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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


December 29, 2017

Nikki Haley throws a party for nations that didn’t oppose US Jerusalem stance at UN

(JTA)—To thank the 65 countries that did not support a resolution condemning President Donald Trump’s position on Jerusalem, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, invited her counterparts from those states to a reception.

Haley extended the invitation Thursday hours after the General Assembly passed a resolution condemning Trump’s Dec. 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the nrg news site reported.

Nine countries voted against the resolution, including Israel, the United States, Guatemala, Honduras and Togo, and 35 abstained, including the six EU member states Poland, Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Croatia and Latvia. The rest of the European Union was among the 128 nations that voted in favor.

The representatives of 21 countries were absent from the vote, which was the 10th time in U.N. history that the General Assembly was convened for an emergency voting. They included Kenya, which was the fifth-largest recipient of U.S. aid last year, Georgia and Ukraine, all of which have close ties with the United States.

Absenteeism is unusual in emergency session votes.

Prior to the vote, Trump wrote on Twitter: “We’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us, we’ll save a lot. We don’t care.” His words were widely interpreted as a threat to cut aid to countries that vote against the United States position on Jerusalem.

The resolution, sponsored by Yemen and Turkey, reaffirmed what has been the U.N. stand on the divided holy city since 1967: Jerusalem’s final status must be decided in direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Later Thursday, an invitation was sent around to the countries that did not support the resolution on Jerusalem to attend a reception with Haley in January. The event was labeled as a means to thank the countries for “their friendship to the United States,” according to a copy of the invite obtained by CNN.

In her speech at the emergency vote, Haley noted that the “United States is by far the single largest contributor to the United Nations and its agencies.”

Aid is given, she added, “in order to advance our values and our interests. When that happens, our participation in the United Nations produces great good for the world.” The United States does this “because it represents who we are. It is our American way.”

But, Haley said, “we’ll be honest with you. When we make generous contributions to the U.N., we also have a legitimate expectation that our good will is recognized and respected. When a nation is singled out for attack in this organization, that nation is disrespected. What’s more, that nation is asked to pay for the ‘privilege’ of being disrespected.”

Trump’s pronouncement on Jerusalem ended decades of U.S. ambiguity on the status of the city that both Israel and the Palestinians claim as their capital.

House passes bill allowing disaster funds for houses of worship

WASHINGTON (JTA)—The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill that allows federal disaster relief funds to go to houses of worship.

On Thursday, the House voted 251-169 to approve the bill. The vote was not strictly along party lines, although more Republicans than Democrats favored it. The Senate is considering a similar bill.

Relief funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, may not go to churches, synagogues and other houses of worship due to concerns about separation of church and state. Other institutions, like community centers or zoos, may receive the funds. The money reimburses the institutions for aid they provide to victims of natural disasters.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has long pushed for the change. In September, amid a string of hurricanes ravaging the Gulf Coast and the Caribbean, President Donald Trump tweeted his support for churches receiving FEMA funds.

“Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others),” Trump said on Twitter.

According to the text of the bill, “A church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or other house of worship, and a private nonprofit facility operated by a religious organization, shall be eligible for contributions … without regard to the religious character of the facility or the primary religious use of the facility.”

The Orthodox Union, an umbrella Orthodox body that has advocated such a change for years, said the bill will mean synagogues receive fair treatment.

“For far too long, FEMA has unfairly excluded houses of worship from this otherwise religion-neutral program,” its Washington director, Nathan Diament, said in a statement. “This legislation will finally put an end to this unconstitutional discrimination and help houses of worship get the relief they need from FEMA to rebuild after being damaged in natural disasters. We call upon the Senate to pass this legislation as well.”

Also praising the bill was Agudath Israel of America, another Orthodox umbrella body.

“Houses of worship are an integral part of American communities and play an important role in assisting devastated neighborhoods revitalize and rebuild,” Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudah’s Washington director, said in a statement. “After natural disasters, they provide emotional, spiritual and material help to those in need.”

Advancing the bill in the House were Reps. Peter King and Grace Meng, respectively a Republican and Democrat from New York, and Chris Smith, R-N.J. The regions they represent were hard hit by Tropical Storm Sandy in 2012.

Leading the Senate’s legislation are Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., James Lankford, R-Okla., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

US Holocaust museum reposts Syria study that critics said gave Obama a pass

WASHINGTON (JTA)—The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum re-released a controversial study on Syria’s civil war, removing passages that critics said exonerated the Obama administration’s actions.

The study is now available without an executive summary that included a sentence that the United States could have done little to prevent the carnage, which has claimed an estimated 500,000 lives, The New York Times reported Thursday. Added to it are an essay arguing for greater U.S. involvement in Syria and an announcement of a planned survey of Syrian groups assessing what U.S. policies they would like to see.

The offending passage in the paper, posted and then withdrawn in September, had said that “a variety of factors, which were more or less fixed, made it very difficult from the beginning for the U.S. government to take effective action to prevent atrocities in Syria, even compared with other challenging policy contexts.”

Jewish groups joined some human rights activists in arguing that this absolved President Barack Obama of fecklessness.

Obama critics have argued that in his effort to prevent America from a quagmire in Syria, he did too little to arrest the carnage in a civil war in which 400,000 people have died and Syria has been accused of using sarin gas, chlorine gas and barrel bombs. Many point to his decision in September 2013 to postpone a military strike against the Syrian government in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack and instead to seek authorization from Congress.

The museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, which authored the paper, used computational modeling and game theory methods, as well as interviews with experts and policymakers, to determine that U.S. involvement in the wake of the 2013 chemical weapons attack in Ghouta would not have reduced atrocities in the country and may have contributed to them.

Cameron Hudson, who leads the center, told The Times that the original paper may have been skewed too much to academics.

“We have to recognize that we also have a general audience for this work,” he said, “and we also have an audience of victims and survivors.”

Palestinian man reportedly killed in Gaza border riots

(JTA)—A 24-year-old Palestinian man was shot dead during riots near the Gaza-Israel border.

Locals told the Palestinian Maan news agency that Israeli forces shot Zakariya al-Kafarneh during clashes in eastern Jabaliya, in northern Gaza.

Protesters marched following Friday prayers near the border fence in response to calls from Hamas for a third “Friday of Rage” in protest of President Donald Trump’s announcement earlier this month recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Israel’s Army Radio reported that Israeli soldiers shot at rioting Palestinians who breached the sterile zone near the security fence, using crowd dispersal means such as tear gas and stun grenades.

“Israeli troops fired on main inciters to violence, where rioters were throwing projectiles and setting tires on fire,” a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces told Ynet.

Meanwhile, 10 Palestinians were injured during clashes in the southern Gaza Strip, according to Maan.

Another six were injured in clashes in the West Bank, Army Radio reported. Israeli army sources estimated that in total, some 1,700 demonstrators participated in disturbances in the West Bank, a drop of approximately 50 percent from last week.

In Montenegro, cornerstone laid for first synagogue in centuries

(JTA)—Montenegro’s foremost politicians joined their president and faith community leaders for the first laying in centuries of a cornerstone for a synagogue in the area that now comprises that Balkan nation.

President Philip Vujanovic was joined Tuesday at the synagogue’s construction site by the acting and former mayors of the capital of Podgorica, Slavoljub Steipovich and Myomir Mugosha, and the heads of the country’s state-recognized religious streams and faiths, which include Catholicism, Easter-Orthodox Christianity, Islam and Judaism, the Balkan Pro news site reported.

Also in attendance at the ceremony, which took place earlier than scheduled, was the president of the local Jewish community Yasha Alfandari.

Montenegro has 400 Jews, according to the World Jewish Congress, “with maybe a tenth of that participating in actual Jewish spiritual life,” according to Ari Edelkopf, a Chabad rabbi who earlier this year became Montenegro’s first resident rabbi in over a century.

The government of Montenegro, which became independent in 2006 after breaking away from Serbia, gave the land for the synagogue in 2013.

The opening of the Podgorica synagogue is set to be the second one this century in the Balkans, following the dedication of a new synagogue in Macedonia in 2000.

Milo Djukanovic, a former prime minister of Montenegro, said that the construction of the synagogue would begin next year during a speech that he gave last month at the annual Mahar conference for Balkan Jewry, which is held in Montenegro with funding from the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress.

As he waits for the synagogue to be completed, Edelkopf is hosting worshipers at his home and holding prayers. He settled in Podgorica after being forced to leave Sochi earlier this year. His staying permit was revoked on unsubstantiated claims that he represented a threat to Russia’s national security.

Edelkopf denied any wrongdoing and demanded a court review of the unspecified charges against him, but it never happened. Russian Jews protested his deportation as a miscarriage of justice.

In Podgorica, his role will be to “convert the local Jews to Judaism,” Alfandari said last month.

“What I mean is that we have a few hundred people who are Jews according to the definition of the word”—meaning those who have a Jewish mother, according to traditional Jewish law—“but they know very little about what it means to be Jewish.”


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