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Obama to to mark Jewish heritage month at D.C. synagogue

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 15:33

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Barack Obama will address a Washington congregation to mark Jewish American Heritage Month.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz, announcing the president’s schedule for next week, said that next Friday, May 22, Obama would speak at Adas Israel, a Conservative movement synagogue in the city’s northwest quadrant.

“On Friday, The president will travel to the congregation of Adas Israel, one of the largest congregations here in Washington, to deliver remarks in celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month, which recognizes contributions of Jewish Americans to American society and culture,” Schultz said Friday.

Obama’s visit would be during the daytime, and would not coincide with Sabbath eve services, an Adas congregant said.

The announcement of the visit comes as the White House gears up a charm offensive targeting American Jews and Israelis in the wake of months of tensions between the Israeli and American governments.

Referring in a Thursday news conference to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new right-wing government, Obama said the prospect of peace “seems quite distant now.”

Obama’s May 22 visit to the synagogue coincides with the “Solidarity Sabbath,” an initiative of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice that calls on world leaders to show solidarity with victims of anti-Semitism.

Twelve members of the U.S. Congress and a number of European ambassadors will attend synagogues on May 22 and participate in other activities to show their concern about anti-Semitism.

The Lantos Foundation is named for the late Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor elected to Congress. Lantos, a California Democrat, was noted for his focus on human rights and chaired the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee in 2007-08.

Obama to award Medal of Honor to Jewish World War I hero

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 14:57

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A Jewish World War I veteran will be posthumously awarded the nation’s highest military honor 97 years after his heroic actions against the Germans.

The White House announced Thursday that Sgt. William Shemin, who is Jewish and died in 1973, will be awarded the Medal of Honor in a ceremony on June 2. Shemin’s daughter Elsie Shemin-Roth will accept the award for her father.

Shemin-Roth, now 85, from suburban St. Louis, Missouri, sought to have her father included under a law that mandated a review of troops who may have been denied the highest service medal because of discrimination.

Last year, President Barack Obama awarded the medal to a number of soldiers believed to have faced discrimination, but Shemin was not considered because the law did not extend back to World War I.

At age 19, on a French battlefield in 1918, Shemin crossed through gunfire three times to pull comrades to safety, taking a bullet in his head.

“While serving as a rifleman from August 7-9, 1918, Sergeant Shemin left the cover of his platoon’s trench and crossed open space, repeatedly exposing himself to heavy machine gun and rifle fire to rescue the wounded,” the White House said in its announcement. “After officers and senior non-commissioned officers had become casualties, Shemin took command of the platoon and displayed great initiative under fire, until he was wounded, August 9.”

Shemin had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest honor, although at least one of his superiors had recommended the Medal of Honor.

Shemin-Roth believes her father was denied the highest honor because of anti-Semitism.

African-American soldier Henry Johnson also will receive the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in 1918 against the Germans.

Iranian FM: Final nuclear deal very likely

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 14:51

(JTA) — Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the signing of a final agreement between Iran and world powers on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program is very likely.

Zariff made the statement in an interview that Der Spiegel published Friday.

“An agreement is very likely, provided that our negotiation partners mean it seriously,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said of negotiations on the final form of a deal that offers Iran sanctions relief in exchange for measurable scaling back of its nuclear program.

Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China reached a tentative framework deal on April 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland. They have a June 30 deadline to arrive at a comprehensive agreement.

Zarif criticized Saudi Arabia, which has voiced concern that a nuclear deal could embolden Iran and harm the security of other states. Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also vocally criticized the deal in formation, which Netanyahu warned would allow Iran to inch toward nuclear offensive capabilities until it reaches a threshold that would allow it to obtain them too quickly for the West to intervene.

But the United States maintains the deal is the best possible path for preventing Iran from going nuclear.

“Some people in the region are evidently panicking,” Zarif said in the interview, adding there was no reason to do so. “We don’t want to dominate the region. We are happy with our size and geography,” he told the magazine.

“Even if I’m optimistic, that doesn’t mean that any deal is acceptable. All parties want a good deal, and for Iran it’s only a good deal if our legitimate rights are respected and sanctions are finished,” top negotiator and deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi told the Austrian news agency APA.

French lawmakers pass bill requiring ‘neutrality on religion’ at preschools

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 13:24

(JTA) – French lawmakers passed a law requiring “religious neutrality” in all educational institutions for children under the age of 6.

Proposed in a bill by the Radical Party of the Left, the law passed Wednesday states that all pedagogical institution “which serve a public mission” and are attended by children younger than 6 are “under a responsibility to remain neutral on religion,” the Le Figaro daily reported.

The law is a softened version of bills proposed following a lawsuit filed in 2004 by a Muslim teacher who lost her job at a private kindergarten because she was wearing traditional Muslim head covering. The teacher lost her lawsuit against the Baby-Loup kindergarten, and French lawmakers drafted the bills to cement the separation of religion from the work of educational institutions.

The new law could have consequences for dozens of Jewish early childhood programs operated by the Chabad Lubavitch branch in France. In Paris alone, Chabad operates 20 Jewish preschools, which, despite not being public institutions, received hundreds of thousands of dollars in government subsidies because they are recognized as carrying out a “public mission.”

Pupils at these kindergartens are taught about and according to the Jewish faith by rabbis and other instructors wearing Jewish traditional garb and kippot — a practice that could be seen as violating the new law.

The issue of public funding for Paris’ early childhood programs has featured prominently in heated city council debates, where far-left representatives are arguing for subsidies to these institutions to be cut because they claim the schools violate the principle of religion-state separation.

At Times Square, Russian Jewish vets celebrate victory over Nazism

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 13:20

NEW YORK (JTA) — Dozens of Jewish war veterans who fought with the Soviet Red Army in World War II gathered at Times Square to celebrate the Hebrew date of Victory Day.

Accompanying the 50-odd veterans — who wore their Soviet uniforms and WWII medals — on Thursday were local rabbis and leaders from New York’s Jewish community, organizers wrote in a statement.  

 “As Jews we are proud to gather for this historic celebration honoring a great victory over evil,” said Boris Feldman, 94, from Brooklyn who fought with the Red Army for two years after being released from a Ukrainian ghetto. “We must remain vigilant even today. Jewish communities throughout the world feel increasingly threatened due to the rise of anti-Semitism,” he added.

The celebration was organized by the American Forum of Russian Speaking Jewry, or AFRJ, and the World Zionist Organization (WZO), with the support of Russian-Jewish leader German Zakharyaev, president of the STMEGI Foundation of Mountain Jews.

The event was held on Thursday as a belated part of the May 9 celebrations in Russia and by Russian speakers all over the world of Nazi Germany’s defeat and surrender to the Soviet Union and its Western allies. 

In the Jewish calendar Thursday was Iyar 26, which, in 1945, fell on May 9. The organizers of the event Thursday began last year to celebrate Iyar 26 as “Rescue Day of European Jewry.”

Jewish naval academy student in Amtrak derailment given full military honors at funeral

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 12:42

Midshipmen from the U.S Naval Academy carry Midshipman Justin Zemser to a waiting car after his funeral on May 15, 2015 in Hewlett, New York. (Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (JTA) — A Jewish 20-year-old sophomore at the U.S. Naval Academy who was killed in Tuesday’s Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia was given full military honors at his funeral, which was attended by 160 Navy midshipmen.

The funeral for Justin Zemser of Rockaway, Queens, who aspired to be a Navy SEAL, was held at the Boulevard-Riverside-Hewlett chapel on Long Island Friday morning. Zemser’s commanding officer Capt. Brady Soublet called the sophomore a “phenomenal young man” at the ceremony, which featured a bugler and a naval burial detail, the Baltimore Sun reported.

The naval academy’s Jewish chaplain, Lt. Yonatan Warren, served as burial rabbi.

Zemser, who was one of eight passengers killed aboard a northbound Amtrak train that derailed and injured dozens of passengers, was vice president of the naval academy’s Jewish Midshipmen Club and a wide receiver on the school’s sprint football team.

He was a popular student who was lauded as mature and intelligent by friends, family and naval academy colleagues, NBC New York reported, and was en route to his home in Queens on Tuesday night.

“He was the captain. He was the kid. He was basically like the face of Rockaway,” said Frank Kalnberg, Zemser’s friend and football teammate at Beach Channel High School in Rockaway Park, Queens for three years.

The funeral for Jewish 39-year-old Rachel Jacobs, a start-up CEO who was also killed in the crash, was set for Monday in her hometown of Southfield, Michigan, a Detroit suburb. A memorial service for Jacobs, who lived in Manhattan with her husband and young son, will be held Saturday at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Manhattan.

Soccer boss to visit Israel, Ramallah in bid to thwart suspension vote

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 12:35

(JTA) — The world soccer federation’s boss, Sepp Blatter, is preparing to travel to Jerusalem and Ramallah in a bid to resolve a dispute over a Palestinian effort to have Israel banned from the association.

Blatter, president of the Switzerland-based FIFA, told reporters on Friday that he will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas when he arrives in the region next week, the Associated Press reported.

“Netanyahu would not receive the FIFA delegation if he would not be ready to make concessions,” Blatter said, referencing Palestinian conditions for dropping their national soccer federation’s demand that Israel be suspended for allegedly preventing Palestinian soccer players from playing internationally.

The Palestinians have threatened to push for a vote by FIFA’s member nations during an international conference by delegates on May 29. Blatter is on record as opposing the vote and Israel’s potential suspension for reasons he has said are political and unconnected to soccer.

Earlier this week, the president of Brazil’s soccer federation, CBF, which is one of the most prominent bodies on FIFA, also expressed his opposition to the vote.

“The CBF understands that soccer promotes peace and not discord, and should not be utilized for political ends,” CBF President Marco Polo del Nero said during a meeting in Sao Paulo with Eduardo Wurzmann, secretary of the CONIB federation of Jewish communities, CONIB said in a statement published Thursday.

Canadian football player fined for anti-Semitic tweets

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 10:11

MONTREAL (JTA)—Canada’s professional football league has fined a player for posting anti-Semitic material on his Twitter account.

The Canadian Football League (CFL) fined U.S.-born Khalif Mitchell, a defensive lineman for the Montreal Alouettes, an undisclosed amount.

He also received the “maximum allowable” fine from his team, which signed him to a three-year contract in February.

Mitchell, 30, tweeted a link to a 2015 YouTube video called, “The Greatest Lie Ever Told — The Holocaust,” and has posted or retweeted material on ISIS.

The CFL took the action after being alerted by B’nai Brith Canada. In a statement, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs also deplored Mitchell’s “hateful messages.”

Mitchell has since said he believed the Holocaust did happen.

Gutow stepping down as JCPA president

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 07:49

(JTA) — Rabbi Steve Gutow is stepping down after leading the Jewish Council for Public Affairs for 10 years.

Gutow, the JCPA president and CEO, will stay in place while the public policy umbrella searches for a new leader, but will focus on interfaith and environmental projects and will leave day-to-day management to Ethan Felson, the body’s senior vice president, according to a JCPA statement released Thursday.

In addition to the environment and interfaith dialogue, the JCPA has under Gutow focused on advocating for poverty relief in the United States and on protecting minorities in Sudan.

Gutow, a Reconstructionist rabbi, has also sought to address increasing polarization within the Jewish community, reflective of the broader tensions in the U.S. political discourse. He has advocated for a code of civility in political exchanges in the Jewish community.

“During his ten years of dedicated service he has distinguished himself in efforts to promote a secure Israel, to combat poverty and to protect our environment,” Susan Turnbull, the JCPA chairwoman, said in a statement. “The JCPA’s efforts to restore civility to our national discourse have flourished under his leadership, and he has been tireless in his work on interfaith relations.”

Palestinians injured in Nablus clashes over Jewish pilgrimage

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 07:14

(JTA) — At least 21 Palestinians were injured in clashes with Israeli troops in Nablus, Palestinian media reported.

The clashes erupted early Friday following a visit by Israelis to Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, Palestinian security officials told the Ma’an news agency.

Over 30 Israeli military jeeps entered the city late Thursday and soldiers took up positions on rooftops and around the tomb in preparation for a night visit by hundreds of Israelis for prayers, which ended at 3:30 a.m., according to the report.

The Israeli Arutz 7 reported that this year, close to 4,000 pilgrims came to the prayer marking the Counting of the Omer, a period of 49 days between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot.

Locals threw rocks and other objects at the soldiers, who fired back using crowd-dispersal means.

Twenty-one Palestinians sustained injuries to their lower extremities, locals said. The Ma’an report did not specify the severity of the injuries recorded.

Joseph’s Tomb is situated in Area A of the West Bank, which is under full Palestinian security control. Israeli troops maintain control of the holy site, which has been targeted in the past by Muslim rioters.

Obama to enhance military assistance to Gulf states in face of Iran deal

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 07:12

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Barack Obama announced plans to enhance military assistance to Arab Gulf states at a meeting where the sides discussed the emerging Iran nuclear deal.

“The United States is prepared to work jointly with GCC member states to deter and confront an external threat to any GCC state’s territorial integrity that is inconsistent with the [United Nations] Charter,” Obama said Thursday after concluding a meeting with members of the Gulf Cooperative Council at the Camp David retreat in Maryland.

“In the event of such aggression or the threat of such aggression, the United States stands ready to work with our GCC partners to urgently determine what actions may be appropriate, using the means at our collective disposal, including the potential use of military force, for the defense of our GCC partners,” he said.

That means “we will increase our already extensive security cooperation,” he said.

Gulf Arab states, like Israel, are wary of the emerging nuclear deal between Iran and the major powers, in part because they fear it will free Iran to expand its backing for Shiite-backed powers in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, and will enable Iran to expand its support for terrorism.

A summary statement said enhancements would be in the areas of “fast-tracking arms transfers, as well as on counter-terrorism, maritime security, cybersecurity, and ballistic missile defense.”

It also said that Obama had briefed the GCC leaders on the Iran talks.

The leaders “emphasized that a comprehensive, verifiable deal that fully addresses the regional and international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program is in the security interests of GCC member states as well as the United States and the international community,” it said.

“The United States and GCC member states oppose and will work together to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and stressed the need for Iran to engage the region according to the principles of good neighborliness, strict non-interference in domestic affairs, and respect for territorial integrity,” the summary statement said.

At the same press conference, Obama said that the prospect of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians “seemed distant” in the wake of the new governing coalition formed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I know that a government has been formed that contains some folks who don’t necessarily believe in that premise,” Obama said. “But that continues to be my premise.”

Netanyahu’s government is the first in at least a decade that does not include parties that embrace the two-state solution. It is considered among the most right-wing governments in Israeli history.

Obama alluded to the 1978 Camp David Accords, struck between Egypt and an Israeli government also led by a right-wing Likud prime minister, Menachem Begin.

“And since we’re up here at Camp David, I think it’s important to remind ourselves of the degree to which a very hard peace deal that required incredible vision and courage and tough choices resulted in what’s now been a lasting peace between countries that used to be sworn enemies,” he said. “That prospect seems distant now. But I think it’s always important for us to keep in mind what’s right and what’s possible.

Also on Thursday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas presented new preconditions to restarting peace talks with the new Israeli cabinet, Israel Radio reported. Abbas called for the halt of all Jewish construction in the West Bank and for the immediate release of Palestinians imprisoned before the Oslo Accords, who were supposed to be released in 2014. He also said that peace talks will not resume unless he is guaranteed that they will last a full year.

Relations between the United States and Israel were strained by Netanyahu’s perceived reluctance to move ahead with peace talks despite an aggressive push in that direction by Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry. Peace talks collapsed a year ago and were followed by a war in the summer between Israel and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

Shanghai Reform community’s 1st Torah scroll a gift from Brazil

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 06:33

(JTA) — The newly-established Reform Jewish community of Shanghai, China, will receive its first Torah scroll from a sister congregation in Brazil.

The donation of the scroll by ARI, Rio de Janeiro’s Progressive congregation, to the Kehilat Shanghai community was announced at a ceremony Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro, where 300 delegates are attending at the World Union of Progressive Judaism’s biannual meeting.

The donation “is a big step that gives us the means and the responsibility to promote out active community in all aspects,” Arie Schreier, president of Kehilat Shanghai, said, according to a report on the ceremony on the website of CONIB, the umbrella group representing Brazilian Jewish communities.

Kehilat Shanghai, which has a few dozen members, including Jewish business people living in Shanghai and their families, was established in 2011 and last year accepted into the union, which has 1,200 affiliated communities in 45 countries. Of those, 20 countries were represented at the conference.

The Rio Connections 2015 event, a four-day conference that opened Wednesday, is the first WUPJ biennial in Latin America and the first time the biennial is including the Shanghai community, according to Miriam Kramer of Britain, who is a WUPJ board member and the chairwoman of the union’s European branch.

“They may not be in Europe or North America, but the progressive communities of Latin America, Asia and elsewhere are by no means out of the way,” she said.

Brazil’s Reform congregations were established in the 1930s and ’40s by German and other European Reform Jews who fled from Europe. Currently, Brazil has eight communities affiliated with WUPJ.

Ahead of Olympics, 2 synagogues to open in Rio de Janeiro

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 06:28

(JTA) — Rio de Janeiro is set to open two new Orthodox synagogues ahead of the Brazilian city’s hosting of the 2016 Olympic Games.

One of the new synagogues will open in August in the neighborhood of Ipanema, the famed tourist destination known for its beach scene. The opening was announced Wednesday on the website of CONIB, the umbrella group representing Brazil’s Jewish communities.

Additionally, the Chabad Lubavitch movement is preparing to open a kosher hotel with a synagogue ahead of the games.

Rio de Janeiro has approximately 20 synagogues serving 40,000 people, but receives many Jewish tourists. Many more are expected when Rio hosts the Olympic Games next year.

In Ipanema, the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue and community center will have 20,000 square feet of space, featuring study rooms, event halls and libraries in addition to the Sephardic-style shul, the institution’s rabbi, Gabriel Aboutboul, told JTA on Thursday.

Ipanema, Aboutboul said, currently has one small synagogue serving about 1,000 Jewish families who reside in the area. That building, he added, “no longer has the capacity to cater to everyone, forcing some to go out of the neighborhood for religious and community services.”

The new building, he said, “is meant to fix that for the new generation.”

“Naturally, the new synagogue will service tourists, though its prime function is for the community,” Aboutboul said.

Last year, Ipanema and the adjacent coastal neighborhood of Copacabana received a new eruv, a demarcation of an area that permits observant Jews to carry objects on Shabbat.

Vandals target French Jewish cemetery, Vienna’s Freud museum  

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 06:17

(JTA) — Vienna’s Sigmund Freud Museum, a Jewish French cemetery and a Polish watchdog on anti-Semitism all were hit by vandalism in recent days.

In France on Sunday night at least six tombstones were smashed at a Jewish cemetery in Lille, northern France’s largest city, according to a report sent out Thursday by France’s National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA. Vandals also poured paint on the gravestones.

In Vienna, vandals earlier this month smashed three of the Freud museum’s display windows, the Israel-based Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism reported on Tuesday.

The works targeted are by the Austrian sculptor Peter Kogler, whose creations, fine wire nets with illumination fittings, were inspired by Freud’s discoveries about the unconscious.

Near one of the vandalized displays, an expletive directed at “Lamech Sigi” and the word “sect” were scrawled in blue marker. The combination of the name of a biblical figure, Lamech, Noah’s father; the diminutive of “Sigmund”; and the reference to a sect suggested that the vandalism was an anti-Semitic act, the forum said.

In the Polish town of in Tarnow near Krakow, vandals broke an ornate mezuzah off the doorframe of the newly-opened office of the Antyschematy 2 nonprofit group, which combats anti-Semitism and other forms of racism.

Tomasz Malec, the foundation’s president, told Gazeta Krakowska he believed the attack was a hate crime.

Toulouse sued for banning BDS conference

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 06:07

(JTA) — The City of Toulouse is preparing to defend in court its decision to prevent activists from meeting to promote a boycott of Israel and protest “Israeli apartheid.”

The activists of the New Anticapitalist Party, or NPA, in the Haute-Garonne region sued the southwestern French municipality last week over a decision in March by Mayor Jean-Luc Moudenc to bar the activists from convening at the city-owned Barcelone Event Hall as part of the “Israel Apartheid Week,” a series of anti-Israel events held annually in dozens of cities.

The mayor cancelled the event, claiming the city had not been made aware in advance of the plan to promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The members of the BDS movement, Moudenc wrote, “have incurred convictions for discrimination and incitement to racial hatred.”

Several BDS promoters have been convicted in France under the Lellouche law, named for the Jewish parliamentarian who introduced it in 2003. The law extends bans on discrimination over race, gender and sexual orientation to the targeting of individuals or institutions over their national affiliations.

The NPA petitioned the Administrative Court of Toulouse to issue an injunction against the mayor’s decision, citing alleged infringement on the right to protest, according to a report Tuesday by the cotetoulouse.fr news site.

Its appeal was endorsed by France’s Human Rights League, a nonprofit founded in 1898 to protest the racially motivated conviction for espionage of the French Jewish army captain Alfred Dreyfus.

Sammy Ghozlan, the president of the anti-Semitism watchdog BNVCA, condemned the NPA’s lawsuit, citing French anti-boycott laws and the sensitivity of organizing such an event in Toulouse.

The city, he wrote, “still bears open  scars” from the 2012 slaying of four Jews at a Jewish school by an Islamist radical who said he perpetrated the attacks to “avenge the death of Palestinian children.”

House overwhelmingly passes Iran review act

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 06:05

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill requiring congressional review of any nuclear deal with Iran.

The bill approved Thursday 400-25 allows Congress up to 52 days to reject any sanctions relief for the nuclear activity rollback deal between Iran and the major powers. Congress could scuttle such a deal by keeping sanctions in place.

The House leadership would not allow amendments to the bill that would have set in place requirements for such a deal.

Some Republicans, heeding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wanted to stipulate that any deal approved by Congress must include an Iranian agreement to end support for terrorism as well as an Iranian recognition of Israel, among other measures.

Instead, like a similar bill passed last week by the Senate, 98-1, the bill allows for a simple up or down vote on a deal. Iran and the major powers are due to arrive at a deal by June 30.

President Barack Obama, who had opposed what he termed the “poison pill” requirements, has said he will enact the bill as it is now configured.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee praised the bill’s passage but said it still had concerns about the emerging deal.

“These concerns include the issues of infrastructure dismantlement, pace of sanctions relief, disclosure of prior weaponization efforts, inspections procedures and the duration of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program,” AIPAC said in a statement.

“The Iran review legislation assures Congress a means to scrutinize and evaluate how these issues are addressed in any nuclear weapons agreement,” it said.

Separately, the House also passed a bill that would punish foreign financial institutions that deal with Hezbollah, the Iranian-allied militia in Lebanon that is deemed by the United and Israel to be a terrorist group.

“The Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015 will force financial institutions around the world to choose between facilitating Hezbollah’s terror or accessing the American banking system,” Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), the ranking Democrat on the House Middle East subcommittee, said after its passage.

Hezbollah and its affiliate entities already face sanctions under U.S. law.

Also sponsoring the legislation were Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), its top-ranking Democrat.

The Senate has yet to take up a similar bill. Attempts in previous Congresses to pass similar bills did not make it through the system.

New Israeli government ministers approved and sworn in

Thu, 05/14/2015 - 16:12

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new coalition government was approved and sworn in.

Netanyahu was continuously heckled as he introduced his new Cabinet to a Thursday night session of Knesset. Several Knesset members were removed from the chamber due to their disruptions.

The vote on the new Cabinet passed 61-59, the exact numerical breakdown of the coalition and the opposition.

The session started two hours late as Netanyahu worked to distribute the ministerial positions to members of his Likud Party. He kept four portfolios for himself, including foreign minister, saying in his inaugural address: “I am leaving the door open for broadening the government. The country needs this.” He added, to opposition leader Isaac Herzog, “I assume that the leader of the opposition won’t enter the government, but we must come together to change the system.”

Herzog rebuffed Netanyahu’s overtures, saying: “No decent leader would join the ‘Netanyahu circus’ that you put together at the last minute, on the strength of one seat, only to extend your rule.”

A bill was passed by Knesset on Wednesday to allow Netanyahu to increase the number of government ministers from its current limit of 18. There are 20 ministers and four deputy ministers in the new Cabinet.


Veteran Jewish professional among Amtrak’s seriously wounded

Thu, 05/14/2015 - 15:54

Joyce Dubensky, CEO of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, was seriously injured in the May 12 Amtrak derailment. (Tanenbaum Center website)

NEW YORK (JTA) — Joyce Dubensky, a veteran Jewish community professional and now CEO of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, was among those seriously injured in an Amtrak crash Tuesday night in Philadelphia.

Officials at Tanenbaum confirmed to JTA that Dubensky was among the wounded but declined to provide any information about her condition. A friend, Marc Gopin, said in a Facebook post that Dubensky is in the intensive care unit of Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia.

The Amtrak accident, on a New York-bound train Tuesday night killed eight people,  two of them Jewish, and injured more than 200. While the causes of the derailment are still being investigated, the train was traveling over 100 miles per hour, double the recommended speed, as it rounded a sharp curve.

Dubensky worked at the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York and helped coordinate its merger in 1986 with United Jewish Appeal of New York, turning it into UJA-Federation of New York. An attorney, she served as the general counsel to UJA-Federation of New York for 10 years.

She went to work at Tanenbaum in 2002 and helped direct its dramatic expansion, according to her biography on the organization’s website, helping develop the first toolkit on religious diversity for workplace managers and the first comprehensive guide on the intersections of religion and health care. Dubensky also leads workshops and offers training on managing issues of religion in the workplace, in schools and in health care settings.

In a 2010 interview with Georgetown University’s Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, Dubensky said her work leading Tanenbaum has inspired her spiritual life.

“Before, I would have described myself as a Reform but not a religious Jew, in that being Jewish was part of my culture and identity,” she said. “Now, I continue to be a Reform Jewish person, but my spiritual life has changed dramatically, and it inspires me to do things that I have never done before in my life.”


Cyberhate, anti-Semitism discussed at Jerusalem forum

Thu, 05/14/2015 - 13:05

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The biennial Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism issued statements recommending steps for governments and websites to reduce cyber hate, and for European governments to reduce anti-Semitism.

“Given the pervasive, expansive and transnational nature of the internet and the viral nature of hate materials, counter-speech alone is not a sufficient response to cyber hate. The right to free expression does not require or obligate the internet industry to disseminate hate materials. They too are moral actors, free to pursue internet commerce in line with ethics, social responsibility, and a mutually agreed code of conduct,” read a statement issued Thursday night in Jerusalem by the Forum.

Among the recommendations to Internet providers: to adopt a clear industry standard for defining hate speech and anti-Semitism; adopt global terms of service prohibiting the posting of such materials; provide an effective complaint process and maintain a timely and professional response capacity; and ban Holocaust denial sites from the Web as a form of egregious hate speech.

Recommendations to governments include: establishing a national legal unit responsible for combating cyber hate; making stronger use of existing laws to prosecute cyber hate and online anti-Semitism, and enhancing the legal basis for prosecution where such laws are absent; and adopting stronger laws and penalties for the prohibition of Internet materials promoting terrorism and supporting recruitment to terrorist groups.

The forum also addressed the upsurge of anti-Semitism in Europe.

“European institutions and governments need to take strong proactive steps to address the current outbreak of anti-Semitism in order to assure the continued vibrancy of Jewish communal life in Europe,” read a statement issued Thursday.

Among the recommendations for combating anti-Semitism: adopt a formal definition of anti-Semitism applicable throughout the European Union and its member states under law including reference to attacks on the legitimacy of the State of Israel and its right to exist, and Holocaust denial as forms of anti-Semitism;  applying agreed standardized mechanisms for monitoring and recording incidents of anti-Semitism in all E.U. countries; taking urgent and sustained steps to assure the physical security of Jewish communities, their members and institutions; and directing education ministries to increase teacher training and adopt pedagogic curricula against anti-Semitism, and towards religious tolerance and Holocaust remembrance.

The three-day conference hosted a panel of prominent Muslim leaders and imams from Europe who came to speak out about anti-Semitism in Europe. The opening of the conference featured addresses by the mayor of Paris and the German justice minister.

Alleged Kansas City JCC shooter to represent himself at trial

Thu, 05/14/2015 - 12:52

(JTA) — The Missouri man charged with murdering three people at two Jewish sites in a suburb of Kansas City a year ago has fired his lawyers and will represent himself at his trial.

Frazier Glenn Miller said last month that he plans to plead guilty in the case but wants to use his sentencing hearing to voice his anti-Semitic beliefs without being impeded, the Associated Press reported. He has fired his lawyers.

Miller is charged with capital murder in the April 13, 2014 shootings, which killed two people at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park, Kansas, and one person outside Village Shalom, a Jewish assisted-living facility a few blocks away. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in the case.

The victims were William Lewis Corporon, a retired physician, and his 14-year-old grandson, Reat Griffin Underwood, and Terri LaManno, a mother of two. None of the victims was Jewish.