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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


2 dead, 5 missing in collapse of Tel Aviv construction site

JERUSALEM (JTA)—At least two construction workers are dead and five reportedly are missing following the collapse of a tiered parking structure under construction in Tel Aviv on Monday morning.

Two workers who had been trapped under the rubble for hours were pulled out early Monday evening.

The search-and-rescue effort for the missing workers, who are believed to be trapped, was expected to last through the night, The Times of Israel reported.

At least 24 workers, Israelis and Palestinians, were injured in the collapse. The two dead are reported to be Palestinians.

Some 18 construction workers were rescued in the hour after the collapse late Monday morning; structural failure is being cited as the cause of the accident.

Three workers who had been trapped underground were rescued earlier after firefighters dug through rubble and sand to reach them, according to reports. One of the workers was seriously injured.

A Tel Aviv Police spokesman said there is danger that the structure, in the northern part of the city, will collapse further. Initially the accident was blamed on the collapse of a crane.

The Israel Defense Forces also sent a K-9 unit to the scene to help locate missing workers and others who may be trapped in the rubble, according to reports.

The parking garage, for which construction began in November 2014 and was to be completed at the beginning of next year, was slated to have four levels.

Israeli official: Chances of finding construction workers alive under rubble diminishing

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Five construction workers remained missing and believed trapped underground nearly 12 hours after the collapse of a tiered parking structure under construction in Tel Aviv that killed two and injured at least 24.

One trapped worker reportedly had been communicating with rescue workers, but the communication ceased at about 8:30 p.m. Monday, The Times of Israel reported, citing Dudi Mizrahi, the head of the Israeli army’s Home Front Command’s Search and Rescue Unit.

Earlier, the Home Front Command said the locations of the five missing workers had been approximated and rescue workers were monitoring the positions.

Five other workers were pulled from the rubble throughout Monday afternoon and early evening.

Mizrahi said the search-and-rescue operation could go on for days. He said “the chances of finding anyone alive” was less likely with each passing hour, according to The Times of Israel.

One of the dead has been identified as a worker from the Ukraine and the other is reported to be Palestinian, though he has not yet been identified.

Some 18 construction workers were rescued in the hour after the collapse late Monday morning; engineering failure is being cited as the cause of the accident.

Some 300 Israeli army search-and-rescue personnel are involved in the search, as well as 160 rescue workers from the fire department. A K-9 unit also is on the scene to assist in locating the missing workers.

Netanyahu considering meeting with Abbas under Putin’s auspices

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he is considering meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas under the auspices of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Netanyahu in a meeting Monday morning with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Putin’s special envoy for the Middle East, discussed the Putin proposal to host a face-to-face meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas in Moscow, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu is reviewing the proposal and considering the timing of a possible meeting, according to the statement. He told Bogdanov that he is always ready to meet with Abbas directly and without preconditions.

In late August, Abbas’ office said the Palestinians were ready to participate in a peace initiative.

The Palestinians favor the French peace initiative launched in June at a one-day summit in Paris of foreign ministers from two dozen countries aimed at rebooting peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, who were not invited to the event. The ministers proposed an international conference to further talks between the two sides by the end of the year without setting a date.

Israel has balked at the initiative, saying it enables the Palestinians to continue to avoid the direct talks Israel wants and compromise.

Abbas and Netanyahu last met officially in 2010, but it is believed that since then they have held secret meetings.

Husband of slain Israeli mother of 6 urges families to adopt

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The husband of Dafna Meir, a mother of six who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian assailant in her West Bank home, urged people not to be afraid to adopt.

Natan Meir wrote a Facebook post early Friday morning reflecting on the first day of first grade for one of his foster sons. Prior to going to school, he took the boy to visit his foster mother’s grave.

Dafna Meir, 38, was a mother of four and foster mother of two young children who was stabbed to death in January at the entrance of her home. She was fighting off her attacker in what is believed to have been an attempt to save three of her children in the house.

“Yesterday I took this wonderful boy to mommy’s grave, for the first time since the murder that took place before his very eyes,” Meir wrote on Facebook. “The grave of a mother who chose him to be her son, and who in her final moments fought the terrorist and saved him.”

He described how the boy tried to move the gravestone in order to help his mother get out.

“I think God shed many tears yesterday. I did too. This child is so innocent. He just wants mommy to read him another story. So simple, yet so impossible,” Meir wrote.

He said his children have helped him to cope with the brutal murder of his wife.

“The essence of evil visited my home eight months ago. A moment of evil and afterwards a river of tears, pain and longing,” Meir wrote. “While on the other hand, the best part of the world is in my house every day, every hour. Innocence and purity that never ends. Difficult and challenging work that is an incalculable privilege. If you’re looking for love, take a child. There are a lot of children who are waiting for a loving family.”

Meir told the Ynet news website that after he posted the Facebook message, he received a call from a family that decided they wanted to adopt and called to ask him for guidance. He said he was pleased that the post “accomplished something.”

Israel attacks Syrian target in response to mortar fired on Golan

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The Israel Defense Forces attacked a Syrian army artillery target in response to a mortar from Syria that landed in Israeli territory on the Golan Heights.

The mortar shell that exploded Sunday evening in Israeli territory was errant rebel fire from Syria’s civil war. No injuries were reported and no warning sirens were triggered.

“The IDF holds the Syrian government accountable for this clear breach of Israeli sovereignty, and will continue to act in order to safeguard Israel,” the army said in a statement.

A senior Syrian military official told the official Syrian news agency, according to Ynet, that two missiles from Israel hit “in the area of the village of Khdeir” and “damage was caused.” The source did not report any injuries.

Several stray rockets and shells have landed in Israel since the start of the civil war in Syria more than five years ago. The IDF frequently retaliates by firing at the source of the shells.

French Jewry’s president appears to back burkini ban

(JTA)—Ending a long and conspicuous silence on the burkini ban in France, the president of the umbrella group of French Jews appeared to support  the ban, saying he favored limiting “political-religious” symbols.

In an interview published Monday on the Actualite Juive Jewish news website, Francis Kalifat of CRIF for the first time directly addressed the ban last month by 30 French municipalities on the full-body swimsuit favored by Muslim women seeking modesty.

Kalifat said lawmakers should “consider differentiating religious symbols from political-religious symbols.” Radical and sectarian Islam and its fanatics, he said, “are looking for ways today to destabilize the French republic with the aim of vanquishing the societal model we inhabit today.”

He also said: “This polemic will, of course, also affect the Jewish community.”

Religious Orthodox women also adhere to clothing deemed modest, though few wear burkinis to the beach in France.

Kalifat has resisted calls to speak against the divisive ban, which a court on Aug. 26 ruled was illegal, in solidarity with French Muslims.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has defended the ban, saying the wearing of burkinis on French beaches was “part of a political project... to perpetuate female servitude.” Critics of the ban have argued it infringes on the very liberties its supporters say it is designed to protect.

The burkini controversy reawakened the debate on the wearing of religious symbols in public in France, where a law banning face-covering clothing such as the burka was passed in 2010. Critics of such legislation say it opens the door to religious persecution, including of Jewish men who wear kippot and women who cover their hair.

In the interview, Kalifat reiterated his scathing criticism of Jean Luc Melenchon, a far-left politician who compared the ban to the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust. The comparison, which Kalifat called “indecent,” prompted him to make his first indirect reference about the burkini bans two weeks after they were put in place.

Whereas Kalifat expressed an opinion that can be interpreted as supportive of the ban, a prominent Paris rabbi who early on told JTA that he supported the ban outright has walked back the statements, claiming they were taken out of context.

Asked by JTA on Aug. 23 whether he personally supported the burkini bans, Rabbi Moshe Sebbag, who heads the Grand Synagogue of Paris, said: “Yes, because you see that going with it [a burkini] is not innocent, it’s sending a message.”

The mayors who banned it, he said, “understood this is not about women’s liberty to dress modestly but a statement as to who will rule here tomorrow.”

But in an interview published Thursday by the Forward, Sebbag said: “I think my words were taken out of context. I was trying to explain this situation from a political level and how politicians in France view our current situation.”

He added: “I understand where the mayor is coming from, but it doesn’t mean that I agree with him. Passing this kind of law is unacceptable. It just screams Islamophobia. But from our current climate and environment, it is understandable.”

Daughter of late Rep. Tom Lantos returns state award from Hungary

(JTA)—The daughter of the late Rep. Tom Lantos is returning a state award to Hungary to protest the same award being presented to a nationalist journalist described as racist and anti-Semitic.

Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett joins about 100 other Hungarians or people of Hungarian heritage in returning the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit—to protest the recognition last month of the right-wing journalist and columnist Zsolt Bayer for his writings.

Lantos Swett was honored with the award in 2009 for establishing the Budapest-based Tom Lantos Institute, which focuses on minority rights. Tom Lantos, who served as a Democratic congressman for California, died in 2008. A native of Hungary, he was the only Holocaust survivor to serve in the U.S. Congress.

Lantos Swett told The Associated Press that she had hoped to leave her Knight’s Cross award to her children, but could not keep it after it was awarded to Bayer.

Andras Heisler, the president of Hungary’s main Jewish umbrella organization, Mazsihisz, returned his award last month. He described Bayer as a man “who is a racist, who is an anti-Semite, who is polluting Hungary with his destructive sentiments and his burning hatred of the Roma, who is vigilantly protecting the traditions of the Hungarian extremist right, keeping alive feelings of fear and hatred.”

“I do not wish to belong to any community to which Zsolt Bayer belongs, even virtually,” Heisler said.

Bayer, a co-founder of the ruling Fidesz party, has long angered Jews and others with his articles and op-eds in right-wing publications. In April, the Israeli ambassador to Hungary protested to the editor of the Magyar Hirlap newspaper, saying that Bayer’s columns “openly advocate anti-Semitic sentiments and incite against the Jewish People and the State of Israel.”

Lviv opens Jewish memorial on former historic synagogue

MOSCOW (JTA)—The city of Lviv in western Ukraine inaugurated a controversial memorial monument on part of the former Golden Rose Synagogue complex.

On Sunday, designated the European Day of Jewish Culture, hundreds attended the unveiling of the Space of Synagogues led by Mayor Andriy Sadovy, despite legal action against the monument by Meylakh Sheykhet, Ukraine’s director of the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union.

The project, which is supported by some Jews in Lviv, including the Chesed-Arieh association, features a memorial space with commemorative stone slabs on one area of the 16th-century Golden Rose complex, which the Nazis largely destroyed in the 1940s.

Started in July 2015, the Space of Synagogues project also includes the controversial cementing of some of the complex’s foundations and relics.

Sheykhet objected to the project, calling it a ruse to create a public park at the expense of a Jewish heritage site in a central area of the city. He said the project serves tourist industry interests but falls short of international commemoration standards.

“It’s a disgrace and a project that sells out on the memory of the murdered,” Sheykhet said.

But Sofia Dyak, director of the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe in Lviv, which is leading the project in partnership with the Lviv City Council, defended the project as “something dignified that exposes countless Ukrainians to the destruction of Lviv’s Jewish community” precisely because of its central location.

Sheykhet, who is among a handful of Orthodox Jews living in Lviv, has lobbied for the synagogue’s reconstruction in a city with a Jewish population of 1,200—a vision his critics say is unrealistic. Dyak said the current commemoration project may be expanded in the future, but that right now, “something is better than nothing.”

In 1939, Lviv was home to 110,000 Jews—a third of its total population.

In 2014, a Ukrainian court issued an injunction against the city’s plan to move ahead with designs for memorial projects in three Jewish sites in Lviv, including the Golden Rose Synagogue complex. The designs were selected in 2010 in an international competition. The Higher Economic Court of Ukraine ruled that the plans did not conform to local and international standards and procedures.

But the city obtained permission from the Ministry of Culture to go ahead at Golden Rose with a design similar to the one selected in the competition and by the same German architect, Franz Reschke.

Sheykhet sued again, arguing the project violated the 2014 court ruling. A verdict is expected later this month. He said the courts were deliberately dragging their feet on his lawsuit while the project was being completed.

Dyak rejected the assertion, saying: “The project is fully compliant with the law or it would not have existed.”

The city also plans to create a memorial park on part of the Old Jewish Cemetery of Lviv—a plan that Sheykhet has vowed to fight because he and some rabbis believe it would violate religious Orthodox laws against disturbing Jewish graves.

The issue of commemorating sites and individuals connected to the Holocaust is divisive in Ukraine, where anti-Russian sentiment is rife and streets were named recently for pro-Nazi collaborators whose troops killed Jews.

Jewish leaders critical of this development have also spoken out against the perceived desecration of Holocaust sites, including in the city of Kovel, near Lviv, where a traveling zoo was set up this summer atop a mass grave of Jewish Holocaust victims.

German Jewish leaders: Far-right party’s strong showing in election a ‘nightmare’

(JTA)—A far-right party in Germany finished second in voting in the political home state of Chancellor Angela Merkel, ahead of Merkel’s party, spurring concerns among Jewish leaders in Germany.

Alternative for Germany, known as AfD, with its anti-immigrant and ultranationalist platform, picked up 21 percent of the vote Sunday in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, behind the center-left Social Democratic Party with 31 percent, which retained leadership in the state. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union had 19 percent; it was the first time that the AfD surpassed the Christian Democrats in any German state election.

The fact that the right-populist party did so well—winning 18 seats in the 71-seat legislature—is widely seen as a further indictment of Merkel’s liberal policy toward accepting refugees from war-torn Muslim countries and has set off alarm bells among Jewish leaders in Germany.

“The AfD is not an option for Germany but an indictment of Germany,” Josef Schuster, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told the German media after the results came in.

Schuster said it appeared that many voters either did not realize or simply accepted the fact that the AfD had not distanced itself from right-wing extremists.

“The fact that a right-wing extremist party that bluntly and disgustingly incites and mobilizes hatred against minorities can rise unchecked in our country is a nightmare come true,” said former Central Council President Charlotte Knobloch, who heads the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria.

Christian and Muslim leaders expressed similar concerns following Sunday’s vote.

But Leif-Erik Holm, the AfD party leader in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, told the German media that this “might be the beginning of the end” of Merkel.

State Governor Erwin Sellering now will have to decide with which party to share power—the Christian Democrats or the Left Party. All the mainstream parties had already ruled out taking part in a coalition with the AfD.

The party, which was founded in 2013, has seen mounting successes in state elections, and now has seats in nine of Germany’s 16 state legislatures. Berlin holds state elections later this month; three additional states will cast ballots in the first half of 2017, followed by national parliamentary elections in September.

The AfD in the state of Baden-Württemberg recently suffered an internal split over a member of the legislature, Wolfgang Gedeon, who withdrew from the party faction within months of his election over charges that he had made anti-Semitic comments and belittled the Holocaust in writings.


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