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U.S. accidentally killed Jewish hostage in al-Qaida raid, White House says

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 09:43

Warren Weinstein, who had been held hostage by al-Qaida, was killed along with Italian hostage Giovanni Lo Porto. (YouTube)

(JTA) – U.S. forces accidentally killed Warren Weinstein, the Jewish-American government contractor who had been held hostage by al-Qaida since 2011, the White House acknowledged.

Weinstein was killed along with Italian hostage Giovanni Lo Porto, held captive since 2012, in a drone strike in January in which U.S. forces targeted an al-Qaida-linked compound in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area, the White House said Thursday in a statement.

U.S. forces did not know the two hostages were present and President Barack Obama “takes full responsibility” for their deaths, the statement said.

Obama in a statement Thursday said, “Since 9/11, our counterterrorism efforts have prevented terrorist attacks and saved innocent lives both here in America, and around the world. And that determination to protect innocent life only makes the loss of these two men especially painful for all of us.”

The statement said Obama spoke with Weinstein’s widow, Elaine, and the prime minister of Italy, Matteo Renzi, on Wednesday.

“As a husband and as a father, I cannot begin to imagine the anguish that the Weinstein and Lo Porto families are enduring today,” the president said. “I realize that there are no words that can ever equal their loss. I know that there is nothing that I can ever say or do to ease their heartache.”

Weinstein, 73, of Rockville, Md., was kidnapped in August 2011 in Lahore, Pakistan, while working for J.E. Austin Associates, a private company that advises Pakistani businesses. Weinstein also had worked with the Peace Corps and with USAID, and prior to his abduction had spent seven years in Pakistan working to improve local communities through projects related to dairy production, farming and health care, according to his family.

U.S. officials said they would not negotiate with al-Qaida for his release as a matter of policy when it comes to hostages.

During his captivity, Weinstein appeared in several videos appealing directly to U.S. and even Israeli officials. As time progressed, Weinstein appeared with a beard that grew longer and grayer with time.

In a September 2012 video addressed to Israel’s prime minister, Weinstein said, “As a Jew, I am appealing to you, Prime Minister Netanyahu, the head of the Jewish State of Israel, as one Jew to another, to please intervene on my behalf, to work with the mujahadeen and to accept their demands, so that I can be released and returned to my family, see my wife, my children and my grandchildren again.”

Two other Americans who belonged to al-Qaida, Ahmed Farouq and Adam Gadah, were killed in U.S. operations in the same region, though they were not specifically targeted or known to be in the area, according to the White House.

The information about the January raid had been classified until now. Even though the raid was “lawful and conducted consistent with our counterterrorism policies,” the White House said, the government is conducting a “thorough independent review” of the incident.

Portugal’s oldest standing shul reopened on remote island

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 09:28

(JTA) — Dozens of Portuguese Jews were set to convene on an island in the Atlantic Ocean for the rededication of the country’s oldest intact synagogue.

Thursday’s rededication ceremony at the Sahar Hassamain synagogue on Sao Miguel, located 900 miles west of Lisbon, follows renovations that began last year. The repairs cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to Jose Oulman Carp, president of the Jewish Community of Lisbon.

“The renovation has been completed in a very thorough and professional manner with a lot of help from the United States, from descendants of the big community of Jews from the Azores archipelago there,” said Oulman, who traveled on Wednesday to attend the inauguration in Sao Miguel with other dignitaries from his community of 800.

Among the representatives of the American contingent at the inauguration in Ponta Delgada, the island’s capital, was Gideon Gradman, president of the Azorean-Jewish Heritage Foundation, which has several members from Massachusetts. Michael Rodrigues, a Massachusetts state senator, was scheduled to attend.

Sahar Hassamain, which was founded in the early 19th century, is Portugal’s oldest standing synagogue, according to the Jewish Heritage Europe website.

The building– a small space with a residential design and two patios — was restored to function as an Orthodox synagogue. But Sao Miguel has only one Jew living there, George Delmar, and part of the building’s space will function as a museum and library of Jewish scripture, Oulman Carp said.

“It will encourage Jewish tourism to the Azores and facilitate matters for Jews who want to observe Shabbat,” he added.

Delmar kept the key to the synagogue, which he gave to the municipality when it began repairing the building.

Lisbon’s Jewish community, which owns the property, has leased it to the municipality for 99 years.

Interest in restoring the synagogue peaked after the publication in 2009 of a book about it by historian Jose de Almeida Mello. The author also proposed a renovation scheme for the synagogue, which last served as a place of worship 50 years ago and had fallen into severe disrepair.

On Independence Day, thousands of Arab-Israelis march for Palestinians’ right of return

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 09:07

(JTA) — Several thousand Arab-Israelis at a protest march in the Galilee on Israel’s Independence Day commemorated Palestinian villages destroyed in 1948.

Near Tiberias, the participants in Thursday’s March of Return, as organizers called it, carried Palestinian Authority flags and chanted slogans on the need to fight court-ordered demolitions of homes of perpetrators of terrorist acts, according to the news site Ynet.

Israelis celebrate their country’s independence on the the Hebrew date of Israel’s declaration of independence, the fifth of Iyar. The holiday was celebrated this year a day earlier out of consideration for Jews who observe the Sabbath.

In 1948, the year that Israel was established, Iyar 5 fell on May 15. Palestinians commemorate May 15 as a day of mourning, which they call Nakba Day. Nakba is the Arabic word for catastrophe.

Israel’s victory in its War for Independence resulted in the departure of approximately 700,000 Palestinians from present-day Israel.

Officially, the Palestinian Authority is conditioning a final peace agreement with Israel on the return to its territory of any refugees still alive and at least 3 million of their descendants, which the Palestinians say have a right to settle in Israel as well. Unofficially, negotiators say Ramallah will agree to compromise on what it calls the right of return.

“The march is the biggest event to commemorate the Palestinian Nakba and to call for the implementation of the Right of Return for the Palestinian refugees and the internally displaced,” organizers of the event from the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced wrote in invitations to the march.

Zochrot, a Tel Aviv-based group devoted to raising awareness to the Nakba among Jews, arranged for transportation from Tel Aviv to the march.

Organizers did not say why April 23 was selected over May 15.

Brazilian Jews lobby in favor of controversial anti-terror bill

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 06:33

(JTA) — Brazil’s Jewish defense minister, Jaques Wagner, told local Jews that he supports passing controversial anti-terrorist legislation favored by their community’s leadership.

Wagner, who was made minister in December, confirmed his support for the bill during a meeting last week in Brasilia with Fernando Lottenberg, president of the CONIB umbrella group representing communities and groups belonging to Brazil’s Jewish community, CONIB wrote in a statement Wednesday.

Proponents of the bill, initiated in 2013 by coalition senators, say it is necessary because it will empower authorities to crack down on terrorist groups before they actually carry out violence — for example at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Citing the absence of definitions for what constitutes terrorism, activists and other critics worry it could be abused to stifle dissent at a time when Brazil’s cities repeatedly are being rocked by street riots over perceived failures in government spending, including on the Olympics.

The bill, which is pending review by the senate’s human rights commission, was fast-tracked last year after a cameraman, Santiago Andrade, was fatally wounded in a street riot.

Still, CONIB, which has long expressed its concern over the presence of Hezbollah and other terrorist operatives in the South American country, supports the legislation and defines it as urgent, according to a CONIB statement from April 15. CONIB is also lobbying for a law that would ban Holocaust denial in Brazil.

The CONIB leaders’ meeting with Wagner coincided with a diplomatic mission to Brazil by the American Jewish Committee.

AJC Executive Director David Harris said the AJC delegation expressed “admiration for Brazil’s pluralistic values and support for coexistence and peace,” but also raised during the meeting with Wagner Brazil’s consistent voting in favor of anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations.

Netanyahu’s Independence Day message praises troops’ ‘fighting spirit’ in Gaza

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 06:29

Israelis watching fireworks in Tel Aviv as Israel celebrates its Independence Day, April 22, 2015. (Danielle Shitrit/Flash 90)

(JTA) — In his Independence Day address, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the fighting spirit of troops in Gaza.

Netanyahu’s praises came in the Hebrew-language version of a video released by his office at the start of Israel’s 67th Independence Day, which this year fell on Thursday. The English-language version contains no such reference but celebrates the right of Jews living outside Israel to immigrate there, or make aliyah.

“Last summer, during Operation Protective Edge, we saw your fighting spirit, your camaraderie, your bravery,” Netanyahu said in the introduction part of the Hebrew-language video, which Netanyahu began with a message addressed to members of the security forces. “You are the first element of Israel’s security and its independence.”

Israel has faced international criticism for its military operation last summer in Gaza against Hamas, which left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead, and has disputed claims by the Palestinians and others that it committed widespread war crimes.

“When we look at the countries around us, we see how exceptional Israel is — a vibrant democracy with equal rights to all its citizens,” Netanyahu said. “Israel is at the forefront of the world’s technology.”

Unlike the Hebrew address, Netanyahu’s English-language video also celebrates how Israel gives Jews “the right to make aliyah and be part of the modern State of Israel.”

It further differs from the Hebrew-language version in that it says specifically that Arab-Israelis are “equal under the law.”

Last month, Netanyahu urged voters to elect his party, Likud, because Arabs, he said, were showing up in great numbers to vote with help from left-wing groups. The statement spurred many Israeli politicians and opinion-shapers — as well as U.S. officials — to accuse Netanyahu of eroding democratic values, and he later apologized for the offense it caused.

Obama: Meeting with Netanyahu only after nuke talks deadline

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 06:18

(JTA) — President Barack Obama reportedly said he will not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the June 30 deadline for the Iran nuclear talks.

Obama told Jewish leaders last week that a face-to-face meeting with Netanyahu would probably end with Netanyahu publicly complaining about the president’s policies on Iran, unnamed sources familiar with the meeting told The New York Times.

For now, the president said, he would speak with Netanyahu over the telephone and an Oval Office invitation would wait until after the deadline for negotiating the details of the Iran deal, according to the Times article published Thursday.

The meeting came amid a White House push to tamp down its confrontations with Israel following a rare flash of public exasperation with an ally, the Times reported.

The White House also is engaged in an aggressive effort to assuage the concerns of Jewish-American groups and pro-Israel members of Congress over the agreement, which Israel opposes because it offers Iran sanctions relief while allowing it to keep its nuclear infrastructure and to continue to enrich some uranium.

Netanyahu, who in March decried the deal in a controversial speech he gave to Congress against the White House’s wishes, has said these terms and others risked making Iran a threshold nuclear power ready to weaponize its nuclear program so fast that world powers would be helpless to stop a breakout.

But U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said Iran already has a breakout capability of several months and that the deal would increase that time to a minimum of a year. And Obama described the deal as “our best bet by far to make sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon.”

Survey: Jews, Buddhists are biggest U.S. supporters of gay marriage

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 15:55

NEW YORK (JTA) – Jews are overwhelmingly supportive of same-sex marriage, according to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.

Of the 724 Jews surveyed, 47 percent said they strongly favor allowing same-sex couples to marry legally and 30 percent said they favor it. Nine percent of respondents said they oppose gay marriage, and the same percentage said they strongly oppose it.

The survey, which had its results released on Wednesday, drew on 40,000 interviews among a random sample of Americans from April 2014 to early January 2015.

After Buddhists, Jews were more likely than any other religious group to support gay marriage. Among the survey respondents, 84 percent of Buddhists favored gay marriage, followed by Jews and the religiously unaffiliated, 77 percent; mainline Protestants (Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Unitarians), 62 percent; and Catholics, 61 percent.

Those opposed to gay marriage outnumbered supporters among Jehovah’s Witnesses, with 75 percent opposed; Mormons, 68 percent; and white evangelicals, 66 percent.

Overall, support for same-sex marriage rose sharply from 2003, when Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to legalize gay marriage. Then, less than one-third of Americans supported gay marriage and 59 percent opposed. By early 2014, 53 percent supported gay marriage and 41 percent were opposed.

Early 2014 survey data showed support for gay marriage highest in the Northeast, at 60 percent, and lowest in the South, 48 percent. Politically, gay marriage had support levels in 2014 of 64 percent among Democrats, 57 percent among independents and 34 percent among Republicans. The 2014 survey also showed a significant age gap, with 69 percent of millennials supporting gay marriage compared to 37 percent of those age 68 and older.

Anti-Semitism watchdogs rap Northwestern’s president over handling of swastikas

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 11:58

(JTA) — A group of 23 anti-Semitism watchdog groups called on Northwestern University’s president to take additional steps to combat anti-Semitism on campus following swastika incidents.

In a letter to Morton Schapiro, the groups said that they were concerned about a letter Schapiro sent to the campus community after two swastikas were found last week in the university library, the Daily Northwestern reported Tuesday.

“While we are pleased that you issued a statement, we are concerned that your message neglected to publicly acknowledge that a swastika is an anti-Semitic symbol associated with genocide perpetrated against the Jewish people,” the letter said.

The letter also called on Schapiro to educate the university’s staff in recognizing anti-Semitic hate crimes and designate resources to educating students about discrimination against Jews.

In a response obtained by the Daily Northwestern, Schapiro said he was not concerned about any threats to the safety of Jewish students on campus. He said that the university would take action to ensure the safety of its students if such a threat existed.

In his letter to the campus community, Schapiro, who is Jewish, called the swastika incident “offensive to the entire Northwestern community.”

Israel critic Cornel West to speak at UCLA Heschel forum, despite protests

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 11:52

(JTA) — Academic and author Cornel West, an outspoken critic of Israel, will remain as a speaker at a UCLA conference honoring the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, despite protests from the campus Jewish community.

The May 3 conference, titled “Moral Grandeur & Spiritual Audacity,” is organized by the UCLA Jewish studies department. Among the other speakers and panelists are David Myers, a UCLA professor; Heschel’s daughter, Susannah Heschel, a professor at Dartmouth College; and Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum.

West’s participation was first reported by the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.

“It is with dismay that we have been confronted by the outrageous pronouncements of Cornel West, a keynote speaker at the Heschel Conference,” the leadership of Hillel at UCLA said in a statement released Tuesday. The statement called West’s recent statements concerning Israel “an affront to Rabbi Heschel’s pursuit of truth.”

In recent months, West has spoken publicly in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. During Israel’s operation in Gaza last summer, the former Harvard professor called what he said was the Israeli “massacre” of Palestinians in Gaza “a crime against humanity.”

Todd Presner, director of UCLA’s Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, told the Jewish Journal on Tuesday that he does not plan to rescind the invitation, saying that West was asked to talk about Heschel and his relationship to the civil rights movement, not Israel. He pointed out that there are 25 other speakers coming to the symposium.

In an open letter to West published in the Jewish Journal, in which he referred to recent interviews in which West has slammed Israel, Judea Pearl, a UCLA professor and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, called on West to “excuse yourself from delivering this lecture.”

“No matter how eloquent your speech and how crafty your words, the audience you will face at UCLA will not be able to take them too seriously in light of your recent decision to become a leading propagandist for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement,” Pearl wrote.

Last month, Presner canceled a prestigious lecture he was to deliver at the University of Illinois over its withdrawal of a job offer to Steven Salaita, a harsh critic of Israel.

Pope Francis to bestow knighthood on New York rabbi

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 11:25

NEW YORK (JTA) – Pope Francis will confer papal knighthood on Rabbi Arthur Schneier of Manhattan’s Park East Synagogue.

Schneier, the founder of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation and a Holocaust survivor, is being honored for his work promoting peace and mutual understanding, according to Vatican officials. Schneier will formally become a knight of Saint Sylvester at a ceremony on April 27 at the official residence of the Vatican’s representative to the United Nations, Archbishop Bernardito Auza. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York is slated to be present.

Other members of the Order of Saint Sylvester include the late entertainer Bob Hope and Oskar Schnidler, the German industrialist credited with saving more than 1,000 Jews from the Nazis.

“Pope Francis is bestowing the honor on Rabbi Arthur Schneier, who has worked unceasingly to promote peace and mutual understanding, in the firm conviction that respect for fundamental human rights, including religious freedom, are indispensable values for all peoples of the world to enjoy peace, security and shared prosperity,” Auza said in a statement. “A Holocaust survivor, Rabbi Schneier has always held this conviction in his heart and made it a principle of life.”

When the last pope, Benedict XVI, visited New York in April 2008, he visited Schneier’s synagogue, where the two exchanged gifts. Schneier was given a replica of a medieval Jewish manuscript from the Vatican library, and the pope received a seder plate, a Haggadah and a box of matzah.

WikiLeaks dump shows Sony concerned by its cameras used in Gaza bombings

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 11:12

(JTA) — Sony Pictures Entertainment executives were concerned about a news report that showed one of its cameras being used to guide Israeli rockets bombing Gaza.

Correspondence about the situation from last August was part of the release by WikiLeaks last week of more than 173,000 emails and more than 30,000 company documents.

The story was first reported by the Electronic Intifada.

The correspondence among Michael Lynton, the company’s CEO; Stevan Bernard, its head of corporate security; and David Diamond, executive assistant to the company chairman, included a link to an Iranian Press TV report in which the reporter held up a part of a bomb fired by Israel on Gaza during last summer’s conflict and said it contained a camera marked Sony.

Sony has told Japanese media that it does not design, manufacture or sell any products intended for use in weapons, according to Electronic Intifada.

The document dump also includes correspondence showing actress Natalie Portman hosting an event last year for J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group.

Israel’s president thanks Diaspora supporters in Independence Day message

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 10:12

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel will forever be indebted to its friends and supporters abroad, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said in an Independence Day message to Diaspora communities.

“As we look to the year ahead, we are all aware of the difficult challenges that lie before us, both internally and externally,” said Rivlin, who is in his first year as president. “We can overcome these obstacles, as we always have done, together, with mutual respect and understanding.

“Together we can work to ensure that Israel fulfills its promise of a Jewish and democratic country, with equality and freedoms for all its citizens. This is my hope, my prayer, and my mission, and I know it is yours, too.”

In the message, Rivlin called Israeli independence “the accomplishment of a 2,000-year-old dream.”

He also released a video on YouTube offering greetings from Israel to “friends in Israel and around the world.”

Israel Independence Day begins Wednesday at sundown with a ceremony at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

Israel sends delegation to Armenia for rites marking mass WWI killings

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 10:07

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel has sent an official delegation to ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the mass murder of Armenians by Turkish forces during World War I.

Armenia will hold ceremonies over the weekend to mark the tragedy, which some call the Armenian Genocide. Israel has resisted calling the event a genocide.

“Israel must reconsider its position on whether the time has come to recognize the fact that an Armenian genocide occurred,” said Knesset member Nachman Shai of the Zionist Camp, who will represent Israel at ceremonies and events in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital. “As Jews, we must recognize it.

“This is especially true during these days, when we mark Holocaust Remembrance Day. Participation in the events in Armenia is a clear and strong statement by the Israeli Knesset, which has repeatedly remembered the Armenian victims, that it is obligated to reopen the matter.”

Anat Berko of the Likud party also will represent Israel at the commemorations.

President Barack Obama also has avoided calling the killings a genocide, despite his 2008 pledged that he would.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who is Jewish, will represent the United States in Armenia for the commemoration.

Jewish Agency recognizes Diaspora terror victims

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 08:29

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Jewish Agency for Israel remembered the victims of anti-Semitic attacks outside of Israel at a ceremony in Jerusalem on Israel’s Memorial Day.

Wednesday’s memorial focused on the victims of the terror attack on the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris in which four Jewish men were killed, and an attack on a Copenhagen synagogue that left a volunteer security guard dead.

Family members of the victims of the two attacks attended the ceremony at the Jewish Agency headquarters.

“We have discovered that the battlefield is not on the borders of Israel but in every Israeli city, and we furthermore discovered, once again, that the battlefield is not only on Israeli soil, but in every Jewish school and synagogue, and even in kosher supermarkets around the world,” Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said at the ceremony.

“What protects us in Israel is conventional weapons: the power of the Israeli army. In the Diaspora, what protects us is an unconventional weapon: the solidarity of the Jewish people.”

Amedy Coulibaly, an Islamist, killed his Jewish victims at the Hyper Cacher market on the eastern edge of Paris during a daylong siege Jan. 9 and standoff with police. About a month later, the guard Dan Uzan was shot and killed outside the central Copenhagen shul, or Krystalgade Synagogue, by a lone Islamist gunman.

“My husband Phillipe was taken from me and from our children in the terrorist attack at Hyper Cacher in France. He was murdered for one reason: because he is a Jew,” said Valerie Braham, the widow of Philippe Braham. “The great hatred for the Jewish people entered my home and destroyed my family. It also touches every home and family in the Jewish people. Today we all feel the same pain.”

Female Arab-Israeli trailblazer among Independence Day torch lighters

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 07:13

JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Arab-Israeli woman will be among the 12 Israelis to light a torch at this year’s official Independence Day ceremony.

Lucy Aharish, 33, is the first Muslim-Arab news anchor on Israeli television. Her announcement as a torch lighter has raised the hackles of both the far right and far left, with the right saying she is not loyal enough to the state, and the left and Arab communities saying she has sold out to the Israeli establishment.

Israel will mark the start of Independence Day, or Yom Ha’atzmaut, on Wednesday evening at the close of the solemn Memorial Day observance with a ceremony at Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem.

Torch lighters are Israelis who have made significant contributions to the state.

Other torch lighters include Rami Levy, the philanthropic owner of a chain of discount supermarkets; Ehud Shabtai, the creator of the Waze navigation app; Dr. Danny Gold, creator of the Iron Dome anti-missile system; and Gal Lusky, the founder and CEO of Israel Flying Aid, which provides emergency disaster relief around the world.

The Ministerial Committee for Symbols and Ceremonies in announcing the torch lighters last month called Aharish a “trailblazing Muslim journalist, who brings a discourse of tolerance and interdenominational openness to Israel’s public agenda.”

Jewish groups to protest pro-Palestinian gathering in Berlin

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 06:45

BERLIN (JTA) — A coalition of Jewish and pro-Israel groups is planning to protest a pro-Palestinian event in Berlin that is alleged to have ties to Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran.

Fearing a resurgence of the hate speech and violence that marked last summer’s anti-Israel protests in Germany, the coalition named Berlin Against Hamas will protest on Saturday outside the Berlin Arena, where the 13th Conference of Palestinians in Europe is to be held. More than 3,000 people are expected at the conference, which is co-organized by the Palestinian Community of Germany and the British-based Palestinian Return Center.

Politicians from all parties represented in the Berlin legislature have added their support, the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee said in a statement.

According to the Berlin Department for Constitutional Protection, the conference has become “the most important activity of Hamas supporters” in the city.

“If political and legal means are not enough to stop this kind of event, then it’s time for the democratic civil society to show their true colors,” Deidre Berger, AJC’s director in Berlin, said in the statement accompanying the protest call.

Sebastian Mohr, spokesman for the Berlin Against Hamas initiative, applauded the readiness of politicians and NGOs to take a stand “against the hate of the terrorist Islamist group Hamas.”

Volker Beck, a Green Party legislator and chair of the German-Israeli Parliamentary Group in the German Bundestag, said in the joint statement that the conference “does not further either peace in the Mideast or the legitimate interests in peace and security for Palestinians or Israelis. Just the opposite: it’s a place where prejudices are stoked and, even worse, Hamas’ terror and violence is legitimized or even glorified.”

The Berlin Arena’s managing director, Jana Seifert, told the German news agency dpa that government authorities had investigated but did not find any connections between the conference organizers and Hamas.

Nevertheless, Seifert said the venue insisted on contractual assurances from the organizers that the program would not break the law. It is illegal in Germany to incite violence or hatred based on such categories as religion, ethnic or racial origin, or sexual orientation.

It would also be illegal to incite hate against Israel: Earlier this year, a court in Essen set a legal precedent by finding a defendant guilty of incitement to anti-Semitism by calling for “death and hate to Zionists.”

Meanwhile, Berlin police said there also will be a demonstration in central Berlin on April 25, the Day of Palestinian Prisoners. Organizers registered some 3,000 participants.

Spy for Iran convicted in Israel

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 05:57

JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Iranian-Belgian national was convicted of spying for Iran in an Israeli court.

Ali Mansouri, 56, a native of Iran, was convicted of espionage and aiding an enemy in wartime in Central District Court in Lod on Tuesday. He was sentenced to seven years in prison as part of a plea bargain agreement.

The court determined that the information Mansouri passed Tehran was of “limited value,” Reuters reported.

Mansouri was arrested on Sept. 11, 2013 at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv. He was carrying photographs of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and other sensitive sites in Israel.

Iran reportedly Mansouri the previous year. He acquired Belgian citizenship by marrying a Belgian woman in 2005, divorcing her a year later and changing his name.

Traveling in Israel as Belgian businessman Alex Mans, Mansouri is believed to have been spying on Israel for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. He reportedly told Israeli investigators that he was promised about $1 million for his services.

Father of 7 kids killed in Brooklyn house fire prays at their Jerusalem graves

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 05:35

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The father of the seven children who died in a Brooklyn house fire returned to the Jerusalem cemetery where they are buried to mark the shloshim, or 30 days since their death.

Dozens of men joined Gabriel Sassoon on Tuesday to pray at the children’s graves following his request for people to join him during an interview earlier in the day on a haredi Orthodox radio station, the Vos iz Neis news website reported.

The seven white headstones placed in one row each bear the name of one of the children followed by the words “pure soul.”

Sassoon was out of town at a religious conference when the fire consumed his home shortly after midnight on March 22. Officials have blamed an unattended hot plate warming Shabbat meals as the cause.

Sassoon’s wife, Gayle, and one of his daughters, Tziporah, 15, both escaped the blaze by leaping from the house.

Tziporah, who was badly burned, reportedly will come home from the hospital next week, according to VIN. Gayle Sassoon remains in a coma.

3 rabbis convicted in religious divorce ring

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 04:54

(JTA) — Three rabbis were convicted of planning to kidnap Jewish men in order to force them to grant their wives a religious writ of divorce.

The rabbis, who are Orthodox, were convicted late Tuesday in federal court in Trenton, New Jersey, of conspiracy to commit kidnapping. Two of the rabbis also were convicted of attempted kidnapping.

The jury debated for three days following a two-month trial in the case of Rabbis Jay Goldstein, 60, and Binyamin Stimler, 39, both of Brooklyn, New York, and Mendel Epstein, 69, of Lakewood, New Jersey, CBS New York reported.

The conspiracy charge carries a possible life sentence, Reuters reported, citing the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Sentencing was set for July 15.

The rabbis were part of a group of men, including at least one other rabbi, who operated a ring that kidnapped husbands and used violence, including beatings and stun guns, until the they agreed to the religious divorce.

Under Orthodox Jewish law, a wife cannot divorce without obtaining the writ, known as a get, from her husband. She also can not remarry in a Jewish ceremony without the get.

The ring was caught in an FBI sting operation in October 2013 in which federal agents posing as a Jewish woman and her brother sought the gang’s services. The “husband” was to be assaulted at a warehouse in Edison, New Jersey. When the other men arrived at the warehouse wearing masks and carrying rope, surgical knives and a screwdriver, they were arrested.

The convictions came three months after Rabbi Martin Wolmark, 56, of Monsey, New York, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges. He will be sentenced on May 18.

N.Y. transit authority must run ad that refers to killing Jews, judge rules

Tue, 04/21/2015 - 17:42

(JTA) — New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority must allow the display of an ad about Muslims killing Jews, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge John Koeltl in Manhattan on Tuesday deemed the ad, which includes the statement “Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah,” as protected speech under the First Amendment and said it must be run on public transportation.

Koeltl rejected the MTA argument that the ad could be seen as a call to violence against Jews and could incite terrorism.

The ad is sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which is headed by blogger Pamela Geller and is known for its sharp anti-Muslim rhetoric. The ad has run in other cities, including Chicago and San Francisco, without inciting violence.

The ruling will not be enforced for 30 days to allow MTA to appeal, Reuters reported.

The ad, which was rejected originally last September, includes a man wearing a scarf over his face and adds, “That’s his Jihad, what’s yours?”

The “Killing Jews” ad, as both sides are calling it, is part of a five-ad campaign parodying the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ “My Jihad” ads that have appeared on public transportation in other cities. The CAIR ads emphasize the nonviolent aspects of the term “jihad.”