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Jewish lawmakers decry torture practices, welcome report

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 17:43

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jewish lawmakers and anti-torture umbrella groups with Jewish affiliates expressed dismay at revelations of U.S. torture practices.

“The CIA’s actions a decade ago are a stain on our values and our history,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in floor remarks Tuesday after the release of the report on torture she had authorized.

“Releasing this report is an important step to restore out values and show the world that we are in fact a just and lawful society,” she said.

A number of leading Republicans had opposed the report’s release, saying it could lead to attacks on U.S. interests abroad, but Democrats and a minority of Republicans led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a survivor of torture while he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said its release was necessary.

Practices described include waterboarding, subjecting detainees to extreme temperatures and continuous loud noise, forced rectal feeding, sleep deprivation and threats to the families of detainees.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) was among an array of Jewish Democrats to release statements Tuesday welcoming the report and expressing dismay at its revelations.

“The exhaustive report from the Senate Intelligence Committee documents that the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were not effective and violated international commitments and the core principles of the United States,” Cardin said.

“It also resulted in fabricated information and did not lead to the collection of imminent threat intelligence,” he said. “Years may have passed by since these egregious activities occurred, but the United States must confront the mistakes that were made as we responded to the devastating 9/11 attacks.”

Also welcoming the report’s publications were the Interfaith Action for Human Rights, an alliance of faith leaders whose executive director is Rabbi Charles Feinberg, and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, which includes among its affiliates the Reform and Reconstructionist movements along with T’ruah: The Rabbinical Call for Human Rights.

“As a nation, we have much to repent for – and true teshuvah, repentance, requires both acknowledgement and accountability for what we have done,” Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the T’ruah director, said in a statement. “The report is a step toward acknowledgement. A step toward accountability would be for Congress to act to make clear that the CIA will never be allowed to torture again.”

Haaretz reported that a section of the report describes CIA officials at one point considered citing a 1987 Israeli commission that recommended “moderate physical pressure” in “ticking bomb” scenarios as a means for making the case for torture among lawmakers. The Israeli Supreme Court in a landmark 1999 decision banned many of the 1987 report’s recommendations.

Five arrested for threats to attack French synagogue

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 17:04

(JTA) — French police arrested five men suspected of making threats online to attack a synagogue.

Two of the suspects, all of whom are believed to be far-right activists, were arrested on Tuesday morning in the southern city of Montpellier, the French news agency AFP reported. The remaining three were apprehended in the nearby city of Beziers.

The suspects are believed to have written on social networks that they intended to burn down the Grande-Motte Synagogue in Herault, also in southern France, Le Figaro reported.

Also Tuesday, French police arrested three men and two women in Marseille in connection with the killing of four people at the Jewish museum in Brussels on May 29. Mehdi Nemmouche, a Frenchman, was extradited to Belgium and charged with murder there.

Two days earlier, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said at a rally against anti-Semitism that he intended to declare efforts to curb the phenomenon a national cause – a statement that could mean the government would select the issue next year as the subject for a national publicity campaign.

The rally in Creteil, where some 1,500 people gathered, was in response to the rape of a young woman last week in the Paris suburb, which police said occurred during a robbery by three armed perpetrators who selected their victims because they were Jewish.

The incidents drew condemnations from French Prime Minister Manuel Vals and President Francois Hollande.

N.Y. Police: Chabad attack not terror related, Jewish sites to have enhanced security

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 16:11

(JTA) — The stabbing of a rabbinical student from Israel at the Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn was not terror related, New York’s police commissioner said.

“There’s no indication that the subject … had any affiliation with any terrorist organization,” William Bratton said Tuesday at a news conference in Crown Heights, the neighborhood where the attack on Levi Rosenblatt, 22, took place in the early morning.

John Miller, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism, told reporters, however, that police will increase security at synagogues and other Jewish sites.

“You will see some enhanced coverage in terms of police presence at these locations,” Miller said.

Rosenblatt, of the West Bank’s Gush Etzion bloc of settlements, was stabbed in the neck and elsewhere while praying in the building’s synagogue at about 1:45 a.m. He was placed in an induced coma after doctors discovered internal bleeding that is putting pressure on his brain, Crownheights.info reported. He was moved to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan and was scheduled to undergo surgery there.

His mother reportedly was on her way from Israel to be with him. Rosenblatt had been in New York for two weeks before the attack. (His name had been reported previously by JTA and other news sources as Rosenviat.)

The assailant, Calvin Peters, 49, of Valley Stream, Long Island, was shot in the stomach by police and later died in the hospital.

Peters suffered from bipolar disorder, according to his family lawyer. He also had a history of arrests dating back to 1982, the New York Daily News reported, citing unnamed sources. Most were for drug possession, but also for arson and criminal possession of stolen property.

Peters, a married father of two, reportedly entered the Chabad building shouting “I will kill the Jew! I want to kill the Jew!” An hour earlier he had entered the building saying he was looking for a book, another Israeli student told the New York Daily News.

video of the encounter was posted by the Israeli news website 0404.

A Chabad spokesman told Israeli media that homeless men sometimes enter the world headquarters, which is open 24 hours a day, in order to get warm.

Study: Israeli home demolitions deter terrorism

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 15:51

(JTA) — Israeli house demolitions effectively decrease terrorist attacks, according to a new study.

The study, “Counter-Suicide-Terrorism: Evidence from House Demolitions,” to be published in the January issue of the Journal of Politics, found that Israel’s policy of demolishing the homes of Palestinian terrorists causes “an immediate, significant decrease in the number of suicide attacks.”

The study examines data on punitive house demolitions between 2000 and 2005, and precautionary demolitions — those based on the location of a house but unrelated to the identity of the house’s owner — from 2004 to 2005. The authors found that punitive house demolitions during that time led to “fewer suicide attacks in the month following,” while precautionary demolitions caused “a significant increase in the number of suicide attacks.”

Co-authored by researchers at Northwestern University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the study runs contrary to the widely held belief that punitive house demolitions do not dissuade would-be terrorists.

In November, Israel resumed its controversial policy of demolishing the homes of terrorists when it razed the family home of Abdelrahman Al-Shaludi, who plowed his car into a Jerusalem bus stop in October. Since that time, Israel has destroyed the family homes of several other Palestinian terrorists.

The policy has drawn international criticism.

Romanian envoy to Armenia recalled over joke deemed anti-Semitic

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 15:46

(JTA) – Romania’s ambassador to Armenia was recalled to Bucharest  for consultations after he expressed what critics said were anti-Semitic and homophobic statements.

Sorin Vasile made the controversial statements last month during a speech at the American University of Armenia, according to MCA Romania, the Center for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism. He was recalled Friday, according to a report on romaniatv.net.

Replying to a student’s question on whether he found moral fault in the systematic massacre of Armenian civilians by Turkish soldiers during World War I, Vasile said, “It is very complicated. What is moral?” He added, “Are homosexuals moral?  Everything is relative.”

Elaborating on relativism, he told a joke about Jewish bosses who would not hire an accountant who said that 10 plus 10 equals 20, but hired one who told them that it equaled whatever they wanted it to.

Vasile apologized for making the remarks, according to romaniatv.net.

But MCA Romania said Vasile had initially refused to do so and called for the Romanian Foreign Ministry to take disciplinary action against him.

“He dismissed the Armenian genocide by a phrase, adopted homophobic attitudes and made jokes about Jews being greedy” and “ready to break any law in order to make a profit, a clear anti-Semitic stereotype,” MCA Romania founders Maximillian Marco Katz and Marius Draghici wrote in a statement Friday.

Amnesty Int’l accuses Israel of war crimes in Gaza war

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 13:42

(JTA) — The human rights organization Amnesty International accused Israel of committing war crimes in its most recent war in Gaza.

In a report published Tuesday, the London-based group said that Israel deliberately targeted and destroyed civilian buildings without military justification.

The report identified four attacks that destroyed multistory buildings in Gaza, concluding that they were “wanton and not justified by military necessity” and “therefore amount to a war crime.”

Israel claimed that the buildings were used as Hamas command centers or otherwise linked to Palestinian militants.

Amnesty rejected the claims, saying that Israeli authorities have not provided sufficient evidence to justify the leveling of the buildings, suggesting “a policy of collective punishment, in breach of international humanitarian law.”

The report conceded that the Israeli military “took measures to ensure that residents left the targeted buildings before their destruction.” Even so, the group said, the attacks resulted in “scores of injuries to scores of civilians in surrounding buildings.”

Amnesty has accused Israel and Hamas of human rights violations in the past. Israeli authorities tend to reject the group’s findings.

Ex-CIA chief David Petraeus: Don’t cut Iran sanctions

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 12:44

NEW YORK (JTA) — Former CIA director Gen. David Petraeus said that any nuclear deal with Iran should not include a significant decrease in sanctions on the country.

“No deal is better than a bad deal,” Petraeus told a crowd of over 1,700 Wall Street insiders on Monday night at the UJA-Federation of New York’s annual Wall Street Dinner, a fundraiser that broke last year’s record by raising more than $26 million. “And turning the screw on the sanctions is better in the end.”

At the dinner presentation, Mark Lipschultz, the global head of energy and infrastructure at the private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, asked Petraeus, also the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, about the Islamic State jihadist group and other global threats to Israel.

Petraeus responded that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel in Europe is potentially more dangerous to Israel than threats in the Middle East and “might keep more people awake at night than anything else.”

He also said that Hezbollah’s threat to Israel has largely been neutralized by the Iron Dome defense system.

In 2012, Petraeus resigned from the CIA after he admitted to having an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

Monday night’s fundraiser at the Hilton in Midtown Manhattan also featured the awarding of the inaugural Alan C. Greenberg Youth Leadership award to Brett Barth, a founder of BBR Partners. The award was named for the late Alan “Ace” Greenberg, who donated millions of dollars to the UJA-Federation.

Jacques “Jack” Brand, the CEO of Deutsche Bank North America and the son of Holocaust survivor parents, received the Gustave L. Levy Award for professional achievement and commitment to the UJA-Federation. Brand was born in Ghana to a German father and a Belgian mother.

Texan charged in Israel for plot to blow up Muslim sites in Jerusalem

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 11:54

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A Texas man was indicted in Israel for planning to blow up Muslim sites in Jerusalem.

Adam Everett Livix, 30, was arrested by Israel Police on Nov. 19, according to the indictment filed Monday and reported Tuesday. He was indicted for acquiring explosives to blow up the sites, the Times of Israel reported.

Livix, who is Christian, is wanted in the United States on drug-related charges, according to The Jerusalem Post.

During questioning by police, Livix said he had made plans for terrorist attacks against Muslim holy sites in Israel. A search of his apartment turned up ammunition and guns stolen from the Israeli military, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Livix is undergoing psychiatric evaluation in Israel, the country’s Justice Ministry told The Associated Press.

Last week, he was indicted for illegal possession of arms and being in Israel illegally, the Times of Israel reported.

The plot investigation is being conducted in coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States, according to The Jerusalem Post.

A Palestinian operative in the Palestinian Authority also reportedly tried to recruit Livix to assassinate President Obama with a sniper rifle during the president’s March 2013 visit to Israel, police told the Israeli media.

American Anthropological Assoc. votes down motion opposing boycott of Israel

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 10:52

(JTA) — The American Anthropological Association rejected a proposed resolution that would oppose the academic boycott of Israel.

The association, an organization of 12,000 scholars and practitioners, voted on the motion Friday at its annual business meeting, which had 700 attendees. Fifty-two participants voted for the resolution.

Of the 24 members who spoke during debate on the motion, three-quarters opposed the resolution, arguing that it was an attempt to shut down discussion of the issue, according to a statement issued Monday from Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions.

In recent months, over 1,000 anthropologists have signed a boycott pledge against Israel protesting what the Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions called in a statement a protest against “Israel’s ongoing, systematic, and widespread violations of Palestinian academic freedom and human rights.”

The vote comes a year after the American Studies Association approved a motion endorsing the academic boycott of Israel.

Obama’s White House chef, Sam Kass, resigns

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 10:17

(JTA) — The Obama family’s private White House chef, Sam Kass, has resigned.

Kass, whose titles also include senior policy adviser on nutrition policy and executive director of the first lady’s Let’s Move! Initiative to reduce childhood obesity, will move to New York where his wife, MSNBC anchor Alex Wagner, lives.

Kass, who is Jewish, has been working in the White House since 2009. He has worked for the Obama family since 2005, when Obama was the junior senator from Illinois.

He was the first senior adviser on nutrition at the White House, and assisted first lady Michelle Obama in creating a vegetable garden there that does not use herbicides, pesticides or chemical fertilizer.

The first family attended Kass’ wedding on Aug. 24.

German court tosses case against ex-SS soldier in ’44 massacre

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 09:20

(JTA) — A German court dismissed a case against a Cologne man for his alleged involvement in the June 1944 massacre of hundreds of civilians in France.

On Tuesday, a Cologne state court tossed the case against the 89-year-old defendant, named only as Werner C., saying there was not enough evidence to connect him to the massacre, The Associated Press reported.

The prosecutor in the western German city of Dortmund charged Werner with gunning down 25 civilians in Oradour-sur-Glane along with other members of his SS tank infantry unit called Der Fuehrer. In all, 642 village residents were murdered. More than half were women and children locked into a church that was set ablaze.

The defendant reportedly also was charged as an accessory in the massacre by cordoning off and guarding the church or by bringing flammable material inside.

Werner has said he was in the village at the time but did not take part in the killings.

Palestinians upgraded to non-state observer at International Criminal Court

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 08:34

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Palestinians were upgraded to a non-state observer at the International Criminal Court based in The Hague.

The ICC made the move on the Palestine Liberation Organization on Monday during a summit meeting of its 122 member countries.

The Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, told the Palestinian Maan news agency that the move brings Palestine one step closer to becoming a full member of the court. He also said it would strengthen the case for Palestinian statehood since the ICC members consider Palestine to be a state.

Mansour told Maan that the new status at the ICC was “another victory for Palestinians at the international level, bringing them closer to restoring their rights, and opening the door wide to drag leaders of the Israeli occupation to the dock of this court, so the souls of the victims can finally rest in peace.”

Membership in the ICC, a treaty-based international court that is not part of the United Nations system, would grant Palestine the right to file war crimes charges with the court against Israel and Israeli figures.

In November 2012, the PLO was given the status of observer state at the United Nations.

2 Palestinians planning terror attack arrested outside West Bank settlement

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 07:10

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Two Palestinians planning to launch a terror attack on Tekoa were arrested by security forces outside the West Bank settlement.

The men, both from the Hebron area and affiliated with Hamas, confessed to planning an attack on the community located in the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements, according to Israeli media reports. One was carrying a knife.

Police had been searching for them for three days after they went missing on Saturday and Israeli intelligence reported that a terror attack was planned.

One of the men is the nephew of Amar Abu Eisha, who is suspected of abducting and killing three Israeli teens in June from a traffic junction in Gush Etzion.

The arrests come a month after a Tekoa resident, Dalia Lemkus, 26, was stabbed and killed as she waited for a ride at the main Gush Etzion junction.

Israeli student stabbed at Chabad’s N.Y. headquarters, assailant shot dead

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 06:45

(JTA) — An Israeli man studying for the rabbinate in New York was stabbed while praying at Chabad-Lubavitch world headquarters in Brooklyn.

Levi Rosenviat, 22, who lives in the West Bank’s Gush Etzion bloc of settlements, was stabbed at 1:45 a.m. Tuesday in the neck and elsewhere in the synagogue of the building located in the Crown Heights neighborhood, according to reports. Rosenviat is reported to be in stable condition at Kings County Hospital.

He arrived in New York two weeks ago, according to the New York Daily News.

His alleged assailant, Calvin Peters, 51, was shot in the stomach by police and later died in the hospital. He reportedly entered the Chabad building shouting “I will kill the Jew! I want to kill the Jew!” according to the Daily News.

Peters had entered the building an hour earlier saying he was looking for a book, another Israeli student told the newspaper.

Police and security guards reportedly flooded the building moments after the attack. Peters initially put down his knife, but then picked it back up again. Police ordered Peters to drop the knife and shot him when he did not comply. A video of the encounter was posted by the Israeli news website 0404.

Police reportedly are calling the incident criminal, not terror-related, though with elements of a hate crime.

A Chabad spokesman told Israeli media that homeless men sometimes enter the world headquarters, which is open 24 hours a day, in order to get warm.

Jewish cemetery in Argentina vandalized

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 16:59

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (JTA) — At least a dozen headstones were desecrated at a Jewish cemetery in Argentina.

The headstones were upended and damaged at the cemetery in Santiago del Estero, a city of nearly 250,000 located about 620 miles northeast of Buenos Aires. The attack, which is believed to have occurred over the weekend, was discovered on Monday by a cemetery worker.

“Photos were scattered and monuments were damaged in an unprecedented level of violence in our Jewish cemetery,” Hernan Kriscautzky, the Santiago del Estero representative to the Argentine Jewish political umbrella DAIA, told JTA.

Photos of the dead are placed on tombs to help visitors identify the gravesites.

There was no anti-Semitic graffiti or other messages found at the cemetery, which is still active.

Police are investigating the incident.

The neighborhood cemetery next to the Jewish cemetery was not vandalized, though it has been robbed of metals previously, the local newspaper El Liberal reported.

Israel’s Knesset votes to dissolve gov’t, sets elections for March

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 15:45

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Knesset voted unanimously to dissolve the government and set new elections.

Some 93 lawmakers out of 120 voted Monday evening on the second and third readings of the dissolution bill, which set elections for March 17.

In the morning, the Knesset’s House Committee had approved the bill and sent it to the full Knesset.

On Dec. 2, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a televised news conference announced his intention to dissolve the Knesset and move to early elections. Hours earlier he had fired coalition party heads Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid and Tzipi Livni of Hatnua from their ministerial positions, saying he would “not tolerate ministers who that from within the government attack government policies and the person who leads the government.”

The March election date makes the current Knesset, the 19th, one of the shortest at just over two years. Elections had been scheduled to take place in November 2017.

Likud’s Limor Livnat says she’s done with politics

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 15:11

(JTA) — Limor Livnat, Israel’s culture and sports minister, said she is quitting political life.

Livnat, 64, a Likud Knesset member since 1992 and the party’s highest-ranking female member for many years, made the announcement on Monday. She served as education minister from 1996 to 1999, and headed the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women.

She told Israel’s Channel 2 news that she wanted to move in “new directions,” the Times of Israel reported, but stressed that “the Likud remains my home.”

According to Haaretz, Livnat has been marginalized within her party in recent years because of her moderate positions. She has criticized the controversial Jewish nation-state bill and was the only Likud minister not to vote for it.

In a November interview with Army Radio, she criticized Likud’s move to the right.

“The Likud was always a right-center party and that’s what it needs to be,” she said. “Unfortunately, there are people in the Likud who are not moderate and are pushing the party to places I don’t want to see it.”

Palestinian man injured in Jerusalem terror attack dies

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 14:07

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A Palestinian man injured in a terror attack on a light rail station in eastern Jerusalem died from his wounds.

Abd al-Karim Nafith Hamid, 60, died Sunday after being injured two days earlier when Ibrahim Akkari, a Hamas activist from eastern Jerusalem, slammed his car into the light rail station and onto the sidewalk.

Two others were killed in the attack: Israel Border Police officer Jidan Assad, 38, from the Druze village of Beit Jaan, and yeshiva student Shalom Ba’adani, 17.

Hamid’s wife told the Palestinian Maan news agency that her husband, who suffered multiple fractures of the spine and feet and then had a heart attack, did not get the medical treatment he needed right away because he was Arab.

“After the Israeli forces identified the injured people, they handcuffed my injured husband because he is an Arab and didn’t offer him the appropriate treatment. Neither did they evacuate him to the hospital immediately,” she told Maan.

Hamid reportedly arrived at Jerusalem’s Shaarey Zedek Medical Center in handcuffs.

Eilat oil spill twice as large as initially estimated

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 14:02

(JTA) — The Dec. 4 oil spill in Eilat was nearly twice as large as initially estimated.

New figures released by Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry indicated that 5 million liters of crude oil spilled from a damaged Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company pipeline, the Times of Israel reported.

The environmental ministry expressed concern that heavy rainfall and flooding predicted for later this week will spread the oil pollutants to additional areas in southern Israel and possibly into the Gulf of Eilat, whose protected coral reefs are at risk of major damage. The spill already has damaged the Evrona nature reserve in the Arava Desert.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira ordered an immediate investigation into the disaster, and the environmental ministry ordered the pipeline company to stop operating the line until it receives a new permit.

Meanwhile, an Eilat resident filed a class action lawsuit for $95.5 million in the Tel Aviv District Court against the pipeline company, accusing it of environmental damage and negligence.

French girl, 8, verbally attacked by fellow students for being Jewish

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 12:05

(JTA) — An 8-year-old girl in France was attacked verbally and harassed for being Jewish by two fellow students identified as Muslim, a watchdog group said.

The two boys, ages 8 and 9, verbally attacked the girl on Dec. 4 in the school cafeteria, where they labeled her as being Jewish, according to the Bureau for National Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA. She had declined to say what her religion was on instructions from her parents due to the current anti-Semitic climate in the country.

The boys were of “North African origin,” the watchdog group reported.

Later on at the playground of the Joseph Sibuet elementary school in Mions, near Lyons, the boys taunted the girl, stirring up other students, and tried to hit her.

“Our parents told us that Islam is at war against the Jews,” the boys reportedly said.

Two other non-Jewish fellow students intervened and helped the girl and her sister, 6.

The girl’s father told BNVCA that his daughter refuses to return to school. He has filed a complaint with the head of the school and with police.

The girl sought the assistance of six adults at the school but to no avail, the JSSNews website reported.

BNVCA has called for the students to be punished as well as educated about Judaism, and for their parents, who reportedly have refused to take action, to be reprimanded.