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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Israel Police arrest 22 haredi Orthodox men accused of sex crimes

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Police arrested 22 haredi Orthodox men in four Israeli cities who are suspected of sex crimes against women and minors over the past two years but were sheltered by religious leaders.

The men, aged 20-60, were arrested Monday morning in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Betar Illit and Bnei Brak, all cities with large haredi populations. Residents of the communities tried to prevent the arrests, throwing rocks and other projectiles, damaging some police cars.

The police posted a video showing the arrests on social media.

Police believe haredi leaders helped conceal the crimes and dealt with them on their own rather than reporting them, according to reports. Their investigation revealed that haredi leaders kept written records of the attacks; the perpetrators were required to get therapy within the haredi community. They also were punished internally.

Police reportedly have seized some of those records, which were kept by a person charged with the task by a special committee of the haredi community.

Israeli president denies pardon request of ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

JERUSALEM (JTA)—President Reuven Rivlin of Israel rejected a pardon request from former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is serving a 27-month prison sentence for corruption.

On Monday, Rivlin officially rejected the request filed in late January. Olmert entered prison, continuing to proclaim his innocence, in February 2016.

“The pardoning power of the President of the State is not an appeals court, and therefore, as stated, there is no room to grant an amnesty request by way of immediate release from prison,” the president said in his decision.

Rivlin noted that Olmert can face the parole board after serving two-thirds of his sentence. He also said that if the former prime minister is released, then he will lift restrictions such as traveling outside of the country, Walla reported.

Earlier this month Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked requested Olmert’s release, though her ministry was against such a course of action, according to reports.

Olmert is the first Israeli prime minister to serve time in prison and be sentenced to jail. He resigned his post in September 2008 after police investigators recommended that he be indicted in multiple corruption scandals.

Millions of Israeli children found at risk of stunted development, possibly from desalinated water

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s first-ever national survey of iodine levels in the population revealed widespread deficiencies, which could mean millions of children will not reach their intellectual potential.

The survey, whose unpublished results were presented last week to endocrinologists in Ramat Gan, found that 62 percent of school-age children and 85 percent of pregnant women have iodine levels below the World Health Organization minimum.

According to the researchers behind the survey, the numbers are among the highest in the world and signal a major national health problem likely related to Israel’s world-leading use of water desalination.

“We could be talking about a significant detriment across the population,” Dr. Aron Troen, a nutritional neuroscientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who helped lead the survey, told JTA. “For anyone below the minimum level, you may loose 7 to 10 to 12 IQ points, which translates into a huge decrease in GDP due to reduced productivity.

“We are concerned that increased reliance on desalinated water in the Israeli food chain is contributing to iodine insufficiency in the population.”

Even mild iodine deficiency can limit intellectual development, and mild to moderate deficiency has been linked to decreased cognitive performance. In the womb or early childhood, iodine deficiency has been shown to impair brain development and in severe cases cause physical malformation, dwarfism and intellectual disability. Previous studies have found the children of iodine-deficient mothers perform much more poorly in school

Researchers from Hebrew University, Maccabi Healthcare Service, Barzilai University Medical Center in Ashkelon and ETH Zurich in Switzerland collaborated on the survey, which analyzed urine samples from 1,0123 school-age children and 1,074 pregnant women. They found similar results among Israeli Arabs, secular Jews and Orthodox Jews.

Based on their findings, the researchers called on the Israeli government to mandate the addition of iodine to salt or other foods, as do some 160 other countries, including the United States. They said the change would be easy, inexpensive and have potentially large public health benefits. In the meantime, Israelis can change their diets, including by seeking out iodized salt, which is hard to find in Israel.

“Individuals can improve their iodine status through increased consumption of iodine-rich foods such as milk, dairy and saltwater fish. They can also replace regular table salt with iodized salt,” said Yaniv Ovadia, the doctoral student and registered dietitian who performed the survey.

Israel was one of only a few countries to have never before gathered nationally representative data on its residents’ iodine levels But Troen said “the trajectory” of his research suggests the problem has worsened in recent years and may be related to Israel’s pioneering use of water desalination, which removes iodine as well as other minerals. About half of the water Israelis consume is desalinated—a higher percentage than in any other country.

In a study last year, Troen and fellow researchers found a “surprisingly high” prevalence of insufficient iodine intake among the residents of the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, where residents get much of their water from the local desalination plant. They also found a strong association with thyroid dysfunction among adults and evidence that the problem increased in the 2000s, as Israel was ramping up its water desalination program.

According to data from the Israel Center of Disease Control, self-reported use of thyroid medication among Israeli adults increased 63 percent between the Israeli National Health Interview Surveys of 2003-04 and 2007-10.

Troen said other potential explanations are Israelis’ increased consumption of processed foods and surprisingly low consumption of dairy products. He has started new research on the causes of iodine deficiency in Israel.

Family of Israeli soldier whose body held by Hamas sues IDF for evidence he is dead

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The family of an Israeli soldier believed killed in the 2014 Gaza war and whose body is being held by Hamas filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court to see the evidence that led the army to declare him dead.

The family of Oron Shaul had asked the army two months ago for the information. Their request was denied.

The lawsuit filed Monday names the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot, along with the army’s head of personnel and chief military rabbi. It says the fact that the military will not let the family see the file shows that he was declared dead after pressure was put on the military authority charged with determining the death of soldiers, The Times of Israel reported.

The family has worked tirelessly for the repatriation of Shaul’s body, as well as that of Hadar Goldin, who also was taken by Hamas during Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014. Both soldiers were later declared dead by the Israeli government in consultation with religious and medical authorities.

The soldier’s father, Herzl, died of cancer in September. He believed until his death that his son would be repatriated to Israel and would be found alive.

Iran imposes sanctions on 15 US companies over support for Israel

(JTA)—Iran has imposed sanctions on 15 American companies over their alleged support for Israel.

The announcement by the Iranian Foreign Ministry accuses the United States of “propping up the Zionist regime, terrorists and suppressing civilians in the region,” the state agency IRNA reported.

It comes two days after the United States issued new sanctions on several foreign firms and individuals accused of supporting Iran’s weapons program.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran condemns the recent measure taken by the United States administration to impose one-sided extraterritorial sanctions against Iranian and non-Iranian individuals and institutions,” the Foreign Ministry said in its statement.

“Imposition of new sanctions by the U.S. is based on fabricated and illegitimate pretexts and amount to an action against the international regulations as well as the word and spirit of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” the statement said.

The companies include Raytheon, Re/Max Real Estate, Oshkosh, United Technologies Produces, ITT, BENI Tal and M7 Aerospace.

Iran’s announcement is largely symbolic because the firms do not do business with Iran, the news agency AFP reported.

Hamas closes Gaza-Israel border in response to commander’s killing

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Hamas closed the border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel following the assassination of one of its commanders.

The border crossing was closed Sunday in an effort to prevent the assassin or assassins from leaving Gaza. Hamas reportedly also closed the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

Thousands attended the funeral for Mazan Fukha in Gaza on Saturday, including Hamas senior official Ismail Haniyeh, Ynet reported.

Fukha was assassinated on Friday night outside of his Gaza home, according to reports. Hamas is blaming Israel’s Mossad spy agency for his death. Mourners shouted “revenge” against Israel during the funeral, the AFP news agency reported.

The Israeli side of the Erez crossing, the only place where people cross in and out of Gaza, will remain open. The Kerem Shalom crossing, which is used for goods and humanitarian aid, also will remain open, according to Israeli officials.

Fukha, who Israel says founded Hamas in the West Bank and helped coordinate terror attacks against Israelis, was jailed in Israel after being found responsible for suicide attacks that killed hundreds of Israelis during the second Intifada.

He was released from prison in Israel in 2011 as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange and ordered deported to Gaza.

Head of GOP in Israel calls Sarah Silverman ‘self-hating Jew’ for decade-old joke

TEL AVIV (JTA)—The leader of Israel’s main Republican group called Sarah Silverman a “self-hating Jew” and said she “needs a muzzle.”

Marc Zell made the comments Saturday night on behalf of the Republicans Overseas Israel Facebook page, which he manages as the group’s co-chairman. The post links to a blog post about a decade-old video clip of the Jewish comedian performing her standup show “Jesus is Magic.”

The Feb. 2 blog post by far-right documentary filmmaker Pat Dollard is titled “Jew Sarah Silverman: “I Hope The Jews Did Kill Christ” and features Silverman delivering a version of that line from her early 2000s comedy routine. Silverman’s audiences at the time understood the remark to be sarcastic.

Zell, an attorney who lives in the West Bank settlement Tekoa, said Silverman’s comments “damage” the Jewish community and insult Christians. He said it falls within the mission of Republican Overseas Israel to “call down” public figures like Silverman.

“Republicans Overseas Israel exists in order to not only represent the Republican Party here in Israel but also to represent the Jewish community in Israel to the Republican Party and the millions of Americans who support the Republican Party and our president,” he told JTA Sunday. “I think it’s appropriate to say something about a public figure as widely known as this woman, who during the campaign also had some ‘precious’ views to express about our candidate and our president. People like her need to be called down when they step over the line.”

Silverman—who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt in the Democratic primary and then Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election campaign—has been an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump. Last March, during the Republican primaries, she appeared on “Conan” dressed as Adolf Hitler and complained of her character being “unfavorably” compared to Trump.

Republican Overseas Israel held a get-out-the-vote campaign in Israel for Trump during the general election, and Trump and Vice President Mike Pence recorded video messages for an event the group held in Jerusalem in October. Zell claimed a record number of Americans in Israel cast absentee ballots, though that was widely disputed.

One of Trump’s most prominent boosters in Israel during the campaign, Zell continues to combatively advocate for and defend the president, along with Israel and the settlements. On the Republicans Overseas Israel Facebook page Thursday, he also deemed the Israeli-American teenager from Asheklon who was arrested last week on suspicion of calling in more than 100 bomb threats to Jewish community centers across the United States “The Ultimate Self-Hating Jew.”

Four women had commented Sunday on Zell’s Facebook post about Silverman, all agreeing with its sentiment. One invited Silverman to visit the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip, saying “Your friends are there, you’ll feel really comfortable and soon the rainy season is over so you won’t drown in your bed.” Others called her a “Trash box” and a “pig.”

Zell responded in a comment Sunday: “Better not to even pass her stuff around. I’m hitting delete.” But the post remained up.

Jerusalem-based journalist Noga Tarnopolsky in a tweet called on the Republican Party and the Republican Jewish Coalition to “do something” about Zell, saying of Zell’s Silverman tweet: “This is in your name.”  She also tweeted to the Anti-Defamation League, saying “Hi @ADL_National & @JGreenblattADL: An online troll is confusing a prominent Jewish woman with a dog. Do something.”

White House: Trump was right not to jump to conclusions about JCC bomb threats

(JTA)—The White House said President Donald Trump had been right not to jump to conclusions about anti-Semitic threats following the arrest last week of an Israeli-American teen on suspicion of making over 100 bomb threats against U.S. Jewish sites.

“We saw these threats coming into Jewish community centers, and there was an immediate jump to criticize folks on the right, and to denounce people on the right and ask them to condemn them, and it turns out that in fact it wasn’t someone on the right,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday at a media briefing. “The president from the get-go had said ‘I bet you it’s not someone [on the right]’ and he was right.”

Spicer added that “people on the left” who had blamed the right for the threats had not been held accountable.

“In that particular case, we saw that the president was right and that this rush to judgment by a lot of folks on the left was wrong, and none of them have been held to account on that,” Spicer said.

Last week, an Israeli-American teen was arrested in southern Israel on suspicion of carrying out bomb threats on Jewish institutions in the United States. The 19-year-old, Michael Kaydar, reportedly used advanced technology and voice-altering equipment to call in the threats to more than 100 JCCs, Jewish day schools and other Jewish institutions in the United States

Many Jewish groups had blamed white supremacists, emboldened by Trump’s campaign, for the bomb threats that plagued Jewish institutions since the beginning of this year. In February, the president reportedly said that the threats against Jewish communal institutions may be a false flag “to make others look bad.”

Also in February, when asked about the bomb threats, Trump shouted down a Jewish reporter who asked him about what he planned to do to address the intensification of incidents.

“Some of that anger is caused by people on the other side,” he then told another reporter at the news conference. “It will be by people on the other side to anger people like you.”


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