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Israel establishing national cyber defense authority

Sun, 09/21/2014 - 11:12

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel will launch a national cyber defense authority to defend civilians against cyber threats.

The authority, which was announced at the regular weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday, will act alongside the National Cyber Bureau, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

Eviatar Matania, the head of the National Cyber Bureau, will lead its establishment, according to the statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the beginning of the Cabinet meeting that the new authority in effect was “the creation of an air force against new threats.”

“We are in a new world; we are preparing with new forces,” he said. “This has very major significance for the defense of the State of Israel in the future.”

Matania called the decision “historic.”

“Dealing with the cyber threat on the national level in the coming decades constitutes a strategic challenge that all countries must deal with,” he said.




Robertson dubs religious rights group founder ‘little Jewish radical’

Sun, 09/21/2014 - 09:39

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Pat Robertson called an activist for religious freedoms in the military a “little Jewish radical” in condemning the U.S. Air Force for making “so help me God” an optional part of its oath.

Robertson in a commentary Thursday on his Christian Broadcasting Network was referring to Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. He also misidentified the foundation as “People Against Religion.”

“You got one little Jewish radical scaring the pants off you,” Robertson said. “What is wrong with the Air Force, how can they fly the bombers to defend us if they cave to one little guy?”

Weinstein, a former officer in the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General, founded his foundation in 2006 to advocate against proselytizing in the military.

It was not Weinstein’s group but the American Humanist Association that had led advocacy on behalf of the airman who had sought to remove the oath in the news item cited by Robertson, Raw Story said in a report.

Weinstein in a response to Robertson on The Friendly Atheist website wrote, “Pat Robertson is to human dignity and sanity and integrity and character what dog s*** is to a fine French restaurant on the menu.”

New Israel Fund launching dedicated Israel democracy fund

Sun, 09/21/2014 - 09:16

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The New Israel Fund has earmarked $2 million for an initiative aimed at advancing democracy in Israel, which it sees as under threat from the ultranationalist right.

“Overt racism, ultra-nationalism and xenophobia are on the rise,” the NIF said in a statement last week announcing New Initiatives for Democracy, or NIF-D. “NIF’s leadership believes that these trends are no accident, but are intentionally encouraged and accelerated by a well-funded, interconnected network of institutions advocating the viewpoints of the ultra-nationalist right.”

Part of the initiative’s focus will be on think tanks advancing progressive ideas, including Molad, the Center for Renewal of Israeli Democracy; Mitvim, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies; and the Council for Peace and Security.

Since its establishment in 1979, the U.S.-based NIF has encouraged democracy programs in Israel. But the group, which has an annual budget of $30 million, said in the statement that the recent anti-democratic trends there required a sharper focus.




Brooklyn Jewish agency getting nearly $500,000 for Sandy repairs

Sun, 09/21/2014 - 09:03

WASHINGTON (JTA) – A New York Jewish agency was awarded almost $500,000 in federal funding to repair damages from Superstorm Sandy nearly two years ago.

On Friday, FEMA allocated an additional $482,500 to the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island in Brooklyn. The Federal Emergency Management Agency originally had allotted $1,860 for the council to fix the devastation to its buildings from the October 2012 hurricane.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and the New York Legal Assistance Group worked with the council and FEMA to obtain the funding. Gillibrand in a statement thanked FEMA for “realizing how important this investment is for the Jewish Community Council and the Coney Island community.”

Following Sandy, only the outside structure of the council’s two main facilities was left standing, said the council’s executive director, Rabbi Moshe Wiener. Three to six feet of water flooded the buildings, destroying workstations, computers and kitchen equipment, with an estimated $1.5 million in damage.

Staff members were forced to relocate to six temporary facilities, severely impacting their ability to provide services to the community.

Wiener thanked Gillibrand and her staff for helping to secure the FEMA funding.


Lapid rapped for Shabbat news conference

Sun, 09/21/2014 - 08:20

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Politicians from the left and Orthodox parties criticized Finance Minister Yair Lapid for calling a news conference on Shabbat.

Zehava Gal-On of the left-wing Meretz party said Lapid’s decision to call what she said was a largely unnecessary conference outside his home on Saturday was “a demonstration of insensitivity.”

“While you were enjoying your Shabbat, Lapid decided to pull all the economic journalists out of their homes in the middle of Shabbat and order them to his driveway in Tel Aviv to hear him read an unimportant message in which he praised Israel’s credit rating by S&P,”  Gal-On wrote in a Facebook post.

The fact that the Prime Minister’s Office does not release statements on Shabbat could have been the impetus for the “insensitive” timing of the news conference, she said.

Lapid posted a three-sentence statement praising the ratification of Israel’s international S&P rating on Facebook after the news conference.

Aryeh Deri, head of the Sephardi Orthodox party Shas, also criticized Lapid.

“Lapid’s disrespect for the basic Jewish values of the State of Israel, which sanctifies Saturday as its official day of rest, is unacceptable and stands out when he calls up media staff in the middle of the day of rest for non-urgent matters that could be postponed to another day,” Deri said in a statement released after Shabbat.

Shuli Moalem of the Jewish Home party, which is part of the coalition government, told the Israeli media that Lapid can do what he wants in his own home on Shabbat, but “he is working on Shabbat and desecrating the day of rest” for political gain.


Posters telling women where to walk removed from haredi London neighborhood

Sun, 09/21/2014 - 07:50

(JTA) — Posters in English and Yiddish telling women which side of the road they can walk on were removed from a haredi Orthodox neighborhood in London.

“Women should please walk along this side of the road only,” read the signs posted in the Stamford Hill area of north London, the Jewish Chronicle reported.

The Hackney Council, the local government body, ordered the signs taken down following complaints from residents. They reportedly were removed on Friday.

The Shomrim organization of volunteer Jewish police told the Independent newspaper that the signs were put up in advance of a Torah procession in order to prevent men and women from coming into physical contact with each other.

“It is of course quite unacceptable to try to restrict women’s movements in a public place and council officers removed these posters as soon as it was reported to them,” Rosemary Sales, a city councilman for Stamford Hill West, told the Independent.

More than 20,000 haredi Orthodox Jews live in Stamford Hill.

U.N. Security Council reiterates support for Golan peacekeepers

Sun, 09/21/2014 - 07:20

(JTA) — The United Nations Security Council called on armed groups to leave neutral areas of the Syrian Golan Heights and return U.N. peacekeepers’ equipment.

The presidential statement approved Friday by the 15-member Security Council indicated that it continues to support keeping international peacekeepers on the border between Israel and Syria despite Syria’s more than three-year civil war.

The Security Council called on all groups other than the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force, or UNDOF, to pull out of the peacekeepers’ area of operations. The council also called on the groups to return peacekeepers vehicles, weapons and other equipment, according to the United Nations News Service.

“U.N. Member States with influence to convey strongly to non-State armed actors in the area the need for an immediate halt to all activities that endangered U.N. peacekeepers and impeded them in their Security Council-mandated duties,” the Security Council urged.

The statement comes three weeks after 45 Fijian peacekeepers were held captive by the Nusra Front, a Syrian rebel group is linked to al-Qaida. The troops were later released unharmed.

Israel, Palestinians to pick up cease-fire talks in Cairo

Sun, 09/21/2014 - 05:33

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Indirect cease-fire negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will resume this week in Cairo.

The talks on Tuesday will be held through Egyptian negotiators who will shuttle between the two sides, according to reports.

The negotiation of truce terms was part of the Aug. 26 cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas to end 50 days of warring. Topics up for discussion include building a Gaza seaport and airport, the release of Palestinian prisoners and the return of the remains of Israeli soldiers.

At the request of Israel, the talks were moved forward one day from their originally scheduled date so they would not conflict with the observance of Rosh Hashanah, which begins on Wednesday night, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported, citing senior Israeli officials.

On Monday, also in Cairo, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas will begin their reconciliation talks, also at Egypt’s invitation.

New Zealand’s Key handily wins third term as prime minister

Sun, 09/21/2014 - 05:06

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) ­– John Key, the son of a Jewish refugee from Europe, won his third term as New Zealand prime minister.

Key, whose mother Ruth Lazar escaped Europe on the eve of the Holocaust, returned to office with an emphatic victory on Saturday, enabling him to form a government without relying on coalition partners.

His National Party is projected to win 61 seats in the 121-member parliament, crushing the opposition Labor Party in large part thanks to its strong handling of the economy.

“I believe the Jewish community will be pleased with the result of yesterday’s election,” said Alison Dyson, president of the Jewish Federation of New Zealand. “The election centered mainly around economic policy and John Key’s roots would not have been a major factor in the vote amongst Jews or others.”

She added: “John Key’s government has in the past shown greater sympathy to Israel and the Jewish community than the previous [Labor] government, and during the most recent conflict with Gaza the foreign affairs department was not very outspoken and was reasonably balanced in their comments.”

Although the New Zealand Jewish community of 7,000-plus has not been afflicted by anti-Semitism to the same degree as European Jews, Dyson said, “There is an elevated sense of risk and insecurity fueled by some local events here during the Gaza pro-Palestinian protests and further heightened by the awareness of rising anti-Semitism elsewhere.”

During the election campaign in the South Pacific island nation, several billboards were daubed with anti-Semitic graffiti, with one board carrying the words “Lying Jew c***sucker” alongside a defaced image of Key with a black hat and side locks.

Key, who is not a practicing Jew, said at the time he was disappointed for the Jewish community.

“[They] don’t deserve to be brought into some sort of personal campaign that’s directed at me,” he said.

Around the same time, Steve Gibson, a Labor candidate, posted a Facebook message describing Key as “Shonky Jonkey Shylock … a nasty little creep with a nasty evil and vindictive sneer.”

The post referring to the Shakespeare character, which carries anti-Semitic connotations, was later deleted. Gibson apologized and was censured by the Labor leader.

Key’s victory comes just weeks after Israel rejected Wellington’s proposed non-resident envoy to Israel, Jonathan Curr, in a move met by surprise within the Jewish community. Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it could not approve Curr because he is also being credentialed to the Palestinian Authority.

South African president vows to fight anti-Semitism

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 12:25

(JTA) — Representatives of South Africa’s Jewish community commended President Jacob Zuma’s pledge to combat anti-Semitism.

Zuma of the African National Congress party made the pledge during a meeting Thursday with the leadership of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, or SAJBD, the board said in a statement Friday.

“In the course of the meeting, President Zuma rejected unequivocally all forms of antisemitism and intolerance, and stressed that his government remained committed to combating such prejudice,” read the statement.

During the meeting, the Jewish representatives spoke with Zuma and members of his cabinet “on the sharp rise in anti-Semitic activity in South Africa, including threats and intimidation against the Jewish community and its leadership,” according to the statement.

Anti-Semitic incidents proliferated in South Africa during Israel’s was on Hamas in Gaza this summer.

Earlier this month, African National Congress Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe cosigned a letter that called Israel’s establishment a “crime against humanity.”

House unanimously approves anti-Semitism condemnation

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 10:36

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A bipartisan congressional resolution urging increased action by the United States and other countries to address resurgent anti-Semitism passed unanimously.

The non-binding resolution passed Thursday condemns anti-Semitism particularly when it is used “as an acceptable expression of disapproval or frustration over political events in the Middle East or elsewhere.”

It also “decries and condemns the comparison of Israel to Nazis perpetrating a Holocaust or genocide as an insult to the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust.”

Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Kay Granger (R-Texas) initiated the resolution, which was introduced on July 31.

A wall-to-wall array of Jewish groups backed the resolution.

“This resolution sends a resounding message to the world about what is best in America and America’s resolve to confront this ugly and dangerous hatred,” the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement. “We deeply appreciate the House’s leadership in providing a moral voice and standing up for the safety and security of those Jewish communities around the world who are once again being threatened by anti-Semitic violence and intimidation.”

Senate approves enhanced U.S.-Israel cooperation bill

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 10:26

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. Senate unanimously approved a bill that would further enhance U.S.-Israel ties.

The bill approved Thursday, initiated by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), enhances Israel’s status as entitled to license-free defense technology, adds items to the weapons stockpile the United States maintains in Israel and which is available for Israeli use, requires increased congressional oversight to ensure that Israel maintains its qualitative military edge, encourages U.S.-Israel cooperation on developing energy technologies and encourages Israel’s entry into the visa waiver program, which would allow Israelis visa-free travel to the United States.

The latter provision had in earlier versions of the bill mandated such an entry, a central factor in holding up the bill over the last 18 months; the State Department had objected to Israel’s entry for a number of reasons, including a spike in illegal Israeli travel to the United States and discrimination faced by Arab and Muslim Americans entering Israel.

A similar bill passed the House in March. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which had made the bill must-pass legislation, encouraged both chambers to reconcile their bills and get it to President Obama’s desk for his signature.

“This bill will dramatically strengthen and expand the U.S.-Israel alliance as a way to confront new threats and challenges in the Middle East,” AIPAC said in a statement.

U.S. officials ‘not optimistic’ going into Iran talks

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 10:11

WASHINGTON (JTA) — U.S. negotiators are not entering the latest round of nuclear talks with Iran with optimism, a top U.S. official said, citing Iran’s insistence on maintaining its uranium enrichment capability.

“Coming into New York, I think many of us were not very optimistic,” said the senior administration official speaking to reporters Thursday in New York, where the talks are underway on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

The transcript distributed by the State Department did not identify the official.

Nonetheless, the official described two days of bilateral meetings with Iranian officials earlier this week ahead of talks between Iran and the major powers now talking place as “constructive” and including a “lot of hard technical work.”

The official identified Iran’s insistence that it maintain its 20 percent enrichment capability as a stumbling block.

“The Iranians have said over these many days and weeks how reasonable and flexible they are in these talks, and about how their current capacity should be acceptable,” the official said.

“But the status quo is not doable for any of us,” the official said. “It is not doable for either side. The world will agree to suspend and then lift sanctions only if Iran takes convincing and verifiable steps to show that its nuclear program is and will remain exclusively peaceful.”

The deadline for the talks, which seek enforceable guarantees against weaponization in exchange for sanctions relief, is Nov. 24.

The powers negotiating with Iran have said that a 5-percent uranium enrichment capability is acceptable, while Iran insists on 20 percent – short of the 90-plus percent it needs for weaponization, but, according to experts, it is only a step or two from achieving such capacity.

Israel opposes any enrichment capability for Iran.

“At the end of the day, Israel will have to make its own judgment about an agreement, as will every other country in the world,” the U.S. official said. “And I understand that, but I also believe that the president of the United States will only sign off on an agreement that he believes is good for the world’s security, including Israel.”

The official said President Obama had no plans to meet with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, during the General Assembly. Last year, Obama broke decades of silence between U.S. and Iranian leaders with a phone call to Rouhani around the time of the G.A.

Ukrainian health official: Uman pilgrims may bring Ebola

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 07:19

(JTA) — A Ukrainian health official warned that Jewish pilgrims converging in Uman may bring with them the Ebola virus and other epidemics.

Larissa Kachanova, who heads the local branch of the Ukrainian government’s Sanitary and Epidemiological Management Center, issued the warning Thursday ahead of the arrival of approximately 30,000 Jews expected to spend Rosh Hashana in the central city, near the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the 18th-century founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement,

Pilgrims will come from “the United States, New Mexico and Bolivia, where they have Lassa fever; Nigeria, where there is dengue fever; Mexico and India,” Kachanova said, according to a report by the Ukrainian UNN news agency.

“Ebola could come from the United States and Germany, cholera could come from India and Nepal and Nigeria, so I would ask the serious implementation of all the proposals that we have included in the anti-epidemic program,” she added.

Jewish pilgrims have come to Uman in large numbers since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, generating resentment among residents, who complain of criminality, noise and littering by the pilgrims.

The xenophobic Svoboda party has in the past said the pilgrims could bring with them epidemics.

This year will be the first pilgrimage since the ousting of the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovych.

French man gets suspended sentence for quenelle at synagogue

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 06:49

(JTA) — A tribunal fined and handed a suspended sentence to a man who made the quenelle gesture in front of a French synagogue’s Holocaust memorial plaque.

The Correctional Tribunal of Colmar in northeastern France last week sentenced the 42-year-old man, who was not named in media reports, to three months in jail, to become effective if he is convicted of a similar offense. He was also made to pay $1,300, the L’Alsace daily reported.

The defendant posted on social networks a picture of himself posing with his son while making the quenelle in front of a commemorative plaque for Jewish victims of the Holocaust located at the entrance to the synagogue of Colmar.

The quenelle, folding one arm over one’s chest while pointing downward with the other arm, is identified with the comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, who has several convictions for inciting hatred against Jews.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called the quenelle “an anti-Semitic gesture of hate” and Roger Cukierman, president of the CRIF umbrella group of Jewish communities, said it was an “inverted Nazi salute,” though he added it carried an anti-Semitic message only when performed in a Jewish context.

Dieudonné maintains the quenelle is a gesture of defiance against the system and does not signal anti-Semitism.

Separately, the deputy mayor of Drancy near Paris, Christophe Lagarde, filed a complaint with police against another man who posed with his family while performing the quenelle in front of the Parisian suburb’s Holocaust memorial site, according to a report by the BNVCA watchdog on anti-Semitism.

Several people have been convicted of inciting racial hatred for disseminating pictures of themselves making the quenelle.

Antwerp police chief: In crisis, army should protect Jewish buildings

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 06:33

(JTA) — Citing the deadly May attack on Brussels’ Jewish museum, Antwerp’s police commissioner called on the government to deploy the army to secure Jewish institutions in crisis situations.

Commissioner Serge Muyters spoke at a meeting Wednesday between leaders of the Belgian city’s Jewish community and police leaders, the Joods Actueel Jewish monthly reported.

“If the threat continues to remains at level 4, as it did after the attack in Brussels, then we should be able to deploy the army,” Muyters said, referring to the slaying of four people on May 24 at the Jewish Museum of Belgium.

The deployment of troops during level 4 situations is necessary because the police department “does not have the manpower or money to provide optimal protection, which requires hundreds of extra personnel and millions of euros,” Muyters said.

Currently, Belgian troops do not have the legal mandate to carry out policing duties on Belgian soil.

Belgian authorities raised the threat level to 4 after the attack and stationed police officers armed with machine guns outside synagogues and in Jewish neighborhoods while police hunted for the perpetrators. Since then, it has returned to level 3.

A week after the attack, French police in Marseille arrested Mehdi Nemmouche, an Islamist who allegedly fought with jihadists in Syria. Nemmouche allegedly was carrying weapons similar to the ones used in Brussels. Nemmoucche, who denied the allegations, is being tried in Belgium for the killings.

Suriname man honored for trying to save Dutch Jews

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 06:20

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (JTA) — Israel’s Holocaust remembrance authority named a Surinamese man who risked his life to save Dutch Jews as a Righteous among the Nations.

The Dutch descendants of William Arnold Egger on Thursday attended a ceremony organized by the Israeli embassy in The Hague honoring his actions in 1942, when he kept 12 Jews in a secret cellar, the Omroep West broadcaster reported.

Ambassador Haim Divon presented the family with a medal recognizing Egger as a Righteous among the Nations, a title conferred by the State of Israel through the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Egger, whose grandfather was a slave, was born in 1900 in Suriname, then a Dutch colony in South America. He moved to the Netherlands for his studies. There, he met a Jewish woman, Engelina Jas. They lived in Suriname for a few years but moved back to the Netherlands in 1935.

When German occupation forces and Dutch collaborationists began deporting Dutch Jews, Egger dug a cellar where he and his wife hid 12 Jewish people, including in-laws.

A woman seeking revenge for her husband’s affair with Egger’s sister-in-law reported the hideout to the Germans, the Den Haag FM radio station reported.

None of the people Egger and his wife hid survived the Holocaust.

Egger and his wife were sent to Nazi concentration camps. They both survived, but Jas, who was sent to Auschwitz and subject to experiments, was mentally and physically disabled for the rest of her life.

2 Iranians with fake Israeli passports nabbed in Kenya

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 05:58

(JTA) — Kenyan authorities reportedly arrested two Iranians in Nairobi who tried to reach Israel using fake Israeli passports.

The two men, both in their early 20s, were arrested several days ago, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Friday.

The passports were forgeries based on stolen Israeli passports. The news site revealed only the first names of the Israeli identities, Adi and Avshalom.

The two Iranian men were scheduled to board a Brussels Airlines flight to the Belgian capital and fly from there to Ben Gurion Airport, according to the report.

An Israeli official told the daily that Israeli passports were relatively easy to forge because many Israelis have not yet switched to biometric passports, which store on chips unique information including facial recognition and fingerprints.

It is not yet known what the Iranians in custody were planning to do in Israel, Yedioth Ahoronoth reported.

Neiman Marcus settles discrimination suit

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 05:48

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — Luxury department store Neiman Marcus settled a discrimination lawsuit with a former employee who claimed that he was fired for being Jewish and gay.

Amir Peleg alleged that his boss at the company’s Beverly Hills store had made anti-Semitic comments to him while he worked at the store, and that it was this hostility that ultimately led to his being fired in 2008, according to a report by the website for Westside magazine.

Neiman Marcus argued that Peleg was fired for his involvement in an Internet scheme to sell to Chinese clients its free fragrance and cosmetic handouts. The two sides announced a settlement Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

According to the report by Westside, Peleg’s lawyer claimed that Peleg’s former superior, Maryam Emamian, repeatedly disparaged Peleg’s Jewish heritage. On one occasion, when Peleg, an Israeli, asked for a vacation to return home, Emamian allegedly replied, “Why are you going back to Jewland? All they do is kill people there.”

On another occasion, Emamian allegedly told Peleg, “This is why Arabs hate Jews, you go behind people’s backs.” Emamian is of Iranian descent, according to Westside. According to Peleg’s lawyer, she was also fired in 2008.

Neiman Marcus’s lawyer denied that the company discriminated on the basis of nationality, religion or sexual orientation, noting that Neiman Marcus was founded by Jews and that the company’s current CEO, Karen Katz, is Jewish.

Attendance at Jerusalem Gay Pride parade down from previous years

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 05:38

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Hundreds of people participated in Jerusalem’s 13th annual Gay Pride parade, down from previous years.

The parade Thursday night had been postponed twice during Israel’s 50-day war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip over the summer. Fewer people attended than in previous years, when thousands have turned out for the event, according to reports.

Hundreds of police officers and Border Guard officers secured the parade.

The parade was sponsored by the Jerusalem Open House, representing the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LBGT, community.