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Weekly roundup of world briefs


September 17, 2021

Birthright trips to resume in October without quarantines for the vaccinated

By Gabe Friedman

(JTA) — Birthright Israel is resuming its trips after a month of cancellations over Israeli COVID-19 quarantine rules, the organization announced Thursday.

Participants who have been fully vaccinated in the past six months will not have to quarantine on arrival for the trips, which will likely resume Oct. 3. However, they will still be subject to PCR and serological tests upon arrival and wait for the PCR results before beginning the trip.

That contrasts with the current policy for U.S. travelers to Israel, who must enter quarantine upon arrival.

Birthright had previously resumed its trips in May — the first since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Over 750,000 people have gone on the free trips to Israel since Birthright launched in 2000.

University of Buenos Aires launches antisemitism watchdog

By JTA Staff

(JTA) — The law school of the University of Buenos Aires has launched a watchdog institute to monitor antisemitism.

The Observatory on the Fight Against Antisemitism will advise local and international institutions, educate legal professionals and provide legal tools to combat antisemitism. It aims to find and analyze antisemitism in the press, social media, public speeches by officials and in educational institutions. A law professor, Juan Antonio Travieso, will head the institute.

In an online inauguration ceremony Wednesday on YouTube, Travieso said he has analyzed how judges, attorneys and scholars thought and acted during Nazism.

“Judges can’t stop the cultural degradation, but we — men and women of law — can oppose … Nazi behaviors and hate speech,” he said.

Travieso added that a training seminar on the Holocaust by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem was a moving experience for him.

The launch event included messages by Israel’s ambassador to Argentina, Galit Ronen, as well as officials from DAIA, the main Jewish umbrella in Argentina, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The three Argentine Jewish leaders mentioned that they had all graduated from the University of Buenos Aires School of Law.

The university is the largest and most prestigious in Argentina with more than 300,000 students, and it boasts five Nobel laureates. Its law school is over 200 years old and currently has 28,000 students.

Since 2002, Argentina has been the only Latin American member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Last October, the University of Buenos Aires adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

A 700-year-old Rosh Hashanah prayerbook is going on auction for $4 million

By Ben Sales

(JTA) — If you found your synagogue’s prayerbook a little dull at Rosh Hashanah services last week, you may be able to buy a livelier — and much older — alternative for next year.

That is, if you have $4 million lying around.

Sotheby’s announced lastThursday that it will be putting a 700-year-old illustrated Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayerbook, known as a machzor, up for auction starting Oct. 19.

The Luzzatto High Holiday Machzor is the oldest Hebrew prayerbook ever to be sold at auction, according to Sotheby’s.

The seller is the Alliance Israélite Universelle, a Jewish organization based in Paris, which will use the proceeds for education and scholarships. The prayerbook is expected to go for $4 million to $6 million.

Named for one of its owners, the Luzzatto machzor was written and illuminated in southern Germany around the late 13th or early 14th century by a Jewish scribe and artist named Abraham, according to Sotheby’s. It was then passed through Jewish communities in France and Italy. As it traveled, different owners wrote notes in the margins and amended the text based on their local customs.

London police arrest suspect in 6 recent assaults on Jews

By Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — Police in London have arrested a man in connection with a series of six assaults on Jews in areas of the city with large Jewish communities.

The assaults began Aug. 18, when somebody struck Jews on the street during the day in the northern neighborhood of Hackney, then kept walking briskly away. The victims reported minor injuries.

In one of the incidents the victim was a child. In another, the blow administered by the perpetrator caused the victim, a man in his sixties, to trip and break a bone in his foot.

The perpetrator was filmed in at least two of the six incidents attributed to the suspect, whom British police identified as a 28-year-old man but did not name. The videos show a tall and bearded man wearing a white taqiyah, a large yarmulke-like hat favored by many Muslims, during the assaults.

The assaults came at a tense moment for British Jews. In the first half of 2021, the Community Security Trust, an organization focused on security for Jewish communities, recorded the highest-ever number of antisemitic incidents in any six-month period since it began monitoring the issue in the 1980s.

The tally for January-June in 2021 was 1,308 incidents, compared to 875 in the corresponding period the previous year. The total for 2020 was 1,668 incidents. More than 600 of the 1,308 incidents recorded in the first half of 2021 occurred in May, during the violent conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Afghanistan’s last Jew has left the country

By Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — Zebulon Simantov, the last remaining Jew in Afghanistan, has finally left the country for fear of persecution by the Taliban, an Israeli television channel reported.

Simantov, the 62-year-old former keeper of Kabul’s lone remaining synagogue, left the country for the United States in recent days with several other exiles, the Kan broadcaster in Israel reported Wednesday.

The report was based on information given by Moti Kahana, an Israeli-American businessman who said he was involved in the extraction along with Moshe Margaretten, a Jewish philanthropist from New York.

“Moshe Margaretten please take me to New York with God’s help,” Simantov said in a video. The trip is a five-day journey, according to the Kan report.

The Taliban, a radical Muslim group, took over Afghanistan last month after the United States pulled out of the country, where it has had a military presence since 2001. Several Jewish group immediately reached out to Simantov, offering to help him out of the country, but he initially had declined the offers, citing his desire to stay in his homeland and preserve the synagogue, in which he had lived.

Kahana had previously said Simantov demanded “personal funding” in exchange for leaving.

After Simantov rebuffed Kahana and Margaretten’s first offers for help, they helped evacuate dozens of other Afghans.

According to multiple reports, Simantov has for many years refused to allow his wife, who lives in Israel with their two daughters, to divorce him. In Orthodox Judaism, spouses may not divorce unless they both consent to the dissolution of their marriage. Spouses who are refused a divorce act, or get, are called “chained.”

Israeli rabbinical courts cannot declare a marriage void, but they can legally punish recalcitrant spouses with fines or even imprisonment.

World Jewish population rises slightly to 15.2 million

By Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — The world population of those who self-identify as Jews stands at about 15.2 million — an increase of 100,000 over last year — with the number in the U.S. differing measurably from this year’s Pew survey.

Israel has 6.9 million Jews and the United States has “about 6 million,” according to the estimate by the Jewish Agency for Israel based on work by Sergio Della Pergola, a demographer from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The Pew survey on Jewish Americans had estimated the figure at 7.5 million.

The researchers for the Jewish Agency consulted the Pew survey, the Jewish Agency said in a statement Sunday, shortly before the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The statement did not provide a reason for the difference.

“When also including those who are eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, the world total rises to 25.3 million people, of which 7.3 million are in Israel and 18 million live outside Israel,” the statement said.

France has the world’s third largest Jewish community with 446,000 people, according to the report, followed by Canada at 393,000 and the United Kingdom with 292,000.

Ukraine was listed as having 43,000 Jews — a major difference with the 360,000 number provided by the European Jewish Congress and the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine. That would make that country the world’s fifth largest Jewish community.

In Israel, some 6.94 million Jews constitute 74 percent of a population of 9.39 million, according to a separate statement by the Central Bureau of Statistics. Nearly 2 million Arabs comprise account for 21 percent of the Israeli population.

That’s an increase of 1.5 percent in the general population in Israel and a similar rise in the Jewish population over last year. The Arab population of Israel has also seen a similar increase to about 1.98 million.

Taliban: We want ties with US and rest of the world — but not Israel

By Ron Kampeas

(JTA) — The Taliban, the extremist Islamist movement once famously insular, is ready to build relations with the world — except for Israel.

Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman for the movement that assumed control of Afghanistan last month, told Sputnik News that his country is ready to work with the United States and other countries in rebuilding the Asian land.

“Yes, of course, in a new chapter if America wants to have a relation with us, which could be in the interest of both countries and both peoples, and if they want to participate in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, they are welcome,” Shaheen told the Russian government-run news agency.

“Of course, we won’t have any relation with Israel. We want to have relations with other countries; Israel is not among these countries.”

Shaheen gave an interview last month to an Israeli state broadcaster as the Taliban was taking control of the country and the Biden administration was ending America’s 20-year military presence in Afghanistan. Shaheen later said he did not realize he was speaking to an Israeli journalist.

The last time the Talban ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, they were known for their insularity and rejecting foreign influence and assistance.

More than 100 headstones smashed at Jewish cemetery in Argentina

By Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) – More than 100 headstones were smashed at a Jewish cemetery in Argentina that had seen similar damage in 2009.

The vandalism at the Tablada Cemetery in the Buenos Aires area was discovered on Sunday, the Jewish news site Visavis reported. The headstones were between the cemetery’s older section and the new one, which also contains the remains of dozens of victims from the 1994 terrorist bombing at the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.

AMIA, the umbrella of Argentine Jewish communities, condemned the vandalism and lamented the “neglect and lack of control” by law enforcement around the cemetery in La Matanza, an eastern district of the Argentine capital. Police are investigating, AMIA said in a statement. It did not say whether there are indications of the vandalism being an antisemitic hate crime. There are no suspects.

In 2009, unidentified individuals defaced more than 60 headstones, including victims of the 1994 bombing. That vandalism also happened shortly before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which this year began on Monday evening. AMIA did call that vandalism antisemitic.

Algerian judoka gets 10-year ban for refusing to compete against Israeli in Tokyo

(JNS) — The International Judo Federation (IJF) has banned Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine and his coach, Ammar Benkhalaf, from participating in activities or competitions for 10 years after the athlete withdrew from the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games to avoid fighting an Israeli opponent.

The ruling goes into effect starting from July 23. Nourine and his coach have 21 days to appeal, according to Middle East Monitor.

Nourine was scheduled to fight Sudan’s Mohamed Abdalrasool in July in the men’s 73-kilogram weight class at the Tokyo Olympics. If he won, he would have had to face Israeli judoka Tohar Butbul in the next round; instead, Nourine refused to compete in the first draw to avoid a possible match-up.

Nourine said he made the decision with the help of his coach in order to “support the Palestinian cause.”

Shortly after their move, the IJF temporarily suspended Nourine and Benkhalaf. The Algerian Olympic Committee withdrew their accreditations and sent them home from the Olympics.

Commenting on the 10-year ban from the IJF, Nourine told the Tasnim News Agency that he does not regret his decision to withdraw from an Olympic match and said, “It is a harsh punishment, but it was expected and this proves that they support the Zionist terrorism against our people in Gaza. They are complicit in the crimes of the occupation. I have not committed any violations; my withdrawal was simply an act of solidarity with the Palestinians.”

Nourine also pulled out of the 2019 World Judo Championships in Tokyo to avoid facing an Israeli athlete.

Israeli public security minister announces inquiry committee into prison break

(JNS) — Israel’s Public Security Minister Omar Bar-Lev announced on Thursday the formation of a government inquiry commission to examine the failures that enabled the escape of six convicted Palestinian terrorists from Gilboa Prison last Monday.

The decision was taken in coordination with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Kan news stated in a report, and it will be brought before a government vote of approval.

“We will leave no stoned unturned,” said Bar-Lev, describing a “severe failure, which must be the subject of a full examination. I trust that the government of Israel will approve my recommendation and that we will explore the root of the events that led to this difficult result.”

Bar-Lev stated earlier on Thursday that if professional negligence is uncovered, it would receive an adequate response. “Upon discovery of the security prisoners’ escape, the Israel Police, the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet have conducted a pursuit that will not stop until we place our hands on the terrorists,” he said.

Meanwhile, the IDF has banned soldiers from the Judea and Samaria Division from leaving their bases, said Ynet, as part of preparations for a potential escalation. The step comes after four battalions were deployed to the West Bank for backup.

The report said that Israeli security forces assess that the terrorists split up into smaller groups and that some crossed the Green Line into the Jenin area, where they are from.

Lapid in Moscow: Israel reserves right to act against Iran to prevent nukes

(JNS) — Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said during a state visit to Moscow on Thursday that the Jewish state reserves the right to act to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

After meeting with his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Lapid said during a joint press conference that “a nuclear Iran will lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”

As such, he called for a strong, clear message to be sent to the Islamic Republic.

He said “Iran’s march towards a nuclear weapon is not only an Israeli problem; it’s a problem for the entire world.”

The two foreign ministers also discussed Israel’s attacks on Iranian activity in Syria.

Lavrov said Russia is opposed to Syrian territory being exploited for attacks against Israel or any other country. He added that Russian and Israeli military officers conduct continuous security dialogue on a daily basis regarding Syria, adding that such coordination has proven its efficiency.


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