Weekly roundup of world briefs
February 28, 2020
Hundreds of Israeli soldiers taken in by Hamas social media scheme featuring fake young women
By Marcy Oster
JERUSALEM (JTA)—The cellphones of hundreds of Israeli soldiers have been compromised in a Hamas intelligence-gathering scheme that featured fake women on social media networks.
The Israel Defense Forces said Sunday in a statement that its Operation Rebound foiled the Hamas honeypot operation, its third since 2017.
Hamas created six female characters to lure soldiers, presenting them as new immigrants to Israel to account for their sometimes poor Hebrew. The photos of the women also were edited so it would be more difficult to find the originals online.
The terrorist group created pages for the women on social media platforms such as Telegram, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Through their interactions with the soldiers, the fictitious women asked the soldiers to download one of three apps—Catch and See, ZatuApp or Grixy App—so they could send nude photos to them.
The apps installed software on their phones that Hamas could use to gather intelligence on the IDF through activating the phone’s camera to take pictures, download files, and see the soldiers’ contacts and GPS data.
Over the weekend the IDF, in conjunction with the Israel Security Agency, took down the servers Hamas that used for the ploy.
Similar Hamas honeypot efforts were uncovered and blocked by the military in January 2017 and July 2018.
Princess Diana’s niece converting to Judaism before marriage to fashion tycoon
By Marcy Oster
(JTA)—The niece of the late Princess Diana is converting to Judaism to marry a Jewish fashion tycoon.
Kitty Spencer, a 29-year-old model, is engaged to Michael Lewis, 61, who chairs the Foschini Group. It will be the second marriage for Lewis, a South Africa native whose fortune is estimated at about $100 million.
It is not known which branch of Judaism Spencer is converting through, the Sunday Times reported. The report cited friends of the couple as saying that Spencer is “taking religious instruction” in preparation for the marriage.
Spencer’s cousin Prince William, who is second in line to the throne, is the future supreme governor of the Church of England.
Lewis is believed to have married his first wife, Leola, with whom he has three adult children, in an Orthodox Jewish ceremony in 1985, according to the Daily Mail.
Man who helped stop Monsey stabber refuses reward from ‘Zionist organizations’
By Marcy Oster
(JTA)—Joseph Gluck received a $20,000 reward for his role in apprehending the suspected Monsey synagogue stabber.
But it didn’t come from two Jewish groups that had offered the award for information leading to an arrest.
Gluck told News 12 Brooklyn last week that after consulting with his rabbi, he decided to reject the money from the “Zionist organizations” —the Jewish Federation of Rockland County and the Anti-Defamation League—because they don’t represent the beliefs and values of his haredi Orthodox community.
“I was not willing to offer my soul for $20,000. My identity for $20,000 was not for sale,” he told News 12.
Gluck’s rabbi instead raised that amount from “people who were inspired by his actions,” according to the report.
Rabbi Dovid Feldman explained to News 12 that the ADL and Jewish federation were about to issue a statement “to encourage and promote the Zionist idea of Jewish self-defense, of fighting back, of fighting our enemies, which happens to be contrary to our tradition.”
The check was presented to Gluck at a ceremony Thursday night in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg.
Gluck, 32, of Monsey, threw a table at the alleged attacker during a Chanukah party at a rabbi’s home and chased him outside, then wrote down his license plate number. Police used the license information to apprehend Grafton Thomas, 37, who has been indicted on six attempted murder charges. One of the victims was seriously injured. The stabbings also carry a federal hate crimes charge.
Thomas denies stabbing anyone, and his family says he suffers from mental illness.
In January, Gluck was awarded the New York State Senate’s highest honor, the Liberty Medal.
Amazon accused of bias for offering free shipping to Jewish settlements but not Palestinian communities
By Marcy Oster
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Amazon has been accused of bias for offering free shipping to Jewish settlements in the West Bank and not to Palestinian villages.
The online retail giant began selling its international products in Israel late last year and offers free shipping on orders of $49 or more. But the address has to be listed as Israel.
Residents of Palestinian communities who list their addresses as being in the “Palestinian Territories” pay shipping and handling fees of as much as $24, the Financial Times reported.
An Amazon spokesman, Nick Caplin, told the Financial Times that “if a customer within the Palestinian Territories enters their address and selects Israel as the country, they can receive free shipping through the same promotion.”
Amazon was not included on the United Nations blacklist of companies doing business in West Bank Jewish settlements that was released last week.
Peace Now told the Financial Times that the difference in Amazon’s services between Israelis and Palestinians “adds to the overall picture of one group of people enjoying the privileges of citizenship while another people living in the same territory do not.”
AIPAC announces bipartisan congressional leadership will address annual conference
By Ron Kampeas
WASHINGTON (JTA)—The majority and minority leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives will address the Israel lobby AIPAC’s annual policy conference.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee said Friday that Reps. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the majority leader, and Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the minority leader, would be appearing at this year’s March 1-3 conference.
The announcement that Hoyer would speak comes amid an organized campaign from the left pressuring Democrats not to attend the conference.
It’s not known yet whether they will appear together, but AIPAC at many of its past conferences has paired a top Republican and a leading Democrat to underscore bipartisan support for its agenda.
Jewish 101-year-old woman: Hitler was my neighbor and was ‘terrified of us’
By Ben Sales
(JTA)—A 101-year-old woman living in the United Kingdom has revealed that Adolf Hitler was her next-door neighbor.
Alice Frank Stock lived next to the Nazi leader in Munich on Prinzregentplatz Street in the 1920s and early ’30s, she told the news agency SWNS.
“There were two entrances, one was for our apartment and the other was number 14, and I can’t remember the other one, it was number 13 or 15, and that’s where Hitler lived,” she said.
She didn’t interact with him—only catching glimpses of him as he entered the apartment under heavy guard.
“I saw him once, twice coming home,” she said. “And his car would draw up and then two SS men would jump out and stand on each side of his way, and he rushed out to the house terrified of us, that someone will try and kill him.”
Once, she recalled, she got a ticket to the opera from her school—and was slated to sit in the same box as Hitler.
“I got a ticket, it was in the royal box of the smaller opera,” she said. “I got to the royal box in the evening and there were SS men saying ‘You can’t come here, go two boxes further down.’ And before the curtain went up I looked at the royal box and there was Hitler sitting there.”
Israel to build a rail line that that will run from Ben Gurion Airport to the Western Wall
By Marcy Oster
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s Transportation Ministry advanced plans on Monday to build a new train station that would directly connect Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
The project, an extension of recently opened Jerusalem-Tel Aviv high-speed line, will include a new 1.8 mile-long tunnel under downtown Jerusalem and the Old City, i24news reported.
This kind of construction in the Old City of Jerusalem is controversial. Palestinians object to Israel gaining more of a foothold in the city that they claim as the capital of a future Palestinian state, and archeologists object to the possible disturbing of artifacts in the area.
The project was initiated by former Transportation Minister Israel Katz, who now serves as foreign minister. The current transportation minister is Bezalel Smotrich of the Jewish Home Party, who is running for the next Israeli parliament as part of the far-right Yamina alliance.
Bernie Sanders releases new ‘proud to be Jewish’ video
By Marcy Oster
(JTA)—Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has released a new campaign video in which he says he is “very proud to be Jewish” and that he looks forward to “becoming the first Jewish president in the history of this country.”
The two minute and 40 second video also blames President Trump for a rise in anti-Semitic incidents and for empowering neo-Nazis in the U.S. It includes footage of Trump trafficking in what critics say were anti-Semitic tropes, including when he told attendees at a Republican Jewish Coalition gathering that “you aren’t going to support me because I don’t want your money” and his statement that Jews who vote for Democrats are “disloyal.”
Trump supporters dismiss such assertions, citing his support for Israel, condemnation of anti-Semitism on the left and the fact that his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren are Jewish. Meanwhile, Sanders himself has been targeted by at least one pro-Israel Democratic political action committee that claims the senator has not done enough to disassociate from antisemitic comments made by people involved in his campaign.
It is Sanders’ second campaign video focusing on Jewishness.
During his 2016 run for the Democratic nomination, Sanders was at first reluctant to mention his Jewish heritage, although he was the first Jewish major-party candidate to win ever nominating contests.
This election cycle, he has emphasized his Jewishness.
Iceland welcomes its first permanent Torah scroll
By Marcy Oster
(JTA)—Iceland welcomed its first permanent Torah scroll.
The final letters of the Torah were written at a reception last Thursday at the home of the U.S. ambassador to Iceland, Jeffrey Ross Gunter, who is Jewish, according to Chabad.
The new scroll, which took a year to write, was donated to the Jewish community of Reykjavik by Uri Krauss of Zurich, Switzerland.
On Sunday, members of the city’s Jewish community brought the Torah scroll to the local Chabad Jewish Center.
The Chabad center was opened in 2018, the first full-time Jewish institution on the island nation. It has been borrowing the Torah scroll used every Shabbat morning.
Star of David graffiti spray-painted on 2 Boston apartment buildings
By Penny Schwartz
BOSTON (JTA) – Star of David graffiti were spray-painted on two apartment buildings in a Boston neighborhood.
Police are investigating the incidents in the South End that occurred overnight Saturday as acts of vandalism.
It’s too early in that process to call the incidents anti-Semitic, Robert Trestan, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New England office, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a phone conversation.
“Irrespective of motive, there is still an impact when religious symbols are painted on someone’s home,” he said.
Trestan credited the police with responding quickly and taking the incidents seriously.
Two large six-pointed gold stars were spray-painted on the exterior doors at 437 Shawmut Ave. and on the front of another nearby building.
Israelis quarantined for suspected coronavirus will get special voting booths for March 2 elections
By Marcy Oster
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Special voting booths will be set up for Israelis who are under quarantine for possible coronavirus infection will get special voting booths for Israel’s national elections that will be held on March 2.
The decision was announced on Monday by Israel’s Central Elections Committee, following a meeting with Health Ministry officials.
Under Health Ministry guidelines, Israelis returning or other visitors from Thailand, Singapore and the cities of Hong Kong and Macau must remain at home in isolation for 14 days. There are a few dozen Israelis who are under self- quarantine throughout the country, according to the Health Ministry.
The polling stations will be placed in buildings with no other polls. Army Radio reported that poll workers will wear protective gear.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Health Ministry reported that a plane has been chartered to bring home 12 Israeli nationals who are currently on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship stuck in Tokyo Bay. A request to bring them home had previously been denied.
Three other Israelis who tested positive for the coronavirus are hospitalized in Japan.
Israel’s Sheba Medical Center in Tel HaShomer, near Tel Aviv, will house the Israelis from the ship when they arrive Thursday in an isolation unit at an evacuated hotel on the hospital campus, Sheba said in a statement. They will remain there for two weeks.
Israeli airline El Al has canceled all its flights to China in the wake of the virus’ spread.
Ehud Olmert asks Israel’s president to expunge his criminal record
By Marcy Oster
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has asked President Reuven Rivlin to expunge his criminal record.
If Rivlin agrees, Olmert would have his conviction on moral turpitude erased, clearing the way for a possible return to a run for public office. Under Israeli law, politicians convicted of moral turpitude are prevented from running for seven years following their release. Olmert was released from prison in 2017.
Olmert has talked about returning to public life, though it is not clear if he would consider running again for Knesset.
His attorneys made the request, the Israeli media reported Tuesday.
Rivlin turned down a previous request in 2018 while Olmert was still in prison, but did lift all parole restrictions from Olmert two days after his release. Olmert served 16 months of a 27-month sentence.
Earlier this month, Olmert joined Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in New York to reject the Trump administration’s recently unveiled peace plan and to call for new negotiations based on where the two leaders left off in 2008.
Olmert was the first Israeli prime minister to serve time in prison and be sentenced to jail. He resigned his post in September 2008 after police investigators recommended that he be indicted in multiple corruption scandals.
Pompeo criticizes Democrats for meeting with Iranian foreign minister
(JNS)—U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rebuked a group of Democratic senators on Tuesday who reportedly met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif last week on the sidelines of the annual Munich Security Conference.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) was one senator who met with Zarif, reported The Federalist.
Speaking to reporters during his tour through Africa, Pompeo said that Zarif was sanctioned by the United States—a move that occurred in July.
“He’s the foreign minister for a country that shot down an airliner and has yet to turn over the black boxes,” said Pompeo, referencing Tehran’s shooting down of a commercial airliner on Jan. 8, resulting in the deaths of 176 passengers. “This is the foreign minister of a country that killed an American on Dec. 27. This is the foreign minister of a country that is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror and the world’s largest sponsor of anti-Semitism.”
If the Democratic senators had the meeting, said Pompeo, “I don’t know what they said. I hope they were reinforcing America’s foreign policy, not their own.”
U.S. State Department officials said they had no role in, nor approved of, the meeting, reported The Washington Free Beacon.