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Sarah Silverman wins Emmy, thanks her Jews

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 23:20

Sarah Silverman celebrating after winning the Emmy Award for Best Writing for a Variety Show, Aug. 25, 2014. (Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — Comedian Sarah Silverman broke out a Jewish joke as she took home a trophy at the 2014 Emmy Awards.

Silverman won for Best Writing for a Variety Show for her HBO comedy special “Sarah Silverman: We are Miracles.” Upon being announced as the winner, she dashed onto the stage barefoot and thanked her agents, saying, “Thank you to my Jews at CAA.”

Prior to Monday night’s ceremony, Silverman set the Internet abuzz when she announced in an interview on the red carpet that she had brought with her a vaporizer with liquid pot.

Another Jewish winner was Julianna Margulies, who took home the Emmy as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama for her role as Alicia Florrick on CBS’s “The Good Wife.” It was the third Emmy for Margulies, who had won earlier for “The Good Wife” as well as for “ER.”

The Emmy for Outstanding TV Movie went to HBO’s “The Normal Heart,” based on the 1985 play by Larry Kramer, a Jewish writer and AIDS activist. Kramer’s screenplay lost to Noah Hawley for “Fargo.”

Israel lowering interest rate again as economy struggles amid Gaza op

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 16:35

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s central bank is reducing its interest rate to an all-time low to counteract a foundering economy due in part to the Gaza military operation.

The Bank of Israel said Monday that it was dropping the rate to 0.25 for September. It marks the second straight month that the rate has been lowered.

Along with the Gaza operation, Bank of Israel Governor Karnit Flug cited the global economic slowdown for the problems in Israel’s economy.

“Our intention in reducing the interest rate is in effect to help the economy strengthen its capability to recover from a weakness it finds itself in both due to the global slowdown and the fighting,” Flug told Israel Radio on Monday.

The Gaza operation has affected nearly all economic sectors of Israel, including tourism, agriculture and manufacturing.

Israel’s Manufacturers Association estimated the total economic impact of the operation on Israeli manufacturers so far to be about $336 million. Israel’s tourism industry has lost at least $566 million after tourism dropped by 26 percent over last year for the month of July.

In addition, employees of businesses located up to 25 miles from the Gaza border can be paid for days they miss work due to the Gaza situation with government money given to the businesses.

The central bank said in a statement earlier this month that economic activity in Israel began experiencing “a sort of contraction” even before the Gaza operation.

Meanwhile, the Al-Monitor news website reported Friday that sales of Israeli goods in the West Bank are down 50 percent due to a boycott of Israeli products.

The head of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Oula Awad, told Al-Monitor that more than 70 percent of Palestinian imports come from Israel or through it, and that the Palestinian market is the most important for Israel. Awad said imports from Israel are worth $4 billion to $4.5 billion while exports do not exceed half a billion dollars.

Israel’s Channel 10 had reported earlier this month that sales of Israeli products in the West Bank dropped by 50 percent due to the Gaza operation.


Israel expat says worker told her to steer clear of Fla. gas station

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 16:06

(JTA) — An employee at a South Florida gas station allegedly told a customer that she was no longer welcome because she is an Israeli.

The Jewish owner of the Shell station said he was looking into the allegations by the customer, a woman originally from Tel Aviv and a resident of Coral Springs for the past 15 years.

The woman told the Coral Springs Talk website that the employee said last week, “You guys are killers and your money is not welcome here.” She thought the employee was the owner.

In an update, Coral Springs Talk reported that the station owner is Jewish and said the employee’s “behavior is totally intolerable.” The owner told the site that he wanted the exact time and date of the alleged behavior.

The woman said she believed the employee knew she was Israeli because she would speak in Hebrew on her cellphone.

A friend of the woman contacted the Coral Springs Talk. Both the woman and her friend did not want their names used for fear of retribution.

“Shell does not condone the type of behavior alleged to have occurred and expected that third parties selling Shell-branded motor fuels to treat every customer in a fair and inclusive manner,” Pam Rosen, communications manager of Shell’s corporate offices in Houston, told the website.


Another rocket fired from Lebanon strikes northern Israel

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 15:28

JERUSALEM (JTA) — At least one rocket fired from Lebanon hit northern Israel two nights after a similar attack.

The rocket fired late Monday night is reported to have landed in an open area near the Upper Galilee city of Kiryat Shemona, though the military has not confirmed the exact location. No injuries or damage were reported.

Israel responded with artillery to the area of the attack, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Late Saturday night, a rocket fired from Lebanon landed on an empty house in the Upper Galilee. Israeli media reported that two children were injured.

Israel did not return fire but lodged a protest with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.

U. of Illinois defends revocation of job offer to scholar who ripped Israel

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 15:12

(JTA) — Officials from the University of Illinois publicly defended their decision to revoke a job offer to a scholar who had harshly criticized Israel on Twitter.

Chancellor Phyllis Wise issued a statement on Friday explaining why the university had decided not to move forward with the hiring of Steven Salaita. On the same day, the president and board combined on a separate statement.

Wise wrote in an open letter to the university that the university would not tolerate “personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.” The president and board in their statement backed Wise’s decision, echoing her arguments.

Neither of the statements cited any specific behavior by Salaita.

The website Inside Higher Education had reported that Salaita’s appointment was blocked over concerns about strongly worded tweets criticizing Israel and its officials. In a follow-up article, Inside Higher Education wrote that students, parents, alumni and even the university’s own fundraising officials lobbied Wise to block the appointment.

Earlier this summer, the university indicated that Salaita would be joining the faculty of the American Indian studies program at the university’s Urbana-Champaign campus. It subsequently informed Salaita, however, that his appointment would not go to the board of trustees for approval, typically a pro forma step with university appointments.

The university statements have been criticized on a number venues, including a blog for the American Association of University Professors by John Wilson, a member of the academic freedom committee of the Illinois AAUP.

Wise’s letter, Wilson wrote, was “an appalling attack on academic freedom and a rejection of the basic values that a university must stand for.”


Mumbai Chabad house, closed after 2008 terror attack, to reopen

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 14:48

(JTA) — The reconstructed Chabad house in Mumbai, which closed after a terror attack six years ago, is set to reopen.

Nariman House, the six-story home of Chabad-Lubavitch of Mumbai, will be rededicated Tuesday.

A series of attacks in the Indian city in November 2008 by members of a Pakistan-based terror group left 166 people dead, including six at the Mumbai Chabad house, which was targeted along with luxury hotels, a train station and a popular cafe.

Chabad emissaries Gabriel and Rivky Holtzberg were killed in the center along with four visitors. Their son Moshe, then 2 years-old, escaped and now lives in Israel with his grandparents. His Indian baby sitter, who risked her life to save him during the attack, also relocated to Israel.

Since the attack, Chabad in Mumbai has continued its activities in temporary locations throughout the city directed by Rabbi Yisroel Kozlovsky and his wife, Chaya.

“We’re not moving into a new building; we are returning to our original building, and we will be continuing all of the activities that took place here, and hopefully, grow even more,” Kozlovsky told Chabad.org. “We remember what happened, but we are working for the future.”

During the reopening, Chabad will unveil plans for a $2.5 million Jewish museum that will occupy the fourth and fifth floors of the building.

Some 25 Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis from across Asia, including locations such as Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong, will meet at the newly renovated center following the reopening for the Asian regional gathering of Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis.


Poll: Netanyahu’s approval rating plummets

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 14:42

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A poll of Israelis showed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approval rating has plunged to 38 percent in the last month from a high of 82 percent.

Netanyahu’s approval rating was at its highwater mark in the days after Israel began its ground war in Gaza, according to the poll released Monday by Israel’s Channel 2. The poll was conducted late last week and this week by the Israel-based Shiluv Millward Brown company.

The survey found that 50 percent of the respondents did not approve of Netanyahu’s performance.

Some 63 percent of respondents were opposed to the opening of schools in southern Israel while rockets were still falling, and 68 percent did not believe the government was treating residents of the south fairly.

The Channel 2 report did not indicate the sample size.


Ex-N.Y. judge tapped for U.N. panel investigating Israel

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 14:31

(JTA) — Former New York state Supreme Court judge Mary McGowan Davis was appointed to the U.N. Human Rights Council panel investigating Israel for possible war crimes in Gaza.

McGowan Davis was named Monday to the Commission of Inquiry by Baudelaire Ndong Ella of Gabon, who heads the Human Rights Council. She replaces Amal Alamuddin, a British attorney and the fiancee of actor George Clooney who declined her nomination earlier this month.

The commission is tasked with investigating violations of international human rights and humanitarian law since Israel launched its military operation in Gaza in early July, according to a statement from the council.

Its chairman is William Schabas, a Canadian international law professor who has been accused of bias against Israel. Former U.N. racism investigator Doudou Diene of Senegal also is a member of the panel created in July at the request of the Palestinians, as well as Arab and Muslim states.

The council requested that the commission present a written report at Human Rights Council meeting in March.

McGowan Davis was the chair of a United Nations committee of independent experts who made recommendations following the release of the Goldstone Report on Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.


Rocket intercepted over Tel Aviv as plane aborts landing

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 14:08

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A rocket fired at central Israel was intercepted over Tel Aviv.

Hamas claimed responsibility for the long-range M75 rocket fired Monday evening that was struck down by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

An airplane descending into Ben Gurion International Airport pulled back from its landing and headed back over the Mediterranean following the sounding of Code Red alert sirens, the Times of Israel reported.

At least 115 rockets had been fired into Israel on Monday as of 8:30 p.m., with 13 intercepted by Iron Dome, according to the Israeli military.

Uruguayan Communist Party agrees to erase anti-Israel mural

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 13:00

This mural in the Uruguayan coastal city of Punta del Este was removed. In Spanish it says “STOP: No to the genocide in Gaza” and “400 children,” and is signed “Red Ant.”

(JTA) — The Communist Party in the Uruguayan coastal city of Punta del Este agreed to a request by the local Jewish community to remove a mural on a city building accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza.

Jewish community leaders met met last week with party leaders at the city’s municipal building to discuss the mural painted on the side of a building on a main thoroughfare. The Jewish leaders presented the community’s view about the Israel-Gaza conflict and the implication of the graffiti, and the Communist leaders decided to remove the graffiti.

“STOP: No to the genocide in Gaza,” the mural reads in Spanish. “400 children” also was painted on the wall, which was signed by “Red Ant.”

By Aug. 21, the wall featured new graffiti related to local political candidates without any mention of Israel.

The Communist Party delegation was led by Uruguayan lawmaker Heber Nunez. The group from the Jewish umbrella organization CIPEMU was led by President Rolando Rozenblum and Executive Director Fabian Schamis.

CIPEMU leaders underlined the “excellent atmosphere of dialogue, exchanges of views and comprehension” which resulted in the removal of the graffiti. Both sides also agreed to establish open channels of dialogue in order to prevent future tensions.

The local Youth of the Communist Party organization expressed disappointment with the decision to erase the anti-Israeli mural.

The Jewish presence in Punta del Este has grown dramatically in recent years. The city, which has a year-round population of just over 9,000, has four synagogues.

Estimates of the Jewish influx into Uruguay during the summer range from 25,000 to 50,000 in a country with a population of 3.3 million, including approximately 17,000 Jews.


Holocaust survivors, relatives sign letter condemning Gaza op

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 10:15

(JTA) — Some 40 people identifying as Jewish Holocaust survivors and more than 200 direct descendants of survivors signed a public letter condemning Israel’s military operation in Gaza and accusing it of “ongoing genocide.”

The letter, which was published Saturday in The New York Times as a half-page advertisement, also condemns the “ongoing occupation and colonization of historic Palestine” and the United States “for providing Israel with the funding to carry out the attack.”

The signatories come from 26 countries representing four generations.

About 50 other relatives of survivors also signed the letter, which was sponsored by the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. Founded in 2008, the network calls for the “liberation of the Palestinian people and land,” as well as “an end to U.S. economic and military dominance in the region, in which Israel plays a crucial part.”

In a statement, the network said the letter was written in response to an ad campaign in which Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize laureate, compares the murder of children during the Holocaust to Hamas’ actions in Gaza.

“We are disgusted and outraged by Elie Wiesel’s abuse of our history in these pages to justify the unjustifiable: Israel’s wholesale effort to destroy Gaza and the murder of more than 2,000 Palestinians, including many hundreds of children. Nothing can justify bombing UN shelters, homes, hospitals and universities. Nothing can justify depriving people of electricity and water,” the letter reads.


Police curb protests at British cosmetics store selling Israeli products

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 09:50

(JTA) — Police have halted daily anti-Israel protests in front of a cosmetics store in Manchester, England, that sells Israeli cosmetics.

The protests at Kedem have been held since the start of Israel’s military operation in Gaza early last month.

Greater Manchester Police have ordered the Pro-Palestinian protesters and Israel-supporting counter-protesters to a “designated protest area” nearby, the Jewish Chronicle reported.

In a statement, police said the protests had “now exceeded the legal threshold required under the Public Order Act.”

Only 10 demonstrators will be allowed to protest in the area at one time.

“We will continue to work with civic and faith leaders and with local community groups to ensure that the important issues behind the current Middle East conflicts can be properly debated in the city in a way that does not cause serious disruption or endanger community cohesion,” Manchester Chief Constable Peter Fahy told the Chronicle.

Pro-Palestinian protesters also have posted threatening messages on the store’s Facebook page.

Call-up of additional 10,000 Israeli reservists authorized

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 08:06

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A Knesset committee authorized the call-up of an additional 10,000 Israeli reserve soldiers.

On Sunday, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee approved a government request for the call-up. Nearly 100,000 Israeli reservists have been called up since the start of Operation Protective Edge on July 8.

The committee also extended the special Home Front requirements until Sept. 2, calling on the Finance Ministry to finalize by then the amount of compensation the state will pay to residents of the south that have sustained property damage.

Also Sunday, Israeli lawmaker Elazar Stern of the Hatnua party in a letter to Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon called for the drafting of Hesder yeshiva students in place of reservists.

Students of Hesder yeshivas spend up to two years studying, serve for 17 months in the military and then return to a year-and-a-half of yeshiva studies, which is considered unpaid reserve duty.

Stern wrote that drafting the students would cost the state less and offer relief to reserve soldiers. He added that the students have been on summer break, which ends on Wednesday, the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul.

“When considering the absurdity that 20-year-old soldiers are on vacation and reservists with family are on guard duty or on patrols, it appears to me that this issue should be examined, if not at this time, then for the challenges that lie ahead of us,” he wrote.

The Association of Hesder Yeshivot responded, according to The Jerusalem Post, that Hesder yeshiva students have served in every area of the military during the current conflict with Gaza and that “yeshiva students have not been absent from those who have been wounded.” Many of the students, the association noted, stayed with their units even when they were scheduled to return to yeshiva.

“Yeshiva students of the Hesder program are present and ready for every task the army gives them and for every purpose, and those who have not been required for military missions will return next week to the yeshivot to increase the Torah study which is no less important than the security operations,” the association said.

Egypt sends new cease-fire plan to Israel, Palestinians

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 06:34

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Egyptian mediators have proposed a new cease-fire plan to Israel and the Palestinians.

The Palestinians are willing to accept the deal if Israel does, the French news agency AFP reported, citing an unnamed senior Palestinian official. Both sides have been contacted with the details of the proposal, an unnamed Egyptian official told AFP. There was no Israeli response by mid-Monday afternoon.

The deal calls for the lifting of the blockade of Gaza and allowing in construction materials to rebuild Gaza. Discussion on disputed issues would be left for negotiations in a month if the cease-fire holds.

The disputed issues, including the demilitarization of Gaza and a Gaza airport, have prevented the signing of a long-term cease-fire since Israel launched its military operation in Gaza on July 8.


Much of Lev Tahor community out of Canada, in Guatemala

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 06:06

TORONTO (JTA) — Most members of the haredi Orthodox sect Lev Tahor have moved from Canada to Guatemala amid allegations of child abuse.

Only five or six families — about 40 people — remain in the Lev Tahor settlement in Chatham, Ontario, about three hours southwest of Toronto, the London Free Press reported.

Much of the community has made its way to be reunited with sect members who left for Guatemala earlier this year. Others have gone to the United States and Israel, the paper reported.

“This story is going to end not with a bang but with a very loud fizzle,” Toronto lawyer Guidy Mamann, who was hired by the group last spring, told the Free Press. “I think we’re just seeing the last chapter of the Lev Tahor story being written in Canada in terms of their presence here.”

He added, “I don’t think anybody is planning on staying.”

In November, about 200 sect members moved to Chatham after Quebec’s youth protective services launched a process to remove 14 of the sect’s children.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp.’s French-language arm, Radio-Canada, reported that the bulk of the families began leaving Canada one by one starting in June to join fellow members involved in the custody battle who had left for Guatemala in March.

Youth protection officials alleged that the children were subjected to physical beatings, poor hygiene, forced ingestion of drugs, underage marriage and violating the province’s school curriculum.

The Lev Tahor have vigorously denied all the allegations and say they are victims of a religious smear.

In March, 12 of the children involved in the custody dispute and six adults left Canada on two separate flights. One group of nine flew through Trinidad and Tobago, where they were intercepted and returned to Canada, and another group of nine traveled through Mexico City to their ultimate destination, Guatemala.


Captive American journalist in Syria set free in Israeli Golan Heights

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 05:53

JERUSALEM (JTA) — An American journalist held hostage in Syria by a group affiliated with al-Qaida was released to the Israeli Golan Heights.

Peter Theo Curtis, who wrote under the byline Theo Padnos, was released Sunday to United Nations peacekeeping forces on the Golan Heights and reportedly was taken to Tel Aviv by U.S. diplomats. Curtis was taken hostage in October 2012, shortly after crossing into Syria, according to reports.

Curtis was held by Jabhat Al-Nusrah, an al-Qaida-linked group currently among the rebels fighting a three-year-long civil war with government forces led by Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“Over these last two years, the United States reached out to more than two dozen countries asking for urgent help from anyone who might have tools, influence, or leverage to help secure Theo’s release and the release of any Americans held hostage in Syria,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement issued after the release was concluded.

“Every waking hour, our thoughts and our faith remain with the Americans still held hostage and with their families, and we continue to use every diplomatic, intelligence, and military tool at our disposal to find them and bring our fellow citizens home,” Kerry said.

The release of Curtis comes days after the spread of a video by the Islamist group ISIS showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley, who was kidnapped in Syria in 2012. ISIS said the execution of Foley was a warning to President Obama following U.S. airstrikes in Iraq.


Time magazine takes back charge that IDF harvests Palestinian organs

Sun, 08/24/2014 - 16:10

(JTA) — Time magazine retracted allegations that Israeli soldiers harvested and sold Palestinian organs.

On Sunday, the magazine deleted the allegations from a two-minute video on its website about the Israel Defense Forces and added a correction, writing at the end, “Correction: The original version of this video cited a contested allegation in a 2009 Swedish newspaper report as fact. The allegation has been removed from the video.”

The video, titled “The IDF: A look inside Israel’s powerful military,” said the “IDF is not without controversy,” reporting that “in 2009 a Swedish report came out exposing some Israeli troops of selling organs of Palestinians who died in their custody.”

According to the watchdog website Honest Reporting, “The reference is to a completely made up tabloid-style article in an obscure Swedish paper that even the author admitted was not based on any evidence.”

The allegation appeared in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. Of the allegation, the author of the piece said, “But whether it’s true or not – I have no idea, I have no clue,” according to Honest Reporting.




Earthquake damages Napa Valley Chabad center

Sun, 08/24/2014 - 15:42

(JTA) — The Napa Valley Chabad Jewish Center suffered damage in a 6.1 magnitude earthquake.

The quake hit early Sunday morning and Napa was declared a disaster area by California Gov. Jerry Brown.

Rabbi Elchonon Tenenbaum, who has directed the Chabad house since 2006, told the Chabad.org website that he found broken glass and furniture strewn everywhere, as did most of his neighbors.

Tenenbaum said he waited outside with his neighbors until the light of day before entering the center, which also is his home, to view the damage.

“I went to check up on people in the area and found that they were in a similar situation,” Tenenbaum told Chabad.org. “Their houses are standing but everything inside has been ruined. Thank G‑d, this happened in the middle of the night when we were in our beds, and not in other parts of our homes where heavy bookcases fell over.”

Many homes in the area, including Chabad, remain without power.

Mashal vow: With more precise weapons, Hamas will aim only at military targets

Sun, 08/24/2014 - 14:57

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Hamas political leader Khaled Mashal vowed that Hamas would aim only at Israeli military targets if it can get more sophisticated weapons.

Mashal in an hourlong interview Friday with Yahoo News in Doha, Qatar, also said his group is nothing like ISIS and admitted that Hamas members killed three kidnapped Israeli teens in June.

He said Hamas rejects the killing of civilians and journalists, unlike ISIS, an Islamist group that distributed a video of the beheading of an American journalist in recent days.

Asking the interviewer, “The question is, who is killing the civilians?” Mashal asserted that Israel has killed 15 journalists during attacks on Gaza.

“We do not target civilians, and we try most of the time to aim at military targets and Israeli bases,” he said, adding that Hamas’ “problem” is that it does not have the sophisticated military equipment that Israel has, “so aiming is difficult.”

“We promise that if we get more precise weapons, we will only target military targets,” Mashal said.

The interview occurred after a 4-year-old Israeli boy living near the Gaza border was killed in a mortar attack outside his home but was not mentioned in the four-minute segment presented on Yahoo.

Mashal called the comparison between Hamas and ISIS, which has been made repeatedly by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a “lie” designed to “trick” the American public.

“We are not a religious, violent group,” Mashal said. “We are fighting against aggression in our land.”

Mashal acknowledged during the interview that Hamas members kidnapped and murdered the three Israeli teens, though he said the Hamas organization did not know about the kidnapping in advance. He called the murders a legitimate form of protest against Israel.

“We understand people are frustrated under the occupation and the oppression, and they take all kinds of action,” he said.

The interview took place after two days of talks in the Qatari capital between Mashal and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

N.J. yeshiva student last seen in Jerusalem Forest is missing

Sun, 08/24/2014 - 13:05

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A haredi Orthodox yeshiva student from Lakewood, N.J., was reported missing after hiking in the Jerusalem Forest.

Aaron Sofer, 23, was last seen at noon Friday when he and a friend began climbing down a steep incline on a hiking trail, according to the Yeshiva World website.

The friend called police several hours later and reported Sofer missing.

The rescue organizations ZAKA and Ichud Hatzalah, and a police canine unit searched for Sofer over Shabbat. Volunteers, mostly haredi, began searching on Saturday night and Sunday, according to Yeshiva World.

On Sunday, the search spread to include the Bayit Vegan, Hadassah and Ein Kerem neighborhoods overlooking the forest.