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Obama calls Netanyahu to congratulate on reelection

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 16:28

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Barack Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on his reelection and to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution.

“President Obama spoke today by telephone with Prime Minister Netanyahu to congratulate the prime minister on his party’s success in winning a plurality of Knesset seats,”  the White House said on Thursday.

“The president emphasized the importance the United States places on our close military, intelligence, and security cooperation with Israel, which reflects the deep and abiding partnership between both countries,” the statement said.

Obama administration officials have sharply criticized Netanyahu for his apparent retreata two-state solution just before Tuesday’s election. Obama and Netanyahu discussed the issue in the call, the statement said.

“The president and the prime minister agreed to continue consultations on a range of regional issues, including the difficult path forward to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the statement said. “The president reaffirmed the United States’ long-standing commitment to a two-state solution that results in a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and viable Palestine. “

Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu walked back his repudiation of the possibility of Palestinian statehood during his tenure as prime minister, but officials say they will still closely watch his words and actions on the matter.

The call also addressed another area in which there are sharp differences, U.S.-backed nuclear talks between Iran and the major powers. Netanyahu opposes the talks, saying they are leading to a bad deal.

“On Iran, the president reiterated that the United States is focused on reaching a comprehensive deal with Iran that prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and verifiably assures the international community of the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program,” the White House said.

Obama had come under criticism from congressional Republicans for not immediately congratulating Netanyahu when his reelection became apparent on Wednesday morning.

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) had by Thursday garnered over 150 signatures from Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to sign a letter congratulating Netanyahu.

“A strong U.S.-Israel relationship is critical to combating the rise of Islamic jihadists in the region,” DeSantis said in releasing the letter earlier Thursday, before Netanyahu and Obama spoke. “The White House has so far failed to recognize the Prime Minister’s success, and this silence has been deafening.”

Archaeologists find rare bronze mask near Sea of Galilee

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 15:41

A member of the archaeological team holds the bronze mask of the god Pan, uncovered at the University of Haifa’s excavation at Hippos-Sussita. (University of Haifa)

(JTA) — An archaeological dig in northern Israel has unearthed a large bronze mask of the god Pan.

The mask was found outside the limits of the ancient city of Hippos, according to a press release issued on Monday by the University of Haifa archaeological team that made the discovery. According to Michael Eisenberg, the team’s head, the mask, which is larger than a human head, is extremely rare in its size and in its depiction of the mythological satyr.

“Most of the known bronze masks from the Hellenistic and Roman periods are miniature,” Eisenberg said in the press release. “I contacted the curators of some of the world’s greatest museums, and even they said that they were not familiar with the type of bronze mask that we found at Hippos.”

The mask was found as part of the excavation of a basalt structure at Sussita National Park, two kilometers east of the Sea of Galilee. The mask features small horns, long pointed ears, a goat beard and other features that helped the archaeologists to identify the mask as being that of Pan or Faunus, the half-man, half-goat Roman deity.

The archaeologists theorized that the structure had originally been built as a hangar or other fortification and was later converted into a place of worship.

“Because they included drinking, sacrificing and ecstatic worship that sometimes included nudity and sex, rituals for rustic gods were often held outside of the city,” said Eisenberg, who is leading the excavation on behalf of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa. “[M]aybe what we have here is a magnificent fountain-head or burial offerings of a nearby mausoleum.”

Loyola U. students push for new divestment resolution

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 14:50

(JTA) — One year after a divestment campaign on campus failed, students at Chicago’s Loyola University are again seeking to pass a resolution urging divestment from some corporations doing business with Israel.

On Tuesday, a divestment resolution was introduced at a meeting of Loyola’s student government, according to the college news website The College Fix. The resolution urges Loyola’s Board of Trustees to divest from the corporations Raytheon, Caterpillar, United Technologies and Valero Energy because the companies’ business dealings with Israel purportedly conflict with the university’s Jesuit values.

The resolution includes a citation from Russia Today, an English-language news outlet described by the Columbia Journalism Review as “The Kremlin’s propaganda outlet”.

The Metro Chicago Hillel put out a statement vowing to fight the divestment campaign.

The student senate of Loyola passed a divestment resolution last March, but the resolution was vetoed by student body president. The university also issued a statement at the time that it would not adopt the student’s divestment proposal if passed.

Netanyahu: still invested in two states; White House remains skeptical

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 12:54

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was invested in a two-state solution and could tolerate a number of Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges.

Netanyahu’s first major post-election interview Thursday, on MSNBC, appeared aimed at calming the Obama administration’s  anger at his retreat just before the election from a two-state solution, telling Israeli media that it would not happen on his watch.

In his latest interview, Netanyahu said that what he meant was that the Palestinians and the region was not ready for two states, citing among other things the Islamist-fomented turmoil in neighboring lands and the nominal working arrangement between the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas terrorist group.

“I don’t want a one-state solution, I want a sustainable peaceful two-state solution, but for that circumstances have to change,” he said.

Obama administration spokesmen said the comments from earlier in the week were still a concern.

“The prime minister’s comments from a few days ago brought into question his commitment” to a two-state solution, Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said after noting that she was aware of Netanyahu’s newer comments in the MSNBC interview. “We can’t forget about those comments.”

Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, said the administration was still reevaluating how it approaches diplomacy in the region in the wake of Netanyahu’s earlier apparent retreat from the two-state solution.

“What is apparent is that in the context of the campaign and while he was the sitting prime minister of Israel he walked back from commitments that Israel had previously made to a two state solution,” Earnest said Thursday, noting that he, like Psaki, was aware of Netanyahu’s more recent comments. “It is as we mentioned yesterday cause for the United States to evaluate what our path is forward given the prime minister’s comments.”

Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, said the Obama administration’s insistence on keeping Netanyahu in the dog house was “unbecoming.”

“The prime minister is trying the heal and they’re not willing to move in that direction,” he said.

Netanyahu also said in the MSNBC interview that he did not mean to disrespect President Barack Obama with his March 3 speech to Congress, organized in secret with the congressional Republican leadership. He said he expected to continue working closely with Obama.

“America has no greater ally than Israel, and Israel has no greater ally than the United States,” he said.

Netanyahu in the speech had opposed the Obama administration’s backing for nuclear talks underway between Iran and the major powers. In the MSNBC interview, however, he made a significant concession, saying Israel could tolerate a limited uranium enrichment capacity for Iran, although with a number lower than the 6,500 reported to be part of an emerging deal.

“A smaller number is something Israel and its Arab neighbors wouldn’t love but could live with,” he said. Previously, Netanyahu had insisted on zero enrichment capacity for Iran.

Netanyahu sidestepped a question about his warning in a video to his supporters on election day that “droves of Arab voters” were heading to the polls. The White House condemned the call as “divisive.”

Netanyahu said he “was trying to counter a foreign-funded effort to get votes to topple my party,” although he would not identify who funded this effort.

Earnest, the White House spokesman, for the second day in a row sharply criticized the election day video.

“That cynical election day tactic was a pretty transparent effort to marginalize Arab Israeli citizens,” Earnest said, adding that the comments “stand in direct contrast” to values shared by the United States and Israel.

Dieudonne fined for saying Jewish journalist should have died in gas chambers

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 12:23

(JTA) — The French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala was fined $24,000 for saying that a Jewish journalist should have died “in the gas chambers.”

He was sentenced on Thursday in Paris for violating France’s laws banning hate speech, Reuters reported.

Radio France’s Patrick Cohen asked on air in 2013 whether the media should pay so much attention to Dieudonne. The comedian replied that the journalist should consider emigrating.

“When I hear Patrick Cohen speaking, I say to myself, you see, the gas chambers … too bad,” said Dieudonne.

The fine comes a day after a Paris court gave Dieudonne a suspended two-month jail sentence for social media posts sympathizing with the Islamist gunman who killed four Jews at a Paris-area kosher supermarket on Jan. 9.

Dieudonne has been convicted seven times for inciting racial hatred against Jews. He has been charged almost 40 times under France’s hate-speech laws.

Some see Dieudonne as a symbol of France’s growing anti-Semitism problem because of his performances featuring anti-Semitic jokes and creation of the quenelle, a Nazi-like salute that French Prime Minister Manuel Vals has called a “gesture of hatred” and anti-Semitic.

Australian PM angers Jewish lawmakers by comparing opposition leader to Goebbels

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 10:57

(JTA) — A Jewish lawmaker was thrown out of Australia’s Parliament after protesting Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s description of the opposition leader as the “Dr. Goebbels of economic policy.”

Joseph Goebbels was the propaganda minister for Nazi Germany.

Opposition Labor Party lawmaker Mark Dreyfus, one of three Jewish lawmakers in Parliament, jumped up to protest Abbott’s choice of comparisons, eventually being thrown out of the House of Representatives chamber. Jewish Labor lawmaker Michael Danby left with him in solidarity.

“There are no Nazis here and we shouldn’t be making comparisons with the paradigm of the ultimate evil in politics to heighten political differences,” Danby told The Associated Press.

“It’s beneath him, and it goes to the question of his judgment. I think a lot of his backbench will be groaning and tearing their hair out,”

Abbot withdrew the comment and apologized for making the comparison.

The comment comes more than a month after Abbott was forced to issue an apology for describing a cut in defense jobs as a “holocaust of jobs.”

British PM pledges additional millions for security for Jewish schools, synagogues  

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 10:11

(JTA) — British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged millions of dollars in new funds to Jewish schools and synagogues to be used for security.

Cameron, speaking Wednesday at the annual dinner of the Community Security Trust, Britain’s Jewish security watchdog group, pledged about $14.9 million in new money for security “this year and every year, for as long as necessary.”

The money is to pay for guards and other security measures for private Jewish schools and for synagogue security, as well as for a control center for the operations of the Community Security Trust.

Jewish state schools already receive about $3 million in funds for security.

Cameron in his speech praised the Jewish community for its “enormous” contribution to Britain, and vowed that his government would give “everything we have got” to protect Jews.

“If the Jewish community does not feel secure then our whole national fabric is diminished. It is not just about the enormous contribution you all make to our society — it is more profound than that. It is a measure of the vigor of our institutions and the health of our democracy that the Jewish community feels safe to live and flourish here,” he said.

“At a time when once again the Jewish communities of Europe feel vulnerable and when anti-Semitism is at record levels here in Britain I will not stand by,” Cameron added.

Cameron also congratulated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his reelection, saying, “With me you will always have a British prime minister whose belief in Israel is unbreakable and whose commitment to Israel’s security will always be rock solid.”

The Community Security Trust  reported last month that it had recorded 1,168 anti-Semitic incidents for 2014, the highest annual total ever and more than double the previous year.

Some 269,000 Jews live in Britain, making up 0.4 percent of the population.

Reports: U.S. may no longer block anti-Israel U.N. actions

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 10:08

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration may reconsider shielding Israel from critical actions in international forums, according to reports.

Politico and the New York Times on Thursday each quoted unnamed senior administration officials as saying that the United States may back a U.N. Security Council resolution that would set the parameters for a two-state solution according to the 1967 lines.

The change comes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the lead up to Tuesday’s elections, pulled back from endorsing a two-state solution, saying there would be no Palestinian state on his watch.

In the past, the Obama administration has shielded Israel from critical resolutions, even when such resolutions hewed with administration policy; one famous instance was a 2011 U.S. veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution on Israeli settlement expansion that was in line with President Barack Obama’s opposition to settlement building.

Administration officials, asked by JTA for comment, pointed to statements Wednesday by spokesmen for the White House and State Department.

The spokesmen stopped short of saying that the United States would support Israel-critical actions in international forums, or would not veto such actions. However, they did say a change was possible.

“We are not going to get ahead of any decisions about what the United States would do with regard to potential action at the U.N. Security Council,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said in her briefing for reporters.

“I will reiterate that it has long been the position of the United States under Republican and Democratic presidents, and it has been the position of successive Israeli governments, that only a two-state solution that results in a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and independent Palestine can bring lasting peace and stability to both peoples,” she said. “The prime minister, as we all know, in his comments earlier this week indicated that he is no longer committed to pursuing this approach. Based on the prime minister’s comments, the United States is in a position going forward where we will be evaluating our approach with regard to how best to achieve a two-state solution.”

Alberto Nisman was a ‘scoundrel,’ Argentinian Cabinet chief tells reporters

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 09:57

BUENOS AIRES (JTA) — Argentinian Cabinet Chief Aníbal Fernandez  called the late AMIA special prosecutor Alberto Nisman  a “scoundrel” and  a “wretch.”

Nisman “embezzled  public funds” using money meant to fund the AMIA special unit in order “to go out with women” and “to pay workers who did not work,” Fernandez told journalists Wednesday before entering the Government House.

Fernandez on Thursday clarified through the state news agency Telam that in his statements the previous day he was not referring to the late Alberto Nisman’s private life, but talking about his actions that have “penal significance,” such as the misuse of public funds or withholding half the salary of an employee.

Diego Lagomarsino, who has been charged in Nisman’s death for lending Nisman the handgun that was used to kill him, has through an attorney accused the prosecutor of withholding half of his wages.

On Wednesday, Argentine philosopher and writer Santiago Kovadloff responded to the Cabinet chief. “When you attack a dead man and discredit him in the way he did, it’s because that dead man is alive. If he’s alive, it’s because he’s has a great deal of significance. Because he has a great deal of significance, you have to discredit him,” Kovadloff said at the first of planned monthly rallies to remember Nisman, attended by about 200 people.

Nisman, who was Jewish, was found dead on Jan. 18, hours before he was to present evidence to Argentine lawmakers that President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner covered up Iran’s role in the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires.

White House chief of staff to headline J Street conference

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 09:02

A sign welcomes attendees at J Street’s 2013 national conference in Washington. (Courtesy of J Street)

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, will headline the annual J Street conference, at a time of U.S.-Israel tensions over the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group’s signature issue, the two-state solution.

J Street announced McDonough as its speaker Thursday, three days before the start of the conference, which is expected to attract a record 3,000 activists, including 1,000 students.

McDonough’s appearance at the conference for the group, which is strongly critical of the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, comes at a low point in ties between the Obama and Netanyahu governments.

Obama administration officials have sharply criticized aspects of Netanyahu’s campaign for reelection, including his repudiation of a two-state solution and his appeal to voters on election day Tuesday to head to the polls to counter the “droves of Arab voters.”

Netanyahu won a third consecutive term in the election and is about to launch coalition talks. President Barack Obama has yet to congratulate him, although John Kerry, the secretary of state, has done so.

Additionally, Obama and Netanyahu have clashed over Obama’s strategy to keep Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu opposes talks underway between Iran and the major powers, which Netanyahu says will leave Iran a nuclear threshold state.

The two-state solution will feature prominently at the conference, which will include lawmakers in the new Knesset who represent parties backing an outcome that features an Israeli and Palestinian state existing alongside one another.

Another featured speaker will be James Baker, the secretary of state under President George H. W. Bush who clashed with a right-wing predecessor of Netanyahu, the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Baker is currently advising Bush’s son, Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor vying for the GOP nod for the 2016 election.

There will also be sessions on Iran and on J Street’s role in the wider Jewish community.

The conference comes as the group has staked out a niche backing liberal Democrats who tend to break from centrist pro-Israel Orthodoxy, but also a year after it failed to gain entry into the community’s foreign policy umbrella, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Eric Fingerhut, the CEO of Hillel International, this month cancelled his appearance at the conference, under apparent pressure from donors.

“Our job is to fix the broken politics in the Congress and on the Hill and to contribute to the dialogue in American Jewish community,” Alan Elsner, J Street’s vice president for communications, said in an interview. “You can be seen as a lover of Israel without backing every single policy the Israeli government takes.”

Public announcement to inform visitors about Shabbat’s start

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 07:58

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Visitors to the Western Wall will be informed of the beginning of Shabbat with a new public announcement.

In addition to the traditional siren heard throughout Jerusalem at the start of Shabbat, an announcement will be made over the public address system, beginning this Friday, according to Western Wall Heritage Foundation.

The announcement will say: “Dear guests, welcome to the Western Wall. In a few minutes the Sabbath will begin. Please respect our traditions and avoid taking photographs and refrain from using mobile phones at the Western Wall. Shabbat Shalom! ”

The announcement will be delivered in Hebrew, English and Russian in the moments before the start of Shabbat.

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation said in its statement that it “believes that it is appropriate to apply the sanctity of the Sabbath properly to the Western Wall, a holy place.”

The foundation said it will distribute leaflets to visitors that talk about “the honor of the Sabbath.”

Final election results keep Netanyahu far ahead of challengers

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 07:33

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party garnered 30 Knesset seats, and the left-center coalition Zionist Union received 24 seats in the final results of the national election,

The Central Election Committee on Thursday released the final vote count, after the tabulating of an additional 200.000 absentee ballots from diplomats serving abroad, soldiers, prisoners, and hospitalized and seriously ill voters. Some 4,253,336 citizens voted, 72.3 percent of the electorate. It was the highest voter turnout since 1999, according to the Israel Democracy Institute.

The number of votes required to pass the minimum threshold of 3.25 percent was 136,808. The number of votes for each seat came out to 33,482.

The Joint Arab List placed third with 13 seats, down from a projected 14, but still remaining the third-largest party in the Knesset. Yesh Atid received 11 seats; Kulanu had 10, Jewish Home received eight, Shas , Yisrael Beytenu and United Torah Judaism each received six, and Meretz got five.

Meretz Party head Zahava Gal-on on Thursday said she would remain the head of the left-wing party after it gained a fifth seat. On Wednesday Gal-on had announced she would relinquish her seat and quit politics if the party dropped two seats from the last election to four seats.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will begin to meet with party representatives on Sunday to determine who should form the next government. He cannot task anyone with forming a government until after he is presented with the results on March 25.


Rivlin invites parties to meet

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 04:39

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will meet with representatives of each of the parties elected to serve in the 20th Knesset.

Through the meetings, which will begin on Sunday, Rivlin will determine which party head will be tasked with forming a new government.

Rivlin’s office on Wednesday evening sent a letter to all of the parties inviting the representatives to the consultations.

According to a statement from the president’s office, the letter read: “In accordance with Article 7 of Basic Law: The Government, President Reuven Rivlin will hold a round of consultations with representatives of the lists of candidates elected to the new Knesset, and shortly thereafter will bestow the task of forming the government upon one of the Members of Knesset.  In coordination with Central Elections Committee Chairman Justice Salim Joubran, it is the President’s intention to open the round of consultations already at the beginning of next week, out of an effort to conclude the process of establishing the new government as early as possible – in order to ensure the citizens of Israel have the assurance of a fully functioning government, in the face of the present challenges which lie before the State of Israel.”

It is expected that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who garnered the most seats, 30, in the election, will be asked to form the new government.

Rivlin cannot appoint anyone to form a new government until the election results are certified on March 25.

Meanwhile, on Thursday morning following the partial counting of some 200,000 absentee ballots from diplomats, soldiers, prisoners and hospitalized or ill persons, the left-wing Meretz Party picked up an extra seat, bringing its total to five, while the United Arab List lost one seat, for a total of 13. The haredi Orthodox United Torah Judaism party also lost a seat for a total of six.

A final tally will be released Thursday afternoon.

Hate messages painted on Hollywood, Fla. synagogue

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 04:26

MIAMI (JTA) – Vandals defaced a synagogue in Hollywood, Fla.

Hate messages and cryptic warnings including “I’m watching you,” and “[expletive] Jews” appeared on B’nai Sephardim, a Sephardic synagogue, the Miami Herald reported. The synagogue serves about 700 families, according to the B’nai Sephardim website.

Hollywood Police Chief Frank Fernandez said on Wednesday that his department takes “any type of hate messages very seriously,” and promised a thorough investigation.

“These are individuals that want to spread hate, and there is no place for that in our community,” he said.

Fernandez said the offensive painted vitriol appeared sometime between Monday night and Tuesday morning. The gate of the synagogue had been left open overnight because construction crews were working late.

The Anti-Defamation League  decried the incident. Hava L. Holzhauer, ADL’s Florida regional director, said Wednesday night that the vandalism “is damaging to the community. It is physical damage to a place of worship, and it’s also emotional damage.”

Rabbi Leol Benhamu told Miami Herald news partner CBS4 that seeing the spray-painted messages was painful.

“That bring up memories of the past, Holocaust memories and persecution for Jews. I got upset,” Benhamu told the station.

The Hollywood incident joins a string of hate-inspired vandalism in the area. On March 8, a 24-year-old man was arrested after police say he yelled in Arabic at the son of a rabbi in front of a Miami Beach synagogue and then threatened to cut his head off.

In February, hate messages appeared on homes, mailboxes and fences in Miami Gardens. There were several incidents last year, including one in September where a swastika and the letters “KKK” appeared on a temporary sign at Temple Emanu-el, the oldest Conservative Jewish congregation in Miami Beach.


Parents of Turin chief rabbi survive Tunis terror attack

Wed, 03/18/2015 - 17:26

ROME (JTA) — Two Italian Jewish tourists survived the terrorist attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunisia.

Alberto Di Porto, 71, and Anna Di Porto, 60, of Rome both managed to escape the shooting attack Wednesday in the capital city of Tunisia by gunmen wearing what appeared to be military uniforms which, according to reports at press time, left at least 19 people dead, including 17 tourists. The Di Portos, who were visiting Tunis as part of a cruise, are the parents of Ariel Di Porto, the chief rabbi of Turin, Italy.

According to a report by the Italian Jewish magazine Pagine Ebraiche, Alberto Di Porto injured his leg while running from the museum and was taken to a local hospital. The Italian news site La Voce reported that the couple was separated, with Anna Di Porto taken by police with other rescued visitors to a safe and secret location.

“They are both safe and that is the most important thing,” their daughter told Pagine Ebraiche. “I hope that they can get back to Italy as soon as possible. Hopefully even tonight.”

Y.U. to merge Stern, Yeshiva colleges’ faculties

Wed, 03/18/2015 - 17:06

NEW YORK (JTA) — Yeshiva University announced plans to merge the faculty of its two undergraduate schools, Yeshiva College and Stern College.

Richard Joel, president of the university, which is under Orthodox auspices, told students Wednesday that as of July 1, it will begin consolidating all arts and science departments. Stern, a women’s college, and the all-male Yeshiva have separate faculties and their campuses are located more than five miles apart from each other.

Joel said the move will allow for more diverse course offerings and will not affect faculty teaching loads.

The university has faced numerous financial challenges in recent years, and last week Yeshiva College faculty overwhelmingly passed a no-confidence resolution against Joel, who has been president since 2003. The university board responded with a statement in support of Joel.


Obama administration ‘deeply concerned’ about Netanyahu Arab comments

Wed, 03/18/2015 - 16:38

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration is “deeply concerned” about Likud Party rhetoric marginalizing Arab Israelis during the recent elections.

“There has been a lot of coverage in the media about some of the rhetoric that emerged yesterday that was propagated by the Likud Party to encourage turnout of their supporters that sought to, frankly, marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday in his daily briefing.

Earnest did not name Benjamin Netanyahu, but the Israeli prime minister posted a video on Tuesday, election day, urging followers to vote, saying “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the ballot box. The Likud Party also texted voters warning them that voting in the Arab sector was high.

“The United States and this administration is deeply concerned by divisive rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens,” Earnest said.

Earnest, notably, volunteered the criticism; reporters did not raise the issue with him. He also cast the criticism against the “shared values” that U.S. and Israeli leaders have for decades said the two countries have in common.

“It undermines the values and democratic ideals that have been important to our democracy and an important part of what binds the United States and Israel together,” he said.

“We’ve talked a lot about how our shared values are an important part of what binds our two countries together, and rhetoric that seeks to marginalize one segment of their population is deeply concerning and it is divisive,” Earnest said. “And I can tell you that these are views that the administration intends to communicate directly to the Israelis.”

Earnest also noted Netanyahu’s rejection in the election’s final days of a two-state solution for the foreseeable future.

“Based on those comments, the United States will evaluate our approach to the situation moving forward,” he said. He prefaced his comment by saying that the U.S.-Israel relationship remained close. “The unprecedented security cooperation between the United States and Israel, including our strong military and intelligence relationships, will continue,” he said.

Earnest also said that President Barack Obama would congratulate Netanyahu once he was charged with forming a government.

FEGS files for bankruptcy, gets debt financing from N.Y. federation

Wed, 03/18/2015 - 15:46

NEW YORK (JTA) — FEGS, one of the country’s largest Jewish social services agencies, has filed for bankruptcy.

A month after announcing that financial problems were forcing its shutdown, FEGS Health & Human Services made the bankruptcy announcement in a news release on Wednesday.

The release said FEGS was in the “final stage” of transferring its programs and contracts to other agencies and “winding down” its operations. It described the bankruptcy filing as a way of ensuring “the uninterrupted continuation of FEGS programs and services to clients under different agencies.”

UJA-Federation of New York said it would offer FEGS, which is a federation beneficiary agency, “debtor-in-possession financing” of up to $10 million to help ensure the smooth transfer of its programs. While FEGS is primarily funded through government contracts, it also provides several Jewish-specific services that are funded by the federation.

In an email to donors, UJA-Federation CEO Eric Goldstein said his group was “actively working to find appropriate homes within our network for FEGS’s programs that are funded by UJA-Federation targeted grants” and will announce a “complete transition plan” by the end of this month.

The federation also is “carefully examining” accountability guidelines, other audit and governance requirements, and training for its network agencies.

At the time it announced its closing, FEGS (an acronym for Federation Employment and Guidance Service) had 2,000 employees and an annual budget of about $250 million. Its announcement in December that it had discovered a $19.4 million loss in the past fiscal year — and its subsequent decision to close — was described as a surprise by leaders of other Jewish and general nonprofit organizations.

New York State recently announced that it will transfer FEGS’ behavioral health programs contracts to the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, another UJA-Federation beneficiary agency.

IDF defuses hidden explosive on Gaza border

Wed, 03/18/2015 - 11:48

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli forces defused an explosive device hidden near the security fence on the Gaza border.

The device was found near the border with the northern Gaza Strip, the Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday hours after it was located and disabled.

A day earlier, Israeli troops captured a Palestinian man who had crossed into Israel carrying a knife.

Dieudonne convicted of condoning terrorism

Wed, 03/18/2015 - 11:42

(JTA) — The French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala was found guilty of condoning terrorism for social media posts sympathizing with the Islamist gunman who killed four Jews at a Paris-area kosher supermarket.

On Wednesday, a Paris court gave Dieudonne a suspended two-month jail sentence. He had faced up to seven years in jail and a $106,000 fine.

Dieudonne posted “I feel like Charlie Coulibaly” on Facebook on Jan. 14, days after the hostage siege at the Hyper Cacher supermarket that ended with the four murders and an attack two days earlier at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo magazine that left 13 dead. His post mixed the phrase in support of the magazine — “Je suis Charlie” — with the name of the killer, who also shot a policewoman dead during the murderous spree.

He later removed the post from Facebook.

Dieudonne has been convicted seven times for inciting racial hatred against Jews. He has been charged almost 40 times under France’s hate-speech laws.

Some see Dieudonne as a symbol of France’s growing anti-Semitism problem because of his performances featuring anti-Semitic jokes and creation of the quenelle, a Nazi-like salute that French Prime Minister Manuel Vals has called a “gesture of hatred” and anti-Semitic.