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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


October 6, 2017

At least 59 dead, over 500 wounded in shooting attack in Las Vegas

(JTA)—At least 59 people are dead and more than 500 wounded in Las Vegas in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

The attack took place at a country music festival outside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the Strip late Sunday night.

The gunman has been identified as Stephen Paddock, 64, who apparently killed himself in a standoff with police. Paddock reportedly shot at the crowd with automatic weapons from a room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay at around 10 p.m. while singer Jason Aldean was performing. Police said at least 10 firearms were found in the hotel room. Aldean was the final performer of the night and of the festival.

Some 22,000 people were at the venue at the time of the shooting, though not all were at the concert. Among the dead and injured are police officers.

President Donald Trump in a nationally televised news conference called the attack “an act of pure evil.” He offered his and wife Melania’s condolences to the families of the victims of the attack and prayers for the recovery of the injured.

Trump said the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are working with local officials to investigate the attack. The president said he would visit Las Vegas on Wednesday to meet with investigators, first responders and families of the victims.

Eight Israelis are unaccounted for and considered missing in the wake of the attack, Israel’s Foreign Ministry told the nation’s Channel 2.

Emmanuel Nachshon, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, in a tweet sent “love and solidarity from Jerusalem.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement of solidarity with Americans.

“On this terrible day, the people of Israel stand shoulder to shoulder with the American people in mourning and sorrow. Our hearts go out to the victims’ families and we wish a speedy recovery to the wounded. We grieve with you.”

Some 7,000 Israelis live in Las Vegas, Avner Saban, Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles, told the Israeli news website Walla. Saban traveled to Las Vegas to help locate the missing Israelis.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that Paddock converted to Islam several months ago, but did not offer any proof, The Associated Press reported. Senior U.S. officials have dismissed the claim. An FBI official at a media briefing in Las Vegas also also said the investigation has determined there was no connection to any international terrorist group but the probe would continue.

The Jewish mayor of Las Vegas, Carolyn Goodman, in a tweet asked her followers to “Pray for Las Vegas.” She also thanked the first responders.

Sheriff Joe Lombardo in a news conference said that Paddock was a “local individual” and police were assessing whether the shooting was an act of terrorism. Several news outlets later identified Paddock as being from Mesquite, Nevada, about 80 miles from Las Vegas, along Nevada’s border with Arizona.

Paddock reportedly was not known to police, was not a veteran of the military and lived in a retirement community.

There are over 70,000 Jews and at least 19 synagogues located in Las Vegas, according to the JewishVegas.com website.

Jewish groups in aftermath of Las Vegas attack call for tougher gun control laws

(JTA)—Jewish groups responded to the mass shooting in Las Vegas by condemning the violence and calling for gun control legislation.

At least 58 people are dead and more than 500 wounded in the attack at a country music festival outside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the Strip late Sunday night. It is the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

The Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Reform movement were among the groups that called for tougher gun control laws in the attack’s aftermath.

“While we are still learning details and do not know the impetus for the killings, one thing is clear: the threat of mass violence against innocent civilians in America has not abated. This threat must be taken seriously,” Anti-Defamation League National Director Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement. He called for the enactment of “tough, effective gun violence prevention measures.”

Greenblatt said its Center on Extremism is investigating the background and activity of shooter Stephen Paddock and whether he may have ties to extremists or was motivated by any extremist ideology.

B’nai B’rith International said it is “well past time for meaningful, bipartisan gun violence legislation in this country.” It also said: “Though information about the shooter and his arsenal is still being uncovered, we have long held there is no acceptable, reasonable need for civilians to have access to large rounds of ammunition”

“B’nai B’rith stands in solidarity with the Las Vegas community and with all those impacted by gun violence around the nation,” the statement also said.

National Council of Jewish Women CEO Nancy Kaufman in a statement called for Congress to act to “stem the tide of this senseless violence before yesterday’s tragedy becomes just another record to be broken.”

“Federal lawmakers must act now to restrict access to automatic weapons, reject the current bill before Congress that would make it easier to buy silencers, and instead focus on how to make our communities and our country safer. NCJW expects nothing less from our elected officials,” the statement also said.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said the mass shooting cannot be termed a random act of violence.

“Even before all the facts are known we know this: rather than revere gun rights our country must finally revere human life,” he said.

“We mourn those callously slaughtered in Las Vegas and pray for the wounded. But our prayers must be followed by action, long overdue limits to the easy access to fire arms.”

The Jewish Federations of North America in its statement called on people wherever they are to donate blood.

“These attacks are just the latest instances of senseless violence that terrorizes innocent people everywhere and must come to an end,” the group said.

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, also called the attack “senseless.”

“On behalf of world Jewry, I condemn this horrific criminal act,” he said in a statement.

David Bernstein, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said that while authorities have not determined whether the shooting was an act of terror, “there is no question that it has terrorized and traumatized hundreds of innocent people.”

Cheryl Fishbein, the JCPA’s chair, added: “It is imperative that we come together to address the underlying causes in the days ahead.”

There are over 70,000 Jews and at least 19 synagogues in Las Vegas, according to the JewishVegas.com website.

Brandeis neuroscientist, the son of a cantor, wins Nobel Prize for Medicine

(JTA)—Michael Rosbash of Brandeis University, whose parents fled Nazi Germany and the son of a cantor, was one of three American scientists to win the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

The prize awarded to Rosbash, 74, and the others announced Monday was for their discoveries about molecular mechanisms controlling the body’s daily rhythm. Jeffrey Hall of the University of Maine and Michael Young of Rockefeller University in New York joined Rosbash in receiving the prize.

They used fruit flies to isolate a gene that controls the rhythm of a living organism’s daily life. The biological inner clocks regulate functions such as sleep, behavior, hormone levels and body temperature.

Rosbash, 74, came to Brandeis in 1974 and is the Peter Gruber Endowed Chair in Neuroscience and professor of biology at the Jewish-founded nonsectarian school.

“This morning’s unexpected announcement certainly affected my circadian rhythms,” Rosbach said in a statement from Brandeis. “I am thrilled to join Jeffrey and Michael in this recognition. I am grateful to my colleagues at Brandeis and to the unusual environment here that allows researchers to explore without boundaries while also engaging students in the process of discovery. This is a very special—perhaps unique—university,”

His parents were immigrants who fled Germany in 1938. His father was a cantor at Temple Ohabei Shalom, a Reform synagogue in Brookline, Massachusetts, not far from the Brandeis campus.

Rosbash and Hall started at Brandeis together in 1974; Hall is a professor emeritus there.

ISIS reportedly threatens Jewish NY museum for hosting Kurdish event

NEW YORK (JTA)—Police increased security at a Jewish museum here after the Islamic State reportedly suggested it as a target for attack for hosting an event about Kurds fighting the terrorist group.

The threats against the Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the Holocaust are unsubstantiated, but security was increased Sunday and Monday as a precautionary measure, NBC reported.

NBC said the recordings had suggested targeting the museum because of a “Kurdish exhibit opening Monday.”

The museum is not hosting a Kurdish-themed exhibition, Lisa Safier, the museum’s communications director, told JTA. It is, however, screening a movie Monday evening about Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State. Safier declined to comment on the report of the threats.

The film’s director, Bernard-Henri Levy, a prominent French-Jewish public intellectual, will be present at the screening of “Peshmerga,” for which he traveled to Iraq to meet with the fighters.

Brother of Toulouse Jewish school killer goes on trial for alleged complicity

(JTA)—The trial of the brother of the gunman who killed four at a Jewish school in France in 2012 has begun.

Abdelkader Merah, 35, is being tried for his alleged complicity in the slayings by Mohammed Morah at the Toulouse school, as well as three soldiers.

The trial started Monday in Paris in a special tribunal qualified to review highly classified material presented by the prosecution, the Le Figaro daily reported. The content of the indictment against Merah, whom the prosecution wants imprisoned for life, is subject to a strict gag order.

In addition to Abdelkader Merah, another suspected Islamist, 34-year-old Fettah Malki, also is facing charges of assisting Mohammed Merah carry out terrorist attacks in March 2012. Mohammed Merah gunned down three children and a rabbi at the school. He was killed in a shootout with police at an apartment three days after the school killings.

Both the older brother and Malki have denied having any prior knowledge of Mohammed Merah’s planned attacks, but police say they have evidence suggesting both were involved in preparations. Abdelkader Merah also supported his brother spiritually and psychologically in his becoming a terrorist, the prosecution said.

Born to a family of four children, Mohammed Merah was “raised to be an anti-Semite because anti-Semitism was part of the atmosphere at home,” his youngest brother, Abdelghani, said in 2013.

Abdelghani Merah has denounced his family publicly, calling their denials and claims of innocence part of their belief in taqqiyah—an Islamic term meaning “subterfuge” in the service of jihad.

The Merahs’ sister, Souad, fled France after authorities there questioned her for saying she was proud of her brother. She and her four children were seen three years ago in the Turkish city of Gazyantep, where they are believed to have crossed into Syria to join the Islamic State terrorist group, according to the TF1 television series.

Netanyahu apologizes for government no-show at Yom Kippur War memorial

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized for no member of the Israeli government attending the annual memorial for soldiers killed during the Yom Kippur War.

Family members of the 2,222 fallen soldiers from the 1973 war attended the ceremony Sunday on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

“I am very sorry that there was no representative of the government present at the memorial service for those who died in the Yom Kippur War,” Netanyahu said in the statement issued Sunday evening.

“This is an unfortunate mistake and I apologize to the bereaved families. I instructed the Government Secretariat to ensure that in the future there will be representation in the ceremonies of those killed in Israel’s wars. There is no greater duty to our loved ones who fell so that we could live in our country.”

Deputy Knesset Speaker Hilik Bar of the opposition Zionist Union was the only lawmaker to attend the ceremony. President Reuven Rivlin also attended and spoke to the assembled.

Swiss lawmaker resigns after comparing pigs to Auschwitz victims

(JTA)—A Swiss lawmaker has resigned after comparing the transportation of pigs for farming to the transportation of prisoners to Auschwitz.

“The (Nazi) deportees had only a slight chance to survive. As for the pigs, they are condemned to certain death,” Swiss Green Party lawmaker Jonas Fricker said Thursday during a debate in the National Council, the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Switzerland.

During the debate Fricker, 40, apologized to the parliament and the Jewish community for his “naive” comparison.

The Swiss media was blanketed with coverage of Fricker’s comparison, The Jerusalem Post reported.

On Saturday night, Fricker submitted a letter of resignation to his party.

“This comparison was hurtful and unfortunate. Resigning my mandate to parliament is the strongest signal that I can send,” Fricker wrote, the news website Swissinfo reported.

He also wrote that he considers the Holocaust to be a “crime without comparison.”

Deport ex-Nazi guard, NY Congress members urge Rex Tillerson

(JTA)—The entire New York congressional delegation has sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging him to deport a former Nazi concentration camp guard.

Jakiw Palij, 92, of Queens, was a guard at the Trawniki concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943.

The 29 members of Congress representing New York, Democrats and Republicans, signed the letter calling for his deportation, the New York Daily News reported. In August, 21 members of the New York’s House delegation wrote a similar letter to Tillerson.

Palij, who has lived in the United States as a war refugee since 1949, has claimed that he was forced into working as a guard and never actually killed anyone. His U.S. citizenship was revoked 13 years ago after a federal judge ruled that he lied on his application for immigration, but Poland, Germany and Ukraine all declined to take him.

“Removing Mr. Palij from American soil will send a message not only to the citizens of New York, but to the entire world,” the letter said. “It has been 13 years since Mr. Palij lost his right to remain here, and it has taken far too long for these court orders to be carried out.”

Amazon expanding in Israel

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Amazon is expanding in Israel, setting up Alexa Shopping teams in two cities.

The company will open research and development groups in Haifa and Tel Aviv with a total of 100 employees at the start, the Israeli business daily Globes reported. Alexa is a digital personal assistant developed by Amazon that allows users to shop online using voice commands.

Amazon said in an announcement that it is seeking to hire scientists, software engineers and product managers for the two offices.

The company recently hired Eyal Itah, former Microsoft Israel development director, as general manager of the Alexa Shopping engineering team, and Yoelle Maarek, who was the former research director at Yahoo! and ran its Haifa development center, as vice president of worldwide research.

Amazon has been active in Israel for the past several years. In early 2015 it purchased the Israeli cloud computing company Annapurna Labs.


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