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Power: U.N. meeting shows international consensus on anti-Semitism

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 06:42

WASHINGTON (Washington Jewish Week via JTA) — The first-ever United Nations General Assembly meeting on anti-Semitism showed “a consensus in the international community” on the seriousness of the issue, according to Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Speaking to a telephone press briefing from New York during Thursday’s conference, called by 37 member states in the shadow of growing anti-Jewish attacks in Europe, Power called on governments and civil society to battle anti-Semitism, which is seeing “an upsurge around the world.”

While this month’s terrorist attacks in Paris were a focus of the U.N. meeting, the gathering was planned before those events, Power said.

As part of the American fight against anti-Semitism, President Barack Obama will host a meeting in February at the White House, she said.

In a separate statement about the U.N. meeting, Obama cited the deadly Paris attack earlier this month on a kosher supermarket as underscoring the gathering’s importance.

“Anti-Semitic attacks like the recent terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris pose a threat that extends beyond the Jewish community,” he said. “They also threaten the values we hold dear — pluralism, diversity, and the freedoms of religion and expression.

Power said she was “pleased” with Saudi Arabian Ambassador Abdallah Al-Moualimi’s statement that Islamic countries condemn all words and acts that led “to hatred, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia.”

Al-Moualimi spoke to the gathering on behalf of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Power rejected Al-Moualimi’s calling Israel’s occupation of the West Bank “an anti-Semitic act” that “threatens humankind” and is linked to hate crimes and anti-Semitism, among other outcomes.

“We condemn any statements that drift into anti-Semitism. Anything that would suggest there’s a justification for anti-Semitism, we reject,” she said.

Despite the contretemps, Powers called the meeting “an important step” in enlisting the world community in combating anti-Semitism.

Ira Forman, the administration’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, said on the call that the United States is in “an ongoing conversation” with its allies about security for Jewish communities.

“You can’t put Europe in one box. Each has a different security situation,” he said,

Israeli scribes restore Iraqi Torah scroll

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 06:38

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israeli scribes restored a 200-year old Iraqi Torah scroll that arrived in Israel under mysterious circumstances.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that the scroll, written in northern Iraq by two scribes using pomegranate ink, was delivered, water-damaged, to the Israeli embassy in Jordan in 2007, and was transferred to Israel in 2011 when riots were sweeping the Arab world.

Otherwise, its provenance is unclear, although The Associated Press quotes Foreign Ministry officials as saying that it now the property of the Jewish state.

The scroll was restored by a group of scribes in Jerusalem led by Akiva Garber, AP reported, and dedicated at a ceremony Thursday at the Foreign Ministry.

U.S. troops uncovered a trove of Iraqi Jewish relics in the Iraqi secret service headquarters in Baghdad in 2003, much of it waterlogged.

The U.S. National Archive restored much of what has become known as the Iraqi Jewish Archive, and it remains for the time being in the United States, although Iraq claims it as property.

Much of Iraq’s 2,500-year-old Jewish community emigrated to Israel after riots before and during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. The remainder fled after persecutions led by Saddam Hussein in 1968 and 1969.

Israeli president Rivlin ‘saddened’ by Saudi king’s passing

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 06:35

(JTA) — Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said he was saddened by the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, whom he credited with enhancing regional stability.

Rivlin expressed his appreciation for the Saudi monarch in a statement Friday, a day after Abdullah’s death at 90.

“I was saddened to hear of the passing of King Abdullah.  He was an example of grounded, considered and responsible leadership, with a deep religious tradition,” Rivlin said in the statement. “As ‘Guardian of the Holy Places’ of Islam, King Abdullah acted as a moderator, respecting the sensitivity and sanctity of Jerusalem and sought to promote a vision of prosperity for the region. His wise policies contributed greatly to our region, and to the stability of the Middle East.”

In a statement, President Barack Obama said that Abdullah “was always candid and had the courage of his convictions,” adding that, “One of those convictions was his steadfast and passionate belief in the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship as a force for stability and security in the Middle East and beyond.”

The White House also announced that Vice President Joe Biden would lead a U.S. delegation to Saudi Arabia in the coming days to pay respects to the king’s family.

King Abdullah, or Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud,  is succeeded by the crown prince, Salman, his brother, who is 79.

Abdullah in 2002, when he was Saudi crown prince, proposed a peace plan that would grant Israel comprehensive peace in the Middle East in exchange for its withdrawal to 1967 lines, including from eastern Jerusalem.

It was soon adopted by the Arab League, and became known as the Arab peace initiative, although Abdullah’s imprimatur, as the crown prince and then from 2005 the king of a leading Sunni Arab state, lent it much of its heft.

It’s not yet clear what Salman’s position is on the peace plan, although in general his views hew close to those of Abdullah.

Under Abdullah, Israel also expanded its unofficial intelligence sharing with Saudi Arabia, particularly as Iran — seen as a threat both by Israel and Saudi Arabia — in recent years appeared to be getting closer to obtaining nuclear weapons capability.

Abdullah, Saudi king, peace proposal author, dies at 90

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 18:51

(JTA) — Saudi Arabian King Abdullah, the architect of a proposal that U.S. governments have suggested is the basis for a comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace, has died.

Saudi media reported that Abdullah, 90, died late Thursday.

He is succeeded by the Crown Prince, Salman, his brother, who is 79.

Abdullah in 2002, when he was Saudi crown prince, proposed a peace plan that would grant Israel comprehensive peace in the Middle East in exchange for its withdrawal to 1967 lines, including from eastern Jerusalem.

It was soon adopted by the Arab League, and became known as the Arab peace initiative, although Abdullah’s imprimatur, as the crown prince and then from 2005 the king of a leading Sunni Arab state, lent it much of its heft.

It’s not yet clear what Salman’s position is on the peace plan, although in general his views hew close to those of Abdullah.

Under Abdullah, Israel also expanded its unofficial intelligence sharing with Saudi Arabia, particularly as Iran – seen as a threat both by Israel and Saudi Arabia — in recent years appeared to be getting closer to obtaining nuclear weapons capability.

Israeli governments at first rejected Abdullah’s peace plan, in part because it did not explicitly count out a right of return for Palestinian refugees, but in 2007 then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, at the behest of then-President George W. Bush, agreed that it would be a basis for peace talks. Those talks collapsed in late 2008.

The Obama administration has also cited the plan as a basis for peace talks and in recent years extracted an agreement from the Arab League to include land swaps as part of the predicate for comprehensive peace, a formula that would allow Israel to retain some of its West Bank settlements.

Obama in a statement called Abdullah “a leader among Arab and Islamic nations.”

“He took bold steps in advancing the Arab Peace Initiative, an endeavor that will outlive him as an enduring contribution to the search for peace in the region,” Obama said.

Dutch ex-minister: World peace if Israeli Jews move to U.S.

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 18:27

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (JTA) — A Dutch former cabinet minister reportedly said that world peace would be achievable if Israel’s population is forced to move to the United States.

The statement was attributed to Herman Heinsbroek, who served as the Netherlands’ minister of economic affairs in 2002, in an article that appeared Thursday in the online edition of the prestigious financial monthly Quote, based on an interview with Heinsbroek.

“It was an historical error to give the Jews their own country in the middle of Islam,” he is quoted as saying. “You’ve had nothing but war ever since and you’ve had anti-Semitism resurging, too. My idea: Give the Jews their own state somewhere in the United States and 25 years to move their state over there.”

Heinsbroek is also quoted as saying that if implemented, his solution “will finally create, perhaps, peace in the world.”

Heinsbroek, 64, served as a diplomat in the Dutch foreign ministry and was posted in Istanbul, according to the Volksrant daily.

During his stint as minister, he was a member of the rightist, anti-immigration Pim Fortuyn List party. He served under Jan Peter Balkenende of the centrist Christian Democratic Appeal, who is widely considered as a strong supporter of Israel.

Earlier this month, Heinsbroek released his first novel which is titled “Shadow Minister” and deals with intrigue in government.

In 2010, Frits Bolkestein, a former European Commissioner and ex-leader of Holland’s ruling rightist People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, advised observant Dutch Jews leave to Israel or the United States.

In an interview with Manfred Gerstenfeld, a prominent scholar on anti-Semitism, Bolkestein said that practicing Jews “have no future here.”

Argentines in Israel to hold ‘I am Nisman’ protest

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 16:59

This ad is appearing on social media for a protest outside the Argentine Embassy in Israel on Jan. 23, 2015. (From the Kehila Latina in Israel Facebook page)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (JTA) – A group of Argentines in Israel will hold an “I am Nisman” protest at the Argentine Embassy to raise questions about the suspicious shooting death of the AMIA special prosecutor.

Kehila Latina in Israel, which was formed two years ago to protest plans by the Argentine and Iranian governments to jointly investigate the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, said the demonstration would take place outside the Tel Aviv-area embassy on Friday morning.

Alberto Nisman, who led the bombing probe for a decade, was found dead in his apartment on Monday of a gunshot wound just hours before he was to testify about charges he intended to bring against Argentina’s president, Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, and foreign minister, Hector Timerman, for colluding to obscure Iran’s role in the bombing in exchange for favorable oil prices for Argentina.

Placards will show Nisman with the phrase “I am Nisman” in Spanish modeled after the “I am Charlie” campaign in French launched in the wake of the terrorist attack by Islamists in Paris earlier this month of staff for the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Among the scheduled speakers at Friday’s rally is the Argentine-Israeli journalist Roxana Levinson, whose uncle Jaime Plaksin was among the 85 people killed in the AMIA bombing. Her aunt Graciela Levinson had been killed in 1992 in the terrorist attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires.

“This death is like another bomb,” she told JTA. “I cried for the Argentinian people’s dignity.”

Leon Amiras, the chairman of OLEI, the organization that represents Latin America immigrants in Israel, will also speak.

Some 120,000 Latin Americans live in Israel, including 80,000 from Argentina. Argentine Jews held a similar protest outside the rebuilt AMIA building in Buenos Aires on Wednesday.

When Julio Schlosser, the president of the DAIA, the Jewish community, noted that 85 people had been killed in the AMIA attack, people in the crowd shouted “86,” a reference to Nisman. The number 86 has become shorthand for Nisman’s death on social media.

No one from the ruling parties attended the Buenos Aires rally, although opposition party representatives were present, as were the Israeli and French ambassadors.

“This shock to Argentinean society is similar to the shock that we live after Charlie Hebdo,” Jean Michel Casa, the French ambassador, told reporters.

Comics artists call for Israel boycott

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 16:15

(JTA) — Dozens of comics artists signed a letter calling for a boycott against any Israeli entity that does not “promote freedom and justice for Palestinians.”

The open letter, cosigned by more than 80 individuals involved in producing comics, was sent out Wednesday to the organizers of an international festival for comics artists scheduled to open next week in France, and which is cosponsored by the Israeli company Sodastream.

In the letter, the authors wrote that they call for the Angoulême International Comics Festival to sever all ties with Sodastream, which has a factory in Ma’aleh Adumim – an Israeli settlement regarded internationally as illegal because it is situated in the West Bank.

Sodastream announced last year that it would relocate, but the authors of the letter wrote that even if it moved to its intended location in Israel’s south, “it and other Israeli companies and institutions are part of a system built on the mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinian communities and sustained through racism and discrimination.”

Among the authors are Anaële Hermans from Belgium, Magdy El Shafee from Egypt, Alex Baladi of Switzerland and Leila Abdul Razaq from the United States.

Another cosignatory is Carlos Latuff from Brazil, who in 2006 took second prize in the International Holocaust Cartoon Competition hosted in Iran under the auspices of the Iranian regime. That competition was held to retaliate against the publication of cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed in a Danish daily. Submissions mocked, inverted or denied the Holocaust.

The French festival’s official homepage carries a statement expressing solidarity with five caricaturists whom jihadists Cherif and Said Kouachi murdered on Jan. 7 at the Paris office of the Charlie Hebdo weekly for its lampooning of Islam, along with seven others. Their accomplice killed a police officer on Jan. 8 and four Jews at a kosher supermarket near Paris on Jan. 9.

The festival’s website commemorates and names all the victims killed in those attacks.

Pelosi, White House: Israeli elections make official Netanyahu events ‘inappropriate’

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 15:44

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The White House and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi  said the proximity of Israel’s elections rendered inappropriate official events with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Pelosi (D-Calif.), the minority leader in the House of Representatives, forcefully denied that Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House speaker, had consulted with her prior to inviting Netanyahu to speak to a joint meeting of Congress.

“It is out of the ordinary that the speaker would decide that he would be inviting people to a joint session without any bipartisan consultation,” Pelosi said Thursday in a meeting with reporters.

In his invitation Wednesday to Netanyahu, Boehner said it was made “on behalf of the bipartisan leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.”

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate minority leader, also said he was not consulted prior to the invitation but added that he looked forward to Netanyahu’s speech.

Pelosi said the timing of the March 3 address was inappropriate both because of the proximity of Israel’s March 17 elections and because Boehner cast it as a rebuttal to President Barack Obama’s Iran policy and his threatened veto of any new Iran sanctions.

Pelosi echoed Obama’s view that new sanctions could scuttle talks with Iran on keeping it from obtaining nuclear weapons.

“We cannot have [Iran talks] fail when Congress wants to flex its muscle unnecessarily,” she said. “If that is the purpose of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit two weeks before his own election right in the midst of negotiations, I just don’t think it’s appropriate and helpful.”

Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council, also said the proximity of Israeli elections counted out a meeting between Obama and Netanyahu, who is also scheduled to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference.

Secretary of State John Kerry also will not meet with Netanyahu because of the proximity of elections, the department’s spokeswoman said. Jen Psaki added that she did not believe there would be meetings between Netanyahu and lower-lever officials either.

 

Argentina releases Nisman’s evidence on secret Iran-AMIA deal

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 13:36

(JTA) – Argentine judicial officials made public the 300-page criminal complaint that details evidence linking Argentina’s senior political echelon to a deal to hide Iran’s role in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires.

The complaint prepared by Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman was to be presented this week to Argentina’s congress, but Nisman was found dead in his home late Sunday with a gunshot wound to his head. President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner initially called his death a suicide but backtracked Thursday following large protests and the widespread perception that Nisman was murdered.

Nisman’s criminal complaint, which is based on intelligence intercepts, accuses Kirchner of “deciding, negotiating and arranging the impunity of the Iranian fugitives in the AMIA case.” The president and Argentina’s foreign minister, Hector Timerman, “took the criminal decision of inventing Iran’s innocence to satisfy commercial, political and geopolitical interests of the Argentine republic,” the complaint says.

The deal would have exonerated Iranian officials in their role in the bombing, which killed 85 people, in exchange for Iranian oil and weapons sales, according to the complaint. The secret deal, the complaint says, was negotiated two years before Iran and Argentina signed a public memorandum of understanding in 2013 to establish a joint investigation of the AMIA bombing – an agreement that critics derided as a farce and which later was derailed by Argentine courts.

In the decade Nisman spent pursuing the AMIA case, he uncovered evidence showing that Iran sponsored the bombing and had Hezbollah, its proxy militia in Lebanon, carry it out. Interpol, the international police agency, eventually issued arrest warrants for several Iranian officials in the case. The arrests have never been carried out.

Under the terms of the secret deal, the Interpol arrest warrants would have been canceled and culpability for the bombing would have been redirected toward “invented defendants,” the complaint says. But despite the efforts of Argentine officials, according to the complaint, Interpol refused to play ball and the arrest warrants stand.

Nisman sought to question Kirchner and others, including Timerman, who is a prominent member of Argentina’s Jewish community, on charges of obstruction of justice. He also planned to ask for up to $23 million worth of their assets to be frozen.

He alleged that Kirchner established a secret channel of communications with the Iranians to carry out her illegal plan to scuttle justice in the AMIA investigation. The channel allegedly included Argentina’s intelligence secretary and negotiations with one of the main defendants in the AMIA case, a former Iranian cultural attache in Argentina named Mohsen Rabbani.

Kirchner denies the allegations against her.

With Nisman’s death, it’s not clear what will happen with the criminal complaint or where the AMIA case itself stands.

Turkey to hold International Holocaust Remembrance Day event

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 13:18

(JTA) — Turkey will commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day even as its president compared Israel’s leaders to Adolf Hitler.

Parliament speaker Cemil Cicek will attend the Jan. 27 ceremony at Bilkent University in Ankara, according to the Times of Israel, citing a Turkish Jewish newspaper. He will be joined by representatives from the United Nations, the university and the Turkish Jewish community.

The first Turkish state ceremony to mark the Holocaust took place in 2011.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticized Israel harshly in recent years, even comparing its leadership to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. The Turkish government has denied claims that it is anti-Semitic.

Ties between Turkey and Israel collapsed following the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010, when Israeli Navy commandos boarded a ship trying to break the maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip. Nine Turkish citizens were killed in the ensuing clash between the commandos and passengers.

European Jewish community leaders slam rabbi’s call to carry guns

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 12:27

(JTA) — Leaders of 11 Jewish communities in Europe lambasted the director of a Brussels-based lobby group who after the Paris attacks called for some Jews to carry guns.

Thursday’s statement by European Jewish leaders was directed against Rabbi Menachem Margolin, who heads the European Jewish Association and the Rabbinical Centre of Europe. Among the statement’s cosignatories are Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and Ruben Vis, director of the Jewish Communities of the Netherlands.

“Mr. Margolin lacks any expertise or authority to speak on these critical issues on behalf of the Jews of Europe, and therefore lacks all the basic components for Jewish community responsibility,” the statement said.

Joint statements from Jewish leaders criticizing other Jewish groups are rare within European Jewry.

Margolin in a Jan. 13 letter to interior ministers of European Union member states asked that gun licensing laws be “reviewed with immediate effect to allow designated people in the Jewish communities and institutions to own weapons for the essential protection of their communities.”

The Israeli-born Margolin, who lives in Brussels and describes himself as a Chabad rabbi, told JTA that the call was in reaction to the slaying of four Jews in a kosher supermarket near Paris on Jan. 9, and that arming five to 10 people from each community could help deter assailants. On Jan. 19, the CCOJB umbrella group of French-speaking Belgian Jews distanced itself from his call, saying in a statement that it “can only be explained by ignorance and panic.”

The two organizations directed by Margolin have a tense relationship with some European Jewish lobbies and umbrella groups.

In their statement, the community leaders called Margolin’s EJA “an association of irrelevant and unrepresentative self-created groups [that] does not in any way convey upon him a role as a spokesman or representative of our communities.”

But Margolin said his group is in regular contact with leaders of European states and the European Commission and has received “hundreds of messages of support” from community leaders and rabbis.

Margolin told JTA that he regretted the authors’ decision to “promote divisiveness instead of working for the Jewish people.” He said the statement was the result of competition and that “the situation in Europe is too serious for us to find the time and resources for these so-called ‘Jewish wars.’”

 

Western Wall security guard convicted of murder at site

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 12:11

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A former Western Wall security guard was convicted of murder for shooting a mentally unstable man at the site’s plaza.

Hadi Kabalan, a security guard from the Druze village of Beit Jann, was convicted Wednesday in Jerusalem District Court of premeditated murder in the June 2013 shooting of Doron Ben Shlush.

Kabalan, who was new to the job at the Western Wall, claimed that Ben Shlush had shouted “God is great” in Arabic and tried to pull an object from his pocket near the public bathrooms before the guard fired his sidearm more than 10 times.

But an investigation reportedly found that Ben Shlush yelled “Druze, you son of a bitch” at the security guard before Kabalan shot him at close range.

Ben Shlush was well known to Western Wall security, according to reports. He and Kabalan had an altercation early on the same day, according to prosecutors, meaning that Kabalan could not have mistaken him for a terrorist.

Ukrainian Jewish businessman found shot dead

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 10:58

(JTA) — A Ukrainian Jewish businessman was shot dead in Lviv.

The body of Felix Vrotslavsky, 56, was found Tuesday on Zelenoy Street, on the city’s southeastern edge. The murder was first reported by the news site zik.ua, citing an unnamed police source. A witness told police that Vrotslavsky’s body was thrown out of a car at around 8 p.m. that day.

His funeral was scheduled to take place Friday at a local Jewish cemetery, Vrotslavsky’s friend, Meylakh Sheykhet, told JTA.

Police do not have any suspects in custody. The assailants’ motive was not immediately clear, Sheykhet said.

Radio Svoboda reported that Vrotslavsky has complained to police that he was being pressured by criminals.

Sheykhet said he was not aware of any debts or other disputes that may have led to Vrotslavsky’s murder.

In 2012, Leon Fraifeld, a Jewish doctor, was beaten to death on a Lviv street. The following year, a Jewish businessman, Dmitry Flekman, was arrested for no reason, beaten and tortured by police officers who offered to release him if he gave them $10,000, Lviv law enforcement confirmed.

“The rule of law in Lviv and Ukraine in general is suffering from the aftereffects of many years under a bureaucracy that itself engaged in criminal activity,” said Sheykhet, who is the country director in Ukraine for the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union.

On Monday, the Lviv Region Prosecutor’s Office released a statement about an unrelated case in which a 59-year-old man from Lviv was arrested at the city’s international airport on suspicion that he and an accomplice had tried to traffic four women to Israel for sexual exploitation. The suspect was not named. His presumed accomplice is still at large, the statement read.

The women were from Ukraine’s war-ravaged eastern area, it said.

Argentine president now says Nisman death was not a suicide

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 10:51

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (JTA) — Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner now says that the death of special prosecutor Alberto Nisman was not a suicide, reversing a statement by the government.

In an open letter published Thursday on her Facebook page and blog, Kirchner wrote that Nisman’s death was an “operation against the government.”

Nisman was murdered, she wrote, because he had accused her and Foreign Minister Hector Timerman of covering up Iran’s role in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85.

Nisman, 51, was found dead in his bathroom in Buenos Aires on Monday, hours before he was to present evidence on an alleged cover-up by Kirchner and Timerman. That day, the Argentine government released a statement calling the death a suicide.

Netanyahu speech to Congress postponed three weeks

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 10:44

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress was postponed for three weeks.

The move to March 3 from Feb. 11 allows Netanyahu to coordinate with his plans to address the annual AIPAC conference in Washington.

“At his request, PM ‪@Netanyahu of ‪#Israel will now address joint mtg of Congress on March 3 so he can attend ‪@AIPAC conference in DC,” Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, said Thursday on Twitter. Boehner invited Netanyahu to address both houses of Congress.

The American Israel Public Affairs annual policy conference runs March 1-3.

Boehner said he wants Netanyahu to speak in part to counter what he says is President Barack Obama’s inadequate policies for dealing with radical Islamists and with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Republicans in Congress, with some Democratic support and with strong AIPAC backing, want to pass new Iran sanctions. Obama, backed by prominent Democrats, said he will veto new sanctions, saying they could scuttle nuclear talks with Iran now underway.

The White House said Netanyahu’s acceptance of the Boehner invitation was a departure from protocol in which heads of state clear official visits with one another.

Netanyahu is also facing domestic criticism for the visit, which is taking place just two weeks before March 17 elections in Israel.

British, French, German and EU foreign ministers oppose new Iran sanctions

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 10:36

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Four top European diplomats came out in opposition to new Iran sanctions, saying they could scuttle nuclear talks.

“Introducing new hurdles at this critical stage of the negotiations, including through additional nuclear-related sanctions legislation on Iran, would jeopardize our efforts at a critical juncture,” said the Op-Ed appearing Thursday in the Washington Post signed by the foreign ministers of France, Britain and Germany, along with the European Union representative for foreign policy.

Britain, France and Germany, together with the United States, Russia and China, are the major powers conducting the nuclear talks with Iran.

The appeal comes as Republicans, with some Democratic support and with the strong backing of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, hope to push through new sanctions that would trigger should Iran walk away from nuclear talks with the major powers.

President Barack Obama opposes the new sanctions and said this week in his State of the Union address that he would veto any new sanctions bill. A number of prominent Democrats have voiced support for his veto threat.

The Op-Ed echoed Obama’s claims that new sanctions would unravel the international sanctions regime that brought Iran to talks aimed at exchanging sanctions relief for guarantees that Iran is not advancing toward a nuclear weapon.

“While many Iranians know how much they stand to gain by overcoming isolation and engaging with the world, there are also those in Tehran who oppose any nuclear deal,” the Op-Ed said.

“We should not give them new arguments,” it said. “New sanctions at this moment might also fracture the international coalition that has made sanctions so effective so far. Rather than strengthening our negotiating position, new sanctions legislation at this point would set us back.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama’s former secretary of state and likely to declare for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, reiterated her opposition to new sanctions.

“Why do we want to be the catalyst for the collapse of negotiations?” Clinton said Wednesday in Winnipeg, speaking at a luncheon event sponsored by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

“If we’re the reason — through our Congress — that in effect gives Iran and others the excuse not to continue the negotiations, that would be, in my view, a very serious strategic error,” Clinton said in remarks first reported by The Jerusalem Post.

U.N. General Assembly holding first-ever meeting on anti-Semitism

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 08:25

(JTA) — The United Nations General Assembly will hold its first-ever meeting focused on anti-Semitism.

The meeting, to be held Thursday, was organized in the wake of a series of anti-Semitic incidents, including the hostage crisis at a French kosher supermarket this month and the shooting last year at a Brussels Jewish museum.

Israel, the United States, Canada and all of the European Union states were among the 37 countries that called the meeting, according to a news release from Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy will deliver the keynote address. Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also will speak, according to AP, in addition to representatives of other countries.

“It says a lot that so many countries have partnered with Israel to raise this issue of antisemitism to the top of the U.N.’s agenda,” Israeli U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor said in the news release. We have a great deal of work to do to move this issue from the headlines to the history books.”

Kerry says Netanyahu welcome to speak in U.S. ‘at any time’

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 07:17

(JTA) — Secretary of State John Kerry said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is welcome to speak in the United States “at any time.”

Kerry’s statement Wednesday came a day after House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress next month regarding Iran’s nuclear program. The Obama administration did not receive prior notice of the address, which Kerry called “a little unusual,” according to the French news agency AFP.

On Wednesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the invitation broke established protocol, as arrangements for Netanyahu to visit are generally coordinated with the Obama administration.

RELATED: Netanyahu speech to Congress postponed three weeks.

Mossad denies urging U.S. senators to oppose new Iran sanctions

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 06:40

TEL AVIV (JTA) — Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency has denied reports that it urged U.S. senators to vote against placing additional sanctions on Iran.

In a statement Thursday, the Mossad denied a Bloomberg View report that it opposes a U.S. Senate bill that would place additional sanctions on Iran should U.S.-led talks on ending the Iranian nuclear program fail. The statement praised the effectiveness of current sanctions and said strong pressure on Iran is necessary for the negotiations to succeed.

“Contrary to what has been reported, the Head of the Mossad did not say that he opposes imposing additional sanctions on Iran,” the statement read. “The Head of the Mossad emphasized in the meeting [with U.S. senators] that the exceptional effectiveness of the sanctions imposed on Iran in recent years are what brought Iran to the negotiating table.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu favors added sanctions on Iran, but President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address Tuesday that he would veto the sanctions measure if it reaches his desk.

Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) have both alluded recently to Mossad opposition to the bill, Bloomberg View reported. The Mossad statement, however, said that Mossad chief Tamir Pardo’s words were misinterpreted in a recent meeting with U.S. officials.

“We met with a number of government officials from many different parts of the [Israeli] government,” Barrasso told Bloomberg View. “There’s not a uniform view there.”

Bloomberg View reported that a separate measure that would give the Senate a vote on any accord with Iran over its nuclear program has broader approval from Israeli officials.

Negotiations over the nuclear program are slated to resume in February.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu accepted an invitation from House Speaker John Boehner to address a joint session of Congress regarding Iran. On Thursday, it was announced that the address would take place in early March.

N.Y. State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver arrested in corruption probe

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 06:37

(JTA) — Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the New York State Assembly, was arrested as part of a corruption investigation.

Silver, according to The New York Times, surrendered Thursday to FBI agents for allegedly receiving payments from a law firm, Goldberg & Iryami, without properly disclosing them. The arrest stems from an anti-corruption investigation launched by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2013.

Silver, who represents Manhattan’s Lower East Side, has earned a reputation as a powerful leader of New York Democrats during more than two decades serving as speaker of the Assembly, the lower house of the State Legislature. He was reelected to the post last month and may serve while under arrest, but would have to resign if convicted.

Silver practices as an attorney outside of his duties as a politician. In 2013 he earned a total income of $650,000, the Times reported.