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Four charged in attack on Israelis in Patagonia

Fri, 03/20/2015 - 11:09

BUENOS AIRES (JTA) — A federal judge in Argentina charged four people under an anti-discrimination law for a January attack on Israeli tourists.

Guido Otranto accused four people on March 17 in connection with the attack that he said was motivated by “hatred against a religion and against one nationality.” Otranto fined each of the four approximately $5,700 and required they report to the court monthly until their trial. The judge also imposed restraining orders to protect the hostel where the Israelis were staying when they were attacked.

Ten Israeli tourists were harmed in the Jan. 19 attack in Lago Puelo, in the tourist region of Patagonia. The tourists were robbed and beaten in the attack and were the target of anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli slurs.

“You come here to steal our Patagonia”, the attackers reportedly shouted. “Go, f***ing Jews, f*** Israelis.”

The hostel where the tourists were staying, owned by an Israeli who has lived in Argentina since 2003, shut down for a week after the attack.

“It’s very important that our law protect minorities, Israelis or another,” the owner, Yoav Pollac, told JTA. “It’s very important that the judiciary acted proper and quickly.”

Last month, anti-Israel posters appeared in the Argentine tourist town of Bariloche, located in the foothills of the Andes, which is popular with Israeli backpackers. The posters, which read “Boycott Against Israeli Military Tourism,” were signed by the Palestine Solidarity Committee in Argentine Patagonia.

Reform, Conservative streams condemn Netanyahu’s warning on Arab ‘droves’

Fri, 03/20/2015 - 09:34

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The two largest American Jewish religious streams criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for an election day appeal in which he warned that Arabs were voting in “droves.”

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that Israel was endangered by Israeli Arabs exercising their right to vote,” the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly said in a statement Thursday. “This statement, which indefensibly singled out the Arab citizens of Israel, is unacceptable and undermines the principles upon which the State of Israel was founded.”

Netanyahu in a video posted on Facebook urged Likud voters to cast ballots saying “droves” of Arab voters were being bused to the polls in a campaign he said was funded from abroad.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, in his criticism also noted Netanyahu’s election eve renunciation of a two-state solution; post-election, Netanyahu has walked back those comments, saying a two-state solution is still his goal.

“The final hours of the campaign Jewish groups look to calm post-election U.S.-Israel tensions — including the prime minister’s renunciation of his commitment to a two-state solution as well as his naked appeal to his hard-right bases’ fears rather than their hopes — were disheartening,” Jacobs said. “Israel deserves better, especially from a prime minister who holds himself out as the leader of the entire Jewish people.”

South African Jewish students oppose use of swastikas in protest

Fri, 03/20/2015 - 09:15

(JTA) — Protests by black students of a statue honoring British colonizer Cecil Rhodes provoked tensions with Jewish students by invoking swastikas and other Nazi imagery.

Members of the student protest group Black Monday hung posters bearing pictures of Adolf Hitler and swastikas on the University of Cape Town’s Jameson Hall as part of a campaign to draw attention to the offensiveness of the statue of Rhodes, according to a report by Independent Online, a South African news service. In turn, Jewish students took down the posters and protested to the university’s administration.

The posters were part of a weeklong campaign by Black Monday to draw attention to its grievances about the statue, using symbols of hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the American Confederacy to indicate the statue’s offensiveness. Other students have pelted the statue with excrement, according to a report by the Telegraph.

Rhodes, a white mining magnate and South African politician, made a substantial land grant to the university. He is regarded by many South Africans as a major figure in the political and economic subjugation of blacks in South Africa and what is now Zimbabwe (formerly Southern Rhodesia). The international Rhodes Scholar fellowship, one of the most prestigious awards for college graduates, is also named for him.

The South African Union of Jewish Students’s Western Cape at the University of Cape Town issued a statement objecting to the Nazi imagery, declaring, “Cecil John Rhodes was responsible for crimes against humanity, and the systematic oppression of black people. That being said, we do not believe his crimes can be equated with those of Hitler.”

Black Monday, in turn, accused the UCT administration of hypocrisy, reportedly declaring on its Facebook page, “For more than a week, students have been campaigning about the removal of the Rhodes statue yet we have received an inadequate response that came in very late; whereas the University has been very efficient in responding to bad press.”

Appeals court supports rejection of anti-Israel ad on Seattle buses

Fri, 03/20/2015 - 09:10

(JTA) — The Seattle-area transit authority can refuse to post an advertisement criticizing Israeli policy as long as it is part of a viewpoint-neutral ban on the subject, according to a ruling by a U.S. federal appeals court.

In a ruling issued on Wednesday, a panel of judges from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that King County in Washington State acted within its rights when it rejected ad critical of Israel, upholding a previous ruling by a federal district court. The opinion, authored by Judge Paul Watford and joined by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, reasoned that the bus advertisements constituted a “limited public forum” and that the government could thus limit speech in some circumstances, provided that the limitations were both reasonable and not prejudiced against a particular point of view.

In dissent, Judge Morgan Christen argued that the advertisements were, in fact, a “designated public forum,” meaning that they should be open to all forms of speech except in specific, limited circumstances. Christen argued that the county needed to demonstrate that posting the advertisement would lead to a real, rather than a speculative, threat to public safety.

The controversy arose in 2010, when the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign attempted to purchase an ad stating “Israeli War Crimes Your Tax Dollars At Work.” The King County Metro and county officials initially approved the ad, but in response, King County Metro was flooded with threats and complaints, as well as demands to post a pair of inflammatory ads critical of Palestinians and Muslims. In response, Metro decided not to post the original ad, and to ban all ads on the subject.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington criticized the decision in a statement, according to Reuters, arguing that “King County allowed its fear of controversy to trump a commitment to free speech.”

 

Jewish groups look to calm post-election U.S.-Israel tensions

Fri, 03/20/2015 - 08:50

Obama administration officials offered a chilly response to Prime MInister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to clarify his support for a two-state solution. (Pete Souza / White House)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — American Jewish groups moved to calm continuing tensions between Jerusalem and Washington in the wake of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decisive reelection this week.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Anti-Defamation League all released statements Thursday welcoming Netanyahu’s affirmation of support for a two-state solution.

Just days earlier, on the eve of the Israeli election, Netanyahu had appeared to renounce that support, saying that no Palestinian state would be established while he was prime minister. In interviews on Thursday, Netanyahu said that comment had been misunderstood.

He also sought to walk back his much-criticized 11th-hour appeal to supporters to counter the “droves” of Arab voters headed to the polls, saying he was trying to mobilize his own supporters — not suppress the Arab vote — and that he is the prime minister of “all Israel’s citizens.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, noting that Netanyahu had “clearly reaffirmed” his support for a two-state solution, criticized the Obama administration for having “rebuffed” the prime minister’s efforts to put relations with the United States back on track.

“Unfortunately, administration spokespersons rebuffed the prime minister’s efforts to improve the understandings between Israel and the U.S.,” AIPAC said. “In contrast to their comments, we urge the administration to further strengthen ties with America’s most reliable and only truly democratic ally in the Middle East.”

The AIPAC statement was one of several from American Jewish groups quick to welcome Netanyahu’s clarifications on two states.

“We believe that the prime minister’s reaffirmations of his positions should be accepted, and, as the new government is formed the parties should work to enhance cooperation between the democratic allies and advance the special U.S.-Israel ties,” said a statement on Thursday from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the foreign policy umbrella for U.S. Jewish groups.

The Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs also welcomed Netanyahu’s “clarification” in statements released Thursday.

“It is more important than ever to show respect and restraint to allow the prime minister to build his coalition and to publicly express his government’s policies regarding the Palestinians, the international community and other key issues,” the ADL said.

In interviews with MSNBC and National Public Radio this week, Netanyahu sought to contain some of the damage from his pre-election comments. Netanyahu emphasized that he continued to support a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict but that current circumstances don’t allow for it.

Obama administration spokespeople remained skeptical. Jen Psaki, the State Department spokesperson, said “we can’t forget” about Netanyahu’s earlier statement to a right-wing Israeli news outlet that no Palestinian state would be established during his tenure. Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, said there may be “policy implications” for Netanyahu’s statements, echoing several unnamed administration sources who have been quoted in recent days suggesting that the White House may no longer shield Israel from criticism at the United Nations.

“Words do matter, and that I think every world leader or everybody who is in a position to speak on behalf of their government understands that that’s the case, particularly when we’re talking about a matter as serious as this one,” Earnest said. He called Netanyahu’s call to counter the Arab vote “cynical” and a “transparent” bid to marginalize Arabs.

In an interview, Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, called the administration’s stubbornness “unbecoming.”

“To say we won’t forget,” Foxman said, “that’s nasty.”

 

Hirsi Ali floats conversion to Judaism

Fri, 03/20/2015 - 08:44

(JTA) — Controversial Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali said that she had previously tried to convert to Judaism and suggested that she might attempt to do so again in the future.

At a gathering hosted by Israeli Consul General of New York Ido Aharoni last Thursday, Ali told the crowd that “One day I hope to convert to Judaism,” according to a report by the New York Jewish Week, adding, “I tried it, but it was very difficult.”

Jewish Week Editor and Publisher Gary Rosenblatt, who reported on Hirsi Ali’s comments, noted that it was difficult to tell whether or not she was serious.

The Somali-born Hirsi Ali, 45, also reportedly criticized President Barack Obama as naïve in his attempt to negotiate a nuclear arms deal with Iran, arguing that Muslims equate compromise with shame, and that Islamic extremists must be defeated rather than accommodated.

Hirsi Ali has attracted criticism in the past for her vilification of Islam. Last year, Brandeis University decided against awarding Hirsi Ali an honorary degree after detractors denounced her as Islamophobic.

 

 

Finnish Christians celebrate 25 years of helping Russian aliyah

Fri, 03/20/2015 - 08:26

(JTA) — Christian Zionists in Finland celebrated the 25th anniversary since their community began helping Russian-speaking Jews immigrate to Israel, or make aliyah.

The commemoration took place earlier this month, with the arrival to Helsinki of the second bus this year of Russian-speaking Jews who came from St. Petersburg to make aliyah through what is known as the “Finnish Route.” The 30 passengers flew to Israel after staying for three days at the homes of Christian volunteer hosts.

The March flight will be followed by another flight next month — part of an arrangement that, since it was formally established in 1990, has brought approximately 20,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union to the Jewish state.

The Finnish Route began for practical reasons, when a wave of roughly one million immigrants overwhelmed more southern transportation routes, said Howard Flower, the St. Petersburg-based director for Aliyah for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, who now coordinates the logistics connected to the Finnish route together with the volunteers of the Finnish Exodus Committee, or Neliapila.

Initiated by Ulla Jarvilehto, a Finnish former lawmaker and gynecologist, the route had immigrants bussed in from Russia to neighboring Finland, where they stayed for a few days at the homes of members of a network of 25,000 volunteers before flying to Israel on airlines connecting the Jewish state to Scandinavian destinations. The Jewish Agency for Israel began cooperating with the program’s organizers in 1996.

With immigration from Russia at a manageable 4,000-6,000 annually, the Finnish route currently provides approximately 100 immigrants annually with a “soft landing, because they can stay in a friendly environment in the beautiful Finnish countryside for a few days before proceeding,” said Flower, who has been involved in aliyah since 1989.

The decision to keep the route active, he added, “also provides a backup option in case turmoil breaks out in Russia or a nearby country similar to what happened in Ukraine.”

Israeli minister: Nisman killed for exposing Iranian role in Argentina bombing

Fri, 03/20/2015 - 08:22

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (JTA) —Israel’s Agriculture Minister blamed Iran for two terrorist attacks in Argentina in the ’90s and said prosecutor Alberto Nisman died because he tried to reveal the truth on the matter.

Yair Shamir reiterated Israel’s position on the attacks on Thursday, when he visited the Argentine capital as the head of a delegation to commemorate the 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy that killed 29 people and wounded hundreds. In addition to that attack, Israel has also blamed Iran for the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community building in 1994.

“Very regrettably, another tragedy has occurred in Buenos Aires with the death of Alberto Nisman, blessed be his memory, whose attempt to get to the truth cost him his life,” Shamir said during an address attended by 500 people in Buenos Aires.

Four days before he was found shot dead on Jan. 18, Nisman, a prosecutor who oversaw the AMIA bombing investigation, had accused Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and other top government officials of orchestrating a secret deal to cover up the alleged role of several Iranians in the 1994 attack.

Iran has denied any involvement in the attack.

Nisman’s death is the subject of an ongoing investigation, but officials handling the probe say they have not found evidence proving he was murdered.

“Iran continues to sow destruction and horror in all the world, but the world continues on as if nothing was happening,” Shamir said.

The son of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Yair Shamir said the world takes on a “hypocritical attitude” that ignores the fact that Iran is targeting “the civilized world, including Israel.”

European Parliament’s Israel-relations czar warns against isolating Jerusalem

Fri, 03/20/2015 - 08:16

(JTA) — The chair of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Israel warned European Union governments not to isolate Israel following the re-election of its rightist ruling party.

Fulvio Martusciello’s statement on Thursday came one day after Israel’s March 17 general elections, in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party, Likud, emerged as the country’s largest party.

“What is important at this stage is not to isolate Israel,” Martusciello, a member of the center-right European People’s Party, wrote. “It is on the isolation of Israel that the religious fanaticism grows.”

Last month, the news site news.walla.co.il quoted Israeli officials as saying that Brussels was holding off until after the elections on plans to punish Israel for not moving forward in talks with Palestinians, though an E.U. official denied this in an interview with JTA.

Set up in 1979, the delegation headed by Martusciello is among the European Parliament’s oldest and is responsible for maintaining and developing parliamentarian ties between the Knesset in Jerusalem and its counterpart within the European Union.

Noting that “the Knesset is has changed considerably after these elections,” Martusciello wrote: “Now it is Europe’s turn to contribute.” He also wrote: “We do have to acknowledge Netanyahu’s comeback, he was right when he decided to have early elections.”

Netanyahu has faced criticism both in the European Union and in the United States for declaring during his campaign that a Palestinian state would not be established on his watch, though he said on Thursday that he supports the two-state solution in principle, explaining his assertion was a reference to what he regards as Palestinian intransigence  that he said was preventing forward movement toward a Palestinian state.

Obama to Iran: Rare chance to make ‘reasonable deal’ on nukes

Fri, 03/20/2015 - 06:22

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Barack Obama urged Iran to compromise in nuclear talks and reach a “reasonable deal” despite opposition by hardliners in the United States, Iran and beyond.

Obama made the appeal in a four-minute video released Thursday ahead of Nowruz, the Persian new year marked on March 21, and the March 31 deadline for an outline of a deal in nuclear talks between Iran and six major powers, including the United States. The deal would trade sanctions relief for restrictions that would keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

“As you gather around the Nowruz table — from Tehran to Shiraz to Tabriz, from the coasts of the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf — you’re giving thanks for your blessings and looking ahead to the future,” he said. “This year, we have the best opportunity in decades to pursue a different future between our countries.”

Obama outlined what he said are two paths for Iran’s leaders. “If they cannot agree to a reasonable deal, they will keep Iran on the path it’s on today—a path that has isolated Iran, and the Iranian people, from so much of the world, caused so much hardship for Iranian families, and deprived so many young Iranians of the jobs and opportunities they deserve,” he said.

But, “on the other hand, if Iran’s leaders can agree to a reasonable deal, it can lead to a better path,” Obama said, “the path of greater opportunities for the Iranian people. In other words, a nuclear deal now can help open the door to a brighter future for you — the Iranian people, who, as heirs to a great civilization, have so much to give to the world.”

The weeks ahead, he added, “will be critical. Our negotiations have made progress, but gaps remain.” In Iran, the United States and beyond, Obama also said, some people “oppose a diplomatic resolution.”

With the deadline for an outline of a deal looming, Israel has stepped its opposition. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the emerging deal would leave Iran a nuclear threshold state. The issue soured relations between Israel and the United States after Netanyahu spoke against the deal before Congress against the White House’s wishes. Saudi officials have also voiced reservations about the framework for talks.

Separately, Reuters reported that Senate Democrats and Republicans agreed on Thursday to delay until April 14 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s vote on legislation that would force Obama to submit any nuclear agreement with Iran for Congress’ approval. Obama had threatened a veto.

IDF opens criminal probes into troops’ conduct in Gaza

Fri, 03/20/2015 - 06:00

(JTA) — Israel’s army opened six criminal investigations into soldiers’ actions during its latest round of fighting in the Gaza Strip, including the bombing of a United Nations school.

The probes, which may help Israel defend its officials against possible war crimes charges in the International Criminal Court, was announced Thursday by Chief Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni in a statement to media about the Israel Defense Forces’ Fact-Finding Assessment on the events of the summer of 2014.

“Dozens of additional incidents are still in various stages of examination by the Fact-Finding Assessment mechanism and their findings will be provided by the Military Advocate General in due course,” read the statement, which came accompanied with a 21-page report about fact-finding actions taken on several allegations.

The July 30 bombing of a Jabaliya school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency showed “grounds for a reasonable suspicion that the strike was not carried out in accordance with the rules and procedures applicable to IDF forces,” the report said.

“The MAG has ordered the opening of a criminal investigation into the incident,” it said.

U.N. and Palestinian sources said 21 people died in the shelling of the school. The 50-day war reportedly killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, many of them civilians, and 72 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

The announcement came amid reports that the Palestinian Authority is determined to ask the ICC in The Hague to launch an investigation into the conduct of Israeli officials. Among Israel’s arguments against the U.N. court’s involvement is the existence of Israel’s own judicial review; the court must establish that a targeted individual would not be brought to justice in his home country,

The remaining five complaints include three cases of Palestinians who said IDF troops beat them after their capture and one case of looting. Two other allegations of looting were dismissed for lack of evidence.

The report also included details of seven incidents which the MAG determined did not necessitate further investigation.

Paris Jewish school evacuated due to bomb scare

Fri, 03/20/2015 - 05:53

(JTA) — Police evacuated a Jewish school in Paris in a bomb scare which coincided with the third anniversary of the slaying of four Jews in Toulouse.

The Leven high school in Paris’ 16th arrondissement was evacuated on Thursday and searched by police for explosives, the news site Jssnews.com reported, based on interviews with several parents.

After the pupils and faculty left the building, police dogs were brought in to sniff for explosives in classrooms, according to the report. The dogs did not discover any dangerous substances but security around the school was reinforced. The report did not say what triggered the evacuation.

The event coincided with commemorations for the victims of the March 19 shooting in 2012 at the Ohr Hatora school in Toulouse, where the Islamist fanatic Mohammed Merah killed Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, two of his children Aryeh and Gabriel, 6 and 8 respectively, and eight-year-old Miriam Monsonego.

French Islamists have killed 12 people in attacks on Jewish institutions since 2012. Some of the attackers have returned from fighting with Islamist groups in the Middle East.

Christians donate to better security at Dutch Jewish schools

Fri, 03/20/2015 - 05:48

(JTA) — Pro-Israel Christians donated $21,000 toward improving security at two Dutch Jewish schools.

Christians for Israel, a Netherlands-based international organization with hundreds of thousands of followers in over 30 countries, on Tuesday allocated $10,500 each to the Cheider, an Orthodox school near Amsterdam, and the JBO association for special education for Jewish students, according to a statement by the the Dutch Israelite Religious Community, or NIK.

The donation comes at a time of grave concern over security around Jewish institutions in the Netherlands in the wake of the slaying of a Jewish security guard outside Copenhagen’s main synagogue last month by an Islamist, one of a string of similar incidents that left 13 people dead since 2012 in Denmark, France and Belgium.

Christians for Israel’s representatives Dick Schutte en Roger van Oordt gave the money during a visit Tuesday to the headquarters of the NIK umbrella group.

Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, who is also a member of the Cheider’s board, said at the meeting that the gift will help show pupils that “there are not only enemies outside the school, but also friends like Christian for Israel.”

In January, Jewish schools were temporarily shuttered following Belgian police’s slaying of two suspects in a counterterrorism raid in Verviers, near Belgium’s border with France.

Citing security concerns, NIK asked Dutch authorities match a decision by Belgian authorities to post troops outside Jewish schools and institutions.

Obama calls Netanyahu to congratulate on reelection

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 16:28

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Barack Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on his reelection and to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution.

“President Obama spoke today by telephone with Prime Minister Netanyahu to congratulate the prime minister on his party’s success in winning a plurality of Knesset seats,”  the White House said on Thursday.

“The president emphasized the importance the United States places on our close military, intelligence, and security cooperation with Israel, which reflects the deep and abiding partnership between both countries,” the statement said.

Obama administration officials have sharply criticized Netanyahu for his apparent retreata two-state solution just before Tuesday’s election. Obama and Netanyahu discussed the issue in the call, the statement said.

“The president and the prime minister agreed to continue consultations on a range of regional issues, including the difficult path forward to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the statement said. “The president reaffirmed the United States’ long-standing commitment to a two-state solution that results in a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and viable Palestine. “

Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu walked back his repudiation of the possibility of Palestinian statehood during his tenure as prime minister, but officials say they will still closely watch his words and actions on the matter.

The call also addressed another area in which there are sharp differences, U.S.-backed nuclear talks between Iran and the major powers. Netanyahu opposes the talks, saying they are leading to a bad deal.

“On Iran, the president reiterated that the United States is focused on reaching a comprehensive deal with Iran that prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and verifiably assures the international community of the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program,” the White House said.

Obama had come under criticism from congressional Republicans for not immediately congratulating Netanyahu when his reelection became apparent on Wednesday morning.

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) had by Thursday garnered over 150 signatures from Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to sign a letter congratulating Netanyahu.

“A strong U.S.-Israel relationship is critical to combating the rise of Islamic jihadists in the region,” DeSantis said in releasing the letter earlier Thursday, before Netanyahu and Obama spoke. “The White House has so far failed to recognize the Prime Minister’s success, and this silence has been deafening.”

Archaeologists find rare bronze mask near Sea of Galilee

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 15:41

A member of the archaeological team holds the bronze mask of the god Pan, uncovered at the University of Haifa’s excavation at Hippos-Sussita. (University of Haifa)

(JTA) — An archaeological dig in northern Israel has unearthed a large bronze mask of the god Pan.

The mask was found outside the limits of the ancient city of Hippos, according to a press release issued on Monday by the University of Haifa archaeological team that made the discovery. According to Michael Eisenberg, the team’s head, the mask, which is larger than a human head, is extremely rare in its size and in its depiction of the mythological satyr.

“Most of the known bronze masks from the Hellenistic and Roman periods are miniature,” Eisenberg said in the press release. “I contacted the curators of some of the world’s greatest museums, and even they said that they were not familiar with the type of bronze mask that we found at Hippos.”

The mask was found as part of the excavation of a basalt structure at Sussita National Park, two kilometers east of the Sea of Galilee. The mask features small horns, long pointed ears, a goat beard and other features that helped the archaeologists to identify the mask as being that of Pan or Faunus, the half-man, half-goat Roman deity.

The archaeologists theorized that the structure had originally been built as a hangar or other fortification and was later converted into a place of worship.

“Because they included drinking, sacrificing and ecstatic worship that sometimes included nudity and sex, rituals for rustic gods were often held outside of the city,” said Eisenberg, who is leading the excavation on behalf of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa. “[M]aybe what we have here is a magnificent fountain-head or burial offerings of a nearby mausoleum.”

Loyola U. students push for new divestment resolution

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 14:50

(JTA) — One year after a divestment campaign on campus failed, students at Chicago’s Loyola University are again seeking to pass a resolution urging divestment from some corporations doing business with Israel.

On Tuesday, a divestment resolution was introduced at a meeting of Loyola’s student government, according to the college news website The College Fix. The resolution urges Loyola’s Board of Trustees to divest from the corporations Raytheon, Caterpillar, United Technologies and Valero Energy because the companies’ business dealings with Israel purportedly conflict with the university’s Jesuit values.

The resolution includes a citation from Russia Today, an English-language news outlet described by the Columbia Journalism Review as “The Kremlin’s propaganda outlet”.

The Metro Chicago Hillel put out a statement vowing to fight the divestment campaign.

The student senate of Loyola passed a divestment resolution last March, but the resolution was vetoed by student body president. The university also issued a statement at the time that it would not adopt the student’s divestment proposal if passed.

Netanyahu: still invested in two states; White House remains skeptical

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 12:54

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was invested in a two-state solution and could tolerate a number of Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges.

Netanyahu’s first major post-election interview Thursday, on MSNBC, appeared aimed at calming the Obama administration’s  anger at his retreat just before the election from a two-state solution, telling Israeli media that it would not happen on his watch.

In his latest interview, Netanyahu said that what he meant was that the Palestinians and the region was not ready for two states, citing among other things the Islamist-fomented turmoil in neighboring lands and the nominal working arrangement between the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas terrorist group.

“I don’t want a one-state solution, I want a sustainable peaceful two-state solution, but for that circumstances have to change,” he said.

Obama administration spokesmen said the comments from earlier in the week were still a concern.

“The prime minister’s comments from a few days ago brought into question his commitment” to a two-state solution, Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said after noting that she was aware of Netanyahu’s newer comments in the MSNBC interview. “We can’t forget about those comments.”

Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, said the administration was still reevaluating how it approaches diplomacy in the region in the wake of Netanyahu’s earlier apparent retreat from the two-state solution.

“What is apparent is that in the context of the campaign and while he was the sitting prime minister of Israel he walked back from commitments that Israel had previously made to a two state solution,” Earnest said Thursday, noting that he, like Psaki, was aware of Netanyahu’s more recent comments. “It is as we mentioned yesterday cause for the United States to evaluate what our path is forward given the prime minister’s comments.”

Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, said the Obama administration’s insistence on keeping Netanyahu in the dog house was “unbecoming.”

“The prime minister is trying the heal and they’re not willing to move in that direction,” he said.

Netanyahu also said in the MSNBC interview that he did not mean to disrespect President Barack Obama with his March 3 speech to Congress, organized in secret with the congressional Republican leadership. He said he expected to continue working closely with Obama.

“America has no greater ally than Israel, and Israel has no greater ally than the United States,” he said.

Netanyahu in the speech had opposed the Obama administration’s backing for nuclear talks underway between Iran and the major powers. In the MSNBC interview, however, he made a significant concession, saying Israel could tolerate a limited uranium enrichment capacity for Iran, although with a number lower than the 6,500 reported to be part of an emerging deal.

“A smaller number is something Israel and its Arab neighbors wouldn’t love but could live with,” he said. Previously, Netanyahu had insisted on zero enrichment capacity for Iran.

Netanyahu sidestepped a question about his warning in a video to his supporters on election day that “droves of Arab voters” were heading to the polls. The White House condemned the call as “divisive.”

Netanyahu said he “was trying to counter a foreign-funded effort to get votes to topple my party,” although he would not identify who funded this effort.

Earnest, the White House spokesman, for the second day in a row sharply criticized the election day video.

“That cynical election day tactic was a pretty transparent effort to marginalize Arab Israeli citizens,” Earnest said, adding that the comments “stand in direct contrast” to values shared by the United States and Israel.

Dieudonne fined for saying Jewish journalist should have died in gas chambers

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 12:23

(JTA) — The French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala was fined $24,000 for saying that a Jewish journalist should have died “in the gas chambers.”

He was sentenced on Thursday in Paris for violating France’s laws banning hate speech, Reuters reported.

Radio France’s Patrick Cohen asked on air in 2013 whether the media should pay so much attention to Dieudonne. The comedian replied that the journalist should consider emigrating.

“When I hear Patrick Cohen speaking, I say to myself, you see, the gas chambers … too bad,” said Dieudonne.

The fine comes a day after a Paris court gave Dieudonne a suspended two-month jail sentence for social media posts sympathizing with the Islamist gunman who killed four Jews at a Paris-area kosher supermarket on Jan. 9.

Dieudonne has been convicted seven times for inciting racial hatred against Jews. He has been charged almost 40 times under France’s hate-speech laws.

Some see Dieudonne as a symbol of France’s growing anti-Semitism problem because of his performances featuring anti-Semitic jokes and creation of the quenelle, a Nazi-like salute that French Prime Minister Manuel Vals has called a “gesture of hatred” and anti-Semitic.

Australian PM angers Jewish lawmakers by comparing opposition leader to Goebbels

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 10:57

(JTA) — A Jewish lawmaker was thrown out of Australia’s Parliament after protesting Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s description of the opposition leader as the “Dr. Goebbels of economic policy.”

Joseph Goebbels was the propaganda minister for Nazi Germany.

Opposition Labor Party lawmaker Mark Dreyfus, one of three Jewish lawmakers in Parliament, jumped up to protest Abbott’s choice of comparisons, eventually being thrown out of the House of Representatives chamber. Jewish Labor lawmaker Michael Danby left with him in solidarity.

“There are no Nazis here and we shouldn’t be making comparisons with the paradigm of the ultimate evil in politics to heighten political differences,” Danby told The Associated Press.

“It’s beneath him, and it goes to the question of his judgment. I think a lot of his backbench will be groaning and tearing their hair out,”

Abbot withdrew the comment and apologized for making the comparison.

The comment comes more than a month after Abbott was forced to issue an apology for describing a cut in defense jobs as a “holocaust of jobs.”

British PM pledges additional millions for security for Jewish schools, synagogues  

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 10:11

(JTA) — British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged millions of dollars in new funds to Jewish schools and synagogues to be used for security.

Cameron, speaking Wednesday at the annual dinner of the Community Security Trust, Britain’s Jewish security watchdog group, pledged about $14.9 million in new money for security “this year and every year, for as long as necessary.”

The money is to pay for guards and other security measures for private Jewish schools and for synagogue security, as well as for a control center for the operations of the Community Security Trust.

Jewish state schools already receive about $3 million in funds for security.

Cameron in his speech praised the Jewish community for its “enormous” contribution to Britain, and vowed that his government would give “everything we have got” to protect Jews.

“If the Jewish community does not feel secure then our whole national fabric is diminished. It is not just about the enormous contribution you all make to our society — it is more profound than that. It is a measure of the vigor of our institutions and the health of our democracy that the Jewish community feels safe to live and flourish here,” he said.

“At a time when once again the Jewish communities of Europe feel vulnerable and when anti-Semitism is at record levels here in Britain I will not stand by,” Cameron added.

Cameron also congratulated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his reelection, saying, “With me you will always have a British prime minister whose belief in Israel is unbreakable and whose commitment to Israel’s security will always be rock solid.”

The Community Security Trust  reported last month that it had recorded 1,168 anti-Semitic incidents for 2014, the highest annual total ever and more than double the previous year.

Some 269,000 Jews live in Britain, making up 0.4 percent of the population.