Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA
December 22, 2017
Mother, 3 children killed in Hanukkah house fire flown to Israel for burial
NEW YORK (JTA)—The bodies of a woman and her three children killed in a house fire were flown to Israel after a crowd of mourners proved too large and distraught for a memorial ceremony to be held in Brooklyn.
The New York Post reported Tuesday that hundreds of bereaved members of the Orthodox community gathered outside Congregation Sheves Achim in East Flatbush on Monday evening to mourn Aliza Azan, 39, and her children.
“Unable to enter the synagogue,” the Post reported, the hearses “then headed straight to JFK airport where a flight was preparing to fly them to Israel.”
City fire and police officials confirmed that a Hanukkah menorah on the first floor of the 2 1/2-story house sparked the blaze at around 2:20 am. Monday. The victims included Azan’s sons Moshe, 11, and Yitzah, 7, and daughter Henrietta, 3.
The father, Yosi, three children and their cousin survived the fire, but were injured in the fast-moving blaze, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said at a news conference. Yosi Azan and his daughter Shalit, 16, and son Daniel, 15—were in critical condition at Staten Island University Hospital. Two younger boys were treated for minor injuries.
Fire Department officials said the house had a working smoke detector, which may have alerted the boys on the first floor to the fire.
Hundreds of mourners attended a funeral in Brooklyn for the mother and her 3 children killed in a house fire this morning https://t.co/9R9odme8gX pic.twitter.com/H7Nf501ydE
— amNewYork (@amNewYork) December 19, 2017
Trump thanks Israeli mayor for naming new park after him
JERUSALEM (JTA)—President Donald Trump thanked the mayor of an Israeli city who named a new park after him.
In a letter dated Dec. 13, Trump expressed gratitude for the gesture and satisfaction that Israelis welcomed his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of their country—which apparently earned him the honor.
A week earlier, David Even Tzur, the mayor of the Haifa suburb Kiryat Yam, in northern Israel, said he would establish Donald Trump Park in appreciation of the president’s Jerusalem announcement the day before.
“Thank you for this great honor,” Trump wrote in his letter. “It was a distinct pleasure to visit Israel during my first international trip as President of the United States... I am thankful for your gesture and am moved to know that the people of Israel are encouraged by my decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
Trump also called Israel “one of our most steadfast allies and an oasis of hope, democracy, and prosperity in the Middle East.”
Tzur said Trump “took a brave and unprecedented step that none of his predecessors were willing to take and we must honor him for it.”
“Jerusalem is a dream that is present in every Jew’s heart,” the mayor said, “and Trump’s decision gives this dream clear international recognition.”
Tzur added that he is looking into the possibility of inviting Trump to the opening of the facility, which is slated for April.
U.S. recognition of Jerusalem was welcomed in Israel and much of the Jewish community but rejected by much of the world. Palestinians have rioted against the decision, leading to numerous deaths and injuries, and throwing Trump’s Middle East peace initiative into question.
Obama undermined probe of Hezbollah drug empire in pursuit of Iran nuclear deal, ex-US officials allege
WASHINGTON (JTA)—Several Obama administration-era security officials are claiming that the administration frustrated their pursuit of Hezbollah’s drug-dealing empire in part to avoid jeopardizing the Iran nuclear deal.
Politico quoted on the record three officials who ran Operation Cassandra, a task force principally run by the Drug Enforcement Agency, as saying their efforts to bring down the Lebanon-based terror group’s drug-running network was derailed in part out of the administration’s “desire for a negotiated settlement” to curb the nuclear ambitions of Iran, a benefactor of Hezbollah.
“This was a policy decision, it was a systematic decision,” David Asher, who was a Pentagon illicit finance analyst and is now an adviser to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Politico. “They serially ripped apart this entire effort that was very well supported and resourced, and it was done from the top down.”
The Hezbollah network, the officials said, was particularly expansive in Latin America, and financed Hezbollah’s arms purchases and terror operations.
The officials told Politico that the Justice Department refused to investigate and prosecute a Hezbollah figure considered the “linchpin” of Hezbollah’s criminal network, among other figures, and that the administration rejected repeated efforts by the investigators to charge Hezbollah’s military wing under a federal Mafia-style racketeering statute.
Obama administration officials quoted in the article denied that the Iran deal drove the obstructions faced by the former Cassandra officials, saying that interagency spats and broader concerns about U.S. interests caused the problems.
An unnamed former Obama administration, Politico wrote, offered several reasons for letting Hezbollah off the hook, including “the fear of reprisals by Hezbollah against the United States and Israel, and the need to maintain peace and stability in the Middle East.” At least one of the incidents, a derailed anti-drug mission in Colombia, predated the Obama administration.
The assessments by the three officials are based on their recall of interactions with other unnamed officials during Obama’s two terms and their impressions.
The officials are Jack Kelly, the DEA supervisory agent who led the Cassandra task force and is now retired; Derek Maltz, who headed DEA’s Special Operations Division until 2014 and now directs a security consultancy; and Asher.
“They will believe until death that we were shut down because of the Iran deal,” Maltz said of his colleagues. “My gut feeling? My instinct as a guy doing this for 28 years is that it certainly contributed to why we got pushed aside and picked apart. There is no doubt in my mind.”
There were a number of arrests and prosecutions during the period the article covers, but the agents said their requests for broader racketeering prosecutions—which would have allowed them to piece together disparate alleged crimes into a conspiracy—were consistently turned down and that diplomatic support was lacking.
The former Cassandra officials cited among others the case of Ali Fayad, a Ukraine-based arms merchant detained in 2014 by Czech authorities. Czech authorities released Fayad in 2016, reportedly under pressure from Russia, and he was allowed to return to Lebanon.
Fayad was indicted in the United States for plotting the murders of U.S. officials, providing support to a terrorist organization and attempting to smuggle anti-aircraft missiles. The Obama administration protested the release after the fact, but the agents said it did little to pressure to the Czechs to extradite him to the United States.
The Iran nuclear deal traded sanctions relief for Iran’s rollback of its nuclear program. Israel’s government and a number of pro-Israel groups—among them the Foundation for Defense of Democracies—vehemently criticized the deal.
Hezbollah, which launched a war with Israel in 2006, is a U.S.-designated terrorist group with deep ties inside Lebanon’s government. It is allied with Iran and has joined that country in propping up the Assad regime in Syria during the civil war that has raged there since 2011.
Critics of Obama and the nuclear deal seized on the Politico report.
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, sent a news release with a summary of the article.
“Instead of drawing the conclusion that Iran was up to its neck in terrorism and drug-trafficking, President Obama ploughed forward despite to empower Iran via the nuclear agreement he foisted on America,” Klein said. “It is an extraordinary dereliction of duty for a president.”
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, forwarded the article with a tweet reading, “The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook. The real collusion story no one will cover.”
Nazi hunters recommend nine for prosecution in Germany, Austria
BERLIN (JTA)—Germany’s Central Office for Investigation of Nazi Crimes has handed nine potential new cases against former concentration camp guards to prosecutors in Germany and Austria.
If tried, the nine men and women—who variously live in both countries—would be charged as accessories to murder in several camps. The cases, already investigated by the Central Office in Ludwigsburg, were handed to local prosecutors for potential indictment, according to news reports in the Berlin-based daily Taz newspaper and elsewhere.
Jean Rommel, who heads the Central Office in Ludwigsburg, Germany, confirmed to the German news media that the nine men and women, most of them in their 90s, were stationed at the Ravensbrueck and Buchenwald concentration camps in Germany, at Mauthausen in Austria, and at the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
The 2011 conviction in Munich of former concentration camp guard John Demjanjuk as an accomplice in the murders of nearly 30,000 Jews in the Sobibor death camp in Poland set a precedent in that being a guard at a death camp was sufficient to prove complicity in murder.
Since then, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi hunter, Efraim Zuroff, has encouraged the public to provide tips on possible perpetrators, an effort titled “Operation Last Chance.”
In related news, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor in Minnesota recently provided testimony that led to the indictments in Germany of two former guards at the Stutthof concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland as accomplices to murder. It remains to be seen whether they
will be deemed fit to stand trial.
If so, then Judith Meisel is ready to bear witness against them, she told the NEWSER online publication in November.
Sinking Sea of Galilee to get infusion of desalinated water
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel is preparing to pump desalinated water into the Sea of Galilee.
The state’s Water Authority recently started work on the $300 million project, which will take about two years to complete, Israel’s Hadashot TV news reported Monday.
With Israel apparently approaching a fifth consecutive dry year, the Sea of Galilee has dropped to dangerously low levels. This has increased the lake’s salinity and harmed the quality of the water, which constitutes a quarter of Israel’s potable supply.
The Water Authority is also overseeing projects to pump out saltwater from the lake in order to maintain its potability. The authority says it is extracting about 17,000 tons of salt each year.
In October, the Water Authority warned that the Sea of Galilee was at a dangerously low
Omri Casspi lights menorah on Golden State Warriors court
(JTA)—Omri Casspi, the first Israeli to play in the NBA, helped lead the Golden State Warriors to their eighth straight win, then celebrated by lighting a giant Hanukkah menorah as part of the team’s Jewish Heritage Night.
Casspi scored 17 points and had 11 rebounds in the Warriors’ victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday, the third night of Hanukkah, J. The Jewish News of Northern California reported. It was among the top performances of his nine-year NBA career.
After the game, Casspi helped light a menorah almost as tall as the 6-foot-9 forward. He chanted the Hanukkah prayers with Rabbi Yosef Langer, executive director of Chabad of San Francisco, as hundreds of Jewish fans—some attending their first Warriors game—looked on at Oracle Arena.
Casspi told the newspaper that lighting the menorah on the Warriors’ court was a “privilege, it just means the world to me.”
Danny Grossman, CEO of the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation, was at the game along with other community and spiritual leaders, and said it was appropriate that Casspi had his best night since joining the Warriors in July on a one-year deal.
“It can’t be coincidental, it had to be a Hanukkah miracle,” Grossman told J.
The crowd attending the menorah lighting ranged from those wearing yarmulkes and black hats to bare-headed Jews in Warriors garb, according to the newspaper.
Casspi, 29, has played for six NBA teams, including five seasons in two stints with the Sacramento Kings. He was signed in March as a free agent by the Minnesota Timberwolves nearly a month after being waived by the New Orleans Pelicans—his second stint with the team—after breaking his thumb in his debut with the club. He has also played for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Rockets.
He was a member of the championship Maccabi Tel Aviv team in Israel before making himself available for the NBA Draft.
Canada synagogues get hate mail saying ‘Jewry must perish’
MONTREAL (JTA)—At least three synagogues in Canada received hate mail warning that “Jewry must perish.”
Police are investigating the envelopes delivered Monday to two synagogues in Montreal and one in Toronto. Each featured a drawing of a bleeding Star of David enclosing a Nazi swastika with the slogan “Jewry must perish.”
B’nai Brith Canada described the threats as being “an eight on the frighten scale.”
“Sadly, we’ve seen the swastika make something of a comeback this year,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada.
Last month, Statistics Canada reported 221 hate crimes against Jews in Canada in 2016, up from 178 the previous year.
In response, B’nai Brith is calling on Canadians to stand in solidarity with Montreal’s #Jewish community.
Hanukkah menorahs lit at sites of terrorist attacks
(JTA)—Young Jews in several countries lit Hanukkah menorahs at sites targeted by terrorist attacks to signal their solidarity with victims and celebrate resilience.
The ceremonies, organized by members of the World Bnei Akiva youth movement, included one lighting at the HaCarmel kosher restaurant in Amsterdam, where earlier this month a 29-year-old Palestinian smashed the establishment’s windows while holding a Palestinian flag. The assault happened one day after President Donald Trump announced that the United States considers Jerusalem Israel’s capital.
“I’m here to light a candle for the security and safety of the Jewish community of Amsterdam,” Avichai Meyer, the movement’s emissary to the Netherlands, said at the event earlier this week.
David Rogovoy, the emissary to Germany, lit his menorah outside the Christmas market where a truck deliberately drove into a crowd last year on Dec. 19, killing 12 and injuring 56. One of the casualties was an Israeli woman named Dalia Elyakim.
Rogovoy said he was lighting the candles “In honor of those who are not with us, and those people who were wounded and injured in terror attacks all over the world.”
The activists filmed the lightings and posted them on the World Bnei Akiva Facebook page under the hashtag #LightUpTheDarkness. Thousands have watched the videos.
In Israel, Bnei Akiva members filmed a menorah lighting outside Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station, where a security guard, Asher Almialach, was severely injured in a stabbing incident this month.
In England, Benaya Cohen lit candles at the entrance to the Manchester Arena, where in May a suicide bomber murdered 23 people and injured over 500 at a concert in one of the country’s bloodiest terrorist attacks ever.
Meanwhile, in the United States, Bnei Akiva members filmed a candle lighting at the Houston home of a member, Maya Wadler, whose home was ravaged by flooding during Hurricane Harvey.
“We hope and daven [pray] that this year will bring us pleasant weather and rains of blessing,” Wadler said.
Bnei Akiva is the largest Zionist youth movement in the world, with tens of thousands of members in dozens of countries.