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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


November 10, 2017

Why a pro-Israel group moved its benefit to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort

(JTA)—An Israel advocacy group has relocated a charity event to President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to thank him for his support of Israel.

The Truth About Israel moved its Feb. 25 benefit from a nearby resort after several charities canceled planned galas at Mar-a-Lago, The Associated Press reported.

American Friends of Magen David Adom was among the nine groups that canceled in August.

Steven Alembik, who is organizing the Truth About Israel event, told AP that he moved his benefit because the other groups canceled.

“The president has Israel’s back like no other president since the days of Ronald Reagan,” Alembik said. “He supports Israel, we support him. It’s that simple.”

He told AP that he sold out all 700 tickets for the event at a cost of $750 each.

Some of the groups that canceled their events cited Trump’s response to the far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, as the reason for canceling. In other cases, groups said the venue was detracting from the message of their events.

Founded by Danny Ayalon, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Truth About Israel among other things produces short videos defending Israeli policies and countering incitement.

Israeli leaders send messages of support in wake of Texas church shooting that killed at least 26

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israeli leaders sent messages of support to the United States in the wake of a Texas church shooting that left at least 26 people dead.

“Horrified by the savagery in Texas,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that his office also tweeted. “Our hearts are with the victims, their families and the American people.”

President Reuven Rivlin, on an official visit to Spain, also tweeted his concern.

“Terrible news coming out of #Texas. Our thoughts and prayers are with all the victims and their families,” he wrote.

A gunman opened fire Sunday morning at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, a small town east of San Antonio. The congregation had just begun its service at 11 a.m. when the gunfire began.

The gunman has been identified to several media outlets by unnamed sources as Devin Kelley, 26, from near San Antonio, according to reports. Kelley reportedly served in the Air Force, but was court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his wife and child, and received a dishonorable discharge in 2014 for “bad conduct.”

Kelley carried out the shooting with a military-style rifle and was wearing black tactical gear and a ballistic vest. He first shot at the church from outside, and then entered the small, white building and continued to shoot.

He was later found dead in his car some miles from the church. It is not clear if he killed himself or died of a gunshot wound from a pursuer. No motive has been established for the attack, which was carried out about 30 miles from Kelley’s home.

The victims ranged in age from 5 to 72. At least 20 others were wounded. The service was being broadcast on YouTube.

President Donald Trump, on an official visit to Japan, tweeted: “May God be w/ the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI & law enforcement are on the scene. I am monitoring the situation from Japan”

He later made a statement in which he addressed what he called “an act of evil.”

“Americans do what we do best: we pull together. We join hands We lock arms and through the tears and the sadness, we stand strong,” he said.

Ivanka Trump also addressed the attack in a tweet: “God bless the people of Sutherland Springs, TX. Our country’s hearts are breaking for the victims & their families. We love & are with you!”

Horrified by the savagery in Texas. Our hearts are with the victims, their families and the American people.

— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) November 5, 2017

Terrible news coming out of #Texas. Our thoughts and prayers are with all the victims and their families.

— Reuven Rivlin (@PresidentRuvi) November 5, 2017

May God be w/ the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI & law enforcement are on the scene. I am monitoring the situation from Japan.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 5, 2017

...Americans do what we do best: we pull together. We join hands. We lock arms and through the tears and the sadness, we stand strong… pic.twitter.com/qkCPgtKGkA

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2017

God bless the people of Sutherland Springs, TX Our country’s hearts are breaking for the victims & their families. We love & are with you!

— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) November 5, 2017

Reform Jewish camp destroyed by California wildfires has summer 2018 home

(JTA)—The Union for Reform Judaism’s Camp Newman, which was “mostly destroyed” by last month’s Northern California forest fires, will have a temporary home for the 2018 summer camp season.

The URJ announced Friday that the camp will be housed at the facilities of California State University’s Maritime Academy, or Cal Maritime, located on the waterfront in Vallejo, a short drive from both Santa Rosa and San Francisco.

“What the wildfire has shown us is how strong and resilient we are as a community. Almost immediately, everyone rallied around us,” Rabbi Erin Mason, director of URJ Camp Newman, said in a statement. “The result was that in just a short amount of time, we found a beautiful site for Camp Newman’s Summer 2018.”

The camp, which currently serves about 1,400 children, has been operating for the last 70 years. The camp moved to its current site 480-acre site in 1997 and dedicated a $4 million building last year.

Camp was not in session when the fires hit. Everyone living on the camp site, as well as the Torah scrolls, were removed and rescued before the camp was destroyed.

Most of the buildings on the camp’s property were destroyed by the fire, but an entrance gate, prayer books and prayer shawls survived the flames, along with an iconic wooden Star of David on a hillside that overlooks the camp.

At least 41 people were killed as the result of 15 major wildfires across California. Over 217,000 acres and 5,700 structures were destroyed.

Nikki Haley: Unless UN rights council reforms, US is out

WASHINGTON (JTA)—The United States is ready to pull out of the UN Human Rights Council unless it institutes reforms, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told an Israeli-American audience.

“The Human Rights Council will either adopt these reforms or the United States will leave,” Haley said Saturday to applause at the annual Washington conference of the Israeli American Council.

Haley said U.S. proposed reforms include removing “Item 7,” which requires a report on Israeli actions in the West Bank each time the panel convenes. She said the United States also wanted structural changes that would keep major human rights abusers from joining the council; she noted the Democratic Republic of Congo’s recent ascension to the panel.

Haley said the U.S. delegation was endeavoring to keep unpublished a list the UN Human Rights Council is compiling of companies doing business with West Bank settlements. Israel and the United States see the list as a blacklist of boycotters.

She described one of the Obama administration’s last acts—allowing through a UN Security Council resolution condemning settlements—as a “betrayal” of Israel.

At the time of the resolution last December, Haley was the governor of South Carolina and said she swore that if she were confirmed as ambassador, she would always stand by Israel.

“As long as I was U.S. ambassador, such an act of betrayal would never happen again,” she said, again earning loud applause.

She noted that the Trump administration also has differences with Israel over its settlement policy, but said it was counterproductive to have those arguments in public.

“Friends can have disagreements and still be friends,” she said.

New Dutch play about Anne Frank doesn’t mention Jews or Nazis

AMSTERDAM (JTA)—A play that ignores Anne Frank’s Jewish identity and features an unfounded assault allegation against a Jew who hid with her is generating controversy in the Netherlands.

The play, which is slated to premiere Saturday in the Netherlands, is set in modern times and mentions neither the Nazis nor why they murdered Anne Frank, the teenage diarist who wrote her famous journal while hiding in German-occupied Amsterdam during the Holocaust.

A dress rehearsal last week attended by several critics included an invented assault by Fritz Pfeffer against Margot Frank, Anne Frank’s sister. Pfeffer was a real-life Jewish dentist who was in hiding with Frank and her family and died in the Holocaust. It has never been alleged that he assaulted Frank or anyone else.

Esther Voet, the editor in chief of the Dutch-Jewish weekly NIW and a former leader of the CIDI watchdog on anti-Semitism, condemned the play as “an unscrupulous falsification of history” in a scathing op-ed published Friday.

Apparently, “that pesky historical context, the one about the persecution of the Jews, that had to be done away with already,” she wrote of the play, which was produced by Arjen Stuurman and directed by Ilja Pfeijffer. It is titled “Achter het Huis,” a phrase that means “behind the house,” and echoes the Dutch-language name that Frank gave the secret annex where she hid.

Voet also protested how Pfeijffer “pressed his fat thumb” on Pfeffer and “made him guilty of an act of violence. Presto: Drama!” She also wrote that it was “abjectly tasteless.”

The play is the “latest expression of abuse of Anne Frank’s memory,” wrote Voet, citing other such abuses, including claims that Frank was a lesbian and her likening to Palestinians.

Asked last week about his addition of the assault, Pfeijffer told the Volkskrant: “The diary itself contains no drama,” adding: “What actually happens in the secret annex, seen through the eyes of a 13-year-old, is a bit lean for a theater show.”

David Barnouw, author of the 2012 book “The Anne Frank Phenomenon” and a former researcher at the Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, told JTA over the weekend that he “did not like the play because it was over the top” after seeing a dress rehearsal earlier this week. But he added that he does not agree with some of the weightier charges made by Voet.

“I disagree with her on some points,” said Barnouw, adding that he was not opposed to artists taking far-reaching license with historical truth. “The audience needs to decide whether this is acceptable, and no one else.”

In the dress rehearsal, the people in hiding speak of the Jews only as “our people” and of the Germans as “the enemy,” he said.

The Volkskrant reported last week that Pfeijffer is facing a lawsuit for copyright infringement by the Anne Frank Fonds, the Switzerland-based organization set up by the late Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father and sole survivor from her nuclear family, who entrusted the organization with the rights to her diary. But a spokesman for the Anne Frank Fonds told JTA his organization “cannot confirm” this.

Whereas third parties may sue the producers of “Achter het Huis,” the spokesman said in reference to relatives of Pfeffer, no legal action has been initiated by the Anne Frank Fonds, which is “monitoring the situation.”

Pfeijffer, who is also a poet, has a history of making controversial statements, including about Jews.

Last year, he called Leon de Winter, a well-known Dutch-Jewish novelist and playwright who wrote for the Anne Frank Fonds a 2014 theater play about Anne Frank, a “militant Jew.”

That charge came in a column by Pfeijffer about Winter’s decision to leave his former publisher over its hiring of a Belgian author, Dyab Abou Jahjah. Abou Jahjah supports Hezbollah, has called for violence against Israelis and spoke of his “feeling of victory” following the 9/11 attacks. Abou Jahjah also called Antwerp, which has a large community of Orthodox Jews, the “international capital of the Zionist lobby,” according to NRC.

“Abou Jahjah speaks out for oppressed Palestinians and that makes him an anti-Semite for de Winter,” Pfeijffer wrote. He identified Abou Jahjah as “a founder of the Arab European League.” The now-defunct Muslim rights group a decade ago posted on its website a caricature of Anne Frank in bed with Adolf Hitler and another caricature suggesting the Holocaust never happened, which a judge ordered removed.

In 2015, Pfeijffer published a poem in the voice of a Palestinian man who lost his home and whose daughter was mutilated “by Jews who trampled on our holy land with boots that can do no wrong because they are of Jews, because of what went on before.”

Connecticut Chabad wins 10-year legal fight to open Chabad House

(JTA)—Chabad-Lubavitch can convert a historic Victorian home in Litchfield, Connecticut into a Chabad House, a federal court ruled in a lawsuit that was launched 10 years ago.

Chabad can build a modified version of its original plan from 2007, Judge Janet Hall of U.S. District Court in New Haven ruled last week. Hall ordered the Litchfield Borough’s Historic District Commission to approve the revised plan.

In 2007, the commission rejected the Chabad House, saying it was too large and out of character for the historic district. The turndown spurred a federal lawsuit against the commission claiming religious discrimination.

As part of the modification, the judge ruled that Chabad must eliminate a planned second-floor apartment for the Chabad House rabbi, Joseph Eisenbach, and his family, which includes 12 children. She said that not living in the Chabad House would not infringe on the group’s religious rights.

Eisenbach said in a statement that Chabad had faced “serious religious bias” during the decade-long legal battle, according to the local newspaper, The Register Citizen.

“On the one hand there is great joy that after a 10-year struggle we can move forward with our synagogue,” the rabbi said. “At the same time, I sadly witnessed the most serious religious bias from a very small percent of the Litchfield Community which destroyed 10 years of great blessings of a Synagogue. Thankfully, they don’t represent the overwhelming majority of the great citizens of our town.”

The building will serve as a synagogue and religious education center. It will have a kosher kitchen and office space, as well as a mikvah. A swimming pool will be used for a summer camp.

Sheldon Adelson in praising his pro-Israel group takes a shot at AIPAC

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate and major Jewish philanthropist, said he was the principal funder of the Israeli American Council because its support for Israel was “unequivocal” compared to other American Jewish groups.

Adelson, speaking Sunday evening at the IAC’s annual meeting, was explaining why he has backed the organization since its 2007 inception—as it happens, the year he broke with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee over its backing for the George W. Bush administration’s Annapolis peace push.

“I said to myself, ‘Self, this could be an unequivocal support organization for Israel,’” he said. “There’ll be no political correctness, there’ll be no questions about whether we can keep the White House door open to us.”

That was an apparent reference to AIPAC’s policy of maintaining access to the White House, whatever tensions there might otherwise be between an administration and the pro-Israel community.

Adelson reviled the Obama presidency, fighting the administration at every turn over over government spending, Obamacare and the Iran nuclear deal. AIPAC had a relationship with President Barack Obama that was at times tense and other times mutually supportive. It vigorously opposed Obama’s Iran policy, but encouraged his efforts to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace, as long as Israel’s government was on board.

Adelson said he was encouraged to see a crowd of 2,500 at the IAC conference and took an explicit shot at AIPAC.

“It reminds me of the days of when AIPAC started to grow,” he said. “It grew from less than 2,500 people, smaller than that. This group, the IAC, won’t even question whether or not we should support Israel.”

Marshall Wittmann, the spokesman for AIPAC, which now attracts upwards of 15,000 activists to its annual conferences, said in response, “We wish the IAC success in its efforts to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

Tens of thousands of Israelis attend rally marking Yitzhak Rabin’s murder

JERUSALEM (JTA)—An estimated 85,000 rallied in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to mark the 22nd anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The rally Saturday night was controversial for stressing national unity over peace. The rally, organized by two centrist organizations: the Darkenu movement and Commanders for Israel’s Security, was held under the slogan “We are one people,” and did not include national politicians on its list of speakers.

Banners and flags of the left-wing Labor and Meretz parties flew throughout the crowd, as did the banners of the anti-settlement group Peace Now and the Palestinian human rights group B’Tselem.

Oded Revivi, mayor of the West Bank settlement of Efrat, was booed by the some in the crowd before he started to speak. Several lawmakers from right-wing parties attended the rally, apparently for the first time.

Former IDF General Amnon Reshef, the head of Commanders for Israel’s security, in his speech at the rally called for “separation” from the Palestinians into two states in order to keep Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was shot to death by Yigal Amir, an Orthodox Jew and right-wing extremist, on Nov. 4, 1995, as he left a peace rally in Tel Aviv. The annual rally is held in the Tel Aviv square where he was shot, which has been renamed after the late prime minister.

Rally organizers were criticized for neglecting to call Rabin’s death a murder or mention peace in promotional materials.

Record $53.8 million raised for Israeli soldiers at Beverly Hills gala

(JTA)—The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces raised $53.8 million at a Beverly Hills gala—a record, according to organizers—to help Israeli soldiers in need.

Some 1,200 people were in attendance at the annual event on Thursday night at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, raising funds for services such as academic scholarships to combat veterans; financial assistance; support for Lone Soldiers throughout their service; aid for wounded veterans and the families of fallen soldiers; weeks of rest and recuperation for army units; as well as educational, cultural and recreational facilities.

Billionaire Haim Saban, a national board member of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and a major supporter, and his wife, Cheryl, chaired the event.

Larry Ellison, the co-founder of Oracle and its executive chairman gave $16.6 million—the largest single gift in FIDF history. His donation will support the construction of well-being facilities on a new training campus for coed infantry units.

“For 2,000 years, we were a stateless people, but now, we have a country we can call our own,” Ellison said. “Through all of the perilous times since Israel’s founding, we have called on the brave men and women of the IDF to defend our home. In my mind, there is no greater honor than supporting some of the bravest people in the world, and I thank FIDF for allowing us to celebrate and support these soldiers year after year. We should do all we can to show these heroic soldiers that they are not alone.”

Israeli actress and model Moran Atias emceed the event, which featured special performances by Seal, The Tenors, David Foster & Friends and Gene Simmons of KISS fame. Celebrity guests included Arnold Schwarzenegger, Katharine McPhee, Paul Reubens and Melissa Rivers, as well as Miss Israel 2013, Yityish Titi Aynaw.


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