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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


In second debate, Trump says Syria regime is not worth confronting

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Donald Trump said the U.S. focus in Syria should solely be on the Islamic State terrorist group, arguing that the Assad regime is not worth confronting because its allies, Russia and Iran, effectively control the country.

Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, in the second presidential debate—held Sunday night at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri—turned a question about what he would do to end the carnage in Syria into an extended attack on his rival, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

He said that she had advised President Barack Obama to back down in 2013 from his “line in the sand” threat to attack Syria if it uses chemical weapons and Clinton corrected him, noting that she was no longer secretary of state at the time.

Trump then described the situation as he saw it in Syria, but offered no specific prescriptions. He suggested that the Bashar Assad regime, principally responsible for the nearly half-million lives lost since the outbreak of civil war in 2011, was not all bad because it was targeting the Islamic State terrorist group, along with its allies, Iran and Russia.

“Iran now and Russia are now against us. So she wants to fight. She wants to fight for rebels,” Trump said of Clinton. “There’s only one problem. You don’t even know who the rebels are. So what’s the purpose? And one thing I have to say: I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS. And Iran is killing ISIS. And those three have now lined up because of our weak foreign policy.”

One of the moderators, ABC’s Martha Raddatz, pressed him for a policy answer, noting that his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, said that if Russia continues to back Assad with airstrikes on civilian targets, the United States should hit Assad’s military targets.

“He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree. I disagree,” Trump said, referring to Pence. “I think you have to knock out ISIS. Right now, Syria is fighting ISIS. We have people that want to fight both at the same time. But Syria is no longer Syria. Syria is Russia and it’s Iran, who she made strong and [Secretary of State John] Kerry and Obama made into a very powerful nation and a very rich nation, very, very quickly, very, very quickly.”

Trump was referring to the deal reached last year between Iran and six major powers led by the United States trading sanctions relief for Iran in exchange for rolling back its nuclear program. Clinton, who set the stage for the deal by helping to set up the sanctions regime that induced Iran to join the talks, says it has effectively kept Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons power.

Israel is wary of most of the likely outcomes in the Syrian civil war, but one of those it fears most is effectively conceding part of a failed state to Iran, allowing its deadliest enemy in the region to remain indefinitely on its doorstep.

Trump again accused Clinton of being overly unfriendly to Russia.

“I think it would be great if we got along with Russia because we could fight ISIS together, as an example,” he said.

Clinton advocated during the debate confronting both ISIS and the Assad regime through training rebels, creating no-fly zones and allying with Syrian Kurds. She noted that the Assad regime and its Russian ally have mostly targeted non-ISIS rebel targets.

As she has previously, Clinton alluded to the mutual admiration that Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have expressed for one another, and to U.S. government allegations that Russia is intervening in the U.S. elections by hacking and releasing embarrassing emails related to the Democrat’s campaign.

“I want to emphasize that what is at stake here is the ambitions and the aggressiveness of Russia,” she said. “Russia has decided that it’s all in, in Syria. And they’ve also decided who they want to see become president of the United States, too, and it’s not me.”

The debate, in a town hall format, was unusually bitter, with Trump at one point threatening to jail Clinton over the controversy of her use of private email while she was secretary of state, should he be elected president.

It came on the heels of a bombshell video released Friday in which Trump in 2005 is heard bragging to an entertainment reporter about groping women and getting away with it because he is a “star.” In discussing the tape and the Republican politicians who rescinded their endorsements of Trump in the past 48 hours, including Arizona Sen. John McCain, Clinton said Trump’s campaign was “exploding.”

Independent presidential candidate names Jewish running mate

(JTA)—Independent U.S. presidential candidate Evan McMullin has named a Jewish running mate, Mindy Finn.

Finn, 35, is president and founder of Empowered Women, a nonprofit that aims to foster discussion of feminism. She worked on digital operations programs for Mitt Romney and George W. Bush, and also at Twitter heading up strategic partnerships in Washington, D.C., and specializing in business development.

McMullin, who is running as a conservative alternative to Republican candidate Donald Trump, announced Finn as his running mate on Oct. 6, although her name will not appear on several state ballots including California, Texas and Alabama since the announcement came too late for many filing deadlines. The placeholder name Nathan Johnson, a friend of McMullin’s, appears on many of those ballots and likely cannot be switched out.

Finn has opposed Trump since the primaries.

“I’m a lifelong Republican,” she wrote in January for the voices.neverTrump.com website. “But more importantly, I’m an American, a Mom, and though I don’t wear it on my sleeve, a committed Jew. When I see an authoritarian decide who are winners and losers as if he were picking race horses to bet on, habitually equate people to animals and mock their looks and mannerisms, I see the antithesis of leadership. When I see a man equate strength with an ability to erect tall buildings in their name while threatening to banish entire religions from our country, I don’t merely shake my head in disgust. I’m afraid.”

McMullin, 40, is a former undercover operations officer for the CIA who once studied in Israel. He also was a senior national security and policy adviser in the House of Representatives.

McMullin studied in Israel while an undergraduate at Brigham Young University as a David L. Boren Scholar with the Department of Defense’s National Security Education Program, through The David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies. He called his studies in Israel “a perfect capstone to the traditional coursework I had done in Provo.”

Jewish economist at Harvard shares Nobel Prize

(JTA)—Oliver Hart, a Jewish-American professor of economics at Harvard University, shared the Nobel Prize in economics.

The prize was awarded to Hart and Bengt Holmstrom of Finland, a professor of economics and management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on Monday for their work on contract theory, which studies how contracts allow people to deal with conflicting interests.

Hart, 68, did his Nobel-winning work in the 1980s, according to the academy. Holmstrom was recognized for his work in the 1970s.

Hart is the son of Philip D’Arcy Hart, a leading British medical researcher and pioneer in tuberculosis treatment who died 10 years ago at the age of 106. He is descended from a prominent London Jewish family, including his great-grandfather, an Orthodox Jew named Samuel Montagu, who was a member of the House of Commons for 15 years until 1900 and then received a peerage, becoming the first Baron Swaythling. Hart’s mother is Dr. Ruth Meyer, a gynecologist.

His wife, Rita Goldberg, is a Harvard literature professor who wrote the second-generation Holocaust memoir “Motherland: Growing Up With the Holocaust.”

Hart and Holmstrom will split the prize of 8 million kronor, or $924,000.

Trump, Clinton condemn Jerusalem terrorist attack

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump condemned a terrorist shooting attack in Jerusalem that killed two people.

“The Palestinian terror attack today reminds the world of the grievous perils facing Israeli citizens,” Trump, the Republican  nominee, said in a social media posting Sunday. “We must work to defeat terror once and for all. I wish everyone in Israel and the Jewish community around the world a meaningful Yom Kippur and peace.”

Clinton’s statement hours earlier on Twitter was signed with an “H,” a sign that the Democratic presidential nominee composed it personally: “I strongly condemn today’s attack in Jerusalem and my prayers go to the victims’ families. The terrorists must be brought to justice.”

Earlier, the Obama administration’s State Department condemned the attack “in the strongest possible terms.”

The Palestinian assailant, a resident of eastern Jerusalem, also wounded six at a light rail station. He was shot and killed by police.

In Hurricane Matthew aftermath, Jewish groups lend a hand

(JTA)—As the death toll from Hurricane Matthew continued to rise, Jewish groups were working to help victims in the United States and the Caribbean.

The storm, which the National Hurricane Center downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone on Sunday, has killed at least 19 people in the U.S., including in Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, according to NBC.

In the Caribbean, much of the damage was concentrated in Haiti, where the death toll was said to have reached 1,000, Reuters reported.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee was focusing its efforts on Haiti, where it was working with relief group Heart to Heart International to provide hygiene kits, water purification tablets and other aid to those on the island’s highly affected southern part.

Also in Haiti, the World Jewish Relief was providing emergency assistance, including food, water, shelter and hygiene kits. The American Jewish World Service was sending relief funds to aid groups in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The Mexican Jewish humanitarian group Cadena dispatched volunteers to Haiti to help with search-and-rescue efforts and relief work there.

Chabad emissaries in U.S. states helped provide assistance to victims, including by using their houses to provide shelter and distributing Shabbat meals and care packages over the weekend to students and residents in Florida.

The Jewish Federations of North America was opening an emergency fund to collect money to mobilize humanitarian support and provide relief to Jewish communities in the path of the hurricane.

Tampa City Council approves fence around new JCC despite opposition

(JTA)—The Tampa City Council in Florida approved a 6-foot-high fence around the new branch of the Jewish Community Centers despite opposition by council members and community members.

The fence, which is part of a $30 million renovation of the historic Fort Homer Hesterly Armory, was approved by the council in a 4-3 vote last Friday.

The 100,000-square-foot community center, to be run jointly with the city, is expected to open in early December.

“You need to create environments that you’re able to control and protect,” Jack Ross, the executive director of the Jewish Community Centers, told the council on Friday, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Public and private security experts told the JCC it needs such a perimeter fence, Ross said, according to the newspaper.

One council member called the fence “the most unwelcoming thing we could approve.” Another expressed concern that such a fence would keep out the community.

The plan originally called for a fence on three sides of the building, which appears on the National Register of Historic Places, but not across its front. But the JCC’s security consultant called for the fence to cut across the front of the building to act as a defense against anti-Semitic terrorists or lone-wolf shooters that have attacked Jewish institutions in other states in the past.

“A lot of institutions like Jewish community centers and synagogues are targets for violent attacks,” said City Council vice chairman Harry Cohen, who is Jewish. “These are heavily secured facilities for a good reason. I am sorry that people see it as unwelcoming. But the fact of the matter is that the security considerations they have are significant and they’re doing their best to try to meet them.”

Jewish cemetery in New York state vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti

(JTA)—A Jewish cemetery in New York state’s Orange County was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti.

The outer wall of the cemetery in Warwick, a suburban town about 90 minutes north of Manhattan, was covered in black spray-painted swastikas and the words “Heil Hitler” and “SS,” the Times Herald-Record reported Sunday. The vandalism had been discovered by police that morning.

Though the wall is not high, it was not breached and the gravestones were not vandalized, according to the newspaper. A Catholic cemetery across the street owned by the 70-year-old Temple Beth Shalom of the Village of Florida was not vandalized.

“This is not just about the swastikas and Nazi Germany, even though ‘Heil Hitler’ was written on the stones,” Rabbi Rebecca Shinder of Beth Shalom told the newspaper. “It represents hatred and persecution of the Jewish people throughout the centuries. It’s a symbol of hatred and intimidation.”

“I promise you, Kol Nidre will not be the same this year,” she said, referring to Tuesday night’s onset of Yom Kippur.

Daughter of Jewish Pa. pol says she was not a plant at Clinton event

WASHINGTON (JTA)—The daughter of a Jewish state senator in Pennsylvania denied that her question at a Hillary Clinton town hall was arranged with the presidential campaign.

Brennan Leach, 15, had appeared at a town hall with Clinton in Haverford, a Philadelphia suburb, on Oct. 4, accompanied by her parents. Her father, Sen. Daylin Leach, a Democrat, represents suburban Montgomery County, which has a substantial Jewish population, and has campaigned for Clinton in the swing state.

Leach and her father appeared Saturday on CNN to deny the allegations that the question was prearranged. Brennan Leach said she asked her father to review the question, as any teen would ask of a parent.

“In no way was I approached by Hillary’s campaign or asked to ask a question,” she said. “She didn’t know I was going to ask a question, she didn’t know what I was going to say at all.”

Brennan Leach’s question was about girls’ body image and the damage that could be caused by statements by Clinton’s rival, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Clinton has attacked Trump for disparaging women, most recently focusing on his comments in 1996 when Trump owned the Miss USA pageant and made comments about the winner’s weight gain. She answered the teen’s question with gusto.

Afterward, Brennan Leach told reporters that she had consulted with her father about the question, leading to a flurry of speculation in conservative media that she was a plant at the town hall asking a softball question. Town hall events with a single candidate generally attract followers and not skeptics, and questions tend not to be confrontational.

New US guidelines ease restrictions on Iran dealings for foreign firms

(JTA)—Updated guidelines published by the U.S. Treasury Department ease restrictions on foreign companies attempting to do business with Iran in what is being called a “loosening of sanctions.”

The guidelines published Friday allow business with Iran as long as the U.S. financial system and Americans are not involved. For example, foreign financial institutions can process transactions in dollars with Iran, and U.S. financial institutions are permitted to conduct transactions with the foreign entities involved, granted that none of the money from dealings with Iran entered the U.S. financial system.

Also, the guidelines said it was “not necessarily sanctionable” for foreigners to conduct business with an entity that while not on the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list—a list of individuals and companies, including terrorists, with which U.S. citizens and permanent residents are not allowed to do business—is nonetheless “minority owned, or that is controlled in whole or in part, by an Iranian or Iran-related person on the SDN List.”

The update clarifies the current state of the sanctions against Iran and does not represent further sanctions relief, a Treasury Department spokesman told Bloomberg.

Eric Lorber, an expert on anti-money laundering policy and terror finance issues who formerly worked for the Treasury Department, called the changes a “loosening of sanctions.”

“This is a green light to foreign companies—they can do business in U.S. dollars with Iran and Iranian parties without worrying about violating sanctions, as long as those dollars don’t touch the U.S. financial system at all,” Lobber, a senior associate at the Financial Integrity Network, told Bloomberg.

In July 2015, six countries led by the United States reached an agreement with Iran to limit its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions on the country. The White House has said the deal would prevent Iran, whose leaders have called for the destruction of Israel, from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

The U.S. still maintains sanctions on Iran, as well as on Iranian companes and people on the SDN list.

Ad telling women they do not have to switch seats on Israel flights rejected for NJ airport

(JTA)—A billboard informing women on flights to Israel that they do not have to switch seats to accommodate haredi Orthodox Jewish passengers was rejected by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

However, the Port Authority now says it is reviewing its ad guidelines, “making it likely that the seating ad will eventually appear at a local airport,” according to The New York Times, which reported Sunday on the rejection of the ad last month.

Sponsored by the Israel Religious Action Center, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform movement in Israel, the ad reads: “Ladies, please take your seat … and keep it.” It explains that requiring a person to switch seats because of gender is illegal and that flight attendants are not allowed to ask a passenger to switch seats to allow one-gender seating.

The center, known as the IRAC, planned to hang the billboard in the El Al airlines passenger waiting area at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

Guidelines for ads in airports, subways and bus stations include that they must be for a product or a service and cannot offer a religious or political message. Allowances are sometimes made for public service announcements, though that is left to the discretion of the Port Authority.

The IRAC has hired a civil rights lawyer to convince the Port Authority to allow the billboards to hang, and he has already provided some legal precedents in favor of it, according to the Times.

In one example of a haredi Orthodox man refusing to sit next to a woman, an 81-year-old Holocaust survivor last December was asked to move her seat on an El Al flight from Newark Liberty to Tel Aviv.

NY attorney general receives anti-Semitic tweets after opening Trump charity probe

(JTA)—The Anti-Defamation League condemned a rash of anti-Semitic attacks levied against New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman after he announced his office would open an investigation into the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

In a statement Monday, the ADL said that Schneiderman’s announcement of the investigation on Sept. 14 prompted a series of anti-Semitic tweets and comments, including tweets reading  “More like JEW York Attorney General” and “Just another lying kike grasping at straws.”

“We strongly condemn all forms of anti-Semitic attacks on Attorney General Schneiderman,” said Evan Bernstein, ADL’s New York Regional director. “These repulsive and disturbing actions are just the latest in a concerning trend from the ‘alt-right’ to spread their hate-filled and twisted views across the Internet and social media.”

The ADL had previously announced the formation of a task force to document the alt-right, a conservative movement rooted in white nationalism whose followers often delve into anti-Semitism and race baiting. Members of the alt-right often identify themselves as Trump supporters, and the Trump camp has been criticized for sharing tweets and messages that originated on alt-right websites and discussion boards.

Schneiderman’s office opened a probe into the Republican presidential nominee’s charitable foundation after it came under media scrutiny for unfulfilled pledges and providing donations that benefited Trump personally, among other  allegations. On Oct. 3, after Schneiderman ordered the Trump Foundation to cease raising money in New York because it was not registered, a well-known neo-Nazi, Andrew Anglin, wrote on his Daily Stormer website, “New York Kike Attorney General Eric Schneiderman Suspends Trump’s Donations!”

“The goal of Andrew Anglin and other anti-Semites and bigots of his kind is to promote hatred of Jews and to denigrate minorities,” Bernstein said. “We urge social media users to be vigilant of the extremist digital presence of the alt-right and flag problematic content whenever it surfaces.”

Schneiderman, a Democrat, was blunt in tying the Trump campaign to the kinds of messages he had received.

“When you give license to open expressions of bigotry against Mexicans and Muslims, you open the door to bigotry against all groups of people, including Jews,” he said in a statement. “This type [of] demagoguery and anti-Semitic imagery harkens back to much darker times in history, where not just Jews—but Latinos, African-Americans, virtually every ethnic, racial and religious minority—were subject to the kinds of attacks that sought to marginalize minorities, and shut them out of the political process. It’s deeply troubling that these voices have found new life during the presidential campaign.”

The ADL has urged Trump repeatedly to disavow messages originating among his supporters on the alt-right.

In July, Trump’s son-in-law and key adviser, Jared Kushner, who is Jewish, wrote that the candidate should not be held accountable for anti-Semitic attacks on his critics and opponents that appeared online.

“I am appalled that anyone ... would have to endure that kind of hateful rhetoric,” Kushner wrote. “But blaming Donald Trump for the most outrageous things done by people who claim to support him is no different from blaming Bernie Sanders for the people who stomp and spit on American flags at his rallies.”


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