entertainment booked for this year’s celebration, we will be taking a one-year hiatus from sponsoring the event,” JNF CEO Josh Cooper said in a statement, according to a report last Friday by the Canadian Jewish News. “The entertainer that has been hired does not reflect, nor correspond to the mandate and values of the Jewish National Fund of Canada.”

The Canadian Jewish News reported a week earlier that the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver was preparing “a warm welcome” for Nini, and decried a Jerusalem Post report suggesting Vancouver Jews were “outraged” about the singer’s appearance because she allegedly supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement against Israel.

The federation said it had done its “due diligence by looking closely into the facts. To the best of our knowledge, reports suggesting Ms. Nini promotes BDS are incorrect.” The JNF statement did not specifically cite BDS.

The Jerusalem Post deleted the article about Nini and published the following: “The article ‘Vancouver Jews outraged over Achinoam Nini invite to Independence Day event,’ which appeared on jpost.com on February 9, in no way intended to suggest that the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver or Ms. Nini herself support the BDS movement. We apologize for any confusion that may have been caused.”

The singer herself took to Facebook a day before The Jerusalem Post deleted the article to deny she supports BDS.

“I am absolutely and completely against the BDS [campaign],” she wrote. “I see it as a hypocritical movement full of contradictions who will not bring peace to Israel nor help the Palestinians achieve their goals; very much on the contrary.”

Nini has, however, voiced support for Israeli NGOs critical of the Israel Defense Forces and Israel’s actions in the West Bank.

Vancouver Jewish community leader Frances Belzberg implored local Jews to “question or boycott” the event.

In a Facebook post, Belzberg said Noa is a “strong advocate for the BDS movement” and “a Palestinian sympathizer. I am sure that in our community we have a few Palestinian sympathizers, however, I am sure we have many more Palestinian empathizers.”

In a letter to the Vancouver federation, Eyal Platek, an Israeli lawyer, said Noa “is known for the provocations she incites; she is an extremist who supports radical left organizations that attack, slander, lie and cause ongoing harm to the Israeli Defense Forces and to IDF soldiers who guard and protect our citizens and our homeland.”

Platek asked the federation to reconsider its invitation to Noa “and prevent the offense this would cause to the citizens of Israel, IDF soldiers and the commanders.”

The federation told JTA it is “disappointed” by JNF’s decision to withdraw from the event, “and we look forward to welcoming them back next year.”

Asked why the JNF withdrew from the event if the federation was satisfied that Noa does not support the BDS movement, Cooper replied: “I can’t speak for another organization. Everything is in our statement.”

Austria cancels event including Holocaust survivor who made Israel-Nazis analogy

(JTA)—An event including Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, a Jewish pro-Palestinian activist who has likened Israel to Nazi Germany, was canceled by the Austrian Parliament two day after invitations were sent out.

A spokeswoman for the president of the Austrian Parliament told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the March 8 event to honor women survivors of the Holocaust was off but did not specifically mention Epstein, who is in her early 90s.

“In consideration for the concerns against some of the participants, the Austrian Parliament has canceled the event ‘In Grandmother’s Words: The Fate of Women in the Second World War,’” the spokesman, Marianne Lackner, told the Post.

In invitations sent Friday by the office of the president of the Austrian Parliament, Epstein, whom the Anti-Defamation League has criticized for demonizing Israel, was described as a peace and human rights activist. The only Jewish guest slated to speak at the event, Epstein was invited as a witness of the Holocaust to talk about her experiences.

In a 2004 lecture at Stanford University, Epstein compared the Nazi treatment of Jews to the Israeli treatment of Palestinians. Epstein has participated in several actions to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip and has signed numerous petitions of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

As a teenager, she left her native Germany in 1939 on a Kindertransport—the name for efforts to rescue European children of the era to the relative safety of Britain—where she spent the war years.

Harvard student groups lose law firm’s funding over Palestine event

(JTA)—An international law firm has withdrawn its sponsorship of Harvard Law School student events after funds were used for a Justice for Palestine event.

The Milbank corporate law firm, which in 2012 pledged $1 million over five years for the events as long as the firm was acknowledged on promotional material, took back its support in the wake of the October event, the Harvard Crimson student newspaper first reported Feb. 18. 

The law firm, which reportedly has several Orthodox Jewish partners, redirected its donations from student events to other Harvard Law initiatives.

Up to 100 people affiliated with Harvard attended the lunch event, titled “The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack,” according to the student newspaper. About $500 in funds from Milibank went for pizza and other food, event organizers said. The speakers, two civil rights attorneys, did not charge the group for their appearance.

In an Op-Ed published Feb. 16 in the Harvard Law Record, organizers of the Justice for Palestine event said the dean of students requested the day after the event that notice of Milbank’s funding of the event be removed from reports on Facebook and other media.

In January, at the start of the new semester, student groups were informed by the dean’s office that Milbank had discontinued its funding and that the office would grant funds for student group events.

Justice for Palestine warned in its Op-Ed about the dangers of such funding.

“This incident should serve also as an alarming reminder of how dependent this law school has become on earmarked funding from private donors, and how such a dependency can lead to significant compromises in the quality of both the academic experience here at HLS, and in honest political discourse more broadly,” the group said.

Company to remove Chicago billboard calling for Israel boycott

(JTA)—A billboard in Chicago calling for a boycott of Israel will be removed following a public outcry.

Lamar Advertising, which leases billboards throughout the country, announced in a Facebook post last Friday that it would remove the billboard “as soon as possible.” Earlier in the day, also in a statement on Facebook, the company said it had received a “large number” of social media comments and hundreds of telephone calls protesting the billboard located on a major highway about five miles from O’Hare Airport.

The billboard sponsored by the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, or SEAMAC, is part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. It reads: “Boycott Israel until Palestinians have equal rights.”

Lamar had written earlier that over its more than 100 years in business, the firm has “developed a strong commitment to supporting the First Amendment right of advertisers who wish to use our medium to promote legal products and services or to convey noncommercial messages such as the one in Chicago.”

“We do not accept or reject copy based upon agreement or disagreement with the views presented. We think SEAMAC has a right to present their views and would also support the right of those who disagree with SEAMAC.”

After saying it would take down the billboard, Lamar said it “tried to contact SEAMAC to discuss these issues but have not received a reply to our telephone and email messages.”

In a post Saturday night on Facebook, SEAMAC said it received one phone call from Lamar Advertising, early in the morning due to the time difference between Seattle and Chicago, and that there were no emails or other attempts by the company to contact the organization.

The group is raising money to put the ad on public buses in several U.S. cities.

Report: Anti-Israel campus activists shifting strategies, facing internal divisions

(JTA)—Anti-Israel campus groups in the United States are shifting their tactics, replacing BDS resolutions with “theatrics and disruptive tactics,” according to a report by a Jewish watchdog group.

In its “Fall 2015 Campus Trends” report, released last Friday, the Israel on Campus Coalition also reported that anti-Israel groups have invested “significant efforts” in strengthening ties with other activist causes on campus, yet the movement overall has faced “considerable divisions.”

While the number of anti-Israel events has dropped since the previous fall, when Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip “triggered an unusually high number,” more such events are enjoying co-sponsorship from “groups unrelating to Israel, reflecting the impact of coalition-building” among anti-Israel activists, according the report.

Meanwhile, the report found an increase in pro-Israel activities on campus.

“Disruptive tactics” observed in the report include “staging dramatic protests” at pro-Israel events and at campus lectures by Israeli speakers. In some of these incidents, the national Students for Justice in Palestine group filmed protests and then published “altered videos that generated vicious attacks against campus supporters of Israel,” the report said.

According to the report, anti-Israel student activists are divided over the efficacy of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, the Syrian civil war and “other geopolitical issues.”

In a news release, ICC Executive Director Jacob Baize said pro-Israel campus activists are “focusing on positive and proactive ways to express support for Israel on campuses across the country.”

The organization issued a similar report in August documenting activities and trends from the 2014-15 academic year.

Advocates brief White House on barriers for the Jewish disabled

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Jewish advocates for the disabled briefed Obama administration officials on barriers to Jewish life for those with disabilities.

The two-hour event on Feb. 18 was organized by the White House and held at the neighboring Eisenhower Executive Office Building as part of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, an initiative of a number of local and national Jewish organizations.

Matt Nosanchuk, associate director and liaison to the Jewish Community at the White House Office of Public Engagement, and Maria Town, associate director and liaison in the disability community in that office, moderated the discussion.

Judith Heumann, the special adviser for International Disability Rights in the Department of State, cited tikkun olam, the ancient rabbinical imperative to repair the world, and said: “The Jewish community has an obligation, I believe, to be leaders.”

When a building is not accessible and there are no braille reading materials or sign language interpreters, those with a disability get the message they are not welcome, said panelist Ruti Regan, co-founder of Anachnu, a group promoting inclusion within the Jewish community.

Along with Regan, the panel included Sheila Katz, vice president for social entrepreneurship at Hillel International; Aaron Kaufman, senior legislative assistant at Jewish Federations of North America, and John Winer, the executive director at the Jewish Association for Developmental Disabilities.

In attendance among others were representatives of RespectAbility, an advocacy group that has been canvassing presidential candidates about how their platforms address the needs of the disabled.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, RespectAbility’s president, said the event was an opportunity for networking and sharing best practices for a cohort scattered throughout the country.

“It’s an ingathering of the leaders around the country doing exemplary work but who don’t get enough time to network,” said Mizrahi, whose group advocates for greater inclusion within the Jewish community.

The panelists addressed the need for inclusion not just in programming and services but also in Jewish social life.

“No individual wants to feel like they are a chesed project,” Winer said, using the Hebrew word for charity.

Kaufman said inclusion is important, but added that events designed for the disabled can also be salutary. Kaufman, who is in a wheelchair and has cerebral palsy, said he had a great experience on a recent Birthright trip to Israel designed for disabled people.

He urged everyone working on inclusion to include people with disabilities in their meetings. “Nothing about us without us,” he said. It is also important to realize the costs of making a synagogue, organization or event totally inclusive, he said.

“Everybody can say, ‘Oh, we are all created in the image of God,’ and that’s wonderful, but if they are really serious, they have to be willing to put money to it,” Kaufman said.

Katz of Hillel said she would like to see more Jewish leaders talk about their own disabilities and become role models. It’s important to reach out to those with disabilities and “meet you wherever you are on your Jewish journey. We have a responsibility,” she said.

“The best mosaics are made up of the most beautiful pieces,” Winer said, noting, that should be “the fabric of our Jewish life.”

 

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