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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


August 10, 2018

Northern California Jewish camp cancels final session over forest fires

(JTA)—The final summer session of Camp Tawonga in Northern California has been canceled due to smoke from the Ferguson Forest Fire.

In a letter to parents also posted on social media, the director of the Jewish camp, Jamie Simon, said that “the U.S. Forest Service, the Tuolumne County Health Department and CAL FIRE all recommend that Camp Tawonga remains closed for at least another week due to unhealthy air quality and volatile fire conditions.” She also said the camp property was not in danger.

“Our thoughts are with the thousands of brave men and women still fighting this fire and many others in California,” she wrote.

More than 300 campers from the previous camp session were sent home on July 31 due to the fire and the backfires set to contain the blaze.

About 40 of the campers came from outside the Bay Area and were temporarily hosted by Camp Tawonga families. The campers are receiving full refunds, according to J. The Jewish News of Northern California.

“In Tawonga’s 93-year history, we have never before had to cancel a session, and we want to do everything we can to support our Tawonga families during this time,” read the email sent to parents, according to J.

The last blaze to impact Tawonga was the Rim Fire in August 2013, which covered 250,000 acres and reached the grounds of the camp, where it burned three staff buildings. The Ferguson Fire started in the Sierra National Forest and is burning eight miles south of camp.

The 25-day old fire, which moved over the weekend into Yosemite National Park leasing to the closure of all but one entrance, as of Sunday evening had burned 89,633 acres (140 square miles) and was 38 percent contained. Full containment is estimated by Aug. 15, according to Cal Fire.

Charlotte Rae, who starred as Mrs. Garrett on ‘The Facts of Life,’ dies at 92

(JTA)—Actress Charlotte Rae, who won acclaim playing the housemother Edna Garrett on the sitcom “The Facts of Life,” has died. She was 92.

Rae, who was nominated for Emmy and Tony awards, died Sunday at her home in Los Angeles. She was diagnosed last year with bone cancer; she had survived pancreatic cancer.

Rae first appeared as Mrs. Garrett in a recurring role as a housekeeper on the popular sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes,” and then for seven years on its spinoff, “The Facts of Life,” beginning in 1979. Her Emmy nomination was for the show.

Her career also featured appearances on more than 50 television shows.

Rae worked in theater before her TV career took off, garnering two Tony nominations— in 1966 as best featured actress in a musical in “Pickwick,” and in 1969 for best actress in a play for “Morning, Noon and Night.”

Her last role in a feature film was alongside Meryl Streep in the 2015 movie “Rikki and the Flash.” She also appeared in films such as Woody Allen’s “Bananas” in 1971, “Hair” in 1979 and the Adam Sandler comedy “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” in 2008.

Rae was born Charlotte Rae Lubotsky in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Russian Jewish immigrants. Her mother, Esther, was a childhood friend of the future Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, also a Milwaukee native. Rae reportedly dropped her Jewish-sounding surname on the advice of an unnamed radio personality.

She released her autobiography, “The Facts of My Life,” in 2015, co-written by her son Larry Strauss.

Rae was married for 25 years to composer John Strauss, but divorced in 1976 when he came out as bisexual. Her son Andrew, who was diagnosed with autism, died in his mid-40s of a heart attack in 1999.

She is survived by her son, Larry; three grandchildren; and a sister, Miriam Guten.

Tens of thousands of Druze and their supporters rally against nation-state law

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Tens of thousands of Israel’s Druze community and their supporters rallied in Tel Aviv against the controversial nation-state law.

Israeli media reported that at least 50,000 and up to 90,000 participated in the Druze-led rally on Saturday night in Rabin Square.

Many protesters carried the Druze flag and the Tel Aviv city hall was lit up in the colors of the Druze flag.

“We’re all proud of the democratic and free State of Israel, where human dignity and freedom are the supreme values. We’ve never doubted the Jewish identity of the state. We recognized its Jewish character with full equality for its non-Jewish citizens,” Druze religious leader Sheikh Mowafak Tarif said at the rally.

“No one can teach us what sacrifice is, and no one can preach to us about loyalty and devotion—the military cemeteries are a testament to that. We are determined to fight alongside you for the state’s character and the right to live in it with equality and dignity,” Tarif, who received the honor of lighting a torch at last year’s national Independence Day ceremony, said. “Despite our unconditional loyalty to the state, the state doesn’t see us as equals. The cry of the Druze community is real. They feel justifiably that someone seeks to take their Israeliness away.”

Tarif also said that he sincerely believes that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has had several meetings with Druze leaders since the passage of the law, and who appointed a high-level committee to recommend and implement actions to cement the position of the Druze in Israel society, plans to fix the damage caused by the law.

“We came here to tell the entire Israeli nation, with all of the Israeli people, that this country is for all of us,” retired Brig. Gen. Amal Assad told The Associated Press. “We were born here, we will die here, we love this country, we have defended it, and we will continue to live here together—Jews, Arabs, Druze, Circassians, Bedouins, as equal brothers. We are all Israelis.”

Druze, unlike other Arabs who make Israel their home, are subject to the mandatory draft. Several Druze servicemen in the last week have announced that they would resign from the military due to the passage of the law.

Assad, who spearheaded activity against the nation-state law passed last month, became more well known in Israel last week amid reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abruptly left a meeting with him and other Druze leaders after Assad said that the new law would “lead to apartheid.”

Ahead of the rally, 40 former Israeli diplomats released a statement against the nation-state law, saying that they are “embarrassed” and “pained” by its passage.

“During our years of service for the State of Israel, we could always look world nations in the eye and tell them with an honest heart that Israel, being the only democracy in the Middle East, is indeed a proud Jewish state, but one run in the spirit of Israel’s prophets and upholding equality between its different components, including by maintaining Arabic as an official language alongside Hebrew,” the statement said.

“Being proud of the right we were given to represent the State of Israel, defend it publicly, promote its interests, its security and our government’s policy, and act to advance science, the economy and culture in Israel, we express our protest against the legislation that excludes the minorities among us—Arabs, Muslims, Druze, Christians, Circassians and others,” it also said.

During the rally, opposition leader Tzippy Livni and Avi Gabbay, head of the Labor Party, announced in a statement that they would pass legislation making Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which calls Israel a Jewish and democratic state, the constitution of the country.

Hours after the end of the rally, Netanyahu on Sunday morning at the regular Cabinet meeting addressed again the issue of the nation-state law.

“The State of Israel is the national state of the Jewish people. Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. Individual rights are anchored in many laws including Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. Nobody has harmed – and nobody intends to harm – these individual rights but without the Nation-State Law it will be impossible to ensure for [future] generations the future of Israel as a Jewish national state,” Netanyahu said.

He also said that the “deep bond between the Druze community and our commitment to it are also essential; therefore, today we will establish a special ministerial committee to advance this bond and this commitment and at the same time will appreciate those of all religions and all ethnic communities who serve in the IDF and the security forces.”

Amazon removes racist and anti-Semitic products from site

(JTA)—Amazon removed racist and anti-Semitic products from its site being offered by third-party sellers.

Amazon announced the move in a letter to Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., dated July 31. In mid-July, Ellison in a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos called for the company to stop selling “products that promote hateful and racist ideologies.”

Among the products removed were a Nazi swastika pendant, a Nazi eagle sticker and a cross-burning onesie for baby boys, according to BuzzFeed, which published the letter. Amazon also was offering books by white nationalist printing houses, including on Kindle.

In its letter to Ellison, Amazon said that it prohibits the listing of products that “promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual, or religious intolerance or promotore organizations with such views.”

The company said it had reviewed the products and contents referenced in Ellison’s letter and “removed the listings that were found in violation of our policies and permanently blocked the seller accounts that were in violation of Amazon policy.” Amazon also said it is reviewing seller accounts for potential suspension.

2 American-Jewish activists living in Israel detained at border with Egypt

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Two American-Jewish activists who live and work in Israel were detained by Israeli authorities for more than three hours at Egypt’s border with Israel.

Simone Zimmerman and Abby Kirschbaum were returning from a weekend in the Sinai with friends. They both carry type B1 work visas registered with Israeli nonprofit human rights organizations.

Zimmerman said in a series of tweets that she was questioned by the agents from the Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, and they asked her why she came to Israel to work with Palestinians as opposed to with Jews.

She also told the Israeli media that the security agents asked her about what places she has visited in the West Bank and what she thinks about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Zimmerman, a founding member of the IfNotNow organization, served for a short time as Jewish outreach coordinator for the 2016 presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders. She was fired over a Facebook post in which she used vulgar terms to describe Netanyahu and called him a murderer.

“The scariest part of this wasn’t the fear that they would deport us,” Zimmerman said in a statement. “We had teams of people making calls and advocating for us, ready to raise hell. And the truth is that for Jews in the Jewish state, we still hold a ton of privilege. The scariest part is the horrifying realization of how badly the Israeli government wants to scare Jews away from Palestinians. They are using all tactics to make the cost of knowing & working with Palestinians so risky that we won’t dare to do it at all.

Kirschbaum said: “The level of surveillance and intimidation we experienced tonight was unsettling, but it is a fraction of the lived reality for the Palestinians I know and am proud to work with.”

In July, Israel denied entry to Jewish-American activist Ariel Gold, who is active in the social justice NGO CodePink, because of her work with the BDS movement, despite having a valid student visa.

Also last month, the prominent Jewish philanthropist Meyer Koplow, chair of Brandeis University’s board of trustees and a longtime donor to pro-Israel causes, said he was aggressively questioned by Israeli airport security before leaving the country after going on a Jewish tour of Palestinian areas of the West Bank.

Jeremy Corbyn again acknowledges anti-Semitism in Labour Party, this time in a video

(JTA)—British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn acknowledged that anti-Semitism has surfaced in the party and sincerely apologized for “the hurt that has been caused to many Jewish people.”

Corbyn made the statements in a three-minute video posted on social media on Sunday.

“Anyone who denies this has surfaced in our party is clearly actually wrong and contributing to the problem,” Corbyn said. “I acknowledge there is a real problem of anti-Semitism that Labour is working to overcome.”

“We have been too slow in processing disciplinary cases of, mostly online, anti-Semitic abuse by party members. We’re acting to speed this process up,” Corbyn also said, while pointing out that the number of offenders amounts to only 0.1 percent of the half-million party members, while saying that even one is “too many.”

“Jewish people have been at the heart of our party and our movement throughout history. No one should dismiss the concerns they have expressed about what has been happening in the party,” he said.

The video comes on the heels of a Corbyn op-ed that appeared Friday afternoon on the website of the British daily The Guardian, in which Corbyn said he respects the affinity that many Jews feel for Israel and appealed to critics to resolve differences over his Labour Party’s policy on anti-Semitism that has drawn fire.

Corbyn in his op-ed referred to a new round of consultations he has launched to reconsider Labour’s anti-Semitism definition, which departs from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance one generally recognized by the world community, acknowledging that the party had not fully engaged the Jewish community in the past.

He defended the party’s decision not to use one of the examples - which warns against “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

He said this had “sometimes been used by those wanting to restrict criticism of Israel that is not anti-Semitic.”

The Board of Deputies of British Jewry and Jewish Leadership Council on Saturday night criticized Corbyn for the publishing of his op-ed in the Guardian shortly before the start of Shabbat, which meant that the Jewish community did not have a chance to immediately respond.

The joint statement called the op-ed “ill-timed and ill-conceived” and said: “Once again Mr. Corbyn, of all people, has chosen to lecture Jews on antisemitism.”

Woman’s appointment to an Israeli rabbinic court is seen as a breakthrough

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A woman was appointed to serve as a judicial assistant in an Israeli rabbinic court—one of the most senior positions in the Orthodox-run court system.

The appointment of Shira Ben-Eli was announced Sunday by the rabbinical courts administration and the Civil Service Commission to the Jerusalem District Labor Court. The position involves close contact with the court’s decision-making processes, Haaretz reported.

Nearly two years ago ITIM, an organization that seeks to help Israelis navigate the country’s religious bureaucracy, and the Rackman Center at Bar-Ilan University filed a lawsuit calling for equality in Israel’s rabbinical courts, particularly for non-rabbinic positions.

The lawsuit included a restraining order against the Civil Service Commission and the rabbinical courts administration from hiring judicial assistants as long as they prevented women from obtaining the positions. The requirement that a judicial assistant have rabbinic ordination or qualification as a dayan, a rabbinic judge, ultimately was lifted.

In an announcement, the Civil Service Commission and the rabbinical courts administration said: “The respondents are pleased to inform the court that the committee that examined candidates for two positions of judicial assistant in the rabbinic court chose a female candidate for one of the posts. No candidate, male or female, was chosen for the second position as of yet because no applicant was found with suitable knowledge and experience.”

Rabbi Seth Farber, ITIM’s director, said in a statement to JTA: “This is a great day for women Jewish legal scholars who now have doors opened to them that were unimaginable even five years ago. It is also a great day for Israel, which has demonstrated that extremism can be countered by the forces of democracy and equality.”

Karen Horowitz, legal adviser to the Rackman Center, called the appointment “an important step, but certainly not the last one, in the advancement of women.”


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