Weekly roundup of world briefs


Israeli rhythmic gymnast Linoy Ashram takes 2 gold medals at 2019 European Games

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—Israeli rhythmic gymnast Linoy Ashram won two gold medals at the 2019 European Games in Minsk, Belarus.

She won gold medals in the Ball event and Clubs event, both held on Sunday. She also won a silver medal during competition on Saturday.

Arsham, 20, of Tel Aviv, is looking toward representing Israel and winning a medal at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Americans in Israel warned over planned demonstrations against US and Bahrain summit

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The U.S. Embassy in Israel issued a travel warning over concerns about anti-American demonstrations planned in the West Bank and Gaza in response to the economic summit in Bahrain.

The warning issued over the weekend, and emailed to Israeli-American residents and American tourists in Israel who are registered with the embassy, also warned of possible demonstrations in other locations in the West Bank, Gaza and in Israel.

The demonstrations are expected to take place June 24-26, the dates of the summit, which is being boycotted by the Palestinian Authority.

U.S. government employees are prohibited from official and personal travel to the West Bank on those days, including travel along Route 1, the main thoroughfare into Jerusalem, according to the warning.

“Previous demonstrations have sometimes encountered a strong security force presence and response,” the warning noted.

The warning called on Americans in Israel and the West Bank to: be aware of your surroundings; avoid all demonstrations; monitor local media; and follow the instructions of local authorities.

Palestinians have been holding weekly and sometimes more frequent demonstrations for more than a year on the border with Gaza.

City of Havana restoring oldest Jewish cemetery in Cuba

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—The oldest Jewish cemetery in Cuba is undergoing rehabilitation.

The Havana burial ground is being restored as part of an initiative by the city historian’s office ahead of the 500th anniversary of the Cuban capital’s founding, which will be marked in November, The Associated Press reported.

In addition to the cemetery, located in the Guanabacoa neighborhood on Havana’s east side, the city is repaving streets, cleaning monuments and restoring historic sites.

The cemetery has deteriorated over many years, as the Jewish community was unable to raise the $200,000 needed to refurbish the entire ground. Jews in the United States have contributed to the upkeep of some burial plots, according to the report, citing David Prinstein, vice president of the Hebrew Board of Cuba.

There are about 1,100 grave sites in the cemetery, according to the report. Fifty have been repaired and 150 more are scheduled for repairs before the end of the year. The room used for tahara, the ritual washing of the body according to Jewish burial rites, also has been refurbished.

The historian’s office did not tell AP the total amount that will be spent on the restoration.

Israel halts fuel transfers to Gaza with arson balloon attacks on the rise

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel halted the transfer of fuel into Gaza following a rise in arson attacks from incendiary balloons that have burned farmland and woodland in southern Israel.

The announcement on Tuesday came after 13 fires were ignited in Gaza border communities the previous morning. One of the incendiary balloons landed on a kindergarten building, according to reports, but did not cause any injuries.

Eight fires were ignited over two hours on Tuesday afternoon alone in the wake of the announcement, Ynet reported.

The fuel is used to power Gaza’s only electric plant. In recent weeks, in response to the arson balloons, Israel placed restrictions on the Gaza fishing zone.

“In the wake of the uptick of incendiary balloons from Gaza into Israel and arsons in the Gaza border area, it has been decided to stop transfers of fuel to the Gaza power station via the Kerem Shalom crossing beginning this morning,” COGAT, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, said in a statement.

Charges dropped against Palestinian accused of raping 7-year-old Jewish girl

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Rape charges have been dropped against a Palestinian man who worked at the West Bank Jewish settlement elementary school of his accuser.

The indictment against Mahmoud Katusa was withdrawn Tuesday by the Israel Defense Forces military advocate general due to a lack of evidence.

Katusa, 46, was indicted eight days ago in a West Bank military court for rape, assault and abduction of a 7-year-old girl. He reportedly worked for many years in the haredi Orthodox Jewish settlement where the girl lives, both at the school as a maintenance man and in construction. His attorney has said that he has an alibi for the time that the alleged rape took place from a Jewish employer, and later the exact date could not be pinned down.

“The evidentiary infrastructure that underlies the indictment does not at this time amount to a ‘reasonable chance of conviction.’ Therefore, by law, the criminal process cannot continue, the indictment must be withdrawn and Katusa released from custody,” military prosecutor Sharon Afek said in a statement.

Katusa, a resident of the village of Deir Qaddis, was scheduled to be released Tuesday afternoon from jail, where he has been held for the last two months.

Last week, police reopened the investigation into the case, saying new information had come to light following the original three-month probe.

According to Israeli media reports, no physical evidence has been discovered to tie Katusa to the attack. The girl was not examined by a doctor until at least five days after the incident, and a pair of underwear that the girl wore on the day of the alleged attack was not sent for forensic testing, according to reports. Police also had not been able to locate two other men that the girl said held her down during the assault.

Russia insists it will counter new US sanctions on Iran

(JNS)—Russia is going to counter new sanctions put on Iran by the Trump administration, said Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov to reporters on Monday.

“Of course, we are discussing the U.S. policies of this kind. We have pointed to the illegitimacy of unilateral sanctions many times,” said Ryabkov as quoted by the Russian News Agency TASS.

“All this is a reflection of a wider paradigm, which now seems to be the basis for the U.S. foreign policy, and is aimed at substituting the international law and universal mechanisms of international problem-resolution with its national legislation and unilateral steps,” added the Russian official.

“This is a pure dictate, an attempt to impose the conditions Washington deems right on others,” he stated. “This is unacceptable for us. We will continue to counter this policy, particularly in cooperation with other forces in the international community.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Monday that Tehran would resist sanctions “with full power,” according to Iran’s Tasnim News Agency.

Members of Iran’s parliament voiced their support for the shooting down of a U.S. drone last week and chanted on Sunday, “Down with the U.S.,” Iran’s Fars News Agency reported. Some 250 members of Iran’s parliament issued a statement on Sunday voicing full support for Iran’s action.

Poll: ‘Honor killing’ more acceptable in Arab world than homosexuality

(JNS)—According to a new in-depth survey of the Arab world, Arabs today are less religious compared to previous years, but still find “honor killings” more acceptable than homosexuality.

The poll also found that the greatest perceived threat is Israel.

The survey, conducted for BBC News Arabic by the Arab Barometer research network across 10 countries and the Palestinian territories between late 2018 and spring 2019, consisted of more than 25,000 interviews.

Honor killings were considered acceptable by 27 percent of Algerians, while 26 percent found homosexuality acceptable. In Morocco, it was 25 percent for honor killings and 21 percent for homosexuality, while in the Palestinian territories it was 8 percent for honor killings and 5 percent for homosexuality.

On religion, since 2013, the number of Arabs identifying as “not religious” rose from 8 percent to 13 percent. Those under 30 showed the greatest increase, with 18 percent identifying as non-religious.

A majority were found to be accepting of a woman prime minister, with the exception being Algeria. But in the home, most said that husbands should always have the final say in family decisions, with the exception being Morocco, where less than half said so.

Only 12 percent viewed U.S. President Donald Trump positively, with Russian President Vladimir Putin garnering 28 percent and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan getting 51 percent.

The BBC noted that some countries asked that some of the questions be dropped from the survey.

Nintendo opens second retail store in world in Tel Aviv

(JNS)—Nintendo opened its second retail store in the world on Monday—this one in Israel—14 years since opening its first in New York.

The opening at Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center occurred a few months after an official online store launched in Israel.

Tokyo is scheduled to open Nintendo’s third store later this year.

Netanyahu considers canceling Israel’s second round of elections on Sept. 17

(JNS)—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering canceling the Sept. 17 elections, his spokesperson said on Tuesday.

This development came after Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein sought a “substantial” initiative to nix the upcoming national decision through Knesset legislation, reported Israel’s Channel 12.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu treats Knesset Speaker Edelstein with respect, and he will consider his proposal in the days ahead,” said Netanyahu spokesperson Yonathan Urich.

“The public does not want to go to elections, and the Knesset’s job is to represent the public,” said Edelstein. “Going to an election when it could be canceled is going against the public.”

Israel’s KAN reported that prior to the Knesset dissolving last month, Netanyahu proposed a rotation to Blue and White leader Benny Gantz in the prime minister’s office if his party joins the coalition.

Blue and White rejected the offer, confident that it will win the next round of voting.

“Netanyahu understands that he will lose the election, so he is looking for magic solutions,” said a Blue and White spokesperson.

Canada adopts universal definition of anti-Semitism

(JNS)—Canada’s government announced on Tuesday that it will formally adopt the widely accepted definition of anti-Semitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance as part of the country’s anti-racism initiative.

“To help address resurgent anti-Semitism in Canada, we’re adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism as part of our strategy,” said Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism.

Canada joined the IHRA is 2009 and is one of 32 member states.

The IHRA definition says: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Jewish groups applauded Rodriguez’s announcement.

“Peddlers of anti-Semitism must be held accountable, but this can only happen if authorities can clearly and consistently identify acts of Jew-hatred,” said Joel Reitman, co-chair of the board of directors at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

“This is why CIJA has been calling on all three levels of government to use the (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism,” he continued. “The IHRA definition, which has been adopted by dozens of democratic countries, is a vital tool in countering the global rise in anti-Semitism.”

“Canada adopting IHRA’s definition of antisemitism is an important symbolic and declaratory move,” said NGO Monitor founder and president Gerald Steinberg. “We hope that the next steps will pertain to its implementation within Canadian policy, including regarding Canadian international aid and support of NGOs.”

B’nai Brith Canada labeled the IHRA standard “the most universally accepted and expertly driven definition of anti-Semitism available today,” and one that “enjoys unprecedented consensus.”

Some 392,000 Jews reside in Canada, or 1 percent of the overall population.

Overall, 2,041 anti-Semitic incidents in Canada were reported in 2018—a 16.5 percent increase from the previous year, according to B’nai Brith Canada.

Incidents of vandalism decreased from 327 to 221, as violent anti-Semitic attacks also dropped, from 16 in 2017 to 11 in 2018.

‘Beresheet 2’ won’t attempt moon landing, SpaceIL searches for new challenge

(JNS)—Proceeding a lengthy debate, Israel’s SpaceIL announced on Tuesday that it will not make a second attempt to successfully land on the moon.

“The journey of ‘Beresheet’ to the moon, despite the hard landing, will last in the memory of Israel and the world as a successful one, a breakthrough, and very significant for future human journeys to the moon,” SpaceIL said in a statement. “Feedback that we received from across the world in the weeks following the landing points towards the mission being considered an extraordinary success and breaking many world records.”

The company said it would seek a new challenge.

Israel nearly became the fourth country, following the United States, China and Russia, to successfully land a craft on the moon as “Beresheet,” save for a last-minute issue with its main engine just before touchdown in mid-April that caused it to crash into the lunar surface.

“Beresheet,” named after the first word and the first book in the Torah (meaning “in the beginning”), lifted off from Cape Canaveral on Feb. 22 and almost completed its 6.5 million-kilometer journey to the moon. It succeeded in entering the moon’s orbit, which is an accomplishment achieved by only seven countries.

Immediately after the result, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel will make another attempt, likely in the next two to three years. SpaceIL chairman Morris Kahn said shortly thereafter that there will be a second attempt. That will now not be the case.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told JNS last month that the agency will “100 percent” be part of “Beresheet 2.”

NASA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday’s SpaceIL announcement.

Kushner in Bahrain on Middle East: ‘Turn region from conflict to commerce’

(JNS)—White House senior adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner said on Tuesday that while a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is necessary, economic conditions are crucial to solve the seven-decade long issue, remarking “today is not about the political issues. We will get to those at the right time.”

“What we have developed is the most comprehensive economic plan ever created specifically for the Palestinians and the broader Middle East,” he said at the “Peace to Prosperity Workshop” in Bahrain, the first part of the Trump administration’s Mideast peace proposal. “We can turn this region from a victim of past conflicts into a model for commerce and advancement throughout the world.”

Additionally, Kushner had a message for the Palestinian people: “Despite what those who have let you down in the past say, President [Donald] Trump and America have not given up on you. This workshop is for you.”

Ahead of the workshop, which concluded on Wednesday, the Trump administration released a 40-page document on Saturday detailing a $50 billion, 10-year investment plan for the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon.


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