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British lawmakers call for economic sanctions, boycotts on Israel

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 09:35

(JTA) — British lawmakers called for economic sanctions and boycotts on Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.

The calls late Monday came during a three-hour debate in the Parliament’s House of Commons, the London-based Jewish Chronicle reported.

Some 30 lawmakers spoke during the session, most criticizing Israel and several comparing Israeli policies to apartheid in South Africa, according to the Chronicle.

Labor lawmaker Grahame Morris, who led the session, said during the debate that an arms embargo should be placed on Israel in addition to economic sanctions.

The session comes weeks after the House of Commons approved a nonbinding motion to recognize a Palestinian state. The session was required after more than 124,000 British citizens signed a petition calling for the debate, according to the Chronicle.

U.S. guidelines draft recommends male circumcision

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 09:00

(JTA) — Male circumcision should be recommended to parents of newborn boys because of its benefits, according to a draft of federal guidelines.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the recommendations released Tuesday, found that circumcision lowers the risk of getting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, as well as other health issues.

“These recommendations are intended to assist health care providers in the United States who are counseling men and parents of male infants, children and adolescents in decision making about male circumcision,” the CDC said in its draft recommendations.

The recommendations also said, “Such decision making is made in the context of not only health considerations, but also other social, cultural, ethical, and religious factors.”

The CDC based its recommendation on clinical trials conducted between 2005 and 2010, though it said that the data have been accumulating about infant male circumcision for many years.

From 1979 through 2010, the national rate of newborn circumcision declined 10 percent to 58 percent, Reuters reported, citing the CDC.

A 45-day comment period on the draft ends on Jan. 16.

The governments of Sweden, Norway and Denmark are debating circumcision bans.

Wife of Alan Gross: ‘I am afraid that we are at the end’

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 06:52

(JTA) — The wife of Alan Gross said “I am afraid that we are at the end” as the American-Jewish contractor marked the completion of his fifth year in a Cuban prison.

Wednesday was the first day of Gross’ sixth year of a 15-year prison term for “crimes against the state.”

Gross 65, of Potomac, Md., reportedly is in ill health and has lost more than 100 pounds since his incarceration, and has suffered from painful arthritis.

Judy Gross said in a statement released Wednesday that “Alan is resolved that he will not endure another year imprisoned in Cuba, and I am afraid that we are at the end.”

In August, Gross said he could no longer take life in prison and reportedly said goodbye to his family.

Gross was leaving Cuba when he was arrested in December 2009 for setting up Internet access for the Jewish community there as a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Marie Harf, a deputy State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement issued Tuesday evening that Gross continues to suffer an “unjustified imprisonment in difficult conditions in Cuba.”

“We reiterate our call on the Cuban government, echoing foreign leaders and even Cuba’s allies, to release Alan Gross immediately,” Harf said in a statement.

Cuba has expressed an interest in negotiating a trade of Gross for three Cubans who are jailed in the United States on espionage charges, an idea which the Obama administration has rejected.

Preliminary reading dissolving Knesset approved, new election date set

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 06:25

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A bill to dissolve Israel’s Knesset unanimously passed a preliminary reading and the parliament’s faction leaders set a date for new elections.

The bill passed Wednesday morning by a vote of 84-0 with one abstention, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would move to early elections at the soonest possible time. The measure could pass its second and third readings as early as Monday.

Prior to the vote, the heads of the Knesset factions met in the office of Speaker Yuli Edelstein and agreed on March 17 as the date for elections.

The date makes the current Knesset, the 19th, one of the shortest at just over two years. Elections were supposed to occur next in November 2017.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu announced his intention to dissolve the Knesset and go to early elections during a televised news conference. Hours earlier he had fired coalition party heads Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid and Tzipi Livni of Hatnua from their ministerial positions, saying he would “not tolerate ministers who that from within the government attack government policies and the person who leads the government.”

The four other Yesh Atid ministers later resigned their ministerial positions.

Dems fundraiser Noah Mamet confirmed as U.S. envoy to Argentina

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 04:48

(JTA) — The U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Democratic Party fundraiser Noah Mamet as the U.S. ambassador to Argentina.

Mamet was approved for the post Tuesday by a vote of 50-43 despite criticism during the hearing that he has never visited the South American country. He succeeds Vilma Martinez, who left the position 17 months ago.

Mamet, 43, was a key player in President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, bundling more than $500,000 for the campaign. He is a member of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

The California native worked for the state’s Democratic Party and helped Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign in Santa Barbara County.

Mamet, who owns a political consulting firm, reportedly will be invited to the Buenos Aires Jewish center AMIA  in September for the ceremony to remember the victims of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

Belgian government to support recognizing Palestine

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 03:50

(JTA) — The parties that make up Belgium’s federal government have agreed to recognize Palestinian statehood unilaterally, a Belgian daily reported.

The four parties reached an agreement earlier this week, the Le Soir daily reported Wednesday. They intend to submit a motion to parliament formulating support for recognizing Palestinian statehood, which the parties intend to pass in parliament and the government is planning to implement.

However, the text for the draft of the planned motion does not set a date for recognition, Le Soir reported. Quoting from the text, the paper said it states that recognition will happen “at a moment deemed appropriate.”

If Belgium’s government eventually recognizes a Palestinian state, it would be the second country in Europe to do so following Sweden’s recognition in October.

The four coalition parties that agreed to promote recognition are the Reformist Movement, the Flemish Liberals and Democrats, the Christian-Democratic & Flemish Party and the New Flemish Alliance.

On Tuesday, the French parliament’s lower house passed a nonbinding motion encouraging the government to recognize Palestinian statehood, though French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the government would not change its policy, which is to recognize Palestinian statehood only after it is agreed upon in peace talks between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators.

The French Senate is scheduled to vote on a similar motion on Dec. 11, which is also nonbinding.

The vote in France follows similar mostly symbolic motions passed in the lower house of the British parliament and by Ireland’s upper house last month.

House votes to deny Social Security benefits to ex-Nazis

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 17:50

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill that would end Social Security payments to former Nazis.

The No Social Security for Nazis Act passed Tuesday by consent. It closed a loophole that had allowed ex-Nazis who lied about their past when immigrating to the United States — and been identified and deported by the Justice Department — to continue receiving Social Security and other benefits.

The bill was sponsored by Reps. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) and Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) along with Ways and Means Committee chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and its ranking member, Sander Levin (D-Mich.),

A similar bill in the Senate sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is under consideration.

The White House has encouraged bids to close the loophole.

Jewish groups praised the House vote.

“Now that most suspected Nazi perpetrators have been deported or have fled the U.S., it’s time to focus on ending any possible remaining federal benefits from being paid to them,” Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League national director and a Holocaust survivor, said in a statement. “Today’s vote is certainly a case of better late than never.”

The Jewish Federations of North America, which led lobbying for the bill, in its statement noted another of its initiatives, bringing relief to American Holocaust survivors who live in poverty.

“There are more than 100,000 Holocaust survivors living in the U.S., many of whom struggle to afford basic needs and services,” said JFNA’s Washington director, William Daroff. “The Holocaust survivors – not their persecutors – need and deserve the support of the U.S. government.”

News of the continued benefits came in October, when The Associated Press published an expose.

There are at least four living beneficiaries, including Jakob Denzinger, a former guard at Auschwitz. Denzinger, 90, lives in Croatia, where he receives approximately $1,500 a month in Social Security payments.

State Dept.: Qatar pledges not to fund Hamas

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 17:07

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration says it has received assurances from the Arab nation Qatar that its assistance to the Palestinians will not reach Hamas.

“Qatar has pledged financial support that would be directed to the Palestinian people in Gaza,” Julia Frifield, the assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, wrote in a Nov. 21 letter to Rep. Pete Roskam (R-Ill.) first revealed this week by the Free Beacon news website. “Qatar assured us that its assistance would not go to Hamas.”

In July, during the conflict between Israel and Hamas, Roskam had written to the U.S. secretaries of State and the Treasury expressing “grave concerns” about the State Department’s cooperation with Qatar in its bid to end the fighting, noting the emirate’s past support for Hamas.

In her letter, Frifield noted the continuing U.S. policy of not dealing with Hamas, but added that Qatar was valuable in part because of its influence with the group.

“We need countries that have leverage over the leaders of Hamas to help put a cease-fire in place,” she said.

Part of Hamas’ leadership is headquartered in Qatar. Frifield also said that the United States is cooperating with Qatar to clamp down on terrorist financing in the country, noting that disruption of such financing remains “inconsistent.”

Qatar has pledged $150 million to the Palestinian Authority in debt relief and additional funds to help the people of the Gaza Strip.

Law student sues Freundel’s synagogue for turning blind eye

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 17:03

(JTA) – A third-year student at Georgetown University’s law school is suing Rabbi Barry Freundel, his Washington synagogue, the adjacent mikvah and her own law school for allowing Freundel’s alleged misdeeds to go unchecked.

The unidentified student’s suit was filed Tuesday in D.C. Superior Court by attorney Steven Silverman of Baltimore. She said she was lured to the mikvah by Freundel, who was arrested Oct. 14 on voyeurism charges for allegedly installing a secret camera in the ritual bath.

“This case involves an unfathomable breach of trust by a Georgetown professor and religious leader and defendants’ utter failure to prevent and/or stop it,” the lawsuit says, according to The Washington Post. “Defendants turned a blind eye to obvious signs of Freundel’s increasingly bizarre behavior, ignoring the bright red flags that Freundel was acting inappropriately with women subjected to his authority.”

The student, who is Jewish, said she visited the mikvah twice while researching a paper for a class at the law school taught by Freundel and believes the rabbi watched her disrobe at the ritual bath.

The paper, “The Mikvah: Expanding the Ritual for Jewish Women,” received an A grade from Freundel, the lawsuit says. The rabbi co-taught a law seminar at Georgetown as recently as this spring, according to the university.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status and does not identify the plaintiff by name, according to the Post.

On Sunday, Kesher Israel, the synagogue led by Freundel, announced that it had fired the rabbi, who had been on unpaid suspension since his arrest.

The lawsuit charges that Kesher Israel was aware of inappropriate behavior by the rabbi, including his treatment of women, but did nothing about it other than convey concerns to the Rabbinical Council of America. Similarly, the lawsuit accused Georgetown of “willful blindness” because it “undertook no investigation into Freundel’s background prior to hiring him,” according to the report in the Post.

Also named in the suit was the National Capital Mikvah, where the alleged peeping took place.

Israel’s Jewish teens have seen more online anti-Semitism in ’14, ADL reports

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 16:00

NEW YORK (JTA) – Jewish-Israeli teenagers faced more anti-Semitism and “anti-Israel expression” on the Internet in 2014 than they did last year, according to an Anti-Defamation League poll.

The survey, which was announced Tuesday, polled 500 Jewish Israelis aged 15 to 18 in November.

It found that 51 percent of the participants reported encountering “attacks” on the Internet because of their nationality, compared to 36 percent last year. Eighty-three percent of the teens reported seeing anti-Semitism online in some form through “hate symbols, websites, and messages found on social media and in videos and music,” compared to 69 percent last year.

The respondents noted that online anti-Semitism increased significantly during Israel’s war in Gaza this summer.

“The more teenagers in Israel are using the Internet to connect with friends and share social updates, the more they are coming into contact with haters and bigots who want to expose them to an anti-Israel or anti-Semitic message,” Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, said in a news release issued by the organization.

The survey also found that the teens encountered more anti-Semitism on social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter. Eighty-four percent reported seeing anti-Semitism in Facebook posts or tweets, compared to 70 percent last year.

Sixty-five percent of the teenagers noted that they took action in response to the posting of anti-Semitic content by contacting website administrators or responding with comments of their own.

The poll was conducted in Hebrew by the Israeli polling company Geocartography. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent.

French Jewish woman raped in brutal attack, anti-Semitic motive probed

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 14:40

(JTA) — Armed assailants broke into a suburban Paris residence of a Jewish couple, raped the woman while her husband was kept at bay, and robbed the couple.

French police arrested two suspects in the incident, which occurred Monday in the suburb of Creteil, the Le Parisien daily reported. A third suspect remains at large.

The three men carrying handguns and a short-barreled rifle forced their way into an apartment where the parents of one of the victims live and separated the 19-year-old Jewish woman and her 21-year-old Jewish partner, the paper reported. One suspect raped the woman while another guarded her partner and a third withdrew money from a cash machine. The assailants spent approximately one hour inside the house, police said.

Before the rape, the men demanded that the couple hand over their credit cards and codes, the couple told police. The assailants told the couple they shouldn’t try to pretend they don’t have money because they knew the victims were Jewish, the victims said.

“It is too early to tell if the victims were selected because they are Jewish,” a law enforcement source told Le Parisien.

The president of the European Jewish Congress, Moshe Kantor, decried the attack.

“Unfortunately, it appears that it is ‘open season’ on Jews in France following so many recent violent attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions going all the way back to the brutal torture and murder of Ilan Halimi,” Kantor said, referring to the 2006 torture and murder of a Jewish phone salesman.

Kantor urged the French government to place the fight against anti-Semitic crimes at “the forefront of its agenda.”

Netanyahu: I will go to early elections as soon as possible

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 14:30

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will dissolve his coalition government and move to early elections as soon as possible.

His announcement Tuesday night during a televised news conference came hours after Netanyahu fired coalition party heads Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni from their ministerial positions, saying he would “not tolerate ministers who that from within the government attack government policies and the person who leads the government.”

“I turn to you, the citizens of Israel, this evening because under the current situation, from within the current government, it is impossible to lead a state. My responsibility as prime minister is to do that. To preserve security, to develop the economy, to lower the cost of living – to take care of you, the citizens of Israel,” Netanyahu said in his statement.

Netanyahu also said that Livni and Lapid attempted to coordinate a “putsch” against him.

He called the current government a “contrarian government,” which was “forced on me because the results of the election – a simple reason – meant that a ruling government under my leadership did not receive enough seats.”

Netanyahu acknowledged that frequent elections “are not a good thing” and that calling for new elections “is not an easy thing to do.”

He added that he has not made a deal with the haredi Orthodox parties in which they would support him for prime minister.

Following the news conference, the four remaining Yesh Atid ministers also resigned their positions.

Netanyahu fires government ministers Lapid, Livni

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 13:13

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

The dismissals came Tuesday evening amid rifts in the government coalition that signaled the dissolution of the government and early elections.

Netanyahu instructed Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit to issue letters of dismissal to Lapid, who heads the centrist Yesh Atid party, and Livni, the leader of Hatnua. Both parties are in the coalition — Yesh Atid has the most seats.

“In recent weeks, Ministers Lapid and Livni attacked harshly the government I head,” Netanyahu said in a statement released the same evening by the Prime Minister’s Office. “I will no longer tolerate an opposition within the government. I will not tolerate ministers who that from within the government attack government policies and the person who leads the government.”

Netanyahu called a news conference for Tuesday night, during which it is expected that he will announce the firings and the new elections.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu has failed in his management of the country and in dealing with the needs of the Israeli public,” Lapid said in a statement. “The firing of ministers is an act of cowardice and loss of control. We are sad to see that the Prime Minister has chosen to act without consideration for the national interest and to drag Israel to unnecessary elections which will harm the economy and Israeli society, all for narrow political interests and a surrender to the ultra-Orthodox parties, the powerful central committee of the Likud and outside lobby groups.”

Four other ministers from Yesh Atid will not be fired from their ministerial positions, Channel 2 reported.

Netanyahu, who heads the Likud party, and Lapid in a meeting on Monday night failed to repair the coalition rift, leading both sides to say that the early vote will be called.

Following the meeting, Lapid said that Netanyahu presented “impossible” demands and was responsible for new elections.

The elections would likely be held in March or April. Elections are scheduled for November 2017.

A bill disbanding the Knesset could come to a vote as early as Wednesday.

French parliament passes symbolic motion recognizing Palestine

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 11:43

(JTA) — The French parliament’s lower house passed a nonbinding motion that encourages the government to recognize Palestinian statehood without delay.

In Tuesday’s vote, 339 National Assembly lawmakers supported the motion submitted last month by lawmakers from the ruling Socialist Party and 151 opposed it, the news website of the Europe1 radio station reported.

The motion “invites the French government to use the recognition of the state of Palestine as an instrument to bring about a definitive resolution of the conflict.” The text calls for Jerusalem to be the Palestinian state’s capital, as well as Israel’s. It further calls on the government to act “urgently” on the matter.

Last month, similar motions were passed by Britain’s House of Commons, the parliament’s lower house, and by the upper house of the Irish parliament.

Several hundred protesters, most of them Jewish, demonstrated outside the National Assembly against the motion. It was the third demonstration staged there against the motion; the CRIF Jewish umbrella federation warned that protests risked worsening France’s anti-Semitism problem.

In a statement following the vote, Israel’s embassy in Paris said, “Israel considers the vote to be an error that sends the wrong message to the peoples of the [Middle East] region. Israel underlines the fact that the consistent policy of the French government remains unchanged: Only a negotiated solution will terminate the conflict.”

European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor said the vote was detrimental to efforts to jump-start peace talks.

“Lawmakers who support Palestinian statehood outside of a negotiated solution between the parties are merely putting wind into the sails of Palestinian rejectionism and extremism, which is leading directly to greater violence against Israelis,” Kantor said in a statement.

The leaders of JCall, the dovish European counterpart of J Street, said they welcomed Palestinian recognition.

Citing the “slow deterioration of the situation and of the announced collapse [of peace talks] which would put an end to the Zionist project,” JCall leaders wrote in a statement Monday that they “decided to support the action taken by Palestinians to gain the recognition of their state.”

Jerusalem seminaries refund tuitions with ex-leader accused of sexual assault

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 10:09

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Four religious seminaries in Jerusalem whose former leader was accused of sexual assault will refund tuition to 13 families of American students.

The out-of-court settlement was reached last month, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported Tuesday.

A civil lawsuit was filed in August with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on behalf of four parents with daughters who signed up for the haredi Orthodox seminaries for the 2014-15 school year.

The parents withdrew their daughters after allegations that Rabbi Elimelech Meisels sexually assaulted students at the seminaries that he ran — Peninim, Binas Bais Yaakov, Chedvas Bais Yaakov and Keser Chaya.

In an August interview with JTA, Meisels called the sexual assault allegations “completely false.” He also was accused of fraud.

Officials from the seminaries told Haaretz that Meisels is no longer involved with the seminaries.

No complaints have been made in the case in Israel, according to Haaretz.

British soccer star apologizes for racist, anti-Semitic post

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 08:49

(JTA) — British soccer player Mario Balotelli, who grew up the foster son of a Jewish mother, apologized for a racist and anti-Semitic post on his Instagram page.

On Tuesday, Balotelli apologized on Twitter for the post, which featured a photo of Nintendo computer game character Super Mario and read, in part, that the character “jumps like a Black man and grabs coins like a Jew.”

Balotelli, 24, who plays for the Liverpool team, is nicknamed Super Mario. He is the son of immigrants from Ghana.

He also was notified that he is being investigated by Britain’s Football Association under its strict anti-racism rules. Balotelli has until Friday to offer his explanation about the post.

Balotelli’s apology tweet said in part, “I apologize if I’ve offended anyone. The post was meant to be anti-racist with humor. I now understand that out of context it may have the opposite effect.”

The rest of the Super Mario post reads: “Don’t be racist. Be like Mario. He’s an Italian plumber, created by Japanese people, who speaks English and looks like a Mexican.”

On Monday, following criticism of the post, Balotelli responded with a tweet that said, “My Mom is jewish so all of u shut up please.”

Jewish leaders in Britain criticized the Super Mario post as anti-Semitic and racist.

China to send two giant pandas to Israel

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 08:30

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Chinese government has agreed to send two giant pandas to a zoo in Israel.

The gift will be conferred on the Haifa Zoo if Chinese panda experts agree that the conditions there will be appropriate for the animals, according to Haaretz, including providing the appropriate food — a certain kind of bamboo. The zoo must also build a special habitat for the pandas.

A delegation from the Haifa Zoo must visit China to observe the rare animal, which is considered an endangered species.

Haifa and the Chinese city of Chengdu signed a sister-city agreement last week, according to Israel Hayom.

China has used “panda diplomacy” for hundreds of years to strengthen ties with other countries.

Jonathan Pollard rejected escape plan, former Mossad handler says

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 06:58

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Jonathan Pollard circumvented an escape plan and sought asylum at Israel’s embassy in Washington, his former handler said.

Rafi Eitan, an agent for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, for the first time gave details of his work with Pollard during an interview Monday night on the Israel Channel 2 news magazine “Uvda,” or “Fact.”

Pollard was a civilian U.S. Navy analyst who was sentenced to life in prison in the United States in 1987 for spying for Israel.

“I got the call that he is waiting at the entrance of the embassy … and I immediately said ‘throw him out.’ I don’t regret it,” Eitan said on the show. “The minute the man decided to come to the embassy … he decided for himself that he is going to prison.”

Eitan, 88, said the plan was to spirit Pollard to Israel but he did not elaborate.

If Israel had given Pollard asylum, he said, it would have even more severely damaged its relations with the United States.

Eitan said during the interview that he was not a rogue agent, as he has frequently been depicted, but that both prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres were aware of his work with Pollard. He said he took responsibility for the Pollard debacle in order to allow the Israel-U.S. relationship to move forward.

It was reported recently that Pollard was turned down in August on his first parole request. Though he has been eligible to apply for parole for 19 years, he reportedly has refrained from doing so because he is seeking a presidential commutation, which would release him unconditionally.

The parole commission said it would review Pollard’s case again next year.

Pope meets chief rabbi during official visit to Turkey

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 06:31

(JTA) — Turkish Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva met with Pope Francis on the Catholic spiritual leader’s first official visit to Turkey.

Francis, who was born in Argentina, and Haleva met privately for about 15 minutes on Sunday, Vatican Radio reported. The two conversed in Spanish, which is Haleva’s maternal language as a Sephardic Jew of Spanish descent.

The pope met Haleva in the final hours of his two-day trip to Turkey. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, told reporters that the two men would have met Saturday if not for the Jewish Sabbath. He added that the conversation was “very friendly and cordial.”

“Pope Francis came here on a bridge-building mission within the Christian world,” said Cefi Kamhi, a prominent member of Turkey’s Jewish community of 25,000, a member of the European Jewish Parliament and a former lawmaker. “It’s natural that he should also reach out to strengthen ties to other faith groups, and I think he succeeded in doing this.”

Haleva met the previous pope, Benedict XVI, on his visit to Turkey in 2006.

One of the key elements of the Pope’s visit was his meeting with the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. The two met Sunday and demanded an end to the persecution of religious minorities in Syria and Iraq and called for a “constructive dialogue” with Muslims.

Francis’ visit was also seen as outreach to Muslims in the Muslim nation. He visited Istanbul’s Sultan Ahmet mosque, where he paused for a moment of reflection. The grand mufti of Istanbul, Rahmi Yaran, who received Francis at the mosque, said he hoped that Francis’ visit would “contribute to the world getting along well and living in peace.”

Coalition rift has Israel heading toward early elections

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 17:48

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel may be heading to early elections, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid accused of each other of fomenting a coalition crisis.

Netanyahu, head of the Likud party, and Lapid, whose party has the most seats in the coalition government, in a meeting on Monday night failed to repair the coalition rift, leading both sides to say that the early vote will be called.

The Israeli media reported that the elections would come in March. Elections are scheduled for November 2017.

A bill disbanding the Knesset could come to a vote as early as Wednesday.

“The people of Israel placed the responsibility on me, but with this coalition it is impossible to govern the country as its citizens expect,” Netanyahu said after the meeting. “If the unprecedented conduct from some of the ministers continues, there will be no escaping from going to the polls.”

Following the meeting, Lapid reportedly said that Netanyahu presented “impossible” demands and was responsible for new elections.

At the meeting, Netanyahu presented Lapid with five demands, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement. The demands called on Lapid to stop undermining the government, particularly over construction in Jerusalem and relations with the United States; to transfer 6 billion shekels (about $1.5 billion) to the defense budget as previously promised; to free up funds for the Israel Defense Forces to relocate its headquarters to southern Israel; to support the softened version of the Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people bill; and to freeze the zero-value added tax proposal.

Lapid, the finance minister, has strong feelings on the programs and issues noted in the demands.

In a statement, Lapid said that “Netanyahu prefers a deal with the ultra-Orthodox parties to bring forward the elections above the interests of the wider Israeli public.”

Earlier Monday, Lapid told his Yesh Atid faction at a meeting that early elections would harm the economy that he is trying to repair and lead to important socioeconomic legislation being stalled in the Knesset. He said he would work to hold the five-party coalition government together.