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ADL raps Michael Oren for stereotyping Obama in new essay

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 15:48

(JTA) — The Anti-Defamation League criticized Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, for an “insensitive and unjustified” attack on President Barack Obama.

Oren’ should “walk back” views published in an essay posted Friday on the Foreign Policy website, the ADL said.

Oren wrote that Obama’s attitudes toward Islam and American foreign policy in the Middle East are driven by his personal interactions with Muslims, including his exposure to Muslims while growing up.

The essay, said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman in a statement, “veers into the realm of conspiracy theories, and with an element of amateur psychoanalysis he links U.S. policies in the Middle East to the president’s personal history of having a Muslim father.” Foxman said Oren takes it a step further “by suggesting this ‘worldview’ of Muslims and Islam has driven the president to embrace the Muslim world at the expense of both Israel and U.S. national security interests. This results in borderline stereotyping and insensitivity.”

Oren wrote: “I could imagine how a child raised by a Christian mother might see himself as a natural bridge between her two Muslim husbands. I could also speculate how that child’s abandonment by those men could lead him, many years later, to seek acceptance by their co-religionists.”

Oren said that achieving a nuclear deal with Iran could bring a fresh start for Obama with Muslims, observing, “The president who pledged to bring Arabs and Israelis together ultimately did so not through peace, but out of their common anxiety over his support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and his determination to reach a nuclear accord with Iran.

“Understanding Obama’s worldview was crucial to my job as Israel’s ambassador to the United States. Right after entering office in June 2009, I devoted months to studying the new president, poring over his speeches, interviews, press releases, and memoirs, and meeting with many of his friends and supporters. The purpose of this self-taught course — Obama 101, I called it — was to get to the point where the president could no longer surprise me. And over the next four years I rarely was, especially on Muslim and Middle Eastern issues.”

Oren, now a member of the Israeli Knesset, came under fire last week for an Op-Ed in the The Wall Street Journal in which he wrote that Obama abandoned the principle of keeping disagreements between the two countries private and of “no surprises” between them.

Egypt sending envoy to Israel for first time in 3 years

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 15:35

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Egypt has appointed an ambassador to Israel after recalling its envoy three years ago.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry confirmed on Sunday that there will be a new Egyptian minister.

“The Foreign Ministry welcomes the appointment,” ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said in a statement.

The new ambassador has been identified as Hazem Khairat, Egypt’s former permanent representative to the Arab League and the country’s former ambassador to Chile.

The last Egyptian ambassador to Israel was recalled in the wake of Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza in November 2012.

Israel named a new ambassador to Egypt last September. The Israeli Embassy was closed in September 2011 after rioting anti-Israel protesters broke down the 8-foot-high security wall surrounding the embassy compound and entered the building. Since then, diplomats have been working in other locations.

Meanwhile, Israel’s ambassador to Egypt on Friday posted a video on YouTube wishing Egyptians a happy holy month of Ramadan.

At Hillel-J Street U meeting, no agreement on joint national efforts

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 15:27

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Representatives of J Street U and Hillel met and failed to immediately agree on how best to collaborate on the national level.

The meeting earlier this month, details of which emerged late last week, was called after Hillel director Eric Fingerhut pulled out of a commitment to speak at J Street’s annual conference in March.

Fingerhut reportedly canceled under pressure from Hillel donors who object to J Street, a Jewish Middle East policy group that advocates greater U.S. engagement toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and criticizes Israel’s settlement policies.

Fingerhut’s speech was to have praised campus chapters of J Street U and Hillel for cooperating in combating the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. Fingerhut’s appearance would have elevated the relationship to the national level.

The June 11 meeting between members of J Street U’s board and staff and lay leaders of Hillel International, held at Hillel’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., began with a reiteration of the close working relationship enjoyed by campus chapters of both groups, J Street U’s president told JTA.

“We talked about our shared interest in engaging progressives and the enormous progress we’ve made on campuses,” Benjy Cannon said.

Hillel’s spokesman, Matthew Berger, told JTA that the meeting was at the request of  J Street U. He said Hillel’s lay and professional leadership and J Street U’s leaders had a wide-ranging conversation that lasted several hours.

“The discussion covered every topic that the J Street U leaders raised,” Berger said. “We will continue to work with them, as we do with other organizations that engage Jewish students on campus.”

However, Hillel did not immediately respond at the meeting to three J Street U requests: an opportunity for J Street U’s board to engage directly with the Hillel donors who object to the partnership; the opportunity for J Street U to help train Hillel staff at its summer training institute; and Fingerhut’s appearance at J Street U’s summer leadership institute.

“They were open to that, if noncommittal,” Cannon said. Agreeing to the requests would “show we’re an important part of this conversation,” he said.

A Hillel official confirmed Cannon’s account and said that the body was still considering the requests.

The official said Hillel understood it would be given some time to evaluate J Street U’s requests.

“Unfortunately, J Street U decided to send out fundraising letters instead of waiting to see if we could come to an agreement. That was counterproductive,” the official said.

In a letter to supporters sent after the meeting, Cannon described the meeting in generally positive terms, but added, “I am disappointed to report that we ultimately did not leave the meeting with any concrete commitments from them.”

Jewish family appeals ruling in case of Nazi-looted art

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 15:16

(JTA) — The family of a Jewish woman who sold a valuable painting under duress while fleeing the Nazis has appealed a decision by a U.S. judge allowing a museum in Spain to maintain possession.

The family of Lilly Cassirer on Friday appealed the ruling handed down earlier this month in the case of the 1897 painting “Rue Saint-Honoré, Après-midi, Effet de Pluie,” a Paris street scene by Camille Pissarro, which is in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid.

Judge John Walter of the Los Angeles District Court of California ruled on June 4 that that Spanish law applied in the case, and the law did not require the painting’s return. The ruling came after a decade-long dispute over ownership.

In 2005, Cassirer’s grandson Claude sued for restitution of the painting, which his German-born grandmother sold in 1939 to an art dealer for the equivalent of $360 as she was fleeing her homeland from the Nazis. Cassirer’s father-in-law, Julius, had purchased the painting from the painter.

The museum does not dispute that the painting was stolen, but is fighting the lawsuit on technicalities, including international jurisdiction issues and time limitation on restitution claims.

Eventually the painting was acquired by Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza in 1976 and has been displayed in Madrid since the museum opened in late 1992. It was insured for over $10 million.

The Jewish Federation of San Diego County has agreed to be a co-plaintiff on the appeals case with the Cassirer family, according to NBC San Diego.

Thousands demonstrate in front of Israeli church that suffered arson attack

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 15:05

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Thousands of Israeli demonstrators, most of them Christian, demonstrated in front of a church in Israel that was the victim of an alleged arson attack.

The demonstrators carried signs and crosses on Sunday afternoon outside of the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, at the site where Jesus is believed to have fed thousands of people with five loaves of bread and two fish, the Hebrew language news website Walla reported.

Protesters called for the arrest of those culpable for the attack.

The northern Israeli church was burned early Thursday morning in what is believed to have been an arson attack. Graffiti reading “False idols will be smashed” and “pagans” were found on the walls of the church, leading police to believe the fire was set deliberately as part of a hate crime.

Some 16 youths, reportedly all residents of the West Bank who were hiking in the area, were detained for questioning in the attack and later released.

“We are in the place where Christ performed his miracles, and we the monks have hosted invalids here for years,” said Abbot Gregory Collins, head of the Order of Saint Benedict in Israel, Ynet reported. “We will replace the terrible fire with the fire of God’s love and forgiveness.”

A Mass was held in the church following the protest, according to reports.

Helen Mirren honored for educating about Nazi-looted art

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 12:08

(JTA) — Academy Award-winning actress Helen Mirren accepted an award for helping to educate the public about the issues surrounding Nazi-looted art.

On Friday, the World Jewish Congress presented Mirren with its Recognition Award, which honors those working on behalf of the Jewish people, at a ceremony at New York’s Neue Gallery.

Mirren starred in the 2015 film “Woman in Gold,” which tells the story of Maria Altmann, an Austrian-American woman who made headlines in 2006 for winning her legal battle against the Austrian government to reclaim five Gustav Klimt paintings, among them the famous “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I,” nicknamed “Woman in Gold.”

In 1938, the painting was among the works forced from their rightful owner, Altmann’s late husband, Ferdinand, because he was Jewish. Following its restitution to Maria Altmann in 2006, the painting was acquired by WJC President Ronald Lauder and is now on display at the Neue Galerie in Manhattan.

“Being a part of this film and preserving Maria Altmann’s legacy has been a truly exceptional experience from the start,” Mirren said at the ceremony, according to a statement from the World Jewish Congress. “I am utterly moved to receive this award from the World Jewish Congress, an organization that does such important work all over the globe in advocating for Jewish rights.”

Lauder presented the award to Mirren.

“Thanks to Helen Mirren’s stunning performance – which really electrified this issue – the international public will learn about this legacy of World War II which still hasn’t been addressed properly by many governments and museums,” Lauder said at the ceremony, the statement said.

Hate crimes charge added in case of Barclays Center assault

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 08:30

(JTA) — A New York man charged with assaulting the head of the Brooklyn Jewish Y at a borough arena has been hit with a hate crimes charge.

The new charge against Shawn Schraeder, 25, of Queens, on Thursday followed eight months of investigation by a grand jury, CBS New York reported. Schraeder had been charged with assault following the incident at the Barclays Center amid sparring between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel fans.

He is accused of punching Leonard Petlakh, the executive director of the Kings Bay Y, following an exhibition basketball game last October between the Brooklyn Nets and Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Fans verbally sparred inside the arena as the game was ending. Pro-Palestinian protesters began shouting anti-Israel slogans, Petlakh told JTA at the time of the incident, and a pro-Israel fan grabbed a Palestinian flag from one of them.

As the crowds spilled out of the arena and onto the street, he said, one of the protesters took a swing at Petlakh, who was with his 14- and 10-year-old sons. Petlakh’s nose was broken and he required eight stitches. The pro-Palestinian demonstrators reportedly chanted “Free Palestine” and “Your people are murderers” during the alleged assault.

Reports: Israel destroys its own drone in Lebanon

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 07:51

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel reportedly destroyed a downed drone in eastern Lebanon with an airstrike.

The attack on Sunday was first reported by Hezbollah’s al-Manar television, according to Reuters. The French news agency AFP also reported the strike on a downed Israeli drone, citing unnamed security sources in Beirut.

“An Israeli airstrike was launched this morning to destroy one of their drones that crashed in the mountains outside Saghbine yesterday,” the anonymous source said, according to AFP.

Israel’s military did not comment on the reports, saying it does not respond to foreign news reports.

Israel fought a war with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006. Israel has struck several arms convoys in Syria that it said were en route to Hezbollah.

Charleston church gunman Dylann Roof’s manifesto calls to ‘destroy the Jewish identity’

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 07:06

Dylann Roof, suspected of killing nine worshipers at a Charleston, South Carolina, church, appearing at a bond hearing via a video uplink, June 19, 2015. (Grace Beahm/Pool/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Dylann Roof, the alleged Charleston church gunman, said in a racial manifesto that the Jewish “problem” would be solved “if we could somehow destroy the Jewish identity.”

Roof, 21, who has been charged with killing nine worshipers last week in the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in the South Carolina city, published what is believed to be his racial manifesto on a website that is registered in his name. The website and the manifesto came to public attention on Saturday; by Sunday the website was blocked.

The 2,500-word document is rife with racial hatred as well as spelling errors. The website also shows photos of Roof burning a U.S. flag and aiming firearms.

Roof asserts in the manifesto that he was “not raised in a racist home or environment. Living in the South, almost every White person has a small amount of racial awareness, simply because of the numbers of negroes in this part of the country. But it is a superficial awareness.” He said the event that “truly awakened” him was the Trayvon Martin case in Florida, in which neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman fatally shot the unarmed black teen.

Roof devotes most of the manifesto to a discussion of blacks, who he calls “the biggest problem for Americans,” and who he says are “stupid and violent.” He discusses segregation — Roof said it “was not a bad thing. It was a defensive measure” — as well as slavery, the flight to the suburbs and racial mixing.

Roof calls Jews an “enigma,” adding, “I don’t pretend to understand why jews do what they do.” He said he believes that “the majority of American and European jews are White.”

“In my opinion the issues with jews is not their blood, but their identity. I think that if we could somehow destroy the jewish identity, then they wouldnt cause much of a problem. The problem is that Jews look White, and in many cases are White, yet they see themselves as minorities. Just like [the N word], most jews are always thinking about the fact that they are jewish,” Roof wrote.

He added: “The other issue is that they network. If we could somehow turn every jew blue for 24 hours, I think there would be a mass awakening, because people would be able to see plainly what is going on.”

Roof gives what he calls “an explanation” for the attack he is about to pull off at the historic Emanuel A.M.E. Episcopal Church in Charleston: “I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

Roof was arrested in North Carolina on Thursday, the day after the shooting. He is being held on $1 million bond.

Palestinian teen stabs Israeli soldier in Jerusalem

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 06:01

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A Palestinian teenager stabbed and seriously wounded an Israeli Border Police officer in Jerusalem.

The officer, who was not identified in reports, was stabbed in the neck and the upper body outside the Damascus Gate in the Old City on Sunday morning. He shot his assailant before collapsing, according to Israeli news reports. Both were taken to Jerusalem hospitals in serious condition.

The alleged attacker was identified as an 18-year-old male from Hebron who had entered Israel from the West Bank illegally.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat in a statement commended the officer for his quick action in subduing the attacker and called on Israelis to support the beleaguered city.

“We must continue our daily routines,” Barkat said. “I call on all residents of the State of Israel to continue visiting Jerusalem and strengthen it.”

The stabbing attack comes two days after an Israeli man was killed and a second was injured in a shooting near the West Bank settlement of Dolev.

Settler who killed Palestinian nabbed in Brazil

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 16:37

(JTA) — Brazilian police arrested an Israeli fugitive who was convicted of killing a Palestinian man in the West Bank in 2004.

The convict was identified in a report Thursday by the Estado news agency as Y.E. — initials that match those of Yehosha Elitzur, 44, who in 2005 disappeared from his home in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, shortly before an Israeli district court sentenced him to 20 years in prison for manslaughter.

Elitzur was released to house arrest until his sentencing and required to post a bail sum equivalent to $7,000.

Eliztur killed a Palestinian taxi driver, Sa’al Eastiyah, near the Elon Moreh settlement with an M-16 assault rifle. A judge ruled he threatened the driver with the weapon before he fired multiple shots. The court issued an international warrant for Elitzur’s arrest with Interpol, which cooperated in Elitzur’s capture in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Thursday night, Brazil, Estado reported.

According to the report, Brazil’s federal police located Elitzur in the Sao Paolo of Higienopolis, where many members of the city’s Jewish community are concentrated. The report said he entered Brazil on a false passport, complicating investigators’ attempt to ascertain how long he has resided in Brazil.

Israel and Brazil signed a mutual extradition agreement in 2009.

U.S.: Iranian sponsorship of terrorism ‘undiminished’ in 2014

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 14:25

(JTA) — A new U.S. government report says Iran’s funding of terrorism “remained undiminished” in 2014.

Country Reports on Terrorism 2014, released by the U.S. State Department on Friday, said Iran continued its “terrorist-related” activity through its support for Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and various groups in Iraq and elsewhere. The report also said Iran increased its assistance to Shia militias in Iraq in response to the rise of ISIS.

According to the report, Iran attempted to smuggle weapons to Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, which the United States regards as a terrorist group.

The report comes as Iran and the major world powers enter the final stages of negotiating a complex accord to address the country’s nuclear program.

Vandals paint swastika on Ukrainian Holocaust monument

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 09:44

(JTA) — A Holocaust monument in Ukraine was vandalized with a red swastika that the perpetrators painted over a Star of David symbol.

The vandalism in Nikopol, an eastern Ukrainian city located 60 miles from Dnepropetrovsk, occurred on June 16, according to a report Tuesday by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine.

Alexander Taratuta, who heads Nikopol’s small Jewish community, said he filed a complaint with police about the act of vandalism, the perpetrators of which are unidentified.

In April, the monument commemorating Jewish victims of the Babi Yar massacre in Kiev was desecrated for the fourth time in recent months, possibly on Adolf Hitler’s birthday.

A total of about 20,000 Jews were murdered in Dnepropetrovsk alone during the German occupation of the area,  according to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.

Most of the bodies of the murdered Jews were burned in October 1943 by Sonderkommando 1005 – a unit made up of Nazi prisoners, including Jews, whose task was to eliminate the traces of the Nazi crimes.

Most of the Jews of Dnepropetrovsk were evacuated ahead of the German invasion.

Today, Dnepropetrovsk’s Menorah Jewish community center and office building houses the country’s largest museum about the genocide, the Tkuma Ukrainian Institute For Holocaust Studies.

2 Palestinians injured at riot against Jewish pilgrims

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 07:52

(JTA) — Israeli soldiers shot two Palestinian men during a riot near Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, Palestinian security officials said.

The riot was directed at Israeli pilgrims who arrived at the holy site on Thursday night to pray. Approximately 1,500 worshipers came to the tomb in busses, which Palestinian rioters pelted with stones and one firebomb, according to the religious news site hageula.com.

No Israeli was wounded in the riots but soldiers guarding the pilgrims engaged the rioters. Iyad Muin Muhammad Kalbuna, 23, was shot in his left foot while Muhammad Ghassan Hammad Hashash, 24, from Balata refugee camp, was shot in the thigh, the Ma’an news agency reported. They were both taken to Rafidia hospital for treatment.

Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, the site was to remain under Israeli control. The Israel Defense Forces evacuated the premises in October 2000 during the Second Intifada, and it was burnt down by Palestinians.

Jewish worshipers make monthly nocturnal pilgrimages to the site, which has been renovated and restored.

Buenos Aires remembers AMIA attack in subway station display

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 07:51

BUENOS AIRES (JTA) — The Argentine capital opened up a permanent display at a subway station that it intends to rename in memory of victims of the 1994 AMIA terrorist attack on local Jews.

The commemorative display at the Pasteur subway station was unveiled Friday by the municipality and the SBASE metro company. City delegates will vote next month in a second reading of a bill to rename the station Pasteur/AMIA Memorial Station.

The station is located approximately 200 yards from the AMIA Jewish Community Center, where terrorists in 1994 set off explosives that killed 85 people and injured hundreds.

The display features drawings, paintings and photos by 25 artists and a clock that permanently indicates the exact moment of the explosion: July 18, 9:53 AM.

Municipal delegates voted in May unanimously in favor of renaming the station for the AMIA building. A second reading is scheduled for July 13.

“We [at] AMIA are very grateful to the artists that contribute with their talent and creativity to reshape Pasteur station [into] a place of a collective memory for thousands of people who will remember every day the AMIA attack,” AMIA president Leonardo Jmelnitzky told JTA.

The B Line, which stops at Pasteur station, transports approximately seven million passengers monthly. It is the most heavily-used line in the subway system of Buenos Aires.

Palestinian negotiator calls on PLO to retract recognition of Israel

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 07:51

(JTA) — Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat urged his government to retract its recognition of Israel until the Jewish state recognizes a Palestinian one.

Erekat, a Palestinian lawmaker and former chief of the steering and monitoring committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, made the recommendation in a report he submitted to government officials on Thursday about Palestinian-Israeli relations, calling for a comprehensive review of the current status quo.

Titled “Determining Palestinian-Israeli relations: Changing, not merely improving, the situation,” Erekat recommended that the Palestinian leadership “consider retracting its recognition of Israel until the Israeli government issues a reciprocal recognition of a Palestinian state,” the Ma’an news agency reported.

The PLO’s recognition of Israel paved the way to the signing of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, which form the basis for security cooperation between Ramallah and Jerusalem and various initiatives to reach a permanent agreement.

The study recommended that Ramallah reject any international call for recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and oppose the deployment of Israeli forces along the Jordan Valley as part of any peace agreement.

Israeli governments have conditioned a permanent agreement on the presence of Israeli troops in the valley. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called repeatedly for the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

The PLO must also reject any concessions to its sovereignty over eastern Jerusalem, Erekat’s report added.

Erekat also suggested that efforts be made for Hamas and Islamic Jihad to join the PLO’s Executive Committee and urged the PLO and Palestinian factions to support popular resistance and the boycott of Israeli settlement products, according to the Ma’an report.

U.N. hypocrisy has no limits, Netanyahu says after Ban Ki-moon rebuke

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 07:48

(JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the United Nations of limitless hypocrisy after its secretary general singled out Israel at a meeting on children in war zones.

“This is a black day for the UN,” Netanyahu said in a late-night statement Thursday on the remarks of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon concerning last year’s war in Gaza. “The Hamas terror organization is awarded immunity by the United Nations, even though it has been proven beyond any doubt that it committed war crimes by firing from hospitals, mosques and from within U.N. facilities,” he said. “It turns out there is no limit to hypocrisy.”

Instead of focusing on how Hamas “made hostages of Gaza’s children when it fired at Israel from preschools and dug tunnels towards Israeli preschools, the United Nations has again chosen to reproach Israel,” Netanyahu said.

While Ban on Thursday mentioned war zones such as Iraq, Syria and South Sudan, Israel was the only country he called on to take action to protect children in war zones. “Last year was one of the worst in recent memory for children in countries affected by conflict,” the U.N. leader said, adding he is “deeply alarmed at the suffering of so many children as a result of Israeli military operations in Gaza last year.”

“I urge Israel to take concrete and immediate steps, including by reviewing existing policies and practices, to protect and prevent the killing and maiming of children, and to respect the special protections afforded to schools and hospitals,” he added.

Earlier this month, Ban took both Israel and Hamas off of a blacklist submitted to him by U.N. investigators of violators of children’s rights in conflict zones. Still, Ban charged that Israel had used excessive force during its 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza.

Last year, Ban also condemned Hamas’ use of at least three U.N. schools for storing weapons.

The Jewish state, Netanyahu said, holds itself to the highest moral standards in combat “as was determined just this past week by a group of senior American and European generals.”

Israeli wins British portrait photography top award

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 07:46

LONDON (JTA) — Matan Ben-Cnaan became the first artist from Israel to win the British Petroleum Portrait Award – a prestigious distinction for photographers.

The art prize, which includes a $47,500 cash stipend, was presented to Ben-Cnaan at London’s National Portrait Gallery during a ceremony on Tuesday in which Ben-Cnaan was recognized for his neorealist allegorical picture, Annabelle and Guy, the Daily Telegraph reported.

The portrait is influenced by the biblical story of Jephthah, who is forced to sacrifice his daughter instead of his dog after making an unfortunate vow, and depicts the artist’s friend and stepdaughter in present-day Israel posing with a dog.

Judges applauded Ben-Cnaan’s portrait for its “unnerving atmosphere” and “engaging filmic narrative”, adding that its “setting and treatment of intense light and deep shadow was much admired.”

Telegraph art critic Alastair Smart wrote that with the “image of a swarthy man, his stepdaughter and their dog in the Jezreel Valley, he [Ben-Cnaan] hints at parallels between a tale of Old Testament cruelty and continued conflict in the Middle East today.”

But Smart added that “with its looming shadows, blistering sunlight, rigid poses and would-be penetrating gazes,” the picture “looks less like a portrait than the billboard for a third-rate TV gangster series.”

British Petroleum, BP, has awarded the portrait prize for 26 years straight in cooperation with Britain’s National Portrait Gallery.

Michael Douglas salutes son, famous dad in accepting Genesis Prize for Jewish commitment

Thu, 06/18/2015 - 17:00

Michael Douglas, third from right, accepting the Genesis Prize in Jerusalem, June 18, 2015. From left, host Jay Leno; Stan Polovets, co-founder and CEO of the Genesis Prize Foundation; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky; and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein share the stage with Douglas. (Flash90 via Marc Israel Sellem/POOL).

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Actor Michael Douglas credited his son and celebrity father for helping him reconnect to Judaism as he accepted the Genesis Prize, “the Jewish Nobel,” in Jerusalem.

Douglas, an Academy Award winner, accepted the $1 million award on Thursday night for his commitment to Jewish values and the Jewish people. His wife, the actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, and children, Dylan and Carys, were on hand for the ceremony.

In his address, Douglas noted his new ties to Judaism at age 70.

He said his son’s decision to have a bar mitzvah “made me think and it made me strong. And for that I will always be grateful.” His voice broke as he thanked Dylan, who had his bar mitzvah last June, and later his whole family for their support.

“My journey to this stage was a long time in the making,” Douglas said, adding that it led him “to be able to say those four words with great pride: I am a Jew.”

Douglas criticized those who “insist that to say those words” one has to be Jewish through his mother. His mother, Diana Dill, is not Jewish. Douglas said that choosing him to be the Genesis laureate “sends a message around the world.”

He said his father, the actor Kirk Douglas, also inspired him, having also reconnected to Judaism at 70. Kirk Douglas had a second bar mitzvah at 83.

“There was no contradiction between his Jewishness and his universality,” Douglas said of his father, who offered a videotaped greeting for the ceremony.

The prize is endowed by the Genesis Prize Foundation, a group of Russian-Jewish businessmen who fund identity-building programs for Russian Jewry.

Douglas said he will use the prize money to reach out to other Jews from intermarried families seeking a connection to the Jewish community. He announced grants to Hillel and the Jewish Funders Network for programs that reach out to intermarried children and couples.

At the end of the program, host Jay Leno announced that an anonymous philanthropist was donating another $1 million for inclusiveness programs for intermarried families. Coupled with matching grant programs from Genesis and the Jewish Funders Network, some $3.5 million would be available for such programs as a result of Douglas’ prize.

The co-founder of the Genesis Prize Foundation, Mikhail Fridman, said the prize was established in order to inspire people “to reflect on their Jewishness and not take it for granted.” He described Douglas as “not a perfect Jew, yet he is someone who put his energy into being Jewish.” Fridman called on the Jewish community to welcome intermarried families and not turn them away.

A video presentation about Douglas was narrated by his wife and included praise from Jewish actors and directors. In his congratulatory remarks to Douglas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded Douglas for having “pride in the Jewish people and pride in the Jewish state.”

Netanyahu presented the prize to Douglas along with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, chairman of the prize committee; Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, chairman of the selection committee; and Stan Polovets, co-founder and chairman of the Genesis Prize Foundation.

Leno, who hosted the inaugural Genesis Prize ceremony last year, told the audience that he considers himself “Israel’s Shabbos goy,” and remarked that Albert Einstein was smart for turning down an offer to become the first president of Israel.

“Einstein knew it was easier to figure out the mysteries of the universe than to keep Israeli voters happy,” he quipped.

U.N. leader singles out Israel, says state must do more to protect Palestinian children

Thu, 06/18/2015 - 14:27

(JTA) — United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Israel to “take concrete and immediate steps” to “protect and prevent the killing and maiming of children, and to respect the special protections afforded to schools and hospitals.”

In a Security Council discussion Thursday on how wars around the world are affecting children, Ban mentioned other war zones besides Gaza, but did not call on any country other than Israel to do anything, the Times of Israel reported.

“Last year was one of the worst in recent memory for children in countries affected by conflict,” the U.N. leader said, adding that he is “deeply alarmed at the suffering of so many children as a result of Israeli military operations in Gaza last year.”

According to the United Nations, at least 561 children were killed during Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza last summer, the third-highest child death toll of any conflict in 2014. In Afghanistan, 710 children were killed, and in Iraq 679 were killed.

At the meeting, Ban did not discuss his decision last week to exclude Israel from a list of entities that kill or injure youth in war.