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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Tim Kaine, accepting VP slot, cites Holocaust survivor who died in shooting massacre

PHILADELPHIA (JTA)—Sen. Tim Kaine, accepting Hillary Clinton’s invitation to join her as running mate, cited as an inspiration a Holocaust survivor who died protecting others during a shooting massacre.

Kaine, D-Va., appeared Saturday with Clinton at Florida International University in Miami a day after she announced her pick.

Kaine pledged he would continue to press for gun control and recalled the trauma his state underwent during the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, when a rampaging student killed 32 people.

Without naming him, Kaine said he was especially moved by the story of Liviu Librescu, an engineering professor who died blocking the door as the killer attempted to enter his classroom.

Librescu, “who could survive the Holocaust, who could survive the Soviet takeover of his country, but who fell victim to gun violence and told his students to climb out the window as his body was being riddled with bullets,” Kaine said, stopping to gather his emotions.

Kaine, helping to lead a Democratic filibuster last month that led to a vote on gun control measures, invoked the memory of Librescu in a floor speech.

Appearing with Clinton two days before the launch of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, Kaine focused much of his speech on distinguishing Clinton, who was present and appeared more at ease than she has during much of her campaign to become the Democratic nominee, and her Republican counterpart, Donald Trump.

He called Trump the candidate of “You’re fired,” the catchphrase of his reality show, “The Apprentice,” and Clinton, the candidate of “You’re hired!” He also spoke extensively in fluent Spanish.

Kaine as Virginia governor from 2006 to 2010 forged close ties with the state’s Jewish community, which has grown rapidly in its Washington suburbs. As a senator, he has taken an interest in the Middle East—in part to build up his national security credentials—and has visited Israel frequently.

Michael Bloomberg set to endorse Clinton

PHILADELPHIA (JTA)—Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will endorse Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention.

Spokesmen for Clinton’s campaign and for Bloomberg told The New York Times in a story posted Sunday that Bloomberg would have a prime-time spot on Wednesday, when President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden also are speaking.

Bloomberg, a three-term mayor who earlier this year briefly considered an independent run for the presidency, has expressed alarm at Republican nominee Donald Trump’s broadsides against Latinos as well as his plans to deport undocumented immigrants and severely restrict Muslim entry into the United States.

Bloomberg, who is Jewish, had been a Democrat for decades, but won election as mayor in 2001 as a Republican. He later became an Independent.

Bloomberg, who returned to directing his news empire after finishing his third term, advocates for a range of policies favored by Democrats, including gun control and addressing climate change, but is more Wall Street friendly.

Amid tensions with Sanders, DNC chair Wasserman Schultz reportedly cut from convention

PHILADELPHIA (JTA)—Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, will not speak at the convention this week, reportedly because of the revelation of emails revealing tensions between the party and the Bernie Sanders campaign.

In a related issue, a top DNC official apologized for an email in which he suggests depicting Sanders, who is Jewish, as an atheist as a means of undercutting him during the primary season.

Sanders, an Independent senator from Vermont, turned in a surprisingly strong primary campaign, and only this month conceded to the front-runner Hillary Clinton, who will this week accept the nomination at the Philadelphia convention.

CNN reported Sunday, a day before the convention launch, that Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman who is also a standard-bearer for Jewish Democrats, would be “quarantined” during the convention, gaveling it in on Monday but not delivering a speech.

Citing an anonymous Democrat, CNN said Wasserman Schultz’s planned speech was removed in order not to stoke anger in the Sanders camp, especially now that he is working with Clinton to defeat Donald Trump, the Republican nominee.

“U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders will make it clear that Hillary Clinton is by far superior to Donald Trump on every major issue from economics and health care to education and the environment,” Sanders’ campaign spokesman, Michael Briggs, said in a statement.

The emails, leaked Friday by Wikileaks and apparently from a batch hacked earlier this year by hackers widely reported to be in Russia, show frustration at the DNC with repeated claims by the Sanders campaign that the DNC is not neutral.

The DNC addressed some of the complaints, including adding debates, which Sanders campaigners had complained were few and scheduled for times of poor viewership.

In some instances, staffers contemplated spurring media to negative coverage of Sanders, but it’s not clear if they acted.

Brad Marshall, the DNC’s chief financial officer, in one email to communications director Luis Miranda and deputy community director Mark Paustenbach suggested getting someone to press Sanders on his beliefs during the campaign.

“Does he believe in a God?” Marshall asks in the May 5 email. “He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.”

There’s no evidence that the DNC arranged for such an action. Marshall apologized in a Facebook post over the weekend, Politico reported.

“I deeply regret that my insensitive, emotional emails would cause embarrassment to the DNC, the Chairwoman, and all of the staffers who worked hard to make the primary a fair and open process,” he said. “The comments expressed do not reflect my beliefs, nor do they reflect the beliefs of the DNC and its employees. I apologize to those I offended.”

The DNC did not reply to requests for comment.

Sanders has said he believes in God and has been shaped by his Jewish upbringing. He has identified Pope Francis’ social action as a model for religious practice.

A chief surrogate for Trump, Pastor Mark Burns, came under fire for calling Sanders an atheist and for suggesting the candidate convert to Christianity.

Trump, who has said he hopes to attract disaffected Sanders voters, decried the leaks on Twitter.

“Leaked e-mails of DNC show plans to destroy Bernie Sanders,” he said. “Mock his heritage and much more.”

Portugal town opens Jewish heritage center

(JTA)—Portugal’s culture minister inaugurated a Jewish heritage center in the country’s east in memory of 80 former residents who were persecuted during the Portuguese Inquisition nearly 500 years ago.

Minister Luis Filipe de Castro Mendes and Israel’s ambassador to Portugal, Tzipora Rimon, attended the July 15 inauguration ceremony in Monsaraz of the Interactive Center of Jewish Culture, which is also known as the “House of Inquisition,” the Tribuna Alentejo reported Saturday.

“It aims to provide an in-depth view, with more content about a part of Monsaraz’s history and its Jewish community that previously had never been presented to the public in such a format,” Monsaraz Mayor José Calixto told the SAPO broadcaster about the new center, which contains an exhibition on the city’s former Jewish residents and Sephardic culture.

The already substantial Jewish community grew in Portugal considerably after 1492, when tens of thousands of Jews immigrated there from neighboring Spain as a result of the Spanish Inquisition—a campaign led by the Catholic Church and the Spanish royal house against the country’s Jews. In 1536, Portugal followed suit with its own inquisition. In both countries, Jews were stripped of their possessions, forcibly converted to Christianity or forced to leave. Thousands were killed in pogroms and executions.

Over the past 20 years, Spain and Portugal have invested millions in preserving the heritage their 16th-century Jewish communities left behind. Since 2013, both countries have passed laws allowing Sephardic Jews to become citizens, in what was described by both governments as an act of atonement for the inquisition.

In Portugal, the government recently allocated approximately $6 million to the Portuguese Jewish Network-Sefarad Routes—a state-funded project for preservation and commemoration works at sites connected to the country’s Jewish past. So far, it encompasses approximately 30 municipalities in the country’s center and north.

In Monsaraz, the new center was inaugurated on the opening night of the biannual Open Museum cultural festival.

Separately, the municipality of Elvas near Monsaraz has allocated approximately $350,000 toward renovating its ancient synagogue, Mayor Nuno Mocinha last week told Radio Porto Alegre. It is scheduled to open in April.

WikiLeaks removes anti-Semitic tweets

(JTA)—WikiLeaks removed tweets that described some of its Jewish critics as “establishment climbers.”

The account, believed to be run by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, was responding to Tweets linking its massive release of Democratic Party leaks with Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin is believed to back Republican Party nominee Donald Trump, and there is evidence that the hacking into the Democratic National Committee was carried out by Russians.

“Tribalist symbol for establishment climbers?” said a Wikileaks tweet on Saturday. “Most of our critics have 3 (((brackets around their names))) & have black-rimmed glasses. Bizarre.”

The triple parentheses, originally used by anti-Semitic social media users to designate Jews, has been appropriated by Jewish social media users.

In another tweet, Wikileaks wondered whether the symbol “has been re-re-purposed to now be a tribalist designator for establishment climbers.”

Wikileaks came under fire on social media for the tweets and the account removed them while continuing to defend them.

A subsequent tweet by the account suggested that whoever is running it sought to single out “neo-liberals” who were appropriating an anti-racist symbol. “Neo-liberals” is used as a pejorative on the far left for liberals who embrace foreign interventionism.

Clinton VP choice Tim Kaine a Democratic leader on Mideast issues

(JTA)—Hillary Clinton named Tim Kaine, the Virginia senator who has made the Middle East one of his fortes, her running mate.

Kaine has been a vocal supporter of U.S. security assistance to Israel but found himself at odds with the pro-Israel lobby and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Iran nuclear deal. During the fight over the deal, Kaine criticized Netanyahu on several fronts, but subsequently worked to improve ties between the prime minister and Senate Democrats.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” Clinton tweeted last Friday afternoon. The announcement comes after the conclusion of the Republican convention in Cleveland, where Donald Trump accepted the presidential nod with his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, and just three days ahead of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia.

Kaine, 58, traveled to Israel to promote trade ties during his 2006-2010 stint as Virginia governor. He was an early backer of Barack Obama, who rewarded him when he was elected president with the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, a position he held until 2011.

He ran for the Senate in 2012, and since then has focused on the Middle East as a member of the Middle East subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has traveled frequently to Israel, most recently in January.

Kaine was skeptical of aspects of the Iran nuclear deal during the 2013-2015 talks leading to the nuclear rollback for sanctions relief agreement, citing Iran’s past abrogation of agreements and its backing for terrorism in the Middle East. He also supported the push to secure a Senate role in reviewing the deal

Once the deal was done, however, he came to be one of its most ardent advocates, helping to stop a bid by Republicans in Congress to kill the deal.

He skipped Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 2015 speech to Congress against the emerging deal, saying Netanyahu had not acted in good faith in coordinating the speech with Republicans.

That same month, in an interview with the Forward, Kaine criticized Netanyahu and Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, for what he described as going along with an effort by “some in the Republican Party to push Democrats out of the relationship with Israel.”

“I’m sad that the Israeli ambassador and the prime minister went along with this. They went along with the notion of ‘we’ve got to keep this quiet and not tell Democrats.’ We feel like we’re being pushed away,” Kaine said. “Our party has a long tradition of being pro-Israel, and being pro-Israel doesn’t mean we agree on everything, but we’re friends, we’re allies, we’re partners and to the extent we have disagreements we try to work them out productively.”

Kaine also expressed “deep concerns about the leaders, frankly, on the Israeli and the Palestinian side” regarding whether they were doing enough to reach a two-state agreement. “That doesn’t make me any less pro-Israel,” he said. “I want Israel to be safe and secure in the future and I worry that some of the activities vis-à-vis Palestine have weakened Israel’s future security, not strengthened it.”

Last November, after the deal was completed, Kaine joined Democratic colleagues in calling for the Obama administration to write a new and strengthened “Memorandum of Understanding” on security assistance to Israel.

Then in January Kaine joined seven of his Democratic colleagues in a meeting with Netanyahu in Israel to discuss oversight of the agreement. The delegation also traveled to Vienna to meet with officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. body monitoring Iranian compliance with the deal. In a statement, Kaine said in the Vienna meeting he “emphasized that the IAEA’s credibility is on the line with the nuclear deal’s implementation and monitoring and that it would be a destructive blow to the organization if it does not quickly catch any attempts by Iran to undermine or cheat on the deal and immediately report those findings.”

Kaine, a practicing Catholic, has a close relationship with the state’s growing Jewish community. He was deeply affected by the death in the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting of Holocaust survivor Liviu Librescu, who was killed protecting his students. He has cited the heroism of Liviu Librescu in arguing for gun control.

Among other assets he would bring to the Clinton campaign, Kaine is a fluent Spanish speaker, coming from his stint volunteering with Jesuits in Honduras in the 1980s.

Some supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s main challenger for the Democratic nomination, have voiced objections to Kaine. But in one sign of support among Jewish liberals, Kaine has previously been endorsed by J Street.

Kaine has also worked with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on many issues, despite his disagreement with AIPAC over the Iran deal.

In 2013, Kaine helped initiate a letter to the president backed by AIPAC urging intensified sanctions to force Iran to suspend its suspected nuclear weapons program. At the same time, J Street was pushing a competing letter urging Obama to engage with an offer to talk by Hassan Rohani, then Iran’s president-elect.

Paris Grand Synagogue slammed for hosting far-right historian

(JTA)—A leader of French Jewry criticized a major Paris synagogue’s hosting of a debate featuring a controversial Jewish historian popular in far-right circles who said France’s pro-Nazi puppet government saved French Jews during the Holocaust.

Francis Kalifat, the president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, last Friday told JTA that Eric Zemmour “should not have been invited” to the Grand Synagogue of Paris last month to a debate about the historical record of the Vichy regime.

At the June 1 debate with former Chief Rabbi of France Gilles Bernheim, Zemmour reiterated the gist of his thesis on Vichy, that “there was, effectively, a pact with the devil in which Vichy gave up foreign Jews, or at any rate allowed them to be taken, in order to save French Jews.” He cited criticism by hard-core pro-fascists on the Vichy government over the presence of some Jews in France.

Before Germany invaded France in 1940, tens of thousands of German and central European Jews fled to France. Zemmour claims they were sacrificed by the collaborationist government of Philippe Petain to save French-born Jews.

But Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, makes no such distinction. It states that Pierre Laval, the prime minister of the Vichy regime, was the initiator of the shipment of Jewish children as part of the July 1942 Val D’Hiv deportation to death camps of 23,000 Jews—many of whom were French citizens.

When Jews went into hiding in France, “German and French authorities responded by organizing raids in rural areas,” Yad Vashem writes. Approximately 22 percent of 350,000 French Jews perished in the Holocaust—fewer percentage-wise than in the Netherlands and Belgium,  but more than in Italy or Bulgaria.

Zemmour cited data showing that 90 percent of French Jews survived the Holocaust in hiding—a proportion he said indicated that the Vichy government had protected them. However, historians argued that the higher survival rate of French-born Jews in Nazi-controlled France was because their language skills and connections enabled them to hide more easily than could foreign Jews living in the territory. Bernheim noted this argument in attempted to deconstruct the polemicist’s arguments. He also said anti-Jewish laws passed by Vichy made no distinction between foreign and locals Jews, and that hatred of both stemmed from xenophobia.

“Zemmour is free to express his opinion, but a synagogue is not a suitable place because his perceived defense of the Vichy government in an insult to victims it murdered,” Kalifat said. “I think the synagogue’s administrators made an error, a mistake, that I cannot understand.”

Jacques Canet, the president of the synagogue, wrote in a statement it was an appropriate venue, because it is a symbol of “French Jewry” and that Zemmour’s claims were confronted “strongly and clearly” by Bernheim.

Zemmour in 2010 said most drug dealers in France were of African or Arab descent and that employers therefore had a right to reject job seekers from those ethnicities. He was convicted of hate speech for these assertions, which, along with his defense of French fascists, have made him a popular figure in some far-right circles.

Sammy Ghozlan, the founder of France’s National Bureau of Vigilance against Anti-Semitism watchdog, joined Kalifat’s criticism, calling Zemmour’s debate last month at the synagogue before a crowd of 1,300 people “unacceptable.”

Ghozlan said Zemmour “basically justified the Vichy regime’s anti-Semitism.”

During the debate, Zemmour said that “it was believed at the time that Jews had too much clout, that they excessively dominated the economy, media, French culture” and that this was “partly true.”

Some Frenchmen, he added, “found that the Jews behaved with the arrogance of a colonist.”


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