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Russia slams Polish FM for saying Ukrainians liberated Auschwitz

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 07:36

(JTA) — Moscow condemned as “sacrilegious” the Polish foreign minister’s suggestion that Ukrainians, not Russians, liberated Auschwitz.

Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna in an interview Wednesday with Polskie Radio, addressed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s absence from a ceremony scheduled to take place at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on Jan. 27, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the death camp by Red Army troops.

“Maybe it’s better to say … that the First Ukrainian Front and Ukrainians liberated [Auschwitz], because Ukrainian soldiers were there, on that January day, and they opened the gates of the camp and they liberated the camp,” Schetyna said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called Schetyna’s comments “sacrilegious and cynical,” the Associated Press reported Friday.

“Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army, which included Russians, Ukrainians, Chechens, Tatars and Georgians, among others,” Lavrov said. His ministry called Schetyna’s words about Auschwitz a “mockery of history [that] needs to be stopped.”

Relations between Moscow and Poland deteriorated following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last March and its subsequent annexation of Crimea. Poland and other central and east European governments see Russia’s actions in Ukraine as presaging a possible threat to their own sovereignty.

Putin attended 60th-anniversary events in 2005. Putin’s absence from this year’s ceremony has been attributed to Polish reluctance to host him. Schetyna said the decision was Putin’s.

Earlier this month, Latvian delegates to the United Nations education and heritage arm, UNESCO, vetoed an exhibition about the Holocaust that Russian UNESCO delegates had planned to open on Jan. 25.

Attacks on Jews doubled in London area

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 07:21

(JTA) — Hate crimes against Jews in London more than doubled last year, according to the Scotland Yard.

The police headquarters for metropolitan London reported 299 hate crimes against Jewish people between the start of April and the end of December of 2014.

This represented a rise of 128 percent over the corresponding period in 2013, when there were 131 hate crimes, The Jewish Chronicle of London reported Wednesday.

Britain’s 300,000 Jews account for 0.4 percent of the total population. Anti-Semitic attacks recorded in Britain during the 2014 period accounted for 3.28 percent of a total of 9,103 hate crimes reported. That figure represented a 22 percent increase over the overall number of hate crimes recorded in the corresponding period of 2013.

About two thirds of British Jewry live in or around London.

Anti-Semitic attacks increased across Western Europe in the summer, during Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

British police said last week that they were increasing patrols in areas with large Jewish communities following deadly terror attacks by Islamists in Paris. Scotland Yard said officers were in constant liaison with the community.

Also on Wednesday, the European Jewish Congress published the results of a survey conducted this month among 504 adult Britons that showed 15 percent of respondents agreeing that the government should consider identifying businesses owned by Jews or Muslims as such.

EJC President Moshe Kantor said those percentages “should shock us into action.”

The survey had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points, according to 202 Strategies, the polling company.

Dutch Jews demand troops near synagogues

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 07:14

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (JTA) — Dutch Jews asked their government to post troops outside synagogues to match security measures in France and Belgium.

The plea came in letters addressed to mayors by officials from a number of Jewish communities in the Netherlands following an Islamist’s slaying on Jan. 9 of four Jews at a kosher supermarket near Paris, the De Telegraaf daily reported Thursday.

“Now that Jewish targets in Belgium and France are guarded by the army, we ask why not in the Netherlands,” the report quoted a letter signed by the Dutch Israelite Religious Community, or NIK, as saying. “Surely, the threat is the same.”

Some Dutch synagogues have police protection, while others have no armed guards, according to the daily. Some communities are reporting a drop in synagogue attendance because of growing insecurity, it said.

Several hundred people, including many Muslims and Jews, attended an event in Amsterdam on Monday organized by the Muslim-Jewish interfaith group Salaam-Shalom commemorating the victims of the Paris attack.

Mayor Eberhard van der Laan led a moment of silence in which visitors showed peace signs with their hands.

The victims of the Jan. 9 shooting were also commemorated on Wednesday at a ceremony in Brussels organized by the European Jewish Association lobby group and attended by Frans Timmermans, the Netherlands-born first vice-president of the European Commission.

The event also commemorated another 13 victims killed on Jan. 7 and 8 in attacks in and around Paris by associates of the perpetrator of the supermarket killings.

“If there’s no future for the Jews in Europe, there’s no future for Europe,” Timmermans said at the event.

Earlier this week he said during a debate in Brussels that Jews’ insecurity “forms an enormous challenge for the foundations of European integration.”

Swiss Jews to set up info stands outside venues hosting Dieudonne

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 07:06

(JTA) — Swiss Jews said they would set up stands with information about the dangers of anti-Semitism outside venues hosting the French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala.

“Freedom of expression is an essential principle but one which cannot be evoked to justify any ‘right to discriminate,’” said the announcement Thursday by CICAD, a Jewish group that monitors anti-Semitism in Switzerland’s French-speaking areas.

Dieudonne, who has multiple convictions for inciting hatred against Jews in France, is scheduled to perform on Monday in Lausanne and on the following day in Val-de-Ruz.

CICAD will set up two stands opposite the venues, it said.

Dieudonne was briefly arrested for posting a comment on Facebook about the Jan. 9 slaying of four Jews at a kosher supermarket near Paris by the Islamist Amedy Coulibaly. Riffing on the slogan “I am Charlie,” which commemorates the 12 victims of a Jan. 7 attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly by two of Coulibaly’s associates, Dieudonne wrote: “I feel like Charlie Coulibaly.”

French prosecutors said he is suspected of encouraging terrorism.

Dieudonne originated the quenelle, which critics say is a modified Nazi salute. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called it an “a gesture of anti-Semitic hate” and has described Dieudonne as a “professional anti-Semite.”

Under Valls, Dieudonne was forced to cancel one tour and is facing criminal and financial charges, ranging from incitement to hatred to tax evasion and building violations.

Jewish leaders from German-speaking communities to gather in Switzerland

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 06:58

(JTA) — Jewish umbrella organizations from Germany, Austria and Switzerland are launching a project aimed at strengthening cooperation among the German-speaking Jewish communities.

“Next Step” is slated to begin with a three-day seminar in March in Zurich for dozens of young Jewish leaders from the three countries, organizers from the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, or SIG, told JTA Thursday.

“This is the first attempt of its kind, which aims specifically to generate closer cooperation between the young leaders of these communities,” SIG’s secretary general, Jonathan Kreutner, said. “A lot more can be done to enhance the cooperation of these communities, which share many characteristics and challenges despite belonging to different countries.”

The seminar’s core group will comprise 10 leaders aged 25 to 35 from each German-speaking country, he said.

After the opening weekend in Zurich, the seminar will reconvene later this year in Berlin. Austria will host the seminar’s third and final session, according to a report about the initiative earlier this month by the Swiss Jewish weekly Tachles.

Germany has Europe’s largest community of German-speaking Jews, estimated at 200,000. Switzerland has 18,000 Jews and Austria has 7,500.

Romanian watchdog group protests honoring fascist sympathizer

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 06:54

(JTA) — A Romanian anti-Semitism watchdog group condemned Romanian President Klaus Iohannis’ honoring of a man who praised fascists who murdered Jews during the Holocaust.

The Center for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism, or MCA Romania, was responding to the admission last month of the anti-Communist political activist Octav Bjoza into the Order of the Star of Romania for his efforts within the Association of Former Political Prisoners in Romania.

Bjoza, 76, was the first of 25 people Iohannis  decorated with the Star of Romania medal. The Dec. 22 ceremony was the newly elected president’s first official function after assuming office the previous day.

“It is deeply regrettable that in post-communist Romania, Mr. Bjoza chose to celebrate the ideas and beliefs of a criminal group like the Legionnaires,” MCA Romania Director Maximillian Marco Katz told JTA Thursday, referring to Romania’s pro-Nazi Iron Guard. Iohannis’ embrace of Bjoza was “a disappointing note of populism,” he added. “It sends the wrong message.”

Iron Guard members killed 125 Jews during the Bucharest pogrom of 1941 and many thousands more throughout World War II.

In 2009, Bjoza was filmed attending an event titled “Commemorating Legionnaires, Assassinated Martyrs,” where he said: “I am not a Legionnaire, it was too late to become one, but fortunately, at the age of 19 I was educated by some of them.”

He said they taught him that “the Romanian nation is hunted by traitors.” For this, he added, “I will forever carry them in my mind and in my soul.”

Following criticism over the award he received, Bjoza told the Adevarul daily that he was “not anti-Semitic” and that he “rejects extremism of any sort.”

Iohannis told Romanian media that the criticism of Bjoza was unfounded because Bjoza was never a member of the Iron Guard.

Israeli defense minister: Syria, Lebanon will pay for any Hezbollah attack

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 06:46

(JTA) — Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon warned that Israel would make Lebanon and Syria pay for any Hezbollah action against Israel.

Ya’alon spoke Friday during a visit to the Safed headquarters of the Israel Defense Forces’ Northern Command, the news site nrg.co.il reported.

“Israel will view governments, regimes and organizations on its northern border responsible for goings-on in their territories and will know how to exact a price in any case of attack against Israeli sovereignty, troops or civilians,” Ya’alon said. “We will tolerate no attempts to target us and will know how to react with force.”

Ya’alon’s visit came amid rising tensions along Israel’s northern border following a precision strike on Jan. 18 on a Hezbollah convoy traveling on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

Hezbollah officials vowed to retaliate against Israel, which they said was behind the attack that killed 11 of their men, including a high-ranking officer, as well as an Iranian Revolutionary Guards general. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied that it carried out the strike.

The Iranian general, Muhammad Allahdadi, was helping Hezbollah in its fight against Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaida’s local affiliate.

Among Hezbollah’s fatalities in the strike was Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in 2008 when a car exploded in his car in Damascus.

Power: U.N. meeting shows international consensus on anti-Semitism

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 06:42

WASHINGTON (Washington Jewish Week via JTA) — The first-ever United Nations General Assembly meeting on anti-Semitism showed “a consensus in the international community” on the seriousness of the issue, according to Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Speaking to a telephone press briefing from New York during Thursday’s conference, called by 37 member states in the shadow of growing anti-Jewish attacks in Europe, Power called on governments and civil society to battle anti-Semitism, which is seeing “an upsurge around the world.”

While this month’s terrorist attacks in Paris were a focus of the U.N. meeting, the gathering was planned before those events, Power said.

As part of the American fight against anti-Semitism, President Barack Obama will host a meeting in February at the White House, she said.

In a separate statement about the U.N. meeting, Obama cited the deadly Paris attack earlier this month on a kosher supermarket as underscoring the gathering’s importance.

“Anti-Semitic attacks like the recent terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris pose a threat that extends beyond the Jewish community,” he said. “They also threaten the values we hold dear — pluralism, diversity, and the freedoms of religion and expression.

Power said she was “pleased” with Saudi Arabian Ambassador Abdallah Al-Moualimi’s statement that Islamic countries condemn all words and acts that led “to hatred, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia.”

Al-Moualimi spoke to the gathering on behalf of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Power rejected Al-Moualimi’s calling Israel’s occupation of the West Bank “an anti-Semitic act” that “threatens humankind” and is linked to hate crimes and anti-Semitism, among other outcomes.

“We condemn any statements that drift into anti-Semitism. Anything that would suggest there’s a justification for anti-Semitism, we reject,” she said.

Despite the contretemps, Powers called the meeting “an important step” in enlisting the world community in combating anti-Semitism.

Ira Forman, the administration’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, said on the call that the United States is in “an ongoing conversation” with its allies about security for Jewish communities.

“You can’t put Europe in one box. Each has a different security situation,” he said,

Israeli scribes restore Iraqi Torah scroll

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 06:38

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israeli scribes restored a 200-year old Iraqi Torah scroll that arrived in Israel under mysterious circumstances.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that the scroll, written in northern Iraq by two scribes using pomegranate ink, was delivered, water-damaged, to the Israeli embassy in Jordan in 2007, and was transferred to Israel in 2011 when riots were sweeping the Arab world.

Otherwise, its provenance is unclear, although The Associated Press quotes Foreign Ministry officials as saying that it now the property of the Jewish state.

The scroll was restored by a group of scribes in Jerusalem led by Akiva Garber, AP reported, and dedicated at a ceremony Thursday at the Foreign Ministry.

U.S. troops uncovered a trove of Iraqi Jewish relics in the Iraqi secret service headquarters in Baghdad in 2003, much of it waterlogged.

The U.S. National Archive restored much of what has become known as the Iraqi Jewish Archive, and it remains for the time being in the United States, although Iraq claims it as property.

Much of Iraq’s 2,500-year-old Jewish community emigrated to Israel after riots before and during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. The remainder fled after persecutions led by Saddam Hussein in 1968 and 1969.

Israeli president Rivlin ‘saddened’ by Saudi king’s passing

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 06:35

(JTA) — Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said he was saddened by the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, whom he credited with enhancing regional stability.

Rivlin expressed his appreciation for the Saudi monarch in a statement Friday, a day after Abdullah’s death at 90.

“I was saddened to hear of the passing of King Abdullah.  He was an example of grounded, considered and responsible leadership, with a deep religious tradition,” Rivlin said in the statement. “As ‘Guardian of the Holy Places’ of Islam, King Abdullah acted as a moderator, respecting the sensitivity and sanctity of Jerusalem and sought to promote a vision of prosperity for the region. His wise policies contributed greatly to our region, and to the stability of the Middle East.”

In a statement, President Barack Obama said that Abdullah “was always candid and had the courage of his convictions,” adding that, “One of those convictions was his steadfast and passionate belief in the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship as a force for stability and security in the Middle East and beyond.”

The White House also announced that Vice President Joe Biden would lead a U.S. delegation to Saudi Arabia in the coming days to pay respects to the king’s family.

King Abdullah, or Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud,  is succeeded by the crown prince, Salman, his brother, who is 79.

Abdullah in 2002, when he was Saudi crown prince, proposed a peace plan that would grant Israel comprehensive peace in the Middle East in exchange for its withdrawal to 1967 lines, including from eastern Jerusalem.

It was soon adopted by the Arab League, and became known as the Arab peace initiative, although Abdullah’s imprimatur, as the crown prince and then from 2005 the king of a leading Sunni Arab state, lent it much of its heft.

It’s not yet clear what Salman’s position is on the peace plan, although in general his views hew close to those of Abdullah.

Under Abdullah, Israel also expanded its unofficial intelligence sharing with Saudi Arabia, particularly as Iran — seen as a threat both by Israel and Saudi Arabia — in recent years appeared to be getting closer to obtaining nuclear weapons capability.

Abdullah, Saudi king, peace proposal author, dies at 90

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 18:51

(JTA) — Saudi Arabian King Abdullah, the architect of a proposal that U.S. governments have suggested is the basis for a comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace, has died.

Saudi media reported that Abdullah, 90, died late Thursday.

He is succeeded by the Crown Prince, Salman, his brother, who is 79.

Abdullah in 2002, when he was Saudi crown prince, proposed a peace plan that would grant Israel comprehensive peace in the Middle East in exchange for its withdrawal to 1967 lines, including from eastern Jerusalem.

It was soon adopted by the Arab League, and became known as the Arab peace initiative, although Abdullah’s imprimatur, as the crown prince and then from 2005 the king of a leading Sunni Arab state, lent it much of its heft.

It’s not yet clear what Salman’s position is on the peace plan, although in general his views hew close to those of Abdullah.

Under Abdullah, Israel also expanded its unofficial intelligence sharing with Saudi Arabia, particularly as Iran – seen as a threat both by Israel and Saudi Arabia — in recent years appeared to be getting closer to obtaining nuclear weapons capability.

Israeli governments at first rejected Abdullah’s peace plan, in part because it did not explicitly count out a right of return for Palestinian refugees, but in 2007 then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, at the behest of then-President George W. Bush, agreed that it would be a basis for peace talks. Those talks collapsed in late 2008.

The Obama administration has also cited the plan as a basis for peace talks and in recent years extracted an agreement from the Arab League to include land swaps as part of the predicate for comprehensive peace, a formula that would allow Israel to retain some of its West Bank settlements.

Obama in a statement called Abdullah “a leader among Arab and Islamic nations.”

“He took bold steps in advancing the Arab Peace Initiative, an endeavor that will outlive him as an enduring contribution to the search for peace in the region,” Obama said.

Dutch ex-minister: World peace if Israeli Jews move to U.S.

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 18:27

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (JTA) — A Dutch former cabinet minister reportedly said that world peace would be achievable if Israel’s population is forced to move to the United States.

The statement was attributed to Herman Heinsbroek, who served as the Netherlands’ minister of economic affairs in 2002, in an article that appeared Thursday in the online edition of the prestigious financial monthly Quote, based on an interview with Heinsbroek.

“It was an historical error to give the Jews their own country in the middle of Islam,” he is quoted as saying. “You’ve had nothing but war ever since and you’ve had anti-Semitism resurging, too. My idea: Give the Jews their own state somewhere in the United States and 25 years to move their state over there.”

Heinsbroek is also quoted as saying that if implemented, his solution “will finally create, perhaps, peace in the world.”

Heinsbroek, 64, served as a diplomat in the Dutch foreign ministry and was posted in Istanbul, according to the Volksrant daily.

During his stint as minister, he was a member of the rightist, anti-immigration Pim Fortuyn List party. He served under Jan Peter Balkenende of the centrist Christian Democratic Appeal, who is widely considered as a strong supporter of Israel.

Earlier this month, Heinsbroek released his first novel which is titled “Shadow Minister” and deals with intrigue in government.

In 2010, Frits Bolkestein, a former European Commissioner and ex-leader of Holland’s ruling rightist People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, advised observant Dutch Jews leave to Israel or the United States.

In an interview with Manfred Gerstenfeld, a prominent scholar on anti-Semitism, Bolkestein said that practicing Jews “have no future here.”

Argentines in Israel to hold ‘I am Nisman’ protest

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 16:59

This ad is appearing on social media for a protest outside the Argentine Embassy in Israel on Jan. 23, 2015. (From the Kehila Latina in Israel Facebook page)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (JTA) – A group of Argentines in Israel will hold an “I am Nisman” protest at the Argentine Embassy to raise questions about the suspicious shooting death of the AMIA special prosecutor.

Kehila Latina in Israel, which was formed two years ago to protest plans by the Argentine and Iranian governments to jointly investigate the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, said the demonstration would take place outside the Tel Aviv-area embassy on Friday morning.

Alberto Nisman, who led the bombing probe for a decade, was found dead in his apartment on Monday of a gunshot wound just hours before he was to testify about charges he intended to bring against Argentina’s president, Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, and foreign minister, Hector Timerman, for colluding to obscure Iran’s role in the bombing in exchange for favorable oil prices for Argentina.

Placards will show Nisman with the phrase “I am Nisman” in Spanish modeled after the “I am Charlie” campaign in French launched in the wake of the terrorist attack by Islamists in Paris earlier this month of staff for the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Among the scheduled speakers at Friday’s rally is the Argentine-Israeli journalist Roxana Levinson, whose uncle Jaime Plaksin was among the 85 people killed in the AMIA bombing. Her aunt Graciela Levinson had been killed in 1992 in the terrorist attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires.

“This death is like another bomb,” she told JTA. “I cried for the Argentinian people’s dignity.”

Leon Amiras, the chairman of OLEI, the organization that represents Latin America immigrants in Israel, will also speak.

Some 120,000 Latin Americans live in Israel, including 80,000 from Argentina. Argentine Jews held a similar protest outside the rebuilt AMIA building in Buenos Aires on Wednesday.

When Julio Schlosser, the president of the DAIA, the Jewish community, noted that 85 people had been killed in the AMIA attack, people in the crowd shouted “86,” a reference to Nisman. The number 86 has become shorthand for Nisman’s death on social media.

No one from the ruling parties attended the Buenos Aires rally, although opposition party representatives were present, as were the Israeli and French ambassadors.

“This shock to Argentinean society is similar to the shock that we live after Charlie Hebdo,” Jean Michel Casa, the French ambassador, told reporters.

Comics artists call for Israel boycott

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 16:15

(JTA) — Dozens of comics artists signed a letter calling for a boycott against any Israeli entity that does not “promote freedom and justice for Palestinians.”

The open letter, cosigned by more than 80 individuals involved in producing comics, was sent out Wednesday to the organizers of an international festival for comics artists scheduled to open next week in France, and which is cosponsored by the Israeli company Sodastream.

In the letter, the authors wrote that they call for the Angoulême International Comics Festival to sever all ties with Sodastream, which has a factory in Ma’aleh Adumim – an Israeli settlement regarded internationally as illegal because it is situated in the West Bank.

Sodastream announced last year that it would relocate, but the authors of the letter wrote that even if it moved to its intended location in Israel’s south, “it and other Israeli companies and institutions are part of a system built on the mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinian communities and sustained through racism and discrimination.”

Among the authors are Anaële Hermans from Belgium, Magdy El Shafee from Egypt, Alex Baladi of Switzerland and Leila Abdul Razaq from the United States.

Another cosignatory is Carlos Latuff from Brazil, who in 2006 took second prize in the International Holocaust Cartoon Competition hosted in Iran under the auspices of the Iranian regime. That competition was held to retaliate against the publication of cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed in a Danish daily. Submissions mocked, inverted or denied the Holocaust.

The French festival’s official homepage carries a statement expressing solidarity with five caricaturists whom jihadists Cherif and Said Kouachi murdered on Jan. 7 at the Paris office of the Charlie Hebdo weekly for its lampooning of Islam, along with seven others. Their accomplice killed a police officer on Jan. 8 and four Jews at a kosher supermarket near Paris on Jan. 9.

The festival’s website commemorates and names all the victims killed in those attacks.

Pelosi, White House: Israeli elections make official Netanyahu events ‘inappropriate’

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 15:44

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The White House and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi  said the proximity of Israel’s elections rendered inappropriate official events with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Pelosi (D-Calif.), the minority leader in the House of Representatives, forcefully denied that Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House speaker, had consulted with her prior to inviting Netanyahu to speak to a joint meeting of Congress.

“It is out of the ordinary that the speaker would decide that he would be inviting people to a joint session without any bipartisan consultation,” Pelosi said Thursday in a meeting with reporters.

In his invitation Wednesday to Netanyahu, Boehner said it was made “on behalf of the bipartisan leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.”

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate minority leader, also said he was not consulted prior to the invitation but added that he looked forward to Netanyahu’s speech.

Pelosi said the timing of the March 3 address was inappropriate both because of the proximity of Israel’s March 17 elections and because Boehner cast it as a rebuttal to President Barack Obama’s Iran policy and his threatened veto of any new Iran sanctions.

Pelosi echoed Obama’s view that new sanctions could scuttle talks with Iran on keeping it from obtaining nuclear weapons.

“We cannot have [Iran talks] fail when Congress wants to flex its muscle unnecessarily,” she said. “If that is the purpose of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit two weeks before his own election right in the midst of negotiations, I just don’t think it’s appropriate and helpful.”

Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council, also said the proximity of Israeli elections counted out a meeting between Obama and Netanyahu, who is also scheduled to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference.

Secretary of State John Kerry also will not meet with Netanyahu because of the proximity of elections, the department’s spokeswoman said. Jen Psaki added that she did not believe there would be meetings between Netanyahu and lower-lever officials either.

 

Argentina releases Nisman’s evidence on secret Iran-AMIA deal

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 13:36

(JTA) – Argentine judicial officials made public the 300-page criminal complaint that details evidence linking Argentina’s senior political echelon to a deal to hide Iran’s role in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires.

The complaint prepared by Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman was to be presented this week to Argentina’s congress, but Nisman was found dead in his home late Sunday with a gunshot wound to his head. President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner initially called his death a suicide but backtracked Thursday following large protests and the widespread perception that Nisman was murdered.

Nisman’s criminal complaint, which is based on intelligence intercepts, accuses Kirchner of “deciding, negotiating and arranging the impunity of the Iranian fugitives in the AMIA case.” The president and Argentina’s foreign minister, Hector Timerman, “took the criminal decision of inventing Iran’s innocence to satisfy commercial, political and geopolitical interests of the Argentine republic,” the complaint says.

The deal would have exonerated Iranian officials in their role in the bombing, which killed 85 people, in exchange for Iranian oil and weapons sales, according to the complaint. The secret deal, the complaint says, was negotiated two years before Iran and Argentina signed a public memorandum of understanding in 2013 to establish a joint investigation of the AMIA bombing – an agreement that critics derided as a farce and which later was derailed by Argentine courts.

In the decade Nisman spent pursuing the AMIA case, he uncovered evidence showing that Iran sponsored the bombing and had Hezbollah, its proxy militia in Lebanon, carry it out. Interpol, the international police agency, eventually issued arrest warrants for several Iranian officials in the case. The arrests have never been carried out.

Under the terms of the secret deal, the Interpol arrest warrants would have been canceled and culpability for the bombing would have been redirected toward “invented defendants,” the complaint says. But despite the efforts of Argentine officials, according to the complaint, Interpol refused to play ball and the arrest warrants stand.

Nisman sought to question Kirchner and others, including Timerman, who is a prominent member of Argentina’s Jewish community, on charges of obstruction of justice. He also planned to ask for up to $23 million worth of their assets to be frozen.

He alleged that Kirchner established a secret channel of communications with the Iranians to carry out her illegal plan to scuttle justice in the AMIA investigation. The channel allegedly included Argentina’s intelligence secretary and negotiations with one of the main defendants in the AMIA case, a former Iranian cultural attache in Argentina named Mohsen Rabbani.

Kirchner denies the allegations against her.

With Nisman’s death, it’s not clear what will happen with the criminal complaint or where the AMIA case itself stands.

Turkey to hold International Holocaust Remembrance Day event

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 13:18

(JTA) — Turkey will commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day even as its president compared Israel’s leaders to Adolf Hitler.

Parliament speaker Cemil Cicek will attend the Jan. 27 ceremony at Bilkent University in Ankara, according to the Times of Israel, citing a Turkish Jewish newspaper. He will be joined by representatives from the United Nations, the university and the Turkish Jewish community.

The first Turkish state ceremony to mark the Holocaust took place in 2011.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticized Israel harshly in recent years, even comparing its leadership to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. The Turkish government has denied claims that it is anti-Semitic.

Ties between Turkey and Israel collapsed following the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, when Israeli Navy commandos boarded a ship trying to break the maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip. Nine Turkish citizens were killed in the ensuing clash between the commandos and passengers.

European Jewish community leaders slam rabbi’s call to carry guns

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 12:27

(JTA) — Leaders of 11 Jewish communities in Europe lambasted the director of a Brussels-based lobby group who after the Paris attacks called for some Jews to carry guns.

Thursday’s statement by European Jewish leaders was directed against Rabbi Menachem Margolin, who heads the European Jewish Association and the Rabbinical Centre of Europe. Among the statement’s cosignatories are Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and Ruben Vis, director of the Jewish Communities of the Netherlands.

“Mr. Margolin lacks any expertise or authority to speak on these critical issues on behalf of the Jews of Europe, and therefore lacks all the basic components for Jewish community responsibility,” the statement said.

Joint statements from Jewish leaders criticizing other Jewish groups are rare within European Jewry.

Margolin in a Jan. 13 letter to interior ministers of European Union member states asked that gun licensing laws be “reviewed with immediate effect to allow designated people in the Jewish communities and institutions to own weapons for the essential protection of their communities.”

The Israeli-born Margolin, who lives in Brussels and describes himself as a Chabad rabbi, told JTA that the call was in reaction to the slaying of four Jews in a kosher supermarket near Paris on Jan. 9, and that arming five to 10 people from each community could help deter assailants. On Jan. 19, the CCOJB umbrella group of French-speaking Belgian Jews distanced itself from his call, saying in a statement that it “can only be explained by ignorance and panic.”

The two organizations directed by Margolin have a tense relationship with some European Jewish lobbies and umbrella groups.

In their statement, the community leaders called Margolin’s EJA “an association of irrelevant and unrepresentative self-created groups [that] does not in any way convey upon him a role as a spokesman or representative of our communities.”

But Margolin said his group is in regular contact with leaders of European states and the European Commission and has received “hundreds of messages of support” from community leaders and rabbis.

Margolin told JTA that he regretted the authors’ decision to “promote divisiveness instead of working for the Jewish people.” He said the statement was the result of competition and that “the situation in Europe is too serious for us to find the time and resources for these so-called ‘Jewish wars.’”

 

Western Wall security guard convicted of murder at site

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 12:11

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A former Western Wall security guard was convicted of murder for shooting a mentally unstable man at the site’s plaza.

Hadi Kabalan, a security guard from the Druze village of Beit Jann, was convicted Wednesday in Jerusalem District Court of premeditated murder in the June 2013 shooting of Doron Ben Shlush.

Kabalan, who was new to the job at the Western Wall, claimed that Ben Shlush had shouted “God is great” in Arabic and tried to pull an object from his pocket near the public bathrooms before the guard fired his sidearm more than 10 times.

But an investigation reportedly found that Ben Shlush yelled “Druze, you son of a bitch” at the security guard before Kabalan shot him at close range.

Ben Shlush was well known to Western Wall security, according to reports. He and Kabalan had an altercation early on the same day, according to prosecutors, meaning that Kabalan could not have mistaken him for a terrorist.

Ukrainian Jewish businessman found shot dead

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 10:58

(JTA) — A Ukrainian Jewish businessman was shot dead in Lviv.

The body of Felix Vrotslavsky, 56, was found Tuesday on Zelenoy Street, on the city’s southeastern edge. The murder was first reported by the news site zik.ua, citing an unnamed police source. A witness told police that Vrotslavsky’s body was thrown out of a car at around 8 p.m. that day.

His funeral was scheduled to take place Friday at a local Jewish cemetery, Vrotslavsky’s friend, Meylakh Sheykhet, told JTA.

Police do not have any suspects in custody. The assailants’ motive was not immediately clear, Sheykhet said.

Radio Svoboda reported that Vrotslavsky has complained to police that he was being pressured by criminals.

Sheykhet said he was not aware of any debts or other disputes that may have led to Vrotslavsky’s murder.

In 2012, Leon Fraifeld, a Jewish doctor, was beaten to death on a Lviv street. The following year, a Jewish businessman, Dmitry Flekman, was arrested for no reason, beaten and tortured by police officers who offered to release him if he gave them $10,000, Lviv law enforcement confirmed.

“The rule of law in Lviv and Ukraine in general is suffering from the aftereffects of many years under a bureaucracy that itself engaged in criminal activity,” said Sheykhet, who is the country director in Ukraine for the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union.

On Monday, the Lviv Region Prosecutor’s Office released a statement about an unrelated case in which a 59-year-old man from Lviv was arrested at the city’s international airport on suspicion that he and an accomplice had tried to traffic four women to Israel for sexual exploitation. The suspect was not named. His presumed accomplice is still at large, the statement read.

The women were from Ukraine’s war-ravaged eastern area, it said.