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German minister lifts opposition to Jewish delegate on art restitution body

Thu, 05/26/2016 - 12:20

Monika Grutters and Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal in Berlin on May 24, 2016. (Courtesy of Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal)

(JTA) — In a reversal,  Germany’s culture minister said she favors including a Jewish community representative on the country’s controversial committee for restitution of Nazi-looted art.

Minister Monika Grütters said she supported adding a Jewish delegate during a meeting Tuesday with Yehuda Teichtal, a rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin. Teichtal’s office announced her decision on Thursday following his meeting with the minister.

The decision concerns the so-called Limbach Commission, which is an advisory commission on the return of cultural property seized as a result of Nazi persecution, and especially Jewish property.

Earlier this year, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder criticized the Limbach Commission as having “no teeth” as a mediator in controversial art restitution cases. He has lobbied for the inclusion of a representative of the Jewish community on the body.

But Grütters resisted these calls, telling the New York Times in March: “We did not do this, and for good reason,” because a Jewish member “would be the only voice who would be prejudiced.”

Named after its chairman, Jutta Limbach, the former head of the German Federal Constitutional Court, the committee has come under fire along with other restitution bodies following the 2012 discovery of 1,400 precious artworks in the possession of Cornelius Gurlitt, whose late father collected looted art on behalf of Nazi officials.

German authorities hid the discovery for approximately one year before a magazine broke the story.

Earlier this year, Lauder said the interim results of the investigation into the stash were “meager and not satisfactory.” Headed by a taskforce independent to the Limbach Commission, the probe flagged approximately 500 works in the Gurlitt trove that are under suspicion of being looted art and whose provenance the task force has been checking since 2013. Only a handful had been identified as stolen or returned.

During her meeting with Rabbi Teichtal, Grütters stated that she intends to “positively consider adding a member of the Jewish community to the committee board” in her forthcoming talks with the German states and municipalities, “in order to boost the confidence in the committee’s work and its transparency,” Teichtal’s office said in a statement.

“Minister Grütters is a true friend of the Jewish people and that if there are any arguments regarding certain issues, it is important to make sure that they are handled in the way arguments should be handled between friends,” Teichtal said.

US, Egypt discuss reviving Mideast peace talks while Netanyahu appoints hard-line minister

Wed, 05/18/2016 - 15:05

Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi speaking at a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (unseen) in Berlin, June 3, 2015. (Adam Berry/Getty Images)

(JTA) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi to discuss how to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, along with other shared concerns.

Meeting in Cairo Wednesday, Kerry “expressed his appreciation for [Sissi’s] recent statement of strong support for advancing Arab-Israeli peace,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

The statement did not provide details on any specific peace efforts under discussion, although on Tuesday Sissi expressed support for a French initiative to jump-start negotiations, an initiative Israel has opposed. Also not clear is whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans reported Wednesday to appoint right-wing politician Avigdor Liberman as defense minister will affect Egypt’s support for promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Sissi said Tuesday that Egypt would “make every effort” toward a solution. His announcement came hours after French President Francois Hollande said a summit of representatives of 20 countries that had been scheduled for May 30 would be postponed because Kerry cannot attend.

Describing the French initiative as a “real opportunity,” Sissi called on the sides to “please, reach an agreement so a solution can be found.”

In a statement of response issued Tuesday, Netanyahu thanked Sissi and said, “Israel is ready to participate with Egypt and other Arab states in advancing both the diplomatic process and stability in the region. I appreciate President el-Sissi’s work and also draw encouragement from his leadership on this important issue.”

It is not clear how Liberman’s ascent to the Defense Ministry — part of a restructuring in the Israeli governing coalition — will affect discussions with Egypt.

Liberman, of the hard-line nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, served as foreign minister from 2009-2015.

Netanyahu had sought Liberman as a partner since after the most recent elections in March 2015. But Liberman had criticized Netanyahu harshly over what he saw as his tepid conduct of the 2014 Gaza war. As coalition negotiations ended last year, Liberman chose to sit in the Knesset opposition, claiming the new government would not abide his hawkish principles.

Netanyahu had engaged in increasingly serious talks recently with the rival Labor Party. Labor chairman Isaac Herzog, whose poll numbers have only fallen since the 2015 elections, appeared eager to join the government. He hoped to serve as foreign minister and push Israel toward renewed negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

“Today is the day he gave up on the chance to lead a great change in our future,” Herzog said of Netanyahu in a Wednesday night news conference. “We will not give the crazy government of Liberman and [Education Minister Naftali] Bennett a day of silence. I will unite all the forces to turn their lives into a nightmare until we replace them.”

Liberman’s appointment will mean the ouster of the current defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, who had attempted to be a voice for moderation against critics to the government’s right.

Yaalon drew verbal fire from far-right activists after criticizing the soldier who killed an immobilized terrorist in Hebron in March. This month, he and Netanyahu clashed after Yaalon defended Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Yair Golan, who in a Holocaust Remembrance Day speech compared aspects of Israeli society to trends that occurred in 1930s Germany.

The pro-settler Jewish Home party, another coalition member, cheered Yaalon’s exit, approvingly calling the imminent government “the most right-wing ever in Israel.”

“Bogie is leaving, and that’s good,” Jewish Home said in a statement Wednesday, using Yaalon’s nickname, according to Israeli media reports. “This was a year of tremendous damage to the IDF. A year of abandoning soldiers, a year of a horrible culture in the army. Bogie needs to go home, and he’s going.”

Trump campaign withdraws support for white supremacist delegate

Wed, 05/11/2016 - 04:22

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaking at a campaign rally in Appleton, Wis., March 30, 2016. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Donald Trump’s campaign withdrew its support for a white supremacist as one of its California delegates.

William Johnson, the leader of the American Freedom Party, signed a pledge May 9 to support the presidential candidate as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in July.

In the story first reported by Mother Jones, Johnson applied for the campaign’s support as a delegate and was approved by the campaign’s California delegate coordinator, Katie Lagomarsino.

On May 10, a number of groups that monitor hate groups identified the American Freedom Party as white supremacist.

“We call on Donald Trump to renounce the support of the American Freedom Party and to remove its leader, William Johnson, from the Trump delegate slate in California,” the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement.

The same day, Trump’s campaign told Johnson he was no longer a delegate, and he willingly withdrew, saying he did not want to harm the campaign, according to the Daily Beast. However, it may be too late; the California secretary of state said the campaign missed the deadline to withdraw Johnson as a delegate and he remains formally listed, the Washington Post reported.

Trump’s campaign spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, told the Washington Post that Johnson’s inclusion on the campaign’s list of delegates from the state was a database error. California’s primary is on June 7, and voters will select delegates who will attend the convention in Cleveland.

Johnson, ahead of the Iowa caucuses in January, had paid for robocalls and radio time promoting Trump.

Trump, a real estate magnate and reality TV star, at the time disavowed the robocalls, which were not coordinated with his campaign.

Trump, who last week effectively secured the Republican nomination, last week disavowed praise from another white supremacist, David Duke.

‘Birthright for Jewish moms’ reaches out to Spanish-speakers

Wed, 05/04/2016 - 17:13

BUENOS AIRES (JTA) — The first Cuban delegation will participate in the “Birthright for Jewish moms” trip to Israel, as the sponsoring group works to expand its reach in Latin America.

Sponsored by the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, the participants in Momentum Israel, as the trip is actually called, will visit the country from May 9 to May 18, and will observe Israel’s Memorial Day and Independence Day.

“The Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project is investing in expanding our partnerships in Latin America, engaging Spanish-speaking translators, teachers and trip leaders,” Lori Palatnik, founding director of the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, told JTA.

The trip will be the first made up only of Spanish-speaking participants. Groups from all over Latin American will join the participants in Israel, including 10 people from Cancun, Mexico; 10 from Cuba; nine from Cordoba, Argentina; 56 from Mexico City; 23 from Panama City, and 20 from Santiago, Chile. A second Spanish-speaking group arriving on May 16 will include 28 participants from Mexico, 26 from Buenos Aires; 11 from Miami, and 10 from Madrid.

“In the synagogue in Havana, I saw four yartzeit boards with 200 plaques, remembering those from past generations. There were no bulbs beside the names, because you cannot buy them there. I took pictures of the socket, thinking I would buy bulbs in the U.S. and bring them back. But then I realized, those who founded the community are not asking for bulbs to be remembered, they are crying out for us to save their grandchildren and great-grandchildren from further assimilation,” Palatnik told JTA.

Since 2009, more than 7,300 women from 150 partner organizations in 26 countries have participated in Momentum Israel, according to the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project.

Galia Rubinstein, who oversees the group’s Latin American partnerships, underlined that growth in the region is an integral piece of this effort. “Our goal is to engage as many Jews as possible — where many are disconnected to Jewish values. We want to increase our presence in Latin America, as well as our impact,” Rubinstein told JTA.

Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs is partnering with the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project in bringing Jewish women on trips to Israel. The ministry announced in March a $12.5 million expansion of the program during the AIPAC policy conference in Washington. The Israeli government will provide $5.1 million and the group will raise the rest.


Gaza terror tunnel into Israel discovered

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 08:21

A previously discovered underground tunnel built by Hamas militants from the Gaza Strip into Israel, Aug. 4, 2014. (Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A Hamas-built tunnel from Gaza into Israel aimed at executing terror attacks has been discovered, the Israel Defense Forces said Monday.

The concrete-lined tunnel is the first to be found since Operation Protective Edge, the summer 2014 Gaza war, according to the IDF, which worked in conjunction with the Shin Bet security service in discovering the tunnel. The IDF said it has destroyed the tunnel openings on both the Israeli and Gazan sides.

In a statement Monday, the IDF said the tunnel was built by the terrorist organization Hamas “in order to infiltrate Israel and execute terror attacks against the people of the southern communities.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is “investing considerable capital” in countering the tunnels, and that the effort “will not end overnight.”

“Israel will respond strongly to any attempt to attack its soldiers and civilians,” he said in his own statement Monday. “I am certain that Hamas understands this very well.”

But Hamas vowed that the destruction of this tunnel did not signal an end to conflict, according to the Times of Israel.

“What the enemy has discovered is only a drop in the sea from what the resistance has prepared to defend its people, to liberate the holy places, its prisoners and land,” Hamas’s military wing said in a statement Monday.

The 2014 war, which saw more than 2,100 Palestinians and some 70 Israelis killed, was fought largely over the tunnels. Following several attempted infiltrations into Israel, the IDF invaded Gaza hoping to root out the tunnel network, resulting in brutal battles across the coastal territory. Israel withdrew after destroying or otherwise eliminating the threat of some three dozen tunnels.

The tunnel discovered Monday began in a southern Gaza residential neighborhood, according to Haaretz. On the Israel side it is located between the border fence Kibbutz Holit, as well as several Israeli military bases near the Gaza border, and was dug about 100 feet below ground. It is also hundreds of yards long, according to unnamed military sources quoted in the Israeli media.

It is not known when the tunnel was constructed and how many branches it has. Hamas officials reportedly said the tunnel was constructed before the 2014 war.