Weekly roundup of world briefs
January 1, 2021
Palestinians urge Biden and Israel to return to the negotiating table
By Gabe Friedman
(JTA) — In a stark contrast from the last few years of the Trump administration, the Palestinian foreign minister said Saturday that the Palestinian Authority is ready to restart the process of negotiating a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Israel and the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden.
“We are ready for cooperation and dealing with the new U.S. administration, and we are expecting that it would re-draw its ties with the state of Palestine,” Riyad al-Malki said, according to an Associated Press report.
Al-Malki made the announcement at a news conference in Cairo with the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan. He added that the PA would like those two countries to be at the center of the negotiation coordinating process.
The stance signals an expected shift in U.S.-Palestinian relations under Biden. While President Trump’s State Department has cut U.S. aid payments to the Palestinians and signaled support for Israeli settlements, Biden has maintained that he would assume a more traditional posture in aiming to negotiate a two-state solution.
In September, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for an international conference to address the ongoing conflict in 2021.
Israel tightens travel restrictions amid rising COVID morbidity, new strain
(JNS) — Israel’s Coronavirus Cabinet on Sunday unanimously approved new travel restrictions, barring non-Israelis entry into the country from Britain, Denmark and South Africa, and forcing returning nationals to isolate in quarantine hotels.
According to Israeli media reports, the new regulations stem from a spike in Israel’s morbidity rates and what is being reported as a particularly contagious mutation of the COVID-19 virus that was discovered in the United Kingdom.
“We need to close off the whole world immediately,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during the Cabinet meeting.
“It’s an extreme step,” he added, but one that, if successful, will curb the rate of COVID-19 infection.
Netanyahu made the comment shortly after issuing a positive update on his status since becoming the first Israeli to receive Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Saturday night and urging everyone in the country to follow suit.
He warned, however, that it was not yet time for people to let their guard down, as being lax with regard to social distancing and mask-wearing has led to a rise in infection and number of deaths.
Paris area Jewish family assaulted after playing Hebrew-language songs in their car
By Cnaan Liphshiz
(JTA) — French police have arrested two adults and two minors suspected of an anti-Semitic hate crime in which they allegedly verbally assaulted a Jewish family near Paris in their car.
The incident happened Thursday in the northern Paris suburb of Aubervilliers, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wrote on Twitter Friday. No one was hurt in the incident, Le Parisien reported.
“Yesterday night, during Hanukkah, a family from Aubervilliers was assaulted because they are Jewish. In France, in 2020. The perpetrators were apprehended very swiftly by the law enforcement. They will have to be punished in relation to the seriousness of these facts,” Darmanin wrote.
Initial reports in the French media said the incident happened at 8:40 pm and that the perpetrators screamed anti-Semitic insults, including “f**ck the Jews,” rocked the car back and forth and hurled bottles at it, the RTL broadcaster reported. Prior to the assault, music with songs in Hebrew was heard in the family’s car, Le Parisien reported.
The reports named neither the victims nor perpetrators, who are being charged with verbal assault, RTL reported.
The Union of Jewish French Students, or UEJF, in recent years has reached out to non-Jewish young residents of Seine-Saint-Denis, the administrative region where Aubervilliers — a poor and heavily-Muslim municipality with a large Jewish school — is situated.
Last year, UEJF brought residents to experience Sukkot with the Jewish community of Aubervilliers.
The incident Thursday “recalls the insecurity of Jews who self-identify as such in France, despite outreach work,” UEJF President Neomie Madar told Le Parisien.
British chief rabbi speaks out on the plight of Uighur Muslims in China
By Cnaan Liphshiz
(JTA) — In an unusual intervention, British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said that he is “compelled to speak out” on the plight of China’s Uighur Muslim minority.
Members of that minority face “forced imprisonment, the separation of children from their parents and a culture of intimidation and fear,” he wrote in an op-ed Tuesday in The Guardian, leaving him “reflecting upon the deep pain of Jewish persecution throughout the ages.”
China cracked down on its Uyghur population in 2017, in what many witnesses said was a militarized action that put many thousands of Uighurs in detention camps, among other restrictions. Chinese officials have disputed this, saying they are targeting extremists.
British chief rabbis rarely speak out on societal matters that do not directly affect their community.
“It is clear that there must be an urgent, independent and unfettered investigation into what is happening,” Mirvis wrote in the op-ed.
Those responsible, he added, “must be held to account and Uighurs able to escape must be given asylum.”
He urged readers to write to their lawmakers, the media and others to take action. He also likened the oppression of Uyghurs to that of Blacks in his native South Africa.
“Talk to your friends about what is happening and encourage them to do the same. Let no person say that the responsibility lies with others,” wrote Mirvis.
Dianne Feinstein says she isn’t leaving the Senate anytime soon
By Ron Kampeas
(JTA) — Sen. Dianne Feinstein has no plans to leave the Senate, she told Gerald Skelton, a sympathetic Los Angeles Times columnist, in a column posted Thursday.
“I don’t feel my cognitive abilities have diminished,” she said.
The longtime Jewish senator, who is 87, last month said she would not seek to keep her influential spot as top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. She said she preferred to focus on climate change, which she said is posing grievous dangers to California, where an intense season of wildfires added to the state’s pandemic woes.
That didn’t stop pressure on her to leave her Senate. Reports that her mental acuity is diminishing surfaced, and a photo of her hugging the committee chairman, Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., after contentious confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, went viral.
Feinstein, in office since 1992, is set to serve through 2024, when she will be 91.
Lawmakers include $2.75 billion for private schools in stimulus
By Ron Kampeas
WASHINGTON (JTA) — Following a coordinated lobbying effort by Orthodox Jewish and Roman Catholic groups, the $900 billion coronavirus stimulus includes $2.75 billion for private schools hit hard by the pandemic.
“As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has been terribly disruptive and costly to America’s K-12 schools — the students and families they serve, the teachers and many other staffers who work tirelessly to educate our children,” Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s Washington director, whose group was among the Jewish and Catholic organizations pushing lawmakers for the funds, said Monday in a news release.
“That is why it is essential for this latest federal relief package to include a great amount of support for these schools and, among them, America’s Jewish, Catholic and other nonpublic schools.”
The nonpublic schools will have to apply for the funding.
The backing for the added funding was bipartisan, led in the Senate by senators known for their efforts to reach across the aisle: Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, and Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat.
Rutgers residence hall to be named for Ruth Bader Ginsburg
By Shira Hanau
(JTA) — Rutgers University will name a residence hall after the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Ginsburg, who died in September at 87 from complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer, taught classes at the Rutgers law school from 1963 to 1972 on women’s rights and gender quality. She went on to argue major cases on gender discrimination before the Supreme Court, eventually becoming a feminist icon and earning the moniker “notorious R.B.G.”
The residence hall is a former law school building and still houses some 100 law students, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
“When I think of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I hope future generations will understand her perseverance, her clear-eyed pursuit of justice and equity, and her care for those people who are often seen as voiceless or without history,” Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway said, according to the Inquirer.
After graduating from Columbia Law School and clerking for a federal judge, Ginsburg taught at the Rutgers law school for five years before going on to teach at Columbia and founding the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. She was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1980 and to the Supreme Court in 1993 by President Clinton.
Halle synagogue shooter sentenced to life in prison
By Cnaan Liphshiz
(JTA) — The far-right extremist who attempted to shoot his way into the synagogue in Halle, Germany on Yom Kippur last year has been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of two people outside of the synagogue.
Stephan Balliet, 28, was sentenced Monday by a court in Magdeburg near Berlin and denied the option of an early release after his first 15 years in prison.
The sentence he received is therefore unlimited, pending his death or health-related changes in the conditions of his incarceration. It is the harshest prescribed punishment in the German criminal code, DPA reported.
During the months-long trial, Balliet said he carried out the attack because he believed “Jews were ruining Germany.” In his closing argument earlier this month, Balliet denied the Holocaust several times, ignoring the judge’s warning that doing so was illegal. He also attempted to escape prison.
On Oct. 9, 2019, Balliet showed up at the Halle synagogue with the intent of murdering congregants praying inside, prosecutors say. The heavy front door, which is now being repurposed into a memorial, kept him out.
He proceeded to shoot and kill two at a nearby kebab shop.
Josef Schuster, the head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, wrote in a statement that the verdict “makes clear that murderous hatred of Jews is met with no tolerance. Up to the end, the attacker showed no remorse, but kept to his hate-filled anti-Semitic and racist world view.”
Miss France beauty pageant runner-up gets anti-Semitic hate online after saying her father is Israeli
By Cnaan Liphshiz
(JTA) — The runner-up in the Miss France beauty pageant received a torrent of anti-Semitic tweets and other online messages after telling a judge in the contest that her father is Israeli.
“I have an array of origins: my mother is Serbo-Croat, my father Israeli-Italian. This gave me a passion for geography and the discerning of other cultures,” April Benayoum told the contest’s audience Saturday night, according to the Jerusalem Post.
The tweets, including one in which the author wrote “Hitler forgot about you,” provoked condemnations from some of France’s top politicians, including Marlene Schaippa, the minister delegate in charge of citizenship.
“MissFrance2021 is not a contest in antisemitism,” Schaippa wrote. “Full support to April Benayoum, who has been the target of unprecedented anti-Semitic hate speech after revealing her origins.”
LICRA, the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism, announced Saturday that it is taking legal action against multiple individuals who sent the messages. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said he was “deeply shocked” by the incident and added that law enforcement is already on the case.
Benayoum, 21, holds the title of Miss Provence, a region in southern France.
“It is sad to witness such behaviour in 2020,” she told BBC. “I obviously condemn these comments, but it does not affect me at all.”
Amandine Petit, who won the overall title of Miss France, told La Depeche that the tweets on Benayoum were “very disappointing” and said she “fully supports” Benayoum.
Ohio lawmakers vote to launch Holocaust education commission
By Ron Kampeas
(JTA) — Lawmakers in Ohio have launched a Holocaust education commission for the state amid increased concern about Holocaust awareness in the United States.
The Holocaust and Genocide Memorial and Education Commission would “help cultivate knowledge and understanding of one of the most tragic occurrences in the world’s history,” the state Senate said in nearly unanimously approving the bill on Dec. 9. The state House of Representatives followed suit last week in a 77-7 vote.
The 12-member commission, which includes top state educational officials, will “promote public awareness of issues relating to
Holocaust and genocide memorial and education through public education programs.”
Studies have shown that Holocaust awareness among Americans is diminishing.
Ohio Jewish Communities, an umbrella body for the state’s Jewish organizations, lobbied for the bill.
“The lack of Holocaust knowledge today is glaring,” its director, Howie Beigelman, said in testimony this month. “Not only are neo-Nazi groups increasingly active, but recent research confirms that basic facts about the Holocaust are unknown by far too many while others are misappropriating lessons of the Holocaust.”
Congress this year approved $10 million in spending for Holocaust education.
COVID-19 testing site in Israel torched by extremists
By Shira Hanau
(JTA) — A COVID-19 testing site in Bnei Brak, a mostly haredi Orthodox city in Israel, was set ablaze on Monday evening by extremists, according to The Jerusalem Post. No one was harmed in the attack.
The testing site is operated by Hatzalah, the Jewish ambulance corps, and run entirely on donations. Eli Beer, the CEO of Hatzalah in Israel, recovered from the coronavirus earlier this year.
“The fact that people don’t want to get tested is absurd,” Beer said. “As someone who was very ill because of this virus, I cannot stress enough how important it is that we all do our part to combat it.”
The attack comes amid tensions between some parts of the haredi Orthodox community and the government over responses to the pandemic and as the country faces the possibility of another lockdown.
It also coincides with the glimmers of hope for a post-pandemic future as Israel began vaccinating its elderly population this week. A number of Orthodox leaders were among those who were photographed getting the vaccination in a bid to shore up public trust in the vaccine.
It is “no secret that there are a group of people in the city who [oppose] testing,” Effi Feldman, head of the Bnei Brak chapter of Hatzalah, said in a statement, according to The Jerusalem Post. Feldman said the group would resume testing as soon as it can replace the equipment damaged in the fire.
US to Israel: China poses significant security threat to tech industry
(JNS) — A senior Trump administration official has expressed concern about security threats posed by China to Israel’s technology industry, including China purchasing “Israeli civilian technology with dual-use that could pose a national security threat to both countries,” reported Axios.
At a conference on Monday organized by the Israel-based SIGNAL think tank, which focuses on Israeli-Sino academic cooperation, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Schenker said “we would like to see Israel doing more to monitor Chinese investments, mainly in high-tech.”
Schenker “stressed that the U.S. doesn’t expect Israel not to trade with China, but wants to ensure it has no illusions about fostering ties with China,” reported Axios.
“Ask yourselves if you think China will ever be committed to Israel’s security as the U.S. is or promote agreements like the Abraham Accords,” said Schenker, referring to the normalization deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and, most recently, Morocco.