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Weekly roundup of world briefs


$464 million more paid out to victims of Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—Another $464 million has been paid out to victims of Bernie Madoff’s $19 billion Ponzi scheme, bringing the total distributions in the case to more than $12 billion.

The new payout to 880 former Madoff clients began on Friday with checks ranging from $429 to $66 million, Bloomberg reported, citing the office of trustee Irving Picard.

The total distributions equal about two-thirds of each allowed claim, Picard said. Clients who suffered certified losses of as much as $1.49 million will have been paid in full after this 10th distribution, according to the report.

Picard has been working to claw back the fake profits earned by Madoff investors.

Madoff, a Jewish New Yorker, and his investment firm swindled billions of dollars from tens of thousands of investors from the early 1970s until his arrest in 2008.

The uncovering of the Ponzi scheme revealed the tens of billions of dollars in fake profit that victims believed they had earned through Madoff. Many prominent Jewish nonprofits also suffered big losses, with Yeshiva University taking a $140 million hit, Hadassah $90 million and Elie Wiesel’s foundation losing $15 million.

In 2009, Madoff pleaded guilty to 11 federal felonies and is serving a 150-year sentence in a North Carolina federal prison. He also was ordered to forfeit nearly $171 billion.

Egypt’s president will provide synagogues if a Jewish community re-emerges there

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said his government would build synagogues and provide services to the Jewish community if there is a resurgence of the community in his country.

Sisi made the statement last week during a meeting with a U.S. delegation, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The delegation was made up of the Anwar Sadat Congressional Gold Medal Commission, which successfully lobbied to grant the Congressional Gold Medal to the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. President Donald Trump signed the bill to grant the highest civilian award bestowed by Congress in December.

The commission members were in Egypt to invite Sisi to attend the ceremony in the fall, when the medal will be presented to Jehan Sadat, the wife of the leader assassinated in 1981.

The commission was founded and led by Ezra Friedlander, an Orthodox Jewish consultant and lobbyist from New York.

“President Sisi spoke fondly not only of Egypt’s past vibrant Jewish community, but also said that should there be a resurgence of the Jewish community in Egypt, the government will provide every religious necessity required,” Friedlander told The Jerusalem Post. “He basically said that should there be a resurgence of the Jewish community, the government will build synagogues and other related services.”

Before Israel declared independence in 1948, about 75,000 Jews lived Egypt. Only a handful of Jews live in Egypt today.

Trial of former Nazi SS guard, 95, likely over because of his ill health

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—The trial in Germany of a former Nazi SS guard, now 95, likely cannot be restarted after it was suspended due to his ill health.

Johann Rehbogen is accused of being complicit in the mass murders of several hundred prisoners at the Stutthof concentration camp. More than 60,000 people were killed at Stutthof during World War II.

His trial was suspended by the judge in December because Rehbogen was hospitalized with heart and kidney problems.

On Monday, the Muenster state court said it seems unlikely that the trial will be restarted after a doctor determined that he is still unfit to stand trial, The Associated Press reported.

Rehbogen, who uses a wheelchair, was younger than 21 when he worked at the camp between 1942 and 1944 and thus is being tried in a juvenile court in the western German city of Muenster. The trial started in November and only met twice a week on non-consecutive days to accommodate his age and poor health.

Palestinians accused of uprooting trees planted in memory of Jewish terror victim

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—Palestinians are accused of uprooting 50 trees planted in the West Bank in memory of Ori Ansbacher, the 19-year-old woman who was raped and murdered in a forest outside Jerusalem by a Palestinian man.

Jewish settlers who were planting the grove Friday clashed with local Palestinians. The Israeli army intervened to halt the confrontation, Ynet reported.

The settlers said they noticed later that the Palestinians had uprooted the trees, which were planted between the Gush Etzion settlement of Tekoa, where Ansbacher had lived, and the settlement of Nokdim.

Ansbacher’s body was discovered on Feb. 7 outside of the Ein Yael Living Museum, in the Jerusalem forest, where she was working with children for her year of national service.

Arafat Irfaiya, 29, was arrested two days later, and he re-enacted the attack and murder for authorities, according to reports. Forensic evidence found at the scene had tied the Hebron man to the murder.

Left-wing group protests Shabbat speech by ex-Israeli soldier at U of Texas Chabad

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—Members of a Jewish left-wing group protested a speech by a former Israeli soldier who spoke following Shabbat morning services at the Chabad Jewish Center at the University of Texas in Austin.

About a dozen protesters from the Austin chapter of IfNotNow sang protest songs and carried signs reading “Occupation is not moral” and “Moral combat? Moral disaster” as they protested in front of the center on Saturday morning.

Chabad Rabbi Zev Johnson charged in a blog post that the protesters took photos and videos of people entering the Chabad, including his young children, encouraged his children to join their protest, and prevented guests from entering the building. IfNotNow denies his version of events.

IfNotNow in a statement also objected to Chabad characterizing their actions as disrespecting Shabbat.

“We know our actions were only mischaracterized because we spoke out against the Israeli occupation,” the statement said.

“Why is IDF propaganda allowed in our communal spaces, let alone following Shabbat morning services? That is the real outrage here, not a bunch of Jews standing outside the building singing ‘Olam Chesed Yibaneh’ (We Will Build This World with Love),” the group also said in a tweet.

The soldier, Leibel Mangel, an American-born motivational speaker, spoke at lunch following services about visiting Auschwitz with his survivor grandfather, who he said stood up to the SS officer and physician Joseph Mengele during his internment there. He also spoke about his experience of being one of the soldiers to discover the bodies of three Israeli teens kidnapped and killed by Hamas in 2014, according to Johnson. He also led a discussion about morality in combat.

IfNotNow charges that Mangel “uses the Holocaust as a way to justify the occupation. There is no denying the very real trauma that the Holocaust has left on our community; yet, our historical trauma should not be exploited to justify the oppression of Palestinian people.”

Johnson said the protesters “lied about the what was discussed, and exploited our Jewish community for cheap photos on social media.”

Israel ranked 10th healthiest country in the world

By Gabe Friedman

(JTA)—Israel is the 10th healthiest country in the world—54 spots ahead of the United States.

The Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index, published Sunday, ranked 169 nations based on factors such as life expectancy and access to sanitation and medical care. Countries were penalized for tobacco use and obesity, among other health risks.

Unsurprisingly, the Mediterranean diet—common in Israel, as well as Spain and Italy, numbers one and two on the list—was noted in Bloomberg’s analysis.

“Mediterranean diet, supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, had a lower rate of major cardiovascular events than those assigned to a reduced-fat diet,” says a study cited by Bloomberg.

The rest of the top 10, in order, are: Spain, Italy, Iceland, Japan, Switzerland, Sweden, Australia, Singapore and Norway.

The U.S. placed 64th, largely in part to its high obesity rate. Recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control estimate about 40 percent of the country, or over 93 million citizens, are obese.

NYC Health Department urges Orthodox travelers to Israel to vaccinate for measles

(JNS)—The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is urging all Orthodox Jews who plan to make a trip to Israel to vaccinate their children against the measles virus.

An outbreak of measles believed to be caused by an unvaccinated child who contracted the disease in Israel led to 90 confirmed cases in Brooklyn, N.Y., between October and February 2019, a high number attributed to low vaccination rates in the ultra-Orthodox community.

The neighborhoods primarily affected were Borough Park and Williamsburg, which had 40 cases each.

Israel’s measles outbreak led to the death of two people, including an 18 month-old infant in 2018.

Assad meets Khamenei in first Iran visit in eight years

(JNS)—Syrian President Bashar Assad visited Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday in Iran, his first trip to the country since the beginning of the Syrian conflict and genocide eight years ago, according to Syrian state television.

The report displayed footage of the former meeting with the latter and said that the two allies agreed “to continue cooperation at all levels for the interests of the two friendly nations.”

“The Islamic Republic of Iran sees helping Syria’s government and nation as support for the resistance movement [against Israel] and is deeply proud of doing it,” said Khamenei, reported Iranian TV.

Hoyer seeks ‘movement’ as House weighs Senate-passed pro-Israel, anti-BDS bill

By Jackson Richman

(JNS)—U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on Tuesday that he hopes to move along a U.S. Senate bill that passed earlier this month and that, if enacted, would impose fresh sanctions on Syria, boost security cooperation with Israel and Jordan, and allow state and local governments the right to punish state or local contractors from boycotting Israel.

The anti-BDS component of the legislation has divided Democrats.

“[House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman] Elliot Engel and I are talking about it, and hopefully, we’ll move something soon,” Hoyer told JNS after addressing a reception hosted by the Jewish Democratic Council of America, featuring Democratic members of Congress, including freshmen such as Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin.

At the event, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) accused those on the other side of the aisle for making the U.S.-Israel relationship a single-party issue.

“There are people on the Republican side who are trying to make Israel a partisan issue,” he said. “When Israel becomes a partisan issue, it will lose ground.”

“I told [Israeli] Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu that maybe the greatest threat to Israel is the rockets in Iran and in Lebanon that Hezbollah has,” he continued. “But probably the second-greatest threat to Israel is losing the young people. And you losing... the left side of the ledger.”

Ilhan Omar deletes AIPAC tweets called anti-Semitic

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—Rep. Ilhan Omar has deleted tweets that Jewish groups and her congressional colleagues called anti-Semitic.

Omar, D-Minn., came under fire earlier this month for posting successive tweets suggesting that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, pays politicians to be pro-Israel. Democratic and Republican leaders condemned the tweets as echoing anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews, money and power. The allegation is also false, as AIPAC does not donate to candidates or endorse them.

The freshman lawmaker apologized for the tweets a day later.

Twitter users began to notice on Sunday that the tweets had been removed, USA Today first reported. There was no explanation of why the tweets were removed.

“Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar is deleting her anti-Semitic tweets. But deleting tweets doesn’t change that she still supports the anti-Semitic BDS movement to boycott and delegitimize Israel,” Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, tweeted Monday.

Pittsburgh Presbyterian seminary’s racial justice summit includes anti-Israel presentations

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—Speakers at a summit on racial justice in Pittsburgh used anti-Semitic tropes and bashed Israel.

The Racial Justice Summit was held at the end of January at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, a graduate theological school of the Presbyterian Church, the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle reported. The summit has included anti-Israel presentations at least since 2017, according to the newspaper.

Among the accusations at this year’s summit were that Israel was founded by “a political movement that was conceived by wealthy Jewish businessmen in Eastern Europe,” that Zionism is an “anti-Semitic lie,” and that there was no Jewish connection to the land of Israel.

Laura Horowitz, a Pittsburgh Jewish woman who attended the summit, wrote on Facebook, according to the Chronicle, that she was “angry” that “a roomful of people sat there and watched this Jew hating go on without saying a word.”

In a letter to the Chronicle, the seminary wrote that it was “saddened that this perception (that it facilitates anti-Israel sentiment) persists.”

“The Seminary community recognizes that if we are going to be one Pittsburgh, everyone must listen and everyone must be heard. We aspire to model the kind of dialogue we want our students to have when divergent political and theological viewpoints arise. In this time in our country, respectful disagreement is especially urgent. Love of neighbor does not always mean agreeing; but it does require honoring others’ humanity,” it wrote.

The seminary also wrote that it “unequivocally rejects all forms of hate speech, racism and egregious activities that will harm others in any way.”

Democratic presidential prospect says far-right party in Israeli government ‘can’t be good’ for US-Israel ties

By Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat who is a prospective candidate for his party’s presidential nomination, said the inclusion of a far-right political party in Israel’s government would likely adversely affect Israel’s relationship with the United States.

“The ascendance of the far right is always a concern to a lot of us,” Brown told JTA on Tuesday at a reception organized by the Jewish Democratic Council of America when asked about a deal that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brokered to bring together the Jewish Power, or Otzma Yehudit, and Jewish Home parties in an attempt to shore up his right-wing bloc.

“When I look at their past, it’s a troubling situation,” Brown said of Jewish Power, which has its roots in the racist teachings of the assassinated Israeli-American rabbi Meir Kahane.

“I’ll see how it plays out, but it can’t be good for our relationship. It’s his call what he does,” Brown said of Netanyahu, “but I don’t like that he’s doing it.”

Brown has yet to announce but has toured early nominating states.

Last week, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who is a declared presidential candidate, denounced Jewish Power without mentioning Netanyahu.

Israeli fires on Hamas targets after incendiary balloon damages home

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The Israel Defense Forces struck several Hamas targets in Gaza in response to explosive balloons sent from Gaza that damaged a home in southern Israel.

The home was damaged on Wednesday when a bunch of balloons carrying an explosive device blew up in the air next to the house.

Palestinians in Gaza last year began sending balloons and kites carrying incendiary devices into Israel, damaging thousands of acres of farmland and woodland. They stopped at the end of 2018, but began again earlier this month, sparking more fires and damaging property, along with an uptick in Palestinians protesting at the border between Israel and Gaza.

Several Hamas posts in southern Gaza were hit, according to reports.


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