Weekly roundup of world briefs
March 20, 2020
Netanyahu plans to mobilize students to disinfect public areas
By Ben Harris
(JTA)—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he plans to enlist schoolchildren to help disinfect public areas from the coronavirus.
“This virus is sensitive to bleach and we must act in an orderly way to disinfect railway stations, bus stations, etc.,” the prime minister said in a statement. “To this end, over the vacation period, which may be extended, I will mobilize teenagers, both in schools and in youth movements, in a very meticulous way, to help with the disinfection. I will also ask the IDF to take care of certain installations.”
Israeli students are currently on break for the Purim holiday and are set to return on Thursday.
In an interview with Channel 12 news, Itamar Grotto, the Health Ministry’s deputy director general, criticized Netanyahu’s plan.
“Children and teenagers can get infected, but their death rate is very low,” Grotto said, according to the Times of Israel. “I do not think that disinfection is the solution—it is a secondary step. More care should be taken over contact between people.”
Twenty-five Israelis are known to be infected with the virus, including one man said to be fighting for his life.
Man arrested for threatening property manager of Jersey City kosher supermarket
By Marcy Oster
(JTA)—A New Jersey man was arrested for making menacing remarks to the property manager of the Jersey City kosher supermarket where gunmen left three dead in December.
Taylor Stackhouse was arrested Thursday after threatening the man, who was dressed in traditional Hasidic Jewish clothing, the Hudson County prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
Stackhouse, 38, was charged with making a terroristic threat, bias intimidation, and a petty disorderly persons harassment charge.
David Anderson and Francine Graham killed Mindy Ferencz, whose family owned the market, shopper Moshe Deutch, and employee Douglas Miguel Rodriguez in a Dec. 10 attack at the store. Police killed the shooters during a standoff that lasted several hours.
California prosecutors to seek death penalty against alleged Poway synagogue shooter
By Marcy Oster
(JTA)—California prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty against the gunman who allegedly opened fire on the Chabad of Poway synagogue, leaving one congregant dead.
Prosecutors from the San Diego County district attorney’s office said during a court hearing Thursday that they will ask for the death sentence against John Earnest, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The request comes even though California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order last year placing a moratorium on executions.
Earnest, 20, pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and attempted murder in connection with the 2019 attack. The murder charge is classified as a hate crime, making Earnest eligible for the death penalty. Earnest told a 911 operator right after the attack that he did it to save white people from Jews.
Earnest also pleaded not guilty in May to over 100 hate crime and other charges in federal court. Prosecutors in the federal case have not decided whether to seek the death penalty.
The attack killed one congregant, Lori Gilbert-Kaye, and left three people wounded, including the now-retired rabbi of the Poway Chabad, who was shot in both hands and lost his index finger.
Woman indicted on hate crime charge for attacking Israeli college student on NYC subway
By Marcy Oster
(JTA)—A woman who is seen on video verbally and physically attacking an Israeli college student on the New York City subway has been indicted.
In the video Zarinah Ali, 38, uses anti-Semitic epithets including “You f***in’ nasty a** Jews” and “You stinking a** Jew” while assaulting Lihi Aharon in December. A friend of Aharon’s recorded the attack.
Aharon was sitting next to a haredi Orthodox man on the subway and Ali shouted epithets at him as well.
“She was yelling at him, shouting at him, ‘Allahu Akbar’ [God is most great] and ‘Allah will kill you,’ ‘nasty Jews,’ she was citing clauses from the Quran and ‘when you see a Jew you got to kill him’ and she used a lot of profanity,” Aharon told Fox News.
She also said Ali smacked a cellphone out of her hand when Aharon tried to record the altercation, then grabbed and pulled on Aharon’s face and scratched her until she bled.
Ali was arrested the same day and charged with assault. A Manhattan grand jury returned the indictment last week.
US military cancels plans to purchase more Iron Dome missile defense batteries
By Marcy Oster
JERUSALEM (JTA)—The U.S. military is canceling plans to purchase more Iron Dome missile defense batteries from an Israeli defense firm because of difficulties integrating them into the Army’s existing air defense systems.
At issue is Israel’s refusal to provide the U.S. military with certain data, including Iron Dome’s source code, which details how the system works and could aid in integration, The Times of Israel reported.
The Army last year earmarked over $1 billion to purchase Iron Dome batteries from Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. and incorporate them into its air defense plans. It took delivery earlier this year on two batteries but has scrapped plans to purchase two more batteries by 2023.
“We believe we cannot integrate them into our air defense system based upon some interoperability challenges and cyber challenges and some other challenges,” Army Futures Command head General Mike Murray told a March 5 House Armed Services subcommittee hearing, Jane’s Defence Weekly reported. “So, what we ended up having really is two standalone batteries that will be very capable, but they cannot be integrated into our air defense system.”
Instead, the Army is planning to host a “shoot off” for potential U.S. and foreign vendors to help determine the “the best solution to provide that capability,” he added, according to Jane’s.
Since 2011, Congress has given Israel more than $1.5 billion to produce Iron Dome batteries. In 2014, the U.S. and Israel signed a co-production agreement that would allow parts of the Iron Dome system to be produced in the United States.
2 NFL players train with the Israeli army
By Marcy Oster
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Two NFL players shunned the helmets and shoulder pads for a training session with the Israeli army while on a visit to the country.
Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson and free-agent cornerback Josh Norman, who played together for two years, ran obstacle courses with the soldiers and took Krav Maga lessons while on a visit to Israel, the IDF said.
“It’s amazing to get in there and train with these guys because they are at the top of their game at being in combat,” Norman told Fox News.
Norman, formerly of the Redskins, reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with the Buffalo Bills on Monday.
The players also received a briefing from the military on threats to the region.
Peterson and Norman came to Israel as part of a collaboration with RoboActive #2069, an Israeli high school organization that participates in the International FIRST Robotics Competition. Peterson hosted two robotics teams at his personal gym and then met the group of Israeli students at a robotics competition in Houston, Texas, in 2017.
Norman has visited Israel three or four times and wears a chai necklace. He told the Walla Hebrew news website that he plans to return and that he hopes to find some investment opportunities.
“I’m even considering moving here,” he said.
Norman is a religious Christian who reads the Bible daily and prays before every game.
Former head of University of Iowa Hillel convicted of sexually abusing young boy in Jewish center
By Marcy Oster
(JTA)—The former executive director of the Iowa Hillel has been convicted of molesting a 9-year-old boy in the Jewish center building.
David Weltman, 29, gave the boy Hebrew lessons in February and March 2019. The boy told police and later the jury that Weltman took him into a storage room and groped him during at least two sessions. There also was an incident during a trip that the boy’s family took to Israel with Weltman in March. After the trip, the boy told his mother about all of the incidents.
A Johnson County jury on Thursday found Weltman guilty of second-degree sexual abuse, The Gazette reported. He faces 25 years in prison. Weltman was taken into custody until his sentencing, which is scheduled for April 27.
Weltman did not testify during the trial, the Daily Iowan student newspaper reported.
Weltman worked at Hillel as executive director from July 2016 to July 2019. He had been placed on administrative leave after police began investigating the allegations.
Netanyahu attorneys request postponement of corruption trial
By Marcy Oster
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Attorneys for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu filed a formal request on Monday asking to postpone the opening of his corruption trial for 45 days.
The trial is set to begin on March 17; Netanyahu is required to attend the first hearing.
His attorneys said in the request made in Jerusalem District Court that they had not yet received all of the investigative material from the state prosecution, and that they need the extra time to assess them, the Kan public broadcaster reported. They also have requested that the material be scanned and digitized.
Netanyahu was indicted in November in three corruption cases against him, marking the first time that a sitting Israeli prime minister was indicted. Netanyahu has denied the charges, which include bribery and breach of public trust, and called the investigations against him a “witch hunt.” A three-judge panel of the Jerusalem District Court will hear the case.
Phillip Agnew, who has called Zionism ‘racist,’ named adviser to the Sanders campaign
By Marcy Oster
(JTA)—Phillip Agnew, who called Zionism “racist” in a 2015 article, has been named a senior adviser to the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“I am excited to welcome Phillip to our team,” Sanders said in a statement Saturday. “He is a gifted organizer and one of his generation’s most critical voices on issues of race and inequity. He has and will continue to push me and this movement to deliver on what is owed to Black people who have yet to experience reciprocity in this country.”
Agnew, who previously served as a national surrogate for the Sanders campaign, is the co-founder of Dream Defenders, an activist group founded in response to the 2012 killing of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin. The group has repeatedly promoted the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which has been a U.S.-designated terrorist organization since 1997, according to the Daily Caller. The group also promotes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.
In a 2015 article for Ebony magazine, Agnew called Zionism “a racist, exploitative, and exclusionary ideology,” according to the Washington Free Beacon. He also criticized Barack Obama for comparing the right of Jews to have a state to African-Americans seeking equal protection under the law. Agnew called the comparison a “lie” and a “figment of our well-manicured imagination.”
The Saturday statement noted Agnew’s history of activism on behalf of African-Americans and its alignment with Sanders’ goal of addressing social inequity.
ADL criticizes Fox News host for using ‘anti-Semitic trope’ to describe Michael Bloomberg
By Marcy Oster
(JTA)—The Anti-Defamation League criticized a Fox News host for calling Michael Bloomberg a “puppet master,” saying the comments play into stereotypes about Jewish power.
In a Thursday night broadcast, Fox News anchor Raymond Arroyo asserted that Bloomberg will be a “Biden puppet master.”
“What that means is that Mike Bloomberg is going to have more power than any ordinary American will in a Biden campaign,” Arroyo said.
In a letter to Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott, Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s CEO, said the term puppet master echoes longstanding anti-Semitic tropes.
“This charge, and the comments that followed about Bloomberg’s wealth and power, play into deep-seated anti-Semitic canards about Jewish power and money,” Greenblatt wrote. “The use of the term ‘puppet master’ specifically conjures up longstanding anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish power and the notion of the Jewish puppeteer has figured in anti-Semitic imagery throughout modern history.”
Families of Pittsburgh synagogue victims to get $3 million from donated funds
By Ben Harris
(JTA)—The three congregations housed at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue will distribute more than $5.4 million donated in the aftermath of the deadly October 2018 shooting there.
In a news release Monday, the congregations announced that they planned to distribute just over $3 million to the families of the 11 people killed in the attack by a lone gunman and two seriously injured worshippers. Another $1.2 million will be directed toward the rebuilding of the Tree of Life building.
Most of the remaining funds will go to support memorialization and honoring first responders, as well to the two congregations that rented space in the building, Congregation Dor Hadash and New Light Congregation.
The funds were donated between the attack on Oct. 27, 2018, and the end of April 2019, and are separate from those collected by the Pittsburgh Jewish Federation’s Victims of Terror Fund, which were distributed by April 2019.
The distributions were based on the recommendations of an independent committee convened by the federation that delivered its report in February.
“One of the principles that guided the committee’s deliberations relative to the funds received by Tree of Life was ‘shalom b’bayit’—the need to arrive at recommendations that would foster healing in the congregations, among victims’ families and harmony throughout the wider Jewish community,” said Barbara Caplan, co-president of New Light Congregation.
Haim to perform in Jewish delis across America to promote new album
By Emily Burack
(JTA)—The sisters of the pop band Haim played their first-ever show at Canter’s, the most famous Jewish deli in Los Angeles, as kids. They were paid in matzah ball soup.
Now the Jewish siblings are famous themselves and about to release their highly anticipated third album, “Women In Music Pt. III,” out April 24. And how will they help promote it? By getting back to their roots—and playing at Jewish delis across the country.
They announced on their Instagram page on Monday that they will be playing in delis in New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles. The specifics, including which delis they will play at, haven’t been announced yet, but the first show takes place Tuesday in New York.
“We’ve never done anything like this before so let’s all get together and eat some matzo ball soup and we’ll play you some songs live,” they wrote.
Their father, Moti, was born and raised in Israel, where he was a professional soccer player. He moved to the U.S. in 1980 after being recruited by an American team. Their mother, Donna, is from Philadelphia. When the girls were little, their entire family performed together in a band called “Rockinhaim.” In 2007, the sisters started their own band and released their debut album, “Days are Gone,” to acclaim in 2013.
Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders cancel Cleveland campaign events citing coronavirus
By Ron Kampeas
WASHINGTON (JTA)—The presidential campaigns of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have canceled events in Cleveland ahead of the key March 17 Ohio primary, citing concerns surrounding the spread of the coronavirus.
“We are heeding the public warnings from Ohio state officials, who have communicated concern about holding large, indoor events during the coronavirus outbreak,” the Sanders campaign said in a statement.
A Biden campaign official, Kate Bedingfeld, said on Twitter: “In accordance with guidance from public officials and out of an abundance of caution, our rally in Cleveland, Ohio tonight is canceled.”
Biden, the former vice president, and Sanders, the Vermont senator, are now in a two-man race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
President Donald Trump has said he will not cancel events and is going ahead with a speech on Saturday in Las Vegas to the Republican Jewish Coalition.