Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA
May 5, 2017
Sebastian Gorka reportedly leaving White House
(JTA)—Sebastian Gorka, the presidential aide accused of ties to a far-right Hungarian nationalist group, reportedly will be leaving the White House for another government position.
According to a report Sunday in the political website The Hill, citing an unnamed senior White House official, Gorka will be taking a position in another federal agency. He currently serves as a deputy assistant to Donald Trump, advising the president on counterterrorism.
The Washington Examiner first reported that Gorka’s new position will be focused on the “war of ideas” against radical Islam and will not be in the State Department, providing no further details.
Gorka has been serving on the Strategic Initiatives Group, an internal organization within the White House, and as a national security adviser. An unnamed source told the Examiner, however, that Gorka’s current position had always been meant to be temporary while he waited for administration officials to create a terrorism-related position for him in another area of the government.
The reported move comes amid suspicion that Gorka had not yet received the necessary security clearance to do his job.
The Forward has reported that Gorka, who is Hungarian, is a member of Historical Vitézi Rend. The group is a namesake of Vitézi Rend, a defunct order of merit that had existed as a state entity for 20 years until 1944 under the rule of Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s Nazi-allied leader. Vitézi Rend was disbanded, outlawed and ceased to exist in the 1940s following the World War II defeat of Nazi Germany.
Following the Forward’s investigation, Democratic Reps. Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey, Jewish lawmakers from New York, sent a letter to Trump urging him to fire Gorka. At least 18 Democratic Congress members signed the letter.
North Korea threatens Israel with ‘merciless’ punishment
JERUSALEM (JTA)—North Korea threatened Israel with “merciless, thousand-fold punishment” and labeled it the only “illegal possessor” of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.
The Foreign Ministry in Pyongyang issued a statement Saturday blasting Israel after its defense minister, Avigdor Liberman, in an interview with the Hebrew-language news website Walla! called North Korean leader Kim Jong-un a “madman” who is in charge of a “crazy and radical group” that is “undermining global stability.”
Liberman said that Pyongyang “seems to have crossed the red line with its recent nuclear tests,” according to Walla!.
Also Saturday, North Korea conducted a failed ballistic rocket test, the second test of a long-range Scud-type missile this month, which also failed. The test came as the United States began joint naval exercises with South Korea just after the U.S. aircraft carrier group led by the USS Carl Vinson entered the Sea of Japan.
North Korea could be ready to conduct its sixth nuclear test, according to reports.
In its statement slamming Israel, North Korea called Israel the “only illegal possessor of nukes in the Middle East, under the patronage of the U.S.”
“The reckless remarks of the Israeli defense minister are sordid and wicked behavior and a grave challenge to the DPRK (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea),” the Foreign Ministry’s statement read.
“This is the cynical ploy to escape the world denunciation and curse as disturber of peace in the Middle East, occupier of the Arab territories and culprit of crimes against humanity.”
The statement threatened Israel and anyone who “dares hurt the dignity of its supreme leadership,” will face “merciless, thousand-fold punishment.”
“Israel would be well advised to think twice about the consequences [of] its smear campaign against the DPRK,” the statement also said.
Over the past few decades, North Korea has armed and trained countries and groups that are hostile to Israel, including Iran. Reports also have surfaced that North Korea helped Syria build a nuclear reactor that was destroyed in an attack believed to be by Israel in 2007.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, champion of Israel and Holocaust survivors, to retire from Congress
WASHINGTON (JTA)—Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a congressional leader who has been a staunch defender of Israel and the rights of Holocaust survivors, is leaving Congress.
Ros-Lehtinen, a moderate Republican from Florida who has sharply criticized the policies of President Donald Trump, told the Miami Herald on Sunday that she simply no longer felt the drive to run again and is retiring at the end of her current term.
“There was no epiphany. There was no moment, nothing that has happened that I’ve said, ‘I’ve got to move on,’” Ros-Lehtinen, 64, told the newspaper. “It was just a realization that I could keep getting elected—but it’s not about getting elected.”
Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuba native of Jewish descent, took a special interest in Israel during her career. The stringent Iran sanctions she authored in 2006 were blocked by congressional procedure, but were the template for the sanctions Congress approved in 2010 that helped force Iran to the negotiating table to limit its nuclear program.
Elected in 1989 from her diverse South Florida district, Ros-Lehtinen was the first Cuban elected to Congress and the first woman to chair the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, from 2011-13.
She remained popular in a district that trended increasingly Democratic, defeating her rival by 10 points in November while Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, beating Trump by 20 points. Ros-Lehtinen broke with Trump on his immigration policies and his embrace of the far right, and claimed not to have voted for him in the election.
Bipartisan cooperation has been a hallmark of her career. Ros-Lehtinen chafed at recent pressure from the party to abjure cooperation with Democrats. Some of the most heartfelt farewells after the announcement came from her Democratic colleagues.
“From the moment I arrived in Congress, Ileana has been a friend and a partner,” said Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., who is the top Democrat on the House Middle East subcommittee, which is currently chaired by Ros-Lehtinen. “We have worked together countless times from championing equality to strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
Ros-Lehtinen’s championing of her favored causes has not abated. On Sunday, the day she announced her retirement, she joined Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in blasting UNESCO, the United Nations cultural arm, for advancing another resolution targeting Israel. Last week, she was a leader in introducing a Republican-backed bill that would condition U.S. funding of the United Nations on its treatment of Israel.
She told the Herald that a continued focus would be advocacy for Holocaust survivors. Earlier this year, she reintroduced a bill that would expand the rights of Holocaust survivors to sue insurers that did not make good on Holocaust-era policies.
Princeton Jewish student center denies space for exhibit criticizing Israeli military
(JTA)—The Center for Jewish Life at Princeton University denied space to the local chapter of J Street U for an exhibition created by the left-wing Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence.
The J Street U chapter decided to go forward with the exhibit, to be held Tuesday and Wednesday, in another campus space, despite the possibility of causing a rift with the Center for Jewish Life, or CJL, which is affiliated with Hillel International, the Daily Princetonian student newspaper reported.
“We do not take this step lightly,” J Street U Princeton wrote in a statement posted on Facebook. “Our relationship with the CJL is deeply important to us, and we consider the CJL and the Princeton Jewish community to be a home for us on campus. We want to continue to be a part of this community.”
Following a meeting with Rabbi Julie Roth, the center’s executive director, J Street U Princeton President Dylan Mittag told the Daily Princetonian that their “relationship is intact.”
“J Street will remain a CJL organization,” Mittag said.
J Street U has been affiliated with The Center for Jewish Life since 2014.
The center did not oppose J Street bringing the organization to speak on campus, Roth told the student newspaper.
“However, given the sensitivities related to the timing of the event overlapping with Yom Hazikaron, the day commemorating Israeli soldiers killed in battle and in terrorist attacks, and Yom Haatzmaut, the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, we did not want to host the program in the building,” she said.
Breaking the Silence is an Israeli military veterans’ group that alleges the Israeli army abuses Palestinians. The photo exhibition it plans to bring to the Princeton campus includes soldiers’ testimonials and deals with the moral and strategic dilemmas that operating in the West Bank creates for the Israel Defense Forces.
“We specifically wanted to bring Breaking the Silence to the CJL because of these issues’ deep relevance to the Jewish and pro-Israel communities at Princeton,” the J Street U statement said.
Hillel International’s guidelines prohibit its chapters from partnering with or hosting organizations, groups or speakers that “deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders; Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions [BDS] against... Israel; [or] exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.”
The center sponsored a group of students to attend the J Street national conference earlier this year and arranged for them to meet with J Street’s national president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, a Princeton graduate
Roth said in an email to the campus newspaper that the center has been “engaged in a spirit of partnership” with J Street U-involved students and noted that her organization sponsored several of them on a trip to Israel and the West Bank, where they met with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Terror victim Ezra Schwartz posthumously inducted into Jewish fraternity at Rutgers
(JTA)—Ezra Schwartz, who was killed in a West Bank terrorist attack in November 2015, was inducted posthumously into Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish fraternity, at Rutgers University.
The induction ceremony was held Sunday night, at the start of Yom Hazikaron in Israel, which memorializes fallen soldiers as well as victims of terror.
Also at the ceremony his father, Ari, was inducted as an honorary brother of the Rho Upsilon chapter of the fraternity, which has chapters throughout the United States and around the world.
Ari Schwartz said the ceremony “represents who he could have been,” the news website MycentralJersey reported.
“He could have been sitting here. He could have been roommates with one of you,” Schwartz said of his 18-year-old son.
“It means a lot. It really does. It seems like the entire world has reached out to us in order to support us through this tragedy. AEPi’s gesture today is another example of that. I also very much appreciate the gesture of inducting me into AEPi as well. Now I have something else I share in common with Ezra.”
Ezra Schwartz, from Sharon, Massachusetts, was on a gap year studying at a yeshiva in Israel. He was to start business school at Rutgers, in central New Jersey, in the fall of 2016.
He was killed when a Palestinian terrorist opened fire near Alon Shvut in the Etzion bloc on a minivan full of students and teachers from Yeshivat Ashreinu in Beit Shemesh, who were volunteering to clear a nearby park. Three others were killed in the attack.
The gunman, Mohammed Abed Odeh Harub, was sentenced to four life terms in prison.
Ukraine probes murder charges against Jewish officer, 94, who served under Soviets
(JTA)—Prosecutors in Ukraine have initiated a murder investigation against a Jewish former Soviet officer, now 94, who is suspected of killing a nationalist in 1952.
Boris Steckler is accused of throwing a grenade into a bunker where the victim and several other anti-Soviet underground fighters were hiding. His accusers claim he was working for the feared NKVD security service, which later became the KGB.
The General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine opened the probe against Steckler on April 18, the Ist Pravda news website reported last week based on documents it obtained from the National Advocacy Center, a nationalist and anti-Russian not-for-profit group.
Steckler is accused of killing Neil Hasevych, an artist who was a member of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, or OUN, which fought during the first half of the 20th century against Soviet domination. Leaders of OUN briefly collaborated with Nazi occupation forces before turning against them.
Nationalist groups in Ukraine have for years tried to prosecute Steckler. Last year, the Rivne District Administrative Court began reviewing a lawsuit connected to Steckler that nationalists brought against Ukraine’s SBU security service. The petitioners wanted the SBU to release old classified files about Steckler.
He declined to show up at the hearing in Rivne and appealed to the court to dismiss the petition. Steckler has declined to comment on the allegations made against him, the news website said.
Following a bloody revolution in 2014 that unleashed a wave of nationalist sentiment in Ukraine, the state has celebrated the legacy of OUN personalities and its military wing, the UPA, including commanders who are accused of responsibility for the murder of thousands of Jews and Poles
One such leader was Stepan Bandera, who has a large statue of him in the city of Lviv and streets named after him in several cities, including Kiev. Another is Roman Shukhevych, whom the director of the state-operated Ukrainian National Memory Institute recently praised as “one of five eminent personalities who have changed the course of history.”
Advocates of nationalist leaders like Bandera and Shukhevych claim their vision of Ukraine extended to Jews, some of whom served in UPA’s ranks. Some UPA militants also rescued Jews from the Holocaust.
German foreign minister equates Jewish victims of Nazis with Social Democrats
(JTA)—Germany’s foreign minister said Social Democrats in his country were victimized by the Nazis alongside their Jewish victims.
Sigmar Gabriel, in a recent op-ed in the German-language Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper headlined “Together against nationalism,” wrote that “Social Democrats, like Jews, were the first victims of the Holocaust. One was the victim of political persecution, the other of racial delusion.” The article was changed later to “the National Socialists” from the Holocaust
Gabriel wrote that German Social Democrats have always been the most pro-Israel component of the country’s politics.
On the day the article appeared, April 25, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a scheduled meeting with Gabriel after the German official refused to cancel a meeting with the left-wing NGO Breaking the Silence.
A spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry said in a statement reported by Ynet that Gabriel is a close friend of Israel and has always accepted Germany’s responsibility for the Holocaust and for Israel’s security.
“There can be no doubt about this, and the foreign minister made this statement again during his visit to Yad Vashem” on Monday, read the statement, noting Israel’s official Holocaust memorial and museum.
Gabriel held a low-key meeting with representatives of B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, which took place without the media present. He did not comment on the meeting afterward.
Anti-Semitic graffiti defaces community building in Spokane
(JTA)—Anti-Semitic graffiti defaced a building housing community support services and nonprofit groups in downtown Spokane, Washington.
The epithets, which were written in chalk on the side of the building, were discovered Friday morning. Among them were “Hitler did nothing wrong,” “Gas the Kikes” and “Juden Raus,” German for “Jews out.” The graffiti also called for a “race war now.”
Interns for the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, which is housed in the building, discovered the graffiti, the Spokesman-Review newspaper reported Saturday.
The incident was reported to police and the graffiti was covered up, according to the newspaper. Organizations housed in the building said they would remain and continue their work.
Last month, racist and anti-Semitic white nationalist fliers were posted on the building.