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Weekly roundup of world briefs


January 17, 2020

US embassy in Jerusalem issues security alert following Soleimani killing

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The United States Embassy in Jerusalem issued a security alert on Monday for U.S. citizens in Israel after the assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani prompted Iran to promise “harsh revenge.”

“Out of an abundance of caution, the Embassy strongly encourages U.S. citizens to remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness, as security incidents, including rocket fire, often take place without warning,” the alert read.

Soleimani was the head of the Iranian Quds Force, which operates a number of regional militias and is allied with terrorist groups targeting Israel, including Hezbollah and Hamas.

Meanwhile, the head of the Israel Defense Forces Southern Command said on Monday that Israel is observing the escalation between the U.S. and Iran “from the sidelines,” distancing the Jewish state from a possible conflict.

“The assassination also has ramifications for us as Israelis, and we must follow it closely, but we aren’t the main story here—and it’s good that it happened far away,” Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi said at a conference in Jerusalem sponsored by Ynet and the daily newspaper Yediot Acharonot.

He said that the IDF has so far not identified any attempts by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which receives Iranian military and financial support, to carry out attacks against Israel in response to the killing.

Couple drowns in flooded Tel Aviv elevator

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A young couple drowned in an elevator in southern Tel Aviv amid widespread flooding amid heavy rainfall in central Israel.

Dean Shoshani and Stav Harari, both 25, died Saturday after rain flooded an underground parking lot elevator, according to reports. The elevator doors were locked due to an electrical short caused by the water.

Rescue crews used scuba gear to reach the elevator and remove the couple. They both were declared dead at a nearby hospital. Neighbors  who heard the couple banging on the walls of the elevator calling for help said it took emergency crews more than a half hour to arrive on the scene.

Videos posted on social media showed water nearly covering the tops of cars on Tel Aviv streets, as well as people using surf boards and swimming in the streets.

The Tel Aviv municipality said the area got 20 percent of its annual average rainfall in a few hours on Saturday.

Flood warnings also were issued in the Judean Desert and the Jordan Valley over the weekend.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement at the start of Sunday’s Cabinet meeting expressed “deep shock over the tragic deaths” in the Tel Aviv elevator.  He called a meeting today “with all of the professional elements in order to learn lessons so that such things do not recur.”

Rain continued to inundate central Israel on Sunday morning but slowed down later in the day. More rain is expected in the middle of the week.

N.Y. synagogues offered phones that connect instantly to emergency services

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—Special phones that connect instantly to emergency services are being offered to New York City synagogues in the wake of a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the city.

The phones, dubbed “shul phones,” are being offered by the Shomrim, a volunteer Jewish neighborhood patrol, the New York Post reported.

The phone will allow callers to press one button to be connected to 911, the local Shomrim or the Hatzolah ambulance service. In addition to being a quick way to connect to emergency services, the phone would be available on Shabbat, when most Jewish people do not carry their cell phones and synagogue land lines are locked away.

Some 200 synagogues have expressed interest in the special phone, according to the Post, citing a Shomrim supervisor. They will be sold at cost, expected to be under $200, according to the report.

Thousands march in France to protest decision to not prosecute Jewish woman’s killer

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—Several thousand people, many of them Jews, rallied in several cities in France on Sunday to protest a court ruling not to try a Muslim man who confessed to killing his Jewish neighbor while shouting about Allah.

Republique Square in Paris was crowded with protesters over the ruling last month on the fate of Kobili Traore, who admitted to killing Sarah Halimi in 2017.

Reaffirming an earlier ruling, the Paris Appeals Court last month asserted that Traore killed Halimi because she was Jewish but cited psychiatric evaluations saying his consumption of marijuana before the incident led to a “delirious episode” that made him not legally responsible for his actions.

Several thousand Jews marched in Marseille in protest of the ruling, which leaders of French Jewry have suggested was designed to avoid scrutiny of Muslim anti-Semitism.

The BNVCA, a Jewish community watchdog, says virtually all violent anti-Semitic assaults in France are cases are committed by people whose families immigrated to France from Muslim countries, which the group called “new anti-Semitism.”

But in its 2016 report, the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, a government agency, said it had no evidence that new anti-Semitism exists.

Ukrainian airliner goes down in Tehran, killing 176

(JNS)—A Ukrainian Boeing 737 passenger jet crashed shortly after takeoff in Tehran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people aboard. Though a spokesman for Iran’s Road and Transportation Ministry claimed that the crash was caused by “technical difficulties,” at least two Kazakh airlines announced that they were considering rerouting or canceling their flights over Iran in light of the fatal crash.

According to Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk and Iranian media reports, 167 passengers and nine crew were on board.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said the victims included 82 people from Iran, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, three Germans and three Britons, according to a report by France 24. Most passengers were in transit, said the airline.

The airliner’s black boxes have been located, but Iran is refusing to hand them over to Boeing, the plane’s manufacturer, for analysis, according to The Times of Israel.

New York lawmaker proposes changes to controversial bail-reform law

(JNS)—Just days after the start of 2020, New York Democratic Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein is pushing for changes to the state’s new bail-reform law, which allows for people charged with certain crimes to be released from jail prior to a trial without posting bail.

Touted as one of the hallmarks of New York’s criminal-justice reform, the new bail law is facing a backlash, particularly in light of the rise in anti-Semitic attacks in New York City. Eichenstein represents the heavily Orthodox communities of Midwood and Borough Park in Brooklyn.

Under the current law, bail is eliminated for people facing misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies. The law also requires police to issue “desk appearance tickets,” instead of arresting many of those suspects.

Practically speaking, the concern is that those who allegedly commit nonviolent hate crimes would remain on the streets, putting the public at risk.

Critics point to the case of Tiffany Harris, who was arrested in late December after hitting three Orthodox women. She was released without bail because of the pending new law, and then went on to attack another woman and was arrested again.

Eichenstein’s proposed amendment would classify hate crimes as a “qualifying offense,” giving the courts leeway to affix bail or to keep in custody people charged with such incidents.

22 dead in Israel’s worst flu season in a decade

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Twenty-two Israelis have died so far this flu season, according to a Health Ministry report.

The ministry released a report on Monday, and updated numbers were released on Tuesday. In addition to the deaths, 216 people have been hospitalized in serious condition due to complications.

Most of the deaths have been related to the A-Type sub-species of the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu.

The report said it is the worst flu season in a decade.

Man who threw table at Monsey stabber receives NY State Senate’s highest honor

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—The man who threw a table at the assailant during the stabbing attack at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, New York, and then wrote down the attacker’s license plate number, received the State Senate’s highest honor.

“I didn’t earn this medal, god earns this medal,” Joseph Gluck said Sunday after being presented with the New York State Senate Liberty Medal.

Gluck, 32, of Monsey, was given the award by State Sen. David Carlucci.

“Out of the darkness of this tragedy, came some light. Joseph Gluck did what we all hope we could do in a chaotic and violent situation. He fought back and threw a coffee table at the machete-wielding attacker. Gluck then had the peace of mind to secure the attacker’s license plate number and provide it to police, which led to the suspect’s arrest. He saved lives at the Hanukkah ceremony by warning people to leave and prevented a further tragedy,” Carlucci said in presenting the medal.

Police used the license information given by Gluck to apprehend the alleged stabber, Grafton Thomas, who last week was indicted by a grand jury in Rockland Country on six attempted murder charges. The stabbings also carry a federal hate crimes charge of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs involving an attempt to kill.

Michael Bloomberg spends $10 million on Super Bowl ad for his presidential campaign

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign has purchased a 60-second advertising spot that will air next month during the broadcast of the Super Bowl, for a cost of about $10 million, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.

Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and billionaire media mogul, is financing his run for president out of his own pocket.

The reelection campaign of President Donald Trump also will air a 60-second ad during the Super Bowl, according to the report.

Bloomberg already has spent nearly $170 million on television and digital advertising, the Times reported, citing Advertising Analytics, an ad tracking firm.

His polling numbers have risen steadily, and he currently holds about 5.6 percent in Democratic polls. Since his campaign is self-funded, however, Bloomberg does not have the donor requirements set by the Democratic National Committee to appear in the next presidential debate.

Iran hits US bases in Iraq, warns escalation would reach Israel

By Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Iran fired ballistic missiles at U.S. military targets in Iraq in retaliation for the killing last week of a top general and warned that if the United States escalates, Iran’s next targets would be U.S. allies, including Israel.

“Iran is warning that if there is retaliation for the two waves of attacks they launched their third wave will destroy Dubai and Haifa,” Ali Arouzi, NBC’s Tehran correspondent, reported on Twitter, where he was relaying official comments from Iran’s state media. The U.S. Sixth Fleet often docks in Haifa.

The warning came after Iranian missiles hit two U.S. bases in Iraq on Tuesday. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Tensions have escalated over the last year between the United States and Iran, as the U.S. intensified sanctions against the country and Iran continued its adventurism in the region.

Late last year, an Iranian proxy killed an American contractor, leading President Donald Trump to approve the assassination last week of Qassem Soleimani, who leads the Qods Force, the foreign arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Arouzi and others on Twitter quoted Iranian media as saying that Iran would not continue its attacks if there were no further U.S. retaliation.

Record 2.32 million people visited Auschwitz in 2019

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—A record 2.32 million people from around the word visited the sites of the former Nazi camps Auschwitz and Birkenau in 2019.

The total is about 170,000 more than in 2018, which also had broken previous records, the Auschwitz memorial reported on Tuesday.

Eighty-one percent of the visitors availed themselves of one of 340 guides who conduct educational tours in 21 languages.

According to the memorial’s online reservation system, some 396,000 visitors were from Poland, 200,000 from Great Britain, 120,000 from the United States, 104,000 from Italy, 73,000 from Germany, 70,000 from Spain, 67,000 from France, 59,000 from Israel, 42,000 from Ireland and 40,000 from Sweden.

In addition, over 900,000 follow the Auschwitz Museum’s Twitter account, more than 300,000 use its Facebook page, and 80,000 follow it on Instagram.

Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of ‘Prozac Nation,’ dies of breast cancer at age 52

By Emily Burack

(JTA)—Author Elizabeth Wurtzel, best known for her memoir “Prozac Nation,” died at age 52 after a five-year fight with breast cancer.

Wurtzel’s blockbuster memoir, “Prozac Nation,” which came out in 1994 when she was only 27 years old, detailed her struggles with anti-depressants.

Wurtzel was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2015. The same year, she underwent a double mastectomy. Wurtzel later became an advocate for testing for the BRCA gene mutation and pushed for insurance companies to cover BRCA testing for all Ashkenazi Jewish women, regardless of whether or not they present cancer symptoms.

“I caught it fast and I acted fast, but I must have looked away: By the time of my double mastectomy, the cancer had spread to five lymph nodes,” she wrote in The New York Times in 2015.

Wurtzel was born and raised in New York City in a Jewish family. She attended the Ramaz School, a Modern Orthodox day school in New York, before attending Harvard as an undergraduate and Yale Law School.

In December 2018, she wrote about how the man she thought was her father, Donald Wurtzel, was not. Her biological father was Bob Adelman, a photographer, with whom her mother had an affair.

Across the US, police and locals rally around Jewish communities in wake of rise in anti-Semitic attacks

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—New York City held a huge rally this past weekend, but it wasn’t the only place to protest against a recent rise in anti-Semitic attacks. Police and locals in cities around the United States have pledged to support and protect their Jewish communities over the past week.

In South Carolina, religious leaders gathered in the state capital on Monday to speak out against anti-Semitism and racial attacks across the country. They also demanded state hate crime legislation.

On Sunday, top Los Angeles Police Department officers met with members of the local Jewish community to put them at ease.

“Please know... we are here to work for you,” LAPD Deputy Chief Jorge Rodriguez said.

Police departments across northeast Ohio issued a statement of support for the region’s Jewish community which emphasized that “Hatred has no home here.” Police departments from Cleveland’s east side suburbs, home to a large Jewish community, also joined in the statement.

In Atlanta, members of the Jewish community and their supporters gathered on Monday night to hold a solidarity event to take a stand against anti-Semitism and hate.

In Chicago, dozens of Jews and their supporters met in Millennium Park on Monday afternoon to protest anti-Semitism.

In New Jersey, a delegation of Morris County government, law enforcement and faith leaders will gather Thursday at a Jewish school, the Gottesman RTW Academy in Randolph, for a Rally Against Hate in the wake of a series of anti-Semitic attacks in the area.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, the York Jewish Community Center said it will increase security at its facilities with two major security upgrades, estimated to cost about $300,000.


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