Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Weekly roundup of world briefs


April 19, 2019

Israel approves thousands of new West Bank housing units

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A Defense Ministry committee approved plans for the construction of at least 3,659 new housing units in the West Bank.

It is the largest group of West Bank housing units advanced since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017. The Trump administration is expected to roll out an Israel-Palestinian peace plan after the Israeli elections.

Some 73 percent of the units, or 2,656, are in settlements that Israel likely will have to evacuate under a permanent peace agreement, according to Peace Now. Some 1,226 of the homes received final approval for construction.

The Higher Planning Council of the Civil Administration approved the 28 plans last week.

The prime minister and the defense minister must approve the plans; Benjamin Netanyahu currently holds both positions.

“The construction of the settlements only makes it harder to end the occupation and to get to a two states peace agreement and is bad for the Israeli interest to remain a democratic and secured state,” Peace Now said in a statement.

Madonna will perform at Eurovision in Israel

By Josefin Dolsten

(JTA)—Madonna will perform at the Eurovision contest in Israel in May.

The pop icon and Kabbalah devotee will take the stage in Tel Aviv on May 28, the European Broadcasting Union confirmed, according to Haaretz. It will be her fourth time performing in the Jewish state.

Canadian-Israeli businessman Sylvan Adams is shouldering the $1 million cost to bring Madonna to Israel along with a 160-person entourage, Haaretz reported.

Israel is hosting the 2019 contest based on singer Netta Barzilai’s victory in the 2018 competition in Portugal.

Pro-Palestinian activists have called for boycotting the competition. In January, 50 artists, musicians and filmmakers called on the BBC to ask for the music competition to be held in another country, citing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

South Africa downgrades embassy in Israel to liaison office

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA)—South Africa has downgraded its embassy in Israel to a liaison office.

The office, located in Tel Aviv, has “no political mandate, no trade mandate and no development cooperation mandate. It will not be responsible for trade and commercial activities,” South African Foreign Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said last week. “The focus of the Liaison Office would be on consular and the facilitation of people-to-people relations,” Sisulu also said.

In May 2018, South Africa recalled its ambassador, Sisa Ngombane, “until further notice” after Israeli troops killed more than 50 Palestinian protesters and wounded hundreds during protests at the Israel-Gaza border, part of the so-called “Great March of Return.” The violence reached a peak on May 14, 2018 with the dedication of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem,

With the downgrading of the embassy, and thus diplomatic relations with Israel, Ngombane will not be returning to Israel.

The downgrade comes nearly a year after the ruling African National Congress party called for the downgrading of the South African Embassy due to what it said was the “lack of commitment from Israel on Palestine.”

Republican senators introduce resolution favoring protections for Israeli Americans

By Ron Kampeas

LAS VEGAS (JTA)—Three Republican senators introduced a resolution that recognizes Israeli Americans as a class that deserves protections against discrimination.

The resolution, introduced by Sens. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., “affirms that the Israeli-American community has contributed immensely to the society and culture of the United States; and condemns all forms of discrimination that aim to marginalize or disenfranchise members of the Israeli-American community.”

Cramer, a freshman, announced the resolution Saturday at the annual meeting in Las Vegas of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

The resolution is the result of work by the Israeli-American Civic Action Network, a relatively young group that reflects the increased activism of Israeli Americans acting and lobbying independently from the organized Jewish-American community. It plans to lobby senators from both parties to pass the non-binding resolution. Another advocacy group for Israeli Americans, the Israeli-American Council, praised the resolution.

An official of the Civic Action Network said the resolution came about in part because of actions taken by the boycott Israel movement that target Israeli individuals simply because they are Israeli.

The RJC helped Cramer in the last election, running ads against the Democratic incumbent, Heidi Heitkamp. A major funder of the RJC and the Israeli-American Council is Sheldon Adelson; the RJC annual event takes place at Adelson’s Venetian casino resort.

Man arrested in Montana for threatening to attack synagogue and other locations

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—An Albanian national with U.S. citizenship was arrested after he told a federal informant that he wanted to join ISIS and plan a terror attack on one of several possible locations, including a synagogue.

Fabjan Alameti, 21, of New York, was arrested in Montana last week.

Beginning in January, Alameti spoke with a federal informant about fighting with ISIS and plotting an attack in the U.S. against a military facility, recruitment center, government building, “gay club,” or Jewish temple, FBI Special Agent Matthew Duermeier said in a sworn statement filed with the U.S. Magistrate’s Court in Helena, Montana, The Associated Press reported.

He later said he would not carry out an attack in the U.S. because the country had granted him citizenship, the statement also said.

Last month he moved to Montana due to family issues and because it is easier to buy a gun in the state, he told the informant.

After he heard about the attacks on two mosques in New Zealand he was inspired to “attack random people” out of revenge.

Alameti was arrested in Montana on Wednesday for possessing a weapon, an air rifle, while using drugs, in this case marijuana.

He was ordered held for continued judicial proceedings.

Pennsylvania lawmakers remember Pittsburgh synagogue shooting attack

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—Pennsylvania lawmakers held a joint session of the state’s General Assembly to remember the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack.

The memorial on Wednesday came a day after the city’s mayor signed into law new gun control legislation introduced in the aftermath of the Oct. 27 shooting by a white supremacist that killed 11 worshippers.

Lawmakers from the state House of Representatives and Senate were joined by members of the three congregations that met in the Tree of Life synagogue building in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, The Associated Press reported.

April 10 was designated “Stronger Than Hate Day” in Pennsylvania, the hashtag used to support the Jewish community of Pittsburgh after the attack.

“A dark and despicable act inspired thousands to reach out and find ways to lift up their grieving and terrified neighbors,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement before the session.

The gun control legislation has already been challenged in court, with critics saying that state law prohibits municipalities from regulating guns.

Under the legislation, the AR-15 assault-style rifle used by the synagogue gunman would be banned.

Trump: ‘Better chance’ for peace with Netanyahu winning

By Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA)—President Donald Trump congratulated Benjamin Netanyahu on his re-election as Israeli prime minister and said it paved the way for peace in the Middle East.

“I’d like to congratulate Bibi Netanyahu,” was the first thing Trump said Wednesday as he approached a gaggle of reporters on the White House lawn. “It looks like that race has been won by him, it may be a little early, but I’m hearing he won it and won it in good fashion.”

Netanyahu narrowly defeated Benny Gantz, the leader of the new centrist Blue and White party, in the elections held Tuesday. Trump made no secret that he favored Netanyahu in the election. Among other boosts, Trump invited Netanyahu to the White House for a ceremony marking U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

Another Trump administration action seen as favoring Netanyahu was delaying the release of its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, which might include difficult concessions for Israel, until after Israel’s election. Trump appeared ready to push ahead with the peace plan now.

“Everybody said you can’t have peace in the Middle East with Israel and the Palestinians,” the president said. “I think we have a chance. I think we have now a better chance with Bibi having won.”

US bars entry to Omar Barghouti, co-founder of BDS movement, at Israeli airport

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, Omar Barghouti, was denied entry to the United States even before he left Israel.

Barghouti reportedly was traveling on a valid U.S. visa to Washington, D.C., to speak at a series of events hosted by the Arab American Institute when he was stopped by staff at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv. He was told that U.S. immigration officials had ordered the U.S. consul in Tel Aviv to deny him permission to enter the United States, National Public Radio reported.

The only explanation given was that it was an “immigration matter,” according to a statement from the institute.

After his speaking engagements in Washington, at Harvard and New York universities, and at a Philadelphia bookstore, he was planning to attend the wedding of his daughter, who lives in the United States.

The institute said that Barghouti’s difficulties traveling in the past were due to the Israeli government restricting his ability to exit and enter Israel by not renewing his travel document, not by any problems with the U.S. government.

Barghouti joined the first event, titled “A Candid Conversation about the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement,” with journalist and political scientist Peter Beinart via a video call that was live-streamed on social media.

During the panel, Barghouti called for taking Palestinian nonviolent resistance to the “global scene” amid the failure of the international community to uphold Palestinian rights, the Middle East Eye reported.

Barghouti rejects the concept of Israel as a Jewish state as well as a two-state solution, favoring instead one secular state for both Jews and Palestinians. The BDS movement was launched in 2005.

“Omar Barghouti is a leading Palestinian voice on human rights. Omar’s denial of entry into the U.S. is the latest example of the Trump Administration’s disregard for those rights,” Arab American Institute President James Zogby said in a statement. “It is clear this arbitrary political decision is motivated by this administration’s effort to silence Palestinian voices.”

Israel OKs medical school at West Bank university

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The third vote was the charm for a medical school at a West Bank university.

Israel’s Council for Higher Education approved the establishment of the school at Ariel University on Thursday in a 13-5 vote.

In February, the council voted against opening the school after initially approving it in July. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit ordered the second vote after discovering that one of the voting members had a conflict of interest.

The mirror Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria voted in February to approve the school. The two councils have since combined.

The Ariel school is planning an October launch with 70 students. Without government accreditation, its students would not have been able to train at hospitals in Israel.

There are five other medical schools in Israel, an insufficient number to train the number of doctors needed in the country.

Ariel had fought for many years to be considered a full-fledged university, and faced opposition from Israel’s other public universities, which feared splitting government funds more ways, and an increase in calls for academic boycotts of all Israeli professors because of its West Bank location.

American casino magnate and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson donated $20 million to the university in 2017 to expand, including building the medical school that is to be named for him and his wife, Miriam, a physician who was born in Israel. The couple attended the inauguration ceremony for the school in August.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the chairman of the Council for Higher Education, brought the recommendation to the council. He called the vote a “great victory” in a post on Facebook.

“This is a triumph of common sense over narrow interest, and I am proud of it,” Bennett said in a statement.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to make Israel his first official international trip

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—Ron DeSantis will visit Israel in his first foreign trip as Florida governor.

DeSantis also announced Tuesday that he will hold a state Cabinet meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, whose move from Tel Aviv he supported enthusiastically during his gubernatorial campaign, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

DeSantis, who ran for governor touting his pro-Israel credentials, said the May 25-31 trip will “strengthen the ties between Florida and the state of Israel,” the newspaper reported. The delegation will include politicians from both parties along with business, academic and religious leaders.

He announced the trip this week during a visit to Temple Kol Ami Emanu-El in Plantation, in the southern part of the state.

The governor has visited Israel and its historic sites. He brought home water from the Sea of Galilee to baptize his children.

DeSantis said he would work with whoever forms the new government in Israel.

In late January, DeSantis and his Cabinet voted to put Airbnb on Florida’s list of scrutinized companies over its decision in November to remove listings of rooms and homes for rent in West Bank Jewish settlements. Airbnb abandoned the plan earlier this week, prompting a response from the governor on Twitter.

“I am encouraged to hear that @Airbnb will not move forward with its policy that would eliminate the listings of Israeli properties,” he tweeted. “Florida will never support companies that discriminate against Israel.”

He had ordered state employees not to stay at Airbnb homes while traveling on state business.

Conservative rabbinical group appoints Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal as its new head

By Josefin Dolsten

(JTA)—The Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly appointed Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal as its new chief executive.

Blumenthal, the spiritual leader at Shaare Torah in Gaithersburg, Maryland, will start in July, the organization announced Thursday.

He succeeds Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the first woman to serve as chief executive of a major rabbinical organization. She announced in March 2018 that she was stepping down.

Blumenthal, 52, started working at Shaare Torah after being ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1999, when the synagogue was in its startup phase. The congregation now counts 300 families among its members.

In addition to his congregational work, Blumenthal has served on various committees in the Rabbinical Assembly. He helped create a Camp Ramah day camp in Washington, D.C., and the Jewish Millennials Engagement Project, an initiative to reach out to young Jews.

Rabbinical Assembly President Rabbi Debra Newman Kamin praised Blumenthal in a statement, calling him “someone who will make a real impact on our rabbis and our global movement.”

Rabbis Harold Kravitz and Cheryl Peretz, who served as co-chairs of the selection committee, said they “believe Jacob has the ability to look at innovative ways to move forward our movement and its rabbis.”


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