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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


April 13, 2018

Clarence Thomas’ wife says Jews ‘gave up their firearms to Hitler’

WASHINGTON (JTA)—The wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas shared a Facebook post blaming the Holocaust in part on gun control and attacking survivors of the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The post was one of several identified by The Hill on Monday as posted by Virginia Thomas. They registered strong disagreement with gun control while criticizing the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooting in February that killed 17 students and faculty members.

“To all the kids that walked out of school to protest guns,” said the post, which featured a photograph of a pile of shoes of Holocaust victims. “These are the shoes of Jews that gave up their firearms to Hitler. They were led into gas chambers, murdered and buried in mass graves. Pick up a history book and you’ll realize what happens when u give up freedoms and why we have them.”

Thomas, herself a prominent conservative activist, was sharing the image from the page of an acquaintance who died recently. “This post from his page is amazing,” she wrote.

The notion that Jews may have prevented the Holocaust had they been armed, popular in some pro-gun circles, has been debunked by historians, who have noted how outnumbered Jews were in countries in which they were slaughtered.

Other posts shared by Thomas accused Parkland survivors of being “stupid,” of being manipulated by adults, and of manipulating the deaths of their fellow students and teachers to advance their agenda.

Mayim Bialik will not light a torch for Israel’s Independence Day after all

JERUSALEM (JTA)—First basketball star Omri Casspi and the president of Honduras. Now actress Mayim Bialik.

Israel’s annual Independence Day celebration on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl, whose torchlighting ceremony is a highlight of the country’s civic calendar, has been beset by a number of high-profile cancellations and almost-cames.

Bialik had made a pitch to light a torch as the representative of Diaspora Jewry in a Facebook post. Hundreds of her followers reportedly sent nominations to the Diaspora Affairs Ministry.

But when she was chosen, she discovered that she would not be able to attend due to the shooting schedule for the popular television series “The Big Bang Theory,” where she plays nerdy neuroscientist Amy Farrah Fowler.

For the second year in a row, the Ministerial Committee for Ceremonies and Symbols asked for nominations of a Diaspora Jew to light a torch. Now that Bialik has declined, there will be no Diaspora torch lighter.

Meanwhile, Casspi, the first Israeli to play in the National Basketball Association, missed his opportunity to light a torch in the April 18 ceremony.

Casspi had been asked but declined because his team, the Golden State Warriors, would not release him at the start of the playoffs to attend. On Sunday, hours after the list of torch lighters was announced, Casspi was cut by the Warriors.

The following day, the president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez, canceled a trip to Israel and his participation in the torchlighting ceremony following accusations by the chairwoman of the left-wing Meretz party that his country is guilty of gross violations of human rights. Hernandez had confirmed his participation in the Mount Herzl event last week.

Israelis lighting torches include singer-songwriter Shlomo Artzi; stage actress Leah Koenig; Gen. (Res.) Yeshayahu “Shaike” Gavish, chairman of the Palmach Veterans Association; paralympic gold medalist Noam Gershony; Racheli Ganot, CEO of Rachip, a high-tech company that employs haredi Orthodox women; Zeev Revach, a Moroccan-born comedian, movie actor and director; linguist Avshalom Kor; Margalit Zinati, the only Jewish resident of the Druze village of Pekiin; Sheikh Mowafak Tarif, spiritual leader of Israel’s Druze community; biotechnical researcher Marcelle Machluf; mathematician Aviezri Fraenkel; and May Korman, 15, who patented an idea to prevent children from being left alone in cars.

Honduras president cancels participation in torchlighting ceremony for Israel’s 70th

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The president of Honduras canceled a trip to Israel and his participation in the torchlighting ceremony at the annual Independence Day ceremony amid calls for the invitation to be rescinded.

Juan Orlando Hernandez withdrew on Monday following the rescission calls over accusations of gross violations of human rights in his Central American country. Hernandez had confirmed his participation in the Mount Herzl event last week.

Saying the Honduras leader would not be attending, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it “regrets his not coming and welcomes the friendship between the two countries.”

Some reports said that Hernandez had reconsidered his participation due to the criticism of his government, while others said he was reconsidering due to the political controversy between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein. Edelstein had threatened to lead a boycott of the ceremony by the Knesset; he said he was protecting a tradition by which only the Knesset speaker, as the head of a body meant to represent all Israelis, gives an address.

On Sunday, a compromise reportedly was reached that would have Netanyahu lighting a 13th torch and giving a short speech at the ceremony, with Edelstein giving the keynote address.

Tamar Zandberg, chairwoman of the left-wing Meretz party, in a letter to Culture Minister Miri Regev, said including Hernandez in the ceremony is a “scandalous decision that legitimizes a president responsible for gross violations of human rights in his country, solely to provide an excuse for Netanyahu to attend as well.”

Hernández was to have lit the torch at the April 18 ceremony along with a Foreign Ministry official representing its Agency for International Development Cooperation, or Mashav, program. Hernández graduated from a Mashav enrichment course in 1992 at the beginning of his diplomatic career.

Hernandez’s participation in the torchlighting would have mandated that Netanyahu be present. Traditionally, the highest-ranking government official at the annual Yom Haatzmaut eve ceremony is the speaker of the Knesset. According to protocol, the presence of a foreign president at an official state ceremony obligates the attendance of the prime minister.

Israel accused of attack on Syrian military base that killed 14

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Russia accused Israel of striking an air base in central Syria that killed 14, and two unnamed U.S. officials reportedly confirmed that it was Israel that carried out the attack.

Iranian nationals were among those killed in the early Monday morning missile strikes, according to reports.

The strikes came less than two days after a chemical weapons attack in the rebel-held Syrian town of Douma, for which both the United States and France threatened to retaliate. At least 40 people have died in the chemical weapons attack.

NBC on Monday quoted the U.S. officials as saying that Israel had carried out the attack, and that Washington had been notified in advance.

Syria first blamed the United States for the attack on the air base, which the U.S. denied. After Russia accused Israel, Syrian state media quoted the military saying that it was Israeli F-15 war planes that had carried out the strikes.

“The Israeli aggression on the T4 airport was carried out with F-15 planes that fired several missiles from above Lebanese land,” state news agency SANA said. The Tiyas, or T4, military air base reportedly has been in use most recently by Iran-backed forces.

Israel, as is its standing policy, has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in the attack. Moscow reportedly has called on Israel to clarify its involvement.

In February, the Israeli Air Force downed an Iranian drone that came from the Tiyas base in airspace over northern Israel, and followed the infiltration by attacking 12 targets in Syria, including three aerial defense batteries and four Iranian targets that are part of Iran’s military establishment in Syria.

The Israeli military reportedly struck Syrian military targets twice during December and once during January, but did not confirm the reports. Israel reportedly has carried out dozens of airstrikes on Syria’s army and its allies since 2011.

Does QB Josh Rosen want to play in NY over Cleveland because there are more Jews?

(JTA)—Top NFL quarterback prospect Josh Rosen would prefer playing in New York rather than Cleveland because of its larger Jewish community, two ESPN radio shows suggested.

The radio discussions were first highlighted by The Big Lead, a Gannett sports blog.

Stephen A. Smith, speaking Wednesday on his ESPN show, discussed comments earlier this month by Rosen’s former coach at UCLA, Jim Mora. The coach told the NFL Network that if he were running the Cleveland Browns, he would take USC quarterback Sam Darnold over Rosen. Mora said it was “because of fit” and cited Darnold’s “blue-collar, gritty attitude.”

Smith said Wednesday that Mora “may have been doing it to dissuade the Cleveland Browns from picking him because Josh Rosen, according to my sources, would prefer to be in New York. He’s Jewish, there’s a stronger Jewish community, he’d rather be in the New York market than the Cleveland market, blah, blah, blah. We don’t know, but it’s some of the things that we’ve heard.”

The hosts of ESPN’s morning show in Los Angeles—Keyshawn Johnson, Jorge Sedano and LZ Granderson—had suggested a day earlier that Rosen would be more comfortable in New York because his father is a doctor and he comes from a more affluent background.

“When you talk about his religion, I believe Josh is Jewish. New York. Big Jewish community. Much like L.A.,” one host said. “People gravitate to people like them, all I’m saying.”

Another host added: “If he is an observing Jewish individual who is embraced by the local community, that will certainly raise his ball”

The hosts looked up the cities with the largest Jewish community and Cleveland did not appear in their top 10 despite its some 80,000 members.

The quarterback’s father is Charles Rosen, a noted Jewish orthopedic surgeon. His mother, Liz Lippincott, is Quaker and is the great-great-granddaughter of Joseph Wharton, who founded the prestigious Wharton business school at the University of Pennsylvania.

A 2014 profile noted that Rosen became a bar mitzvah and attends seder every Passover, but he also celebrates Christmas and he called himself “kind of an atheist.”

Brandeis fires men’s basketball coach for discriminatory behavior

(JTA)—Brandeis University has fired its men’s basketball coach for alleged discriminatory and racist behavior toward student-athletes, and put its athletic director on administrative leave.

Several students filed “serious discrimination complaints” last year against the coach, Brian Meehan, Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz said in a letter Thursday. The complaints alleged “preferential and discriminatory treatment, unprofessional behavior, and racially biased harassment,” according to the letter

After a new complaint was brought last week against Meehan, he was placed on administrative leave, the complaints were investigated and he was fired. The players had taken their complaints to the university’s human resources department in May 2017, Deadspin reported.

“No one at Brandeis should ever have to experience discrimination or harassment from any other member of this community,” Liebowitz wrote. “The university is committed to responding promptly, vigorously, and effectively once notified of any act of discrimination or harassment, and forbids retaliation against any individual who comes forward with a good-faith complaint.”

In one incident, Meehan told a black player, “I’ll ship you back to Africa,” according to Deadspin.

A day later, on Friday, the university placed its athletic director, Lynne Dempsey, on administrative leave, Liebowitz announced. The Boston-area school—a Jewish-sponsored, nonsectarian research university—also hired two attorneys to conduct an independent investigation of the university’s policies and procedures in the case.

Liebowitz said he was disturbed to learn about the student-athletes’ frustrations as they worked through the system of filing the complaints and waited for a resolution.

“They found our processes moved slowly and opaquely, and ultimately inadequately,” he said in a second letter to the campus community. “Anyone accused of committing an offense on this campus—student, faculty, or staff member—is entitled to a fair investigation and due process. This can take time. In this case, the process did not work the way it should have for the students who filed complaints. This cannot and should not happen again.”

A communitywide town hall meeting was scheduled for Monday afternoon.

Meehan was the winningest coach in Brandeis history, going 205-160 in his 15 years guiding the program, including an appearance in the Division III Final Four.

Leader of Reform movement’s rabbinical arm to retire

(JTA)—Rabbi Steven A. Fox, the head of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, will retire next year.

Fox and CCAR President David Stern made the announcement on Monday. Fox will leave in June 2019 after 13 years as CEO.

CCAR is the rabbinic arm of the Reform movement, the largest in America.

Fox, 64, strengthened the organization’s governance, renewed its financial stability and built up its senior leadership team, the CCAR said in a statement.

He also oversaw the creation of the CCAR Lifelong Learning/Continuing Professional Education program, which provides Torah and professional development classes to Reform rabbis. He developed major new streams of funding to expand these and other CCAR programs.

The statement noted that CCAR Press, the publishing arm of the organization, has grown during Fox’s tenure. After a period of seven years in which only one book was published, CCAR Press now maintains a publishing program of six to 12 books a year.

“It is with mixed emotions that I announce my plans to retire from the CCAR in 2019,” Fox said. “We have accomplished much in these years together. Now is the moment for the CCAR leadership to consider the future direction of the Conference, to affirm our mission in bold new ways, to assert our leadership role in the Reform Movement and broader community, and to consider new avenues to add value to our members’ lives, focusing on all rabbis no matter where or how they serve, with a new Chief Executive to lead at the helm.”

A search committee has been appointed to find Fox’s successor.

Fox’s announcement comes less than a month after the announcements that the CEOs of the Conservative movement’s rabbinic and congregational umbrella groups are stepping down.

Ronald Lauder disavows anti-Muslim videos of a group he gave $11 million

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Ronald Lauder, a leading Jewish philanthropist, disavowed the anti-Muslim videos of a beneficiary organization, saying he had contributed because the group opposed the Iran nuclear deal.

“Mr. Lauder donated to Secure America Now to support their work in opposition to the Iran nuclear deal,” a spokesman for the World Jewish Congress president said Monday in an email to JTA. “He had nothing to do with any of the group’s other activities. Mr. Lauder has consistently supported interfaith respect and dialogue. He would never be involved with insulting people of faith.”

Open Secrets, an elections watchdog, published an investigation last week that identified Lauder and Robert Mercer, a reclusive hedge fund billionaire, as the main donors to the group Secure America Now in 2016, when it ran anti-Muslim ads that appeared to target voters in swing states just prior to the presidential election.

Mercer, a major backer of Donald Trump’s presidential run, gave Secure America Now $2 million and Lauder donated $1.1 million. The group, headed by Allen Roth, a longtime adviser to Lauder, garnered over $8.27 million that year.

It’s not clear how much Secure American Now paid for the videos, which popped up in social media feeds in swing states just before the election, and which were parody travelogues depicting Muslim takeovers of France, the United States and Germany.

The ads may have been aimed at spurring turnout by pro-Trump voters who agreed with the candidate’s views on restricting immigration and the perceived threat from Muslims.

Bloomberg News said last year that Facebook and Google competed for “millions” of dollars in ad money to distribute the videos, but did not explain how it came up with that amount.

Secure America Now reported vastly different amounts in election-related spending, according to Open Secrets: $1 million to the Federal Elections Commission and $124,000 to the Internal Revenue Service. The reason for the discrepancy is not clear.

Secure America Now, as Lauder’s spokesman noted, also campaigned against the Iran nuclear deal, which swapped sanctions relief for a rollback in Iran’s nuclear program. However, the deal was wrapped up by 2015, and much of the campaigning by groups opposed to the deal occurred before that time.


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