Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


UN censors exhibit on Israel set for NY headquarters

(JTA)—The United Nations has censored an exhibition about Israel set to go on display at the organization’s headquarters in New York.

Three of the 13 panels in the exhibition “Israel Matters,” which is set to open Monday, will be deleted, the U.N. decided over the weekend. The censored panels deemed “inappropriate” are on the subjects of Zionism, Jerusalem and Arab-Israelis.

The exhibit was created by Israel’s permanent mission to the United Nations with the organization StandWithUs.

Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, has called on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to reverse what he called the “scandalous” decision and allow the panels to be displayed.

“By disqualifying an exhibition about Zionism, the U.N. is undermining the very existence of the State of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people,” Danon said in a statement. “We will not allow the U.N. to censor the fact that Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital.”

He added: “The U.N. must reverse this outrageous decision and apologize to the Jewish people. Zionism and Jerusalem are the foundation stones and the moral basis upon which the State of Israel was founded.”

The Jerusalem panel describes the Jewish people as “indigenous to Israel” and states that “Jerusalem has been the center and focus of Jewish life and religion for more than three millennia and is holy to Christians and Muslims as well.”

The panel on Arab-Israelis calls them “the largest minority in Israel, making up 20 percent of Israel’s population” and says they are “equal citizens under the law in Israel.”

The Zionism panel calls it “the liberation movement of the Jewish people, who sought to overcome 1,900 years of oppression and regain self-determination in their indigenous homeland.”

Germany spied on Israel and US, magazine says

(JTA)—Germany’s federal intelligence agency, the BND, has spied on friendly governments including Israel and the United States, the weekly magazine der Spiegel reported.

Targets of “monitoring” based on picked-up keywords included the office of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the U.S.  State Department, as well as offices of Austria’s Interior Ministry and the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense, the magazine reported Saturday.

According to the report, the head of Germany’s intelligence agency, Gerhard Schindler, said in 2013 that spying on friendly nations and NATO partners was off limits. However, such intelligence gathering did not stop entirely.

Since the fall, a parliamentary oversight committee has been investigating the activities of the BND and determined the agency set its intelligence-gathering sights on targets outside its legal and contractual jurisdiction, Spiegel reported.

The magazine said the BND continued to spy on the European aerospace firm Eurocopter, now known as Airbus Helicopters, and on the multinational European Union air defense corporation called European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, since 2014 known as Airbus Group SE, even after it was learned that the U.S. National Security Agency had used Germany to illegally gather information about these agencies.

The new parliamentary report also reveals the BND of its own accord spied on the United Nations’ international narcotics control program, OPEC, the International Monetary Fund, NASA and the U.S. Air Force.

There were no details provided on when the Prime Minister’s Office of Israel was under surveillance and what kind of information was picked up.

American Jewish figure skater Max Aaron finishes 8th at Worlds

BOSTON (JTA)—Scoring a new personal best, American Jewish figure skater Max Aaron was part of a trio that landed the U.S. skaters in the top 10 at the ISU 2016 World Championships.

The six-day event being held through Sunday at the TD Garden marks the first time in its 130-year history the international competition is in Boston.

Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, scored 254.14 points and placed eighth overall in his third appearance at a World Championship.

“This is truly special. It’s a moment I will never forget. I’ve always wanted this on home soil,” Aaron, 24, of Scottsdale, Arizona, said in a statement from the TD Garden.

The U.S. men fell just shy of securing the maximum of three places for the United States at the next World Championships; they will have two spots.

Javier Fernandez of Spain won the men’s gold medal and Evgenia Medveda of Russia took the women’s gold. American Ashley Wagner won the silver medal, breaking a decade-long dry spell for the United States in women’s figure skating at the World Championships.

Last Friday night, Aaron skated to music from the score of “Black Swan,” by Clint Mansell, according to Boston Globe reporter Shira Springer..

“Max produced as good a long program as I’ve ever seen from him,” Springer told JTA in an email.

She added: “If he keeps up the quads and makes progress with his overall presentation, it will be interesting to watch how he progresses from his eighth place finish at Worlds.”

Three years ago, after winning the gold medal at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championship, Aaron told JTA that he grew up looking to Jewish athletic giants for inspiration.

“I always thought the list needed to be longer. We needed to have a stronger representation of Jewish athletes, and I’m so happy to that I’m part of them now,” he said at the time.

Jason Brown, a Jewish-American skater who finished ninth at the Sochi Olympics and was fourth at the worlds last year, is in training following a back injury and was not part of the U.S. squad for this event.

Also skating at the Worlds Championships was Alexei Bychenko, who in January became the first Israeli to win a medal at the European Skating Championships, where he took the silver. He finished 13th in Boston.

Other Israeli skaters competing in Boston were pairs skaters Adel Tankova and Evgeni Krasnopolski, and ice dancers, Isabell Tobias and Ilia Tkachenko.

Belgium denies soldiers guarding Brussels synagogues had no bullets

(JTA)—Belgium’s Defense Ministry denied reports that some soldiers had guarded synagogues in Brussels without ammunition in their rifles.

The denial last week by the ministry’s press department came in response to a claim that a senior Brussels rabbi, Menachem Hadad of the Shomre Hadas haredi Orthodox community, made on March 24 following a series of terrorist attacks two days earlier that killed 32 people in the Belgian capital.

“The authorities here, and I won’t speak ill of them, but they have no understanding of security issues—zero,” Hadad said in an interview with Israel’s Army Radio. “For example, for months we had soldiers guarding the Beit Chabad and the synagogue, and we spoke to them and some had no ammunition for their rifles. They had no bullets. It was just a show. It’s not normal.”

Queried by JTA for its reaction to the claim, a ministry spokesman replied via email that “since January 2015 the defense ministry aids the federal police in protecting certain areas. To do this, soldiers receive standard equipment necessary for operational intervention, including weapons and ammunition.”

The unnamed spokesman further wrote the ministry will not elaborate on its rules of engagement “for security reasons.”

Paris vandals tear down signs for Israel exhibit at Louvre

(JTA)—Vandals defaced and tore down signs announcing an exhibit about Israel at the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The vandalism occurred Sunday morning on the French capital’s subway.

The exhibit, called “Open a Door to Israel,” a joint project of Israel’s Strategic Affairs and Foreign Affairs ministries, features nine doors that open to interactive screens that present different aspects of Israel. It has been on display in Rome and Warsaw.

Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said in a statement that the signs were ruined by activists of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

“The BDS extremists revealed their true and hateful nature, using the same approach they take in university campuses, concert halls and business meetings, of violently silencing pro-Israel speakers, and threatening and bullying decision-makers and the general public,” a statement from Erdan’s office said.

The exhibit also is scheduled to go on display in Russia, South Korea, Japan, China and the United States.

Britain reportedly pulls funding to group that sponsors anti-Israel events

(JTA)—Britain reportedly has halted funding to a charity that sponsored anti-Israel events.

The government’s Department for International Development pulled its funding of the human rights organization War On Want, The Telegraph reported over the weekend. The group helped to pay for last month’s Israeli Apartheid Week throughout the country, the newspaper wrote.

Over the last two years, War on Want has received about $370,000 in government funding, according to the Telegraph.

A source in the Department for International Development said the U.K. “deplored incitement on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the newspaper reported.

The British government has recently banned municipalities and other publicly funded authorities from implementing boycotts of Israel.

The Telegraph reported that it obtained undercover recordings of events where anti-Semitism, demands for the destruction of Israel or naked support for terror were expressed by academics and others in meetings at some of Britain’s most prestigious universities. Some of the events were sponsored by War on Want.

In a statement released Sunday, War on Want called The Telegraph report a “complete fabrication.”

“War on Want has not sought any UK government support for its operations for a number of years now, so it is absurd to suggest that we have had our funding ‘pulled,’” John Hilary, the executive director of War on Want, said in the statement. “The insinuation that we have been criticized by the government for standing up for the rights of the Palestinian people is equally bogus.”

Some 1,000 students attending illegal Jewish schools in London, report says

(JTA)—A London firm said it destroyed evidence several years ago that Jewish children were being educated in illegal faith schools, a British newspaper reported.

The reports about heders—informal haredi Orthodox Jewish schools, some of them operating without permits and teaching only scripture instead of the national curriculum—in the London borough of Hackney appeared Sunday in The Independent.

According to the report, employees of the Hackney Learning Trust, a private firm working for the municipal council of Hackney, informed a municipal official in 2010 that the firm had destroyed evidence of the attendance of pupils in heders at the request of Jewish educational institutions.

In the meeting, Trust representatives said they had asked legal Jewish state schools—which teach scripture in addition to the required curriculum—to inform the Trust when a child was taken out by their parents to attend an illegal school. But some of the schools threatened legal action against the Trust, prompting it to back down and agree to destroy all evidence it collected on the issue.

The minutes of the 2010 meeting record that a senior Department of Education staff member was present at the meeting and agreed to inform the department of all that was discussed.

According to The Independent, some 1,000 Jewish children are not registered in official schools in London and may be attending illegal faith schools.

“There has long been an open secret in the Jewish world that ultra-Orthodox schools have been operating in Hackney and are not registered with the Department of Education,” Rabbi Jonathan Romain, chair of the Accord Coalition that links religious and secular groups to promote inclusive education, told The Independent. “In essence, they are illegal schools, but authorities appear to be turning a blind eye.”

A Department of Education spokesman said: “Nothing is more important than keeping children safe. It is the local authority’s responsibility to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect and they take these seriously.”

Soccer star Lionel Messi ripped as ‘Jewish’ and ‘Zionist’ after donating cleats in Egypt

(JTA)—Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi was slammed as “Jewish” and a “Zionist” by Egyptian officials after donating his soccer shoes to a charity in Egypt.

Messi, who plays for the Barcelona Football Club, was interviewed last week on the Egyptian television program “Yes, I Am Famous” on the private network MBC Masr.

“One of the things he does is give charity all over the world, and these will be among the donations he gives,” Egyptian host Mona El-Sharkawy said as the soccer star held a pair of red, black and white cleats up to the camera. “And he gave these to our program because we will have an auction for them. Messi, thank you very very much.”

Shoes are considered an insult in Arab and Egyptian culture, in part because they are lowly and dirty and literally touch the ground.

Said Hasasein, a member of the Egyptian parliament and also a talk-show host, ripped Messi on the air.

“Whose shoes do you want to sell, Messi? How much do you think it will get? You don’t know that the nail of a baby Egyptian is worth more than your shoes? Keep your shoes to yourself or sell them to Israel,” he said.

Hasasein then took off his shoes and said: “This is my shoe. I donate it to Argentina. This is an insult to Egyptian people.”

Egyptian Football Federation spokesman Azmi Mogahed phoned in to the show to criticize Messi.

“Even in our religion...,” he began to say when Hasasein reportedly interrupted to say “His religion is Jewish!”

Mogahed agreed, saying: “I know he’s Jewish, he donates to Israel and visited the Wailing Wall and whatever... we don’t need his shoe and Egypt’s poor don’t need help from someone with Jewish or Zionist citizenship.”

Messi is a Catholic and has made the sign of the cross on his chest after scoring goals. In August 2013, he visited the Western Wall on a peace tour with the Barcelona club. One year later Messi supported a soccer match organized by Pope Francis to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but he did not play in the match due an injury.

An Egyptian soccer player, Ahmed “Mido” Hossam, posted on Twitter: “The most precious thing the writer owns is his pen and the most precious thing the footballer owns is his shoes. I hope we stop these false accusations.”

Other reactions on social media accused Messi, a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, of supporting the Israeli occupation “that is killing the children of Palestine every day.”

Canada’s only all-Jewish radio station closes, cites financial difficulties

MONTREAL (JTA)—Canada’s first and only all-Jewish radio station signed off for the last time after more than 15 years of struggling to stay financially afloat.

The station’s last broadcast was last Friday.

Radio Shalom, an AM and Internet-streamed station based in Montreal that broadcast 24 hours a day except on Shabbat, was forced to close, owner Robert Levy announced, after years of trying but failing to draw more listeners, ads and community support.

Critics, however, blamed it on poor management and too much religious, Sephardi-oriented content.

The station’s failure “lies completely on the shoulders of the management, who never seemed to be able to create the programming... required to appeal to the hearts and minds of the community,” Howard Silbiger, a veteran call-in show host at the station, posted on Facebook.

Also on Facebook, Sidney Margles, a retired professional broadcaster who once tried to help the station, blamed the closure on Radio Shalom’s propensity “to follow religious, Sephardi beliefs... such as no female vocalists on air.”

The almost all-volunteer station broadcast largely in French but also in English, Hebrew and other languages.

Stan Asher, who oversaw English-language programming, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the station’s closure.

Erdogan meets with Jewish leaders, seeks avenues to cooperation

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Jewish leaders in Washington, D.C., reportedly to smooth ties as Turkey and Israel seek to reconcile.

Jewish groups in attendance included the Anti-Defamation League, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, B’nai B’rith International, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“Erdogan and the guests reiterated their willingness to strengthen cooperation and communication despite differences,” said a report March 30 in Turkey’s Daily Sabah newspaper, citing “presidential sources.”

Already rocky, relations between Turkey and Israel hit a new low following Israel’s deadly raid in 2010 of a Turkish ship attempting to breach its blockade of the Gaza Strip. Reconciliation talks are ongoing.

Daily Sabah said the participants, who included top Turkish officials, discussed “recent terror attacks in Turkey and Belgium, the war against terror, Turkey’s relations with Jews, the relations between the U.S., Israel and Turkey, the situation in Palestine, the refugee crisis, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.”

Jewish organizational participants said the meeting was off the record, and declined to comment, even after the meeting was reported in the Turkish press.

The American Jewish Committee, not present at the meeting, welcomed Erdogan’s overtures, while recalling recent statements by members of his party that blame Jews for Turkey’s woes.

“President Erdogan’s expressed commitment to ‘fight’ anti-Semitism is particularly welcome in light of past statements by him and other AKP leaders,” said Jason Isaacson, AJC Associate Executive Director for Policy and Director of Government and International Affairs, in an email to JTA. “The security of Turkey’s venerable—and vulnerable—Jewish community must be a high priority.”

In recent months Erdogan has expressed an interest in renewing ties with Israel, stemming from a joint interest in tamping down the violence in Syria, which neighbors both countries; the discovery of natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, which Israel already is exploring with Cyprus and Greece, and Erdogan’s desire to isolate his main rival in the region, Russia.

After the March 19 terrorist attack in Istanbul in which three Israelis were among five dead and many Israelis were injured, Erdogan phoned his Israeli counterpart, Reuven Rivlin, and said the two countries should cooperate in battling terrorism. In an address at the Brookings Institution think tank Thursday, Erdogan said the attack was not solely aimed at Israel. He expressed hope that the tragedy had brought the former allies closer together.

Relations between Turkey and the United States are tense because of differences over Turkey’s attacks on Kurdish militias. Turkey sees them as a threat, while the United States see them as critical to restoring calm in that country’s devastating civil war. Erdogan is in Washington for a nuclear summit, but President Barack Obama refused to meet with him formally, although they had an informal chat.

Separately, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., the top Democrat on the Senate’s Middle east subcommittee, said this week that he was surprised to find during a recent Middle East tour that Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were equally appalled at expressions of anti-Muslim rhetoric by Republican candidates in the presidential election.

“These guys agree on nothing, but they both said to this group of senators, ‘what’s going on in the presidential race?,’” Kaine said on VA Talk Radio Network in a report picked up by BuzzFeed.


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