Weekly roundup of world briefs


March 17, 2023

Israel’s Supreme Court rules in favor of ‘Utah Zoom weddings’

(JNS) — Israel’s Supreme Court rejected the state’s appeal against registering civil marriages performed online through the U.S. state of Utah.

The ruling directs the Population and Immigration Authority within the Interior Ministry to register these marriages, which are generally conducted via Zoom or Skype, as an alternative to a religious ceremony conducted through the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

These “Utah marriages” became popular after a 2020 rule change in the U.S. state made marriages conducted via videoconferencing software legal as long as at least one participant or the officiant was physically present in the state.

The COVID-19 pandemic made these marriages even more popular when Israelis could not travel abroad for civil marriages. Traditionally, many Israelis traveled to Cyprus for civil ceremonies.

Around 600 Israeli couples have gotten married in Utah Zoom weddings in the past three years.

The state’s appeal followed a petition by the NGO Hiddush — For Religious Freedom and Equality along with eight couples who married online through Utah.

“We welcome the ruling of the Supreme Court, which opens another channel of marriage for the citizens and residents of Israel. The State of Israel is the only Western democracy in the world that denies its citizens the freedom of marriage due to the demand of the religious parties,” Rabbi Uri Regev, CEO of Hiddush, said.

MK Moshe Arbel of Shas slammed the decision.

Iran to evade IAEA censure after ‘concrete’ commitments

(JNS) — The International Atomic Energy Agency is not planning to censure Iran during this week’s board of governors meeting in Vienna after “concrete” commitments were made to be more transparent.

Three Western diplomats told AFP on the first day of the meeting Monday that no new resolution was forthcoming following assurances given to the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Rafael Grossi, during his visit to Tehran this past Friday and Saturday.

Grossi’s visit was prompted by an IAEA report revealing that inspectors in Iran had discovered uranium enriched to 83.7 percent purity at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant, which is close to the 90 percent considered weapons grade. Tehran previously said it would limit enrichment at its Fordow facility to 60 percent.

Under the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment to 3.67 percent, enough for peaceful and civil use.

At a Saturday news conference, Grossi said that Tehran will allow the IAEA to reinstall some monitoring equipment that was removed last year amid stalled talks to revive the moribund 2015 agreement.

However, IAEA spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said that inspectors would not be given access to several sensitive sites regarding which the IAEA is seeking clarifications of past nuclear work.

It was also agreed that the pace of inspections would be increased. However, on Monday, Grossi conceded that the agreements would hinge to a large extent on future negotiations.

Iran was behind last month’s cyberattack on the Technion

(JNS) — Iran was behind a cyberattack on a major research university in Israel last month, the Israel National Cyber Directorate announced on Tuesday.

An investigation of the hacking attack on the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa revealed that a group known as MuddyWater was responsible. The group is affiliated with Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security.

During the attack on Feb. 11, the hackers used malware designed to encrypt operating systems. In response, the Technion unplugged the computer system and asked that students log off and limit their email usage. Some scheduled exams were postponed until the start of the spring semester.

A group calling itself DarkBit sent an email to the Technion during the attack demanding 80 bitcoins in ransom for the information that it claimed to have obtained. That is an amount in digital currency worth $1.79 million.

“The Technion was hacked. The hackers punished us for the ‘apartheid’ regime. All systems are not accessible and we have lost our data. Therefore, we have to temporarily stop our human resources procedures,” the Technion posted to its LinkedIn account.

The Israel National Cyber Directorate and the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) are tasked under the law with handling cyberattacks. Both bodies assist critical companies such as banks and mobile phone carriers in determining how to protect themselves from cyberattacks.

The Cyber Directorate said that 53 cyberattacks were detected at Israeli academic institutions in 2022, with most attempts blocked.

Federal grand jury indicts Los Angeles gunman who shot two Jewish men

(JNS) — A federal grand jury indicted Jaime Tran, 28, with hate crimes and firearms offenses, specifically two counts of “willfully causing bodily injury and attempting to kill his victims,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

He is also charged with two counts of discharging a firearm in relation to a violent crime.

Authorities allege that on Feb. 15 Tran drove to the heavily Jewish Pico-Robertson area of Los Angeles. He singled out a man who was “wearing a black jacket and yarmulke, and had just left religious services at a synagogue.” Tran allegedly shot the man “in the back at close range, intending to kill him,” but wounded the man instead.

The following day, authorities say Tran returned to the area “intending to kill another Jewish person.” His second victim, also dressed in dark colors and wearing a yarmulke, was injured in the attack.

Tran has a history of antisemitic beliefs. The indictment stated that Tran left dental school in 2018 “after making hate-filled statements about other students whom he perceived to be Jewish.”

From August through December 2022, his rhetoric “escalated and used increasingly violent language,” texting a former classmate, saying “I want you dead, Jew. Someone is going to kill you, Jew” and “Burn in an oven chamber,” it added.

He also allegedly distributed fliers stating: “Every single aspect of the Covid agenda is Jewish.”

If convicted of all charges, Tran faces a minimum mandatory sentence in federal prison of 10 years for each firearm count and a maximum life sentence for each hate crime.

Alleged Israeli airstrikes shut down Aleppo airport

(JNS) — Alleged Israeli airstrikes shut down the airport in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo early on Tuesday morning, according to Syrian state media.

“At 2:07 a.m. on Tuesday, the Israeli enemy carried out an aerial act of aggression from the direction of the Mediterranean, west of Lattakia, targeting Aleppo International Airport, which led to material damage at the airport as it went out of service,” SANA reported.

The Israel Defense Forces did not comment on the report, in accordance with Jerusalem’s long-standing policy regarding specific foreign operations. However, the military has acknowledged in the past conducting hundreds of strikes on Iran-backed forces attempting to establish a foothold in Syria.

Tuesday’s incident comes after a strike in Damascus late last month attributed to Israel targeted Iranian officials meeting to advance the development of the drone or missile capabilities of Tehran’s proxies in Syria.

Five people were killed and more than a dozen wounded in the alleged Israeli air raid, which targeted a building in the city’s Kafr Sousa neighborhood and damaged several structures near a heavily guarded security complex linked to Iran.

Tehran has provided immense support to leader Bashar al-Assad during Syria’s ongoing 12-year civil war, and its efforts to entrench itself militarily in the country while arming terrorist outfits such as Hezbollah have prompted regular Israeli airstrikes.

The Israel Air Force in August allegedly dropped missiles on the airport in Aleppo, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based opposition war monitor, reporting that it was the 23rd Israeli attack in Syria to that point in 2022.

Biden nominates his Jewish economic adviser as Council of Economic Advisers chair

(JNS) — Among the nominations U.S. President Joe Biden sent to the Senate on March 2 was that Jared Bernstein, currently a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, chair the council. That body is part of the executive branch.

Bernstein served as chief economic adviser for Biden from 2009 to 2011 when Biden was vice president.

A Virginian, Bernstein holds a doctorate in social welfare from Columbia University, according to his blog, in which he wrote once about being Jewish.

“I very rarely stray from my political econo-lane here,” he wrote, about the white-supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. “I’m also Jewish. So the evil that took place there over the weekend is personal and I cannot in good conscience not respond.”

In November 2020, Bernstein tweeted that he was “verklempt” when Biden appointed him to be a council member. No word from him yet on Twitter whether he will plotz following the nomination to be chair.

State Department sanctions six companies engaged with Iranian petroleum

(JNS) — The U.S. government will sanction a number of companies that facilitate Iran’s petroleum trade, announced the U.S. State. Foggy Bottom also designated six entities that have transported or sold Iranian petroleum or petrochemical products and identified 20 vessels associated with the six.

The entities are Golden Lotus Oil Gas and Real Estate Joint Stock Company (Vietnam), Global Marine Ship Management Company and Shanghai Xuanrun Shipping Company (both in China) Swedish Management Company (United Arab Emirates) and Shiraz Petrochemical Company and Bushehr Petrochemical Company (both in Iran).

Foggy Bottom also identified eight vessels linked to Golden Lotus, six connected to Swedish Management and six associated with Shanghai Xuanrun.

The U.S. Treasury Department is also authorizing the “wind down and limited safety and environmental transactions involving certain vessels in which one or more of the blocked entities identified above have an interest, through June 30, 2023.

“As a result of today’s actions, all property and interests in property of these targets that are in the United States or in possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC,” the department stated, using the acronym for Office of Foreign Assets Control.

“Furthermore, anyone conducting transactions that involve the designated entities and identified vessels risks exposure to U.S. sanctions,” it added. “These designations underscore our continued efforts to enforce our sanctions against Iran. We will not hesitate to take action against those who try to circumvent our sanctions.”

House subcommittee to investigate Rep. Santos, who has claimed Jewish ancestry

(JNS) — Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) has made a great many headlines for his conduct and statements, including claiming to be Jewish. The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ethics announced that an investigative subcommittee will investigate the freshman congressman from Long Island.

Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) will chair the bipartisan subcommittee with Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) as ranking member, and Reps. John Rutherford (R-Neb.) and Glenn Ivey (D-Md.) as members.

The committee voted unanimously on Feb. 28 to establish the subcommittee, which will decide if Santos “engaged in unlawful activity with respect to his 2022 congressional campaign; failed to properly disclose required information on statements filed with the House; violated federal conflict of interest laws in connection with his role in a firm providing fiduciary services; and/or engaged in sexual misconduct towards an individual seeking employment in his congressional office,” according to the announcement.

The committee added “the mere fact of establishing an investigative subcommittee does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred.”

While running for office, Santos claimed to be Jewish, saying his maternal grandparents fled the Nazis and settled in Brazil. He later denied having stated that he was Jewish. He then said he is Catholic but “Jew-ish” due to the “Jewish background” of his maternal family.

Of this latest one, Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), who filed an ethics complaint with Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) against Santos, wrote on Twitter that now “Congress is one step closer to holding its most corrupt member accountable.”

Top US military officer in Israel to talk security, defense

(JNS) — Gen. Mark Milley, whose chairmanship of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff ends in the fall, arrived in Israel on Friday to talk with counterparts.

“They will address the many challenges and opportunities facing Israel and the Middle East region,” stated Col. Dave Butler, a spokesman for the general.

“The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, landed in Israel last night and met this morning with LTG Herzi Halevi. General Milley will also meet with Israel’s defense minister and officials from Israel’s security institutions,” the IDF tweeted.

“During the meetings, the officials discussed regional security challenges, opportunities for increased operational cooperation, coordination to defend against regional threats and other items of mutual strategic interest,” it added. “The U.S. and Israel maintain a strong military-to-military relationship as key partners committed to maintaining peace and security in the Middle East.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is scheduled to visit Israel on March 8-9.

“Austin will be the fourth senior Biden administration official to visit Israel since the current right-wing government was sworn in two months ago,” per Axios.

Avowed antisemite cites prior ‘slap on the wrist’ sentences, seeks leniency from judg

(JNS) — An antisemitic man who pleaded guilty to “participating in a conspiracy to commit hate-crime acts” is urging a judge to sentence him leniently due to other antisemites being let off the hook with light punishments.

Saadah Masoud, 29, has engaged in “repeated physical attacks of Jewish victims in New York City between 2021 and 2022,” according to the U.S. Justice Department. The department added that the victims wore clothing that depicted the Israeli flag, a yarmulke and a Star of David necklace.

The “agreed upon” sentence guidelines for Masoud’s crimes range from 18 to 24 months in prison. But Masoud’s lawyers are requesting the same plea deal — six months in prison — received by Waseem Awawdeh, a fellow member of the anti-Israel group Within Our Lifetime, according to the antisemitism watchdog Canary Mission.

They specified “Waseem Awawdeh,” who is “facing charges stemming from the same Times Square May 20, 2021 incident.”

Canary Mission stated in a release that it is “unconscionable” that Masoud’s lawyers would use the previous “outrageously lenient plea bargain, which amounts to a slap on the wrist of a violent antisemitic attacker,” seeking to get a short sentence for their client.

“It is up to the city of New York to decide if they will continue to let dangerous anti-Semitic assailants off with a mere slap on the wrist while new assaults occur almost daily,” it added.

‘Iran on one-yard line’ approaching nuclear weapon, says Rep. Schneider

(JNS) — The Democratic House Steering and Policy Committee named Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Schneider, who is Jewish and once worked in a kibbutz wiring factory, is the only Democrat waived onto the committee, where he has served for three prior terms.

“Today, Iran is on the one-yard line in their drive towards enriching uranium for a nuclear weapon and is threatening our allies in the region in numerous other ways,” Schneider stated. “Strengthening our allies by building unity and enhancing shared security capabilities is critical to confronting Iranian threats to the region. U.S. leadership must provide essential security, stability and a unified defense to the region.”

In a public statement, Schneider added: “I expect to continue my work promoting peace and stability in the Middle East and, importantly, working to ensure Iran never succeeds in acquiring a nuclear weapon.”


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