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Report: Tiny cameras, memory cards found in Freundel’s Towson U. office

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 10:14

(JTA) — Tiny cameras and memory cards capable of holding hundreds of thousands of images were found in the Towson University office of Rabbi Barry Freundel.

The  devices, memory cards and flash drives, as well as a photo of naked women and a handwritten list of names, were found in the rabbi’s office on the campus near Baltimore during a police search, the Washington Post reported on Friday.

Freundel, a prominent Orthodox leader and rabbi at Washington’s Kesher Israel synagogue, was arrested on Oct. 14 for allegedly installing a clock radio with a hidden camera in the shower room of the synagogue’s mikvah, or ritual bath. He is believed to have secretly filmed women showering and undressing before their immersions, which is part of the conversion ritual and which married Orthodox women perform each month following menstruation.

Freundel pleaded not guilty to voyeurism in a D.C. court on Oct. 15. He is charged with six misdemeanor counts of voyeurism.  Kesher Israel has suspended Freundel without pay, as has the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America.

Freundel has been a tenured associate professor at Towson since 2009. The school also has suspended Freundel and barred him from campus.

The affidavit for the search warrant filed in Baltimore County District Court and obtained by the Washington Post says that “several young female students” toured the Orthodox synagogue Kesher Israel at Freundel’s invitation, with “some even participating in the bathing ritual.”

Some students have told the Towson student newspaper The Towerlight that several female students who toured the synagogue used the mikveh at Freundel’s suggestion for an educational experience. It is not known if any of the students were filmed.

“Dr. Freundel has been suspended from any and all faculty duties and responsibilities, pending the outcome of that investigation and associated criminal proceedings. At this time there is no indication that these activities occurred on the Towson University campus. We are concerned about the serious nature of this matter, and we are providing support and counseling resources to members of the campus community,” Towson Director of Communications Ray Feldmann said in a statement Wednesday.

Egypt postpones Israel-Palestinian cease-fire talks

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 09:49

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Egypt has postponed indirect cease-fire negotiations that it was scheduled to host in Cairo Monday between Israel and the Palestinians.

The postponement, announced Sunday, was attributed to a terror attack in the Sinai Peninsula Friday that left more than 30 Egyptian soldiers dead, according to reports.

Following the attack, Egypt closed the Rafah crossing, the only border crossing with Gaza not controlled by Israel.

Egypt’s National Defense Council declared a three-month state of emergency in areas near the borders with Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said that the assault on an army checkpoint in the Sinai was a “foreign-funded operation.”

The continuation of the talks are part of the temporary cease-fire that ended Israel’s 50-day Gaza operation in August.

Reports: Yaalon denied meetings with senior U.S. officials

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 09:10

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon was denied meetings with senior Obama administration officials during his U.S. visit, according to media reports citing senior U.S. officials.

While in Washington last week Yaalon requested and was denied meetings with  Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, according to Israeli media and international wire reports. He did meet with his U.S. counterpart Chuck Hagel, as well as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power. The rejection was first reported in the Hebrew language daily Yediot Acharonot and its Ynetnews website.

The rejection of the meetings reportedly was revenge for comments allegedly made by Yaalon in January and published in Yediot Acharonot, which quoted him as telling colleagues that Kerry’s pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian peace was “messianic and obsessive,” and that “all that can ‘save us’ is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace.”

Israel’s Defense Ministry did not officially respond to reports that Yaalon was spurned, though sources close to Yaalon said that “the aim of the trip was to meet with Hagel and the top security echelon in the U.S., and that happened.” Past Israeli defense ministers have meet with senior U.S. officials and not just their U.S. counterpart, the Associated Press reported.

In an interview published Saturday in the Washington Post, Yaalon asserted that the Obama administration has “overcome” his past criticism of Kerry and said calls for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank were “irrational,” since Hamas would take over the territory.

Yaalon said a future Palestinian entity “is not going to be a regular state for many reasons,” and that while it will have autonomy, it “is going to be demilitarized.”

He acknowledged that U.S. and Israeli politicians have “disputes” among themselves and that even so the “United States is Israel’s strategic ally.”

Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid in a speech Saturday night in Tel Aviv called the relationship with the United States “a crisis.”

Relations with the United States are of crucial importance, and we need to do all we can to end this crisis. As Finance Minister and as a member of the security cabinet I know how important our good relations with the United States are, and so Israel must do everything to return to positive relations,” Lapid said.

“If we were not in this crisis I have no doubt that Israel would have been involved in the regional conference in Egypt, and that carries with it great significance, it’s worth remembering that relations between Israel and Egypt are good,” Lapid added.

Rivlin attends ceremony marking Arab-Israeli massacre and calls for ‘repair’

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 07:23

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli President Reuven Rivlin visited the Israeli-Arab village of Kfar Kassem and attended a memorial ceremony marking the 1956 massacre that killed 47 town residents.

Rivlin on Sunday became the first sitting Israeli president to participate in the annual ceremony.

“We must look straight at what happened in the Kfar Kassem massacre and teach all the future generations about it,” Rivlin said during the ceremony. “A serious crime was committed here and needs to be repaired.”

Rivlin said that the Arab sector in Israel “has suffered from years of discrimination” and that “many Arabs in Israel are faced with racism from Jews.”

At the same time, he called on the Arab-Israeli community “to act responsibly and denounce violence and terrorism.”

Rivlin asserted that: “The Arab population will always be part of the flesh and blood of the state of Israel.”

He promised that no one would be “pushed out” of the country, but at the same time stated that “the Arab population of Israel must be brought to internalize and accept that State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people. As long as there exists any aspiration to eradicate the Jews from this land, there will be no chance of building a true partnership. Along with this, the Jewish public must understand, that the ambition of so many, to live alongside a Zionist Arab minority, which proudly sings the Hatikvah (national anthem), will not and cannot be realized.”

The ceremony was held at the local community center and was attended by members of the municipal council, representatives of the families of those killed and injured in the massacre, community leaders, and students from Kafr Kassem and the neighboring Jewish community of Rosh Haayin.

Israeli President Shimon Peres in 2007 apologized for the massacre during a visit to the village for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha in December.

The massacre occurred on Oct. 29, 1956 on the first day of the war in the Sinai. A curfew had been imposed on the village, but the town’s residents were not aware of the curfew. They were shot and killed by Israeli troops as they returned home from work.

Eight of the soldiers were found guilty and sentenced to prison.

Riots continue in eastern Jerusalem; terrorist’s funeral postponed

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 06:55

JERUSALEM|(JTA) — Riots broke out throughout eastern Jerusalem for the third consecutive day, while the funeral for the Palestinian man who carried out a terror attack in Jerusalem was postponed.

Palestinian rioters threw Molotov cocktails and rocks, and burned trash bins in communities throughout eastern Jerusalem on Saturday, including targeting the Beit Orot yeshiva on the Mount of Olives, traffic in Silwan and the Jerusalem Light Rail. Rocks and firecrackers also were thrown at police and security forces.

The riots follow the death of a Palestinian teenager who was killed Friday evening by Israeli troops in the West Bank village of Silwad, near Ramallah, as he was allegedly preparing to throw a firebomb at traffic on Route 60.

Israeli security forces were on hand Friday morning in Jerusalem, and only Muslim women (of all ages) and Muslim males over 40 were allowed to enter the Temple Mount .

The funeral for Abdelrahman al-Shaludi, the driver of the car that crashed into a Jerusalem light rail stop on Oct. 22, killing a 3-month-old girl who was a U.S. citizen and injuring at least 7 others, was postponed on Saturday night out of fear of more rioting. He had been set to be buried near the Old City walls late Saturday night with a maximum of 80 mourners permitted to attend. Palestinians rioted outside of his Silwan home on Friday and Saturday night.

The funeral was postponed to Sunday at an undisclosed time and location, with a limit of 20 mourners whose names had to be submitted in advance.

Al-Shaludi’s family on Sunday said it would not take his body for burial unless the restrictions on mourners was lifted, according to reports.

Palestinian teen shot dead by IDF was U.S. citizen

Sat, 10/25/2014 - 18:02

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A Palestinian teenager shot dead by Israeli troops in the West Bank is a U.S. citizen, according to the State Department.

The teen, identified as Orwa Hammad, was killed Friday evening in the West Bank village of Silwad, located near Ramallah. The family of the teen said he was 14 years old, according to the Palestinian Maan news agency. Silwad residents said Hammad’s father lives in the United States, Maan reported.

The Israel Defense Forces told reporters that the teen was shot as he prepared to throw a firebomb at cars driving on Highway 60.

The soldiers opened fire “in order to neutralize the threat to the lives of civilians driving on the highway,” the IDF Spokesman’s Department said.

“The United States expresses its deepest condolences to the family of a U.S. citizen minor who was killed by the Israeli Defense Forces during clashes in Silwad on October 24,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement released on Friday evening in the United States.

Psaki said in the statement that officials from the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem have been in contact with the family and were providing “all appropriate consular assistance.”

“We call for a speedy and transparent investigation and will remain closely engaged with the local authorities, who have the lead on this investigation,” Psaki said.

“We continue to urge all parties to help restore calm and avoid escalating tensions in the wake of the tragic recent incidents in Jerusalem and the West Bank,” the statement concluded.

On Wednesday, a 3-month-old girl who held U.S. citizenship was killed in a terror attack in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Dr. Judith Abrams, pioneering online Talmud teacher, dies at 56

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 12:40

(JTA) — Rabbi Dr. Judith Abrams, the founder and director of the online Talmud learning website, MAQOM, died of a heart attack Wednesday in Houston. She was 56.

Abrams, who made a career of Jewish teaching and learning, was a relative latecomer to Jewish study. Inspired by a semester studying in Soviet-era Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), where she met Jews in synagogue and on the streets, she entered the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion with practically no Jewish education, and quickly excelled in her studies, according to professor Jonathan Sarna, who is a professor of Jewish history at Brandeis University and wrote a tribute to her on the H-Judaic e-mail list. Abrams graduated at the top of her class in 1984 and was ordained as a rabbi the following year.

Her rabbinic thesis, on the image of America in the Russian-language Jewish press, was published in the American Jewish History journal in 1986. In 1993 she earned a doctorate in Jewish studies from Baltimore Hebrew University.

Abrams pioneered online teaching of Talmud to adults through her website MAQOM, and authored over 20 books for asults and children. Her most recent book, “The Other Talmud” (Jewish Lights) was published in 2012.

Abrams is survived by her husband, Dr. Steven Abrams, and three children.​

Nominations open for NBN Bonei Zion Prize for outstanding immigrants

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 08:18

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Nominations have opened for a prize recognizing Israel’s outstanding immigrants from English-speaking countries.

The Nefesh B’Nefesh Bonei Zion Prize was established by the aliyah organization to recognize “outstanding Anglo olim — veteran and recent — who embody the spirit of modern-day Zionism by significantly contributing to developing the State of Israel,” according to Nefesh B’Nefesh.

A panel of committee members will award $10,000 prizes in six categories: Science & Medicine; Education; Community & Non-Profit; Young Leadership in the IDF & National Service; Entrepreneurship & Technology; and in Arts, Culture & Sports.

Nominations for the prize will be accepted through Dec. 15. Winners will be announced on Feb. 25, 2015.

The panel of judges includes Colette Avital, Israeli diplomat; David Gerstein, internationally renowned painter and sculptor; Barbara Goldstein, deputy executive director, Hadassah, Israel; Prof. Yonatan Halevy, director general, Shaare Zedek Medical Center; Steve Linde, editor-in-chief, The Jerusalem Post; Prof. Gabriela Shalev, president of the Higher Academic Council and Dean of the Law School, Ono Academic College; Rabbi Berel Wein, founder and director, The Destiny Foundation; and Yael Arad, the first Israeli to win an Olympic medal.


Lawyers for Palestinian-American woman want to bar terrorism from trial

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 07:44

(JTA) — Lawyers for a naturalized American citizen of Palestinian descent who is accused of concealing a conviction on terrorist bombings in Israel asked a federal judge to bar references to terrorism at her trial.

Rasmieh Yousef Odeh is set to go on trial in U.S. District Court in Detroit on Nov. 4 for failing to disclose her terror attack conviction in her immigration papers

Odeh, the associate director of the Arab American Action Network in Chicago, faces up to 10 years in prison for lying about her past in order to immigrate, and could be stripped of her U.S. citizenship. She was arrested last October in Chicago.

Israel jailed Odeh for life for her involvement in a number of Jerusalem bombings in 1969, including one at a supermarket that killed two Hebrew University students, Leon Kanner and Eddie Joffe.

She was released in a prisoner exchange with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 1980 and immigrated to the United States from Jordan in 1995.

Jurors could turn against Odeh if prosecutors and witnesses describe the acts as terrorism, defense attorney Michael Deutsch told U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain on Oct. 21 in U.S. District Court in Detroit, the Associated Press reported.

Deutsch said Odeh confessed to the bombings under torture, and that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Israeli envoy: Jordan king blasting Israel to appease his Arab allies

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 07:41

(JTA) — Israel’s ambassador to Jordan suggested that King Abdullah’s recent allegation that Israel kills Arab children en masse stems from pressure by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt.

Ambassador Daniel Nevo offered the commentary in an interview that aired Friday on Army Radio. Abdullah leveled the accusation at Israel earlier this week during his meeting with Jordanian lawmakers.

“If, as we are fighting radical Islamist groups as a coalition, they are slaughtering children in Gaza and Jerusalem every five minutes, then it’s impossible,” said Abdullah II of Jordan, who usually employs less inflammatory language when speaking about Israel.

Nevo would not comment directly on the king’s statement but spoke generally about the monarch’s predicament as one of Israel’s closest allies in the region.

“The king is being attacked by countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and even Egypt on how the Israelis allegedly are disrespecting him,” Nevo told Army Radio when asked to comment on Abdullah’s use of harsh language. “They don’t see the whole picture.” He added: “The violence at the Temple Mount puts Abdullah II in an embarrassing situation each time anew.”

The 20-year anniversary of peace with Israel, which will occur next week, will not be noted or celebrated in Jordan, according to Army Radio. “People on the Jordanian street, they don’t watch Israeli television. They watch Al Jazeera. So how do you expect him to celebrate the anniversary?” Nevo asked.

Nevo noted that on the economic front the two countries are strengthening relations. He pointed to the signing last month of a deal to make Israel Jordan’s primary supplier of gas, as well as a deal signed several months before that for the joint operation of a desalinization plant in Aqaba.

Danish health director: No reason to ban circumcision

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 07:37

(JTA) –Denmark’s national health authority does not think non-medical circumcision is risky enough to justify a ban on it, the body’s director said in parliament.

The Danish Health and Medicines Authority’s director-general, Else Smith, made the statement during her address at a debate in the Danish parliament Wednesday. Two Danish parties and the country’s children’s ombudsman support a ban because they believe circumcision violates children’s rights.

The Politiken daily quoted Smith as saying that while there is insufficient evidence to justify recommending the practice, the risks aren’t serious enough to require a ban.

The debate was organized by the Danish parliament’s group on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Support for a ban was reiterated during the debate by the Red-Green Alliance and the Liberal Alliance, whose combined electoral weight is 11 percent of the Danish parliament’s 179 seats.

Ole Birk Olesen, a lawmaker for Liberal Alliance, responded to Smith’s assertion by comparing circumcision with finger amputation and genital mutilation.

“Doctors can also remove small children’s small fingers without risk if they do it correctly. Should it be allowed to amputate young children’s little fingers without a medical reason?” he demanded.

The debate in parliament comes amid a discussion across northern Europe on the Jewish and Muslim practice. Interest in the topic resurged in 2012, with left-leaning liberals and secularist calling for a ban for humanitarian reasons and nationalist anti-immigration parties supporting a prohibition because they feel the custom is a foreign and barbaric element in Danish society.

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the European Conference of Presidents, who visited Denmark last month, told JTA that activists against non-medical circumcision of boys, or brit milah, as it is called in Hebrew, plan to focus their lobbying efforts on Denmark. “The mixture of a secularist society, anti-Israel sentiment, a hostile far-right and threats by radical Muslims make life increasingly difficult for Danish Jews,” he said.

In a poll released earlier this week, nearly three quarters of 1,000 Danish respondents said they supported fully or partially banning non-medical circumcision of boys.

European rabbis seek laws singling out anti-Semitic hate speech

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 07:33

(JTA) — European rabbis called on governments throughout the continent to pass laws targeting hate speech against Jews.

The call was made in a resolution passed Thursday by the standing committee of the Conference of European Rabbis, or CER, which convened this week in Tbilisi, Georgia.

“We call on additional countries to follow the example set by France and Germany, and devise legislation that targets hate speech against Jews specifically,” CER President Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt told JTA Friday.

“It is something that few countries have but is necessary in light of the rise in anti-Semitic violence and hate speech, as we have witnessed this summer,” Goldschmidt said in reference to a surge in anti-Semitic expressions throughout Western Europe that coincided with Israel’s war in Gaza.

The fight against attempts in Europe to ban non-medical circumcision of boys and kosher slaughter of animals was also a high priority for the committee, Goldschmidt said.

A draft resolution calling for the establishment of an inter-European authority that would certify clergy to combat religious hate speech was suggested but was not passed by the committee, which has over 25 members.

The meeting in Tbilisi was the first time that CER held an event in Georgia, and it coincided with government-sponsored celebrations of 2,600 years of coexistence between Jews and non-Jews in Georgia.

“We saw banners in Hebrew and Jewish signs all over the city,” Goldschmidt said.

CER also met with Georgian officials, including Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, who, at 32, is one of the world’s youngest heads of state.

Garibashvili spoke of his high regard for Israel and Jewish culture during the meeting, Glodschmidt said.

Ireland’s Upper House calls on government to recognize Palestine

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 07:33

(JTA) — The Upper House of Ireland’s parliament unanimously passed a nonbinding  motion calling on the government to formally recognize the state of Palestine.

The parliamentary body accepted the motion Wednesday without a vote.

The motion was proposed by Sen. Averil Power, the head of the country’s main opposition party, the conservative Fianna Fail, the Irish Times reported.

It called on the Irish government to “formally recognize the State of Palestine and do everything it can at the international level to help secure a viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” according to TheJournal.ie.

The Palestinians’ ambassador to Ireland, Ahmed Abdelrazek, was in the Upper House during debate on the motion and its approval.

The approval comes less than a month after new Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Loven declared that his government would recognize the state of Palestine and more than a week after the British Parliament overwhelmingly voted for a nonbinding motion backing recognition of Palestine.

Women of the Wall smuggle Torah scroll into Kotel plaza

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 07:29

(JTA) — Women who defied Western Wall Plaza rules by bringing a small Torah scroll there were allowed to finish praying.

The decision to allow a few dozen members of the Women of the Wall feminist group to continue their prayer was made to prevent desecration of the scroll even though their actions were in breach of the rules, according to a statement Friday by the office of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, who runs the Western Wall, or Kotel, one of Judaism’s holiest sites.

“A small group of women carried out a deception this morning by bringing in a small Torah scroll into the women’s section after they had been prevented from bringing in a large one,” read the statement. “In the future, efforts will be made to prevent such events from recurring, as it is forbidden for anyone, man or woman, to bring in a Torah scroll into the plaza.”

According to Israel Radio, 150 women participated in the prayer with a small Torah scroll, which they concealed prior to entering the women’s section. The Torah scroll is 200 years old and was brought especially from Britain for the prayer, the report said.

Women of the Wall gathers at the Western Wall at the start of each Jewish month. The group’s members have clashed frequently with staff from Rabinovitch’s office and with police for holding services that violate the rules enforced by that office, including singing, wearing prayer shawls and other customs that are forbidden to women under the office’s interpretation of Orthodox Jewish law.

Dutch mayor likens jihadis to Jews who left for pre-state Israel

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 07:22

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (JTA) — A Dutch mayor said Holland should not prevent Islamists from leaving for Syria just as it let Jews immigrate to pre-state Israel.

Pieter Broertjes, the mayor of Hilvresum — a small, affluent municipality near Amsterdam that is considered to be the country’s media capital — made the comparison on Thursday during an interview with Radio 1.

Later that day, a municipal spokesperson called the comparison “unfortunate.”

In the interview, Broertjes, a politician for Dutch Labor and former editor-in-chief of the highbrow Volkskrant daily, was asked whether he thought jihadists who are leaving to fight in Syria and Iraq should be prevented from departing.

He opposed such steps, adding: “Dutchmen after World War II went to Israel to fight the English. We didn’t prevent them then.”

Esther Voet, the director of the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, or CIDI, reacted to the comparison by calling it “ridiculous” on Twitter. And Elbert Dijkgraaf, a lawmaker for the conservative Reformed Political Party in the Tweede Kamer, the Dutch parliament’s lower house,  said it was “astonishing” and “devoid of any understanding of historical context.”

Interviewed about Broertjes’ comparison by the local Gooi-en Eemlander paper, a spokesperson for the municipality of Hilversum said: “What Broertjes wanted to say was that government just can’t forbid people to settle elsewhere for whatever reason. That’s the point he wanted to make. He made a blunt comparison, and that was unfortunate.”

Broertjes himself was not available for further comment on the issue, Dutch media reported.

U.S. makes some light rail stations off limits to gov’t staffers in Israel

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 15:29

JERUSALEM (JTA) — U.S. government personnel have been restricted from using Jerusalem Light Rail stations in parts of eastern Jerusalem for a month.

The U.S. State Department announced the ban Thursday in a security message emailed to Americans in Israel the day after a terrorist attack on a light rail station left an infant dead and seven people injured.

The restriction is for the area where Wednesday’s attack occurred and further into eastern Jerusalem. The restriction will be reviewed after 30 days.

Also in the security message, U.S. citizens were warned against entering eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods that have been the scene of demonstrations and violent clashes since Wednesday night.

“The current dynamic security environment underscores the importance of situational awareness, especially in crowded public places that may have minimal overt police presence,” the statement said.



Moscow JCC renamed for JDC’s Ralph Goldman

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 14:29

(JTA) — One of Moscow’s largest Jewish community centers, the Nikitskaya, was renamed in honor of the late Jewish leader Ralph Goldman.

The institution, which opened in 2001 with support from the JDC, was rededicated as the Ralph I. Goldman Nikitskaya Jewish Cultural Center in a ceremony Wednesday.

Goldman, a former head of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, died Oct. 7 in Jerusalem at the age of 100.

“Renaming this institution in his honor is a fitting tribute to a man whose story was so inextricably bound with that of his people and who was one of the visionaries who helped rebuild Jewish life in Russia,” said Penny Blumenstein and Alan Gill, the JDC’s president and CEO, respectively, in a statement.

Goldman was a driving force in JDC’s low-profile activities behind the Iron Curtain, and in the 1970s and ’80s brought JDC programs back into the open in communist countries. He led sensitive negotiations with Soviet leaders, navigating JDC’s return to what would become the former Soviet Union almost immediately after its collapse.

Russia is home today to an estimated 600,000 Jews. JDC supports 55 JCCs in Russia.

Israel slams Latvian show celebrating Nazi’s life

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 14:11

(JTA) — Israel’s Foreign Ministry slammed the production in Latvia of a show celebrating the life of alleged Nazi war criminal Herbert Cukurs.

Titled “Cukurs, Herbert Cukurs,” the musical premiered earlier this month. The play is based on the life of the deputy commander of the Arajs Kommando force that participated in the near annihilation of Latvian Jewry after the Nazis invaded Latvia. Israel’s Mossad spy agency reportedly killed Cukurs in South America.

The Latvian government has criticized but not banned the privately produced work.

“Israel strongly condemns the production in Latvia of a musical that honors the memory of Latvian Nazi war criminal Herberts Cukurs,” Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which rarely comments on artistic endeavors that are not about Israel, said in a statement Thursday.

Efraim Zuroff, who heads the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said: “This is the first time in years that Israel has denounced the attempt to whitewash crimes against humanity in the Baltics, and it is a welcome step.”

According to Holocaust survivors’ testimonies, Cukurs personally killed and tortured Jews, he added.

Many in the Baltic nations today view Nazi collaborators as national heroes because they fought the Russian army and Moscow’s grip on the region before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

After Twitter ruling, tech firms increasingly toe Europe’s line on hate speech

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 12:16

The French comedian Dieudonne demonstrating the quenelle, a Nazi-like gesture he created whose popularity has soared in France. (YouTube)

BRUSSELS (JTA) — A little over a year after a French court forced Twitter to remove some anti-Semitic content, experts say the ruling has had a ripple effect, leading other Internet companies to act more aggressively against hate speech in an effort to avoid lawsuits.

The 2013 ruling by the Paris Court of Appeals settled a lawsuit brought the year before by the Union of Jewish Students of France over the hashtag #UnBonJuif, which means “a good Jew” and which was used to index thousands of anti-Semitic comments that violated France’s law against hate speech.

Since then, YouTube has permanently banned videos posted by Dieudonne, a French comedian with 10 convictions for inciting racial hatred against Jews. And in February, Facebook removed the page of French Holocaust denier Alain Soral for “repeatedly posting things that don’t comply with the Facebook terms,” according to the company. Soral’s page had drawn many complaints in previous years but was only taken down this year.

“Big companies don’t want to be sued,” said Konstantinos Komaitis, a former academic and current policy adviser at the Internet Society, an international organization that encourages governments to ensure access and sustainable use of the Internet. “So after the ruling in France, we are seeing an inclination by Internet service providers like Google, YouTube, Facebook to try and adjust their terms of service — their own internal jurisprudence — to make sure they comply with national laws.”

The change comes amid a string of heavy sentences handed down by European courts against individuals who used online platforms to incite to racism or violence.

On Monday, a British court sentenced one such offender to four weeks in jail for tweeting “Hitler was right” to a Jewish lawmaker. Last week, a court in Geneva sentenced a man to five months in jail for posting texts that deny the Holocaust. And in April, a French court sentenced two men to five months in jail for posting an anti-Semitic video.

“The stiffer sentences owe partly to a realization by judges of the dangers posed by online hatred, also in light of cyber-jihadism and how it affected people like Mohammed Merah,” said Christophe Goossens, the legal adviser of the Belgian League against Anti-Semitism, referring to the killer of four Jews at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012.

In the Twitter case, the company argued that as an American firm it was protected by the First Amendment. But the court rejected the argument and forced Twitter to remove some of the comments and identify some of the authors. It also required the company to set up a system for flagging and ultimately removing comments that violate hate speech laws.

Twitter responded by overhauling its terms of service to facilitate adherence to European law, Twitter’s head of global safety outreach and public policy, Patricias Cartes Andres, revealed Monday at a conference in Brussels organized by the International Network Against Cyber Hate, or INACH.

“The rules have been changed in a way that allows us to take down more content when groups are being targeted,” Cartes Andres told JTA. Before the lawsuit, she added, “if you didn’t target any one person, you could have gotten away with it.”

The change went into effect five months ago, but Twitter “wanted to be very quiet about it because there will be other communities, like the freedom of speech community, that will be quite upset about it because they would view it as censorship,” Cartes Andres said.

Suzette Brokhorst, the secretary of INACH, said Twitter’s adjusted policies are part of a “change in attitude” by online service providers since 2013.

“Before the trial, Twitter gave Europe the middle finger,” Brokhorst said. “But they realized that if they want to work in Europe, they need to keep European laws, and others are coming to the same realization.”

According to Komaitis, the Twitter case was built on a landmark court ruling in 2000 that forced the search engine Yahoo! to ban the sale of Nazi memorabilia. But the 2013 ruling “went much further,” he said, “demonstrating the increasing pressure on providers to adhere to national laws, unmask offenders and set up flagging mechanisms.”

Still, the INACH conference showed that big gaps remain between the practices sought by European anti-racism activists and those now being implemented by the tech companies.

One area of contention is Holocaust denial, which is illegal in many European countries but which several American companies, reflecting the broader free speech protections prevalent in the United States, are refusing to censure.

Delphine Reyre, Facebook’s director of policy, said at the conference that the company believes users should be allowed to debate the subject.

“Counter speech is a powerful tool that we lose with censorship,” she said.

Cartes Andres cited the example of the hashtag #PutosJudios, Spanish for “Jewish whores,” which in May drew thousands of comments after a Spanish basketball team lost to its Israeli rival. More than 90 percent of the comments were “positive statements that attacked those who used the offensive term,” she said.

Some of the comments are the subject of an ongoing police investigation in Spain launched after a complaint filed by 11 Jewish groups.

But Mark Gardner of Britain’s Community Security Trust wasn’t buying it.

“There’s no counter-speech to Holocaust denial,” Gardner said at the conference. “I’m not going to send Holocaust survivors to debate the existence of Auschwitz online. That’s ridiculous.”

Canadian Jewish institutions ramping up security following jihadist incidents

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 11:12

MONTREAL (JTA) — Canadian Jewish institutions are stepping up security after the murder of two Canadian soldiers by homegrown pro-jihadist terrorists.

While it is not clear whether the two attacks, which included a shooting Wednesday at the Parliament in the nation’s capital, were related, they have shaken a country that has experienced few acts of terrorism and has often felt immune from attack.

While no direct threats were reported against Jewish institutions, they reportedly are heightening security measures in response.

“The Jewish community takes these incidents very seriously,” said Martin Sampson of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Ottawa. “We have security protocols in place and remain vigilant.”

B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said in a statement, “The attacks this week have demonstrated that Canada is no longer immune to the danger of individuals harboring and propagating radical ideologies.”

On Wednesday in Ottawa, a 32-year-old man identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau stormed a war memorial just off Parliament Hill and shot dead a reservist soldier standing guard with an unloaded weapon. Zehaf-Bibeau, described by some as wearing a keffiyah-like head covering, invaded the main building on Parliament Hill before being shot dead by the Parliament’s sergeant-at-arms.

Two days earlier, Martin Rouleau of Quebec ran over two soldiers in a Montreal suburb, killing one before he was fatally shot by police.

News reports described Rouleau and Zehaf-Bibeau, both recent converts to Islam, as “radicalized” Canadians. The two were among 90 Canadian-born citizens being monitored by domestic security authorities for their expressed sympathies toward extreme Islam.

CORRECTION: This article incorrectly stated the CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. The new CEO is Michael Mostyn, who succeeded Frank Dimant.