Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA
November 17, 2017
Brazilian students simulate Nazi human experiments for science fair
RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA)—Brazilian high school students simulated medical experiments that the Nazis conducted on concentration camp prisoners during the Holocaust.
The students at Milecimo da Silva high school in Rio De Janeiro were recently assigned to re-create a Nazi laboratory for a science fair. According to the Brazilian Israelite Confederations, the country’s umbrella Jewish group, the purpose of the exhibition was to highlight the supposed scientific progress made by Nazi doctors working in concentration camps.
Photos posted on Facebook show a red banner hung in the school with swastikas and white letters saying “Nazi laboratory.” In the darkened fake blood-stained “lab,” students playing doctors wear medical uniforms and swastika armbands. Others pretend to be suffering patients.
The Rio State Department of Education reportedly has opened an investigation to determine whether the school promoted Nazism, which is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine.
During World War II, a number of German physicians—notably Josef Mengele—conducted painful and often deadly experiments on thousands of concentration camp prisoners without their consent. The experiments sought to improve the performance of Nazi soldiers and advance the Nazis’ racial ideology, including the inferiority of Jews, 6 million of whom were exterminated during the Holocaust.
In April, a third-grade classroom in a private school in Recife, in northeastern Brazil, was decorated with Nazi flags during a lesson on totalitarian regimes. The teacher wore a Nazi armband. The school later praised him on social media for the lesson.
After facing criticism, the school’s officials conceded that the tone of their post was inappropriate and took it down, but they refused to apologize for the lesson, according to the local Jewish federation.
Congressional bill would prevent US funding for Israel’s detention of Palestinian children
(JTA)—A Minnesota congresswoman has introduced a bill that seeks to prevent the United States from funding Israel’s military detention of Palestinian children.
The legislation introduced Tuesday by Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat, has at least nine co-sponsors. It would require the secretary of state to certify annually that U.S. assistance to Israel has not been used in the previous year to militarily detain, interrogate or abuse Palestinian children.
“The purpose of this act is to promote and protect the human rights of Palestinian children and to ensure that United States taxpayer funds shall not be used to support the military detention of Palestinian children,” the bill reads.
Among the bill’s backers are the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis.
McCollum said the bill “highlights Israel’s system of military detention of Palestinian children” and ensures the United States does not support human rights violations.
“Congress must not turn a blind eye to the unjust and ongoing mistreatment of Palestinian children living under Israeli occupation,” she said on her website.
A number of progressive and religious organizations have endorsed the legislation, including Churches for Middle East Peace and Jewish Voices for Peace. The latter and some of the other supporting groups back the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.
“Jewish tradition teaches that each and every single person has inherent dignity and worth and must be treated accordingly,” JVP said in a statement. “This legislation recognizes and acts upon the inherent dignity and worth of Palestinian children and sends the message that the United States is committed to a future with freedom, safety, and equality for both Palestinians and Israelis.”
Israel processes Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens through a military court system. A 2017 report by the Military Court Watch nonprofit that monitored the treatment of more than 450 minors in Israeli military detention between 2013 and 2016 found that last year, 60 percent of the minors arrested reported experiencing physical violence at the hands of their detainers and 43 percent reported verbal violence.
Just 5 percent were allowed to see their parents during interrogation, and 10 percent were allowed to see a lawyer.
However, the children were treated more leniently than in 2013.
In response to the report, the Israeli army said it has dealt in recent years with a growing phenomenon of minors involved in West Bank offenses, including security offenses, and takes their age into consideration when enforcing the law.
Israel’s president plays peacemaker between his government and American Jews
LOS ANGELES (JTA)—Reuven Rivlin played peacemaker Monday night—between American Jews and Israelis.
Speaking at the annual General Assembly of the North American Jewish federation movement, Israel’s president sympathized with attendees’ complaints that Israel was ignoring their calls for religious pluralism there, but also urged patience with Israel’s political process.
“Whether we like it or not, in the only Jewish democratic state, ‘religion and state’ is a political issue—maybe the most explosive one,” said Rivlin, addressing some 3,000 Jewish professionals and volunteer leaders. “You know, my friends, around five Israeli governments have fallen on questions like ‘can combat aircraft, not on-mission, land in Israel on Shabbat?’ Or on the question of ‘who is a Jew?’ That is democracy.”
Rivlin’s address at the JW Marriott Hotel here came a few hours after the Jewish Federations of North America issued a resolution highly critical of the Israeli government for freezing a deal on non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall and for its support for a bill that would give Orthodox authorities in Israel a monopoly on religious conversions to Judaism. Local Jewish federations raise and distribute money for Jewish causes in their communities and Israel, and usually try to avoid criticizing the latter.
Leaders and allies of the Reform and Conservative movements, representing the majority of affiliated North American Jews, say these recent moves by the Israeli government are alienating their followers and dampening Jewish support for Israel. Changing policy at the Western Wall, whose Orthodox authorities prevent types of prayer typical in non-Orthodox synagogues, has become a goal and a symbol for proponents of Jewish religious diversity in Israel.
Rivlin alluded to these concerns in his 30-minute address.
“On the painful issue of the Kotel agreements, it causes such pain that the symbol of unity, the wall of our tears and joy, has become a symbol of division and disagreement,” he said, using the Hebrew word for the Western Wall. “The challenge of building the relationship between us must begin with getting to know each other better.”
Rivlin asserted that the Western Wall agreement, frozen in June after being thrashed out in 2016 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government with representatives of the federations, the Jewish Agency, Women of the Wall and the non-Orthodox streams, was “led by our government in order to try and bridge the gap” between Israel and the Diaspora. “I hope that in the future we can return to the table together and reach an understanding on this important issue.”
The avuncular Rivlin also reminded the crowd of the traditional issues that have tended to bind Jewish fundraisers to Israel, including Israel’s security needs, a mutual fight against anti-Semitism, and the movement to boycott Israel and U.S. support for the Jewish state. He also recounted, to warm applause, his pedigree as a member of a Jewish family that has lived in Jerusalem since 1809.
But at the end of his speech he returned to the theme of frayed ties, saying he would be “happy” to plan a conference at his residence in Jerusalem for Jews and Israelis to work on shared goals.
“Let’s put the arguments aside and work together,” he concluded. “Let’s develop our mutual commitment as a value and as action. For the good of the Jewish people, for the good of the State of Israel, for the good of the whole world.”
In 1989 Rivlin, then a member of the Israeli Knesset, visited a Reform synagogue in Westfield, New Jersey, and afterward shocked his hosts by calling Reform Judaism “idol worship” and “a completely new religion without any connection to Judaism.”
In a news briefing before Rivlin’s address Monday, his spokesman said the president had “changed his view regarding the Jewish communities around the world, especially North America.”
In the three years since becoming Israel’s 10th president, during which he reached out to Reform leaders, “he started realizing the importance of the Jewish community and the need for the strong bonds between Israel and the Jewish community,” said David Saranga.
Netanyahu is scheduled to address the General Assembly via satellite on Tuesday.
US security officials arrive in Israel to discuss Syria border deal
JERUSALEM (JTA)—U.S. National Security Council officials arrived in Israel for talks with their Israeli counterparts.
Representatives of other security agencies are also participating Tuesday in the discussions, which are focused on the recent U.S.-Russia cease-fire agreement for Syria as well as on Iran.
The agreement, announced in a joint U.S.-Russian statement Saturday, calls for “the reduction and ultimate elimination” of foreign fighters from southern Syria, including Iranian troops and proxies. However, it does not set a timetable.
According to an Israeli official, militias would be allowed to maintain positions as close as 3 to 4 miles to some parts of the border while being pushed up to around 19 miles away in others, Reuters reported Monday.
However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday that the agreement does not include a Russian commitment to ensure Iran-linked militias are pulled out of the country. Lavrov said Iran’s presence in Syria is “legitimate,” according to the Interfax news agency.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that Israel will not be bound by the deal.
“I have clarified to our friends in Washington and our friends in Moscow that we will operate in Syria, including southern Syria, in accordance with our understanding and in accordance with our security needs,” Netanyahu said, describing Israel’s security policy as “the right combination of firmness and responsibility.”
On Friday, a Western security official told the BBC that Iran was setting up a permanent base on a site used by the Syrian army near el-Kiswah, 8 miles south of Damascus and 30 miles from the Israeli border.
Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Eisenkot reportedly flew secretly to Brussels on Thursday to meet with Gen. Curtiss Scaparrotti, head of the U.S. Army’s European Command, and discuss Iranian moves in Syria.
Israel has lobbied against allowing Iran to maintain any presence in Syria. In September, Haaretz reported that Israel asked the United States and Russia to keep Iran and its proxies at least 30 miles away from the border, but the Russians agreed to only 3 miles.
Netanyahu has warned that Iran plans to create a permanent presence in the country, including with naval and air force bases, and that Israel will not allow it to happen.
Police investigate Israeli drone maker accused of bombing Armenia in demo
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israeli police launched a criminal investigation of an Israeli drone manufacturer that allegedly tried to bomb the Armenian military on behalf of Azerbaijan during a product demonstration.
Hebrew media reported the existence of the probe of Aeronautics Defense Systems on Monday as an Israeli court approved a gag order on most details. Police confirmed that they were investigating the firm’s deal with a “significant customer.”
In September, the Defense Ministry opened an investigation of Aeronautics Defense Systems after it received a complaint that the manufacturer demonstrated the use of a kamikaze drone in Azerbaijan by attacking a manned position of the Armenian army earlier this year.
According to the complaint, the firm sent a team to Baku, the Azerbaijani capital, to demonstrate its unmanned Orbiter 1K system, which can be equipped with a small explosive and flown into an enemy target on a “suicide mission.” During the demonstration, the company was asked to conduct a live-fire test against the Armenian position, the complaint said.
The two Israelis operating the two Orbiter 1K drones refused to carry out the attack despite threats from their superiors, according to the complaint. Two senior members of the Aeronautics Defense Systems team then attempted to fulfill the Azerbaijani request, but failed to hit their targets, the complaint said.
Azerbaijan and neighboring Armenia have been engaged in a violent territorial and ethnic conflict for three decades that has escalated since last year.
Under Israeli law it is illegal to carry out weapons tests on real targets without a permit, which is rarely granted. In August, the Defense Ministry froze Aeronautics Defense Systems’ license to export to the “significant customer.”
Aeronautics Defense Systems denied the substance of the complaint at the time.
The firm said it expected to make a $20 million deal over the next two years with the “significant customer,” according to publicly available details of the investigation. Azerbaijan is a major importer of Israeli weapons and an important ally given its border with Iran.
Responding to reports of the investigation, Aeronautics Defense Systems said it would cooperate with police.
Aeronautics Defense Systems has also reportedly had dealings with the Myanmar military junta, which is accused of ethnic cleansing the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority.