Weekly roundup of world briefs
May 31, 2019
Most of Congress urges Trump: Safeguard Israel’s interests with Syrian civil war ending
By Ron Kampeas
WASHINGTON (JTA)—Nearly 400 members of Congress signed a bipartisan letter to President Donald Trump calling on him to safeguard Israel’s interests with Syria’s civil war coming to an end.
The letter sent Monday from members of the House of Representatives and the Senate urged Trump to ensure that Israel has the support and materiel to maintain its qualitative military edge in the region.
It also wants economic and diplomatic pressure on Russia and Iran to retreat from their support for the Assad regime, and intensifying sanctions on Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist militia that is Iran’s ally.
“With the region in flux, it remains critical that we reiterate to both friend and foe in the region that we continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself,” it said.
The letter was spearheaded by the top foreign policy lawmakers in each chamber: Reps. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, its ranking Republican; and Sens. James Risch, R-Idaho, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., its ranking Democrat.
The House and Senate combined have a total of 535 lawmakers.
Al Jazeera suspends 2 journalists for video questioning Holocaust
By Josefin Dolsten
(JTA)—The Al Jazeera Media Network has suspended two journalists for making a video in which they said the Holocaust is “different from how the Jews tell it.”
On Sunday, the Qatar-based network distanced itself from the Arabic-language video posted a day prior on AJ+, an online channel owned by the media conglomerate.
The network “completely disowns the offensive content in question,” said Yaser Bishr, executive director of Al Jazeera’s digital division, according to the news network.
The staff would undergo bias and sensitivity training, Bishr said in an email to employees.
In the since-deleted video, reporter Muna Hawa said that the “statistics were inflated by the Zionist movement to help them establish Israel,” according to Haaretz. Hawa also said the Holocaust is “different from how the Jews tell it,” and that the Jews “exploited” the genocide to receive money from Germany.
The managing director of AJ+, Dima Khatib, said the video had been produced without proper supervision and there would be a review of how content is edited.
An American-Israeli soldier died by suicide
By Ben Sales
(JTA)—A 19-year-old American woman serving as a combat soldier in the Israeli army died by suicide last week.
Michaela Levit, 19, is the third Israeli “lone soldier” to die by suicide this year. Lone soldiers are largely expatriates who serve in the Israel Defense Forces while their parents live overseas.
Levit, whose parents reside in Miami, moved to Israel in 2017 and served in a mixed-gender combat battalion.
An Israeli relative, Shlomit Levy Tsamir, wrote on Facebook that Levit was “full of motivation and excitement, she wanted to serve in a combat unit as a fighter and commander, and quickly became an outstanding soldier in Caracal,” her unit. “Mika was a smiling and strong girl, always ready to help and give of herself, and despite hardship in a stressful military system like the IDF, took everything upon herself with love and by choice.”
Tsamir said Levy left a note saying that she was “dealing with hardships,” according to The Times of Israel, but did not specify what they were.
The Israeli military and soldiers’ advocates denied reports of a “worrying trend” of rising suicide rates among the lone soldiers following two suicides and a deadly drug overdose this year. Advocates, soldiers and army spokespeople have said that over the past decade, there has been a significant improvement in how the military cares for such troops.
Australian comedian who joked about Nazi gas chambers loses ‘lucrative’ Netflix deal
By Marcy Oster
(JTA)—Netflix has dropped an Australian comedian who made jokes about the Holocaust and insulted a Jewish audience member who later complained in an email.
Last month, Isaac Butterfield asked his audience at the Melbourne Comedy Festival to “imagine the joy of people when they heard the Jews were sent to the gas chambers,” the city’s Herald Sun newspaper reported. The email sent to Butterfield from a Jewish woman said the joke was “not remotely funny.”
He responded: “If you can’t stand the heat get out of the oven.”
Butterfield had what the London-based Daily Mail described as “a lucrative comedy special deal” with Netflix to air his comedy stand-up special “The Butterfield Effect.” But the video streaming company canceled the deal following the offensive riposte.
Butterfield has nearly 1 million subscribers on YouTube.
In a video posted April 24 to YouTube, he pretended to apologize for his comments and then walked it back, accusing the mainstream media of “an all-out assault on me.” Butterfield also defended his right to free speech as part of the 16-minute video.
Jewish actor sworn in as president of Ukraine says nation must defend land like Israelis
By Marcy Oster
(JTA)—Volodymyr Zelensky, a Jewish actor and comedian, was sworn in Monday as president of Ukraine and said his nation must defend their land like Israelis.
Zelensky took the oath of office reportedly on a copy of the country’s constitution and a 16th-century manuscript of the New Testament.
“We must become Icelanders in football, Israelis in defending our native land, Japanese in technology,” he said at the swearing-in, the BBC reported.
Zelensky announced at the inauguration that he would dissolve the parliament and call early elections, which had been scheduled for October. In turn, Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, who is Jewish, announced that he would resign.
Zelensky, who on his primetime television show plays a teacher thrust into the presidency through an unlikely chain of events, was elected last month with 73 percent of the vote, defeating incumbent Petro Poroshenko, who had been in power since 2014.
Born in Kryvyi Rih, near Dnipro, to a Jewish family of scientists, Zelensky rarely speaks of his Jewish ancestry in interviews. But unlike some Ukrainian politicians widely believed to have Jewish roots, Zelensky during his campaign neither disputed his Jewish ancestry nor attempted to camouflage it.
Israel’s Supreme Court won’t change route of Jerusalem Day flag march
By Marcy Oster
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s Supreme Court rejected a petition to prevent an annual Jerusalem Day march from passing though the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.
Jerusalem Day, marking the reunification of Jerusalem under Israeli control, falls this year on June 2, which also is among the final days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
During the event, tens of thousands of religious Zionist teens march through the Old City, including the Muslim Quarter, in an event that has frequently caused tension between Jews and Arabs.
The court on Sunday rejected a petition filed by the left-wing Ir Amin organization. The judges noted that police have said it would handle incitement and any subsequent violence by participants in the march and would protect the Arab residents and shopkeepers in the Muslim Quarter.
The court last week rejected a petition calling for a decision to bar Jews and tourists from the Temple Mount on Jerusalem Day to be reversed.
It reportedly will be the first time that the holiest site to Jews will be closed on Jerusalem Day in 30 years.
The site is closed every year on the last days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Madonna uses Eurovision stage for political statement on Israeli-Palestinian conflict
By Marcy Oster
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Pop idol Madonna made a political statement about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on stage at Eurovision in Tel Aviv.
She later was reprimanded by the European Broadcasting Union, or EBU, which produced the event with the host country.
Madonna, 60, played two songs on Saturday night during the international song contest. She performed a slightly off-key version of “Like A Prayer” to mark the 30th anniversary of the hit song’s release, and her newest single “Future” with guest star Quavo.
At the end of “Future,” Madonna sang: “Not everyone is coming to the future/ Not everyone is learning from the past/ Not everyone can come into the future/ Not everyone that’s here is gonna last.” Her dancers, wearing gas masks, began walking up the stairs of her elaborate set two by two. The last two dancers each had a flag hanging on his and her backs—one Israeli flag and one Palestinian flag.
The Palestinian flag also made an appearance during the announcement of the score for the popular vote. After the score for Iceland’s Hatari was announced, the punk band, which has criticized Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and toured Hebron during the competition, displayed banners decorated with the Palestinian flag and the word Palestine.
The EBU issued statements after the incidents. Of the Madonna protest it said: “This element of the performance was not part of the rehearsals that had been cleared with the EBU and the Host Broadcaster, KAN. The Eurovision Song Contest is a non-political event and Madonna had been made aware of this.”
The EBU said it was considering punishing Iceland for the actions of its contestants.
“The Eurovision Song Contest is a non-political event and this directly contradicts the contest rules. The banners were quickly removed and the consequences of this action will be discussed” by the contest’s executive board,” it said in a second statement.
Jewish student union sign vandalized with swastika at Boston-area high school
By Marcy Oster
(JTA)– The Jewish Student Union sign at a Boston-area high school was vandalized with a swastika.
The swastika was discovered Friday at Brookline High School, a public high school in a nearby Boston suburb, the CBS affiliate in Boston reported.
“Anti-Semitic vandalism like this is a scary reminder that our work on fostering an inclusive, caring school community where all feel welcome is both ongoing and challenging,” school headmaster Anthony Meyer wrote in a letter to the Brookline community, according to WHDH News 7. “I feel especially for the leaders of our Jewish Student Union who meet weekly with many students to teach and learn about Judaism, discuss Israel advocacy, create new friendships, and share food. Theirs is important work—not to be marred by a symbol with such a long history of hatred, violence, and terror.”
The swastika was discovered after three suspicious fires were set in two different Boston-area Chabad Jewish centers.
Remains of over 1,000 Holocaust victims uncovered during construction work reburied in Belarus
By Cnaan Liphshiz
(JTA)—Volunteers in Belarus reburied the remains of more than 1,000 Holocaust victims whose bodies were discovered recently during construction work in the city of Brest.
The burial Tuesday was conducted by volunteers from the Zaka Jewish search-and-rescue organization and overseen by a local Chabad rabbi, the news website Jewish.ru reported. The remains were put into several coffins and interred in a Jewish ceremony.
The mass grave was found in February containing human remains belonging to adults and children, as well as clothes, shoes and other personal items.
The local contractor, Pribuzhsky Kwartia, suspended construction on the luxury housing project and called the authorities.
Mayor Alexander Rogachuk said the bones belonged to “victims of ghettos,” meaning Jews imprisoned there by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
The Nazis killed 3 million civilians in Belarus, of whom 800,000 were Jewish.
Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer wins truth award
(JNS)—Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer will be recognized for his public statements in defense of Israel by the American nonprofit organization Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) at a June 2 gala dinner in New York City.
Each year at the gala the organization recognizes an individual who has contributed to speaking truthfully about Israel in the public square with the Emet (“Truth”) Award. Former recipients have included Nobel Prize laureates such as Elie Wiesel, U.S. senators such as Joseph Lieberman, presidents such as Spain’s Jose Maria Aznar and prime ministers such as Canada’s Stephen Harper.
This year’s honoree, Ron Dermer, recently made headlines for his trenchant comments about The New York Times after the paper published an anti-Semitic cartoon.
“The same New York Times that a century ago mostly hid from their readers the Holocaust of the Jewish people has today made its pages a safe space for those who hate the Jewish state,” said Dermer. “Through biased coverage, slanderous columns and anti-Semitic cartoons, its editors shamefully choose week after week to cast the Jewish state as a force for evil.”
“We always try to honor people who represent what CAMERA is about—the spirit of boldly demanding truth from the mainstream media,” said CAMERA chair George Violin. “We have that person this year.”
Dermer was born in Miami Beach, Fla. He earned a degree in finance and management from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and holds a degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford University. He was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post for three years.
In 2004, Dermer co-authored with Natan Sharansky the best-selling book The Case for Democracy, which was translated into numerous languages. From 2005-08, he worked as Israel’s Minister of Economic Affairs in the United States, helping to transform Israel into a global commercial and technological innovator.
His contributions to Israel’s economic thought and direction earned Dermer a place as a senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from 2009-13.
In October 2013, he began serving as Israel’s ambassador to the United States. This position has placed him on the frontlines of defending Israel in the media when global crises have erupted.
World Health Organization passes resolution faulting Israel for Palestinian crisis
(JNS)—The World Health Organization passed a resolution accusing Israel of perpetuating a health crisis in the Palestinian territories.
The tally was 96 in favor, 11 against and 21 abstaining.
Voting against the measure were the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Brazil, Germany, Czech Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary and, of course, Israel.
“The World Health Organization has, yet again, demonstrated the pervasive double standards within the United Nations which single out Israel for condemnation while absolving the Palestinian authorities of any wrongdoing or responsibility in the territories under their control,” said World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder.
“As in the U.N. General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, the Commission on the Status of Women and other bodies, the World Health Organization has debated only one country-specific resolution at this session, despite scores of conflicted regions where the deterioration of health continues to pose an alarming and pressing threat.
“This resolution, which in its very essence is deeply flawed, does not once mention Hamas or its responsibility for the health crisis in the Gaza Strip and barely mentions the role that the Palestinian Authority plays in caring for its residents, placing the blame disproportionately on Israel,” continued Lauder. “It also turns a blind eye to the corruption that abounds within the Palestinian leadership, and the misuse of funds that could and should be devoted to health care and are instead used to reward terrorists for murdering and maiming Israelis.”