Weekly roundup of world briefs
July 31, 2020
Trump names former White House staffer Sebastian Gorka to defense education body
By Ron Kampeas
WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Donald Trump named Sebastian Gorka to a committee that promotes national security through the education system.
A onetime White House staffer, Gorka had come under fire for his associations with the Hungarian far right.
On Tuesday, Trump named Gorka to the National Security Education Board, which oversees the National Security Education Program, a congressionally mandated program that dispenses grants and scholarships to promote study in areas of critical national security interest.
Gorka worked in the White House for six months at the beginning of Trump’s term as an adviser on counterterrorism, although he lacked the security clearance necessary for employment on the National Security Council.
He left after a number of controversies, including flaunting his associations with Vitez Rend, a movement founded by the anti-Semitic prewar Hungarian leader Miklos Horthy. Gorka said he was celebrating his father’s postwar association with the group when it was known more for its anti-communist resistance than its World War II-era activities.
A number of Democrats in Congress had during Gorka’s brief White House tenure raised concerns about his purported associations with Vitez Rend and a far-right group in present-day Hungary with a similar name.
Check your hummus: Advocacy group raises concerns about health of supermarket brands
By Shira Hanau
(JTA) — That hummus may not be as healthful as you want to believe, according to an environmental advocacy group’s latest research.
Laboratory tests commissioned by the Environmental Working Group found glyphosate, the chemical used in the herbicide Roundup, in 80 percent of conventional chickpeas and hummus tested.
The Environmental Working Group is an advocacy organization, funded in part by the organic food industry, that commissions research on the health of consumer products. It has long called attention to glyphosate, commonly used to kill weeds, and says the compound causes cancer.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the European Union do not consider glyphosate a likely carcinogen. But the company that makes Roundup agreed last month to pay more than $10 billion to settle thousands of claims that the product contributed to cancers, and some European nations are phasing out its use under pressure from environmental advocates.
Among the brands that exceeded the Environmental Working Group’s benchmarks for safe levels of the chemical were Whole Foods Market Original Hummus, Sabra Classic Hummus, Sabra Roasted Pine Nut Hummus, Cava Traditional Hummus and Harris Teeter Fresh Foods Market Traditional Artisan Hummus. All brands fell well within the Environmental Protection Agency’s glyphosate limits.
Organic food producers are not allowed to apply glyphosate to their crops, but the trials did detect the chemical in several organic chickpea products, although the levels were lower than in the conventionally grown products.
For people seeking to avoid glyphosate in their food, producing one’s own hummus — an easy, no-cooking task — unfortunately offers no solution. The dry chickpeas that the Environmental Working Group tested had the highest levels of the chemical of all the products it reviewed.
This story has been updated with additional information about the Environmental Working Group and glyphosate’s status with regulatory authorities.
Son of millionaire US businessman makes $75 million bid for major stake in El Al Airlines
By Marcy Oster
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Eli Rozenberg, the son of millionaire U.S. businessman Kenny Rozenberg, has made a $75 million bid to acquire a large stake in El Al Airlines.
Rozenberg, 30, is a resident of Israel and an Israeli citizen, which makes him eligible to become the controlling shareholder of the airline.
His bid would give Rozenberg a 45 percent stake in the airline, the Israeli business daily Globes reported. The offer comes through a company the younger Rozenberg owns in Israel.
The airline, known as Israel’s flagship carrier, has been laid low by the coronavirus pandemic.
A government bailout package accepted by the airline last week would include a government-backed loan and a stock offering on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. Under the bailout, the state would retain a 61 percent stake in the airline, leading again to its nationalization. The airline was privatized in 2004.
At the end of June, El Al canceled all passenger flights through the end of the month, as well as cargo flights and other special passenger flights to specific destinations, Globes reported.
Most of El Al’s pilots and other employees are on leave without pay due to the pandemic and a dispute between the airline and its pilots.
Kenny Rozenberg, who lives in New York, owns the Centers Health Care, a national chain of nursing homes and affiliated services in the United States.
Israel accused of airstrike on Damascus that killed 5 Iran-backed fighters
By Marcy Oster
JERUSALEM (JTA) — An airstrike on Damascus that is being blamed on Israel killed five Iranian-backed fighters, a watchdog group reported.
The attack on Monday night destroyed a missile depot and hit military positions, weapons and ammunition warehouses in the Syrian capital, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in the United Kingdom.
It is not known if the dead fighters were Iranians or members of Iranian-backed groups from other countries.
Four other foreign fighters and seven members of Syria’s Air Force also were injured in the attack, two seriously, according to the report.
The state-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency, or SANA, reported that Syrian air defenses were able to shoot down the majority of the missiles fired during the “Israeli aggression.” It quoted an unnamed military source as saying that “the aggression led to the injury of seven soldiers and caused material damages.”
Israel neither confirmed nor denied the airstrikes, though it is believed to have carried out dozens of airstrikes on Syria. Syria has accused Israel of at least eight airstrikes on its territory in the past two months, the last on June 28, according to Haaretz.
Auschwitz museum employees discover identifying inscription in shoes of children sent to the camp
By Katarzyna Markusz
WARSAW (JTA) — Employees of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum discovered handwritten inscriptions in shoes belonging to children who were sent to the Nazi death camp in Poland.
The discoveries were made in the course of efforts to preserve the shoes on display at the museum.
One inscription identified a shoe as belonging to Amos Steinberg, who was born in Prague in 1938 and imprisoned with his parents in the Theresienstadt ghetto in 1942. He was later sent to Auschwitz.
“We can guess that it was most likely his mother who made sure that her child’s shoe was signed,” Hanna Kubik of the museum’s collections department said in a statement Tuesday announcing the findings. “The father was deported in another transport. We know that on Oct. 10, 1944, he was transferred from Auschwitz to the Dachau camp. He was liberated in the Kaufering sub-camp.”
In another shoe, employees found documents in Hungarian with several names: Ackermann, Brávermann and Beinhorn.
“These people were probably deported to Auschwitz in the spring or summer of 1944 during the extermination of Hungarian Jews,” Kubik said. “I hope that more detailed research will reveal details about each individual.”
Vast quantities of children’s shoes are on display at Auschwitz, and the museum has been engaged in an ongoing effort to preserve them. Many historical artifacts have been found in this process, including letters, newspaper fragments and bank notes, some of which were used as lining or padding.
About 230,000 children are estimated to have been imprisoned in Auschwitz, the vast majority of whom perished there.
Adelsons give $25 million to Republican super PAC controlled by Mitch McConnell
By Marcy Oster
(JTA) — Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, donated a total of $25 million to a Republican super PAC trying to ensure that Republicans maintain the majority in the U.S. Senate.
A filing made Monday with the Federal Election Commission show that the billionaire casino mogul and his physician wife each wrote a check last month for $12.5 million to the Senate Leadership Fund, according to reports. The Republican fund, which is controlled by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, raised a total of $30 million in June.
It was the couple’s largest donation for the 2020 campaign.
Super PACs can spend an unlimited amount with the caveat that they do not work directly with a political candidate.
A newspaper reported in February, citing three unnamed Republican fundraisers, that the Adelsons plan to spend $100 million to elect Republicans and reelect President Donald Trump.
The Adelsons are known for their generosity to Republicans, pro-Israel causes and medical research. They typically spend tens of millions of dollars on the campaigns of Senate Republicans.
Netherlands suspends aid to group that employed alleged Palestinian terrorists
By Cnaan Liphshiz
AMSTERDAM (JTA) — The Dutch government said it is suspending its contributions to a Palestinian organization that had used the subsidies to pay salaries to suspected terrorists.
The office of Sigrid Kaag, the Netherlands’ minister for foreign trade and development cooperation, told parliament on Monday that the Ramallah-based Union of Agricultural Work Committees used the money to pay two men in Israeli custody who are standing trial for the murder of a 17-year-old girl in a 2019 terror attack.
Samer Arbid and Abdul Razeq Farraj are alleged to be members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror organization and had worked for the Union of Agricultural Work Committees alongside their alleged involvement with that terror group.
Kaag announced the suspension of funding while answering a parliamentary query by the Freedom Party, the Christian Union and the Reformed Political Party. The information about the two suspects came from research by the Israel-based NGO Monitor group, which examines the activity of nongovernmental organizations involved in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
According to the research, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees has received about $23 million in subsidies from the Dutch government since 2010.
That funding was suspended indefinitely on July 9 pending an investigation of “possible ties” between the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a spokesperson for Kaag wrote in a reply to the query from Monday.
Ukraine’s President Zelensky helps free hostages by plugging Joaquin Phoenix film on Facebook
By Cnaan Liphshiz
(JTA) — Some leaders end hostage situations with daring military operations, or by forking over cash.
Vlodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s first Jewish president, made headlines for freeing hostages in a different way on Tuesday: promoting a 15-year-old documentary about animal exploitation narrated by Joaquin Phoenix.
In a saga that loosely resembles an episode of the British dystopian sci-fi show “Black Mirror,” a 44-year-old man later named as Maksym S. Kryvosh hijacked a bus carrying 13 people in Lutsk, in northwestern Ukraine. He made several demands that police did not reveal, in addition to stipulating that Zelensky publicly praise the film “Earthlings.”
Zelensky did so on Tuesday in a Facebook post, and Kryvosh freed the hostages, who were not harmed.
“Film ‘Earthlings,’ 2005. Everyone watch,” a terse Zelensky is seen saying in the 3-second video.
He deleted the video shortly after the hostages were freed.
The hijacker’s actions earned the film a more genuine endorsement from another Ukrainian official, who watched it following the incident.
“This film that this man mentioned is good,” Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Tuesday during a news conference. “But you don’t have to be so messed up and terrorize the whole country to enjoy it.”
Kryvosh, who was born in Russian, also spoke about his actions being a “Happy day of the anti-system,” Pravda Ukraine reported, but he did not expand in concrete terms about any ideology connected to Ukraine or Russia.
Zelensky, a former TV actor, was elected last year in an election some found symbolic of progress in a country with a history of bloody anti-Semitism.
Ari Fuld’s murderer sentenced to life in prison
(JNS) — Khalil Jabarin was sentenced to life in prison by the Judea Military Court on Tuesday for the fatal stabbing of American-Israeli Ari Fuld, 45, and attempting to murder three other people at the Gush Etzion shopping area in September 2018.
The attack became international news because it was caught on security cameras, along with Fuld getting up after being stabbed multiple times in the back to shoot and able to wound Jabarin, who was looking for more victims.
Fuld was posthumously awarded the Medal of Distinction, the third-highest award that can be granted by the Israel Police.
The court also ordered Jabarin, who was 17 at the time, to pay the Fuld family NIS 1.25 million ($368,125).
Attorney Maurice Hirsch, who represented the Fuld family, said that the damages awarded made no sense because Jabarin would receive more from the Palestinian Authority, which provides monthly stipends to terrorists in Israeli prisons.
“The sentence handed down to the murderer of Ari Fuld failed miserably to create deterrence,” said Hirsch. “While in prison serving his sentence, the murderer will be paid millions of shekels by the P.A. as part of its terror-rewarding ‘pay-for-slay’ policy. The damages the court ordered the murderer to pay the Fulds is less than a quarter of what he will be paid [by the P.A.]. The decision of the court is proof that terror pays.”
Twitter clarifies stance on Star of David imagery after users accounts locked
(JNS) — Twitter has clarified its stance at using the Star of David imagery after some users who display it in their profile pictures were locked out of their accounts for using “hateful imagery.”
According to the Campaign Against Antisemitism, users have received the following message: “We have determined that this account violated the Twitter Rules. Specifically for: Violating our rules against posting hateful imagery. You may not use hateful images or symbols in your profile image or profile header. As a result, we have locked your account.”
“We want to clarify some questions about hateful imagery on Twitter. We categorically do not consider the Star of David as a hateful symbol or hateful image. We have for some time seen the ‘yellow star’ or ‘yellow badge’ symbol being used by those seeking to target Jewish people,” said Twitter in a thread. “This is a violation of the Twitter Rules, and our Hateful Conduct Policy prohibits the promotion of violence against — or threats of attack towards — people on the basis of categories such as religious affiliation, race and ethnic origin.”
“While the majority of cases were correctly actioned, some accounts highlighted recently were mistakes and have now been restored,” added Twitter, which named both the U.K.-based Campaign Against Antisemitism and Community Security Trust, and the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League.
The Campaign Against Antisemitism and ADL applauded Twitter for the course correction.
“Good to see Twitter clarifying the difference between images used to harass and when used to express identity and empathy. The Star of David is an ancient symbol that represents all Jews and our solidarity,” tweeted ADL national director and CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.
“Success for CAA as @Twitter reverses locks on accounts with Stars of David, but questions remain as to why this policy was in place at all,” tweeted the Campaign Against Antisemitism.
The Community Security Trust has yet to react to the correction.