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Matisyahu ousted from Spanish festival for not endorsing Palestinian state

Sun, 08/16/2015 - 07:06

(JTA) — Matisyahu was disinvited from a Spanish music festival because he would not publicly endorse Palestinian statehood.

The Jewish-American reggae singer was scheduled to perform Aug. 22 at the Rototom Sunsplash festival in Benicassim, near Barcelona. But his show was canceled after he refused to release a public statement backing a Palestinian state, according to the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, which called the disinvitation a case of “anti-Semitic cowardice.”

The organizers had been pressured to disinvite Matisyahu by activists promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement against Israel, the report said.

“As Spaniards, we are ashamed of the organizers,” the Spanish federation’s statement said. “In this case, the BDS Movement employed all its anti-Semitic arsenal against the participation on Matthew Paul Miller,” using Matisyahu’s full name.

Matisyahu, a former Hasid, was the only festival performer asked to endorse a Palestinian state because he is Jewish, the federation said.

“Such acts violate fundamental human rights guaranteed by our constitution,” the statement said. According to the El Pais newspaper, other musicians threatened to cancel their performances unless Matisyahu made the declaration.

Matisyahu is not an Israeli citizen.

In a Facebook post Saturday about the decision, Rototom mentioned its “sensitivity to Palestine, its people and the occupation of its territory by Israel.”

2 Israeli soldiers wounded in stabbings, 1 assailant shot dead

Sun, 08/16/2015 - 06:44

TEL AVIV (JTA) — Two Israeli soldiers were wounded in separate West Bank stabbing attacks that resulted in the shooting of both teenage assailants, one fatally.

In the second of the attacks, on Saturday afternoon, a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli border policeman in the back during a routine security check in the northern West Bank, Israeli authorities said. The soldier was lightly wounded and taken to the hospital. The 16-year-old assailant was shot and died of his wounds.

That morning, a Palestinian stabbed a soldier who had turned around to get him the cup of water he had requested, the authorities said. The soldier was lightly wounded in the knife attack on a road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The assailant, 19, was shot and wounded.

Trump: Obama, Kerry ‘sold out’ Israel on Iran

Sun, 08/16/2015 - 06:03

(JTA) — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry hurt Israel through the recent agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.

“Israel was sold out by Kerry and Obama,” Trump said at an Iowa campaign event Saturday, according to The Jerusalem Post. “You cannot let Iran have a nuclear weapon. You can’t have it. When they march down the street saying ‘Death to Israel. Death to the United States.’ You can’t let that happen.”

Trump seemed to imply that he would take a tougher stance on Iran, pointing to himself and saying, “Believe me, it will not happen here.”

The billionaire real estate mogul is a vocal supporter of Israel and a harsh critic of Obama’s policy toward Israel. In a February interview, Trump said Obama “is the worst enemy of Israel.”

‘Schindler’s List’ producer raps pro-Iran deal letter by prominent L.A. Jews

Sun, 08/16/2015 - 05:38

(JTA) — A producer of the film “Schnidler’s List,” Gerald Molen, criticized an open letter signed by nearly 100 prominent Los Angeles Jews supporting the recent accord on Iran’s nuclear program.

Molen, who won an Academy Award for the 1993 film about the Holocaust, wrote an email opposing the agreement to LAJewishLeadersForIranDeal@gmail.com, the email account set up by the letter’s signatories, The Hollywood Reporter reported Friday. Molen wrote that Iran is not a trustworthy negotiating partner, and that the agreement will allow it to obtain nuclear weapons down the line.

Molen also expressed concern that Iran will use money freed up in the deal with the relief of sanctions to finance terrorism against Israel.

“Can we trust Iran? Do they not deny the Holocaust? Do they not invest in terror organizations?” Molen wrote, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “This will more than likely push the inevitable nuclear crises out of many of the signers’ lifetimes and onto the backs of their grandchildren or great-grandchildren.”

Molen, a critic of President Barack Obama, also produced “2016: Obama’s America,” an anti-Obama documentary written and directed by the conservative activist Dinesh D’Souza.

The open letter, published Thursday in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, has 98 signatories, including television producer Norman Lear, architect Frank Gehry and “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner. The letter says the agreement, which removes sanctions from Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear program, is the best way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“For far too long, Iran was actively developing and expanding its nuclear infrastructure, closing the gap to a nuclear weapon,” the letter says. “This agreement, negotiated by the United States, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Russia, halts and rolls back this dangerous march through verifiable and measured steps.”

U.S. Jewish institutions alerted after call for attacks by bin Laden’s son

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 13:28

NEW YORK (JTA) — The national Jewish community’s security arm asked Jewish institutions to be on the alert after Osama bin Laden’s son called for attacks on Jewish American interests.

The Secure Community Network alert Friday said that Hamza bin Laden, who has ambitions to lead al-Qaida, the terrorist organization founded by his father, posted an audio message calling “for the targeting of Jewish American interests globally.”

“Hamza also reportedly called for attacks on Washington, London, Paris and Tel Aviv,” the alert said.

The alert by SCN, an arm of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the audio message was confirmed by “reliable sources” in law enforcement and was recorded sometime before June 15.

“While there is no information at this time to suggest a credible or imminent threat as it relates to this call for attacks, terrorist leaders and organizations have stepped up their calls for lone wolf attacks across the globe,” said the alert, noting recent attacks on Garland, Texas, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, apparently carried out by unaffiliated individuals spurred by extremist Islamist calls for violence.

The alert called for increased training for volunteers and staff at Jewish institutions ahead of Rosh Hashanah, including establishing relationships with local law enforcement and reviewing communications and plans for responding to an active shooter.

Paul Goldenberg, SCN’s director, told JTA that the call by bin Laden might be a bid to draw attention to the once preeminent terrorist organization, now on the wane because of U.S. targeting, including the assassination of his father, as well as the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“This is not the first time that senior ranking members of al-Qaida have called for attacks on world or American Jewry,” Goldenberg said. “This individual and al-Qaida are waning. With that said, their rhetoric is becoming more incendiary with the hope they will move their masses.”

Goldenberg said that because there is no imminent threat against a specific target, it is key for Jews nonetheless to attend High Holidays services next month and not to be affected by terrorist rhetoric.

“The community has dealt with similar threats, we’re asking the community that they attend Rosh Hashanah services and celebrations and to continue to have whatever plans they had to enjoy and celebrate our New Year,” he said.

Reform movement urges Israel to re-examine African asylum policy

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 13:24

NEW YORK (JTA) — The Reform movement and Jewish refugee agency HIAS called on the Israeli government to re-examine its asylum policy for African migrants.

In a news release issued Friday, North America’s Union for Reform Judaism, its Israeli counterpart and HIAS, took issue with Israel’s “anti-infiltration law,” which allows the government to detain asylum-seekers for up to 20 months in a Negev facility. They also urged Israel to offer more services for African migrants.

The Israeli High Court of Justice ruled this week that provisions of the current law are unconstitutional. The Knesset has six months to revise the law, which passed its final readings in December.

Under the measure, an amendment to an existing infiltration law, illegal migrants can be held in closed detention centers for three months and then kept at the Holot open detention center in the Negev for up to 20 months,.

Noting that the groups are “longstanding friends of Israel and committed advocates for the well-being of the Jewish state,” Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs questioned why Israel approves a dramatically lower percentage of asylum applications from Eritreans and Sudanese than do other developed countries. 

“We are deeply concerned because Israel currently accepts less than 1 percent of refugee claims. In other developed countries, 82% of Eritrean applicants and 68% of Sudanese applicants are recognized as refugees,” Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, said in the news release, adding that the groups nonetheless “recognize that, with over 5,500 asylum seekers per 1,000,000 population, Israel has had to deal with more asylum seekers than the vast majority of other democracies.”

“We urge the government to set an example by treating African migrants with dignity and respect. It is our hope that the Israeli government will allow them to contribute to the Israeli economy and society until their status is appropriately adjudicated, rather than forcing them to be housed in the desert at significant government expense or pressuring them to relocate to an unfamiliar and unsafe third countries which offers no durable solution to their plight,” Hetfield said.

The groups also called on the Israeli government  to “strengthen the infrastructure of the South Tel-Aviv neighborhoods where Asylum seekers reside and to ensure proper resources are allocated to provide services both to Israeli citizens and to asylum seekers.”

U.S. envoy to Israel hit with death threats over Iran deal, spurring increased security

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 11:43

(JTA) — Israeli police are increasing security at the U.S. Embassy and at the home of U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro in response to death threats he has received related to the Iran nuclear deal.

Several threatening letters have arrived at the embassy, which is in Tel Aviv, over the past week, the Times of Israel reported, and a threatening message was posted anonymously on the envoy’s Facebook page.

The Facebook post referred to Shapiro, who is Jewish, as a “kapo,” the term for Jews drafted to do the work of Nazis during the Holocaust, and said the United States had “abandoned Israel.”

Israel and many centrist American Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League, oppose the Iran nuclear deal, which lifts sanctions in exchange for the Islamic Republic restricting nuclear activity.

Congress has until late September to decide whether or not to reject the deal, which was negotiated by the United States and other world powers. President Barack Obama is campaigning for the deal, while Republicans mostly oppose it.

 

Hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner falls into coma

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 11:23

(JTA)—A hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner has lost consciousness in an Israeli jail.

Mohammed Allaan, who was arrested in November 2014 on the suspicion that he was a member of the terrorist group Islamic Jihad, has been on a hunger strike for 60 days dating back to June to protest being held without an official charge. According to the Times of Israel, he is being held at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon after being transferred from Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, where an ethics committee did not allow doctors to force-feed him.

The Knesset passed a law on July 30 allowing the force-feeding of prisoners. Israeli doctors have said the practice is unethical and that they would refuse to carry it out.

Allaan has been held in administrative detention, meaning that his incarceration period is indefinite and authorities do not require a specific charge to arrest him. Administrative detention detainees can appeal their sentence in the High Court of Justice but do not have access to the evidence against them. Israel currently imprisons hundreds of Palestinians under administrative detention, a tactic used to deter terrorism. In the aftermath of a fatal firebombing attack that killed a Palestinian toddler and his father, Israel has begun putting suspected Jewish terrorists under administrative detention as well.

Arab Joint list lawmaker Hanin Zoabi is reportedly on her way to visit with Allaan as his condition worsens. Al Jazeera reported that Allaan’s mother and a few activists are with him in the hospital as well.

The Red Cross warned last week that Allaan’s life is in immediate danger. He is on a respiratory support system and is being injected with essential nutrients in an effort to keep him alive without feeding him.

In Paris, pro-Palestinian demonstrators protest Tel Aviv event with ‘Gaza on Seine’

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 11:09

(JTA) — Pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered near a Paris event celebrating Tel Aviv beach culture and established an alternative event called Gaza on Seine.

Tel Aviv on Seine, part of the weeklong Paris Plages (“Paris Beaches”) festival, occurred Thursday as planned despite opposition from a Paris lawmaker and pro-Palestinian groups. The festival turns the banks of the Seine River into a beach and this year is devoting each day to a beach in another country.

However, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, in an op-ed in the French daily Le Monde, defended the decision to host the event, describing Tel Aviv as “progressive.”

Hundreds of police guarded Tel Aviv on Seine and checked visitors before allowing them to enter.

At nearby Gaza on Seine, protesters flew a Palestinian flag and wore T-shirts reading “Free Palestine” and “Boycott Israel,” according to Israel Hayom.

Vice News reported that many protesters at the Gaza event said it was in poor taste to highlight Tel Aviv just a year after Israel’s Operation Protective Edge killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, including four boys struck by an Israeli missile while playing soccer on a Gaza beach.

Lithuania’s chief rabbi fired amid dispute over construction on former cemetery

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 10:36

(JTA) — The Jewish community of Lithuania fired the country’s chief rabbi amid his objections to the government’s plan to build on an area that used to be a Jewish cemetery.

The dismissal of Rabbi Chaim Burshtein, an Israeli who has served as Lithuania’s chief rabbi for the past 11 years, was announced Friday by Shmuel Levin, chairperson of the Vilnius Jewish Religious Community, which is a part of the Jewish Community of Lithuania under Community President Faina Kukliansky.

“The Vilnius Jewish Religious Community resolved that after the current contract with Chaim Burshtein ends, it will not be extended, and that Shmuel Yatom is to perform the function of rabbi temporarily, until a new rabbi is found,” Levin said in a statement, which did not specify the reason for the discontinuation of Burshtein’s contract.

Yatom is currently the community’s cantor, according to Dovid Katz, a scholar of Yiddish and owner of the defendinghistory.com news and commentary site on Lithuanian Jewry.

Burshtein told JTA he would longer be chief rabbi as of September.

His dismissal follows his public criticism in February of Kukliansky, a former state prosecutor and police officer. Burshtein accused her of resorting to authoritarian tactics in running the community. She denied the claims and said she had no conflict with Burshtein but added the community’s board was considering firing him.

Earlier this month, Burshtein announced he would form a new organization, Beyachad. He also suggested that Kukliansky was using her contacts with officials to have him deported, though she denied this.

Burshtein said Kukliansky had approved, over his objection,  a government-led plan to build a conference center atop a dilapidated building that Soviet authorities constructed over what used to be a large Jewish cemetery.

Kukliansky defended the plan, saying it did not disturb any human remains of Jews.

Shipwreck off Israel’s coast, long unidentified, linked to early Zionist

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 10:24

(JTA) — A shipwreck discovered off Israel’s coast almost 40 years ago has been identified as likely a vessel belonging to Edmond James de Rothschild, a French Jewish banker and philanthropist.

Although discovered in 1976 off Dor Beach, near Zichron Yaakov, which is on the Mediterranean coast between Haifa and Tel Aviv, the shipwreck had not been studied until recently, when Haifa University archaeologists undertook the project, Haaretz reported.

“The ship we have found is structurally consistent with the specifications of the Baron’s ships, carried a similar cargo, and sailed and sank during the right period,” Deborah Cvikel and Micky Holtzman, who are investigating the shipwreck, said, according to Haaretz.

The archaeologists believe the shipwreck is the remains one of three ships dispatched by Rothschild for use in a glass factory near Zichron Yaakov, which he built more than a century ago.

Rothschild, who lived from 1845-1934, was a vocal Zionist and supported several projects in Israel, including the glass factory, helping to found the town of Rishon Lezion and establishing the still-operating Carmel Winery in Zichron Yaakov. Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv is named for him.

Although they are not 100 percent certain the ship was Rothschild’s, “there seem to be more than a few items that connect it with Zichron Yaacov, with the glass factory at Tantura, and with the baron’s ships,” they told Haaretz.

 

N.Y. state panel to study controversial E. Ramapo school district

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 10:00

NEW YORK (JTA) – The New York State Education Department appointed a panel to study the operations of the haredi Orthodox-controlled school board in the East Ramapo school district.

The board in the school district, located in New York’s suburban Rockland County, has stirred controversy and local ire for its decisions over the years to significantly cut public school budgets while expanding services that benefit the area’s large haredi Orthodox Jewish population, such as busing to yeshivas and special education for yeshiva students with disabilities. In addition, at least two district schools have been shuttered and their facilities sold to yeshivas.

The three-expert panel, to be led by former New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott,  will study the district’s operations and offer recommendations to the school board and the Board of Regents. It will not, however, have the power to override decisions by the school board.

READ: In Rockland County, non-Orthodox try to create alternative to Hasidic dominance

Last fall, a former federal prosecutor appointed by the state to investigate the school board, Henry M. Greenberg, determined that the board had diverted money from the district’s public schools to yeshiva children and recommended the appointment of a state fiscal monitor with the power to override school board decisions. But a bill to appoint such a monitor failed to pass the State Senate.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia told The New York Times that she hoped the board would be amenable to the new panel’s recommendations.

“This is less of a powerful position for the team, but in the circumstances where we don’t have collaboration with the district, there will be action taken,” Elia said.

For example, the commissioner has the power to remove members of the school board and to order it to comply with state regulations, she told the newspaper.

East Ramapo’s public schools serve about 8,000 students, most of them black or Latino, while about 24,000 children in the district attend yeshivas, according to the Times.

Fake bomb found at Swedish Chabad house amid reported rise in hate crimes

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 09:10

(JTA) — Swedish police discovered what they described as a well-made fake bomb at the Chabad House in the southern city of Gothenburg.

The mock bomb was found last week on Saturday, according to a report posted that day on the police’s website. Police came to inspect the premises following a report of a suspicious-looking man who left an unidentified object there.

“Police bomb technicians shot at box that appeared to be a well-made dummy,” the report read. “Police wrote a report on serious unlawful threats.” The report spoke of a Jewish-owned establishment without mentioning specifically the Chabad House, which was nonetheless identified as the target by the Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism.

Chabad envoys and other individuals who are recognizable as Jews have suffered repeated assaults in Malmo and Gothenburg. The local communities attribute most such acts to extremists from the southern Swedish cities’ sizable Muslim communities.

Earlier this month, the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention said it has recorded 6,270 hate crimes last year nationally — an all-time high that came as a result of a 14-percent increase over 2013.

Four percent of the hate crimes documented, or 270 incidents, were anti-Semitic, according to the report, which was published Tuesday.

Sweden’s Jewish population of 20,000 accounts for 0.2 percent of the country’s population of 9.59 million people.

In absolute terms, the 2014 tally on anti-Semitic attacks constitutes a 29 percent increase over the 193 anti-Semitic incidents recorded in 2013. But the proportion of anti-Semitic attacks in the tally of all hate crimes grew last year over 2013 only by half a percentage point, from 3.5 percent.

Hate crimes against Christians increased from 321 in 2013 (5.8 percent of the total of 5,508 hate crimes recorded that year) to 489 incidents last year, or 7.7 percent of the 2014 total.

Anti-Muslim crimes were also on the rise, from 327 incidents in 2013 to 492 last year.

United Church of Canada votes in favor BDS

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 08:43

(JTA) – The general council of a large Canadian church network voted in favor of promoting a boycott against institutions complicit in what it called the illegal occupation of Palestinian land.

On its 42nd annual gathering this week, the council of the United Church of Canada voted in favor of the text on Israel on Aug. 11, its website reported.

The resolution passed was in favor of ““initiating and developing a program of education and advocacy in cooperation with our partners, related to divestment from and economic sanctions against all corporations and institutions complicit in and benefitting from the illegal occupation. This would include education about tourism which bolsters the oppression of Palestinians.”

Founded in 1925, the United Church of Canada is among the country’s largest with at least 600,000 members, according to The National Post of Toronto.

Separately, in Europe the prominent Swiss Jewish filmmaker Stina Werenfels weighed in on a debate around funding by the Israeli Film Fund for Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival. In recent weeks, over 400 personalities from the film industry signed a petition titled “No Carte Blanche for Israeli apartheid” denouncing the collaboration.

At a press conference earlier this week, Werenfels, who was raised as a Christian but has a Jewish mother, said she was “shocked” that the Locarno festival organizers accepted money from an organization that enjoys funding from the Israeli government, the Jewish Swiss WSeekly Tachles reported Friday.

Organizers of the festival, which opened on Aug. 4 and is due to end Saturday, dropped Israel from the name of a program dedicated to Israeli cinema, calling it “First Look” instead.

Earlier this week, Israeli director Roy Zafrani said his submission of his film on children with disabilities was rejected from a Norwegian film festival because of what organizers called Israeli occupation. He has declined to name the festival in question.

Netanyahu appoints hawkish Danon as U.N. envoy

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 07:21

(JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Danny Danon, a hardliner from Netanyahu’s Likud party who opposes a Palestinian state, as ambassador to the United Nations.

Danon’s appointment, which was announced Friday, is meant to allow him to fight for the truth, Netanyahu said in a statement.

“The U.N. is an important forum right now, and I am convinced that Danny will fight with all his power to present the truth in the international arena,” Netanyahu’s statement read.

Netanyahu and Danon – a firebrand who has called to reopen the Temple Mount to Jewish worship and described boycotts against Israel “modern-day anti-Semitism” – have had a tense relationship.

Last year, Netanyahu fired Danon from the post of deputy defense minister after Danon publicly criticized Netanyahu for not taking firmer military action against Hamas during Israel’s summer offensive against the group in Gaza. After his dismissal, Danon lambasted Netanyahu’s “leftist flaccid attitude,” as he termed it.

At the U.N. headquarters in New York, Danon will replace Ron Prosor, who is widely credited in Israel for his performance at the organization, where Israel is often singled out for criticism, but where it has recently clinched some precedent-setting positions.

Israel’s Channel 2 this week reported that Netanyahu is considering appointing Mark Regev, a spokesperson of the Prime Minister’s Office under Netanyahu, to serve as ambassador in Britain.

London paper demands Labor leader prove he is not ‘enemy of Britain’s Jewish community’

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 06:25

(JTA) — A British-Jewish newspaper called on Jeremy Corbyn, the frontrunner to head Britain’s Labor Party, to address allegations that he is tied to anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers.

An editorial published Wednesday on the online edition of the The Jewish Chronicle of London said: “We are certain that we speak for the vast majority of British Jews in expressing deep foreboding at the prospect of Mr. Corbyn’s election as Labour leader.”

The editorial came a day after The Daily Mail reported that Corbyn had written a letter defending a controversial clergy member who had posted on Facebook an article blaming Israel and wealthy Jews for the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

That article also said that Corbyn is friends with a Holocaust denier and has described Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends.”

The Jewish Chronicle editorial said that while there “is no direct evidence that [Corbyn] has an issue himself with Jews, there is overwhelming evidence of his association with, support for — and even in one case, alleged funding of — Holocaust deniers, terrorists and some outright antisemites.” Corbyn should answer questions on this if he is “not to be regarded from the day of his election as an enemy of Britain’s Jewish community,” the op-ed read.

Noting that it had reached out to Corbyn with its questions earlier, only to receive no response, the newspaper asked about the Parliament member’s relationship with Holocaust denier Paul Eisen and Eisen’s pro-Palestinian organization — “an organisation so extreme that even the Palestine Solidarity Campaign refuses to associate with it.”

The newspaper also asked about Corbyn’s defense of Rev. Stephen Sizer, an Anglican minister who posted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and his feelings about Hamas and Hezbollah, among other issues.

“It is difficult not to see a pattern in Mr Corbyn’s associations, and his refusal at any point to answer the fears of the Jewish community raised by these associations,” the editorial continued.

Britain’s Community Security Trust, the Jewish community’s watchdog on anti-Semitism, has also called on Corbyn to clarify his apparent association with individuals and groups seen as promoting anti-Semitism.

“The problem is not that Corbyn is an antisemite or a Holocaust denier – he is neither,” CST spokesperson Dave Rich wrote in an op-ed. “The problem is that he seems to gravitate towards people who are, if they come with an anti-Israel sticker on them.”

CST recently said it was pleased to learn Corbyn pulled out of an event planned for next month featuring the Brazilian caricaturist Carlos Latuff, whose also accused of celebrating anti-Semitic tropes.

Poor marks on Iran deal lower Obama’s approval rating in Gallup survey

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 06:07

(JTA) – Only a third of American respondents to a survey about President Barack Obama’s performance said they approved of his handling of the Iran nuclear deal.

In eight issues measured in the new Gallop survey published Thursday, Obama scored lowest when it came to the Iran deal — a controversial U.S.-led agreement that, if approved and implemented, will result in the lifting of some sanction on Iran in exchange for it scaling back its nuclear activities.

In total, Obama scored an approval rating of 47 percent in the survey, which was conducted this month in telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,011 adults from across the United States. The margin of sampling error is four percentage points.

The president’s policy toward Iran has been a major focus as he tries to drum up support for the accord. Obama earns his highest marks on race relations, education and climate change, though he does not receive majority approval on any.

As recently as February, Americans gave Iran the lowest favorable rating of 22 countries, and a strong majority felt Iran’s development of nuclear weapons posed a “critical” threat to the United States.

Consistent with partisans’ views on other issues, 56 percent of Democrats surveyed by Gallup approve of Obama’s handling of the situation in Iran, contrasted with 10 percent of Republicans.

Race relations remains the issue Obama receives the greatest approval on (46 percent) but this is down five percentage points from when Gallup last measured it in 2013.

Aside from Obama’s handling of Iran, his approval is low on immigration (36 percent) — which, despite this, is up four points from the prior reading from August 2014.

Israeli chief rabbi: Private conversion court to ‘fight Torah’

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 06:04

(JTA) – Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi accused the founders of a private conversion court of “fighting against the Torah.”

Rabbi David Lau made the allegation Thursday night at the inaugural event of B’Noam, a lobby group devoted to defending the policies of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and its religious establishment, in reference to the announcement last week of several prominent Orthodox rabbis about their launching of the conversion court.

The court’s founders, including Rabbi David Stav of the Tzohar outreach group, cited bureaucracy and overly stringent practices at rabbinate courts when it comes to conversions — especially affecting the approximately 300,000 Russian-speaking Israelis who are not considered Jews according to the Rabbinate.

“The Rabbinate, its courts, rabbis and [judges] are recently under a severe attack in the media, by organizations and in public discourse,” Lau said at the event Thursday, according to a report by the news site ynet.co.il. This assault, he said, goes back to the appearance of the Torah, “and the attempts to fight against it and its representatives. For as long as it has existed, the rabbinical leadership has withstood changes that could hurt the Torah, the [Jewish law], the integrity of the Jewish people and we, too, on our watch, will do all we can.”

Rabbi David Yossef, a senior leader of the Shas Orthodox Sephardic party, said during a different event on Thursday that Stav – to whom he referred by name only without acknowledging his title of rabbi – and his colleagues “are nothing more than Reform Jews with a kippah.”

Holocaust survivor, 91, wins international long-distance race

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 06:01

(JTA) — A 91-year-old Israeli Holocaust survivor won a world championship for senior runners of his age category in France.

Semion Simkin, who is legally blind, became world champion on Monday in Lyon after running 10 kilometers, or 6.2 miles, in 80 minutes. His impaired vision means he cannot identify objects that are farther away than nine feet, according to Yisrael Hayom.

Only one other runner in his age category, 90-95, finished the race. Lorenzo Juvenal Perez, 93 from Argentina, arrived at the finish line 21 minutes after Simkin at the World Masters Athletics Championship. 

“This is a scenario I never even dreamed of. I hope that in the future I will still have the strength to continue and to bring honor to Israel,” Simkin told Yisrael Hayom.

Originally from what is today Belarus, Simkin has two children, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, and lives in Ma’aleh Adumim — a settlement near Jerusalem.

The day before the 10 kilometer race, Simkin won the silver medal in a five kilometer race for men of his age group, with a time of 39 minutes and 47 seconds — four minutes behind the winner, 90-year-old Jose Canelo from Portugal.

ADL opposes Iran deal

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 19:46

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Anti-Defamation League counseled Congress to reject the Iran nuclear deal.

“Given the outstanding questions and our deep reservations about the agreement, we believe Congress should vote no on the deal,” Barry Curtiss-Lusher, ADL’s national chairman, and Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL’s national director, said in a statement released Thursday evening.

ADL last month had expressed reservations about the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal reached July 14 between Iran and six major powers.

“While ADL believes the administration has addressed some of the questions we highlighted in its July 20 letter to Members of Congress, serious concerns remain, including the effectiveness of the verification process to deter Iranian violations; the credibility of U.S. deterrence in light of the deal; the sufficiency of the nuclear limitations on Iran over the long term; and Iran’s new legitimacy and renewed financial ability to support its extremist policies,” the statement said.

Congress has until late September to decide whether to reject the deal. President Barack Obama is campaigning for the deal while Republicans mostly oppose the deal.

The ADL joins the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith International among centrist Jewish groups opposing the deal. A number of large Jewish bodies, including the Reform and Conservative movements, the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, are still mulling the deal, although several have expressed concerns about it. The Orthodox Union and the Zionist Organization of America oppose the deal.

A number of liberal Jewish organizations, including J Street, Americans for Peace Now and Ameinu, are backing the Obama administration and supporting the deal.