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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Philip Roth won’t be having a Jewish funeral

NEW YORK (JTA)—Philip Roth forbade any Jewish rituals from being performed at his funeral.

The prolific Jewish-American author, who died on Tuesday at the age of 85, will be buried on Monday at the Bard College Cemetery, his biographer, Blake Bailey, told JTA.

Roth had originally looked into being buried next to his parents at the Gomel Chesed Cemetery in Newark, New Jersey, Bailey said in a phone interview on Friday. However, the area surrounding the Jewish burial ground had in recent years become rife with crime, and Roth was unable to find a plot next to his parents, Bailey said.

Instead Roth decided about 10-15 years ago to be buried at the Bard College Cemetery, where he could be near his friend Norman Manea, a Romanian-Jewish author who works as a professor at the college, Bailey said. Roth was also friends with Bard College President Leon Botstein, who is also Jewish.

“He said he wants to be buried near Jews so he has someone to talk to,” Bailey said.

Jewish author and philosopher Hannah Arendt is also buried in the Bard College Cemetery, next to her husband Heinrich Blucher.

Roth “expressly forbade” any religious rituals from being part of his funeral, according to Bailey.

“There was no metaphysical dimension to Philip. He just flatly refused to believe in it. He thought it was fairy tales,” Bailey said.

Though Roth “was bored out of his mind when he had to attend Hebrew school as a boy,” he was happy to be Jewish, Bailey said.

“He liked Jews as human beings. He liked their warmth, he liked his male friends’ filial piety, which he made a lot of fun of too, in ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’ especially,” Bailey said, referencing Roth’s 1969 novel that depicts the therapy sessions of a sexually frustrated Jewish man.

Early in his career, Roth drew outrage from some in the Jewish community who feared his harsh portrayals of Jewish life would stoke anti-Semitism. In more recent years, however, Roth was embraced by American Jews. In 1998 he won the Jewish Book Council’s Lifetime Literary Achievement Award and in 2014, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Conservative Judaism’s flagship educational institution, bestowed him with an honorary doctorate.

“I welcomed the honor,” Roth told a friend after the ceremony, suggesting that for all his aversion to religion he still felt a strong Jewish bond. “Who takes Jews more seriously than the J.T.S., and what writer takes Jews more seriously than I do?”

Britain’s Prince William to make historic visit to Jerusalem in June

(JTA)—Prince William will come to Jerusalem at the end of June, the British royal family said, during the first visit to Israel by a senior British royal.

The announcement Friday about the visit sometime between June 24 and 28 was the first confirmation that William, whose official title is the Duke of Cambridge, will visit the Israeli capital, according to a report by The Associated Press.

The visit to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authorities was announced in March, but it did not contain specific dates or mention Jerusalem. It did say that the prince’s visit “is at the request of Her Majesty’s Government and has been welcomed by the Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian authorities.”

William will also visit Tel Aviv, according to the report Friday.

In Jordan, he will go to Amman and Jerash, and in the Palestinian Authority he will visit Ramallah, the seat of the government in the West Bank

Like most of the world, the United Kingdom does not formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, pending the resolution of peace talks with the Palestinians, whose leaders also claim Jerusalem as the capital for their future state. The British foreign office’s official map of Israel lists no capital, describing both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as an “administrative center.” Unlike the March statement about William’s arrival, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office refers to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as “occupied Palestinian territories,” or OPT.

Earlier this month, the United States, Guatemala and Paraguay moved their embassies to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In December, President Donald Trump made the decision to move the embassy, and the Latin American countries followed suit. The European Union, of which the United Kingdom is a founding member, has condemned the transfer as damaging to peace efforts.

No senior member of the Royal House has visited Israel in their official capacity in what many observers believe is a policy adopted following the Zionist movements’ use of violence against British nationals when the United Kingdom ruled the Mandate on Palestine—an area comprising modern-day Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

Whereas members of the British royal family, including Queen Elizabeth, have made state visits to Kenya and other countries where acts perceived as terrorism were committed against Britain and its citizens by anti-colonialist combatants, they have stayed away from Israel in their official capacity since the country was established in 1948.

In March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said in a statement: “We welcome the announcement on the arrival of Prince William to Israel. This is a historic visit, the first of its kind, and it will be greeted here with great affection.”

Harvey Weinstein turns himself in to face rape charges

(JTA)—Harvey Weinstein turned himself in to police custody in New York on rape and sexual abuse charges.

The disgraced movie mogul, who is Jewish, surrendered in Manhattan on Friday on charges that he raped one woman and forced another to perform oral sex on him, the officials told The New York Times on Thursday.

The charges follow an avalanche of accusations against him that following their publication in October led women around the world, some famous and many who are not, to come forward with accounts of being sexually harassed and assaulted by powerful men.

Weinstein, who has denied engaging in nonconsensual sex, will be charged with first-degree rape and third-degree rape in one case, and with first-degree criminal sex act in another, law enforcement officials told The Times, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Weinstein is suing to obtain documents and files belonging to The Weinstein Co.—a firm he helped establish but which dismissed him in October following the accounts of his alleged sexual exploitation of women. He said the information in the papers will help clear his name.

The company has declared bankruptcy and its assets have been put on sale.

Eurovision says reports of tensions over Israel serving as contest host are just ‘speculation’

AMSTERDAM (JTA)—Eurovision organizers have dismissed as “speculation” reports of political tensions over Israel’s hosting of the song contest  next year.

The organizers said this week in an email to JTA that they are finalizing the event with Israeli officials.

They declined to explain why on Tuesday, they warned followers of the official Eurovision Twitter account not to book flights to Israel “just yet” and instead “keep an eye out for announcements on our official channels.”

“We have no more to say on the matter at this time,” organizers wrote in the email in response to a question on the unusual move, which they did not make in previous years.

The message touched off reports, which the organizers in the email dismissed as “speculation only,” of disagreements between organizers and Israeli officials over various aspects of the competition, including matters connected to the Israeli-Arab conflict.

“No decision on the location or dates for the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 have been taken,” organizers wrote to JTA. “Work has begun on agreeing the specific logistics for hosting the competition, including where and when it will take place. The final decision will be taken by the host broadcaster in conjunction with the European Broadcasting Union and its members.”

Israel won the 2018 contest on May 19 with the song “Toy” by Netta Barzilai. According to the annual competition’s rules, the winning country hosts the following year’s contest.

Israel has hosted the Eurovision contest twice before in Jerusalem, a city that most countries do not recognize as Israel’s capital. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Eurovision will be hosted in Jerusalem.

The dozens of countries competing in the Eurovision include ones with bloody territorial disputes and alleged occupation, including Azerbaijan and Armenia, Russia and Ukraine and Turkey, Greece and Cyprus (Turkey left the European Broadcasting Union, and the competition, in 2013). The disputes seldom affect Eurovision events programming.

Israeli planes strike Syrian airport manned by Hezbollah, militia says

(JTA)—Hezbollah said that Israeli warplanes struck a military airport in Syria manned by its fighters.

Al-Akhbar, the official newspaper of the Shiite Islamist group, reported Friday that the previous night’s attack near Homs occurred as Syrian anti-aircraft missiles engaged the planes launching missiles at the airport. Israeli aircraft returned fire, according to the report.

Earlier this month, Israel said it struck Iranian rocket launchers in Syria after more than 20 of them were fired toward Israel.

The Al-Akhbar report did not say whether anyone was killed in the strike. It said some missiles exploded at the airport. but did not specify which facilities or areas that were hit. The base is under the control of forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose army has been fighting Sunni rebels since the outbreak of a civil war in 2011 that has claimed 500,000 lives.

Russia in recent years joined the fight on Assad’s side. Iran also supports his regime and provides logistical assistance.

According to the Syrian Center on Human Rights, six missiles were fired at the Edbah Airport, destroying Hezbollah weapons caches. Israel has declined to comment on the strike Thursday.

Hezbollah overtook the area from Sunni rebels in 2013.

Top Democrats want to know why Israeli firm was hired to spy on Obama officials

WASHINGTON (JTA)—The top Democrats on the House Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees want an Israeli spy firm to share data on its alleged campaign against Obama administration officials associated with the Iran nuclear deal.

“We are writing to request documents relating to reports that Black Cube conducted a ‘dirty ops’ campaign against former Obama Administration officials Ben Rhodes and Colin Kahl at the behest of associates of President Donald Trump,” said the letter sent Thursday by Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., his counterpart on Foreign Affairs. “If these reports are accurate, they raise grave questions about how and why a foreign entity was engaged to attempt to secretly influence the foreign policy of the United States.”

The letter was mostly symbolic: As the minority, Democrats do not have subpoena powers, and even with such powers, congressional authority over a foreign entity would be limited.

Black Cube, a company also alleged to have tracked alleged victims of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was arrested Friday on rape charges, does not comment on its cases. At the time of the revelations that it was behind spying on Rhodes and Kahl, the firm said “It is Black Cube’s policy to never discuss its clients with any third party, and to never confirm or deny any speculation made with regard to the company’s work.”

Separately, a spokesman told The New York Times that “Black Cube has no relation whatsoever to the Trump administration, to Trump aides, to anyone close to the administration or to the Iran nuclear deal.”

The Guardian first reported that Trump administration officials were behind the operation to dig up negative information about Kahl and Rhodes, who were among dozens of Obama administration officials who helped shape the Iran deal, which swapped sanctions relief for a rollback in Iran’s nuclear program. According to that reporting, the operation supposedly was a bid to help justify Trump’s decision this month to pull out of the deal.

Other reporting said Black Cube was hired by an entity with commercial interests in quashing the Iran deal.

Cummings and Engel, both notably pro-Israel, said they were not taking on face value Black Cube’s claim that it has no ties to the Trump administration.

“Your firm has denied these reports only in the broadest terms, stating—in the present tense—that ‘Black Cube has no relation whatsoever to the Trump administration, to Trump aides, to anyone close to the administration, or to the Iran nuclear deal,’” they wrote. “You have not denied the operation itself, you have not explained who was aware of it, and you have not identified the clients who funded it.”

White powder sent to Manhattan lawyer who insulted Spanish speakers

(JTA)—A lawyer who was filmed berating employees of a New York City eatery for speaking Spanish received a letter with suspicious white powder, police said.

Aaron Schlossberg and another person were exposed to the unknown substance at the lawyer’s office in Midtown Manhattan at about 4 p.m. Thursday. Police say the two were being evaluated, NBC reported, citing police sources. Police were testing the substance to see if it is noxious.

Last week, Schlossberg became incensed at hearing workers speak Spanish in a Manhattan restaurant. In the rant caught on video and reported on national news outlets, he threatened to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement to have the workers kicked out of the country.

Critics hired a mariachi band to play outside his apartment and demanded he be disbarred.

Schlossberg, who is Jewish, later apologized for the incident, saying it was “unacceptable.”


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