Weekly roundup of world briefs
November 8, 2019
US marks 25 years of peace treaty between Jordan and Israel
By Marcy Oster
(JTA)—The United States marked the 25th anniversary of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan.
“Today marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Peace between the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the State of Israel, an agreement that began a tradition of peaceful and respectful cooperation that continues today,” read the statement signed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and dated Saturday.
“We take this opportunity to praise the enduring efforts of our two allies and friends to find common ground and build a productive and stable relationship for the mutual benefit of the Jordanian and Israeli people,” the statement also said.
The quiet border is considered a cold peace by both Israel and Jordan. There is little public support in Jordan for the agreement, the Associated Press reported. Jordan is upset at the lack of progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, as well as what it perceives as a change in status quo on issues relating to the Temple Mount and other holy sites that its religious Wakf oversees.
Seattle Holocaust center vandalized with white supremacist graffiti
By Marcy Oster
(JTA)—The Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle was vandalized with what it said was white supremacist graffiti.
The graffiti was discovered on Wednesday, the center said in a letter released the following day.
The spray-painted graffiti, described as “obscure white supremacist symbols,” was discovered as a teachers’ seminar was taking place, the center said. “(I)t became a teachable moment, driving home the importance and relevance of our work. It is not a history lesson—similar violations are happening every day around the world,” the letter said.
It is the first time in its 30-year history that the building has been targeted, local news station KIRO Channel 7 reported.
The Seattle Police Bias Unit is investigating.
Connecticut synagogue evacuated after receiving 2 bomb threats
By Josefin Dolsten
(JTA)—A synagogue in Connecticut has been evacuated after it received two bomb threats.
Congregation B’nai Israel, a Reform congregation in Bridgeport, was evacuated on Friday while police investigated the threats, the city’s police said on Twitter.
The police department said all had been evacuated safely.
Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, in which a gunman killed 11 people.
The American Jewish Committee is organizing a campaign urging people to attend synagogue this Shabbat to show solidarity with Jews in light of the anniversary. The group said that the Bridgeport synagogue had signed up to participate in the campaign.
Brandeis acquires archives of Jewish group that supported Soviet Jews
By Penny Schwartz
BOSTON (JTA)—Brandeis University has acquired the archives of a Jewish women’s group that supported Jews in the former Soviet Union.
Project Kesher made the donation public on Wednesday at a conference at the university library in Waltham, Massachusetts. The event brought together activists involved in the group’s early years.
Founded in 1989, Project Kesher aimed to help Jews who did not emigrate, but chose to remain in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. Today, the New York City-based nonprofit supports grassroots organizations that foster Jewish identity and education by empowering women to be active in Jewish and civic life. Many of its programs address gender equality, health and domestic violence.
The archives consist of some 38 linear feet of material, including reports from the group’s early years, published articles, and the personal handwritten travel notebooks of its founder, Sallie E. Gratch. Of particular note is material from the International Conference of Jewish Women held in Kiev in 1994.
“The material documents the important work and vision of these organizations,” Sarah Shoemaker, Brandeis’ associate university librarian for archives and special collections, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
The Project Kesher archive adds to Brandeis’s growing collection of Jewish feminist records, including material from Lilith Magazine and the personal archive of Israeli-American feminist leader Marcia Freedman.
Florida Sheriff Scott Israel loses job over Parkland shooting response
By Josefin Dolsten
(JTA)—Florida’s State Senate voted to oust Scott Israel, who was suspended as the sheriff of Broward County in the aftermath of his office’s response to the Parkland school shooting.
On Wednesday, the state lawmakers voted 25-15 to remove Israel from his post.
Gov. Ron DeSantis had said on the campaign trail that Israel should be suspended for how he and his office handled the February 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which killed 17 students and teachers.
A state commission that investigated the shooting found that Israel’s officers ignored protocol during the attack, which was perpetrated by a lone gunman. His office also is said to have not responded appropriately to calls expressing concerns about the shooter, a former student at the school, prior to the attack.
But an investigator for the State Senate concluded that Israel should be reinstated to his position, according to The New York Times.
Israel criticized the Wednesday vote.
“From 450 miles away, the governor substituted his judgment for yours and installed his own sheriff in Broward County,” he said in a statement.
Israel, the county’s first Jewish sheriff, has acknowledged there were mistakes in his office’s response to the Parkland shooting. In March, he filed a lawsuit to try to get his job back. He plans to run for reelection as sheriff in 2020.
George Soros calls Elizabeth Warren Democratic candidate ‘most qualified to be president’
By Cnaan Liphshiz
(JTA)—George Soros, an American-Jewish billionaire and major donor to the Democratic Party, said in an interview that Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is “the most qualified to be president.”
Warren, who is in the top tier of polls for the Democratic presidential nomination, has “emerged as the clear-cut person to beat,” Soros said in an interview with The New York Times published Friday.
“I don’t take a public stance, but I do believe that she is the most qualified to be president,” he said.
“I’m not endorsing anybody because I want to work with whoever,” he added. “I don’t express my views generally because I have to live with whoever the electorate chooses.”
Soros, a favorite target of President Donald Trump and his supporters, also expressed confidence that his own liberal worldview will win out over Trump’s brand of nationalism. He predicted that Trump will lose the 2020 election.
Criticism of Soros has also at times been accused of verging into anti-Semitism.
“[Trump] is an aberration, and he is clearly putting his personal interests ahead of the national interests,” Soros said. “I think it will contribute to his demise next year. So I am slightly predicting that things will turn around.”
Copy of Hebrew Bible created in Spain by Jews returns there after centuries
By Cnaan Liphshiz
(JTA)—One of the world’s oldest, most ornate and most expensive copies of the Hebrew Bible has returned from Britain to northern Spain, where it was created centuries ago.
The Kennicott Bible, which has over 900 pages and was created in 1476, will go on display in the city of Santiago de Compostela, a Christian pilgrimage site in northern Spain, on April 12 next year, the local government of the Spanish region of Galicia announced in a statement last week.
It turned up in Oxford, England in 1771. How it got there remains unknown, though it had been taken to Portugal and then North Africa before disappearing for about 300 years.
Many Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition, a Church and state-led campaign of persecution that began in 1492, smuggled out with them books and artifacts that would have been censored or destroyed on the Iberian Peninsula.
The Kennicott Bible, as it became known in the United Kingdom, was written by Moisés Ibn Zabara and illustrated by Joseph Ibn Hayyim for Isaac di Braga, an influential Jewish businessman from Galicia, the northern Spanish region whose capital is Santiago de Compostela.
Oxford University, which owns the copy, agreed to lend it to the Museo Centro Gaiás in Santiago for an exhibition titled “Galicia, a story of the world.”
The book is worth millions of dollars.
The oldest known compete copy of the Hebrew Bible is the Leningrad Codex, dated to the first decade of the 11th century.
Top EU official welcomes Czech resolution that calls Israel boycott anti-Semitism
By Cnaan Liphshiz
(JTA)—In an unusual move, a top European Union official celebrated the Czech parliament’s passing of a resolution that lists the campaign to boycott Israel among forms of anti-Semitism.
The European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Vera Jourová, who is Czech, on Wednesday wrote on Twitter: “I welcome that @snemovna passed a resolution condemning all forms of #Antisemitism directed against individuals and religious institutions, including the denial of Holocaust.”
The German parliament and judiciaries and legislatures of several other countries have called the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel anti-Semitic or otherwise discriminatory. But the European Union has not, due to differences of opinion on the issue among its member states.
Jourová did not mention Israel but the Jewish state is mentioned in five out of seven clauses of the non-binding resolution she welcomed, passed on Tuesday by the Poslanecká Snemovna, the lower house of the Czech parliament.
Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Commission’s coordinator on combating anti-Semitism, underlined on Twitter the language of the Czech resolution, which differs in its focus on Israel from many other resolutions about anti-Semitism.
In the first three clauses, the Czech parliament “strongly condemns all manifestations of anti-Semitism directed against individuals, religious institutions, organizations as well as the State of Israel, including the denial of the Holocaust; rejects any questioning of the State of Israel’s right of existence and defense” and “condemns all activities and statements by groups calling for a boycott of the State of Israel, its goods, services or citizens.”
University of Illinois student government passes resolution saying anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are different
By Josefin Dolsten
(JTA)—The University of Illinois student government passed a resolution that distinguishes anti-Semitism from anti-Zionism.
The resolution, which passed in a 29-4 vote, criticizes Chancellor Robert Jones for having said a presentation to dorm advisers on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians was anti-Semitic.
Many pro-Israel and Jewish students who were critical of the measure walked out ahead of the vote last week and held a vigil in remembrance of victims of anti-Semitism, The News-Gazette reported.
Jones made his assertion in a campuswide email earlier this month on a presentation titled “Palestine & Great Return March: Palestinian Resistance to 70 Years of Israeli Terror.” The Illini Public Affairs Committee, a campus pro-Israel group, described it as “a narrative of demonization of Israel and its citizens and Jewish students.”
The Jones email also referenced the recent discovery of a swastika in in the Foreign Languages building and other hateful acts.
One of the resolution’s sponsors, Bugra Sahin, said that “Criticism of a state is not anti its people, or religion, or ethnicity,” according to the News-Gazette.
Rachel Weisz will portray Elizabeth Taylor in new film
By Marcy Oster
(JTA)—Jewish actress Rachel Weisz has been tapped to play Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor in a new film.
“A Special Relationship” chronicles Taylor’s personal journey from Hollywood actress to activist through the lens of her friendship with her Roger Wall, a gay man who grew up in poverty in the Deep South, Deadline Hollywood reported.
Taylor, who was married eight times to seven men, had two Jewish husbands and converted to Judaism in 1959. She became an active supporter of Israel and Jewish causes. A social activist, Taylor became one of the first major celebrities to publicly join the fight against HIV/AIDS in the 1980s.
Weisz, like Taylor, is British American.
Parents of slain journalist Steven Sotloff thank Trump and soldiers for ‘eliminating’ ISIS chief
By Marcy Oster
(JTA)—The parents of Steven Sotloff, a Jewish journalist who was beheaded by Islamic State terrorists, said they are glad that the terror group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead.
“The Sotloff family is thankful to President Trump, our brave U.S. special forces and all involved intelligence allies for pinpointing and eliminating ISIS leader al-Baghdadi without suffering any U.S. military casualties,” said Shirley Sotloff, reading from a statement on Sunday, as her husband stood beside her in front of their home. “While the victory will not bring our beloved son Steven back to us, it is a significant step in the campaign against ISIS.”
President Donald Trump recalled Sotloff by name, as well as three other American ISIS victims, during his announcement of the death of Baghdadi.
Trump called the Sotloff family following his news conference on Sunday morning.
Sotloff was kidnapped in August 2013 after crossing into Syria from Turkey and was killed on Sept. 2, 2014. ISIS posted a video showing the beheading. American journalist James Foley had been similarly killed a month earlier by the terrorist group.
Sotloff, 31, was a native of Miami and grandson of Holocaust survivors who held dual Israeli citizenship. He made aliyah in 2005 and studied foreign relations in Herzliya. Sotloff reported from a number of Middle Eastern countries for publications such as Time, the Christian Science Monitor and Foreign Policy. He reportedly was planning to go to Aleppo, Syria, to report on the city’s humanitarian crisis.
Following his death, the family established the 2Lives Steven Joel Sotloff Memorial Foundation to support student journalists.
Belgium’s first female prime minister is Jewish
By Cnaan Liphshiz
(JTA)—Sophie Wilmes is the first woman and the first Jewish person to become the prime minister of Belgium.
Wilmes, a mother of four from the Brussels region, replaced Charles Michel on Sunday in the top post. The centrist politician will head a caretaker government during negotiations on the formation of a coalition, which in Belgium has been known to take months.
Michel’s Cabinet collapsed last year, and Wilmes replaced him when he left for a European Union position. Both are members of the center-left MR party.
Wilmes’ mother is Ashkenazi Jewish and lost several relatives in the Holocaust, Philippe Markiewicz, the president of the Consistoire organization of Belgian Jewry, confirmed Monday to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
“She hid her Jewish identity, though it seems to be a private detail from her biography and not something connected to any policy-making aspect,” he said.
Wilmes’ father, Philippe, was a lecturer at the Catholic University of Louvain and is not Jewish.
Markiewicz described Wilmes, who has attended Holocaust commemoration events and highlighted them on her personal website, as “an industrious and committed politician.”
One source from the Jewish community, a member of Wilmes’ party who spoke to JTA on condition of anonymity, said that Judaism became only recently “a more important factor than before” in Wilmes’ life.
Michael Freilich, a Belgian lawmaker for the N-VA party and the former editor in chief of the Antwerp-based Joods Actueel Jewish newspaper, said Wilmes’ appointment is a “historic event that makes me feel proud.”