Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Muhammad Ali pleaded for Daniel Pearl’s life

LOS ANGLES (JTA)—When Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped by Islamic extremists in January 2002, the most famous American Muslim of the day, Muhammad Ali, pleaded publicly for his release and life.

“I appeal to you to show Daniel Pearl compassion and kindness,” Ali implored Pearl’s abductors, who would behead the journalist in Pakistan after nine days of captivity, although his fate would not be known for another three weeks.

“Treat him as you would wish all Muslims to be treated by others,” entreated Ali, who died last Friday at 74. “Daniel should not become another victim of the ongoing conflict. It is my most sincere prayer that Daniel Pearl be permitted to return safely to his family. May Allah have mercy on us all.”

Pearl’s parents, Judea and Ruth, also asked Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, to intercede with the abductors.

“Farrakhan said, day after day, that he wasn’t ready and when he was finally ready it was too late,” Judea Pearl, who was born in Israel, recalled Saturday.

By contrast, Pearl noted, “Ali did not hesitate a minute and issued a plea that only Satan could resist; it was published next day in Pakistan. Ali further called me by phone and insisted on being invited to the party once Danny was released.”

Instead of the anticipated celebration to mark the journalist’s hoped-for return, Ali and his wife were invited to attend the private memorial service on March 10, 2002 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.

At the service, which this reporter attended as a friend of Pearl’s parents, Ali walked in slowly, showing clear signs of the degenerative Parkinson’s disease that eventually contributed to his death.

But he brightened as Judea Pearl, a UCLA professor, mentioned Ali’s intercession for Daniel and lauded the legendary boxing champion and social activist as “a champion of humanity.”

In memory of their son, Judea and Ruth Pearl have established the Daniel Pearl Foundation to support causes that inspired his life, including promotion of cross-cultural understanding and prevention of hate-based violence.

Ontario premier: Draft motion on BDS that reflects entire legislature

TORONTO (JTA)—The premier of Canada’s most populous province is calling for a motion on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that all parties can live with.

Kathleen Wynne of the Liberal Party made the suggestion last week on the heels of the defeat of a motion last month in the Ontario legislature that condemned the BDS campaign as the “insidious new face of anti-Semitism.” Introduced by the Conservative opposition, the measure fell in the provincial parliament by a vote of 39-18.

The Liberal government argued the legislation would not improve security in the Middle East, while the left-leaning New Democratic Party saw the measure as an attack on freedom of speech and association.

Fresh from leading a trade mission to Israel, where Wynne said she “entirely” opposes the BDS movement, the premier was grilled last week in the legislature about her party’s failure to support the motion.

“Let’s figure out if we can craft a motion that is not divisive, that is actually unifying in nature, [one] that actually is not flawed,” she said.

“I made this commitment when I was on the mission that we would work with the opposition parties and that we would try to come up with a motion that would pass in this legislature that would reflect the inclusiveness of all the members of this legislature... in the coming weeks.”

Conservative legislator Gila Martow called Wynne’s pledge “a step forward,” but didn’t like her use of the word divisive, the Canadian Jewish News reported.

“To me, the only thing I see that is divisive is her [pro-Israel] opinion,” given that the rest of her caucus voted against the bill, Martow said.

McGill U student board calls BDS unconstitutional

MONTREAL (JTA)—Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions resolutions that “actively campaign” against Israel run counter to the McGill University’s undergraduate student union constitution, the union’s judicial board agreed.

While the board decision, called a “reference,” still faces ratification by the Student Society of the McGill board of directors, the move on June 1 is being hailed as a victory on a Montreal campus where BDS motions have failed to pass three times over 18 months.

The decision “is a clear signal that the SSMU understands the nature of BDS on campus,” said Patrick Benaroche of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Quebec.

The reference was the judicial board’s response to a complaint filed in March by a McGill student upset over the third BDS motion proposed at the university a month earlier. The student, Zev Macklin, considered the motion unconstitutional.

In its reference, the board stressed that it was not issuing a judgment, only an “advisory opinion,” and that the opinion allowed for condemning actions by nations—but not the nations themselves.

The union noted that its opinion may have been different had the pro-BDS motion restricted itself to calling on McGill to curtail its investment in countries cooperating in Israel’s occupation. But the motion also supported the overall aims of the BDS movement against Israel itself, the judicial board said.

NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs executive order against BDS

(JTA)—New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order against the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.

The order signed Sunday, hours before the start of New York’s annual Celebrate Israel Parade, will require state agencies to divest themselves of companies and organizations aligned with the BDS movement.

Cuomo said at the signing at the Harvard Club in Manhattan that New York is Israel’s “true friend.”

“And it’s very simple. If you boycott against Israel, New York will boycott you,” he said. “If you divert revenues from Israel, New York will divert revenues from you. If you sanction Israel, New York will sanction you. Period.”

New York is the first state in which the governor has taken executive action against the BDS movement. Several state legislatures have passed anti-BDS legislation, including Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and South Carolina. In total, 21 states have taken up anti-BDS legislation.

Cuomo, a Democrat, criticized elements of his party that have taken stands perceived as being against Israel.

“As a Democrat, I always took for granted that there was a natural relationship with Israel that was unquestionable,” Cuomo said. “You now have aspects of the Democratic Party that are being critical of Israel as being disproportionate in its response.”

Alphonso David, counsel to the governor, told The New York Times before the signing that he expects the number of companies that do business with the state that endorse or are engaged in the BDS movement to be “quite significant.”

Swedish nun who saved Jews from Nazis made a saint

(JTA)—A Swedish nun who saved Jewish families from the Nazis during the Holocaust was made a saint.

Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad was canonized on Sunday by Pope Francis during a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. She becomes the first Swedish saint in more than 600 years.

Hesselblad converted to Catholicism after being born a Lutheran. She saved at least 12 Jews during the Holocaust, hiding them in the convent in Rome where she served as mother superior. The Jews remained hidden for about six months, until the end of the war.

She was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations by Israel’s Yad Vashem in 2004.

Hesselblad died in Rome in 1957 at 87.

Jewish Theatre in Warsaw closed over building’s dangerous condition

WARSAW, Poland (JTA)—The Jewish Theatre building in Warsaw was closed at the request of the district construction supervisor’s office.

The official reason given for the closure last Friday night is the poor physical condition of the building. For the past several months, however, a private developer who wants to build an office skyscraper at the site has called for the closing of the theater.

The Social-Cultural Jewish Association sold the Grzybowski Square building last year because of financial problems.

“The money from the sale of the property was necessary to keep open all of our branches in Poland,” Anna Kiedrzynska-Tui, a spokesman for the association, told JTA. “The building for many years was in bad condition, and we did not have the financial capacity to cover the cost to repair it or build a new one.”

The city of Warsaw owns the building.

“The building is not in the best condition, but in our opinion, it does not threaten the public safety,” Agnieszka Klab, a City Council spokeswoman, said last month in an interview with Radio Eska.

Ghelamco, a developing company, has pledged that there will be a place for the Jewish Theatre in a new building. But the theater would have to relocate during the construction of a new building. If a temporary location cannot be found during the construction, then all of the theater’s employees and actors could lose their jobs.

The Jewish Theatre in Warsaw is the only theater in Poland performing in Yiddish, and one of two in Europe, including the Jewish Theater in Bucharest. It was created in 1950 and its headquarters were built with funding from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

The director of the theater is Golda Tencer, an actress and director, organizer of the Festival of Jewish Culture “Singer’s Warsaw,” and the International Seminar in Yiddish Language and Culture in Warsaw.

Separate swim periods for women pit New York Times against city’s Orthodox

(JTA)—An only-in-New-York story about a public swimming pool that offered women-only swim periods for the area’s Orthodox community turned into a full-blown media firestorm when The New York Times weighed in on the subject.

The pool, located in the heavily Orthodox Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, had been offering women-only hours since the 1990s to accommodate those whose religious sensitivities forbid women and men from swimming together.

Late last month, the Parks Department canceled the women-only swim periods after an anonymous complaint was made to the city’s Commission on Human Rights, only to reverse itself following objections by Assemblyman Dov Hikind, an Orthodox politician representing the nearby Borough Park and Midwood neighborhoods.

The reversal led to a strongly worded editorial  in the Times on May 31 asserting that setting aside a special time for a religious group at a public facility violated “the laws of New York City and the Constitution, and commonly held principles of fairness and equal access.”

“The city’s human rights law is quite clear that public accommodations like a swimming pool cannot exclude people based on sex,” the editorial argued, adding that the current practice has a “a strong odor of religious intrusion into a secular space.”

The editorial drew a swift backlash from parts of the Jewish community, who accused the paper of unfairly rejecting a reasonable religious accommodation and of applying a double standard to Orthodox Jews.

Seth Lipsky, the founding editor of the New York Sun and a former editor of the Forward, wrote a heated missive in the New York Post titled “Let My People Swim—and Damn the New York Times.”

In a letter to the Times, Rabbi Avi Shafran, the director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, a haredi Orthodox umbrella organization, called the women-only hours a “reasonable accommodation,” according to the Jewish Daily Forward.

“Rescinding the special sex-segregated hours would be the equivalent of a sign saying, ‘No people with traditional values allowed,’” he wrote. “The classical concept of modesty that is embraced by many citizens may have its roots in religious systems. But reasonable accommodation of the needs of such New Yorkers is not an endorsement of any religion.”

A group in New York’s Rockland County associated with that area’s Hasidic Satmar community, the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council, also released a statement saying”The hypocrisy and inflammatory language in the New York Times is astounding in many ways.” It pointed to a February story in which the Times reported favorably on accommodations made at a public housing project in Toronto that offered a women’s-only swim period for Muslim women.

“If it is great when the wishes of women in the Muslim community are accommodated, why is it a problem when the same is granted to women in the Orthodox Jewish community?” the council asked.

In Tablet magazine, Yair Rosenberg pointed to examples in St. Paul, Minnesota, San Diego and Seattle in which accommodations made for Muslim women to swim without men were applauded in some cases and sparked controversy in others. But he questioned why the Times editorial failed to mention these precedents and focused exclusively on Orthodox Jews.

“It is exceedingly odd that the national paper of record only excoriated the practice of sex-segregated swimming when it became aware of religious Jews engaging in it, and even then, omitted the identical practices of religious Muslims,” he wrote.

Hikind, meanwhile, called the city’s decision to continue the separate swimming hours “a major victory for human rights.”

“It is a major victory for the people, and the community can rest much easier this Shabbos knowing that men and women can continue to swim separately,” he wrote in a statement.

The Commission on Human Rights and the Parks Department continue to review the pool policies, a spokesperson told Gothamist.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg the namesake for new species of insect

(JTA)—Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish Supreme Court justice, may have a university named for him. But Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first female Jewish justice on the high court, now has an entire species—even if it is a rather small one: the leaf-dwelling Ilomantis ginsburgae.

The newly identified type of praying mantis was discovered at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the museum announced in a June 1 news release. It is green, with a flattened body, conical eyes and broad wings with “venation that resembles the vein patterns on leaves,” according to the release.

Researchers said they named the Madagascar native for the 83-year-old Brooklyn native, known by some fans as the Notorious RBG, to honor the esteemed judge’s “relentless fight for gender equality.”

Like Ginsburg, the mantis is something of a feminist pioneer, since it is, according to the news release, the first mantis classified by distinct qualities in its female reproductive parts, rather than its male ones.

Lead author Sydney Brannoch, a Case Western Reserve University doctoral candidate working at the museum, said: “As a feminist biologist, I often questioned why female specimens weren’t used to diagnose most species. This research establishes the validity of using female specimens in the classification of praying mantises. It is my hope that our work not only sets a precedent in taxonomy but also underscores the need for scientists to investigate and equally consider both sexes in other scientific investigations.”

The authors  said another reason they named the species for Ginsburg is because its neck plate resembles the ruffled collars the judge frequently wears.

Paris peace summit issues statement less harsh than Israel feared

(JTA)—After five hours of discussion, participants in the Paris peace summit, the French initiative to reboot peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, issued a statement that was less harsh toward Israel than what members of the Arab League had advocated for, according to Haaretz.

Foreign ministers from over two dozen countries concluded the one-day summit last Friday with a statement asking the Israelis and Palestinians, who were not invited, to demonstrate “a genuine commitment to the two-state solution in order to rebuild trust.”

They also proposed an international conference to further talks by the end of the year.

The joint statement highlighted the threat to the two-state solution model, pointing to “actions on the ground, in particular continued acts of violence and ongoing settlement activity” that are “dangerously imperiling the prospects for a two-state solution.”

The statement called for “fully ending the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 and resolving all permanent status issues through direct negotiations,” and noted that “the status quo is not sustainable.”

The statement’s general emphasis on the two-state solution represents a compromise in which the United States and the European Union tempered an effort by the Arab League to make a closing statement that was more critical of Israel’s policies, Western diplomats told Haaretz.

“A peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians must include the countries of the region,” French President Francois Hollande said in opening remarks. “Things have changed in recent years. Nowadays there’s war in Syria and in Iraq and terror in the regions. There are those who interpret this as a chance to abandon the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but I claim the opposite.

“Only the sides themselves can take the brave step toward peace,” he added. “We can’t do it for them, but only assist them and provide them with guarantees.”

At a news conference, European Union Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini reiterated the importance of Arab state involvement in negotiations and said the summit was not meant to force concessions from the two sides but rather to create an international framework to relaunch peace talks.

“Without a regional and international framework, the parties will not come to the table themselves,” she said. “It is about creating the space and the possibility for the parties to reengage seriously and revert the current trends.”

She referred to the deteriorating security situation in the West Bank and settlement expansion as indications of the urgency for a peace plan. “The path opened by the Oslo process is under a risk of fading away,” she said, referring to the 1993 Oslo Accords.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he intended to brief Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the summit’s results.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah welcomed the French initiative. Hamas and three other Palestinian groups condemned the talks, rejecting all efforts for a negotiated settlement, according to the Times of Israel.

Israel has dismissed the summit as doomed to fail because it does not involve direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

“The only way to get a stable regional arrangement that will allow us to create real peace in the Middle East is if the parties of the region come to understandings between them,” Dore Gold, the director general of the Israeli foreign ministry, said earlier this week.

At a news conference on June 1, Gold compared the Paris peace summit to the Sykes-Picot agreement, the 1916 deal between the United Kingdom and France to carve up the territory of the Middle East. Such international involvement, Gold suggested, would lead peace talks to fail.

US urges citizens to ‘exercise caution’ in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem issued a security message to American citizens warning them to avoid visiting the city on Sunday, marked in Israel as Jerusalem Day.

The warning issued over the weekend also extended to the monthlong Muslim observance of Ramadan, set to begin on Sunday or Monday.

“Consulate General employees and family members are encouraged to exercise caution when traveling throughout Jerusalem, especially the Old City, on Sunday, June 5,” the security message reads.

The message describes Jerusalem Day as “(A) Government of Israel celebration of Israel’s conquest of Jerusalem during the 1967 War.  The day is marked by ceremonies, and large gatherings, and a march through Jerusalem.  In previous years, clashes have erupted between Israeli and Palestinian residents during marches.”

The message also references the Palestinian observance on the same day of Naksa Day, or Day of the Setback. The day “is observed by some Palestinians to mark Israel’s conquest and occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967.  Palestinians have sometimes commemorated the day with protests and demonstrations in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip,” according to the message.

The message urges U.S. citizens living and working in Israel, including Jerusalem and the West Bank, to “be aware of your surroundings, monitor local information sources, and maintain a high degree of situational awareness as appropriate for this complex and fluid security environment.”

Jerusalem Day march can pass through Muslim Quarter, court rules

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A controversial Jerusalem Day march that passes through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter will not be rerouted, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled.

The court issued its decision on Sunday morning, hours before the scheduled start of the annual march, in response to a petition filed late last week by Ir Amim, a left-wing organization that monitors the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Jerusalem. The organization called on the court to change the route, citing the possible start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Sunday evening, which brings thousands of Muslims to the Old City as well.

Ramadan is set to begin either Sunday evening or Monday evening following a determination after sundown Sunday on whether the crescent moon has officially appeared.

March organizers agreed Sunday to begin the march at least 15 minutes early following an agreement last week to start an hour earlier. According to the court ruling, the last marcher will be allowed to enter the Old City via the Damascus Gate at 6:15 p.m. and all marchers will be out of the Muslim Quarter by 7 p.m. The start of Ramadan will not be declared until at least 7:43.

In previous years, some Jewish marchers have shouted racist and nationalist slogans at Muslim onlookers and committed acts of vandalism in the Muslim areas.

Police this year have threatened to crack down on marchers and have “zero tolerance” for violence and racism.

Over 30,000 marchers are expected to take part in the “flag dance” parade, which begins at Sacher Park in the center of Jerusalem and ends at the Western Wall, according to Israel Police. Thousands took part in morning prayer services Sunday at the Western Wall, Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Father gets 2 life sentences in murder of his American-Israeli children

(JTA)—An Israeli man convicted of murdering his two American-Israeli children in 2014 was sentenced to back-to-back life sentences.

The sentence against Avi Levy was announced Sunday in Lod District Court. He was convicted last month despite his plea of temporary insanity, the Times of Israel reported. Levy refused to testify during his trial in the killings of Yishai, 12, and Naomi, 10.

The children lived in Columbus, Ohio, moving there with their mother, Karen, after their parents divorced and Karen was granted custody.

On July 11, 2014, the children came to Israel to visit Levy for the summer. That evening, Levy slashed their throats in his home on a moshav in central Israel in what apparently was intended as an act of revenge directed at their mother.

Before the couple divorced, Karen Levy had filed domestic violence complaints against her then-husband. She resided in a women’s shelter for victims of domestic violence during the divorce proceedings.

Levy turned himself in at a police station shortly after murdering the children. He reportedly confessed to the crime during the initial investigation, but then stopped cooperating.

The children, who had dual Israeli-American citizenship, were buried in Columbus.


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