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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Netanyahu backtracks, suspending African migrants deal he praised hours earlier

(JTA)—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is freezing an agreement made with the United Nations that would have relocated thousands of African asylum seekers to Western countries.

Just hours after announcing and praising the agreement, Netanyahu said Monday that he needed to consult with residents of South Tel Aviv before carrying it out. Many of the migrants reside in that region of the Israeli city.

In the agreement announced earlier Monday with the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, Israel would have allowed thousands of African migrants to stay in the country for up to five years. The rest, some 16,000 or so, would have been settled in countries such as Canada, Germany and Italy.

The plan put Netanyahu under fire from several conservative politicians, including some in his own Likud party. Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, said it would “turn Israel into a paradise for infiltrators.”

Netanyahu will also meet with Interior Secretary Aryeh Deri, head of the religious Shas party, before reconsidering the agreement, according The Times of Israel.

US blocks UN Security Council resolution calling for investigation of Gaza border violence

(JTA)—The United States blocked a United Nations Security Council statement calling for an investigation of Israel’s use of force against Palestinians who massed on Gaza’s border.

The statement proposed on Saturday by Kuwait called for an “independent and transparent investigation” of the Israel Defense Forces use of live fire, rubber bullets and other crown control methods to push back the estimated up to 30,000 Palestinians in six spots along the border. Some of the Palestinians threw firebombs and rocks, and planted explosives on the border, according to the IDF.

The statement also expressed “grave concern at the situation at the border” and reiterated that he Palestinians have the right to “peaceful protest.”

At least 15 Palestinians were killed and more than 1,000 injured during the Friday clashes along Israel’s southern border with Gaza.

Following the meeting on Saturday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement that an impartial and transparent investigation must be conducted into the deaths and injuries of Palestinian protesters during the Friday Land Day clashes. “He also appeals to those concerned to refrain from any act that could lead to further casualties and in particular any measures that could place civilians in harm’s way,” a spokesperson for the Secretary General said.

The Security Council first met in a closed meeting on Friday night to discuss the violence even after the United States and Israel asked that the discussion be postponed to Saturday due to beginning of the Passover holiday and the first seder night.

“While Jews around the world gathered with their family at the Seder table to celebrate the Passover holiday, the Palestinians sunk to a new deceitful low so that they could use the U.N. to spread lies about Israel,” Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Danny Danon, said in a statement.

“This shameful exploitation of our holiday will not succeed in stopping us from speaking the truth about the Hamas terror-gatherings that aim to destabilize the region,” he also said.

Hamas said the lack of a resolution from the Security Council about the border clashes due to the U.S. rejection showed that Washington is “fully biased” for Israel and said it was “encouraging Israel to commit more violence and terrorism against Palestinian children”

The head of the Palestinian Authority’s delegation to the United States in a statement issued on Saturday called the killing of the at least 16 Palestinian demonstrators a crime against humanity.

“Our legitimate protest against Israeli military occupation, colonization and apartheid is granted in international law and must be protected by the international community,” Dr. Husam Zomlot said. He added that “the 70-year-old practice of Israel’s shoot-to-kill policy and dehumanization of the Palestinian people must end and Israeli criminals must be brought to justice. These atrocities deserve the strongest condemnation from the US government and action to uphold international law.”

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement about Friday’s violence that “Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are fundamental rights that must be respected.”

The statement also said: “The EU mourns the loss of life. Our thoughts are with the families of the victims. The use of live ammunition should, in particular, be part of an independent and transparent investigation. While Israel has the right to protect its borders, the use of force must be proportionate at all times.”

Israeli soldiers ‘did what was necessary’ on Gaza border, defense minister says

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman asserted that there will not be an international inquiry into the Gaza border clashes that left at least 15 Palestinians dead and hundreds injured.

“Israeli soldiers did what was necessary. I think all our soldiers deserve a medal,” Lieberman told Army Radio Sunday. “As for a commission of inquiry—there won’t be one.”

Liberman said that Israeli soldiers did not fire on peacefully protesting Palestinians and only targeted those who charged the border fence in an attempt to breach it or to plant explosives there.

The defense minister also asserted that Israel would act more forcefully if the violent protests continued.

On Saturday night Liberman tweeted: “I do not understand the choir of hypocrites who are calling for a commission of inquiry. They got confused and thought Hamas organized a Woodstock festival and we had to meet them with flowers.”

At least 30,000 Palestinians protested at six points along the Gaza border with Israel on Friday to mark Land Day, which has been observed by Palestinians around the world since 1976, when six Israeli Arabs were killed and another 100 injured in clashes on March 30 with Israeli soldiers and police during protests over the expropriation of Arab-owned land in northern Israel by the state for housing for Jewish citizens.

This year’s protests have been dubbed the March of Return, and are set to be followed by six weeks of protest at the border until May 15, the date on the Gregorian calendar marking 70 years since the establishment of the state of Israel, which the Arab world calls the Nakba, or catastrophe. It is also the date by which the Trump administration has pledged to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

The six weeks of protest are set to include several tent camps housing thousands of protesters living near the border.

The Israeli army on Saturday evening announced that at least 10 of those killed in the Friday clashes were “known terrorists with track records of terrorist activity.” The IDF spokesman also released photos of the ten men and information about their terrorist activity.

“Hamas operatives camouflage themselves among civilians, turning a protest from peaceful to an area of terror,” the IDF spokesman said in a tweet.

Earlier Saturday, Hamas publicly acknowledged that five members of its military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, were among those killed in the clashes.

The bodies of two of the Hamas gunmen reportedly are being held in Israeli custody.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry in a statement issued on Saturday said that the border fence between Israel and Gaza “separates a state that protects its citizens from murderers who send their people into danger. The fence separates an army that uses force in self-defense and in a focused and proportionate manner, from Hamas, which has for years—including yesterday—been trying to harm millions of Israelis, and which sanctifies murder and death.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement issued on Saturday night praised the country’s soldiers for “guarding the country’s borders and allowing Israeli citizens to celebrate the holiday quietly.”

“Israel acts firmly and with determination to protect its sovereignty and the security of its citizens,” Netanyahu also said.

The Jerusalem Post cited unnamed Israeli sources as saying that there are photos and videos to back the Israel Defense Forces claim that it only fired on violent protesters who posed a threat to the border fence, Israeli troops or civilian Israelis. The evidence will be shown to international officials who accused Israel of using disproportionate force, according to the report.

But one video clip being widely distributed by news outlets, the Palestinians and on social media shows an 18-year-old Palestinian man shot in the back and killed by Israeli snipers while running away from the border fence. It is not known what actions the fleeing Palestinian man took before he was shot.

Pope Francis calls for peace in the Holy Land on Easter

(JTA)—Pope Francis called for peace in the Holy Land saying the violence between Israel and the Palestinians “does not spare the defenseless.”

Francis’ Easter address, known as Urbi et Orbi, or to the city and the world, was delivered Sunday from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, two days after at least 15 Palestinians were killed and hundreds injured on the border between Israel and Gaza.

The pope called for “reconciliation for the Holy Land,” which he said was “experiencing in these days the wounds of ongoing conflict that do not spare the defenseless.”

Francis also prayed for peace for “the entire world, beginning with the beloved and long-suffering land of Syria, whose people are worn down by an apparently endless war.”

US Supreme Court deals ‘terrible blow’ to families suing the PLO

WASHINGTON (JTA)—The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a setback to victims of terrorism seeking the right to sue the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The court declined Monday to consider an appeal of a decision in a case known as Sokolow v. Palestine Liberation Organization. The plaintiffs won $656 million in a 2015 federal jury verdict, but it was overturned a year later by an appellate court.

The court upheld that appeal.

The lead plaintiff, Mark Sokolow, his wife and two of his daughters were injured in a Jerusalem suicide bombing in 2002 that killed an 81-year-old man. His fellow plaintiffs are families of victims of terrorist attacks in Israel that killed 33, including several Americans, and wounded over 450.

Their suit argued that the late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat had paid attackers and their families, and that they had standing to sue his organization under the 1992 Anti-Terrorism Act.

Susan Tuchman, the director of the Center for Law and Justice of the Zionist Organization of America, said in an email that the Supreme Court’s decision was a “terrible blow” for those seeking to hold backers of terrorism accountable.

“I’m not sure how, in the future, most terror victims will be able to proceed successfully with a suit under the Anti-Terrorism Act,” she said.

The PLO in a statement praised the decision. “This decision reaffirms the vital relationship between the Palestinian and American people, which depends on mutual respect and, as importantly, on respect for the rule of law,” Husam Zomlot, the PLO envoy to Washington, said.

Several administrations, including President Donald Trump’s, worried that such lawsuits could undermine American foreign policy interests. U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco sided with the PLO in February, drawing rebukes from conservatives, including some of the Trump administration’s most steadfast Jewish community defenders. Lawmakers in Congress from both parties had urged the Trump administration to back the plaintiffs.

“The United States has in effect assented to the jurisdictional hurdles imposed by the [appeals court], which will prevent many if not most victims of international terrorism from suing to hold their terrorist attackers accountable,” the ZOA said at the time.

Sokolow told JTA in an interview at the time that he was shocked by the solicitor general’s filing, citing Trump’s invocations of “America first” when it comes to foreign policy.

The Trump administration said last month that it “sympathizes deeply” with the families, but the case does not meet the standards for Supreme Court review.

Netanyahu calls son of murdered Holocaust survivor in Paris to offer condolences

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the son of an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor from Paris who was burned and found dead with 11 stab wounds in what is being called an anti-Semitic attack.

Netanyahu on Sunday spoke with Daniel Knoll, the son of Mireille Knoll, who was found dead in her apartment on March 23.

“The people of Israel and the State of Israel is with you. This was a shocking murder,” the prime minister reportedly said during the phone call. “The story of your dear mother, who was cruelly taken, is a reminder for us that the struggles of our people are still before us.”

At least 10,000 people participated in a memorial march in Paris on Wednesday for Knoll; many of the marchers were Jewish. Earlier the same day, French President Emmanuel Macron attended Knoll’s funeral in the Paris suburb of Bagneux. He wore a kippah and was seen talking with Knoll’s friends and relatives.

Two men, including one of her neighbors, have been indicted in connection with what is being tried as a murder with aggravated circumstances of a hate crime. They are also charged with robbery.

On Friday, Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, sent a letter of condolence to the Knoll family.

“On behalf of all of Israel, I send our sincere condolences. The fact that this terrible incident took place merely two weeks before the date when we mark Holocaust Remembrance Day and mourn the victims compounds the heartbreak,” Rivlin said in the letter.

Knoll, 85, who escaped deportation to a Nazi death camp when French police rounded up Jews in Paris in 1942 by escaping to Portugal, returned to Paris and spent most of her life living in the apartment in eastern Paris where she was killed.

Trump wishes Jewish community a Happy Passover

(JTA)—U.S. President Donald Trump offered holiday greetings for Passover.

“During the sacred holiday of Passover, Jewish families around the world give thanks to God for liberating the Jewish people from bondage in Egypt and delivering them to the promised land of Israel,” Trump said in a greeting released on Friday, which also was combined with Easter greetings.

He said in his message released on YouTube that the sacred celebrations of Passover and Easter “remind us that God’s love redeems the world.”

Trump also quoted the book of Isaiah: “For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples; but upon thee the Lord will arise, and His glory shall be seen upon thee… the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light” (Isaiah 60:2, 20).

The president concluded: “In America, we look to the light of God to guide our steps. We trust in the power of the almighty for wisdom and strength and we praise our heavenly father for the blessings of freedom and the gift of eternal life. Happy Passover, Happy Easter.”

Steven Bochco, Emmy-winning creator of ‘Hill Street Blues’ and ‘LA Law,’ dies at 74

(JTA)—Steven Bochco, the Emmy-winning television writer and producer who was responsible for iconic series such as “Hill Street Blues,” “NYPD Blue” and “L.A. Law,” has died.

Bochco died Sunday at his home following a years-long battle with leukemia. He had received a stem cell transplant from an anonymous donor in 2014, according to the Hollywood Reporter. He was 74.

The winner of 10 Emmy Awards and four Peabodys, Bochco also created the popular series “Doogie Howser, M.D,” starring Neil Patrick Harris.

Bochco worked on “Hill Street Blues” at MTM Enterprises, a production company started by Mary Tyler Moore, for five of seven seasons, during which time it won 26 Emmys. The Jewish writer and producer later formed the Steve Bochco Productions company.

He had his first job at Universal after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 1966 with a theater degree and worked on “Columbo” for a few seasons. The first episode he wrote was directed by Steven Spielberg, and with that came the first of 34 Emmy nominations, according to the Hollywood Reporter. He stayed at Universal for 12 years.

“Steve was a friend and a colleague starting with the first episode of ‘Columbo’ in 1971 that he wrote and I directed,” Spielberg said in a statement. “We have supported and inspired each other ever since, and through many deep mutual friendships we have stayed connected for 47 years. I will miss Steve terribly.”

Bochco was born in New York and attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan, where he sang. His father, Rudolph, was a violinist, and his mother, Mimi, was a painter and jewelry designer.


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