Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Austrian far-right pol’s narrow loss in presidential runoff provides wake-up call, Jewish groups say

(JTA)—European Jewish groups reacted with relief to the victory by a left-wing politician over a far-right candidate in Austria’s presidential elections.

Alexander van der Bellen, an environmentalist with a pro-refugee agenda, won with 50.3 percent of the vote on Sunday, despite early reports predicting victory for Norbert Hofer of the Austrian Freedom Party party, or FPO, in the runoff, the BBC reported. Hofer had 49.7 percent of the vote.

“While we are certainly satisfied with the result, there is little room to celebrate the high level of support for someone with such extremist views as Norbert Hofer,” European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor said in a statement Monday. “Unfortunately, the dissatisfaction with the moderate mainstream parties is providing oxygen to those like Hofer” and the Austrian Freedom Party.

“We are seeing signs of these trends across Europe, so it is incumbent on the more centrist parties to use this as a wake-up call and listen to the grievances of the people,” he said.

The Jewish Community of Vienna has shunned the Freedom Party, which it regards as having problematic ties to neo-Nazis. Party Chairman Heinz-Christian Strache has denied the allegations and recently visited Israel, where he met with Likud arty officials. In 2012, Strache apologized for posting on Facebook a caricature depicting an obese, hook-nosed banker wearing star-shaped cufflinks.

Striking a more optimistic note, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, said the result is “a clear sign that Europe is beginning to realize that hate and fear politics are not the answer to the many challenges we are facing as a continent.”

The Freedom Party has campaigned hard against the admittance of migrants from the Middle East, including refugees, citing their religion, Islam, which the party says is irreconcilable with European values. Austria has taken in 100,000 migrants from the Middle East over the past year—action that commentators say has generated a backlash of discontent that is helping the far right.

Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish Community in Vienna, told JTA: “I am very happy that van der Bellen won the election. He happens to be a good friend for many years to the Jewish community and a very good friend of the State of Israel.” He also said he is “happy the other candidate didn’t win.” Many Austrians voted for Hofer out of protest against the government and “not because they are sympathetic to the FPO,” Deutsch said.

Amsterdam to pay Jewish community $11M for Holocaust survivor taxes

(JTA)—The city of Amsterdam will give its Jewish community $11 million as compensation for taxes imposed on Holocaust survivors who returned home to the Dutch capital following World War II.

Upon their return, according to an article in The Telegraph on Monday, the survivors were made to pay a tax because their homes were left empty during the Holocaust. They also had to pay back taxes for the years they had been taken away from the city, as well as insurance fees.

The taxes were discovered by a student in 2013, and that year, Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan said the city should “put it right,” according to The Telegraph. On Friday, the city said it would pay the $11 million—an estimate of the total taxes paid by survivors following the war.

“Amsterdam has 5 million to 10 million euros in its coffers that it doesn’t want, and we have no right to it, so we want to give it back to the Jewish community to be used for important projects,” a spokesman for the mayor said, according to the Telegraph. “Finding the individual people or their relatives would be very costly and complex, and that is not the idea.”

The city has suggested the money be put toward a Holocaust memorial monument or community programs.

US will work with new Israeli defense minister, State Department says

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The appointment of hard-liner Avigdor Liberman as Israel’s new defense minister will not affect security coordination between Israel and the United States or the military aid package being negotiated, an unnamed U.S. government official said, according to an Israeli television report.

The report by Channel 10 on Sunday came hours after another Israeli TV station, Channel 2, reported that the U.S. warned Israel that the appointment of Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, would cause problems for the defense talks.

Liberman in the defense post will succeed Moshe Yaalon, who resigned from his ministerial position as well as the Knesset on Friday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was immersed in talks to replace him with Liberman.

“We appreciate Mr. Yaalon’s leadership and partnership as defense minister and we look forward to working with his successor,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said Friday, Reuters reported. “Our bonds of friendship are unbreakable, and our commitment to the security of Israel remains absolute.”

Yaalon said in leaving that the Likud party had been “taken over by extremist and dangerous entities,” and that Likud “is no longer the movement I joined.” Bringing Yisrael Beiteinu into the government coalition increases the one-seat majority to six.

On Saturday night, several hundred protesters gathered in Habimah Square in Tel Aviv to protest the new political coalition. Protesters chanted slogans such as “Bibi you failed, Bibi go home” and “We don’t want more victims, Liberman is a minister of war,” The Jerusalem Post reported.

Netanyahu said Sunday morning during the weekly Cabinet meeting that from the time the government was formed, he planned to expand the government coalition.

“A government that is as broad as possible is the best thing for the State of Israel. We are in the midst of moves to expand the government. I think that a broader coalition will help us meet the many challenges facing us and also take advantage of the opportunities,” Netanyahu said.

“I would like to make it clear that a broad government will continue to strive for a diplomatic process with the Palestinians and we will do so with the assistance of elements in the region. I personally deal with this a lot, in many places and I intend to continue to do so.”

French pol probed for ‘no dogs and Jews allowed’ Twitter feed

(JTA)—A municipality in southern France alerted prosecutors to a local politician’s Twitter account featuring remarks on banning Jews and dogs along with imagery from the Holocaust.

Montpelier prosecutors were notified Monday of the statement attributed to Djamel Boumaaz, a Muslim former member of the far-right National Front party, the Liberation daily reported. Boumaaz, who quit the party last year over what he termed anti-Muslim sentiments by party leader Marine Le Pen, said the remarks were made by an identified person who had hijacked his Twitter account, the news site Infos H24 reported.

The account, which was closed Monday, informed readers and subscribers that entering it was “forbidden to dogs and to Jews,” Liberation reported. Another tweet dated Sunday featured a black-and-white picture of corpses and the text “OK, let’s make up besides I have a heap of Jewish friends.”

A third tweet read: “My son has nightmares from your Holocaust. I told him not to be afraid of imaginary things.”

Boumaaz, a known associate of the Holocaust denier Alain Soral and anti-Semitic comedian Dieudone M’bala M’bala, was the No. 2 man on the National Front list for the municipal elections in Montpelier in 2014.

Gilles Clavreul, France’s interministerial delegate for the fight against racism and anti-Semitism, said on Twitter that he had contacted the social media’s French office demanding the closure of Boumaaz’s account for hate speech, which is illegal in France.

Earlier this month, Halles de Lyon, a co-op that operates a major market place in that city in eastern France, fired an employee who wrote on Facebook: “If there was one word I could have removed from the dictionary, it would be ‘Holocaust’.” He was fired on May 7, according to Radio Scoop.

Separately, France’s Union of Jewish Students, or UEJF, and the anti-racist organization SOS Racisme have taken Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to court for not complying with their obligations to moderate or delete hate material on social media, Le Parisien reported last week.

The two groups, together with SOS Homophobie, said that March 31 and May 10, they had found 586 examples of content deemed as “racist, anti-Semitic, pertaining to Holocaust denial, homophobic, or justifying terrorism or crimes against humanity.”

However, the groups reported, only 4 percent of these messages were deleted by Twitter, 7 percent by YouTube and 34 percent by Facebook.

Forward hires digital strategist as its new publisher

(JTA)—The Forward, the English-language newspaper and website founded as the Yiddish Daily Forward in 1897, has named a veteran digital media strategist as its new publisher.

Rachel Fishman Feddersen, founder of the digital strategy firm RFF Consulting and former general manager of digital at The Week and MentalFloss.com, will begin her new position in June, the Forward announced Monday.

“Rachel brings tremendous expertise and leadership skills to the Forward,” Samuel Norich, the current publisher, said in a statement. “She has a strong record of achievement in journalism, and she understands what it takes to build a first rate 21st century media organization.”

Norich will remain as president and CEO of the Forward.

According to the statement, Feddersen’s appointment comes as part of a strong push by the organization to become a “digital-first source for Jewish news,” which included in 2015 a rebranding and a new website. A print edition appears weekly.

In March, Norich announced an “aggressive” series of changes and staff layoffs, mostly on the business side, as part of “a strategy for growth that will set us on a strong course for the years to come.”

Prior to her work at The Week and MentalFloss.com, Feddersen oversaw digital news operations as chief content officer at Patch.com, a hyperlocal news operation formerly run by AOL, and worked in the online and news operations of The Parenting Group, LadiesHomeJournal.com and Disney’s Family.com.

“I am deeply committed to the Forward’s unique mission: to be the leading news organization for American Jews, and to embody the best in independent enterprise and cultural journalism,” Feddersen said in a statement. “The Forward is an icon, but one that’s evolving, and embracing its role as the leading voice for progressive Jews in this generation and those to come.”

A Yiddish-language edition of the Forward appears biweekly and has its own daily website.

Georgia candidate apologizes for highlighting opponent’s religion as ‘not Christian’

(JTA)—An attorney running for a judgeship in Georgia apologized for referencing his Jewish opponent’s religion as “not Christian” in his campaign literature.

Roderick Bridges apologized on Saturday to Dax Lopez, the incumbent on the DeKalb County State Court, for literature that listed Bridges as Christian with a thumbs-up sign and Lopez as “not Christian” with a thumbs-down sign.

Bridges also included party affiliation—he’s a Republican and Dax is a Democrat—in what is supposed to be a nonpartisan race. Bridges would be the first African-American to hold the position; Lopez is Hispanic.

Including religion on the checklist was intended to highlight his own commitment to his faith, Bridges said.

“I wasn’t talking about him, I was more so talking about myself,” he said, according to the Daily Report, a publication that covers Georgia’s courts. “We weren’t trying to offend anybody, especially the Jewish population.”

Genesis Prize/JFN award grants $3.3M to programs for intermarried families           

(JTA)—Some 28 projects to increase outreach to intermarried families will receive funding under a matching grants program between the Jewish Funders Network and the Genesis Prize.

The $3.3 million in grants for the Avenues to Jewish Engagement for Intermarried Couples and their Families program were announced Sunday in New York at the Jerusalem Post Conference.

The program was launched in honor of Academy Award-winning actor Michael Douglas, the recipient of the 2015 Genesis Prize for his commitment to Jewish values and the Jewish people. He pledged then to use the $1 million prize money to reach out to other Jews from intermarried families seeking a connection to the Jewish community, and announced grants to Hillel and the Jewish Funders Network for programs that reach out to intermarried children and couples.

“As someone who is not always welcomed in the Jewish community because my mother was not Jewish, I want to make sure that all those who desire to connect with Jewish culture and heritage have that opportunity,” Douglas said in a statement when the grant program was announced in August. “This fund will allow many organizations to continue, or to initiate, important work to engage intermarried couples and their children.”

Douglas’ prize was matched with a $1 million gift from philanthropist Roman Abramovich, creating a matching grant initiative that was administered by Jewish Funders Network.

Among the programs that received funding were Honeymoon Israel, which offers subsidized trips to Israel for couples with at least one Jewish partner early in their committed relationship; Jewish ArtEck, a summer camp in Berlin, Germany, open to Jews from intermarried families, and JCC Manhattan, which will establish Circles of Welcome, a program to engage intermarried couples and their families in Jewish life and community through mentor-led learning groups.

The 28 recipients are from the United States, Israel, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Poland and China. Each project will run for up to two years.

British Jewish groups call on Labour Party to suspend lawmaker

(JTA)—British Jewish groups and lawmakers have called on the Labour Party to suspend a Parliament member who compared Israel to the Nazis.

The party said last week that Afzal Khan had been “reminded of his responsibilities as a Labour representative,” but that he would face no disciplinary action, the Jewish Chronicle reported Thursday.

Kahn tweeted in August 2014, during Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza, “The Israeli government are acting like Nazi’s in Gaza.”

Khan in 2008 received a high national honor, the CBE, for his community and interfaith work, and is co-founder of The Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester.

“It is staggering how often Labour politicians casually reference the Nazis when discussing the world’s only Jewish state,” Parliament member Andrew Percy told the Telegraph. “This is deeply offensive, causes a great deal of hurt to the Jewish community in the UK. Labour should move to suspend Afzal Khan immediately and start to take the issue of anti-Semitism more seriously.”

Eric Pickles, the UK’s special envoy for post-Holocaust Issues, told the Telegraph: “Another day, another Labour anti-Semite caught red-handed. Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to even suspend this MEP makes an absolute mockery of his promise to tackle anti-Semitism within his party.”

Concerns about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party surfaced last summer when Corbyn—a left-wing politician who called Hezbollah and Hamas activists his “friends” in 2009—was elected to head the party.

The anti-Semitism scandal began in earnest early this year amid claims that Jews were targeted at its chapter at Oxford University. Since then, at least 19 Labour officials have been suspended from the party for making statements deemed offensive to Jews or vitriolic about Israel.

Republican Jews reportedly planning Donald Trump Israel trip

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Sheldon Adelson and the Republican Jewish Coalition reportedly are planning to bring Donald Trump to Israel.

The Guardian over the weekend quoted what it said were sources close to the casino magnate as saying the RJC—one of Adelson’s major beneficiaries—was planning the trip at Adelson’s behest, although nothing has been finalized.

The RJC declined to comment and Trump’s campaign did not return a request for comment.

Trump, the real estate magnate and presumptive Republican nominee, has said he would visit Israel “soon.”

Adelson, a leading pro-Israel philanthropist and a kingmaker among Republicans, recently endorsed Trump and reportedly has pledged to spend more than $100 million to elect him.

Many Republican Jews are wary of Trump because of his equivocations on whether he would be neutral in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and would continue defense assistance to Israel. Also troubling to moderate Republicans are Trump’s broadsides against Muslims, Hispanics and women.

Trump canceled a planned trip to Israel in December after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the candidate for pledging to stop allowing Muslims entry into the United States.

Adelson emailed top Republican Jewish leaders last week in an appeal to join him in backing Trump, saying he would be a better president for Israel than Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee.

Bernie Sanders wants Dem platform to better reflect Palestinian aspirations

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Bernie Sanders wants to make Palestinian rights more of a priority in the Democratic Party platform, according to a report.

The Washington Post reported on Friday that Sanders, the Vermont Independent senator seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, wants to see changes to the platform to better reflect Palestinian aspirations for statehood.

Sanders, the only Jewish candidate to ever have won major party nominating contests, throughout the campaign has defended Israel’s right to security, but also has called for an end to settlement expansion and criticized what he has said has been Israel’s disproportionate response to Palestinian attacks.

The platform as approved in 2012 refers to aspirations for a “just and lasting” agreement that would result in two states. Much of its 300 or so words are otherwise given over to protections for Israel’s security and a demand that Palestinians “recognize Israel’s right to exist, reject violence, and adhere to existing agreements.”

Its only allusion to longstanding American calls on Israel not to prejudice a two-state outcome through settlement building is “to encourage all parties to be resolute in the pursuit of peace.”

The party platform stirred controversy during the 2012 convention when a vote to insert language affirming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was met with boos.

Sanders is trailing front-runner Hillary Clinton in delegates, and the former secretary of state appears to have all but clinched the party nomination.

Separately, Sanders told CNN in an interview that he was backing Tim Canova, a primary challenger to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who in her separate capacity as Democratic National Committee chairwoman has feuded with Sanders’ campaign. He also said he would not reappoint Wasserman Schultz as party chairwoman were he elected president.

Sanders has said the DNC has rigged the election through its administration of its rules and by a debate schedule that at first appeared aimed at burying news coverage with placement in low-viewing time slots.

The DNC added debates and Wasserman Schultz has said the rules were in place for years.

Wasserman Schultz, one of the most prominent Jewish members of the party’s congressional caucus, told The New York Times that she remained neutral in the race between Sanders and Clinton.

Genesis Prize billionaire co-founder will leave his money to charity, none to 4 kids

(JTA)—Russian-Jewish billionaire Mikhail Fridman has announced plans to leave his entire fortune to charity,  not leaving a single kopek for his children.

Fridman, Russia’s second richest man, according to Forbes magazine, said Friday that he believed his children would be better off without his money, the Times of Israel reported, citing a translation of Russia Today. Forbes valued his worth as of Monday at $14.2 billion.

“I’m not a big fan of such public statements, but I can say that I am going to transfer all my money to charity. I don’t plan to transfer any money to my children,” said Fridman, who is one of the founders of the Genesis Philanthropy Group.

The Ukraine-born Fridman, 52, has four children, the youngest of whom is 10. He said they would be better off earning their own money.

Fridman, co-owner of the Alfa Group—the biggest financial and industrial investment group in Russia—said his business partners also made the same decision about who would inherit their fortunes.

Fridman has devoted much of his giving to Jewish culture and right-wing Israeli politics. According to the Jewish Press, he is a major patron of Jewish programs in Russia and throughout Europe, and is one of the founders of the Russian Jewish Congress.

In 2012, Genesis created an annual prize informally referred to as the “Jewish Nobel.” Its recipients have been  New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Hollywood actor-director Michael Douglas and Israeli-American violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman.

“Our forbears have left us something far more valuable than land, castles or titles,” Fridman said, according to the Times of Israel. “They left us the word, the book and a set of values and rules which, if understood correctly and applied diligently, lead to the ultimate reward in life—a sense of fulfillment and self-actualization.”


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