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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


April 27, 2018

Plenty of mazel tovs to go around on birth of #RoyalBaby

(JTA)—Although the British royal family presumably does not speak a word of Hebrew, there were plenty of mazel tovs to go around after the announcement that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, aka Prince William and Kate Middleton, welcomed the arrival of a baby boy.

The baby born Monday is the third child for the royal couple and will be fifth in line for the throne.

“Mazal Tov it’s a boy!” the United Kingdom’s embassy in Israel posted on Twitter in both English and Hebrew, along with the official announcement from the royal family.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin immediately tweeted his and the country’s good wishes on the #RoyalBaby, leading with “Mazal Tov!”

“Together with Nechama, and all the Israeli people, I send warmest wishes to Her Majesty the Queen, & all the Royal Family. Looking forward to welcoming the Duke to Israel soon,” he wrote.

Mazal Tov! Congratulations to TRH the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of their son #RoyalBaby. Together with Nechama, and all the Israeli people, I send warmest wishes to Her Majesty the Queen, & all the Royal Family. Looking forward to welcoming the Duke to Israel soon.

— Reuven Rivlin (@PresidentRuvi) April 23, 2018

Britain’s chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, also tweeted his good wishes, but saved his mazel tov for the end.

“Congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and to the entire @RoyalFamily on the birth of a beautiful baby boy! We wish their Royal Highnesses many years of joy from their new son. May he be a source of blessing for our country all the days of his life. Mazaltov!” Mirvis tweeted.

His predecessor as chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, also tweeted a “huge” mazel tov on behalf of himself and his wife.

“We hope you get much nachas from him and may he bring you much joy,” he also wrote, using a Hebrew term for pride.

“Hearty” mazel tovs also came in from the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council.

Some tweeters just couldn’t help themselves.

One, identified as Dutch singer Simon Oaks, suggested that if the baby was a girl (he wasn’t), William and Kate could name her Analytica.

“She can call herself  #Duchessof Cambridge Analytica,” he tweeted, referring to the tech company that had unauthorized access to private Facebook data.

Another tweeter felt the need to invoke Jeremy Corbyn, the embattled head of the Labour Party.

“As Duchess of Cambridge goes to hospital expecting 3rd baby, critics of Jeremy Corbyn say it makes a pleasant change to see a woman in labour being well treated,” the tweet read.

Dozens of royal family watchers had been camped for days outside the private Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital in central London, where the couple’s two other children were born. They popped open champagne bottles upon hearing the news that George, 4, and Charlotte 2, had a new royal sibling.

As Duchess of Cambridge goes to hospital expecting 3rd baby, critics of Jeremy Corbyn say it makes a pleasant change to see a woman in labour being well treated.

Trump reportedly asked Netanyahu if he genuinely wants peace

(JTA)—In a phone call last year with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Donald Trump asked him whether or not he genuinely wants peace, according to a new report.

Trump asked the question in the wake of news reports that Netanyahu had planned to build new settlement housing to placate members of his coalition government, Axios reported Sunday, citing three sources familiar with the call. The news website did not report on Netanyahu’s answer.

The question came in the middle of a longer conversation that was “mostly friendly and complimentary,” according to Axios, which said that Trump thought that Netanyahu was unnecessarily angering the Palestinians. During the course of the conversation, Trump pressed Netanyahu on the importance of arriving at a peace deal with the Palestinians.

During a Netanyahu visit to the White House in February 2017, shortly after Trump took office, the president called on Netanyahu during a news conference to “hold back” on settlement building.

White House adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s Jewish son-in-law, and U.S. Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, who also is an Orthodox Jew, are leading Israel-Palestinian peace efforts. The announcement of a White House peace plan has been put on hold since Trump announced his recognition of Jerusalem at Israel’s capital and said he would move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem next month.

A senior White House official apprised of the details of the conversation told Axios that “The President has an extremely close and candid relationship with the prime minister of Israel and appreciates his strong efforts to enhance the cause of peace in the face of numerous challenges.”

The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, told Axios in response: “The president has great relationships with a number of foreign leaders, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be aggressive when it comes to negotiating what’s best for America.”

US human rights report drops phrase ‘occupied territories’ in section on Israel

(JTA)—The State Department’s annual human rights report has dropped the phrase “occupied territories” when describing the Gaza Strip, West Bank and Golan Heights.

It is the first time since the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices were first filed in 1977 that the descriptive phrase has not been used

The section on Israel this year is titled “Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza.” The previous year’s report called the section “Israel and The Occupied Territories.”

The State Department told The Washington Post that reports issued by other parts of the government no longer refer to the West Bank and Gaza as the occupied territories and that the human rights report “is simply catching up to what is now standard practice in the administration.”

In December, Israel’s Kan public broadcaster reported that U.S Ambassador to Israel David Friedman asked the State Department to stop calling Israel’s control over the West Bank an “occupation” in official documents. He reportedly recommended using the term “West Bank territory” instead of the “occupied territories.”

The report said the State Department had rejected the request, but agreed to take up the subject again in the future. A State Department official at the time told JTA that the report was “misleading.”

In a September interview, Friedman told an Israeli news website, “I think the settlements are part of Israel.” The State Department later distanced itself from the remark.

The Washington Post said it was the “first human rights report to reflect the Trump administration’s views and priorities.” It also said the report on activities in 2017 “focuses less on societal attitudes and discrimination than in previous years and more on governmental actions that encourage or reward violence and bigotry.”

Natalie Portman explains why she won’t accept prize in Israel: It’s about Netanyahu

(JTA)—Natalie Portman said she wouldn’t attend a prize ceremony in Israel because of her feelings about its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and “atrocities” committed on his watch, but emphasized that she would not shun Israel itself.

The Jerusalem-born director and actor, posting Friday night on Instagram, explained her decision not to accept in person the $2 million Genesis Prize, which calls itself the “Jewish Nobel,” after a day of speculation in the media that she was turning down the prize because she was joining the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel The prize foundation had the day before announced Portman’s decision not to attend the ceremony.

“I chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony,” said Portman, who in 2011 won a best actress Oscar.

“By the same token, I am not part of the BDS movement and do not endorse it,” Portman said.

“Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation,” she said. “I treasure my Israeli friends and family, Israeli food, books, art, cinema, and dance. Israel was created exactly 70 years ago as a haven for refugees from the Holocaust. But the mistreatment of those suffering from today’s atrocities is simply not in line with my Jewish values. Because I care about Israel, I must stand up against violence, corruption, inequality, and abuse of power.”

She did not explain what she was referring to by “atrocities.” Israel has drawn sharp criticism in recent months for confrontations with Palestinian protesters on its Gaza border. Israeli troops have killed over 30 Palestinians and wounded hundreds. Israel says the protesters are not peaceful and have tossed rocks and explosive devices at troops.

Netanyahu last month also drew sharp rebukes for reversing his decision to work with the United Nations to resettle some 38,000 African asylum seekers in the country, and reverting to an earlier plan to summarily deport them to Uganda or another African nation. Among the critics were Jewish groups and figures who rarely criticize Israeli government policies.

In the wake of Portman’s decision, the Genesis Prize Foundation said it would distribute the $2 million to women’s rights groups, but not those of Portman’s choosing. Winners of the prize, which “honors individuals who serve as an inspiration to the next generation of Jews through their outstanding professional achievement along with their commitment to Jewish values and the Jewish people,” conventionally donate the prize money to charitable causes of their choosing

The Genesis Prize on Friday posted a tweet on its timeline attached to a story about the controversy, with the headline, “Israelis lament Natalie Portman dropping out of Genesis Prize.”

The background to the Genesis Prize’s Twitter page was still as of Friday evening a photo of Natalie Portman, accompanied by a message congratulating her.

Portman said in her Instagram post she would soon announce charities she would support in Israel.

“This experience has inspired me to support a number of charities in Israel,” she said. “I will be announcing them soon, and I hope others will join me in supporting the great work they are doing.”

Portman has previously joined efforts to support Israel. In 2015, she directed and starred in “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” a Hebrew-language film adaptation of the Amos Oz book of the same name that chronicles the author’s life surrounding Israel’s founding.

Jewish groups’ objections spur cancellation of discussion with Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn

(JTA)—A roundtable discussion of Jewish groups and British Labour Party head Jeremy Corbyn was canceled after the country’s two main Jewish umbrella groups objected to the list of participants

The meeting, billed as a “Respect and Engagement” event, had been set for Wednesday to address charges of anti-Semitism and hostility to Israel in the Labour Party. It was to take place some 24 hours after talks scheduled between Corbyn and the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council to discuss the issue.

But both Jewish groups called on mainstream community organizations to reject the invitation to the roundtable meeting, which, according to the Jewish Chronicle, they viewed as an attempt to split the Jewish community by including what they described as fringe groups such as Jewish Voice for Labour, an anti-Israel group that has derided the “myth of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party” and the “anti-Semitic smear campaign” supposedly waged against Corbyn and his backers.

Corbyn’s office had sent out invitations to the event.

Labour sources told the Jewish Chronicle that the meeting had never been confirmed and had been canceled because it “didn’t work logistically.” The Jewish Chronicle also reported that instead of the roundtable meeting, Corbyn will work to hold separate meetings with Jewish groups and individuals in the coming weeks.

Corbyn has vowed to kick out any Labour member caught making racist or anti-Semitic statements. Dozens have been expelled, but many others accused of these actions were allowed to stay or were readmitted.

Scottish man gets $1,100 fine for teaching dog to do Nazi salute

(JTA)—The Scottish man who was found guilty of a hate crime for teaching his girlfriend’s dog to do the Nazi salute was fined 800 pounds, or about $1,100.

Mark Meechan, 30, who was convicted last month, taught the pug, named Buddha, to respond with the Nazi salute when prompted by statements such as “Heil Hitler” and “gas the Jews.” Meechan posted videos of the dog performing the trick on YouTube.

Meecham has said he will appeal his conviction, saying it sets a dangerous legal precedent against freedom of expression.

The original video, posted in April 2016 on his YouTube channel, Count Dankula, was viewed more than 3 million times before it was removed for violating YouTube’s policy on hate speech. Meechan said on the video that he trained the dog to annoy his girlfriend. He later posted a video in which he apologized for the original dog clips, saying it was a joke and that he has no such political leanings.

In the sentencing Monday, Sheriff Derek O’Carroll rejected Meechan’s explanation that the video was made as a private joke and pointed out that he had “not taken any steps to prevent the video being shared publicly.”

“You deliberately chose the Holocaust as the theme of the video,” O’Carroll said.

He added, speaking of the evidence: “I found it proved that the video you posted, using a public communications network, was grossly offensive and contained menacing, anti-Semitic and racist material.”

O’Carroll also said the right to freedom of expression was very important, but “in all modern democratic countries the law necessarily places some limits on that right.”

Comedian Ricky Gervais disagreed with the conviction.

“If you don’t believe in a person’s right to say things that you might find ‘grossly offensive,’ he posted on Twitter, “then you don’t believe in Freedom of Speech.”

Ivanka and Jared reportedly part of US delegation for Jerusalem embassy opening

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump will be part of the delegation coming to Israel next month for the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, according to an Israeli news program.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who is Jewish, will lead the group of more than 250 U.S. delegates, including 40 members of the Senate and House of Representatives, Channel 10 news reported Sunday, citing unnamed Israeli officials.

Among those mentioned in the report as planning to attend the May 14 dedication are Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and Lindsay Graham, as well as special Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt. The delegation also will include Jewish leaders and heads of pro-Israel Christian organizations.

Asked for comment, a White House spokeswoman told JTA that “there are no announcements at this time.”

The move is scheduled for the anniversary of the founding of the modern State of Israel according to the Gregorian calendar.

The new embassy initially will be housed in southern Jerusalem, in the Arnona neighborhood, on a compound that currently houses the consular operations of the Consulate General of Jerusalem.

U.S. Ambassador David Friedman and some staff will begin working out of the consular section beginning in May. In the second phase, by the end of 2019, an annex on site will be constructed for a more permanent working space for the ambassador, staff and a classified processing site. The third phase, the site selection and construction of a new embassy, will take up to nine years.

Trump has heralded his Dec. 6, 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the move of the embassy as a highlight of his administration. He said last month at a White House meeting with Netanyahu that he was considering coming to Israel for the opening of the embassy.


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