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Al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists urge attacks on ‘American or Jewish’ malls

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 15:58

(JTA) — A threat on “American or Jewish” shopping centers by the terrorist group responsible for the deadly 2013 attack on a Kenya mall has the U.S. security apparatus calling on the public to be vigilant.

Al-Shabab, a Somali group affiliated with al-Qaida, posted a video over the weekend about the Nairobi attack, which killed 67. The video concluded with a masked fighter encouraging followers to attack shopping centers around the world.

“If just a handful of mujahedeen fighters could bring Kenya to a complete standstill for nearly a week, just imagine what the dedicated mujahedeen could do in the West to American or Jewish shopping centers across the world,” the masked person said.

He specifically named the Mall of America in Minnesota, the West Edmonton Mall in Canada, Oxford Street in London and two malls in France.

According to the Christian Post and Wikipedia, the Ghermezian family, which owns both the Mall of America and the West Edmonton mall, along with numerous other shopping malls around the world, is of Iranian-Jewish descent.

Security was increased at the Mall of America, UPI reported, and the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security were working with malls to prevent attacks.

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said the global war on terror has entered a “new phase” and urged the public to be “vigilant.”

“Groups like ISIL [Islamic State], al-Shabab, AQAP (al-Qaida of the Arabian Peninsula) are now publicly calling for attacks either through the Internet, through videos, through publications,” Johnson said on ABC News. “Which means that we need to respond militarily, but we also have to have a whole government approach through law enforcement, homeland security and frankly countering violent extremism efforts here in the homeland in communities.”

Forward editor Jane Eisner wins Twersky Award

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 14:51

(JTA) — Forward editor-in-chief Jane Eisner has been awarded the 2015 David Twersky Journalism Award.

The prize was awarded to Eisner for her June editorial calling for an easing of the Jewish conversion process, according to a news release. Eisner will receive a medal and a $1,000 honorarium at an award ceremony in the spring.

The editorial, titled “Why Is it so Hard to Convert to Judaism?,” called for an easier and quicker conversion process to Judaism, particularly through the Conservative movement.

The award, in its third year, is named for the former editor of the New Jersey Jewish News who died of cancer in 2010 at age 60. The award recognizes the work of journalists at the Forward and New Jersey Jewish News, the two publications where Twersky worked for nearly two decades.

Amir Cohen, a colleague of Twersky during his tenure with both publications, founded the award in Twersky’s memory.

“The goal is to always find that one piece that David would have considered most remarkable,” said Cohen, the head of the judges’ committee. Three of Twersky’s children also served as judges.

Iran reports finding, returning stolen Shiraz Torah

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 14:47

(JTA) — A stolen Torah scroll uncovered by an Iranian volunteer militia was returned to the Shiraz Jewish community, the Fars News Agency reported.

Members of the Basij located the ancient scroll taken from a Shiraz synagogue. The scroll was returned to the community at a ceremony on Feb. 11, the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution’s victory, according to Fars, which has ties to the government.

Fars reported that Siamak Mareh Sedq, the representative of the Iranian Jewish community at the parliament, said in a letter that the move demonstrated the respect that the Islamic establishment has for all faiths.

London soccer fans chant anti-Semitic slurs on subway

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 14:36

(JTA) — The British Transport Police is investigating an incident in which soccer fans allegedly chanted anti-Semitic slurs while riding a London subway train.

Video filmed by another passenger and circulated on social media shows several men, believed to be supporters of the West Ham United club, chanting “I’ve got foreskin, how about you? F******Jew” while passing through the Stamford Hill neighborhood, Fox Sports reported. Stamford Hill has a large population of Hasidic Jews.

The men reportedly were en route to a soccer game on Sunday between West Ham and Tottenham Hotspur, a club with many Jewish and pro-Jewish fans.

In a letter emailed to Sunday’s ticket holders, the West Ham team wrote that it will “continue to adopt a zero tolerance policy towards any form of discriminatory behaviour and any fan found to be acting inappropriately — including racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic behaviour — will be punished to the full extent of the law and banned from attending matches.”

Israel briefly cuts Nablus, Jenin electricity

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 14:32

(JTA) — Israel’s state-owned electric company temporarily cut electrical power to two Palestinian cities to protest the Palestinian government’s failure to pay.

The Israel Electric Corp., saying it was owed approximately $500 million, reduced power in Nablus and Jenin for 45 minutes on Monday, Reuters reported.

Nablus Mayor Ghassan Al-Shaka called the power cut “collective punishment,” according to Reuters.

Palestinian officials in Nablus told the French news agency AFP that thousands of homes were affected and denied that the government owed more than $12.5 million.

Palestinian groups must pay U.S. terrorism victims over $218 million

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 14:28

Israeli rescue workers tend to victims’ bodies from the scene of a Palestinian suicide bombing on a passenger bus in Jerusalem June 18, 2002. (Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

NEW YORK (JTA) — A New York jury ordered the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority to pay more than $218 million in damages to American victims of six terrorist attacks in Israel.

The verdict Monday in a Manhattan federal court was in favor of 10 American families suing over attacks in the Jerusalem area from 2002 to 2004.

The attacks have been attributed to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Hamas. The $218 million award could be tripled under the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act.

“Now the PLO and the P.A. know there is a price for supporting terrorism,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, in an interview with Reuters after the verdict.

The verdict followed a six-week civil trial that included testimony from survivors of suicide bombings in Jerusalem. The PLO and the Palestinian Authority are expected to appeal.

While the plaintiffs argued that PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat had arranged for attackers and their survivors to be compensated, lawyers for the PLO and Palestinian Authority said the groups had condemned terror attacks and that any payments made to terrorists were done by low-level employees acting independently.

“Money is oxygen for terrorism,” Kent Yalowitz, a lawyer for the families, said in a closing argument, according to the New York Times. Yalowitz added that the U.S. antiterrorism law “hits those who send terrorists where it hurts them most: in the wallet.”

The U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act was also used last September by a Brooklyn jury that found the Arab Bank liable for supporting Hamas terrorism. Damages in that case will be decided in a second trial.

Poll: Seven in 10 Americans view Israel favorably

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 14:19

(JTA) — Seven in 10 Americans continued to view Israel favorably, despite the breakdown of relations between the U.S. and Israeli leaders, a Gallup poll found.

By contrast, some 17 percent of Americans viewed the Palestinian Authority favorably, according to Gallup’s Feb. 8-11 World Affairs survey. The results were nearly identical to the same question asked one year ago.

However, while 83 percent of Republicans viewed Israel favorably, 48 percent of Democrats shared the same view — a drop of 10 percentage points from last year. The decrease was a possible fallout from the controversy over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial March 3 address to Congress.

The poll also found that 62 percent of Americans say they sympathize more with the Israelis than the Palestinians in their conflict, and that 16 percent sympathize more with the Palestinians, also nearly identical results from one year ago.

The results follow the high-profile disagreements between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama, as well as Israel’s 50-day operation last summer against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The poll was based on a random telephone and cellphone sample of 837 adults living in the United States; it has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

Since 2005, Israel’s public image in the United States has averaged 68 percent of Americans viewing it favorably, according to Gallup. Between 2000 and 2004, the score averaged 60 percent.  In 1991, when Israel was a victim of Iraqi rocket attacks, its favorable rating was a record 79 percent, according to Gallup.

Gallup has measured American’s impressions of the Palestinian Authority since 2000, with the percentage viewing it favorably averaging 17 percent.


Returned Nazi-looted art donated to Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 13:04

“Portrait of Emma Hart,” by the English artist George Romney, was among the prized works donated to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston by a member of the famed Rothschild family. (Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts)

BOSTON (JTA) – Millions of dollars worth of prized art and objects once stolen by the Nazis and later forcibly relinquished to the Austrian government was donated to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

The donation of 186 objects from the original collection of Alphonse and Clarice de Rothschild of Vienna of the famed Jewish banking dynasty was made by Bettina Burr, a granddaughter of the baron and baroness. Many of the works were seized in 1938 following the Anschluss, or annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany, according to the museum.

As heiress to the collection, Burr’s mother, Bettina Looram, spent decades pursuing the art from the Austrian Ministry of Culture, which in 1999 reversed its earlier decisions, returning the 250 pieces of art to the family. Many of the works were sold at auction, but some objects of personal significance were kept back, many of which have now been given to the museum.

The gift includes European decorative arts, furniture, prints, drawings, paintings, personal objects and jewelry, including an emerald and diamond Art Deco brooch that Alphonse Rothschild gave to his wife as a 25th wedding anniversary gift. Among the paintings is “Portrait of Emma Hart,” later Lady Hamilton, by the English artist George Romney.

“Through my mother’s tenacity and courage, 60 years after the 1938 Anschluss, these works were returned to my family,” Burr, a museum trustee, said in a statement. “Now, as my mother would have wished, I am delighted that this collection will stay at the MFA for as long as I can envision.”

Malcolm Rogers, the museum’s director, called the gift a transformation of the museum’s collection.

“This gift allows us to tell, in a very moving way, one of the saddest stories of the Second World War, and the story of Bettina’s mother and her long pilgrimage to set history right,” he said.

An exhibit of some of the collection goes on view from March 1 to June 21, and will include material that addresses how curators traced the provenance of the art.

Santorum, Jindal to join conservative Christian tour of Israel

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 11:22

(JTA) — Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, both likely Republican presidential candidates, will join a conservative Christian tour to Israel this fall.

The tour to Israel sponsored by the Family Research Council, a conservative policy and lobbying organization based in Washington, is scheduled for Oct. 27-Nov. 6.

“This will be a unique, one-of-a kind tour where you will not only explore the land of the Bible and the roots of our Christian faith, but you will hear directly from some of Israel’s political and religious leaders,” the council’s president, Tony Perkins, said in an announcement of the trip issued on Friday.

The trip already has come under fire from People for the American Way, an advocacy group that monitors what it characterizes as “right-wing” activities. The group wrote on its website that “Jindal and Santorum’s decision to travel to Israel with FRC may raise eyebrows, given the group’s history of making dismissive comments about American Jews and expressing hope that Jews in Israel will convert to Christianity.”

Perkins “once attacked the ‘Jewish lobby’ for its ties to Democratic elected officials, lamenting that Democrats ‘enjoy the money coming from the Jewish community,'” People for the American Way said.

Earlier this month, Republican National Committee members visited Israel in a trip that launched controversy for being sponsored by the conservative groups American Renewal Project and the American Family Association. The Anti-Defamation League said the American Family Association promoted anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT and anti-Mormon hate, while the Southern Poverty Legal Center called the AFA a “hate group.”

Ayelet Tsabari wins 2015 Sami Rohr Prize

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 08:40

(JTA) — Ayelet Tsabari, author of “The Best Place On Earth: Stories,” is the winner of the 2015 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature.

Tsabari takes home $100,000 for winning the prize, which was announced Monday.

Tsabari explores Israeli history through Jewish characters of Middle Eastern and North African descent.

“I grew up not seeing myself and my family in literature, so writing “The Best Place on Earth” was a way to create the characters that were missing from my childhood stories,” Tsabari said in a statement issued by the Rohr Prize. “By portraying characters of Mizrahi background I was hoping to complicate readers’ perceptions of Israel and Jewishness, and to expand and broaden their ideas of what a Jewish story and Jewish experience can be.”

The runner-up was Kenneth Bonert, author of “The Lion Seeker: A Novel. He receives a   prize of $25,000.

The Rohr Prize, which has been given annually since 2007, considers works of fiction and nonfiction in alternating years.

It was created by the late businessman and philanthropist Sami Rohr to recognize emerging writers who articulate the Jewish experience as determined by a specific work, as well as the author’s potential to make significant ongoing contributions to Jewish literature.

Matti Friedman, author of “The Aleppo Codex,” won the prize last year.

This year, for the first time, the winners and finalists will be celebrated at a public program, sponsored by the Jewish Book Council together with the Museum of Jewish Heritage, on May 6.

Shin Bet arrests Hamas cell in Hebron planning attacks on Israel

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 08:26

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Shin Bet Israel Security Agency arrested 11 members of a Hamas cell in Hebron that planned terrorist attacks on Israel including suicide bombings.

The arrests, in a joint operation with the Israel Defense Forces, took place last month, the Shin Bet announced on Monday.

The suspects during questioning admitted that they had planned attacks against Israeli civilians in both Jerusalem and Hebron, including carrying out suicide bomb attacks.  A terror attack on the Tel Rumeida settlement near Hebron was attempted in early December, which could have led to the death of many Israeli soldiers.

The suspects also turned over explosives and two weapons they planned to use in the attacks, according to the Shin Bet.

“The cell’s activities show the real threat of Hamas in Hebron, in particular from military operatives who had been detained in the past and who had returned to the cycle of terror,” the Shin Bet said in a statement released on Monday.

The Shin Bet has requested that the men be held until their trials in military court.

Shas Party spiritual head calls “Hatikvah” a “stupid song”

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 06:59

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The spiritual leader of the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party said at a party convention that “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, “is a stupid song.”

Rabbi Shlomo Cohen, head of the Council of Torah Sages of the Shas Party, made the comments Sunday at a party convention, the Israeli news website Walla reported. Walla also put a recording of the statement on its website.

Cohen told the convention that in 1955, at the ceremony appointing Yitzhak Nissim as Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, those gathered stood up and began singing Hatikvah. Cohen said he did not stand for the anthem, but that his popular predecessor, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef did. Cohen said he asked Yosef why he stood and that Yosef replied that he said the Aleinu, a Jewish prayer recited while standing.

“A real man. Why did he say Aleinu? He didn’t want this stupid song to influence him,” Cohen said.

Cohen has served on the Council of Torah Sages since the founding of the Shas Party in 1984.

In response to the airing of the video clip, the Shas Party said: “No one will teach the wise man Shalom Cohen, who grew up all his days in Jerusalem, what Zionism is and what his relationship is to the Land of Israel. It is his right and duty to think that the sources of the Torah in Israel are 10 times more important than a poem composed only in the last decades.”

Shmira Imber, daughter of Naftali Herz Imber, the composer of “Hatikvah,” also responded to Cohen’s remarks in an interview with Walla.

“It is stupid to say that,” she said. “I am sorry that the spiritual leader of Shas does not walk in the way of Rav Ovadia, his teacher and rabbi.

Oscar nods go to Jewish talent, but Israel loses again

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 02:51

Filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski accepting the Best Foreign Language Film Award for ‘Ida’ during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles, Feb. 22, 2015. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — Jewish artists and themes featured among the winners at the 87th Academy Awards in Hollywood Sunday night, but an Israeli nominee once again failed to bring home the treasured trophy.

The Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film went to “Ida,” a Polish film about a Catholic novitiate who learns she is the daughter of Jewish parents killed by the Nazis.

But Israel’s losing streak at the Oscars continued, as the short film “Aya,” co-written and co-directed by Mihal Brezis and Oded Binnun and starring Sarah Adler, failed to win for Best Short Film.

The director of “Ida,” Pawel Pawlikowski, whose paternal grandmother was Jewish and died in Auschwitz, was asked during a backstage interview whether he considers the Holocaust and the fate of the Jewish people one aspect of post-World War II Poland. Pawlikowski, in his response, tried to shift the emphasis.

“Of course, Polish-Jewish relations are difficult,” he said. “And the two lead characters, Ida and [her aunt] Wanda, who are Jewish, but for me they are Polish. I don’t like people who attack the film from various sides and say ‘Oh, it’s about Jews and Poles and stuff.'”

“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which tied with “Birdman” for the most Oscars at four apiece, has an oblique Jewish connection, as it was, according to director Wes Anderson, inspired by the writings of the Austrian-Jewish novelist Stefan Zweig.

In the individual categories, Mexican-Jewish cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki accepted the Academy Award for “Birdman,” repeating his victory last year for “Gravity.”

Graham Moore won Best Adapted Screenplay for the script for “The Imitation Game,” and he used his acceptance speech to make a plea for gay rights. His mother, Susan Sher, served as President Obama’s liaison to the Jewish community and as chief of staff for First Lady Michelle Obama.

Patricia Arquette, whose mother is Jewish, won for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Boyhood.”

The evening’s “In Memoriam” segment, devoted to film industry notables who have passed away over the past year, included, among others, Israeli filmmaker Menachem Golan, director Mike Nichols, and legendary film actress Lauren Bacall. A number of writers and people on Twitter were outraged that longtime red carpet grandee Joan Rivers was not mentioned.

Holocaust film ‘Ida’ wins Oscar

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 22:32

Filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski accepting the Best Foreign Language Film Award for ‘Ida’ during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles, Feb. 22, 2015. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — “Ida,” a Polish film about a Catholic woman who discovers she is the Jewish child of Holocaust victims, won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski collected the Oscar at the 87th annual Academy Awards Ceremony Sunday night in Los Angeles.

The  spare black-and-white drama, set in Poland in 1962, won international plaudits but also drew criticism in Poland for its portrayal of Polish complicity in the sins of the Holocaust.

The film was also personally significant for Pawlikowski, whose own paternal grandmother was killed at Auschwitz.

Stoudemire to debut with NBA’s Mavs

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 17:23

(JTA) — Amar’e Stoudemire, who received a buyout from the New York Knicks, was expected to debut with the Dallas Mavericks.

Stoudemire, 32, a six-time NBA All-Star, was to play Sunday against the Charlotte Hornets in Dallas, the team announced on the day of the game.

Since signing with the Mavs on Feb. 18, the forward-center has been learning the team’s playbook and conditioning, according to ESPN. The Mavs, with a record of 37-20, are third in the Southwest Division and sixth in the Western Conference; the top eight make the playoffs.

Stoudemire, who claims “Hebrew roots,” is a minority owner of the Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team and has visited Israel.

He received a buyout on the final season of his five-year contract with the Knicks, who have the league’s worst record this season at 10-45.

Richard Dreyfuss to play Bernie Madoff in ABC drama

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 16:24

(JTA) — Academy Award winner Richard Dreyfuss will play Bernie Madoff in a multiple-episode drama on the ABC network.

The drama will be based on the book “The Madoff Chronicles: Inside the Secret World of Bernie and Ruth,” the Hollywood Reporter wrote last week. ABC’s chief investigative correspondent, Brian Ross, wrote the book.

Several high-profile actresses are in the running to play Ruth, Madoff’s wife, who was the director of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

A premiere date and the number of episodes to be screened has yet to be determined.

In 2009, Madoff, 70, pleaded guilty to 11 felonies for fabricating nearly $65 billion in profits to attract investors. He is serving a 150-year sentence at a federal prison in North Carolina.

His Ponzi scheme hit numerous Jewish philanthropies and investors particularly hard. Among those that suffered were Hadassah, the Elie Wiesel Foundation and the American Jewish Congress.

Ukraine grave of Breslover founder’s daughter torched, vandalized

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 16:15

(JTA) — The grave of a daughter of the Breslover movement’s founder, Rabbi Nachman, was set on fire and daubed with a swastika.

The 1831 grave in the central-Ukraine city of Kremenchuk was set ablaze sometime after the completion last month of its renovation by the Oholei Tzadikim association, which works to restore Jewish burial sites throughout the region. It was discovered on Feb. 16, the association wrote in a statement.

“The damage is very extensive,” Rabbi Shimon Buskila of the World Breslov Center told JTA on Sunday. “They destroyed the structure that was only recently erected.”

Pictures of the site supplied by Oholei Tzadikim showed the charred interior of a small structure constructed around the headstone. A swastika was drawn in black ink on the exterior of the structure along with a face and the words “Office Man Serega” in Latin.

According to Oholei Tzadikim, the area was designated to become a construction site, but the association cited its sanctity in preventing the project.

Police have been informed of the incident and are working to prevent its recurrence, Rabbi Israel Meir Gabai, the association’s director general, said in the statement. He added that the group will repair the damages.

Rabbi Nachman’s teachings have inspired hundreds of thousands of followers worldwide. His grave in the city of Uman in Ukraine is among the Hasidic world’s most visited burial sites.

Marginalizing extremists is priority as religions envoy, David Saperstein says

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 16:03

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Rabbi David Saperstein, the new U.S. envoy for religious freedoms, said one priority will be to identify moderates in religious communities who could marginalize extremists.

Speaking Friday at his swearing-in at the State Department, Saperstein said he would work with U.S. civil society groups “in shaping policies that contribute to isolating and delegitimizing extremist religious voices.”

Saperstein, who headed the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center for 40 years, said he would seek to protect the right not to believe as well as the right to practice religion. He listed as another of his priorities the repeal of anti-blasphemy and apostasy laws.

That’s a signal that the Obama administration will intensify its pushback against attempts in international forums by some Muslim nations in recent years to equate blasphemy with religious discrimination.

Another priority, Saperstein said, will be to coordinate with his counterparts around the world to counteract religious discrimination.

“With my gifted Canadian counterpart, Ambassador Andrew Bennett, we are committed to mobilizing a contact group of ministers and ambassadors for religious freedom in countries all across the globe,” he said. “Not just in the Western countries but in the Southern Hemisphere as well – to stand for religious freedom, to coordinate and reinforce our common efforts.”

Secretary of State John Kerry noted recent anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic violence in Europe in describing the need for the post.

“Major European cities are struggling to cope with the aftermath of terror attacks amid evidence of anti-Semitism, radicalization, Islamophobia,” Kerry said.

Israel to buy 14 more stealth fighter jets from U.S.

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 14:00

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel signed a contract to purchase 14 more F-35 stealth fighter jets from the United States.

The agreement was signed over the weekend for the purchase of the jets manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp. The planes will cost about $3 billion, Israel’s Defense Ministry said.

Israel’s Cabinet approved the purchase in November. Israel has an option to purchase up to 17 more of the planes; it purchased 19 of the F-35s in 2010.

Israel is scheduled to take delivery of the first two F-35s at the end of 2016. All of the planes should be delivered by 2021.

Jerusalem mayor, bodyguard subdue Palestinian attacker

Sun, 02/22/2015 - 13:30

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and his security guard apprehended a Palestinian teen who stabbed a haredi Orthodox man near City Hall.

Barkat was on his way to City Hall for a meeting on Sunday evening when he saw the attack taking place near Safra Square in central Jerusalem, according to reports.

The victim, reportedly in his 20s, was stabbed in the stomach and taken to a Jerusalem hospital for treatment. He is in moderate condition.

The alleged attacker, 18, a resident of Ramallah who was residing illegally in Jerusalem, was taken in for questioning by police.