Weekly roundup of world briefs


BBYO holds largest Jewish gathering since the pandemic began

By Ron Kampeas

BALTIMORE (JTA) — More than 3,000 teenagers from 40 countries attended a BBYO convention in what is believed to be the largest Jewish gathering since the beginning of the pandemic.

A release from the organizations said the event at the Baltimore Convention Center running Feb. 17-21 focused on Jewish philanthropy and Jewish education.

Speakers included Mike Posner, a Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter; Rabbi Angela Buchdahl of New York’s Central Synagogue, who fielded calls from the hostage-taker in last month’s assault on a Texas synagogue; A. J. Dillon, the Green Bay Packers running back, and Zach Banner, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive tackle; Nikki Fried, Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner who is running for governor; and Jurney Smollett, an Emmy-nominated actress.

Strict COVID protections, including proof of vaccination, testing and masking, were in place throughout.

BBYO, the former B’nai Birith Youth Organization, describes itself as “the leading pluralistic Jewish teen movement.”

Declaring war on Ukraine, Russia’s Putin cites goal of ‘denazification’ of country with Jewish president

By Shira Hanau

(JTA) — In launching Russia’s war on Ukraine late lastWednesday night, Russian President Vladimir Putin cited a purported need for “denazification” of Ukraine, a country whose president is Jewish.

“Its goal is to protect people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide… for the last eight years. And for this we will strive for the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine,” Putin said in his speech, which was broadcast on state television.

Putin was referring to a claim that he has long made, starting as a justification for his 2014 invasion and subsequent annexation of Crimea, that the Ukrainian military is run by secret Nazis.

Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine since 2019, is himself Jewish and had family members died in the Holocaust, in which more than 1 million Jews living in what is now Ukraine were murdered by the Nazis and, in some cases, by their local collaborators.

Some Ukrainian nationalists have increasingly exalted those collaborators, especially a division of the Nazi army formed with local troops, in recent years. Nazi symbols have been on display at nationalist marches.

Zelensky has expressed reservations about efforts to exalt Nazi collaborators, who fought against the Soviet Union, and last year condemned a march featuring Nazi-related symbols.

On Thursday, the Ukrainian government’s official Twitter account shared a cartoon image Thursday morning that showed Adolf Hitler smiling and touching Putin’s cheek. “This is not a ‘meme’, but our and your reality right now,” the account wrote.

Zelensky extended the comparison in a televised address Thursday in which he said that Russia had behaved like Hitler, whose bid to overtake much of Europe began with a shock invasion of a contested territory, in invading Ukraine “in a cunning way.”

Oklahoma legislature advances Holocaust education bill

By Ron Kampeas

(JTA) — An Oklahoma state House committee unanimously approved a bill that would mandate Holocaust education in Oklahoma schools.

The bipartisan-backed bill that the House of Representatives Appropriations and Budget Education Subcommittee approved Tuesday would direct schools in the state to work with Holocaust experts to develop a curriculum for students from grade six through 12, Oklahoma News 4 reported.

John Waldron, the Democrat who authored the bill with Republican Mark McBride, cited the recent spike in antisemitic attacks in explaining the need for the bill.

“Our greatest generation liberated the Nazi concentration camps that killed 11 million people, including six million Jews,” he said. “Yet knowledge of the Holocaust is declining in Oklahoma and America. Antisemitic hate crimes are on the rise.”

Nazi Germany murdered six million Jews in the Holocaust. An ahistorical figure of 11 million, meant to include non-Jews murdered by the Nazis, has been debunked but persists in the popular imagination. The erroneous number of 11 million appears in the bill.

At least 22 states have Holocaust education laws on the books, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Australia’s New South Wales state moves to ban the swastika

By Ron Kampeas

(JTA) — The Australian state of New South Wales is closer to banning the swastika.

A bipartisan bill authored by an opposition Labor Party member would ban the public display or dissemination of the symbol associated with the Nazis. The bill includes exemptions for those who use the symbol as part of Hindu traditions.

The bill imposes maximum penalties of approximately $4,000 and six months in prison.

A Standing Committee on Social Issues will now consider amendments before advancing the bill to the full Legislative Council, Australia’s upper legislative body, for debate, the Australian Jewish News reported.

The committee secured a joint endorsement of the bill from the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies and the Hindu Council of Australia.

“The Nazi swastika is an emblem of pure evil. It represents the dehumanization of millions of people; the death of our Australian servicemen and women; and one of the most inhumane, hate-based and murderous regimes and ideologies to ever exist,” Board of Deputies CEO Darren Bark said in the joint statement.

The bill was introduced by the shadow minister for police and counter-terrorism, Walt Secord, who is Jewish. Secord is also the deputy chairman of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel.

Police have tallied a rise in extremist behaviour in New South Wales over the past two years, Australia’s ABC News reported. Secord said that in 2020, police were notified 31 times about Nazi flags being displayed, but were powerless to act.

J Street drops endorsement of Marie Newman, congresswoman at the center of pro-Palestinian bribery allegations

By Ron Kampeas

(JTA) — J Street’s affiliated political action committee will no longer endorse Marie Newman, an Illinois Democratic congresswoman at the center of an ethics investigation into pro-Palestinian bribery allegations.

Logan Bayroff, a spokesman for the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, said Tuesday that the decision was mostly the result of redistricting, which cast Newman against another J Street PAC endorsee, Sean Casten.

Bayroff said that the ethics investigation factored into the decision. “We endorsed both of them in 2020 in different districts, but once it became clear it was head to head we have to make a choice,” Bayroff said in an interview. “We have to look at everything going on in the race, and investigation into one candidate is one of the factors one looks into in a race.”

Newman is under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics for allegedly promising Iymen Chehade, a Palestinian-American academic, a job on her congressional staff if he agreed not to run against her in a primary. One of his alleged conditions was that Newman adopt pro-Palestinian stances.

Newman failed to hire Chehade as her congressional adviser, a job that is paid for with government funds, and he sued her last year. They settled for undisclosed terms, and he subsequently signed onto her campaign as a foreign affairs adviser. Campaign advisers are paid out of donations to candidates.

Newman has denied any improprieties.

UJA Federation of New York releases $3 million to support Ukraine aid effort

(JNS) — UJA-Federation of New York announced in a news release on Thursday that it has approved $3 million in emergency funding to support Jewish communities in Ukraine. The funds will be made available to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency and other organizations working to provide for the safety and well-being of approximately 200,000 Jews living in Ukraine.

The funds will go to humanitarian aid, such as food, medicine, winter relief and emergency services; bolster security at Jewish institutions; respond to emerging needs such as the displacement of people from their homes and provide mobile medical units for the homebound.

The effort utilizes a network of thousands of volunteers from across Ukraine.

At the same time, the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington has also opened a Ukraine Emergency Fund to swiftly meet the emerging and urgent humanitarian needs of the 200,000+ members of Ukraine’s Jewish community.

“Belonging to a global Jewish community means assisting and caring for Jews wherever they are – always, and especially in times of crisis,” said The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington CEO Gil Preuss. “Decades of support to our global partners from Federation’s Annual Campaign and United Jewish Endowment Fund grants have built the infrastructure we need to respond urgently today, and to ensure Ukraine’s Jews remain safe and cared for.”

Blinken speaks with Lapid on the situation in Ukraine

(JNS) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday to discuss the situation in Ukraine.

According to a State Department readout, the two foreign ministers discussed “the premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified attack by Russia’s military forces on Ukraine and its people.”

On Twitter, Lapid said that he “expressed concern for the safety of Israelis trying to leave Ukraine and updated the secretary of state on Israel’s [planned] humanitarian aid to Ukraine.”

“The Secretary of State updated me on the steps the United States is taking at this stage and we have agreed to continue talking in the coming days,” he added.

Earlier on Thursday, Lapid accused Russia of “violating international order,” after the Kremlin invaded Ukraine.

“Israel condemns the attack and is ready to provide humanitarian aid to the citizens of Ukraine,” Lapid tweeted. “Israel is a war-torn country. War is not the way to resolve conflicts.”

Top Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Lapid also met on Thursday to discuss the situation.

“The consequences of the crisis, in its diplomatic, economic and security aspects, were reviewed in the discussion,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

Roman Abramovich commits more than $10 million to support Israel’s Holocaust museum

(JNS) — Roman Abramovich made a more than $10 million pledge to Yad Vashem earlier this week to support efforts in the realm of Holocaust research and remembrance.

The pledged funding will go toward enriching Yad Vashem’s world-renowned International Institute for Holocaust Research and the creation of two new Book of Names. It makes Abramovich the museum’s second-largest private donor. Only Miriam Adelson and the late Sheldon Adelson provide more private funding.

The funding is meant to be contributed over a five-year period.

“Yad Vashem’s work in preserving the memory of the victims of the Holocaust is instrumental to ensure that future generations never forget what antisemitism, racism and hate can lead to if we don’t speak out,” Abramovich said.

Specifically, the funding will help Yad Vashem establish a new home for the International Research Institute on Yad Vashem’s Mount of Remembrance campus in Jerusalem. The museum will also create two new versions of The Book of Names.

“Over the past seven decades, Yad Vashem has collected the names of more than 4,800,000 men, women and children who were murdered as part of Nazi Germany’s genocidal plan to physically exterminate the Jewish people and their culture, and obliterate even their memory from history,” Yad Vashem explained. “Since its establishment in 1953, collecting the name of every Shoah victim has been a core component of Yad Vashem’s mission: to restore the identities of each and every victim of the Holocaust.”

The books list Holocaust victims’ names in alphabetical order, when possibly including birth dates, hometowns and places of death. There are blank pages to acknowledge still-unnamed victims.

One of the new books will be permanently featured at Yad Vashem, while the second will serve as a mobile commemorative display.

Egypt’s El-Sisi has taken a ‘strategic decision to deepen ties with Israel’

(JNS) — Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has taken a “strategic decision to deepen ties with Israel,” a report in Globes has said in recent days.

The report said Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is “striving to deepen economic and commercial ties,” adding, “This new approach can be attributed, among other things, to the major success of the Abraham Accords, which have helped promote economic deals signed between the Israel and Egypt themselves, and private companies from the two countries.”

A second factor listed by the report is Egypt’s need for Israeli assistance with the U.S. administration, “which is pressing Cairo on human rights.”

Meanwhile, the energy sector has been over the past decade “one of the areas in which deals between Israel and Egypt have flourished,” said the report, stating that pipelines “have been laid and sales agreements signed and also implemented. Now, as part of the new approach that Al-Sisi has adopted, these deals have been expanded to include Jordan.”

According to Globes, Chevron, which has a near 40 percent stake in Israel’s offshore Leviathan gas field and a 25% stake in the Tamar gas field, signed a deal with Jordanian gas pipeline company Fajr for conveying gas from Leviathan and Tamar to Jordan through Israel, and then south to Egypt via the Jordanian Red Sea city of Aqaba under the Red Sea.

Israel poised to lift pandemic-induced state of emergency for first time in two years

By Danielle Roth-Avneri

(Israel Hayom via JNS) — Israel’s government voted on Wednesday in favor of rolling back the national state of emergency instated due to the pandemic and replacing it with a provisional “special national public health situation” designation, to remain in effect until June.

The move was proposed by chairman of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee MK Gilad Kariv (Labor).

The state of emergency was declared shortly before Israel imposed its first lockdown in March 2020. The designation, usually reserved for wartime, allowed authorities to place limitations on public gatherings and personal freedom of movement while affording additional enforcement authority to the Israeli military’s Home Front Command and municipalities, as well as appropriating special budgets to the Health Ministry.

It also allowed the government to take special measures, some highly controversial, like involving the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) in tracing the phones of infected patients during the first and second waves of the pandemic.

“Ending the state of emergency is an important message for the public and for Israeli democracy,” said Kariv, adding that the Constitution Committee is slated to debate the bill next week.

“The distinction between a ‘state of emergency and a special ‘public health situation’ has been the focus of the Constitution Committee’s discussions. The transition between the two situations will restore parliamentary oversight of government work, and return Israeli democracy to the required course of action,” he said.

“The government will retain its ability to rapidly respond to any new development or threat, but the instruments at its disposal will be more proportionate to morbidity rates,” he added.

The move to a “special national public health situation” will also prevent the government from imposing another lockdown—or any major restrictions on public movement—without Knesset approval.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.


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