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European Friends of Israel mostly pleased by new European Commission

Sun, 09/14/2014 - 06:20

(JTA) — A major pro-Israel group working within the European Union said it was “largely happy” with the new makeup of the European Commission.

The European Friends of Israel, which has over 1,000 members from the European Parliament and parliaments of individual European countries, noted early in its statement of Sept. 10 that EU foreign policy chief “Catherine Ashton’s replacement was already agreed by EU leaders.” Jewish groups have accused Ashton of harboring bias against Israel.

Federica Mogherini of Italy will replace Ashton.

“Already active in the region, Mogherini visited Israel a week into Operation Protective Edge, holding meetings with both Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas and called for an immediate cease-fire,” EFI said in its statement. “She talked about the dangers of radicalization in the Arab world.”

Ashton faced intense criticism in Israel and by Jewish groups when she said at an event in Brussels about Palestinian refugees that the murder of three Jewish children by an Islamist in Toulouse made her think of children who died in Gaza as a result of Israeli attacks on Hamas.

The European Commission is the executive arm of the European Union, with new nominations occurring every five years.

EFI praised Cecilia Malmstrom and Corina Cretu, the commission’s ministers for trade and regional development, respectively, saying both have “been actively involved in fighting and tackling anti-Semitism, and engaging with Israel.”

Maros Sefcovic, in charge of transport and space, “is a former ambassador to Israel and knows the country, its people and politics,” and Dimitris Avramapoulos and Miguel Arias Canete — migration and home affairs and climate action and energy, respectively — “are both on the record as vocal supporters of Israel,” the group added.

Other new commissioners include Frans Timmermans of the Netherlands, who has faced criticism by pro-Israel groups for allegedly encouraging local initiatives to boycott Israel, though he has denied the claim. Timmerman, the new human rights chief, was rapped recently in the Netherlands for implying that religion was a marginal factor in the fight between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas.

The commission’s new president, Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, earned praise in July from the American Jewish Committee for fighting anti-Semitism. AJC’s executive director, David Harris, wrote to Juncker with hopes that the incoming president would address the fight as a “high priority early in your mandate.”


Budapest synagogue community boots ex-leader over government post

Sun, 09/14/2014 - 06:06

(JTA) — A longtime former leader of Hungarian Jewry was ousted as president of a small Jewish community in Budapest following his nomination as a government consultant on Jewish matters.

Nine of the 10 members of the board of the Jewish community of the Dohany Synagogue voted last week in favor of ejecting Gusztav Zoltai, the synagogue’s ex-president and former director of the Mazsihisz Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary. The 10th member abstained.

Zoltai, who resigned as Mazsihisz director earlier this year after decades on the job, stunned many Hungarian Jews last week by accepting the offer to work as senior consultant for Janos Lazar, a minister who runs the office of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. The center-right head of state has come under intense criticism from Mazsihisz and other Jewish groups over Holocaust commemoration issues.

“I read the news with dismay and disbelief,” Mazsihisz President Andras Heisler told nol.hu in an interview, adding the nomination “ruined the record of a life’s work” for Zoltai.

Rabbi Zoltan Radnoti, who works for Mazsihisz, told JTA, “This outrageous move has cost Mr. Zoltai any shred of respect he used to have within the Jewish community.”

Reached by JTA, Zoltai declined to comment. But in an interview that Nol.hu published on Friday, he was quoted as acknowledging that some regard his nomination as a betrayal.

“I’m not a traitor,” Zoltai said. “Those who think I am working against Hungarian Jewry are crazy, these are insane thoughts.”

He also said that in the months following his resignation, “No one called on my experience for help” in talks with the government. Upon receiving Lazar’s offer, “I immediately said yes because I wanted to help the Jewish community,” Zoltai said.

Relations between Mazsihisz and the Orban government soured this year over the government’s erection of a controversial monument in Budapest for victims of Nazi occupation.

Mazsihisz, which complained that the monument served to whitewash the Hungarian state’s Holocaust-era complicity, pulled out of talks on the issue with the government over its refusal to consider an alternative.

Last week, the government and Mazsihisz had their first roundtable meeting since the falling-out, with Zoltai sitting squarely between government officials and Jewish community representatives.

Zoltai reportedly resigned as Mazsihisz director in April in protest of the government’s actions, though many believed he was pushed out by the reform-oriented Heisler over financial irregularities.

Rifle-toting man making threats arrested outside French Jewish school

Sun, 09/14/2014 - 05:50

(JTA) — Police in Marseille, France, arrested a man brandishing a hunting rifle in front of a Jewish school who threatened to commit murder.

The man, who was not named, approached the Gan Ami school on the afternoon of Sept. 10 and shouted “I will kill all of you,” an unnamed police source told the Le Figaro daily. The man, 48, was drunk and was arrested soon after making the threats, according to the report.

He lived next to the school and was annoyed that a truck parked outside the school was blocking traffic and prompting drivers to sound their horns, the police source said. Parents were arriving to pick up students at the time.

The incident comes amid a dramatic increase in anti-Semitic attacks in 2014 compared to last year. In response, police have beefed up security at Jewish institutions, especially schools.

The tightened security is part of a heightened state of alert that began in 2012, when an Islamist murdered three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse.

SPCJ, the security unit of France’s Jewish communities, said the increase in anti-Semitic incidents this year owed to a proliferation of attacks on Jews over Israel’s summer conflict with Hamas in Gaza.


Portugal state airline honors diplomat punished for saving Jews

Sun, 09/14/2014 - 05:39

(JTA) — Portugal’s national airline named its newest plane in honor of a diplomat who saved about 30,000 Jews from the Holocaust.

TAP Portugal last week announced the naming of the Airbus A319 after Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who in 1940 served as consul in Bordeaux, France, where he gave visas to refugees fleeing the Nazi advance.

“The naming of one of the planes of our fleet for Aristides de Sousa Mendes is an honor for the Portuguese national airline which, in this way, seeks to pay homage to this person and his exemplary actions,” TAP Executive Director Luiz da Gama Mor said on Sept. 9, according to the news website fugas.publico.pt. The plane “will carry his name to many European cities where we operate.”

After his actions in Bordeaux — a city located just 120 miles north of France’s border with Spain and the Iberian Peninsula, Mendes was suspended and ejected from the diplomatic service of Portugal, then a dictatorship under Antonio de Oliveira Salazar.

However, Mendes was posthumously vindicated and recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations — a title conferred on behalf of the State of Israel by the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Mendes was the first diplomat to receive the title.

Belarussian Jews celebrate JDC ex-leader’s 100th birthday

Sun, 09/14/2014 - 05:33

VITEBSK, Belarus (JTA) –Russian-speaking Jews in Belarus celebrated  the 100th birthday of Ralph Goldman, former leader of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and a central figure in Israel’s establishment.

The birthday party for Goldman, who lives in Jerusalem, was held as part of the opening gala of the Belarus conference of Limmud FSU, a nonprofit responsible for annual Jewish learning conferences in 10 cities for Russian-speakers across the world.

Hundreds of Russian-speaking Jews attended the conference’s opening on Friday afternoon.

“It is a great honor for me, that my service, which has always been very gratifying but not always easy, is remembered in this way by Jews attending Limmud FSU, which is a big development in the region,” Goldman, JDC’s honorary executive vice president, told JTA Saturday from his Jerusalem home.

JDC, which was established the year Goldman was born, is among the donors to Limmud FSU, which was founded in 2006.

Born on Sept. 1, 1914, in the town of Lechovitz in what is now Ukraine, Goldman immigrated with his family to the United States at the age of 11. He studied history at Harvard University before moving temporarily to Israel, where in the late 1930s he participated in the establishment of Kibbutz Hanita in the Galilee.

Goldman, who after Israel’s establishment served as an envoy of the Jewish state to the United States, was a driving force in JDC’s activity behind the Iron Curtain after he joined that organization in 1969.

In 1992, Goldman’s son, David ben Rephael, died in the terrorist bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Argentina.

Israel’s Conservative movement inducts first openly gay rabbi

Sun, 09/14/2014 - 05:12

(JTA) — One of Israel’s oldest Conservative congregations became the first Conservative synagogue in Israel to install an openly gay rabbi.

Rabbi Mikie Goldstein, who completed studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, was installed as spiritual leader of Congregation Adat Shalom-Emanuel in Rehovot. Goldstein, a native of Liverpool, England, moved to Israel in 1989 at the age of 24. He began his rabbinical studies at JTS in 2010.

“From my point of view, gender identity is not an issue,” Goldstein said. “What was important for our congregation was a rabbi who could teach and do outreach, and I believe that’s why they chose me. Being gay wasn’t an issue.”

The 160-family Congregation where Goldstein will serve is located in Rehovot, where he and his partner of 20 years, Isi Yanouka — Israel’s ambassador to the Ivory Coast — live.

Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Conservative Movement in Israel, told the Israeli daily Haartez: “Mikie and the rabbinate were meant for each other, and he will be a remarkable pulpit rabbi.”


Hillel’s Fingerhut calls for Ohio U apology for arrests

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 17:06

(JTA) — The President of Hillel International called on Ohio University to apologize to four pro-Israel students who were arrested during a protest.

“I cannot understand how the university administration could have possibly allowed the university police to arrest these students,” Eric Fingerhut said in his letter Friday to Roderick David, the university’s president. “These students are owed an apology from the university.

Pro-Israel students had staged a filibuster during Wednesday night’s meeting of the Ohio University Student Senate.

The students called for the resignation of Student Senate President Megan Marzec over a recently recorded video in which Marzec poured a bucket of “blood” (red-colored water) over her head to support the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

When the protesters would not stop speaking, Marzec asked the Senate to vote on whether the protesters should be arrested, and when that was approved, police removed them.

They were charged with a fourth degree misdemeanor, disturbing a lawful meeting.

Fingerhut, a former U.S. congressman from Ohio, noted his longstanding relationship with the university in his letter.

“I urge you to personally take charge of the university’s response to the arrest of the students, and to see that this wrong is made right,” Fingerhut wrote.

70 years after death in battle, Jewish soldier buried at Arlington

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 16:57

Florence Gantt, a volunteer who consoles mourners at Arlington National Cemetery, speaks to David Rogers, the nephew of Pfc. Bernard Gavrin who died in Saipan in 1944 and who was buried Sept. 12 2014. (Ron Kampeas)

An Army Casket team lays to rest Pfc. Bernard Gavrin at Arlington National Cemetery on Sept. 12 2014 while Rabbi Marvin Bash looks on. (Ron Kampeas)

ARLINGTON, Va. (JTA) — Private First Class Daniel Gavrin, declared missing in 1944, was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in a Jewish ceremony.

Gavrin was given full military honors on Friday, and a flag was handed to his nephew, David Rogers.

Gavrin was part of an invasion force in Saipan, then occupied by Japan, in June 1944. Japanese forces subjected the forces to banzai, or suicide, attacks, and killed and injured over 900 U.S. soldiers.

Gavrin, 29, was reported missing on July 7 and declared presumed dead a year later.

A Japanese NGO last year uncovered remains in Saipan, now a U.S. territory, in an unmarked burial site.

Gavrin’s DNA matched Rogers, his nephew, now 82, who last saw Gavrin, his mother’s brother, just before Gavrin enlisted.

About 40 mourners attended the service at Arlington cemetery, led by Rabbi Marvin Bash, and the U.S. Army Band played Yigdal Elohim Hai, a hymn, and America the Beautiful.

Defying Western isolation of Belarus, Jerusalem announces visa-waiver with Minsk

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 14:48

VITEBSK, Belarus (JTA) –  Jerusalem and Minsk are set to sign a visa-waiver program, Israel’s ambassador to the internationally ostracized former Soviet republic of Belarus said.

Ambassador Yosef Shagal announced the signing on Friday to 700 participants at the Limmud FSU conference in Vitebsk, the former Soviet country’s third-largest city. The Limmud conference is an educational and cultural gathering.

The signing is unusual because the landlocked Republic of Belarus, which has been called Europe’s last dictatorship, is a relatively closed nation where tourists from many Western nations, including European Union member states and the United States, may not enter without a formal invitation from a Belarusian host.

Last year, the EU announced a strengthening of its financial sanctions on Belarus for alleged human rights abuses. “This is because not all political prisoners have been released, no released prisoner has been rehabilitated, and the respect for human rights, the  rule of law and democratic principles has not improved in Belarus,” the Council of the European Union wrote.

For this reason, Belarus is “keen to increase its ties with Western countries like Israel, and this relationship is important to many non-Jews in Belarus,” Boris Gersten, the chairman of the Union of Belarusian Jewish Public Organizations and Communities, told JTA.

“It is connected to an effort that in recent years saw both Russia and Ukraine waive visas with Israel, a move which greatly enhanced business ties, tourism and the strengthening of Jewish culture in those countries,” Shagal told JTA.

Currently, Israeli tourists need to apply in advance for a visa to only five of 15 former Soviet nations — Kyrgyzstan; Tajikistan; Armenia; Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Visas for Russia and Ukraine were waived in 2008 and 2011, respectively. Georgia joined in 2013. The waiving of visas has greatly enhanced cultural ties between Russian-speaking Israelis, who number over a million, and their kin in their countries of origin, Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler said.

Stressing Limmud FSU’s apolitical nature, Chesler said: “We are delighted that Israel and the Belarusian authorities just made our task of building bridges between Belarusian Jews, Israel and the rest of world Jewry, a little easier. The fact that the ambassador chose Limmud Belarus to announce the move is of great importance to us, because it fits into our mission.”

Some 70,000 Jews live in Belarus. The visa-waiver will take effect late in 2014, Shagal said.

CUNY grad students to vote on BDS

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 12:44

(JTA) — A student group at the City University of New York is set to discuss and vote on a proposed resolution calling for a boycott of Israel.

The university’s Doctoral Students’ Council advertised the proposed resolution earlier this month ahead of a meeting scheduled for the evening of Sept. 12.

“The DSC hereby endorses the boycott of Israeli academic institutions and the divestment from Israeli companies, and calls for the end to the partnership between Baruch College and the College of Management Academic Studies,” reads the text of the proposed resolution, titled “Resolution for the Endorsement of Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions.”

It cites, among other points raised, Israel’s alleged violations of international law and restrictions on Palestinian academics; universities’ shows of support for Israeli troops fighting Hamas in Gaza this summer and  a claim that “Israeli professors and students at Israeli universities who speak out against discriminatory or criminal policies against Palestinians are ostracized and ridiculed if not publicly shamed, or worse.”

The council voted on a similar resolution at the end of the spring term. It had a strong majority in favor, but did not have the requisite support of a majority of the full DSC membership.

Some students who oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel accused the council of deliberately scheduling the vote on Shabbat, when observant Jews who are likely to oppose the isolation of the Jewish state cannot attend the vote, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

Dominique Nisperos, the council’s co-chair for communications, informed members that no materials about the resolution would be handed out, a decision she connected to an environmentally friendly policy but that has raised concerns among critics, who said the council may have been trying to keep the vote under wraps until it has already passed.

Asked to address the timing of the vote, CUNY director of media relations, Tanya Domi, told the Free Beacon, “the Doctoral Student Council routinely meets and votes on Friday afternoons commencing at 6 p.m.”

Belfast mayor urged to display Herzog plaque after removal

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 10:50

(JTA) — Several hundred residents of Belfast signed a petition asking their mayor to display a plaque honoring former Israeli president Chaim Herzog that was taken down this summer due to vandalism.

The monument on Cliftonpark Avenue, unveiled in the Northern Ireland city in 1998, was removed in August after repeated attempts to damage it.

Expressing shock and deploring “the erasure of an important aspect of Jewish history and culture in North Belfast following racist attacks,” the petition urges the mayor to display at Belfast City Hall the plaque, which used to be hung outside the home where Herzog was born.

“We call upon you as Lord Mayor of all the citizens of Belfast to demonstrate your commitment to diversity and inclusivity by inviting the Ulster History Circle to lend the plaque to Belfast City Hall for display until such time as it can be restored to the building where Chaim Herzog was born on Cliftonpark Avenue,” the petition read.

But in a reaction broadcast on Thursday by the BBC, Belfast Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon said doing so was not under her authority, explaining that the responsibility for the plaque ultimately lies with the Ulster History Circle, a nonprofit.

A spokesperson for that nonprofit told BBC that the circle “has yet to meet to discuss this issue,” and declined further comment.

Israel’s ambassador to Britain, Daniel Taub, also wrote this week about the plaque to the local government in Northern Ireland, to express “very deep concern” at the removal, the news site Ynet reported.

“This attempt to efface both Belfast’s Jewish past and its historic connection to the State of Israel is troubling because of what it says in relation to Israel and the Jewish community, but no less so because it suggests a lack of resolve or indifference to the consequences of allowing prejudice and hatred to fester,” he wrote.

Following the broadcast, James Martin, a spokesperson for the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “Now many thousands more are aware of the Herzog connection than when the thugs caused the plaque to come down.”

Israeli rabbi fleeing sex charges nabbed in Holland

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 09:27

(JTA) — A well-known Israeli rabbi who fled the country after being accused of sex crimes was arrested near Amsterdam.

Eliezer Berland, 77, was detained by police at Schiphol Airport, Het Parool daily reported.

The founder of the Shuvu Bonim religious seminary in Israel, Berland, a member of the Breslov Hasidic sect, fled to Morocco last year and from there to Zimbabwe and South Africa after being accused of sexual assault by two young women, both wives of his followers.

Berland left South Africa in a hurry after police began looking into his actions and was apprehended at Schiphol because Israel has requested his extradition, which the Netherlands is likely to perform, according to the Het Parool report Friday.

During his seven-month stay in Morocco, the charismatic Berland  drew dozens of followers from Israel to join him there, and hundreds more showed up on holidays. He left after community officials complained he was drawing unnecessary and negative attention to the country’s Jews, though community officials deny that their complaints influenced his his decision to leave.

HRW accuses Israel of war crimes in Gaza

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 08:18

(JTA) — Human Rights Watch accused Israel of committing war crimes by attacking three United Nations-run schools in the Gaza Strip.

The group made the accusation on Thursday when it released what it said was the first in-depth documentation of the incidents, which took place during a 50-day conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants this summer.

“Three Israeli attacks that damaged Gaza schools housing displaced people caused numerous civilian casualties in violation of the laws of war,” HRW said in the report, based on interviews with witnesses and field research in the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip.

The organization said 45 people, including 17 children, were killed in or near the “well-marked schools” in the strikes on July 24 in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, on July 30 in Jabaliya refugee camp and on Aug. 3 in Rafah.

Human Rights Watch also said it was skeptical about the credibility of five criminal investigations announced by Israel’s military on Wednesday into its Gaza war operations.

The Israeli military said at the time that the school at Beit Hanoun was hit by errant fire and that the area around the facility had been used by Palestinian fighters to launch rockets.

The first two attacks “did not appear to target a military objective or were otherwise indiscriminate,” while the third strike, in Rafah, was “unlawfully disproportionate,” HRW wrote.

In a message on Twitter, Gerald Steinberg, the founder of the NGO Monitor group in Jerusalem, accused HRW Executive Director  Kenneth Roth of staging “obsessive attacks versus Israel” and of having “no methodology or credibility.”

Some 2,000 Palestinians were killed in seven weeks of fighting, according to the Gaza health ministry. On the Israeli side, the death toll was 73.

The United Nations Human Rights Council — which Israel has long accused of harboring an anti-Israeli agenda — last month announced the appointment of three members to its independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate purported violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip since June.

Israel launched its Gaza offensive on July 8 with the declared aim of halting the cross-border rocket salvoes by Hamas.

Jewish couple weds at Berlin square to protest anti-Semitism

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 06:28

(JTA) — A Jewish couple held a public wedding at one of Berlin’s central squares to protest the growing number of anti-Semitic incidents there.

The ceremony, held last week under a chuppah at Potsdamer Platz, follows a an increase over the summer in anti-Semitic incidents in Berlin and elsewhere, most of them linked to tensions in the Middle East.

Rabbi Yehudah Teichtal, the director of the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Educational Center in Berlin, identified the couple as Igor and Elina, immigrants from the former Soviet Union. He did not give the newlyweds’ surnames.

One hundred guests were invited to the an open-air wedding ceremony at this main traffic and pedestrian junction, and countless passersby took note. An estimated 70,000 people cross the plaza on a daily basis.

Teichtal said he convinced the couple not to have the ceremony at a hotel or in the enclosed Jewish center but on the street in the heart of Berlin, as a “demonstration” against recent anti-Semitic incidents.

He said passersby took photos of the unprecedented event.

“We should not hide as in the past, stash our identifying characteristics or avoid speaking in Hebrew as some parts of the Jewish Berliner street claim,” said Teichtal, who conducted the ceremony.

“Our answer to anti-Semitism should be elevating Jewish pride, externalizing of our Jewish characteristics and deepening our connection to our magnificent tradition,” he said.

A more formal demonstration against anti-Semitism is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 14, at the nearby Brandenburg Gate. Organized by the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the rally is expected to draw a broad spectrum of political and religious leaders. The event will be live-streamed.

Monument to industrialist Emil Kolben unveiled in Prague

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 06:10

PRAGUE (JTA) — A plaque honoring Jewish industrialist Emil Kolben was erected in the Czech capital.

Kolben, who died in the Holocaust, co-founded CKD, one of the most important industrial firms in the former Czechoslovakia.

The monument, located in the heart of Prague’s Vysocany district where Emil Kolben’s machinery empire was based, was unveiled by his granddaughter-in-law, Andree Kolbenova, and the district’s mayor, Jan Jarolim.

“We are proud to commemorate Emil Kolben,” Jarolim said. “He played a prominent role in the formation of Czechoslovakia’s industry, and contributed to the country’s rapid development between the wars.”

Born into a poor Jewish family in Strancice, central Bohemia, Kolben graduated from Prague’s Technical University and relocated to the United States where he spent four years working for Thomas Edison’s General Electric Company.

He founded his first company after returning to Prague in 1896. Through a series of mergers some three decades later, he created CKD, a large industrial complex that evolved into the world’s largest manufacture of streetcars and survived until the 1990s.

In 1939, Kolben was transported to the Terezín concentration camp along with his wife, son and grandson. He died within three weeks of his arrival there, at the age of 80.

After the war, Czechoslovakia’s communist authorities played down Kolben’s legacy, describing him as a capitalist who exploited his workers. Today, a metro station and a street in Prague bear his name. Slovakia and the Czech Republic peacefully split in 1993.

The monument in Vysocany takes the form of  glass plates showing a photo of Kolben and several of his business partners.

Emil Kolben’s granddaughter-in-law, Kolbenova, 87, told JTA she liked the monument.

“It’s very unusual, and I could not really picture it when they first told me about it,” Kolbenova said. “But now I’m really excited. It was a great idea, and I just hope it does not get vandalized.”

University board formally rejects Salaita appointment

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 05:59

The above tweet, which Steven Salaita later took down, has been cited frequently by his critics. (Twitter)

(JTA) — The University of Illinois board of trustees formally voted not to hire controversial professor Steven Salaita, whose anti-Israel tweets spurred university administrators to revoke the offer of a faculty position.

By an 8-1 vote on Thursday, the trustees voted to reject the faculty recommendation that Salaita be appointed to a tenured position with the American Indian Studies program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

The vote followed the recommendation of the university’s president and chancellor, who had previously announced that they would not submit Salaita’s appointment to the board, but who then changed course and asked for a vote to reject.

According to a report by the Chicago Tribune, the board’s action in rejecting a faculty appointment was rare and possibly unprecedented.

The university had announced over the summer that Salaita would be joining the faculty. Chancellor Phyllis Wise reversed course and revoked the appointment after being made aware of tweets by Salaita attacking Israel and its U.S. supporters in harsh language.

That sparked a backlash in academia, with a number of students and professors saying that the revoked job offer violated free speech and academic freedoms.

Another inflammatory tweet that Steven Salaita later removed from his Twitter page. (Twitter)

The protests intensified after documents were released showing that Wise was lobbied by university donors to reject the Salaita appointment, although Wise denied that the lobbying was a factor.

The university has reportedly offered to settle with Salaita to compensate for the financial hardship he incurred by resigning his previous tenured position at Virginia Tech. His wife also resigned her own university position.

Salaita rejected the settlement offer, and at a press conference on Wednesday threatened to sue if he is not reinstated.

With the university’s vote, Salaita’s attorney, Anand Swaminathan, told the Tribune that while a settlement is possible, “what we do now is move toward litigation. He is not dropping it.”

Jewish leaders, Hungarian government meet for first time in a year

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 05:50

BUDAPEST (JTA) — Leaders of Jewish communities throughout Hungary met with representatives of the Hungarian government almost a year after the two sides suspended contact.

The more than four-hour discussion on Tuesday at the Hungarian Parliament building addressed eight topics of importance to the Jewish community, according to Janos Lazar, the chief negotiator representing the Hungarian government.

Increased anti-Semitism in Hungary was one of the main topics. The government promised to declare zero tolerance for anti-Semitism.

The sensitive issue of the “German Occupation Memorial” was not mentioned at all during the meeting, according to reports, although Jewish anger at the memorial is what led last year to a cut-off in communications.

The memorial statue commemorating Hungarian victims of World War II was erected last month in downtown Budapest. Jewish communal leaders say the memorial ignores the decisive political role of the Hungarian political leadership in the extermination of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.

The continued Jewish community boycott of government-organized events commemorating 70 years since the start of the Holocaust in Hungary is still in place, regardless of the renewed talks between Jewish community leaders and the government, András Heisler, the president of the Federation of the Hungarian Jewish Communities, or Mazsihisz, told the opposition daily, Népszabadság on Wednesday.

Other topics raised at the meeting included the socioeconomic situation of Hungarian Holocaust survivors, state support for the restoration of Jewish cemeteries in the country and financial support for the reconstruction of several synagogue buildings.

“We could find solutions to a few questions, but many unsolved problems still remain, and we have to work on them until solutions can be found,” Heisler said.

The representatives on both sides agreed to continue working on a Holocaust museum for Budapest, called the “House of Fates.” They also agreed to continue meeting quarterly.

On Tuesday, Israeli diplomats and representatives of the Hungarian government held a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the renewal of diplomatic relations between the two countries following the collapse of communism. Diplomatic relations between Israel and communist bloc countries were cut off at Moscow’s order after the Six-Day War in 1967.

43 Israeli intelligence reservists vow to stop spying on Palestinians

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 05:40

(JTA) — Dozens of Israeli intelligence corps reservists vowed to stop collecting information on Palestinians.

A letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed by 43 reservists, of whom 10 are officers, from the 8200 signal intelligence unit of the Israel Defense Forces’ intelligence corps, announced the decision.

It was also sent to Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Aviv Kochavi, who heads the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, Army Radio reported Friday.

“The intelligence gathered harms innocents and is used for political persecution and for invading most areas of Palestinians’ lives,” the 43 reservists wrote. “Our conscience no longer permits us to serve this system.”

One of the cosignatories, a reserves captain who was not named, said in an interview with Army Radio that when he enlisted in the 8200 unit over a decade ago, he did so “knowing I would be carrying out important work in defense of Israel. Today we realize the situation is different, and that the unit’s central task is not defense but ruling another people” by “dividing Palestinian society and weakening Palestinian politics.”

Asked what event led the signatories to send the letter, the captain said it was “the result of a personal process we each underwent as individuals and later as a group.”

Citing field security considerations, he declined to name any examples of tasks that his unit received that convinced him or other cosignatories that the unit’s main task was not defensive.

Insisting the move “was not a political statement but a conscientious objection,” the captain said the cosignatories would return to serve in reserves “if they let us deal only with self-defense issues.”

Brazilian school apologizes for test question comparing Israelis to Nazis

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 16:13

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (JTA) – A school in Rio de Janeiro published a public apology for an exam question that compared Israelis to Nazis.

The geography exam for eighth-graders at Colégio Andrews included a question that said Jews were once chased by Hitler and today another people is victimized by the Israelis, who compel them to live under their rule after invading, seizing land and killing.

The question was illustrated by a Nazi soldier wearing a swastika oppressing a Jewish boy, and an Israeli soldier with a Star of David oppressing an Arab boy.

“Who is worse: Nazis or Jews?” the question asks.

The Rio Jewish Federation quickly demanded a public apology and further action. The school published a note on its website this week and emailed the apology to all parents. The exam’s question was voided and the teacher who created the question was fired.

“This was an isolated case that does not reflect our school’s educational project goals, which have always favored peace and the good coexistence among the people,” the apology read. “This is our formal apology.”

Lectures on the Holocaust and the Middle East are scheduled to be delivered to students and teachers.

Israel’s August tourism numbers sag

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 15:37

(JTA) — Israel’s August tourist numbers took a sharp downturn from the previous year’s figures.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 182,000 visitor entries were recorded for the month in Israel, down 36 percent from August 2013. Of the visitor entries, 164,000 were tourists staying more than one night, 32 percent less than August a year ago.

During the month, hundreds of rockets were fired at Israel, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, amid the Israeli military’s operation in Gaza. Foreign airlines canceled flights for at least two days after a rocket landed near Ben Gurion Airport in central Israel.

It is estimated that Israel’s tourism industry generates about $11 billion annually and is responsible for creating 200,000 jobs domestically.

“The tremendous blow to tourism suffered by the Israeli economy in all areas of Israel as a result of canceled visits is a factor in the economic slowdown,” Tourism Ministry director general Amir Halevy said in a statement. “Everyone understands the importance of rehabilitating tourism as an engine for economic growth.”

It is not unusual for Israel’s tourism numbers to dip during times of violence. This year’s August statistics were lower than all the August statistics from 2007 to 2013, but 49 percent higher than August 2006, the time of  the Second Lebanon War, with 122,000 entries.

This week, the Tourism Ministry is convening all the Israel Government Tourist Office directors from around the world to formulate a plan for attracting tourists to Israel.