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Naftali Bennett’s office clarifies that he did not mean to endorse ‘freedom of worship’ for Jews on Temple Mount

By Ben Sales

(JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office backtracked on his statement claiming that Jews had “freedom of worship” on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Allowing Jews freedom of worship there would be a major change at a contested holy site that has been the origin of wider outbreaks of violence.

Israel has controlled the Temple Mount, which Muslims revere as the Noble Sanctuary, since it captured the site from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War, but the mount is administered by the Islamic Waqf, a joint Jordanian-Palestinian religious body. Jews and other non-Muslims are prohibited from praying there and may visit only during limited hours.

Bennett’s statement on Sunday came as more than 1,000 Jews went to the mount in observance of Tisha B’Av, a fast day commemorating the destruction of the two Jewish Holy Temples that stood at the site. He thanked public security officials for “managing the events on the Temple Mount with responsibility and consideration, while maintaining freedom of worship for Jews on the Mount.”

On Monday, Bennett’s spokesperson said he had not meant to suggest a change to regulations there.

“There is no change in the status quo,” Bennett’s spokesman Matan Sidi said, according to The Jerusalem Post. “There is continuity from the last government in the [current] government’s policy on the Temple Mount.”

Clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters on the Temple Mount in April and May preceded interethnic Jewish-Arab violence in cities across Israel, as well as a flare-up of fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza over 11 days. On Sunday, police and protesters clashed again on the mount.

Omri Casspi, first Israeli player in NBA, retires from professional basketball

By Ben Sales

(JTA) — Omri Casspi, the first Israeli to make it to the NBA, has retired from playing basketball professionally.

Casspi, 33, began his career with Maccabi Tel Aviv, an Israeli team, and made history in 2009 when he was selected in the NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings. A forward, he played in the NBA for a decade, with stints in Cleveland,  Houston, Memphis, New Orleans, Minnesota and with the Golden State Warriors. He wore the number 18, which in Judaism signifies life.

When the Warriors won the championship in 2018, Casspi got a ring even though he was not on the postseason roster. After the following season, he left the NBA and returned to play for Maccabi Tel Aviv.

He announced his retirement Sunday.

“Basketball has given me a lot over the years. I reached the peaks of European and world basketball that I never dreamed of,” he said in a statement, according to the Times of Israel. “I did not believe I’d make those dreams come true.”

Pope Francis restricts Latin Mass that caused controversy with Jews

By Ben Sales

(JTA) — Pope Francis has restricted the use of the Latin Mass, a form of the liturgy favored by traditionalist Catholics that calls for the conversion of the Jews and that until 2008 included a reference to Jewish “blindness.”

Francis’ declaration on Friday is a repudiation of an earlier decree by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2007 made it easier to use the Latin Mass. At the time of that declaration, Jewish groups expressed concern because the Latin Mass recited on Good Friday included a “prayer for the Jews” that called for their conversion to Christianity and referred to the Jews’ “blindness.”

Jewish groups worried at the time that Benedict’s decision signified a retreat from the Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II, which declared in a 1965 document known as “Nostra Aetate” that the Jews were not guilty of killing Jesus, and condemned antisemitism. Accusations that the Jews killed Jesus have long motivated antisemitic attacks.

In 2008, Benedict reaffirmed his commitment to Nostra Aetate and omitted the word “blindness” from the Good Friday prayer.

Francis said he was restricting use of the Latin Mass out of concern that those who favor it also reject Vatican II, according to the Associated Press. Vatican II made a number of sweeping changes to Catholic ritual and practice — including allowing for Mass to be recited in the vernacular. A faction of Catholics who split from the Church over Vatican II had continued reciting the Latin Mass before Benedict’s declaration.

Now in order to use the Latin Mass, priests must get permission from their local bishop, who must also make sure that those using the Latin Mass accept Vatican II.

Arabs clash with police on Temple Mount during Tisha B’Av

(JNS) — Arabs hurled stones at Israeli security forces and shouted nationalist slogans on the Temple Mount on Sunday, hours before Jews began to visit the site to mark the fast day of Tisha B’Av.

The burst of violence, which according to Israel’s s Channel 12 began at around 5 a.m., was quickly dispersed by Border Police.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held an assessment of the situation on Sunday together with top security officials, following which he instructed that Jewish visits to the Temple Mount be allowed to continue.

“The prime minister is receiving timely updates and will hold additional assessments in the coming hours,” his office said in a statement. Tisha B’Av, the Ninth of Av, is the date on which both the First and Second Temples were destroyed and is regarded as one of the most solemn days on the Jewish calendar.

The AP predicts that Israel will win 7 Olympic medals. That would make history.

By Gabe Friedman

(JTA) — Will it be a historic Olympics for Israel? The Associated Press thinks so.

On its list of predicted medalists for each event in Tokyo published Monday, the news agency includes seven Israeli athletes. The Jewish state has won nine medals in its entire Olympics history.

This year, Israel is sending its largest delegation of athletes by far — 90, compared to its previous high of 47 at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Here are the Israelis on the AP list:

Artem Dolgopyat — Gold in men’s gymnastics, floor exercise

Lonah Chemtai Salpeter — Silver in women’s marathon

Sagi Muki — Silver in men’s 81 kg judo

Team Israel — Bronze in baseball

Linoy Ashram — Bronze in women’s rhythmic gymnastics, all-around

Team Israel — Bronze in women’s rhythmic gymnastics, group category

Katy Spychakov — Bronze in women’s windsurfing

Read our guide on Jewish athletes to watch at the Games from around the world here.

Israel selected to host Miss Universe pageant for the first time

By Asaf Shalev

(JTA) — For the first time, Israel will host the Miss Universe pageant.

Eilat, a remote resort city in the country’s south, will be the venue for the beauty competition’s 70th annual event in December, organizers announced Tuesday.

Actor and comedian Steve Harvey will return as host for the three-hour pageant, which will be broadcast live on the Fox network in the United States and across 180 countries. The reigning Miss Universe, Andrea Meza of Mexico, will crown her successor.

The announcement comes amid a renewed public focus on the movement to boycott Israel after Ben & Jerry’s said it would stop selling its ice cream in Israel’s West Bank settlements. 

In a statement, Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov said he was “delighted” by the pageant’s selection.   

“I fully hope that in December we will be celebrating not only the new Miss Universe here in Israel, but most importantly, the end of the world pandemic,” he was quoted as saying by The Times of Israel. “I wish all participants good health and good luck and I look forward to seeing you all soon.”

Last year’s event was postponed due to the pandemic. 

Only one Israeli has won the pageant: Rina Messinger in 1976. 

Perhaps the last popular major global event to be held in Israel was the Eurovision music contest in 2019, which took place despite boycott calls by pro-Palestinian activists.

Britain’s Labour Party bans 4 far-left factions in effort to change reputation on antisemitism

By Asaf Shalev

(JTA) — The Labour Party in Britain has banned four far-left factions as part of an effort to address frustration about the party’s handling of antisemitism. 

The four factions, known for supporting former party leader Jeremy Corbyn, have been accused of downplaying claims of antisemitism as politically motivated and of condoning inappropriate comments by party members. 

Labour’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee, voted Tuesday to expel Labour Against the Witch Hunt, Socialist Appeal, Labour in Exile and Resist. Belonging to any of these groups is now grounds for removal from Labour. 

Along with the ban, Labour also introduced a new process for accountability that will see complaints handled by a review panel of independent lawyers, which report to a new independent appeal board.

The party also ruled that all prospective Labour Party candidates will have to be trained by the Jewish Labour Movement in dealing with antisemitism.

“We are acting decisively to put our house in order and show that Labour is – and always will be – the party of equality,” Labour party chair Anneliese Dodds was quoted as saying in the Guardian. “We are getting on with the job of making sure the Labour party is a safe and welcoming space for the benefit of all our members.”

Jews in Britain have for years been calling out Labour officials over rhetoric they say is antisemitic. Keir Starmer, who replaced Corbyn as leader of Labour in 2019, has vowed to reform the party and win back the confidence of the alienated portion of the country’s Jewish community.

Muslim and Jewish Democrats in Congress call for creation of Islamophobia monitor

By Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Muslim and Jewish Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have joined to call on the Biden administration to create an Islamaphobia monitor position.

The proposal in a letter sent Tuesday to Secretary of State Antony Blinken was shaped by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who is Muslim, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who is Jewish.

A source close to the drafters said that the government’s antisemitism monitor, a position created in 2004, was a model for the proposal. The name proposed in the letter, Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combatting Islamophobia, is a precise echo of the existing office, Special Envoy To Monitor and Combat Antisemitism.

“In recent years, we have seen a dramatic increase in violent Islamophobia and the persecution of Muslims manifesting itself around the world,” said the letter, which cites ongoing persecution of Uyghur Muslims in China and Rohingya Muslims in Burma, as well as a mass casualty attack on a New Zealand mosque in 2019 and a recent deadly attack on a Muslim family in London, Ontario.

Among the 23 Democrats signing are the House’s two other Muslims, Andre Carson of Indiana and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and seven of the 25 Jewish Democrats in the House, including Schakowsky; Steve Cohen of Tennessee; Sara Jacobs, Alan Lowenthal and Mike Levin of California; Brad Schneider of Illinois; and Dean Phillips of Minnesota.

Phillips and Schneider are among the Jewish Democrats who had fraught exchanges with Omar and Tlaib over their harsh criticism of Israel during the Israel-Gaza conflict in May.

Omar and Schakowsky in 2019 launched a media tour together to combat bigotry after Omar came under fire for online comments about the AIPAC Israel lobby that were criticized as antisemitic.

AIPAC-affiliated congressional trips to Israel set for August delayed over Delta variant concerns

By Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The AIPAC affiliate that organizes trips to Israel for members of Congress has rescheduled several that were to take place next month until early 2022, citing the COVID-19 resurgence in the country attributed to the Delta variant.

Two trips organized by the American Israel Education Foundation, one for new Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives and another bipartisan trip for members of two House committees, Armed Services and Homeland Security, were to have taken place in August.

But COVID cases are rising in Israel, and the country this week instituted new measures to contain the resurgence triggered by the variant.

“Given Israel’s increased concern over the Delta variant and the likelihood of further travel restrictions, we decided it was not possible to offer Members of Congress a comprehensive and informative program in the midst of the current challenges,” AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann said in an email. “Enthusiasm for traveling to Israel remains high among these members of Congress, and we look forward to them visiting Israel with AIEF.”

The trips will now take place in February 2022, when the trip for Democratic freshmen was already scheduled.

The AIEF trips, usually organized in non-election years for first-year representatives, are seen as key to building support for Israel in Congress.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee this month announced that for the second year in a row it will not mount an annual conference in Washington because of continued concerns about the coronavirus.

Sue Bird will be Team USA flag bearer at Olympics opening ceremony

By Emily Burack

(JTA) — Jewish basketball star Sue Bird will be one of Team USA’s two flag bearers at the Tokyo Olympics’ opening ceremony on Friday.

Bird, one of many Jewish athletes going for gold this summer, will be competing in her fifth Olympic games this summer. The 12-time WNBA All-Star has won gold at the last four Olympics with the U.S. Women’s Basketball Team.

“I think that’s the best part, to be honest, to have your peers be the one to see your career and pick you to be the one to lead us in,” Bird told the Today Show on Wednesday. The flag bearer, and the opening ceremony, has “always been” Bird’s favorite Olympics moment, “outside of winning, obviously,” she joked. “So, to actually be named [flag bearer] now is mind-blowing.”

Bird — whose paternal grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from what is now Ukraine in the early 1900s and changed their surname from “Boorda” to “Bird” — also holds Israeli citizenship.

For the first time in Olympic history, Team USA will have two flag bearers — the honor was also given to Eddy Alvarez, a former speed skating medalist who is now a baseball player in the Miami Marlins’ organization. Bird and Alvarez will wear special “air conditioned jackets,” designed by Jewish fashion icon Ralph Lauren. (The Tokyo Olympics are set to be one of the hottest on record.)

When Bird first found out about the honor, her whole family was sleeping thanks to the 13-hour time difference in Tokyo. And when she told her fiancé — soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe, also competing in the Olympics — Rapinoe said already knew.

The Opening Ceremony will air live on Friday, starting at 6:55 a.m. ET, and replay in primetime, starting at 7 p.m. ET.

Biden nominates David Cohen, former Jewish federation vice chair, as US ambassador to Canada

By Gabe Friedman

(JTA) — David Cohen, a Comcast executive and former vice chairman of the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, is President Joe Biden’s pick to be U.S. ambassador to Canada, the White House has announced.

In addition to being a lobbyist for the communications giant, Cohen is a longtime Democratic fundraiser who was chief of staff to Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell in the 1990s. He also served as head of diversity and inclusion efforts at Comcast.

Cohen grew up in Highland Park, a New Jersey town with a high percentage of Jewish residents.

“Federation involvement is in my DNA,” he told the Jewish Exponent of Philadelphia in 2013. “In my family, it would be unthinkable not to be involved in Federation and the Jewish community.”

Cohen has had close ties to Biden and hosted his first presidential fundraiser of the 2020 campaign. The White House announcement on the choice of Cohen was made Wednesday.

“His Senate confirmation can’t come soon enough for the Canada-U.S. relationship,” Scotty Greenwood, president and CEO of the Canadian American Business Council, said in a statement.


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