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Weekly roundup of world briefs


January 31, 2020

Orthodox-run soup kitchen brings together Jewish and black leaders for MLK Day

By Ben Sales

NEW YORK (JTA)—An Orthodox-run soup kitchen brought together a diverse group of local leaders to stock shelves for charity on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The event, run by Masbia, a soup kitchen network based in the largely Orthodox Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park, was meant as a display of solidarity following a rash of attacks on Jews in Brooklyn and other Hasidic areas near New York City.

Masbia also announced a drive to donate goods via Amazon to communities in Puerto Rico, which has been affected by recent earthquakes and is still recovering from Hurricane Maria. Masbia ran a similar drive for Puerto Rico in 2017, when the hurricane hit.

The event attracted several Jewish local officials, including New York City Councilman Kalman Yeger, State Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein and Aron Wieder, a legislator from Rockland County, the site of the stabbing last month at a rabbi’s home on Hanukkah.

Also present was Denise Ridley, the city councilwoman who represents the Greenville section of Jersey City, where two shooters killed four people in an attack on a kosher supermarket. The largely African-American neighborhood has a growing Jewish population.

Several pastors, local officials and representatives of the New York Police Department also were on hand for the Masbia event.

“When you’re being attacked, we need other people, other neighbors, to stick up and to stop the hate,” Yosef Rapaport, father of Masbia’s founder, Alex Rapaport, said at the event. “If children are being separated from their parents at the border, put into camps—yes they are camps—I protest. You can’t be quiet when you have discrimination.”

Israel’s parliament schedules immunity hearings for Netanyahu

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested immunity in the three corruption cases against him—and now the Knesset will discuss.

The Israeli parliament’s Arrangements Committee said on Tuesday that the House Committee will begin immunity hearings on Jan. 30, though a House Committee has yet to be formed. The full Knesset will vote on Jan. 28 to set up the required House Committee. There are six sessions over the course of one week allotted for the hearings ending on Feb. 6.

Hours before a deadline early this month, Netanyahu announced that he would ask the Knesset to grant him the parliamentary immunity.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit cannot open trial proceedings against Netanyahu before the immunity request is considered.

But Netanyahu will have to face a trial at some point: The immunity would last only until the Knesset that grants it is dissolved.

The prime minister apparently believed that the current caretaker Knesset would not be able to form a House Committee and vote on the immunity request, and that the request would not be taken up until the Knesset formed after the March 2 national elections.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein announced Sunday that he would convene lawmakers next week to vote on forming the House Committee, raising the ire of Likud lawmakers and Netanyahu. Benny Gantz and his Blue and White alliance had threatened to remove Edelstein if he did not convene the Knesset.

Benny Gantz says he will annex Jordan Valley after elections

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Benny Gantz said that following national elections in March, he will work to establish Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley “in coordination with the international community.”

“We would like to reiterate that the Jordan Valley serves as the eastern border of the State of Israel in all future scenarios,” Gantz, chairman of the Blue and White alliance, which garnered the most votes in the last election, said on Tuesday during a visit to the area.

“Past governments that have discussed returning this land have made a grievous security and strategic mistake. We see this land as an integral part of the State of Israel,” he said.

Gantz said that until Israel has sovereignty, it would continue to cultivate the Jordan Valley and ensure its development, agricultural and physical infrastructure, settlement and tourism.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who previously has called for annexation of the Jordan Valley, responded immediately to Gantz, his rival for the prime minister post.

“Why wait until after the election if we can apply sovereignty over the Jordan Valley right now with broad consensus in the Knesset?” Netanyahu tweeted.

The prime minister then reiterated in a meeting with leaders of West Bank region of Binyamin region that he would extend Israeli sovereignty over all West Bank settlements.

Gantz responded on social media: “Bibi, first we’ll deliberate immunity and afterwards we’ll manage applying sovereignty.” He was referring to Netanyahu’s request for immunity from prosecution from the Knesset on corruption charges in three criminal cases against him.

Serbian president flies yellow flag with Star of David to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is flying a yellow flag to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day at his official residence in in the capital of Belgrade.

The flag, which bears a Star of David and the word “Jude,” is meant to evoke the yellow star badge that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust. It is flying alongside the Serbian national flag at the Novi Dvor building.

Vucic tweeted a photo of the flag on Tuesday with the words “This sign was a symbol of an attempt to destroy the Jewish people by the Nazis. Today it is a badge of honor. 75 years later. Never again.”

Idaho governor recognizes 125th anniversary of state’s Jewish community

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—Gov. Brad Little of Idaho recognized the 125th anniversary of the founding of his state’s Jewish community.

“We recognize the resilience of the Jewish community in the face of great adversity, and we stand in solidarity with our Jewish neighbors in opposition to all forms of hate and antisemitism,” Little said Monday after signing an official proclamation.

Idaho’s Jewish community was established in Boise in 1895 by Moses Alexander, who went on to become the capital city’s mayor and later Idaho governor. He was among the first elected Jewish governors in the United States, serving from 1915 until 1919.

The state’s first synagogue, now named Ahavath Beth Israel, was completed a year later. It is the oldest synagogue in continuous use west of the Mississippi, the Idaho Press reported.

Idaho also has Jewish communities in the cities of Sun Valley, Pocatello, Moscow and Coeur d’Alene, according to the report.

Nancy Pelosi leads congressional delegation to Poland and Israel

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leading a congressional delegation to Poland and Israel to commemorate 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, laid a wreath at the former Nazi camp on Tuesday.

Pelosi joined her Polish counterpart, Elzbieta Witek, the speaker of the Sejm, the lower house of parliament, and Polish Senate Speaker Tomasz Grodzki in the wreath laying next to the Auschwitz death wall, the site of inmate executions.

“It is an honor to lead a distinguished bipartisan delegation to Poland and Israel to solemnly commemorate the horrors of the Shoah and to reaffirm America’s enduring commitment to our sacred pledge: Never Again,” Pelosi said in a statement before leaving for Poland. “We must honor the memories of those murdered in this incomprehensible horror by maintaining constant vigilance against hatred and persecution today. In the face of rising anti-Semitism and appalling acts of bigotry around the world, we must all renew our determination to defend human rights and human dignity. May the lives of all lost in the Shoah continue to be a source of moral action to the world today.”

Some 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau between 1940 and 1945. On Jan. 27, the annual World Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration marks 75 years since Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet forces.

Pelosi and six Congress members will travel on Wednesday to Israel to participate the following day in the 5th World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

In addition to Pelosi, the congressional delegation includes Reps Nita Lowey and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y; Joe Wilson, R-S.C.; Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch, D-Fla.; and Brad Schneider, D-Ill.

Edelstein: Knesset prepares to debate possible immunity for Netanyahu

(JNS)—Israeli Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein announced on Sunday that the Knesset plenum will debate next week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for immunity from prosecution in the three criminal cases facing him.

With Jerusalem hosting more than 40 world leaders this week for the 5th World Holocaust Forum, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and with International Holocaust Remembrance Day falling on Jan. 27, the earliest a vote can be held is next Tuesday, Jan. 28.

Netanyahu’s aides were reportedly angered by the announcement, saying that Edelstein “fell into the trap laid by the left,” which is using the Knesset to “neutralize Netanyahu.”

Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz welcomed the decision, tweeting on Sunday night, “Netanyahu requested a debate on immunity—Netanyahu will get [a debate]. We’ll prevent an extremist immunity coalition from continuing to drag down Israel solely for the personal interests of Netanyahu.”

Edelstein’s announcement comes after last week’s Knesset vote to establish a House Committee to debate the immunity issue.

The vote constitutes a potential setback for the prime minister, as the committee’s ruling will likely be delivered before the new round of Israeli elections.

Should Netanyahu’s immunity request be denied, his trial could begin immediately. Alternately, if it is approved, the immunity granted would last only for the term of the Knesset that approved it, namely until the March 2 election, at which point Netanyahu would have to apply again to renew it.

BBC slammed for allegedly linking Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to Holocaust complex

By Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA)—British Jews protested what they perceived to be a BBC reporter’s claim that the Holocaust has distorted Israelis’ perception of reality and the occupation of Palestinian land.

The rebuke Thursday by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Campaign Against Antisemitism and the editor in chief of the Jewish Chronicle was over Orla Guerin’s report Wednesday on the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Auschwitz Nazi death camp’s liberation.

Against the background of soldiers visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, Guerin, who has faced numerous allegations of anti-Israel bias, including by Israel’s government, said: “The State of Israel is now a regional power. For decades it has occupied Palestinian territories. But some here will always see their nation through the prism of persecution and survival.”

Guerin’s “attempt to link the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the horrors of the Holocaust was crass and offensive,” Board of Deputies Vice President Amanda Bowman wrote in a statement. She said British Jews expect an apology.

The BBC’s press team has not responded to numerous requests for a comment on Twitter.

Guerin served as BBC’s Israel reporter between 2001 and 2005.

“Her lack of partiality on the Israel-Palestine conflict has long been a matter of concern,” Bowman wrote.

Gideon Falter of the Campaign Against Antisemitism watchdog group wrote: “Few could imagine perverting what is supposed to be an educational piece about the Holocaust to instead fuel the very antisemitism that such education is supposed to prevent, but that is what the BBC has done.”

Israeli teen stumbles on Greek antiquity while foraging for mushrooms

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA)—An Israeli seventh-grader who was foraging for mushrooms near his home unearthed a marble slab with a Greek inscription from the Byzantine period.

Stav Meir, 13, of Caesarea, found the artifact last week, according to a statement issued Wednesday by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Stav saw the smooth stone sticking out of the ground, likely unearthed due to days of heavy rains. His archaeology class in school helped him realize that the piece was an antiquity and he immediately reported his discovery. An archaeologist came to recover the artifact.

Peter Gendelman, a Caesarea researcher at the Israel Antiquities Authority, identified the piece as a tombstone burial inscription, which indicates the grave’s location in the cemetery and the identity of the deceased.

“Already, in ancient times, Caesarea was a center of attraction for a wealthy population. The quality of the slab discovered by Stav indicates the wealthy status of the person entombed, as well as the customs and beliefs of inhabitants of Caesarea in the Byzantine period,” Gendelman said in a statement. “This inscription joins a large collection of burial inscriptions previously discovered around ancient Caesarea.”

Stav has received a certificate of appreciation for his good citizenship and has been invited with his class for a special lesson by the Israel Antiquities Authority about his discovery.

Bradley Cooper will direct and star in Netflix film about Leonard Bernstein

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—Bradley Cooper will direct, produce and star in a Netflix film about the late Jewish composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein.

The untitled film is expected to begin production early next year and will be released in theaters before the film premieres on Netflix, Deadline first reported.

The movie will span more than 30 years, telling the story of the complicated relationship between Bernstein, of “West Side Story” fame, and his wife, Felicia Montealegre. Bernstein, who died in 1990 at 72, reportedly had affairs with men before and during his marriage.

The script was co-written by Cooper with Josh Singer, who wrote the Academy Award-winning film “Spotlight.”

Among the many co-producers are Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. The project initially started at Paramount, which will no longer be involved, according to reports.

Cooper, who also directed and starred in the successful “A Star Is Born,” has been working closely with Bernstein’s three children for the past two years, according to Deadline.

The actor has always been fascinated with conducting, Deadline wrote, but the “charged and complex relationship” between Bernstein and his wife is what led him to make the film.

Ukrainian president and his delegation give their seats at Israel Holocaust forum to survivors

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his delegation to the World Holocaust Forum gave up their seats at the main ceremony at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem so that Holocaust survivors could have them.

A limited number of the 800 seats at the Forum ceremony on Thursday afternoon were set aside for survivors, Army Radio first reported. One Israeli government minister, Minister of Environmental Protection Ze’ev Elkin, announced after hearing the report that he would give up his seat for a survivor and called on his fellow ministers to do the same.

“We learnt that many of the Holocaust survivors have not been able to visit the World Holocaust Forum. Our delegation gave them our seats, as many Israeli ministers did. These people deserve these honors most of all. We will participate in all events and hold scheduled meetings,” Zelensky, who is Jewish, said in a tweet.

Yad Vashem criticized the decision, reportedly calling it “puzzling.”

“It has been explained to the president that survivors who made inquiries have been answered and that one cannot give survivors the runaround in the present conditions. It is regretful that he made such a move at an event titled ‘Remembering the Holocaust—fighting anti-Semitism,’” the Holocaust memorial and museum said in a statement given to Ynet.

Dozens of world leaders were in Israel on Thursday for the World Holocaust Forum, marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.


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