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Peres finishes six-decade political career as Rivlin inaugurated president

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 12:40

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli President Shimon Peres officially exited Israeli politics for the first time in six decades as his successor, Reuven Rivlin, was sworn in.

The inauguration ceremony for Rivlin at the Knesset on Thursday evening was low key owing to Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein opened with a prayer for Israeli soldiers, and mayors from Israel’s embattled South were among the guests.

Peres, 91, recounted highlights of Jewish history and Israel’s establishment as he bade farewell after serving in myridad positions, including as prime minister. He offered a strident defense of Israel’s current ground invasion of Gaza, which has faced international criticism due to the high number of civilian deaths.

“I did not imagine that in the last days of my presidency I would be called upon, once more, to comfort bereaved families,” Peres said. “Terror has no answers and does not draw the right conclusions. Israel will be victorious over terrorism because we search for peace and we are just in defense of our home.”

Peres also spoke of his desire for peace and said Israelis should be optimistic for a better future in the Middle East. He praised the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, a plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace that was advanced by Saudi Arabia but has not received a response from successive Israeli governments.

“Even when peace seems to elude us, our reach is determined enough to grasp it,” he said. “We have witnessed it in the past. I remember when experts used to say that Egypt will never sign a peace treaty with us. That Jordan will never agree to peace with Israel before Syria does so. That there will never rise a camp against terror among the Palestinians.”

Following Peres’ address, Rivlin was sworn in as Israel’s 10th president, a largely ceremonial role, to calls of “Long live the president of Israel!” He will serve a seven-year term.

Similar to the speeches ahead of his election, Rivlin focused his inaugural address on internal tensions in Israel, stressing the importance of Israeli democracy.

Rivlin, 74, a former Likud lawmaker and Knesset speaker, is known as an advocate for Arab-Israelis and minority rights. He said Thursday that Israel should strive to be “a society where all its members, haredi and secular Jews, Arabs and Jews, veteran citizens and new immigrants, all bear responsibility for building the country, and take an equal share in designing its character and its future.”

“The strength of our social fabric is not a law of nature,” he said. “Even during this difficult time, we must not close our eyes to extremism and to violence that have raised their ugly heads amongst us.”


3 senators urge Obama to let Israel neutralize Hamas ahead of cease-fire

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 10:15

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Three senators urged President Obama to ensure that Israel removes Hamas’ military threat before a cease-fire is in place.

“The threats posed by Hamas rockets and tunnels whose only purpose is to kill and kidnap Israelis are intolerable, and Israel must be allowed to take any actions necessary to remove those threats,” Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Lindsey Graham (R- S. C.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote in a letter Wednesday. “Any effort to broker a cease-fire agreement that does not eliminate those threats cannot be sustained in the long run and will leave Israel vulnerable to future attacks.”

While expressing sympathy for the death of both Palestinian and Israeli civilians, the senators wrote that Hamas’ “primary goal is to destroy Israel. We must do everything possible to ensure they do not succeed.”

Cardin, along with Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), also wrote to Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, on Wednesday to express “our strong objections” to his calling Israel’s operations in Gaza an “atrocious action.”

“We respectfully request that your future comments recognize the fact that the ‘atrocious action’ is the deliberate terrorist attack on civilians — not the measured response of a nation-state trying to defend its citizens,” the Cardin and Ayotte wrote.

They said Ban’s pronouncement “lends a degree of perceived legitimacy that terrorist organizations do not deserve” and also “undercuts the legitimate right of the nation-states to defend their citizens.”

In a third letter concerning the war between Israel and Hamas, Reps. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.) wrote to Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, to condemn Wednesday’s decision by the U.N. Human Rights Council to establish a commission of inquiry focusing mostly on Israel’s actions in Gaza without addressing allegations that Hamas hides its weapons and fighters among civilians.

“Hamas’ continued use of civilians as human shields is a direct violation of international law,” the Congress members wrote in a two-page letter that also condemned Hamas’ use of schools, hospitals and mosques “as covers for their rocket launchers and weapons caches.”

Separately, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), a physician, called on Israel not to target medical facilities.

“I am distressed by reports that Israel has attacked hospitals, ambulances and medical personnel in its on-going military offensive in the Gaza Strip,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

“Palestinian health and emergency workers are unable to reach the dead and wounded in many parts of Gaza due to the danger of being attacked themselves,” McDermott said. “I call on America’s long-time friend and ally Israel to abide by international humanitarian law and cease all attacks against health facilities and workers.”

Shelling on U.N. building in Gaza serving as shelter kills at least 15

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 09:37

JERUSALEM (JTA) — At least 15 people were killed and 200 injured when a shell hit a U.N. school in northern Gaza serving as a shelter for displaced Palestinians.

The school in Beit Hanoun affiliated with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency was hit Thursday, the Ministry of Health in Gaza told international media outlets.

UNRWA spokesman in Israel Chris Gunness said on Twitter that there were multiple deaths and injuries in the attack.

Though 15 have been confirmed dead, Al Jazeera correspondent Nicole Johnston, who is in Gaza, said sources told her that up to 30 people had been killed.

A UNRWA spokesman in Gaza, Adnan Abu Hasana, blamed Israel for the shelling, telling the Palestinian Maan news agency that there had been no warning before the shell hit.

Gunness also tweeted, “Precise co-ordinates of the UNRWA shelter in Beit Hanoun had been formally given to the Israeli army.”

The Israel Defense Forces said it was reviewing the incident. It also said that rockets fired from terror organizations in the neighborhood are believed to have landed in the area.

The agency said it was the fourth time that a U.N. facility had been hit since the start of Israel’s Gaza operation on July 8.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “strongly condemned” the shelling, while acknowledging that “circumstances are still unclear,” in a statement issued hours after the incident.

He said that throughout the day, the staff had been working to negotiate a break in the heavy fighting in the area to evacuate the civilians.

“I express my profound condolences to the families of the victims and those of so many hundreds of innocent Gazans who have tragically been killed as a result of the massive Israeli assault,” Ban said.

According to the UNRWA, there are currently 140,469 displaced Palestinians in 83 agency shelters across Gaza.

The Palestinian Maan news agency reported that 37 Palestinians were killed across Gaza on Thursday morning, bringing the Palestinian death toll on the 17th day of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge to 734, with more than 4,000 injured.

Ban orders review following allegations UNRWA gave rockets back to Hamas

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 08:42

WASHINGTON (JTA) — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commissioned a review of U.N. practices for relocating weapons found on its premises following reports that rockets found in an UNRWA school were returned to Hamas.

“The Secretary-General is alarmed to hear that rockets were placed in an UNRWA school in Gaza and that subsequently these have gone missing,” Ban said in a statement Wednesday, a day after the second such cache of weapons was uncovered in a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the principal group assisting Palestinian refugees.

“The Secretary-General has asked for a full review of such incidents and how the U.N. responds in such instances,” the statement said. “The United Nations is taking concerted action to increase its vigilance in preventing such episodes from happening again.”

Ban, the statement said, directed two security departments to “to immediately develop and implement an effective security plan for the safe and secure handling of any weapons discovered in U.N. premises.”

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister, accused UNRWA of returning the missiles to Hamas when he met Wednesday with Ban, who is in the region trying to bring about a cease-fire, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Christopher McGrath, an UNRWA spokesman, told JTA in an email that UNRWA’s practice was to refer unexploded ordnance to “local authorities.” He said the local authorities in this case did not answer to Hamas but to the government of unaffiliated technocrats in Ramallah.

“They pledged to pass a message to all parties not to violate UNRWA neutrality,” he said of the authorities.

Another UNRWA spokesman said the missing weapons to which Ban referred was the second batch, discovered Tuesday. UNRWA evacuated the school, Christopher Gunness told JTA, and its staff sought appropriate personnel to remove the weapons only to discover the next day when they returned that the weapons had been removed.

“We evacuated the premises and placed a guard at the gate,” Gunness told JTA in an email from Jerusalem, where he is based.

“At the same time, we began intensive consultations to find an international actor to help survey the weapons so the extent of the problem could be ascertained and a safe disposal plan developed,” he said. “There were 1,500 displaced civilians in schools on either side of the installation and their safety was paramount. UNRWA staff did not re-enter the installation until the following day when displaced people from Beit Hanoun forced open the school seeking refuge. At that point our staff went to secure the area in which the weapons had been discovered the previous day and found they had been removed.”

Gunness noted that UNRWA staff have come under fire during the war. Three teachers, all women, were killed Thursday by Israeli fire — two in their residences, where family members also were killed, and one returning home from an UNRWA emergency shelter.

“Our hearts go out to their surviving family members,” he said.

Relocate nationals from near Gaza border, Thai embassy asks

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 07:39

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Thai embassy in Tel Aviv asked the Israeli government to relocate Thai nationals working in southern Israel near the Gaza border.

The request on Thursday came a day after a Thai worker was killed when a mortar fired from Gaza struck the hothouse in which he was working.

Narakorn Kittiyangkul, 36, was the third civilian killed in Israel since the start of the Israeli operation in Gaza on July 8. His body will be returned to Thailand.

Foreign Ministry Information Department chief Sek Wannamethee announced the request in a statement to Thai reporters, the Bangkok Post reported. Sek reportedly said there are no plans to evacuate Thai workers from Israel.

Meanwhile, the Thai embassy has halted sending new Thai workers to areas within up to 24 miles from the Gaza border. Some 38 workers in the area also have requested assistance in moving to a safer place.

Some 25,000 Thais are working in Israel, most in factories or in agriculture. About 4,000 of the workers are located in agricultural settlements in southern Israel, according to the Bangkok Post.


150 Palestinians detained in raids on southern Gaza

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 06:43

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli troops in southern Gaza detained 150 Palestinians, dozens of whom surrendered voluntarily to the soldiers.

About 70 of the arrested Gazan Palestinians, who are suspected of carrying out terrorist attacks, were transferred for interrogation, The Times of Israel reported, citing an Israeli military spokeswoman.

Most of those who surrendered in the raids on Rafah and Khan Yunis are believed to be members of Hamas, according to the Times of Israel.

All of the detainees were later released.

Several prominent field commanders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad were targeted in recent days by both the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service in a combined effort, the IDF said in a statement issued Thursday.

“All terrorists targeted were involved in many attacks against IDF soldiers in Gaza and in the firing of rockets at Israeli communities,” the statement said. “They’ve also been central figures during Operation Protective Edge.”


Pro-Palestinian student demonstrators arrested in Australia for flag burning

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 06:05

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – A group of student demonstrators in Melbourne protesting Israel’s military operation in Gaza was arrested after burning Australian and Israeli flags.

About 10 students in Wednesday’s protest by Students for Palestine are facing charges of criminal damage and theft of the Australian flag, according to local media reports. Police intervened as the protesters gathered inside the foyer of the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade.

Earlier, some demonstrators reportedly chained themselves inside the Passport Office before the protest moved into the foyer.

“The storming of a government office, theft of goods, and burning of flags is a disgusting and unacceptable act,” said Matthew Lesh, the political affairs director for the Australasian Union of Jewish Students. “These types of acts serve to show how extremist and disconnected the Socialist Alternative is from civilized political debate or peaceful solutions.”


Rockets intercepted over central Israel hours after FAA lifts ban

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 05:57

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted five rockets over central Israel hours after the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority lifted its ban on American carriers flying to Israel.

On Thursday morning, two rockets fired from Gaza were intercepted over both Bat Yam and Tel Aviv, while one was snared over Petach Tikvah.

Shrapnel from the rockets was discovered on major highways in Tel Aviv after the interceptions, according to reports.

The FAA had banned flights to Israel on Tuesday after a rocket fired from Gaza struck a house in the central Israeli town of Yehud, located about a mile from Ben Gurion International Airport. The ban was lifted late Wednesday night.

A US Airways’ representative in Israel told Haaretz on Thursday morning that the airline will begin flying to and from Ben Gurion Airport on Friday. Other U.S. airlines have not yet indicated if and when they will resume flights.

A notice on the Delta website continued to read as of Thursday morning, “Delta has suspended service until further notice to and from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv (TLV) and its New York-JFK hub.”

Israel calls for rejection of U.N. Human Rights Council inquiry

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 04:46

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israel’s government called for the rejection of a U.N. Human Rights Council inquiry into the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The council on Wednesday voted to launch an inquiry into “all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law” in Palestinian areas, particularly the Gaza Strip, where Israel and Hamas have been at war since July 8.

Prior to the vote, Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Hamas and Israel were likely both guilty of war crimes.

In making the case against Israel, she cited the deaths of children, mentioning the killing of four who were playing on a beach and three who were playing on a rooftop.

In a statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office faulted the resolution for not singling out what it said was Hamas’ practice of endangering Palestinian civilians by placing its fighters and weapons among them.

“The decision today by the UNHRC is a travesty and should be rejected by decent people everywhere,” Netanyahu’s office said.

“The UNHRC should be launching an investigation into Hamas’s decision to turn hospitals into military command centers, use schools as weapons depots and place missile batteries next to playgrounds, private homes and mosques,” it said.

A similar inquiry, the Goldstone report, launched after the 2008-2009 Israel-Hamas war, led to calls for war crimes charges against Israeli officials. Israel would not cooperate with that inquiry.

Its lead author, South African Judge Richard Goldstone, eventually renounced the report, acknowledging some conclusions were colored by anti-Israel bias.

In Wednesday’s UNHRC vote, 29 nations voted for the resolution, one – the United States – voted against, and there were 17 abstentions, including a number of European nations.

Israel and the United States have faulted the Human Rights Council for its lopsided focus on Israel.

FAA, reviewing Israeli measures, lifts flight ban

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 23:04

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Federal Aviation Administration lifted its ban on flights to Israel after reviewing Israeli measures to keep flights safe from rockets.

“Before making this decision, the FAA worked with its U.S. government counterparts to assess the security situation in Israel and carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the Government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation,” the agency said in a statement just before midnight Wednesday, saying the ban was lifted effective immediately.

The agency had come under fire from the Israeli government, pro-Israel groups and a leading Republican senator for the ban instituted at noon Tuesday after a Hamas rocket landed in a town about a mile from Ben Gurion International Airport. The FAA statement appeared to allude to claims that the ban was a means of pressuring Israel into a cease-fire.

“The FAA’s primary mission and interest are the protection of people traveling on U.S. airlines,” the statement said. “The agency will continue to closely monitor the very fluid situation around Ben Gurion Airport and will take additional actions, as necessary.”

Early Wednesday, AIPAC had called the ban “harsh and excessive.”

“For the past two weeks, Israel has endured hundreds of rockets launched by Hamas terrorists from Gaza. Yet, air travel to Israel has been safe and unhindered,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said in a statement.

“Safety is an important consideration, but this decision appears overly harsh and excessive,” AIPAC said. “Moreover, we are concerned that it could have the unintended effect of encouraging terrorists to become even more committed to make civil aviation a target.”

The FAA announced its ban after a rocket hit Yehud, adjacent to the airport, and a number of commercial airlines suspended flights because of the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip on Israel since the latest Israel-Hamas conflict started on July 8. It extended the ban for another 24 hours on Wednesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said the ban is a “mistake” and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg flew to Israel to protest it. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations also had objected to the ban.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Wednesday suggested the ban was politically motivated and a means to pressure Israel to accept the terms of a cease-fire being sought by Secretary of State John Kerry. Cruz pledged to block State Department nominees until the Obama administration answered his questions about the ban.

Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, called Cruz’s allegation “offensive and ridiculous.”

The FAA makes “these decisions based solely on the security and safety of American citizens,” she said.

In response, Cruz said, “The only thing ‘offensive’ about this situation is how the Obama Administration is spurning our allies to embolden our enemies; the only thing ‘ridiculous’ is the administration’s response to basic questions.”

Cruz in his releases did not present direct evidence that Kerry or Obama influenced the FAA, a regulatory agency. He asked why the Obama administration had not banned flights to Ukraine in the wake of a the downing earlier this month of a civilian airliner or to Afghanistan, Yemen or Pakistan, where guerrilla wars are being waged.

In fact, the FAA has banned flights over eastern Ukraine and imposed restrictions on air travel to Afghanistan and Yemen.

In a reply to a JTA query, Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for Cruz, did not address the anomalies, but said the ban was “unprecedented” and came just as Kerry announced $47 million in humanitarian assistance for the Gaza Strip, where Hamas is the controlling authority.

“We want this administration to answer who made this decision, where it came from,” Frazier said in an email.

Obama administration presses for $225M addition to Iron Dome funding

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 16:39

WASHINGTON (JTA) –  The Obama administration asked Congress to fast-track Israel’s request for an additional $225 million for the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

The administration cited Israeli needs arising from the Gaza war in pressing for the extra funding.

“The Government of Israel has requested $225 million in additional funding for Iron Dome in order to accelerate production of Iron Dome components in Israel and maintain adequate stockpiles,” Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, told JTA in an email.

“The Department of Defense has reviewed and supports this urgent request,” she said. “Since the start of Operation Protective Edge, Iron Dome has saved countless Israeli lives.”

In a meeting Wednesday of Democratic senators and Jewish leaders, some of the senators said they had already started the procedure to include the new money in this year’s appropriations.

A day earlier, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wrote to leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate asking that the money be appropriated above the $351 million Congress is considering for the system.

Israeli officials have estimated that Iron Dome has had an 86 percent rate in intercepting rockets fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip since the July 8 launch of Israel’s campaign against Hamas.


Former Auschwitz guard dies before extradition to Germany

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 16:29

(JTA) — Johann Breyer, the 89-year-old Philadelphia man who served as a guard at Auschwitz and was scheduled to be extradited to Germany, has died.

Breyer died Tuesday, the same day that U.S. Magistrate Timothy Rice had ordered Breyer to be extradited to the town of Weiden in Bavaria, where German officials have been seeking to try him for war crimes in connection with his time as a guard at the concentration camp during the Holocaust.

Rice had granted Breyer bail a day earlier after he was hospitalized over the weekend.

Breyer had a series of strokes in recent years and suffered from heart disease and dementia, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. His lawyers had claimed that he had little memory of his service during the war and argued that his health had deteriorated in federal detention since his arrest in June.

German authorities in June 2013 issued a warrant for Breyer’s arrest accusing him of 158 counts of accessory to murder for each trainload of victims who were brought to Auschwitz during the six months of 1944 that he served as a guard.

Breyer, a retired toolmaker who lived in Philadelphia since 1952, became a U.S. citizen in 1957. When U.S. authorities attempted to revoke his citizenship in 1992 to make extradition easier, he successfully argued that it could not be revoked since his mother had been a U.S. citizen. He was ordered deported in 1997 by the U.S. Immigration Court in Philadelphia based on his admitted service as a guard at a Nazi death camp.

Breyer had claimed that he only served because he was required to do so, and that he merely was a perimeter guard and never harmed anybody.

Police: Murdered Florida State prof Dan Markel was target

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 16:21

(JTA) — Dan Markel, the Florida State University law professor who was murdered in his home, was shot in the head by someone who wanted him dead, police said.

Police believe Markel, 41, was the “intended target” in last week’s shooting and released the information after neighbors worried that they were in danger, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

No suspects have been identified, police told the local media on Wednesday.

Markel died Saturday morning, the day after he was discovered in his home and taken to the hospital, the Democrat reported.

The father of two young sons, Markel was divorced recently from his wife, also a Florida State law professor. She is “distraught, devastated, scared to death,” her attorney told the newspaper.

Markel, a graduate of Harvard Law School, primarily taught criminal law at Florida State.

His writings have been featured in The New York Times, Slate and The Atlantic. He is the author of the 2009 book “Privilege or Punish: Criminal Justice and the Challenge of Family Ties.” Markel also wrote a law blog called “Prawfsblawg.”

Three IDF soldiers killed in Gaza home explosion

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 16:10

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Three Israeli soldiers were killed in a Gaza house rigged with explosives.

Seven soldiers also were wounded in Wednesday’s explosion, which caused the house to cave in.

The dead soldiers, from the Paratroopers Unit, were identified as Lt. Paz Elyahu, 22, of Evron, and Staff Sgts. Li Mat, 19, of Eilat, and Shahar Dauber, 20, of Ginegar. They had entered the rigged home.

Thirty-two soldiers have been killed since the start of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza on July 8. One soldier is confirmed missing and widely presumed to be dead.

Also Wednesday, Israeli troops in Gaza uncovered a shaft of a tunnel dug from Gaza to the Israeli border that was stocked with weapons, maps and Israeli army uniforms, apparently indicating a plan to infiltrate Israel and commit a major attack.


Brooklyn man must pay $522,000 in Israeli charities scam

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 16:00

Yaakov Weingarten shown in a fundraising video for one of his fake charities. (YouTube)

NEW YORK (JTA) — A Brooklyn man who pleaded guilty to felony tax fraud in an Israeli charities scam was ordered to pay more than a half-million dollars in a civil suit.

The judgment against Yaakov Weingarten, 53, and his wife, Rivka, was handed down Wednesday in Kings County Supreme Court, according to a news release from New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The Weingartens must give $360,000 to UJA-Federation of New York and pay $162,000 in civil fines and penalties. He also was barred from fundraising for nonprofits.

Weingarten pleaded guilty to tax fraud in May for raising funds for phony Jewish nonprofit organizations. He was sentenced to five years’ probation after paying $90,685 in restitution to New York State.

According to Schneiderman’s office, Weingarten and his associates bilked thousands of North American donors with claims that he was collecting money for Israeli charitable purposes such as emergency medical services and programs for terror victims, sick children and the poor. He also failed to report his income on tax returns.

The Attorney General’s Charities Bureau, which filed the civil suit against the Weingartens, closed Weingarten’s fundraising operation in June 2013. The operation was run out of a Brooklyn storefront with associates Simon Weiss and David Yifat.

Weingarten used much of the money, including more than $270,000 between January 2009 and December 2011, to pay for personal expenses.

Weiss, 29, and Yifat, 68, also have been barred from charitable fundraising in New York.

The judgment also requires Weingarten to dissolve 11 incorporated entities he used in his fraudulent fundraising, including four “religious corporations” that claimed to be synagogues. Weingarten also had eight fake organizations that were never formally incorporated. Most of the organizations had Hebrew names, including Shearim, Inc.; Bnei Torah, Inc. and Agudath Chesed Bikur Cholom Israel, Inc.

The Weingartens’ money for UJA-Federation will be distributed equally to Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel and United Hatzalah of Israel.


FAA extends Ben Gurion Airport ban another 24 hours

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 13:29

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Federal Aviation Administration extended for another day its ban on flights to Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv.

The U.S. agency said, however, that it had received “significant new information” from Israel that could influence its decision.

“The agency is working closely with the Government of Israel to review the significant new information they have provided and determine whether potential risks to U.S. civil aviation are mitigated so the agency can resolve concerns as quickly as possible,” the FAA said Wednesday in its announcement on the ban’s extension.

The statement did not outline the “new information.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the FAA for extending the ban, which was launched Tuesday after a rocket landing near the airport led at least two commercial carriers to cancel flights to Israel.

“There’s no reason whatsoever for the mistaken FAA decision to instruct American planes not to come here,” Netanyahu said at an appearance Wednesday with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who flew into Israel to protest the ban. “I think this decision only rewards the Hamas terrorists for nothing.

“You can fly in and out of Israel, and I hope that the FAA rescinds this decision as soon as possible,” the Israeli leader said.

RELATED: After flight cancellations, a waiting game at Ben Gurion Airport

Israeli officials have said they understand the ban is a procedural decision.

“Our aviation officials are in contact with the FAA, and we are confident that after they learn all the facts, they will resume flights,” Aaron Sagui, the Israel Embassy spokesman in Washington, said in a statement.

Such reassurances did not altogether stop speculation that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry initiated the ban to penalize Israel, although there was no evidence of such an animus.

“Was this a safety issue, or was it using a federal regulatory agency to punish Israel to try to force them to comply with Secretary Kerry’s demand that Israel stop their military effort to take out Hamas’s rocket capacity?” Sen Ted Cruz (R-Texas) asked in a release.

Netanyahu has so far accepted U.S.-backed cease-fire proposals; Hamas has rejected them.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations also called for a removal of the ban.

“Hamas wants to destroy Israel, but also the United States and the values both countries share,” the umbrella body said in a statement Wednesday. “We should not encourage them by invoking a ban on air flights.”

RELATED: Why the Tel Aviv flight cancellations are such a blow to Israel

Survey: Half of U.K. Jews not overly concerned by rising anti-Semitism

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 13:15

(JTA) — Nearly 70 percent of Jews in the United Kingdom believe anti-Semitism is on the rise, a new survey found, but half of the respondents are not overly concerned.

Approximately half of the 1,468 respondents said anti-Semitism was “a fairly big problem,” while another half said it was “not a very big problem” or “not a problem at all,” according to the email study conducted by the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research and released earlier this month.

Religious Jews were more likely than secular ones to be concerned about anti-Semitism.

The three groups considered most likely to commit anti-Semitic acts, the respondents said, are extremist Muslims, individuals with left-wing political views and teenagers.

Among the findings, 75 percent of respondents indicated that anti-Semitism on the Internet is a problem, half stated that anti-Semitism in the media is a problem, and half said they avoid wearing or carrying a distinctive Jewish item, at least on occasion, out of fear for their safety.

Asked if they feel blamed by others for actions taken by the Israeli government, nearly two-thirds of the respondents said it never or only occasionally happens.

With an estimated 300,000 Jews, the U.K. has the world’s fifth-largest and Europe’s second-largest Jewish population.

Military airfield lands as alternative to banned Ben Gurion

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 12:23

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Foreign airlines banned from using Ben Gurion Airport will be able to use a military airfield in southern Israel as an alternative, Israel’s transportation minister said.

The opening of Ovda Airport to increased commercial traffic is aimed at encouraging the resumption of flights to Israel, Yisrael Katz said Wednesday in his announcement.

Ovda, which is nearly 40 miles north of Eilat, now serves many commercial flights to the resort city.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority prohibited all U.S. airlines from flying to Israel for at least 24 hours after a rocket destroyed a house in Yehud, a city near Ben Gurion. That night, the European Aviation Safety Agency night canceled all flights to and from Europe for 36 hours.

The FAA on Wednesday extended the ban another 24 hours.

Some 160 flights in and out of Ben Gurion were canceled on Tuesday night and Wednesday, according to Israel’s Channel 2.

Passengers that arrive at Ovda would take buses to the center of Israel, Haaretz  reported. No airline that flies into Ben Gurion Airport has said it will use Ovda.

U.S. Airways and United will restart flights to Israel on Thursday, the Times of Israel reported, citing Israeli air officials. Germany’s Lufthansa suspended flights for another 24 hours, according to reports.

Among the European airlines that have continued to fly to Israel are British Airways, Azerbaijan Airlines, Ukraine International Airlines, Russia Airlines, Yakutia Airlines, Bluebird Airways and Siberia Airlines, according to Haaretz.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew into Ben Gurion on Wednesday morning aboard a military plane. Earlier in the day, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg arrived aboard an El Al flight.

El Al has continued to fly in and out of Ben Gurion. Israel’s national airline has sent planes to pick up stranded passengers from other airlines.


Kerry lands in Israel for cease-fire talks

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 11:17

WASHINGTON (JTA) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Israel to advance cease-fire talks between Hamas and Israel.

A statement by his spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said Kerry arrived Wednesday.

“He will also travel to Jerusalem and the West Bank, and will be meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Palestinian Authority President (Mahmoud) Abbas, and Israeli Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu,” the statement said.

Kerry flew into Ben Gurion Airport on a military jet despite a ban by the Federal Aviation Agency on U.S. commercial flights to and from the airport due to the Gaza conflict, The Associated Press reported.

Kerry spent the past two days in Egypt working on a proposal with that country’s government to halt hostilities that have killed some 600 Palestinians and more than 30 Israelis. Hamas rejected an earlier Egyptian proposal that was accepted by Israel.

After meeting with Abbas in Ramallah on Wednesday, Kerry said there has been some progress toward a cease-fire, Haaretz reported. Ban has been in the region since the weekend.

Tens of thousands attend funeral for U.S. lone soldier Max Steinberg

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 10:16

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A crowd estimated at 30,000 attended the funeral for Max Steinberg, an American lone soldier who was killed in Gaza.

The service for Steinberg, 24, a southern California native who was killed Sunday in a Hamas attack on his armored personnel carrier, was held Wednesday morning at the Har Herzl military cemetery.

Steinberg’s parents and siblings traveled to Israel for the funeral. His mother, Evie, told Israel’s Channel 2 upon her arrival at Ben Gurion Airport that her son was “a hero.”

The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, said in a Facebook post later Wednesday that the number of mourners “was an amazing show of support and love, which gave real comfort to his wonderful family.” Shapiro had spoken at the funeral.

Steinberg was riding in the armored vehicle with six other members of the Golani Brigade when it was attacked by Hamas explosives. He was a sharpshooter in the elite brigade who had enlisted in the army several months after visiting Israel for the first time on a Birthright trip.

On Sunday night, family, friends and community members gathered for an impromptu memorial service at a park near the Steinbergs’ home in the San Fernando Valley.

Funerals for two other lone soldiers killed in the same attack were held this week.

Jordan Bensemhoun, 22, was buried in Ashkelon’s military cemetery on Tuesday night. Some 6,000 mourners, mostly from the large French-Israeli community, attended the service for the 22-year-old Lyon native despite warnings against large gatherings in the southern city, which is under frequent rocket fire from Gaza.

On Monday night, some 20,000 mourners attended the service for Sean Carmeli, 21, at the Sde Yehoshua military cemetery in Haifa. Social media sites had called on Israelis to attend the funeral for the Texas native, as Carmeli did not have much family in Israel.

Maccabi Haifa, Carmeli’s favorite soccer team, asked its fans on Facebook to “accompany him on his final road and represent us as one family.”