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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


January 19, 2018

Alan Sagner, NJ developer who backed liberal and Jewish causes, is dead at 97

WHIPPANY, New Jersey (New Jersey Jewish News via JTA)—Alan Sagner, a former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and a major benefactor of Jewish and liberal causes and the Democratic Party, died Jan. 3 at his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He was 97 years old.

A real estate developer and builder by profession, Sagner served as chairman of the Port Authority beginning in 1977, in an era when the regional transportation agency expanded rail service and modernized highways in the New York metropolitan area. It also facilitated the revitalization of New York’s Times Square.

Sagner was a major donor to what is now the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, which serves the area, a former chair of its UJA Campaign, a key funder of JCC MetroWest in West Orange and a patron to several local Jewish agencies. He was also an early supporter of J Street, the liberal “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group.

A former chairman of the board of Newark Beth Israel Hospital, now Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, he stood firm in opposing an unsuccessful plan to relocate the city’s premier hospital to the suburbs after the 1967 Newark riots.

Sagner and Martin Levin, his brother-in-law and partner, are credited with the development of the New Jersey suburb of Livingston, acquiring farmland and building homes to convert it into a bedroom community designed to entice Jews in Newark and East Orange to move to the suburbs.

“Alan had a vision that you could take Livingston, which at the time had no real Jewish population, and build subdivisions and houses,” said David Mallach, a former executive director of the Community Relations Committee (CRC) of what was then United Jewish Communities of MetroWest New Jersey.

“They marketed it very successfully,” said Mallach who is now executive vice chairman of the United Israel Appeal, a branch of The Jewish Federations of North America.

Beyond his deep concern for Jewish causes, Sagner was a strong advocate for progressive groups and Democratic political campaigns. His involvement began in 1960, when he joined the abortive campaign of Adlai Stevenson, who ran for his party’s presidential nomination against Sen. John F. Kennedy.

But Sagner later found success in his efforts to elect Democrat Brendan Byrne, an underdog candidate, for New Jersey’s governorship in 1973. Sagner was the campaign’s finance chairman, and after Byrne’s victory, he served as the new governor’s commissioner of transportation, and was later his nominee to be chairman of the Port Authority.

Sagner was an investor in the left-of-center magazine, The Nation, and a founder of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in 1960.

Sagner’s strong opposition to America’s boycott of Cuba caused friction between him and some of his colleagues in his local Jewish community. After Cuban-American Robert Menendez was elected to the House of Representatives in 1992 and appointed to its Foreign Affairs Committee in 2006, the federation’s CRC backed the future N.J. senator’s denunciation of Castro.

“Sagner saw that and went ballistic,” recalled Mallach. “It was definitely one of the more uncomfortable conversations I had during my period as the CRC director.”

Sagner was born on Sept. 13, 1920, in Baltimore, where he attended public schools before graduating from the University of Maryland and obtaining a master’s degree in history from Columbia University.

In 1945 he married Ruth Levin, the daughter of New Jersey real estate developer Maurice Levin. She died in 1995, and a year later he married Lenore Green Schottenstein. They divorced in 2006. Sagner also lived in South Orange before moving to Florida.

He is survived by his daughters, Deborah Sagner Buurma and Amy Sagner Pouliot; his son, John; eight grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

Lebanese designer takes Gal Gadot photo off Instagram after backlash

(JTA)—The fashion studio of the Lebanese designer Elie Saab deleted from Instagram a picture of Gal Gadot amid rebuke over its ties to the Israeli actress.

The image of Gadot, who starred in last year’s action thriller “Wonder Woman,” in a blue sash dress by Saab was accompanied by a description of the former Israel Defense Forces combat trainer as “flawless,” the BBC on Friday reported.

Saab’s Instagram post saw some people share their frustration that a former member of the Israeli army would be promoted by the designer.

Gadot was wearing the dress to the National Board of Review awards in New York Thursday, where she and director Patty Jenkins received the Spotlight Award for their work on “Wonder Woman.”

The deleting of Saab’s picture has drawn a mixed reaction on social media. While one user praised the decision to remove the post, another called the whole debacle “shameful”.

“I love and respect Elie Saab, but is he really happy an Israeli actress wore a dress he designed?” asked one user, the Lebanese journalist Heba Bitar, on Twitter.

In 2017, her superhero blockbuster was banned from cinemas in Lebanon, among several other Arab countries amid protests over her casting as the title character and complaints by Islamists that it featured immodest images of women generally.

2 Palestinian teens reported killed in clashes with IDF

(JTA)—Two Palestinian teenagers were shot dead in clashes with Israeli troops during riots in the West Bank and Gaza.

Amir Abd al-Hamid Abu Musaed, 16, was killed from a gunshot to the chest during clashes Friday alongside the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, the Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported.

Ali Omar Kino, also 16, was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at a Nablus hospital with a gunshot wound to his head, Ma’an also reported. He died in clashes that erupted in the Tel and Iraq Burin villages of southern Nablus in the northern West Bank.

In December, the Israel Security Agency documented a near tripling of terrorist attacks against Israelis last month, reaching a two-year high of 249 incidents.

The attacks in December resulted in no fatalities or major injuries to any of the intended victims. More than 90 percent of the incidents recorded in December involved the hurling of firebombs. Attacks from the Gaza Strip, including the launching of a total of 19 rockets into Israel, increased dramatically from November, when only one such incident was recorded.

The leap in the number of attacks corresponded with an uptick in terrorist activity following President Donald Trump’s Dec. 6 declaration that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The December total of 249 incidents—a 296-percent rise over the 84 recorded in November—is also the sharpest monthly rise in attacks since 2014 at least.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens probed on ex-lover’s blackmail allegations

(JTA)—A St. Louis prosecutor said she’d investigate allegations that Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens threatened to blackmail a woman with whom he was having an affair.

Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner announced the probe Thursday, one day after Greitens admitted to having an extramarital affair but denied that he blackmailed the woman to keep it under wraps.

Greitens, a former Navy SEAL whose seven military awards include the Bronze Star, became the first Jewish governor of Missouri when he was elected in November 2016.

The affair, which happened in March 2015, before Greitens became governor, was first reported by St. Louis TV station KMOV.

The ex-husband of the woman with whom Greitens had the affair provided a secretly recorded tape of her confession to him, which included details of their first encounter. The woman, who met Greitens when she cut his hair, said that Greitens took a photo of her in a compromising position to use if she ever came forward about the affair.

The couple began divorce proceedings in March of 2016. By the November election, the man took to social media, to call Greitens a “homewrecker,” according to KMOV.

“The serious allegations against” Greitens “are very troubling,” said Gardner, the prosecutor, in a statement. “After further consideration, I have decided to launch a formal investigation into the alleged actions of Governor Greitens.”

The accuser’s ex-husband said he came forward because he has been contacted numerous times by law enforcement authorities and the media and he wanted to get out in front of a story that he knew would become public.

Greitens and his wife, Sheena, issued a statement on Wednesday night, calling the affair a “deeply personal mistake” by Greitens that the couple dealt with “honestly and privately.”

Greitens said the blackmail claims were “outrageous” and “false” in a statement.

French Jews protest release of synagogue bombing suspect

(JTA)—French Jews protested the release of a man who was extradited from Canada on suspicion that he was involved in the 1980 bombing of a Paris synagogue.

CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish communities, said on Friday that it was “indignant” about the release of Hassan Diab, a Lebanese-Canadian academic accused in the 1980 bombing of the synagogue on Copernic Street, which killed four people. Diab has denied any connection to the act, which Israel and other Western countries believe was the work of terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Earlier this week a judge said the prosecution did not have enough “convincing” evidence on Diab and released him.

“CRIF calls on the public prosecution to appeal the release,” a CRIF spokesperson wrote in a statement.

“This release without trial of the main suspect is an insult to the memory of the victims and adds to their relatives’ pain,” said CRIF President Francis Kalifat in the statement.

Separately, a lawmaker for the far-left France Insoumise party defended Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian leader who is serving multiple life sentences in Israel for acts of terrorism.

Clémentine Autain said earlier this week in a television interview that Barghouti “is not a terrorist but an activist and political prisoner.”

Barghouti, a military commander within the armed wing of the PLO during the second intifada, was sentenced by an Israeli court in 2004 to multiple life sentences for planning dozens of deadly terrorist attacks.

Speaking about Israel, she added in the interview with i24 News: “I think that today the policies of the Israeli government are in a state of radicalization and dangerous authoritarianism, it’s a far-right government.”

CRIF has accused the communist politician Jean-Luc Melenchon and other members of the Insoumise party of anti-Semitic rhetoric, calling that party “no better” than the far-right National Front party.

Melenchon has denied making any anti-Semitic statement, maintaining he is merely a critic of Israel’s policies.

Arkady Wajspapir, key figure in Sobibor Uprising, dies at 96

(JTA)—Arkady Wajspapir, a key figure in the 1943 uprising at the Sobibor death camp, died in Kiev at the age of 96.

Wajspapir killed at least one Nazi soldier during the uprising—the most bold and daring act by Jewish inmates, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

He died on Thursday, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia wrote in a statement about the Red Army veteran.

The uprising at the camp in eastern Poland broke out on Oct. 14, 1943. It got off the ground after the arrival to Sobibor of several Red Army veterans with combat experience, including Wajspapir and Aleksandr “Sasha” Aronovich Pechersky. The group had amassed weapons made from work tools and acted on a plan which included neutralizing guards and commanders at several crucial points that would allow for a mass escape.

The Sobibor Uprising, which took the German guards by utter surprise with tools whose use they authorized, is widely considered a symbol both of the courage of Jewish resistance fighters and the Nazis’ complacency and confidence of their ability to prevent or suppress any actions by them.

Wajspapir was also one of four inmates who gave the signal for the uprising, in which 11 SS officers were killed and 300 inmates escaped.

Wajspapir was ordered to kill an SS soldier and a Ukrainian guard in the tailor workshop together with the Pole Jehuda Lerner.

Armed with axes, Wajspapir and Lerner, both severely emaciated, hid behind a curtain at the workshop in wait for SS officer Siegfried Graetschus, the leader of the Ukrainian guards. An hour into the ambush, Graetschus stopped at the door and tried on a coat that the tailors had made for him. “I stepped from behind the curtain, walked past the officer to the door, turned around and hit him on the head with the sharp edge of the axe,” Wajspapir recalled in an interview in 1975 about the uprising.

Out of the inmates who fled the camp, only 53 escaped the search-and-destroy raids the Nazis carried out in retribution. Of those, only a handful are still alive today.

All of Wajspapir’s immediate family was murdered in the Holocaust.

“We split up into groups and took off in different directions. Our group, consisting of eleven Soviet prisoners, went in the direction of the northeast,” Wajspapir said of his escape, which ended when he joined resistance fighters. After the war he returned to Donetzk and resumed his profession of engineer.

“The memory of the courage demonstrated by Wajspapir and his comrades will live on for posterity and the Jewish community of Russia will continue to do every possible effort to make sure this happens,” the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia wrote in a statement.

Later this month, the Moscow Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center is scheduled to host an international symposium in memory of the uprising ahead of its 75th anniversary. Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to attend the event.

Trump waives Iran sanctions, he says for the last time under the current deal

WASHINGTON (JTA)—President Donald Trump waived nuclear sanctions against Iran for what the White House said was the final time under the current deal.

By the time the next waiver signing rolls around in 120 days, Trump wants a new deal in place that removes “sunset clauses” allowing Iran to resume enhanced enrichment of fissile material within a decade, three senior administration officials said Friday. Trump wants the bans to be permanent. “He wants to deny Iran access to nuclear weapons forever and not just for 10years,” one of the officials said

The officials spoke Friday in a conference call for journalists on the condition they not be named.

The officials said Trump expected America’s European allies who are also parties to the 2015 accord, which swapped sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program, to join with him in reworking the deal. He is also demanding a permanent end to Iran’s enrichment of fissile material at a grade sufficient for weapons use. As it stands, Iran is currently allowed to enrich uranium to low grades unsuitable for weapons use.

In a statement later Friday Trump said those who do not work with him to amend the deal are effectively siding with Iran.

“I hereby call on key European countries to join with the United States in fixing significant flaws in the deal, countering Iranian aggression, and supporting the Iranian people,” he said. “If other nations fail to act during this time, I will terminate our deal with Iran. Those who, for whatever reason, choose not to work with us will be siding with the Iranian regime’s nuclear ambitions, and against the people of Iran and the peaceful nations of the world.”

The officials notably did not say that Trump expected the other two nations party to the deal—Russia and China—to join in the revision of the deal. The three European nations that are party to the deal, France, Germany and Britain, have said that they do not want to reopen the deal unless all parties are agreed. Russia and China are adamantly opposed to renegotiating the deal, as is Iran.

Trump first called on the European nations to reopen the deal to modifications in October; there has been no sign that any party to the deal outside Trump is willing to do so. The Europeans have said they are willing to consider enhancing sanctions outside the nuclear deal, for instance targeting Iran’s missile program and human rights abuses.

Trump, the same day he waived the nuclear sanctions, imposed new sanctions on Iran for its human rights abuses and its military adventurism.

Most prominent among the 14 individuals and entities named in the new sanctions was Sadegh Amoli Larijani, who heads Iran’s judiciary and who is brother to the speaker of the Iranian parliament. Other sanctions target suppliers of Iran’s military and Iran’s cybersecurity sector, which the administration officials said plays a central role in censorship in Iran.

Notably absent from the entities was Iran’s Central Bank. The nuclear deal removed a number of sanctions on the Central Bank, and there had been reports that Trump would impose new sanctions, albeit not for reasons related to Iran’s nuclear development. Had he sanctioned the bank, there was speculation that Iran would view the deal as effectively abrogated.

Under U.S. law, U.S. businesses may not deal with Iran. The sanctions, when they are in place, target third parties overseas that deal with Iran and have the effect—because of the reach of the U.S. dollar—of severely inhibiting trade with Iran.

Trump also wants Congress to impose new strictures on dealing with Iran, including a law that would explicitly tie Iran’s missile programs to its nuclear program. Trump has said that the nuclear deal, which he called the “worst deal in history,” was flawed in part because it did not address missile development.

Congress has so far shown little interest in using legislation to undercut or change the current Iran nuclear deal.

Israeli consulate in Atlanta, 5 embassies to close next year

(JTA)—Israel is closing its consulate in Atlanta and embassies in six other countries, citing budget cutbacks.

Also facing closure are the Israeli embassies in Ireland, Belarus, Eritrea, the Dominican Republic, the consulate in the Indian city of Bengaluru and an embassy in either Latvia or Lithuania, Yedioth Aharonoth reported Friday.

The cutbacks were blamed on a series of agreements that give envoys and local embassy employees pay raises to the tune of $11.75 million. Staff staged demonstrations and even strikes in recent years to protest their wages and demand raises, arguing meager salaries—some as low as $1,200 per month for career diplomats—were ultimately compromising Israeli diplomacy’s efforts.

Officials threatened to close 22 offices abroad out of Israel’s total of 103 to justify the pay raises. But in negotiations between the foreign and finance ministries, the number was lowered to seven, to be closed down by 2022.

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs will also cut 50 employees by 2022, many of them through early retirement.

The treasury will allocate another $51 million to help the foreign ministry compensate for the loss of seven offices abroad. This sum will come on top of $24 million currently allocated toward special projects and activities worldwide.

The bulk of the foreign ministry annual budget of $470 million is spent on overhead, leaving meager funding for projects and special activities

Hanan Godar, the head of the Foreign Ministry workers union, called the closings “an unfortunate decision that will reduce the ministry’s ability to face international challenges.” He accused the Ministry of Finance of “ignoring the urgent need” for more funding for the foreign ministry. Godar was a leader in the fight to obtain raises in salaries for foreign ministry employees.


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