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Trump adviser alleged to have boasted of removing Jews from government jobs

Fri, 08/19/2016 - 05:00

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump allegedly boasted about firing Jews from his government department and denied the Holocaust to a colleague.

Joseph Schmitz has denied the allegations against him, which concern comments accusers say he made while he was the Defense Department’s inspector general, the McClatchy news agency reported Thursday. Schmitz called the allegations “completely false and defamatory.”

Hewas the Pentagon’s inspector general from 2002 to 2005, and is one of five foreign policy advisers the Trump campaign announced in March. Schmitz said he helped write one of the Republican presidential nominee’s foreign policy speeches. He also told McClatchy that his wife’s maternal grandmother was Jewish.

The alleged comments are cited in a grievance by Danny Meyer about discrimination he claims to have suffered as a gay man while he worked for successive inspectors general.

Meyer in his complaint quotes John Crane, a former assistant Defense Department inspector general, as saying that Schmitz made the remarks. In one case, Crane alleged Schmitz said “I fired the Jews.” In another, he “allegedly lectured Mr. Crane on the details of concentration camps and how the ovens were too small to kill 6 million Jews,” Meyer wrote.

Crane, who resigned in 2013 after learning he was set to be fired, also has filed a grievance. According to McClatchy, the allegations against Schmitz are also cited in a letter to the current Defense Department inspector general by a lawyer for David Tenenbaum, an army engineer vindicated after suffering for years under a cloud of allegations that he spied for Israel. Tenenbaum wants the office to inspect an anti-Semitic environment at the Pentagon.

Schmitz’s father is the late Republican politician John Schmitz, notorious for his description in 1981 of a pro-reproductive rights panel that testified to the California Senate as “a sea of hard, Jewish and (arguably) female faces.”

When he died in 2001, the elder Schmitz, a one-time stalwart of the far-right wing John Birch Society, was eulogized by the Institute for Historical Review as a “good friend” of the Holocaust denial group. According to the institute, he intervened when the group was unable to find a venue for its conference in Southern California after hotels received complaints.

Jared Kushner once broke up with Ivanka Trump over ‘religion issue’

Wed, 08/17/2016 - 09:03

Jared Kushner and wife Ivanka Trump attending a gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, May 2, 2016. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images for People.com)

(JTA) — Prior to Ivanka Trump’s conversion to Judaism in 2010, she and her then-boyfriend Jared Kushner broke up briefly over their religious differences before marrying a year later, The New Yorker reported.

Kushner and Trump, the daughter of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, split in 2008, prompting a common friend, Wendi Deng Murdoch — the former wife of media mogul Rupert Murdoch — to bring the two back together on a weekend yacht trip, according to the report Tuesday.

Ivanka Trump completed an Orthodox conversion to Judaism, and the couple’s three children are being brought up as Jews. Jared grew up in a modern Orthodox household, and attended Orthodox day schools.

Friends of the couple told The New Yorker that the 2008 breakup between Trump and Kushner, who met in 2005, was connected to the fact that Kushner’s parents hoped their son would marry a Jewish woman.

“I know he loved Ivanka dearly,” Kushner’s friend Nitin Saigal told The New Yorker. “But the religious thing was important to him.”

Donald Trump is Presbyterian, and Ivanka Trump — who in the 2003 documentary “Born Rich” appears wearing a necklace with a silver cross — was reportedly not what Kushner’s parents, major supporters of Jewish institutions, had in mind for a daughter-in-law. Ivanka Trump, for her part, was hurt that Kushner did not unequivocally take her side against his parents, leading to the breakup, according to The New Yorker.

She told Vogue of Kushner: “It was nice finding someone who is a genuinely good person. I don’t take that for granted. I feel really lucky to have met, like, a great New Jersey boy.”

Kushner attended Harvard, where he purchased properties to convert into condominiums. Throughout college he ate in the kosher dining hall and invited classmates to attend Shabbat dinners.

Kushner went on to helm the family business, revamping Kushner Companies’ stake in New York’s real estate market, including a $2 billion deal to buy up prime properties from Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn Heights.

Donald Trump has cited his daughter’s Jewishness in deflecting accusations that a tweet forwarded by his campaign had featured anti-Semitic motifs. Responding to accusations that his father-in-law did too little anti-Semitic followers, Kushner, the publisher of the New York Observer, published a statement in which he said Donald Trump was not anti-Semitic.

In the letter, his first public statement of the campaign, Kushner cited his background as the grandson of Holocaust survivors and said the tweet was an innocent mistake.

WikiLeaks offers $20,000 reward for information leading to killer of Jewish DNC staffer

Wed, 08/10/2016 - 05:05

WASHINGTON (JTA) — WikiLeaks has offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the killer of a Jewish Democratic Party staffer.

The offer from the clearinghouse for hacked and leaked documents was made Tuesday on Twitter, but it came after Roger Stone, a one-time adviser to Republican nominee Donald Trump, alleged on Twitter that Hillary Clinton was responsible for Seth Rich’s death.

Rich, 27, from Nebraska, had worked at the Democratic National Committee on a database to expand voter registration.

He was shot dead in what Washington, D.C., police have said was possibly a botched robbery while he was walking home before dawn on July 10.

Stone said Rich was on his way to meet with the FBI. Stone provided no evidence for his claim.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in an interview on Netherlands TV suggested that Rich may have been a source for the leaks clearinghouse.

“We are investigating what happened with Seth Rich. We think it is a concerning situation,” Assange said in comments posted by BuzzFeed. “There is not a conclusion yet; we are not willing to state a conclusion, but we are concerned about it. And more importantly, a variety of WikiLeaks sources are concerned when that kind of thing happens.”

Assange would not say outright if Rich was a source, at one point saying “others have suggested” that Rich was murdered.

Stone said in a speech Monday that he was in touch with Assange about releasing documents that could damage the Clinton campaign.

WikiLeaks last month released Democratic National Committee emails that revealed antagonism among the DNC leadership toward underdog candidate Bernie Sanders, who earlier in the month had conceded the nomination to Clinton. The revelations led to the resignation of top DNC staff members.

U.S. authorities have said it is likely the emails were the result of a hack originating in Russia. No one has alleged involvement of a DNC staffer.

Democrats and Clinton have said they believed the Russian government was involved in the hacking, and Clinton’s defenders on social media have alleged that Assange has worked in cahoots with the Russians. Wikileaks and Assange in recent days have repeatedly attacked Clinton and the DNC.

Stone in the same tweet blamed Clinton for the Aug. 1 death of Victor Thorn, a writer who, like Stone, engaged in conspiracy theories focused on the Clintons. Thorn also peddled Holocaust denial. His death was ruled a suicide.

Norovirus strikes Jewish camp in Texas

Wed, 08/10/2016 - 05:00

(JTA) — More than 100 campers and staff at a Union for Reform Judaism overnight camp in Bruceville, Texas, were stricken with the norovirus.

The outbreak on the final days of the session at URJ Greene Family Camp meant many campers and staff left earlier than the Aug. 2 closing, according to the Jewish Herald-Voice of Houston.

The cause of the outbreak wasn’t clear; more than 400 others in camp were not affected by the virus.

Symptoms of the norovirus infection include gastrointestinal issues like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea that typically resolve in 24 to 48 hours.

Staff worked around the clock to maintain the camp schedule, care for the sick campers and prevent further outbreaks by disinfecting cabins, bathrooms and other facilities, the Herald-Voice reported.

“Our staff was remarkable and the kids were great,” camp director Loui Dobin said. “We are thankful that we have a great staff.”

Fathers of AMIA bombing victims added as plaintiffs in investigation of possible coverup

Thu, 08/04/2016 - 03:48

Participants in a memorial ceremony on the 22nd anniversary of the AMIA Jewish Center bombing in Buenos Aires hold photos of some of the 85 victims on July 18, 2016. (Leonardo Kremenchuzky courtesy of AMIA)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (JTA) — The fathers of two AMIA Jewish center bombing victims have been named as plaintiffs in a case against former Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, which could reopen the investigation of the government’s role into a possible cover-up of Iran’s part in the 1994 bombing.

That investigation was being led by Alberto Nisman, a Jewish prosecutor who was found dead on Jan. 18, 2015 hours before he was to present his allegations of a secret deal to cover up Iranian officials’ alleged role in the bombing. His allegations named Kirchner, former Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and their government.

Whether Nisman’s shooting death in his own apartment was murder or self-inflicted has yet to be determined.

A federal judge subsequently dismissed Nisman’s complaint against Kirchner and other government officials for lack of evidence.

On Tuesday, however, Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio accepted a request made by two fathers of AMIA bombing victims to be considered as plaintiffs in a renewed case against Kirchner and Timerman, along with members of Congress who in February 2103 voted for a controversial memorandum of understanding with Iran that initiated a joint investigation of the AMIA attack. The memorandum was criticized by the United States and Jewish leaders, among others, for involving the Iranian regime in the search for answers surrounding the bombing.

The memorandum of understanding was voided in December by Argentine President Mauricio Macri, a week after he took office.

Since December, Judge Bonadio has been in charge of investigating a complaint based on secretly recorded phone conversations from 2012 in which Timerman, who is Jewish and was negotiating the agreement with Tehran, seemed to acknowledge that Iran was responsible for the bombing. Critics of Timerman say the conversation confirms his intention to whitewash Tehran’s role.

The two plaintiffs are Luis Czyzewski and Mario Averbuch, fathers of Paola Czyzewski and Yanina Averbuch, who died in the 1994 terrorist attack that killed 85 people. In a written request, the fathers asked the judge to analyze the 2015 Nisman complaint against the last Argentinean administration.

Simultaneously, the Argentinean Jewish political umbrella DAIA asked Federal Judge Daniel Rafecas to reopen the investigation.

Rafecas, the judge who rejected the Nisman accusation, ruled in March that no new evidence has come to light and that the case is already closed due to the absence of a proven criminal offense.

Report: UK anti-Semitic incidents up by 11 percent in 2016

Wed, 08/03/2016 - 18:00

Jewish men walking along the street in the Stamford Hill area of London, Jan. 17, 2015. (Rob Stothard/Getty Images)

(JTA) — The debate in British media about anti-Semitism within the Labour Party coincided with an 11-percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the first six months of 2016, a watchdog group said.

The Community Security Trust, or CST, registered 557 anti-Semitic incidents in that period, compared to 500 in the first half of 2015. The CST’s interim incidents report for 2016 was published Thursday.

The 557-incident total is the second-highest CST has ever recorded in the January-June period of any year, after 629 incidents recorded in the first half of 2009.

“There is no obvious single cause for the increase in recorded anti-Semitic incidents, most of which came in April, May and June,” CST wrote in a statement about the report. In an indirect reference to the debate over Labour, the statement also read: “This was a period when antisemitism, racism and extremism were reported and discussed prominently in the national media.”

The debate was over the role of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a left-wing politician who was elected as party head last year. A harsh critic of Israel, he was accused by Jewish community representatives as well as senior Labour members and backers of generating an atmosphere that encouraged expressions of anti-Semitism among his supporters with statements against the Jewish state and in favor of the terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas.

Corbyn has disputed this, although last month he also said he regrets calling Hezbollah and Hamas his “friends.” He has suspended dozens of Labour members who made anti-Semitic and harshly anti-Israel statements, including former London mayor Ken Livingstone, who in May implied Adolf Hitler was a Zionist.

Separately, Labour lawmaker Jan Royall  confirmed in a report about anti-Semitism in her party’s Oxford University chapter that some of that chapter’s members engaged in anti-Semitic acts, though she said the club was not “institutionally anti-Semitic.”

Royall’s report, published Wednesday by The Jewish Chronicle, does not include examples of the anti-Semitic incidents .

Reports of anti-Semitism at the Oxford chapter were among the developments that led to intense media coverage of Labour’s anti-Semitism problem. In February, the former co-chair of the chapter, Alex Chalmers, resigned because of anti-Semitic behavior by some members, triggering a probe by the party’s leaders in London.

Chalmers said some students repeatedly sang “rockets over Tel Aviv” and ridiculed Jews who felt concerned about this. Others used the term “Zio” — short for Zionist – to deride Jews.

The first half of 2016 also saw a polarizing debate in the United Kingdom about whether the country should exit the European Union, a decision favored by 52 percent of voters in a national referendum that took place on June 23.

According to CST and police figures, Britain saw a considerable increase in xenophobic incidents following the vote, where immigration was a central theme. Jews, however, were not singled out for such attacks after the vote on the British exit, or Brexit.

NY State Fair to sell deep-fried matzah balls — and they’re kosher

Wed, 08/03/2016 - 05:05

NEW YORK (JTA) — Kosher-observant Jews will, for the first time ever, be able to buy food at the New York State Fair this summer. And not just any food, but deep-fried matzah balls with ranch dressing.

According to Syracuse.com, The Oaks at Menorah Park in Syracuse will be the first certified kosher food vendor at the fair, held in Syracuse from Aug. 25 to Sept. 5.

A spokesperson for the State Fair told Syracuse.com it had been searching for a kosher vendor for a long time, part of an effort to cater to diverse dietary needs. Last year, the fair added a vegan vendor.

In addition to matzah balls, the menu will include deep-fried apple blintzes, deep-fried cheese-filled knishes and non-fried items, like lox, bagels and Israeli salad.

T’ruah calls for censure of two rabbis for ‘denigrating’ remarks

Fri, 07/22/2016 - 05:00

(JTA) — T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights is urging action in Israel against two rabbis who made “denigrating” comments about LGBT people and women, among other comments that stirred controversy in recent days.

The rabbinic network, which represents some 1,800 rabbis in North America, said in a release Thursday that the Israel Defense Forces should rescind Rabbi Eyal Karim’s appointment as the chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, and end government funding for the pre-military academy headed by Rabbi Yigal Levinstein.

“In a military organization which bills itself as ‘the most moral army in the world,’ people who serve as religious authorities must reflect the highest ethical standards of Judaism, be committed to the spiritual well-being of all members of the military, and consistently teach respect for human life,” according to a petition that T’ruah said had 300 signatures by Thursday afternoon.

“Instead, Rabbi Karim and Rabbi Levinstein have made statements denigrating LGBT people and women, and permitting the killing of wounded attackers and innocent civilians, all of which goes against the IDF’s own code of ethics as well as Jewish law.”

Karim, who was tapped last week for the chief rabbi post, is under fire for having said on a religious website that soldiers should disobey orders if they contradict Jewish law. Karim also presented the apparent justification for the rape of non-Jewish women during wartime.

The IDF’s chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, said that after meeting with Karim he would continue to support his nominee.

Levinstein, who runs the Bnei David academy, a pre-military yeshiva in the West Bank settlement of Eli, has been the subject of public condemnation since a video speech surfaced on Sunday in which he called homosexuals “perverts.” He also claimed the Israeli army is promoting a socially liberal agenda and said the Reform movement isn’t Jewish but an offshoot of Christianity.

The army reportedly said it will reevaluate its collaboration with Levinstein, although there may be no legal grounds for withholding his funding, defense ministry officials said.

On Wednesday night, Haaretz reported, 300 rabbis signed a petition in support of Levinstein, supporting his condemnation of “behavior which celebrates a lifestyle contrary to human morality and the path of the Torah.”

Pokémon Go game leads to body’s discovery behind New Hampshire Holocaust museum

Fri, 07/15/2016 - 09:16

A man holding up his cell phone with a screen shot of the Pokémon Go game in front of the White House in Washington, DC, July 12, 2016. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

(JTA) —  A person playing the Pokémon Go game on his smartphone discovered a dead human body behind a Holocaust Memorial in New Hampshire.

A young man found the body floating in Salmon Brook near Rotary Common Park in Nashua, New Hampshire, while hunting for cartoon monsters using the Pokémon Go app, WMUR reported Thursday.

Authorities were called and dive teams retrieved the body from the water, according to the local station. The victim has not been identified.

The area is located next to the New Hampshire Holocaust Memorial, according to the WMUR television station.

The location has attracted a lot of Pokémon Go players, witnesses say, suggesting it is one of the local landmarks highlighted in the game.

A high-tech scavenger hunt, Pokémon Go takes place out of doors, and sends users to PokéStops — real-life places marked as checkpoints by the game — to get in-game items. The game uses the smartphone’s camera, which records the players’ environment. The characters show up on smartphones, superimposed on the real-life landscape.

“It’s my understand that the person who found the victim was playing the Pokémon game,” Robert Giggi of the Nashua Police Department, told the station.

It’s the second time a body has been found by someone playing Pokémon Go since the wildly popular app’s release in the United States on July 6. Last Friday morning, a teenage girl in Wyoming stumbled across a dead body floating in a river while searching for a character.

On Wednesday, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland said it is not allowing people to play the game on their smartphones during visits to the former Nazi German death camp because it is “disrespectful on many levels.” Several of the game’s users reported sighting the game’s characters at Auschwitz.