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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


New York State Police enlist public’s help to find cemetery vandals

(JTA)—The New York State Police have called on the public to help find the vandals who defaced a Jewish cemetery with anti-Semitic graffiti.

The brick wall surrounding the Beth Shalom Cemetery in Warwick, a suburban town located about 90 minutes north of Manhattan, was vandalized with black spray-paint including the words “Heil Hitler,” swastikas and SS lightning bolts. The attack occurred in October, just days before the observance of Yom Kippur.

A Catholic cemetery across the street owned by Temple Beth Shalom of the Village of Florida was not vandalized.

Both state police and Town of Warwick police are investigating the vandalism, the Times Herald-Record newspaper reported. The police have put out a call in the local media for assistance, including publicizing the numbers for their tip lines.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Orange County is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in the case.

Family of Palestinians killed in arson attack sues Israel for $2.8 million

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The family of a 6-year-old Palestinian boy whose parents and brother were killed in an arson on their West Bank home has filed a lawsuit against the State of Israel demanding $2.78 million in compensation, saying its settlement policies led to the attack.

Right-wing Jewish extremists were indicted in the July 2015 firebombing in the Palestinian village of Duma in the northern West Bank. Ahmed Dawabshe, then 4, was the only survivor of the attack that killed his brother, Ali, 18 months old; father, Saad; and mother, Riham.

The lawsuit filed Monday in the Nazareth District Court charges Israel with criminal negligence, saying that the state failed to demolish illegal outposts, including the one from which the alleged attackers came, The Times of Israel reported.

“The writing was on the wall and it was clear to everyone that the leniency toward the hilltop youth, outpost residents and lawbreakers would quickly spill over from property damage and non-fatal attacks to deadly attacks that would end the lives of the innocent Palestinian residents,” the lawsuit said, according to the news website.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said late last month that Ahmed Dawabshe was not eligible for compensation because he does not qualify as a terror victim, the law does not apply to Palestinians and that there was no request on file for such compensation.

Liberman was responding to Arab Joint List lawmaker Yousef Jabareen, who had asked why the boy had not received money from the state.

Ahmed is being cared for by his grandparents.

Prince Charles will not be visiting Israel, Britain’s Foreign Office says

(JTA)—Prince Charles of Britain will not be visiting Israel, despite media reports citing senior officials saying he would, according to a London newspaper.

Charles, the heir to the throne, would have been the first member of the royal family to make an official state visit to Israel since its founding.

“Her Majesty’s Government makes decisions on Royal Visits based on recommendations from the Royal Visits Committee, taking into account advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office,” a Foreign Office spokeswoman said in a statement.  “The Committee never proposed a royal visit to Israel for 2017. Plans for 2018 will be announced in due course.”

The British tabloid The Sun reported Sunday that the decision made by the Foreign Office may have been taken to avoid upsetting Arab nations in the region.

Though the visit was not officially announced, senior officials had been cited in the British and Israeli media in recent weeks saying that Charles or another member of the royal family would travel to Israel to mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which stated the British government’s support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin extended an invitation for a royal state visit to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson at a meeting in Jerusalem earlier this year. The Sun reported that the invitation never officially reached the royal family.

In October, Charles made a private trip to Israel to attend the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres. While there he  visited, in secret, the grave of his grandmother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, who is buried in the Church of Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives. She died in 1969 in London and was transferred to a crypt in the church in 1988 in accordance with her wishes.

In general, the British royal family refrains from official visits to Israel except for state funerals; it does not recognize eastern Jerusalem as part of Israel. The few royal visits to Israel have been defined as private. Prince Philip visited in 1994 for a ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial to honor his mother. Prior to the ceremony, Philip and his sister, Princess Sophie, visited their mother’s coffin.

Kushner Companies apologizes for name dropping Jared during China investors pitch

(JTA)—Kushner Companies, the company owned by the family of senior presidential adviser Jared Kushner, reportedly has apologized for using his name during a real estate sales pitch to Chinese investors.

Nicole Meyer, Kushner’s sister, made the pitch on Saturday in Beijing to more than 100 Chinese investors. Meyer said the project “means a lot to me and my entire family” and specifically mentioned her brother, the son-in-law of President Donald Trump.

“In 2008, my brother Jared Kushner joined the family company as CEO, and recently moved to Washington to join the administration,” she said at the conference.

In a statement issued the following day, the Kushner Companies said that the company “apologizes if that mention of [Meyer’s] brother was in any way interpreted as an attempt to lure investors.” Jared Kushner “has nothing to do with this project,” spokeswoman Risa Heller told the Daily Beast.

“Ms. Meyer wanted to make clear that her brother had stepped away from the company in January and has nothing to do with this project,” the company said in the statement, which was cited Monday by CNN.

Kushner, who is married to the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, reportedly has played a key role in smoothing U.S.-China relations. Kushner served as a manager or president at six entities associated with the New Jersey real estate project until January, according to The New York Times, citing Kushner’s government ethics disclosure form.

According to the Times, during the Beijing meeting, Meyer talked about how family values had shaped Kushner Companies and spoke about her grandparents, who survived the Holocaust. She also spoke about her father, Charles Kushner, the company founder who spent time in prison for illegal campaign donations, tax evasion and witness tampering.

Meyer also spoke to investors in Shanghai on Sunday.

Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff arrives in Israel for official visit

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Gen. Joseph Dunford, the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Israel for an official visit.

Dunford landed Monday in Israel, where he will be the guest of his Israeli counterpart, Lt. Gen Gadi Eizenkot. It is Dunford’s third visit to Israel.

Along with Eizenkot, Dunford is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and additional military commanders to discuss cooperation between the two countries’ armies and mutual challenges, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

On Tuesday, Dunford will be greeted with an official military honor guard at the Kirya, the IDF’s headquarters in Tel Aviv. He is also scheduled to tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum.

Texas bill would allow adoption agencies to deny couples based on religion

(JTA)—Texas lawmakers are set to vote on a bill that would allow state-funded or private faith-based adoption agencies to reject couples seeking to adopt children if they are Jewish.

The state House proposal also would allow potential adoptive couples to be rejected if they are Muslim, interfaith, gay or single, according to reports.

A vote on the bill in the Republican-controlled House scheduled for Saturday was pushed off until Monday, CNN reported.

Proponents say the measure will support the religious freedom of adoption agencies and foster care providers. Opponents say it violates the Constitution’s requirement of equal protection under the law.

The bill also could require children in the foster care system to comply with a family’s faith-based requirements, including sending gay children for “conversion therapy” or denying them access to birth control.

Five other states have approved similar laws protecting faith-based adoption organizations that refuse to place children in families based on religion or lifestyle. South Dakota’s law is the most similar since it also covers agencies that receive state funding.

French Jews relieved Macron won but worried over Le Pen’s electoral gains

(JTA)—Leaders of French Jewry expressed relief at the defeat of the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in the presidential election but concern that she received more than a third of the vote.

Le Pen, whom the chief rabbi of France and the CRIF umbrella of Jewish communities have decried as dangerous to democracy and minorities, received 34.2 percent of the vote compared to the 65.8 percent for the centrist candidate, Emmanuel Macron, according to a report by Le Monde based on exit polls from Sunday’s final round of the elections.

“I am happy with the result of Emmanuel Macron being elected president, which constitutes a veritable relief for all our nation and for the Jewish community of France,” Joel Mergui, the president of the Consistoire, wrote Sunday evening in a statement by his group, which is responsible for providing religious services to Jews.

Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia, who is employed by the Consistoire, also spoke of his satisfaction from the vote. But in his statement, Korsia also referenced concerns over the support shown to Le Pen—a nationalist who seeks a ban on wearing Jewish and Muslim religious symbols in public, ritual slaughter and the provision of pork-free meals in school cafeterias.

The vote was the best electoral result ever obtained by her National Front party, which was established in the 1970s by her father, the Holocaust denier Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has multiple convictions for inciting racial hatred against Jews. He clinched 18 percent of the vote in the 2002 presidential elections—the first time that National Front made it to the final round.

“Well aware that many voices have been raised in favor of the candidate of the National Front, the Chief Rabbi calls on all political leaders to take seriously the voters’ cry of despair and anger in order to review their platforms and to regain the enthusiasm and support of the citizens,” the statement by Korsia’s office read.

Francis Kalifat, president of CRIF, called the victory “incontestable” and congratulated Macron.

“Everything starts right now,” Kalifat, who has lobbied intensively in favor of Macron in recent days, wrote optimistically on Twitter.

The president of European Jewish Congress, Moshe Kantor, said in a statement: “We remain extremely concerned by the still large support for parties of the far right, not only in France but across Europe.” He also wrote that the result was “a victory against hate and extremism” by the French people.

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, said in a statement that while Macron’s election is ”extremely encouraging,” his group is “concerned that a third of the French population voted for a dangerous political leader.” This, he said, is part of a “worrying political landscape in Europe and the increase in far-right rhetoric which has swept the continent.”

Macron’s positions on Israel, its conflict with the Palestinians and the Middle East in general correspond with those of the government of France’s outgoing president, Francois Hollande, Macron told a predominantly Jewish crowd in March during a town hall meeting organized in Paris by CRIF.

Hollande is one of France’s least-popular presidents. Citing dismal approval ratings, he had withdrawn from the presidential race to better the chances of his party to remain in power.

The economic policies of Macron, a former banker who at 39 will be the youngest president in the history of the Fifth Republic of France, differ significantly from those of the Socialist Party. A believer in free-market economy, he is calling for an economic reform opposed by labor unions and advocates of France’s relatively generous welfare amenities.

This has alienated many left-wing voters in what could explain a historically low turnout in Sunday’s vote.

According to Le Monde, a quarter of registered voters did not show up to vote, making the turnout of 75 percent the lowest recorded in any final round of the presidential elections since 1969.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not address National Front’s gains in the vote in a statement congratulating Macron. He said that one of the greatest threats facing Israel and France “is radical Islamic terror which has struck Paris, Jerusalem and so many other cities around the world,” adding he was sure the two countries “will continue to deepen our relations.”

President Donald Trump congratulated the “people of France on their successful presidential election.” Trump, who said last month that Le Pen was “the strongest candidate on borders,” added: “We look forward to working with the new President and continuing our close cooperation with the French government.”

Turkey’s Erdogan accuses Israel of massacring Palestinians

JERUSALEM (JTA)—President Recep Tayyip Erdogan  accused Israel of “massacres” against the Palestinians and chided the international community for its silence.

Erdogan made his comments on Monday at the Al-Quds Forum in Istanbul, a two-day international event that brings together representatives of foundations, experts, academics, ministers and high-ranking officials from around the world to discuss the state of Muslim heritage in Jerusalem.

Speaking of Israel, the Turkish leader was quoted as saying in the Istanbul-based Daily Sabah newspaper, “They feel they are immune to any punishment for their crimes, but the international community needs to stand up against them. It is impossible to establish peace in the region if the international law remains indifferent to massacres and cruelty.”

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to Erdogan’s comments in a statement issued on Monday night.

“Those who systematically violate human rights in their own country should not preach to the only true democracy in the region,” the statement said. “Israel consistently protects total freedom of worship for Jews, Muslims and Christians—and will continue to do so despite the baseless slander launched against it.”

Also at the forum, Erdogan called on Turks to visit the Al-Aqsa mosque often to protect its Muslim identity.

“Turkey attaches great importance to the justified resistance of the Palestinians and will not yield to Israeli attempts to change the status quo in the Al-Aqsa mosque,” Erdogan said. “We as Muslims should visit the Al-Aqsa mosque more often; every day that Jerusalem is under occupation is an insult to us.”

The mosque, under the control of the Muslim Waqf, is located in Jerusalem on what Jews call the Temple Mount.

Erdogan also criticized a bill being considered in Israel that would limit the volume of the Muslim call to prayer.

“It is disgraceful for those who lecture us about the freedom of religion to turn a blind eye to this attempt. Turkey will not let these attempts against freedom of belief [prevail],” Erdogan said. “Why are they afraid of the call to prayer? Are they unsure of their own fate? We do not and will not treat our Jewish citizens like that.”

State Department: Saudi Arabia video that removed Israel in Trump trip announcement was ‘inadvertent mistake’

(JTA)—The State Department called the posting of a video by the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia that removed Israel from an announcement about the president’s upcoming trip to the region an “inadvertent mistake.”

On Monday, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., criticized the State Department for “editing out” Israel in the video posted on the Riyadh embassy website and Arabic-language Twitter account. The videos were no longer available on Monday afternoon and a video on the embassy site contained the announcement that included Israel.

“At a time when the United States should be encouraging the governments of the region—and their people—to promote tolerance, respect and mutual recognition, this video implies that the U.S. accepts Saudi Arabia’s public rejectionist position toward Israel,” Engel, the Jewish ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

A State Department official told JTA in a statement that the embassy had taken the video from the social media account of a private Saudi citizen without realizing that Israel had been edited out.

“Upon learning this, the U.S. Embassy immediately corrected the error, took down the video, and loaded the correct version to its social media accounts,” the official said. “The Embassy expresses its regret for this inadvertent mistake.”

A video posted by the Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee claimed to show the version first posted by the embassy, edited so that Trump appears to say he will visit Saudi Arabia and the Vatican but does not mention Israel. Trump said Thursday that he will visit the three countries on his first overseas trip.

Pope and delegation of Hasidic Jews meet, dance at Vatican

ROME (JTA)—Pope Francis danced with a delegation of Hasidic Jews and discussed with them issues including the protection of Jewish cemeteries in Europe and combating child sex abuse.

The pontiff held a 45-minute audience at the Vatican on Monday with the group, which was led by Rabbi Edgar Gluck.

A video on the Yeshiva World News website and also posted to YouTube shows the pope swaying to the music as members of the delegation dance and serenade him with the song “Long years shall satiate him.”

Yeshiva World News quoted Gluck’s son Zvi, who was part of the delegation, as saying the pontiff pledged to work toward enacting “stronger rules against destroying Jewish cemeteries to build roads or homes.”

Zvi Gluck, the founder and director of Amudim, an organization dedicated to helping Jewish victims of abuse and addiction, also tweeted that the pontiff had pledged “zero tolerance” for the sexual abuse of children and said “We need to keep kids safe.”

Born in Germany, Edgar Gluck, 80, divides his time between Brooklyn and Poland, where he holds the title of chief rabbi of Galicia. In the United States, where he has long been politically active, he was a co-founder of Hatzolah, one of the largest volunteer ambulance corps.

He has been involved in the preservation of Jewish cemeteries in Eastern Europe for decades and long served as a member of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad.

Gluck and Pope Francis met and discussed the plight of Jewish cemeteries last year when the pontiff visited Krakow for Catholic World Youth Day and, according to Yeshiva World News, the pope invited Gluck to continue the discussion at the Vatican.

German president takes swipe at Netanyahu during Hebrew U lecture

JERUSALEM (JTA)—German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in a gibe at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told an audience at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem that diverse voices are the “oxygen of democracy.”

Steinmeier, who met earlier on Sunday with Netanyahu, was criticizing the prime minister for canceling a meeting last month with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel after he refused to nix a meeting with representatives of two left-wing NGOs: B’Tselem, a human rights watchdog, and Breaking the Silence, a veterans’ group that alleges the Israeli army abuses Palestinians.

“I believe that civil-society organizations which are part of the social debate deserve our respect as democrats, even when they take a critical view of a government—in Germany, but also here in Israel,” Steinmeier also said.

Steinmeier said that many had warned him that this was the wrong time to visit Israel, particularly in light of the Gabriel incident.

“Preserving the miracle that is this friendship is an unshakable task incumbent on us Germans. It was therefore clear to me that my first trip outside Europe as federal president would take me here to Israel. The events of the past two weeks have done nothing to change this—on the contrary, these discussions have strengthened my resolve to talk about democracy here in Israel,” Steinmeier said.

There was no media coverage of Gabriel’s meeting with the NGOs and afterward he made no comment.

Israeli ministers praise Trump, bash PA at Jerusalem Post conference

NEW YORK (JTA)—A parade of Israeli Cabinet ministers praised President Donald Trump and lambasted the Palestinian Authority at The Jerusalem Post’s annual conference.

Five ministers from Israel’s right-wing governing coalition, as well as its consul general, spoke at the conference Sunday in New York City. They presented variations on the same message: The Trump administration is pro-Israel, and peace with the Palestinians is close to impossible.

“The United States of America, after a few years in which the situation was completely different, sees eye to eye [with Israel] the danger posed by Iran,” said Dani Dayan, Israel’s consul general in New York. “The United States of America and Israel have a common view, and almost an exact view, of the situation.”

Trump vowed recently to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, but even ministers opposed to Palestinian statehood expressed confidence that Trump is in Israel’s corner. Several thanked him for his impending visit to Israel this month.

“I was personally encouraged that the Trump administration did not automatically adopt the two-state solution narrative,” said Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the pro-settler Jewish Home party. “I think the Trump administration will continue to positively surprise us.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Jewish Home’s chairman, also reiterated his opposition to a Palestinian state, instead calling for a “Trump Plan” to invest in the Palestinian economy, modeled on the Marshall Plan that gave aid to Europe following World War II. Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis likewise promised to prevent a Palestinian state.

“The settlements in Judea and Samaria are not the obstacle to peace,” Akunis said to cheers, using the biblical term for the West Bank favored by Israel’s right. “So long as I am elected to serve my country, I will ensure that a Palestinian state will not be created.”

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz called the Palestinian Authority anti-Semitic, and echoed a frequent Israeli government claim in saying peace with the Palestinians would be impossible until Palestinian schools stop inciting against Israel.

“Can the extremist, corrupt, split, dysfunctional, totalitarian, anti-Semitic Palestinian Authority become a genuine partner for genuine peace in the Middle East?” he asked, calling the question “rhetorical.” He was answered with cheers and cries of “no.”

Transportation Minister Israel Katz called for increased settlement in West Bank settlement blocs around Jerusalem, and called on Trump to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Israeli Labor Party Chairman Isaac Herzog also praised Trump, but unlike the other speakers, expressed confidence in his effort to reach a deal.

“I commend President Trump’s effort to bring peace to Israel and the Palestinians,” Herzog said in an interview with Yaakov Katz, The Jerusalem Post’s editor in chief. “I believe he’s adamantly committed to this cause. So far, the way he’s handled this mission is impeccable. I think there is a spirit of change that needs to be seized.”


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