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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


September 22, 2017

Netanyahu praises Trump’s defense of Israel as UN General Assembly convenes

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Donald Trump at the launch of this year’s U.N. General Assembly and praised his “unequivocal” defense of Israel.

“I want to say that under President Trump, America’s position towards Israel at the U.N. has been unequivocal, it’s been strong, it’s got both clarity and conviction,” Netanyahu said Monday at a meeting with Trump in New York. “And I want to thank you on behalf of the people of Israel and Israel’s many friends around the world.”

Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, also routinely defended Israel at the United Nations, but at the end of his term infuriated the Netanyahu government by allowing through a Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements. Additionally, Trump’s envoy to the body, Nikki Haley, has been far more outspoken and public in her defenses of Israel than her predecessors.

Netanyahu also drew an implied and flattering comparison between Trump and Obama on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

“I look forward to discussing with you how we can address together what you rightly call is the terrible nuclear deal with Iran and how to roll back Iran’s growing aggression in the region, especially in Syria,” Netanyahu said.

The deal brokered by the Obama administration traded sanctions relief for a rollback in Iran’s nuclear program. Netanyahu reviles the deal and Trump has said he wants to amend or scrap it; the president has said to expect “dramatic” action by next month.

Trump in his remarks, unlike Netanyahu, emphasized his hopes for a brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace. Moreover, the U.S. leader said Palestinians and Israelis equally aspired to a deal—a posture Netanyahu has dismissed repeatedly, saying the Palestinians are not ready for peace.

“We’re going to be discussing many things, among them peace between the Palestinians and Israel—it will be a fantastic achievement,” Trump said. “I think Israel would like to see it, and I think the Palestinians would like to see it. And I can tell you that the Trump administration would like to see it.”

Prior to the meeting, Trump had tweeted, “Looking forward to meeting with Prime Minister @Netanyahu shortly. Peace in the Middle East would be a truly great legacy for ALL people!”

Following the meeting, the White House, in a readout, said Netanyahu and Trump “stressed their goals of countering Iran’s malign influence in the region and resolving the Syria crisis in a manner consistent with American and Israeli security interests.

“They also discussed their continuing efforts to achieve an enduring Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, the optimism in the region about peace, and expanding economic opportunities to improve conditions for peace,” the White House statement said.

Trump’s top negotiators on the issue, Jason Greenblatt and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, met separately with Netanyahu and his team on Sunday. On Monday, Greenblatt attended meetings of the U.N.’s Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which supervises Palestinian development toward a final status peace deal.

On his Twitter feed, Greenblatt said he had “great” and “productive” meetings with Palestinian and Israeli delegations to the committee about spurring the Palestinian economy.

On Sunday, Netanyahu met privately with leaders of four Jewish organizations—the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish Federations of North America, the American Jewish Committee and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

According to The Times of Israel, the Jewish leaders pressed Netanyahu on his reneging on a pledge to allow multidenominational prayer at the Western Wall. Also discussed, according to the report, was Iran and the civil war in Syria.

Jason Isaacson, the AJC director of international affairs, declined to comment on the range of topics discussed at the meeting, saying it was off the record However, in a brief interview with JTA he described the meeting as “candid and positive.”

An array of Jewish groups also met Sunday with Jordan’s King Abdullah. 

2017 Emmy Awards: On a historic night for diversity, ‘SNL’ quietly wins big

(JTA)—The 2017 Emmy Awards presentation, which is being hailed as a historic night for diversity in Hollywood, honored some Jewish talent.

“Saturday Night Live” led the way with eight of the TV awards, which were handed out Sunday night in Los Angeles.

“SNL” winners included Kate McKinnon and Alec Baldwin, for best supporting actress and actor in a comedy, respectively, for their portrayals of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and its aftermath. Melissa McCarthy also won for her work as a guest actress on “SNL,” notably portraying former White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

The show’s Jewish creator, Lorne Michaels, was a winner as the show took home the award for best variety sketch series. Michaels, who has produced the show for much of its four decades, now holds the record for most Emmy nominations.

Jewish filmmaker Ezra Edelman won the nonfiction directing Emmy for his work on the ESPN documentary “O.J.: Made in America.”

The Emmys also paid tribute to those in the industry who have died during the last year, including Jewish actresses Carrie Fisher and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

However, the night was most notable for other reasons. Donald Glover became the first African-American to win best directing in a comedy series and the first black actor to win best lead actor in a comedy since 1985. He is the star and creator of the FX show “Atlanta.”

Lena Waithe, who co-wrote the Netflix sitcom “Master of None” with Aziz Ansari, became the first black woman to win best comedy writing. Riz Ahmed became the first South Asian man to win an Emmy with his performance on the HBO miniseries “The Night Of.” And Sterling Brown, a star of NBC’s “This Is Us,” became the first African-American man to win outstanding lead actor in a drama series since 1998.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who has French-Jewish heritage, broke the record for most consecutive wins in any Emmy category with her sixth straight best lead actress in a comedy award. The former “Seinfeld” star is the driving force behind HBO’s political satire “Veep.”

Leonard Cohen memorial concert in Montreal to feature Sting, Elvis Costello

(JTA)—The family of singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen has announced a benefit concert in Montreal to mark the first anniversary of his death.

The concert, called “Tower of Song: A Memorial Tribute to Leonard Cohen,” will be held Nov. 6 in Cohen’s hometown, his family said Monday. It will benefit the Canada Council, which awards grants to Canadian arts projects, and helped Cohen in the early days of his career.

Among the artists signed on to perform are Elvis Costello, Lana Del Rey, Philip Glass, Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites of The Lumineers, k.d. lang, Feist, Sting, Patrick Watson and Damien Rice, Billboard reported. Actors also will read Cohen’s poetry.

“There were so many groups of people expressing beautiful interest in commemorating and memorializing and paying tribute to my old man,” Cohen’s son, Adam, told Billboard. “Instead of having it be a whole bunch of candles burning in various places, we wanted to pull a bunch of disparate pieces together and make a big bonfire, a big sight on a hill.”

Cohen said his father wished to be buried in Montreal with a small memorial service, but gave his son permission to organize a large public event after his death with the condition that it be held in Montreal, the Montreal Gazette reported.

The event will be filmed for a TV special.

Neo-Nazi group marches through Swedish city in run-up to planned Yom Kippur demonstration

(JTA)—A group that promotes an openly racist and anti-Semitic doctrine marched through Sweden’s second largest city ahead of its neo-Nazi march planned for Yom Kippur.

Dozens of members of the Nordic Resistance Movement marched through Gothenburg on Sunday, reportedly using the event to build support for its Sept. 30 march going near the city’s main synagogue on Judaism’s holiest day.

The group, which carried the organization’s flag and banners bearing Nazi symbols, did not have a permit for Sunday’s march. Police were on hand to observe the march but did not intervene to stop it, The Local-Sweden reported.

Gothenburg Police Chief Erik Nord told the local media that Sweden’s freedom of speech laws also protect protests without permits.

The group has a permit for the Sept. 30 march, which will take place during the Gothenburg Book Fair, when some 100,000 people will gather in the city for the largest literary festival in Scandinavia. The route taking demonstrators near the synagogue is an alternative offered by police to prevent them from marching on the main roads of the city near the book fair

Liberal Jews picket Paris synagogue hosting Jerusalem chief rabbi

(JTA)—In a move that underlined growing divisions among French Jews, several dozen attended a demonstration protesting communal leaders’ welcoming of a deeply conservative rabbi from Israel.

Approximately 40 Jewish protesters, some of them affiliated with Liberal congregations, showed up at the rally last week outside the Buffault synagogue in Paris ahead of the arrival of Shlomo Amar, the Sephardic Orthodox chief rabbi of Jerusalem, with signs protesting what they said were misogynist and divisive statements he had made.

Amar, the former chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel, has visited the French capital many times without incident, according to the La Croix daily.

Amar was visiting France as a guest of the Consistoire organization, a state-recognized framework that provides Orthodox Jewish communities with religious services in France.

Earlier this month, Amar equated Reform Jews with Holocaust deniers in an address concerning demands by followers of Liberal Judaism for changes in the rules of worship at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Amar has also called homosexuals “crazies” and “obscene people,” and has said that women are made to care for children and provide for their families so that men may become “great sages” in studying the Torah.

“These words ostracize a significant part of the Jewish people,” Michael Amsellem, one of the protest’s organizers, wrote in a statement. Yet, he noted, Amar was “invited for a lecture titled ‘Unity and the Month of Elul.’”

Delphine Horvilleur, a female rabbi and editor of the Tenoua Jewish magazine, promoted the Sept. 12 rally. Tenoua released a banner reading “Misogyny, homophobia, hate and contempt: not in my synagogue.”

Some of the protesters also carried signs reading “For a New Consistoire, a Consistoire for All.”

The Consistoire defended Amar’s visit to France as “historic and successful,” citing the 400 guests at Sept. 10 visit to Lyon—the first by a sitting chief rabbi of Jerusalem. The Consistorie said in a statement that it was “honored to host” Amar both there for a gala ahead of Rosh Hashanah and in Paris.

Bulgarian Foreign Ministry condemns vandalism in Sofia Jewish cemetery

(JTA)—Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry condemned the vandalism of gravestones in a Jewish cemetery in the capital city of Sofia.

The vandalism occurred last week in the Jewish section of the Sofia Central Cemetery. It was first reported to the Shalom Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria, which posted photos of the damage on Facebook.

Photos show toppled gravestones, as well as one stone broken into three pieces.

Deputy Mayor Todor Chobanov, who is in charge of Sofia’s cemeteries, told Shalom Organization President Dr. Alek Oskar that all necessary measures will be taken to discover the perpetrators, as well as their motive, according to the group. Chobanov also expressed “sincere regret” over the vandalism, noting that it comes ahead of the Jewish High Holidays.

“Bulgarian society is an example of tolerance, goodwill and respect among people of different ethnicity, religion and culture,” the Foreign Ministry said, according to the Sofia Globe. “Such actions are in complete contradiction with the moral choice of the Bulgarian society, which over the centuries has proved its worth in defense of the principles and values of humanism, tolerance, the rule of law.”

The organization said it would repair the damage as soon as possible.

Center for Jewish History board backs new head against right-wing attacks

(JTA)—The board of New York’s Center for Jewish History is defending its recently installed executive director over calls from right-wing groups for his dismissal.

A campaign against David Myers, formerly a prominent academic at UCLA, centers on his urging Israel to end its occupation in the West Bank.

The critics say his service on the international board of the left-wing New Israel Fund and as a member of the advisory council of J Street, the liberal American Jewish Middle East policy group, disqualifies him from the leadership of a Jewish organization.

The attack against Myers began in earnest earlier this month with an op-ed written by Ronn Torossian and Hank Sheinkopf, both public relations executives with clients in Israel, and George Birnbaum, a former chief of staff to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The piece was published on Arutz-7 and other right-wing Jewish news websites.

Two small advocacy groups, JCCWatch.org and the California-based Israel Group, recently joined the attack. The latter has organized an email campaign against Myers.

But the Center for Jewish History said in a statement approved last week and first reported in the Forward that Myers “enjoys the full and unwavering support of the board and staff.”

The board’s statement noted receiving “a stream of vituperative emails” demanding that Myers be dismissed.

Myers, the board said, “is a distinguished scholar who brings enormous energy, intellect and executive talent to the task” of leading the center.

The center is made up of five partner organizations: the American Jewish Historical Society, the American Sephardi Federation, the Leo Baeck Institute, the Yeshiva University Museum and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

According to the center’s website, “The partners’ archives comprise the world’s largest and most comprehensive archive of the modern Jewish experience outside of Israel.”

Myers served for 10 years as director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies and, from 2010 to 2015 as the department chair of the university’s history department.

The critics say Myers is unqualified to run the center because he has urged Israel to end its control of the West Bank or offer citizenship to Palestinians living there. He also argued in an essay that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel is not necessarily anti-Semitic.

“On one hand, I oppose the global BDS movement,” Myers wrote in a column for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. “On the other, I can’t join in the rising chorus of demonization against it.”

In their op-ed, Torossian and his co-authors wrote, “Those who endorse any form of a boycott of Israel, an end to the Jewish State and sit in positions of leadership for organizations that oppose Israel are free to hold these viewpoints. They should not hold positions of leadership in the Jewish community.”

Richard Allen, founder of the New York-based JCCWatch.org, told the Forward that he is planning a “string of protests” against the center over the Myers hiring. The Israel Group posted the names of the center’s board members on its website last week and urged its supporters to contact the center with their concerns about Myers.

Two prominent Jewish scholars—David Ellenson, director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University, and Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University—defended the Myers appointment in an essay for the Forward. They wrote that Myers’ views on Israel “fall well within the scholarly mainstream of Jewish life” and that he “unquestionably” supports Israel’s right to exist.

“No one is more qualified than the charismatic and learned Myers” to run the center, they wrote.

“There should be no ideological litmus test whatsoever beyond an ability to articulate, celebrate, and advance the ideals and mission of the Center itself – and this Professor Myers is uniquely qualified to do by dint of personal temperament and superb scholarship.”


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