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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Argentine court rules ex-president may have covered up Iranian bombing of Jewish center

(JTA)—The appeals court in Buenos Aires has cleared the path to a criminal probe into former Argentine President Cristina Kirchner’s motives in cooperating with Iran on the investigation of the deadly 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center.

In a 249-page ruling handed down Thursday, three judges wrote that the evidence presented “does not permit a justified dismissal of possible illicit actions” by Kirchner in connection with a deal between her and her administration with Iranian officials. Kirchner, who already is on trial over corruption charges, allegedly covered up evidence from the bombing in exchange for Iranian oil.

The allegations were made by prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who died mysteriously in January 2015, had been dismissed by a lower court.

Nisman accused Kirchner of trying to derail the investigation into the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center, which killed 85 and injured 300. Argentine courts have accused Iran of orchestrating the attack, though Iran has denied any involvement.

In 2013, the Argentine congress under Kirchner approved an agreement with Iran to jointly probe the bombing, despite condemnations by representatives of Argentina’s Jewish community, Israel and others. A federal court in 2014 ruled the agreement was unconstitutional, prompting the government to appeal. Last year, however, the new Argentine government under President Mauricio Macri withdrew the appeal, effectively voiding the agreement.

Kirchner said the agreement was to make headway in the investigation, which has strained Iranian-Argentine relations. But according to Nisman, the move was part of a plan to close the country’s energy gap by trading Argentine grains for Iranian oil. She has dismissed the charge as absurd.

Nisman’s death was initially classified as a suicide, but an official investigating the case said early this year that the evidence pointed to homicide. The investigation is ongoing.

The prosecutor was just hours away from a scheduled appearance in Congress to brief lawmakers on his accusations against Fernandez when his body was found on the floor of his apartment, a .22-caliber pistol by his side.

Iran has repeatedly denied any link to the bombing, and an Argentine judge in February 2015 dismissed Nisman’s accusations as baseless. A review panel later agreed by a 2-1 vote, finding insufficient evidence to formally investigate Kirchner.

The ex-president has faced several criminal charges since leaving office a year ago. She was indicted this week on charges arising from allegations that she and top officials from her administration skimmed money intended for public works projects.

Dutch insurer defends circumcision coverage

AMSTERDAM (JTA)—A major insurer in the Netherlands defended its coverage of circumcision in boys younger than 18 for religious reasons amid criticism of the practice and the impact of Islam in society.

Zilveren Kruis, the kingdom’s largest insurer, included religious circumcision in its 2017 brochure published earlier this month.

“We are seeing that some of the insured parties want to be circumcised or have their boys circumcised,” the agency, whose name means “Silver Cross,” wrote in a statement published Tuesday on its website in response to “various questions over why some complementary plans include reimbursement for non-medical circumcision.”

On Tuesday, René van Rijckevorsel, the acting editor-in-chief of the conservative Elsevier weekly, wrote on Twitter that Zilveren Kruis was encouraging female genital mutilation. After Zilveren Kruis clarified that its insurance covers only males, va Rijckevorsel said he also considered this “mutilation.”

But in its statement, Zilveren Kruis suggested its coverage encourages parents to have the procedure performed hygienically in licensed clinics.

The right-leaning news blog GeenStijl, which says it is accessed 2 million times per month, wrote that Zilveren Kruis is moving into the niche that until recently had been occupied only by specialized insurance companies catering specifically to Muslims. Zilveren Kruis began including non-medical circumcision of boys in some of its plans in 2014.

In northern Europe, non-medical circumcision of boys is under attack from critics who see it as a foreign influence by Muslims and by progressives who say they do not object to such influences per se but view this particular custom as violating children’s rights.

A similar debate has evolved around the ritual slaughter of animals.

Both customs are partly shared by Jews and Muslims, though, among other differences, Judaism has stricter regulations on both.

About half of Dutch Jews do not perform circumcision on their boys, according to a 2009 survey by the community.

Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs said that Zilveren Kruis’ inclusion of circumcision is “clearly meant to benefit Muslims, not Jews,” as mohelim, or trained Jewish circumcisers, perform it for free.

Zilveren Kruis’ decision, Jacobs said, to offer reimbursement does not affect Jews but is a “positive thing” for society because it helps avoid health risks in Muslim circumcisions, which are sometimes perform by unqualified relatives.

Separately, in October a Swedish court rejected a Muslim mother’s request for reimbursement from her municipality of the circumcision of her son, the Vetlanda Posten lcal newspaper reported.

Ex-POW featured in Hillary Clinton campaign dies

(JTA)—Joel Sollender, a World War II prisoner of war who appeared in television ads for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, has died.

The cause of his death on Tuesday evening was congestive heart failure, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported Thursday. Sollender, who was Jewish, was 92.

“He had a great patriotic feeling about this country and the war affected him in many profound ways,” his widow, Dorothy, told the Union-Tribune in a phone interview from the couple’s home in Poway, California. “Here was this smart-ass Jewish intellectual from New York City who became friends in the Army with a Missouri farmer, an Indian bootlegger. He just got along with everyone because he was a person for every man and he truly loved America.”

Sollender told the Union-Tribune in November that he was irked by presidential candidate Donald Trump’s remarks during a Republican primary event last year in Ames, Iowa, mocking John McCain, a U.S. senator from Arizona and a POW during the Vietnam War, as a Navy pilot who wasn’t “a war hero because he was captured.”

Reports of Sollender’s anger reached Clinton election headquarters in Brooklyn, and a camera team taped him soon afterword for two ads. A 30-second spot showed Sollender and other veterans reacting strongly to a string of Trump comments about the military. An 80-second ad featured Sollender alone, crying in his home as he reflected on his POW experience that was “70 years ago, and yesterday.”

Both ads debuted on Sept. 16—National Prisoners of War Remembrance Day—and played in heavy rotation in Ohio, Pennsylvania and other battleground states.

“He was devastated that Trump won and worried about the future of the country,” Dorothy Sollender said.

Born in Manhattan, Sollender quit his studies at City College of New York following  World War II and was recruited into the 346th Regiment of the Army’s 87th Infantry Division.

He was captured on Dec. 11, 1944, in France and imprisoned in Stalag 3A near Luckenwalde, Germany, according to military records kept by the National Archives.

His decorations included a Bronze Star for valor, the Combat Infantryman Badge and a Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster.

After the war, Sollender finished his studies at New York University, majoring in business administration. He became an executive in the textile industry before retiring in 1992. The Sollenders had two children, one of whom died in a car accident in 2002.

Besides his wife, Sollender is survived by a son, Dr. Jonathan Lee Sollender, and six grandchildren, two of whom serve in the military.

In rare move, Spanish town votes to reverse BDS resolution it passed this year

(JTA)—In a rare move, a Spanish municipality voted to nullify a resolution it had passed earlier this year endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Santa Eulalia, a town on the island of Ibiza 300 miles southeast of Madrid, last week nullified in a vote the pro-BDS resolution it passed in the summer following legal action initiated against the municipality over the earlier vote, ACOM, the Spanish pro-Israel organization, told JTA on Friday.

More than a dozen such BDS resolutions have been reversed over the past two years in Spain, where over 50 municipalities have endorsed BDS—more than anywhere else in Europe. But in most of the cases, the reversal came in an injunction following a court ruling declaring BDS discriminatory or in a local government decree designed to avoid such a ruling, according to ACOM President Angel Mas.

“It is rare for a municipality council to cancel in a vote a resolution that it had passed only months before,” he said.

The center-right Popular Party, which opposes boycott initiatives against Israel, called the second vote amid pressure from senior politicians and because of concerns that ACOM’s legal action against the resolution at Santa Eulalia would end in a nullification, Mas said. Such a reversal by vote has occurred only “once or twice” before in Spain, he said.

During debates at town hall about the resolution, Popular Party representatives argued it would be disproportionate to focus on the democratic nation of Israel at a time when hundreds of thousands  of Syrians have died in a brutal civil war among rebels, Islamists and forces loyal to the country’s dictator, Bashar Assad, Mas said.

Last month, the Administrative Appeals Court No. 3 of Barcelona scrapped the motion passed in March by the suburban municipality of Sant Adrià de Besòs on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.

Promoting BDS is illegal in France, where doing so is considered a form of incitement. Britain’s government said it was considering similar legislation. Spain has no laws specifically against boycotting other nations, as France does, but this has after 2014 become a de-facto position of the Spanish judiciary following several precedent-setting rulers by some of the country’s highest tribunals.

Mas welcomed the vote in Santa Eulalia, saying it was preferable to obtaining an injunction.

“Ours is not a litigious organization,” he said of ACOM. “We are not there to start court cases, but we are forced to do just that when illegal and discriminatory activities are taken against Israel. When these actions are corrected and the situation is resolved on the political field, where this issue belongs, that this is better than having to bring it to court.”


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