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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


US envoy Jason Greenblatt meets with leaders in Qatar to discuss Gaza relief

WASHINGTON (JTA)—U.S. Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt met Wednesday in Qatar with its foreign minister and discussed relief for Gaza, a notable meeting with one of Hamas’ only allies at a time when the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel is exploding with violence.

“Met today in Doha, Qatar with Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Than,” Greenblatt said Wednesday on his Twitter feed. “We discussed the urgent need for humanitarian relief for Gaza and the Trump Administration’s developing peace plan.”

Greenblatt has said in the past has said that relief for Gazans would be key to any path to peace.

Greenblatt repeated the tweet in Arabic.

Greenblatt’s meeting came two days after he attended the dedication of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. That same day, Israeli troops killed some 60 Palestinians who were part of an attempt by thousands to breach the fence with Gaza. The weeks of protests have been backed by Hamas, the terrorist group controlling Gaza.

Greenblatt, like other Trump administration figures, has backed Israel’s line on Gaza, saying the violence is entirely provoked by Hamas. However, Greenblatt, who is also a leader of President Donald Trump’s effort to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, has said that relief for Gazans would be key to any path to peace.

Qatar remains one of the only countries in the world with ties to Hamas, and could play a role in persuading the group to allow in relief for Gazans. Hamas on Tuesday turned away two truck-loads of humanitarian aid from Israel while allowing through six trucks with assistance from the Palestinian Authority and UNICEF, the Jerusalem Post reported.

The United States’ Arab allies in the region are shunning Qatar because of its ties with Hamas and other Muslim Brotherhood groups, and with Iran. The Trump administration has sent the Persian Gulf state—which houses one of the largest U.S. military bases in the world—mixed messages, with some rebukes, but also with some outreach.

Human Rights Watch sues Israel to prevent deportation of its local director

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Human Rights Watch sued Israel’s Interior Ministry to prevent its local director from being deported over his past involvement in the BDS movement.

The NGO filed the lawsuit in Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday in order to keep its director of Israel/Palestine, Omar Shakir, from being deported after his work permit was revoked.

According to the organization, the lawsuit is the first legal challenge to a 2017 law that bans from Israel those who publicly call for boycotts of the country.

The lawsuit argues that the government went beyond the law in deporting someone with valid status who it acknowledged has not engaged in boycott activities while residing in Israel, and that the motivation behind this move is to curb Human Rights Watch’s activities.

The Interior Ministry compiled a seven-page dossier to support its deportation order against Shakir. Much of the dossier covers a time period before Shakir assumed his position at Human Rights Watch, including a great deal of his time at Stanford University.

When Shakir, a native of California, was first appointed to his position in February 2017, he was denied both a work visa and a tourist visa.

A month later, he was allowed entry to Israel, the same day the Knesset passed a law banning entry to foreigners who publicly call for boycotting the Jewish state or its settlements. The following month he was granted a work visa.

The lawsuit asks the court to pause the deportation order, due to take effect Tuesday, May 22, pending the outcome of legal proceedings.

Over 1,000 religious leaders urge Mike Pompeo to name anti-Semitism monitor

WASHINGTON (JTA)—More than a thousand lay and clergy leaders across a range of faiths signed a petition urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to name an anti-Semitism monitor.

“Around the world, violent and even lethal attacks have been made on Jews and Jewish institutions; physical harassment of Jews who wear a kippah in public is all too common,” says the petition addressed to Pompeo, organized by the American Jewish Committee and released Tuesday to media.

There has been no anti-Semitism monitor since President Donald Trump assumed office in January 2017, and Rex Tillerson, Pompeo’s predecessor, emptied the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism of staff last summer.

“In far left and far-right political parties in Europe and elsewhere, anti-Jewish rhetoric is on the rise as is the demonization of Israel and intimidation of its supporters,” the petition says. “New campaigns of Holocaust distortion have been waged and there are proposals in some countries to ban central Jewish religious practices. Mr. Secretary, anti-Semitism starts with Jews, but doesn’t end there: when any minority is threatened, everyone is less safe.”

The signatories include a wide geographical range of Jewish lay leaders, rabbis covering all streams of Judaism, and hundreds of Christian leaders, including Timothy Cardinal Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, and Rev. Katharine Henderson, the president of Auburn Seminary, an influential Protestant institution based in New York. There are also a number of Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh and Bahai leaders.

Tillerson said he wanted to transfer duties from special envoys to State Department staff as a cost-saving measure. A range of Jewish organizations and lawmakers reminded him that the anti-Semitism monitor is mandated by Congress and is required by law to be filled.

US names Iran’s top banker a terrorist

WASHINGTON (JTA)—In an unusual move the U.S. Treasury named Iran’s top banker a terrorist for his role in funneling money to Hezbollah.

“It is appalling, but not surprising, that Iran’s senior-most banking official would conspire with the IRGC-QF to facilitate funding of terror groups like Hezbollah, and it undermines any credibility he could claim in protecting the integrity of the institution as a central bank governor,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Tuesday in a statement. IRGC-QF stands for Iran Revolutionary Guard- Quds Force, the Iranian armed force that is responsible for much of Iran’s adventurism abroad.

The designation as terrorists of Valiollah Seif, the bank’s governor, and Ali Tarzali, the assistant director of the bank’s international department, comes a week after President Donald Trump reinstated sanctions on the bank itself as part of his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.

The U.S. sanctions Trump reinstated last week target third-party entities, including individuals, companies and governments that deal with Iran’s Central Bank. The threat of reimposition of sanctions already has prompted angry rejoinders from governments the U.S. is otherwise allied with and that continue to abide by the nuclear deal, among them Britain, France and Germany. Trump wants these countries to join him in sanctioning Iran to extract what he says would be a better deal to end its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Trump wants any replacement deal to address, among other things, Iran’s missile program and its adventurism in the region. Hezbollah, a Lebanese terrorist group, which launched a war against Israel in 2006, is a key regional ally to Iran. Hezbollah and Iran are helping to prop up the Assad regime in its civil war.

Banning dealings with the bank’s top personnel may be seen as a way to increase pressure on the U.S. allies to play ball.

Also named as terrorists in the Treasury release are Aras Habib, the chairman of Al-Bilad Islamic Bank in Iraq; and Muhammad Qasir, a Hezbollah official, both for their role in funneling IRGC money to Hezbollah.

Top German newspaper pulls cartoon that criticizes Netanyahu

BERLIN (JTA)—One of Germany’s top daily newspapers has pulled and apologized for a cartoon that criticizes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The image depicted Netanyahu dressed as Netta Barzilai, the Israeli singer who won the Eurovision song contest earlier this week. In the cartoon, Netanyahu is holding a rocket marked with a Star of David. The artist, Dieter Hanitzsch, also replaced the “V” in a Eurovision banner with the six-pointed star.

Netanyahu is shown saying “Next year in Jerusalem,” a reference to the fact that Israel will host Eurovision next year since it won this year.

Wolfgang Krach, editor in chief of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, said in a statement Tuesday that it could be seen as anti-Semitic. The Israeli leader is given an oversized nose, ears and lips in the image.

The Jewish star on the rocket could also suggest that “behind every war, Jewish interests are hiding,” Jonas Mueller-Töwe commented in an article for t-online.de news, which broke the story and reprinted the offending cartoon.

“This led to discussions both within and outside the SZ editorial offices,” Krach said. “The cartoonist... said he merely wanted to point out that next year’s contest will be held in Israel. But... one can also see it differently, and it could be considered anti-Semitic. Thus it was a mistake to publish it, and we apologize.”

Hanitzsch was criticized in 2016 for another cartoon which used an octopus strangling the earth as a metaphor for U.S. foreign policy. For some critics, the image too closely resembled anti-Semitic illustrations from the Nazi-era propaganda tabloid “Der Sturmer.” Hanitzsch vehemently denied that his intent was anti-Semitic and insisted that the octopus symbol was a reference to “Der Sturmer.”

Man fires red paint balls at Israeli flag flying in downtown Philadelphia

(JTA)—An Israeli flag flying in downtown Philadelphia at the spot where a Holocaust memorial is under construction was sprayed with red paint.

The vandalism, made by a paintball gun with red paint that was found in a nearby trash can, occurred on Tuesday.

Staff members of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia were notified that a man was shooting paint at the flag rushed to the corner of 16th Street and Ben Franklin Parkway and were able to identify the man for police, according to the local ABC affiliate.

The man acknowledged that he was responsible for the vandalism when asked by police. He was taken into police custody.

Police told local media that they do not know why the man attacked the Israeli flag and are not calling it a hate crime. He faces charges of institutional vandalism, according to ABC6.

The attack on the flag came a day after nearly 60 Palestinians protesting near the Gaza border with Israel were killed by Israeli troops. Among the issues they were protesting was the opening on Monday of the American Embassy in Jerusalem.

The flags of hundreds of countries fly along Ben Franklin Parkland. The area next to the Israeli flag is fenced off for the construction of the Philadelphia Holocaust Memorial Plaza and already is the site of the Monument to the Six Million Martyrs, erected in 1964, and the first Holocaust statue established in a United States city, according to the local Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper.

“I’m very upset to learn of the desecration of the Israeli flag that hangs along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. “Hate and anti-Semitism have no place in the City of Philadelphia. While I understand that emotions are running high and there are many viewpoints stemming from recent violence against Palestinians and other protesters in the Gaza Strip, it doesn’t warrant hateful acts of vandalism. Fortunately, due to the swift work of the Philadelphia Police Department as well as concerned residents, a suspect was placed into custody shortly after this incident occurred.”

Suburban Paris synagogue nixes chief rabbi event amid fear of violence over Gaza

(JTA)—Amid fears of anti-Semitic violence at anti-Israel protests in and around Paris, a synagogue of a southern suburb cancelled for undisclosed reasons an event featuring the city’s chief rabbi.

The event planned for Wednesday evening with Rabbi Michel Gugenheim at the Yaguel Yaacov synagogue in Montrouge was postponed abruptly hours before it was scheduled to begin. The Consistoire, French Jewry’s organization responsible for religious services, sent out an email to all of the recipients of its correspondence telling them the event had been postponed indefinitely.

The cancellation comes amid warnings by the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, of an elevated risk for anti-Semitic violence at or around rallies planned for Wednesday over deadly clashes between Israeli forces and protesters near Israel’s border with Gaza on Monday.

Contacted by JTA, a Consistoire spokesperson and the spokesperson of the Jewish community of Montrouge declined to divulge any information regarding the reason for the cancellation.

Other communal events are scheduled to take place as planned, including a lecture by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on Wednesday evening at a hotel in central Paris that is being organized by the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities.

Currently, an anti-Israel protest rally is planned for Wednesday evening at Republique Square, which is located about a mile away from the hotel where the CRIF event is scheduled to take place.

Another rally is being organized in the northern suburb of Stains, by its mayor, Azzedine Taibi.

BNVCA in a statement said that the Stains Jewish community has in recent years been severely depleted because of “insecurity, anti-Semitic violence and Palestine activism” there. It also warned the rallies organized by the mayor may trigger anti-Semitic attacks there and beyond.

In 2014, more than a dozen synagogues in France were targeted with firebombs or gunshots amid a wave of protests throughout Paris over Israel’s attacks on Hamas in Gaza. At the Don Isaac Abravanel Synagogue in Paris, dozens of Jewish men confronted more than 100 Arab men outside the place of worship, where hundreds of congregants were besieged for 20 minutes awaiting arrival of police.

Australia’s first same-sex Jewish wedding

SYDNEY (JTA)—Two men who have been in a relationship for 47 years became the first Jewish same-sex couple to be married in an Australian synagogue.

Australia legalized same-sex marriage five months ago.

At their wedding ceremony earlier this month, Ilan Buchman, 70, and Oscar Shub, 71, stood under a huppah. Sticking to Jewish tradition, each groom circled the other three times and on the seventh revolution they simulated a figure eight. Each man broke a separate glass simultaneously.

Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins, the spiritual leader of Sydney’s Emanuel Synagogue, told JTA: “It was an incredible honor and privilege, on behalf of Emanuel Synagogue, to officiate at the first same-sex ceremony under the legislation.”

Emanuel Synagogue is a pluralist congregation that includes the Masorti, Progressive and Renewal streams of Judaism, which all have advocated for marriage equality in Australia.

“Oscar and I have been partners for 47 years and after 47 years our fondness for each other is as strong as it ever was and hopefully will continue to be so,” Buchman told JTA.

In Shub’s speech at the wedding he said: “Who would have believed in 1971 that I would be standing here tonight married to my partner, my best friend, and the love of my life for the past 47 years. That says it all.”

Buchman told JTA the new legislation is “important and life changing for so many gay people, particularly young people coming to grips with their sexuality, and for their parents to realize that their gay child can live life exactly as everyone else.”

He acknowledged that the legalization of same-sex marriage “took a long time to come.”

Shub added: “I feel that after years of discrimination we have a duty to ease the passage for the young generation of LGBTI people who are coming out to be accepted by their communities.”

A second same-sex wedding is scheduled at the synagogue early next month, to be officiated by Kamins and Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio, who has been a strong advocate of marriage equality in the Jewish community for over a decade.


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