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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Donald Trump reportedly to get big financial boost from Sheldon Adelson

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson plans to spend tens of millions of dollars to help elect Donald Trump president, The New York Times reported.

Last Friday, the Times quoted two Republicans as saying that Trump and Adelson met last week in New York when Adelson was in the city to attend an event of the World Values Network, a Jewish group he helps fund.

Adelson, a Jewish billionaire, Republican mega-giver and pro-Israel philanthropist, said he was ready to spend more than he had in any prior bid to elect a president, even in excess of $100 million, according to the report.

Trump late Saturday retweeted an excerpt of the Times story published by Breitbart News, a right-wing outlet that has favored the real estate magnate and reality TV star’s bid.

Spending by Adelson and his wife, Miriam, in the 2012 elections has been estimated at between $98 million and $150 million, but that includes money spent on congressional races. Adelson plans to focus almost exclusively on the presidential race in this election cycle, the report said.

Last week, Adelson declared his support for Trump in a Washington Post op-ed but did not say whether that would mean a cash infusion.

Trump, who has riven the Republican Party and alienated many donors, until now has been self-funded. But as he heads into a general election against likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Trump has said he will seek outside funding.

Jewish Republicans have been particularly unsettled by his equivocating on what once were sine qua nons of Republican support for Israel, including tilting toward Israel in its dealings with Palestinians, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and pledging to maintain and increase defense assistance for Israel.

Trump at times has said he would remain neutral on Israel and the Palestinians. He refused to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital before walking back that position and has suggested Israel should pay for U.S. defense assistance.

Several Jewish groups praise Obama administration’s transgender protections

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Amid controversy over new protections President Barack Obama has extended to transgender people, a number of Jewish groups have welcomed them.

A statement last Friday from the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center praised the guidance issued the same day by the Justice and Education departments requiring that schools receiving federal funds end discrimination based on sexual identification.

“We urge all public schools to swiftly and fully comply with this directive so that transgender and gender non-conforming individuals are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve,” the RAC statement said.

The guidance, which warns that failure to comply could cost schools federal money, says students must be allowed to access restrooms, shower facilities and other sex-segregated areas based on their gender identity, not on their gender as recorded at birth.

A number of states and local authorities have said they will ignore the guidance; some have threatened to sue the federal government over it.

The National Council for Jewish Women said the guidance “provides needed clarity and best practices for public school districts and institutions of higher learning.”

Also praising the guidance was Rabbi Jack Moline, who directs Interfaith Alliance, a coalition that includes major Jewish national groups.

“No matter whether antipathy toward transgender Americans is motivated by ignorance or a particular – misguided, I believe - theological understanding of gender, neither has a place in our public schools,” he said in a statement.

A statement from Bend the Arc praised both the guidance to schools and a new rule from the Department of Health and Human Services extending protections to those discriminated against because of their gender identity.

The rule will have the effect of requiring insurers to at least consider coverage of procedures related to gender change, and doctors to provide care to patients suffering from illnesses more commonly associated with their birth gender. There have been reports that transgender males have been frustrated in obtaining treatment for breast cancer.

“Now, more children can go to school knowing that they will be treated with dignity and respect, and many more Americans will have access to the high-quality health care they deserve,” Bend the Arc said.

The Anti-Defamation League meantime praised U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch for suing North Carolina, which last month passed a far-reaching law limiting LGBT rights, including restricting restroom use to birth-gender.

“The Justice Department’s civil rights complaint filed in federal court in North Carolina sends an important message that discrimination against transgender people is both unlawful and unacceptable,” the ADL said in a statement.

The North Carolina Jewish federations in Greensboro, Durham-Chapel Hill and Raleigh last month jointly resolved that the North Carolina law was “detrimental.”

“We stand with, support, and welcome all members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community,” the joint resolution released April 26 said. “At our facilities, all individuals are and will continue to be able to use the restrooms or locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity and/or expression, regardless of their biological sex.”

Bill Clinton: ‘I killed myself to give the Palestinians a state’

(JTA)—Saying “I killed myself to give the Palestinians a state,” former President Bill Clinton defended his record on Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, and his wife’s, at a campaign event.

“I had a deal they turned down that would have given them all of Gaza,” Clinton said Friday in response to a heckler at an event in New Jersey in support of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, Politico first reported.

The former president also commended Hillary Clinton, who as secretary of state during President Barack Obama’s first term from 2009 to 2013 pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to meet and make peace, and defended her against the heckler who pointed out that she said “neutrality is not an option” in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“There’s nobody who’s blameless in the Middle East, but we cannot really ever make a fundamental difference in the Middle East unless the Israelis think we care whether they live or die. If they do, we have a chance to keep pushing for peace,” Clinton said. “And that’s her position. Not to agree with the Israeli government on everything, not to pretend that innocents don’t die, not to pretend that more Palestinian children don’t die than Israeli children. But that we can’t get anything done unless they believe, when the chips are down, if somebody comes for them we will not let them be wiped out and become part of the dustbin of history.”

Bill Clinton also condemned Hamas for locating its rocket launchers in civilian areas, leading to higher casualties during Israel’s 2014 war with the terrorist group in Gaza.

“Hamas is really smart. When they decide to rocket Israel, they insinuate themselves in the hospitals, in the schools, in the highly populous areas, and they are smart,” Bill Clinton said to audience applause, according to Politico.

“They said they try to put the Israelis in a position of either not defending themselves or killing innocents. They’re good at it. They’re smart. They’ve been doing this a long time.”

UNESCO condemns Iran’s Holocaust cartoon contest

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, condemned a state-sponsored Holocaust-themed cartoon contest taking place in Iran.

The Second International Holocaust Cartoon Contest opened Saturday and was set to run through the end of May in Tehran.  The top prize is $12,000.

“Such an initiative, which aims at a mockery of the genocide of the Jewish people, a tragic page of humanity’s history, can only foster hatred and incite to violence, racism and anger,” Irina Bokova, the director general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, said over the weekend. “This contest goes against the universal values of tolerance and respect, and runs counter to the action led by UNESCO to promote Holocaust education, to fight anti-Semitism and denial.”

Some 150 works from 50 countries are on display in the contest, which is organized by nongovernmental bodies in Iran with support from the government. Most of the works criticize Israel for using the Holocaust to distract the international community from its treatment of the Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday also criticized the event.

“It is not just its policy of subversion and aggression in the region; it is the values on which it is based,” Netanyahu said of Iran. “It denies and belittles the Holocaust and it is also preparing another Holocaust. I think that every country in the world must stand up and fully condemn this.”

The Israeli leader added that he conveyed this message to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a phone conversation on Saturday night. Kerry is traveling in Saudi Arabia.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner, who is traveling with Kerry, said in a briefing to reporters that the United States was concerned the contest could “be used as a platform for Holocaust denial and revisionism and egregiously anti-Semitic speech, as it has in the past,” The Associated Press reported.

“Such offensive speech should be condemned by the authorities and civil society leaders rather than encouraged. We denounce any Holocaust denial and trivialization as inflammatory and abhorrent. It is insulting to the memory of the millions of people who died in the Holocaust.”

Israel finishes 14th in Eurovision

(JTA)—Israel finished in 14th place among the 26 nations competing in the 61st Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm, which was won by Ukraine.

Australia came in second and Russia third in the contest that ended Saturday. The final was broadcast live in the United States for the first time and featured a performance by the American pop star Justin Timberlake.

Israel’s entrant Hovi Star, whose real name is Hovev Sokulets, performed his ballad written for the competition titled “Made of Stars.” He placed eighth in the tabulations of the judge’s panels from the various countries, but fell to 14th during the popular vote.

Star was harassed earlier this month while promoting Eurovision in Russia, allegedly because of his sexual orientation and appearance.

Amir Haddad, a French-Israeli dentist representing France, finished sixth.

Ukraine’s song, “1944” and sung by the artist Jamala, appeared to walk a fine line over the prohibition that songs not be political. The song appeared to reference the deportation of ethnic Tatars from Crimea by Joseph Stalin during World War II. Jamala is a Tartar.

More than 180 million viewers watch the song contest annually. The winners are picked by popular vote cast through SMS and an official Eurovision app, and by panels of judges in each country.

Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain automatically qualified for the final because they contribute the most money to the contest. Sweden qualified because it is the reigning champion.

Over the contest’s 61 years, Israel has won Eurovision three times, most recently in 1998, when the transgender singer Dana International brought home the title singing “Diva.”

Former London mayor compares EU goals to Hitler’s

(JTA)—Former London Mayor Boris Johnson has come under fire for comparing the goals of the European Union to Hitler.

Johnson, who is in favor of Britain leaving the EU, told the Sunday Telegraph that the EU, like Hitler, aims to unify Europe under one “authority.”

“Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically,” the Conservative Party lawmaker told The Telegraph. “The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods.

British voters will cast ballots next month in a referendum on staying in or leaving the European Union. A vote to leave is being called colloquially “Brexit.”

As in elsewhere in Europe, Britain’s right-wing parties resent UK membership in the bloc. A Brexit would ensure Britain is not pressured into taking in some of the 1.8 million mostly Muslim migrants who entered Europe last year, they argue.

Prime Minister David Cameron is among those who wish to remain, but agreed to a referendum to appease his Conservative Party’s right-leaning bloc.

Johnson reportedly is a favorite to become the next leader of the Conservative Party.

The president of Britain’s Board of Jewish Deputies, Jonathan Arkush, said, “I don’t think references to Hitler in the debate on Britain’s position in the EU helps the arguments at all,” according to the Jewish Chronicle.

Labour Party lawmaker Yvette Cooper, who supports remaining in the EU, accused Johnson of using Hitler to play “nasty, nasty games,” according to the Chronicle. She said Johnson showed a “shameful lack of judgment” and was playing “the most divisive, cynical politics.”

“He should not try to play political games with the darkest and most serious chapter of Europe’s history,” Cooper said, adding: “The EU has played a critical role keeping peace in Europe ever since.”

The Labour Party in Britain has come under increasing attack in recent weeks for its perceived tolerance of members who make anti-Semitic remarks.

Michigan public radio station refuses to air birthday greeting to Israel

(JTA)—A Jewish couple from Detroit is pressing a Michigan public radio station to broadcast a birthday greeting to Israel paid for by their sponsorship of the station.

Hannan and Lisa Lis made a donation to Michigan Radio, a statewide public radio group operated by the University of Michigan, that entitled them to sponsor a day’s broadcast and have a message read on the air six times.

The couple requested “Happy 68th Birthday Israel” to be broadcast on Israel Independence Day, which took place on May 12, Deadline Detroit first reported. Hannan Lis is an Israeli citizen, and one son is serving in the Israeli army. Lisa Lis is a daughter of Weight Watchers CEO Florine Marks.

The station first said it needed two months notice to broadcast a message, but then rejected the message outright, saying in a letter to the couple: “We have determined that this message would compromise the station’s commitment to impartiality and that it crosses over into advocacy, or could imply advocacy.”

The couple and the station exchanged several letters, including one in which the Lises asked if the station would broadcast a “Happy Birthday Norway” message. The station confirmed that it would not, according to Deadline Detroit.

According to the day sponsorship rules posted on Michigan Radio’s website: “Day sponsorships must be personal in nature. They may not include promotional, commercial or messages that Michigan Radio deems would negatively impact Michigan Radio’s reputation for impartiality. Language referencing political campaigns, candidacies, religious convictions or legislation will not be accepted.”

“There’s so much anti-Israel sentiments and rhetoric and lies out there, and I just wanted something positive about Israel to be announced on the radio,” Lisa Lis told AMI Newswire. “Many people just say ‘happy anniversary’ to their spouse. When they offered a day sponsorship to me, I genuinely and publicly wanted to wish Israel happy birthday from my husband and myself.

“We respect the university and the relationship and connections it has with Israel. The radio station, on the other hand, somehow feels wishing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Israel is adversarial to them. And I can’t for the life of me figure out why. Everybody we talk to is surprised and shocked. I don’t see how ‘Happy Birthday’ is political.”

The couple told AMI that they would continue to press their case but are “trying to affect some pressure without going ballistic,” according to Hannan Lis, due to their “high level of respect for NPR.”

Son of Lebanese immigrants, friend to Jewish community, named Brazil’s president

RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA)—The elevation of a centrist vice president, Michel Temer, as Brazil’s president amid the impeachment process of Dilma Rousseff is expected to result in a less strained relationship between Brazil and Israel, as well as its Jewish community, Jewish leaders said.

Temer, 75, the son of Lebanese immigrants, took the helm of Latin America’s largest nation on Thursday. He has been vice president since 2011.

Rousseff, who has served for 13 years, was suspended by the Brazilian Congress for 180 days as part of an ongoing impeachment process. She has rankled the Jewish community with what were seen as anti-Israel remarks, including calling Israel’s conflict with Hamas in 2014 “a massacre.”

Also, Brazil refused to accept the appointment of a former West Bank settler leader, Dani Dayan, as ambassador to Brasilia. In March, Dayan was named consul general in New York and no one has been named in his place.

“The interruption of a mandate is not something to celebrate, but the maturation of our democracy must be highlighted,” Fernando Lottenberg, president of the Brazilian Israelite Confederation, told JTA. “We’ll keep an effective and open dialogue with the new government regarding national, international and community-related subjects.”

Among his first moves, Temer announced that Jose Serra, a longtime friend of the Jewish community, as the minister of foreign relations and Ilan Goldfajn, an esteemed economist who was born in Israel, as president of the Central Bank. Goldfajn, who is Jewish, will attempt to boost the world’s sixth largest economy in the throes of its biggest financial crisis in a century.

In January, in light of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Temer welcomed Lottenberg, who addressed him on the importance of the approval of Brazil’s first anti-terrorism law, which eventually passed in March.

Born in Sao Paulo and a Roman Catholic, Temer is the son of Maronite Lebanese immigrants from the town of Btaaboura in the Koura district, neighboring the capital Tripoli in northern Lebanon. His father fled to Brazil to escape famine and war in the 1920s.

Well-respected in Brazil, Temer heads Brazil’s largest party PMDB, which announced its rupture with the Rousseff government weeks ago, contributing to the impeachment process.

“You are more president of Lebanon than me as you have 8 million, we have 5 million,” Lebanon’s then-president, Michel Suleiman, told Temer in 2011, according to the Ya Libnan news service, referencing the large Lebanese community estimated at between 7 million and 10 million members in Brazil, or nearly 5 percent of the population.

Former Argentine president claims son was killed by Hezbollah

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (JTA)—Former Argentine President Carlos Menem told a federal judge that his son was killed in a terrorist attack by Hezbollah in 1995.

Menem, 85, said Friday that it was the third attack on Argentina following the bombings in Buenos Aires of the Israeli Embassy in 1992 and the  AMIA Jewish center in 1994.

“During my mandate as president of the nation there were three attacks. The first one, on the Israeli Embassy on March 18, 1992, the second struck the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina on July 18, 1994, and the third was in my own blood, ending the life of my son Carlos Menem Jr., on March 15, 1995,” Menem, currently a senator, said in written testimony before federal judge Carlos Villafuerte Ruzo who investigated the death, the state-run news agency Telam reported.

Menem added that his foreign minister, Guido Di Tella, told him that foreign embassies informed the government that Hezbollah was behind his son’s death. Di Tella, who died in 2001, reportedly also advised Menem not to retaliate against Hezbollah or publicly denounce the terror group because such actions could be a risk to national safety.

Nine months after the AMIA bombing, on March 15, 1995, a helicopter piloted by Menem’s son crashed under unknown circumstances. The attacks on Jewish sites and the helicopter crash all occurred while Menem was president. He was elected in 1989 and reelected for other four years in 1995. Argentine prosecutors believe Hezbollah and Iran were responsible for the embassy and AMIA attacks.

Menem did not provide evidence to support his accusation against Hezbollah, nor did he answer questions from his former wife, Zulema Yoma, who believes their son was killed by “narcoterrorist” groups.

It marked the first time that Menem has brought up such a hypothesis to the judge. Media reports have said the bombings and his son’s death were triggered by Menem’s decision to strengthen the country’s relations with the United States and Israel, and to withdraw support from the Arab community, which reportedly had backed his electoral campaign.

The son of Syrians who immigrated to Argentina, Menem made the first official visit of an Argentine president to Israel two years after he was elected.

113-year-old Jewish woman now oldest person in the US

(JTA)—The oldest American is now a 113-year-old Jewish woman named Goldie.

After the death of 116-year-old Susannah Mushatt-Jones last Friday, the New York Daily News reported that Goldie Michelson of Worcester, Massachusetts, became the oldest living American.

Since the death of another Goldie, 114-year-old Goldie Steinberg last year, Michelson has likely been the oldest Jew in the world, too.

Michelson (neé Corash) was born in Russia in 1902 and immigrated with her family to Worcester at 2. Her father, Max, was a medical student in Russia who opened a dry goods store in Worcester.

She attended the Women’s College of Brown University, which later became Pembroke University, and received a master’s degree in sociology from Clark University in Worcester. Her thesis at Clark was titled “A Citizenship Survey of Worcester Jewry” and examined why many of the city’s older Jewish-immigrant residents did not pursue American citizenship or learn English.

She told the Worcester Telegram in 2012 that her thesis was inspired by her time working with Jewish women’s organizations such as Hadassah and the National Council of Jewish Women. Michelson was also active in other community groups, including one that supported the founding of Brandeis University in Waltham.

Michelson has remained in Worcester ever since. She credits her longevity to walking.

The oldest person in the world is now 116-year-old Italian Emma Morano-Martinuzzi, according to the Daily News.

“It never occurred to me that I would live this long,” Michelson told Clark’s magazine in 2012. “I just went on and on, and I’ve loved it.”


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