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13 Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza City battle

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 11:20

Israeli soldiers milling around the wounded from combat in the Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza City, July 20, 2014. (Flash90)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed in heavy fighting in a Gaza City neighborhood.

The soldiers from the Golani Brigade were killed since late Saturday night in Shujaiya, the Israel Defense Forces announced Sunday evening, bringing the death toll of Israeli soldiers since the launch late last week of the Gaza ground operation to 18.

In Shujaiya, seven of the soldiers died when their armored personnel carrier was hit by an anti-tank missile. One was an American citizen, Max Steinberg, a Los Angeles native who joined the Israel Defense Forces in 2012,  according to the Jewish Journal. He lived in Beersheba.

Palestinian reports put the number of Gazans dead in the fighting in the area at more than 60. At least 360 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed since the start of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge 13 days ago.

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in an interview on the NBC news show “Meet the Press” defended Israel’s response to rocket fire from Gaza.

“I don’t think any nation in the world would sit there while rockets are bombarding it, and you know that there are tunnels from which terrorists have come … in an obvious effort to try to kidnap people, then hold them for ransom,” Kerry told host David Gregory.

“The fact is, that is unacceptable by any standard, anywhere in the world. And Israel has every right in the world to defend itself.”

Kerry said he was hopeful that a cease-fire could be put into place, but added that “you cannot reward terrorism.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Sunday morning that Israel is taking “whatever action is necessary to stop this insane situation.”

“They’re not only targeting our cities, they’re deliberately firing thousands of rockets,” he said. “They have already fired 2,000 rockets in the last few days on our cities.”

Netanyahu said he is “sad” for every civilian casualty.

“They’re not intended. This is the difference between us,” the Israeli leader said. “The Hamas deliberately targets civilians and deliberately hides behind civilians. They want to pile up as many civilian dead as they can. They use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause. They want the more dead the better.”

Argentine boxer Carolina Duer defends bantamweight crown

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 07:34

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (JTA) — Carolina Raquel Duer of Argentina defended her World Boxing Organization bantamweight title for the second time.

Duer, popularly known as “The Turk,” defeated Ana Maria Lozano of Venezuela by unanimous decision on Friday night in Lanus, a city in Buenos Aires Province, to take the crown in the 115- to 118-pound class. After the 10 rounds, two judges scored the bout 98-92, and one had it 97-93.

The Jewish boxer raised her professional record to 17-3.

Duer, 35, was the WBO super flyweight champion, for fighters weighing 112 pounds to 115 pounds — a title she defended six times. She is the first Jewish woman to hold a WBO crown.

The country’s National Public Television covered the fight live and broadcast it free under a federal program designed to make satellite television more accessible, including in high definition.

Duer this year began to announce boxing on National Public Television, and she will be in Las Vegas on Sept.  13 as the special commentator for Argentine TV at the rematch between American boxer Floyd Mayweather and the Argentine Marcos Maidana.

Duer, a favorite in Argentina, is the daughter of Syrian immigrants. She attended the Jaim Najman Bialik Primary School in Buenos Aires and spent more than a month in Israel in her younger years working on a kibbutz and touring the country.

 

French PM: All of France must combat anti-Semitism

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 07:12

PARIS (JTA) — French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called the fight against anti-Semitism a “national cause.”

Speaking at a ceremony to commemorate the victims of the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup of Jews ahead of their deportation from Paris in 1942 to Nazi death camps, Valls condemned recent anti-Semitic incidents and violence that occurred during protests in France against Israel.

“What happened yesterday in Paris, these unacceptable disruptions, justify even more forcefully the decision that the interior minister courageously took to forbid the demonstration,” Valls said in reference to clashes Saturday between anti-Israeli protesters and police in which 15 officers were lightly injured and 38 protesters were arrested. “France will not allow provocateurs to nourish conflicts between its communities.”

The ban was imposed last week after anti-Israel protesters besieged a Paris synagogue, where they confronted young Jews until police arrived at the scene. France has seen several attacks against synagogues since Israel launched its operation against Hamas in Gaza nearly two weeks ago.

“I call on all elements of our society to combat anti-Semitism: Yes, it is a national cause,” Valls said in an apparent reaction to a request made in March by the CRIF umbrella group of Jewish communities that France declare the fight against anti-Semitism a national cause.

“Traditional anti-Semitism, this old disease of Europe,” Valls said, “is joined by a new anti-Semitism that cannot be denied or concealed, that we must face. It happens on the social networks and in workers’ neighborhoods, among ignorant young men who hide their hatred of Jews behind a facade of anti-Zionism or hatred of the State of Israel.”

Since 1977, French prime ministers have designated one cause each year to receive free publicity on state media. This year, the prime minister’s office designated the fight against illiteracy as the national cause.

Jewish mother and daughter killed in Ukraine shelling

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 06:01

(JTA) — A Jewish mother and daughter were killed in a shelling in the embattled eastern Ukraine city of Lugansk.

The victims of Friday’s explosion were identified on the website of the Lugansk Jewish community as Svetlana and Anna Sitnikov.

Svetlana Sitnikov, 57, and her daughter Anna Sitnikov, 31, were going to buy shoes, according to Zelig Brez, a leader of the Jewish Community of Dnepropetrovsk. They were to take along Anna’s 4-year-old son, Vadim, but at the last moment his grandfather took the boy. Five minutes later came the explosion, Brez said.

“They were among the most active members of the community,” he said.

Rabbi Shalom Gopin, Chabad’s emissary to Lugansk, was trying to bring the deceased to burial but was waiting on authorization from city officials, the news site ch10.co.il reported Sunday. Gopin was not immediately available for comment.

Lugansk is among a number of cities in eastern Ukraine where the government is fighting pro-Russian separatists who took up arms after the ousting in late February of President Viktor Yanukovych in a revolution that erupted several months earlier over his alleged corruption and close ties with the Kremlin in Russia.

Since fighting erupted, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Community of Dnepropetrovsk have helped more than 650 flee battle zones in eastern Ukraine, settling them in community institutions or providing alternative housing solutions in addition to food, medicine and counseling to help children cope with trauma.

Israel agrees to temporary truce in heavily hit Gaza neighborhood

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 05:53

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel agreed to a two-hour humanitarian truce in a Gaza City neighborhood where dozens of Gazans reportedly have been killed in heavy fighting.

The Red Cross on Sunday requested the cease-fire in the Shujaiya neighborhood, where at least 40 Gazans are reported dead, according to the Israeli media, citing Palestinian sources. The truce was later extended an hour.

Hamas reportedly made the request through the Red Cross in order to evacuate the dead and injured. The truce began at 1:30 p.m.

Any attempt to violate the cease-fire “will not be tolerated,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement. Later, however, the IDF said rocket fire on Israel continued from the area during that period.

A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces said on Twitter that it ordered civilians in the neighborhood “days ago” to evacuate for their own safety.

“Hamas ordered them to stay. Hamas put them in the line of fire,” he said.

On Sunday, Israel again called on the neighborhood’s residents to evacuate, with instructions to move west and cross the Salah ad-Din road to Gaza City.

 

 

Two more Israeli soldiers killed as ground war expands

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 05:39

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Two more Israeli soldiers were killed in Gaza, bringing the number of soldier fatalities to five.

Lt. Bar Rahav, 21, a combat engineer, and Sgt. Bnaya Rubel, 20, an infantry combatant, were killed Saturday night. Rahav’s vehicle was hit by an anti-tank missile and Rubel died in a battle.

The ground phase of Operation Protective Edge was expanded that night, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement, a day after the IDF said it uncovered and demolished 34 tunnel shafts and about a dozen tunnels intended to be used to carry out terror attacks inside Israel.

Fifty-one injured Israeli soldiers are in hospitals, seven in serious condition, Israel Radio reported Sunday morning.

Since the start of Operation Protective Edge nearly two weeks ago, the IDF said it has struck 2,570 Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets, and 500 since the start of the ground offensive started late last week. More than 1,770 rockets have been launched from Gaza at Israel, with 360 rockets intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, the IDF said.

Also Saturday, five trucks of humanitarian aid were transferred into the Gaza Strip, according to Israel’s coordinator of government activities in the territories. The trucks were carrying about 20 tons of medical supplies, including antibiotics, intravenous fluids, first-aid kits and blankets.

On Sunday, the IDF announced that it would open a field hospital for injured Gazans on the Israeli side of the Erez crossing.

 

 

Erdogan calls Israel more barbaric than Hitler, but defends Turkish Jews

Sat, 07/19/2014 - 21:16

(JTA) — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Israel was worse than Hitler, but appeared to heed calls to urge his political allies to tone down attacks on the country’s Jews.

“Those who condemn Hitler day and night have surpassed Hitler in barbarism,” Erdogan said Saturday, addressing supporters in Ordu, a city on the Black Sea, according to Reuters.

Erdogan has made repeated Israel-Nazi comparisons during the current Israel conflict in Gaza with Hamas, a group with which he has formed close ties. But Erdogan also called for the country’s Jews to be left alone.

“I don’t approve of any [bad] attitude towards our Jewish citizens in Turkey, despite all this. Why? They are the citizens of this country,” he said.

Israel ordered withdrawn non-essential diplomatic personnel from Turkey on Friday after riots outside Israeli legations.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, on Friday urged Erdogan to denounce attacks on Jews by a newspaper affiliated with his party.

Yeni Akit, a newspaper with ties to Erdogan’s ruling AKP party, has run a number of attacks on Turkish Jews calling on them to apologize for defending Israel during the current Gaza conflict and suggesting they are guests in Turkey.

“It is ludicrous to hold Jews, or anyone else for that matter, responsible for a regional conflict that they have nothing to do with simply on the grounds of a shared religion with one of the warring sides,” Engel said in his statement.

“This is a textbook case of hate speech and anti-Semitism, and should be immediately rebuked by Turkish leadership,” he said. “I call on Prime Minister Erdogan to defend his citizens and denounce Yeni Akit and its dangerous incitement against the Turkish Jewish community.”

The Anti-Defamation League also called on Erdogan to reject “targeting” of Turkish Jews during the conflict.

“We are alarmed by the growing hostility toward Israel in Turkey, which is increasingly being directed at the Jewish community,” said the group’s director, Abraham Foxman, citing the Yeni Akit writings among other factors.

“Now is the time for the prime minister to speak out again and reject those who target Turkey’s Jews,” Foxman said. “He needs to assure this increasingly vulnerable community that it has the full support and protection of the state.”

Senate unanimously backs Israel in its conflict with Hamas

Sat, 07/19/2014 - 16:45

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. Senate unanimously approved a non-binding resolution in support of Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

The resolution, which had 78 bipartisan sponsors, passed late Thursday by unanimous consent, a week after it was introduced by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).

A similar resolution, introduced by Reps. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and with over 140 cosponsors, passed unanimously in the U.S. House of Representatives on July 11.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which backed both resolutions, praised the Senate for its passage.

“Israel launched Operation Protective Edge to defend its citizens against hundreds of rockets launched from Gaza by Islamist terrorists,” AIPAC said in a statement, referring to the air strikes launched by Israel July 8 in response to an intensification of rocket fire from Gaza.

“While Israel accepted a cease-fire plan offered by the Egyptian government, Hamas rejected it and continues to send rockets into the Jewish state,” AIPAC said.

The resolution “reaffirms its support for Israel’s right to defend its citizens and ensure the survival of the State of Israel,” “calls on Hamas to immediately cease all rocket and other attacks against Israel” and “calls on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve the unity governing arrangement with Hamas andcondemn the attacks on Israel.” Abbas had entered into unity talks with Hamas prior to the current outbreak.

Separately, six Democrats in the House wrote President Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urging them to bring about a cease-fire and return the parties to peace talks, which collapsed in April.

“Ground troops, air strikes, and rockets do not lead to permanent peace in the Middle East,” said the July 17 letter, first reported by Al-Monitor and signed by Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Jim Moran (D-Va.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).

“The United States government, together with international partners, must redouble our efforts to urge all parties to avoid further loss of life on both sides by coming to a cease-fire.”

Cops wounded, dozens arrested at Paris anti-Israel rally

Sat, 07/19/2014 - 15:08

Protesters at an unauthorized anti-Israel rally in front of Paris’ Gare du Nord train station on July 19, 2014. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

PARIS (JTA) — Fourteen French police officers were wounded and 38 people were arrested at an unauthorized rally to protest Israel’s actions in Gaza.

The clashes in Paris occurred as approximately 3,000 protesters, who on Saturday defied a city-issued ban on their planned demonstration near the Gare Du Nord train station, began marching up Barbes Boulevard, a police source said. When riot police stopped them, they hurled bottles and other objects at the officers, resulting in minor injuries.

Police responded by firing tear gas canisters at the crowd and arresting suspected rioters.

In Brussels, calls to “kill the Jews” were heard at a demonstration of a few thousand people, where approximately 200 protesters smashed shop windows and parked cars. Some of the men gave chase to a man they said was Jewish, but he escaped, the online edition of the Le Soir daily reported.

In London, approximately 10,000 people attended a protest rally that featured calls to destroy Israel.

Similar calls were heard in Paris, where protesters also burned Israeli flags as the crowd cheered them on. One group of a dozen men spoke loudly about “hunting Jews and killing them.”

Jewish shop owners closed down their businesses and stayed away from the area on Saturday, according to Victor Sofer, a Jewish barber. “They own the streets now,” he said of the protesters.

During the protest rally, a few dozen men began running for the Gare du Nord station while shouting “LDJ” — the initials of French far-right Jewish Defense League. But they found no LDJ activists at the station entrance, which they proceeded to block while waving flags of Arab countries ansd of France.

Several activists from LDJ and other Jewish groups discreetly marched along with the pro-Palestinian demonstration to alert Jews in case protesters began marching on Jewish institutions.

Two Israeli troops, one civilian, killed while Palestinian toll tops 300

Sat, 07/19/2014 - 15:04

(JTA) — Two Israeli soldiers and a civilian were killed in the Gaza conflict, while the Palestinian death toll topped 300, mostly civilians.

Odeh al-Waj, 32, a member of a Bedouin settlement in the Negev that is unrecognized by the Israeli government, was killed when a rocket exploded outside his shack on Saturday, and four members of his family were wounded, including an infant daughter who was in serious condition.

Residents of the community told Israeli media that they did not receive the same protections, including sirens and shelters, as other communities because of their “unrecognized” status.

Sgt. Adar Barsano, 20, and Maj. Amotz Greenberg, 45, died in a gunfight with Hamas infiltrators near Kissufim, along the center of Gaza’s border with Israel.

Two soldiers were wounded in the gunfight and the Israeli army said a Hamas gunman was killed while the others retreated. The army said the infiltrators planned an attack on a community.

The deaths bring to five the number of Israelis killed since Israel launched air strikes July 8 to counter an intensification of rocket fire. A civilian was killed by rocket fire on July 15, and a soldier was killed, possibly by friendly fire, when Israel launched a ground operation late Thursday night.

Palestinian deaths topped 300, among them eight members of a single family, including four children, killed by artillery fire between Friday night and Saturday.

Israel says it is focused on clearing out infiltration tunnels and now has control of 13 of them.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Friday and Saturday with a number of world leaders, among them several who have expressed concern about civilian casualties in the war, particularly in the wake of the ground operation and the deaths Wednesday of four boys playing soccer on a Gaza beach when they were hit by Israeli fire.

Netanyahu spoke to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who are visiting the region, and also with President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Leaders have cited the Gaza beach killings, captured on video, in urging restraint.

“Even prior to the beginning of today’s ground offensive in Gaza, there had been a regrettable number of incidents involving the deaths of civilians, including the terrible killing of four Palestinian boys on a beach in Gaza City,” Ban said in a statement Wednesday released prior to announcing his departure for the region. He called “on Israel to do far more to stop civilian casualties.”

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki had said Thursday that “there’s more that can be done” by Israel to prevent casualties, calling the deaths of the children on the beach “horrifying.”

In statements describing the phone calls, Netanyahu said the blame for the conflict should lie with Hamas.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu told U.S. President Obama that Hamas was using the residents of Gaza as human shields, as was seen yesterday when munitions were discovered in a UN school in Gaza, and added that, therefore, Hamas was responsible for injuries to the residents of Gaza,” said the statement released Friday by Netanyahu.

JetBlue reports say Jewish doctor to blame for flight ejection

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 15:13

NEW YORK (JTA) – Internal JetBlue reports say that a Jewish doctor was booted from a recent flight because she was unruly and disobeyed crew instructions, not because a Palestinian passenger took issue with her views on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The woman, Lisa Rosenberg of New York, was kicked off her July 7 flight from Palm Beach International Airport to New York’s Kennedy Airport following an argument with a fellow passenger who identified herself as a Palestinian.

Rosenberg claimed that the other passenger started the fight after overhearing a phone conversation in which Rosenberg was discussing the Israel-Gaza conflict. Amidst an “ugly, racially driven altercation,” Rosenberg said, the other passenger called her a “Zionist pig.” Eventually, crew members ejected Rosenberg from the plane, which was still on the ground in Florida.

“I just was completely outraged that I would be asked to leave a plane, being a Jew,” Rosenberg told ABC’s local affiliate in Palm Beach County.

But two internal JetBlue reports obtained by airline industry blogger and consultant Steven Frischling “both squarely paint Dr. Rosenberg as the sole instigator of the events on board Flight 454,” according to Frischling. ABC’s local affiliate in Florida said it obtained the same internal reports and corroborated Frischling’s account.

“Both internal reports of the incident clearly lay out Dr. Rosenberg as the person who was in the midst of spewing hateful comments towards the Palestinian passenger in seat 9C, not vice versa,” Frischling wrote.

The reports show that Rosenberg accused the other passenger of being a “Palestinian murderer” and that “her people are all murderers and that they murder children.” As Rosenberg continued to rant and tried to move closer to the other passenger, onlookers began to express concern for their safety, the reports said, according to Frischling. While crew members tried unsuccessfully to end Rosenberg’s confrontation, Rosenberg ratcheted up her rhetoric, implying that the other passenger had explosives in her bag and intended to blow up the aircraft in flight, the reports say. Eventually, Rosenberg directed her ire at the crew members who were trying to get her to calm down.

Rosenberg was then kicked off the flight.

JetBlue declined to publicly release the reports, citing privacy reasons, but confirmed that Rosenberg’s account “in no way reflects the reports from our crew, whose decision to remove the customer we support.”

JetBlue’s corporate communications manager, Morgan Johnston, said, “A crew member may request a customer to deboard and be re-accommodated if the crew member feels as though the safety of the plane or customers on board is impacted, or the customer on board is unable to comply with in-flight instructions or obstructing a crew member’s duties.”

Belgian bus company disassociates itself from Palestinian flag display

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 12:26

(JTA) — A public Belgian bus company distanced itself from employees who displayed the Palestinian flag on at least one of its vehicles.

A spokeswoman for the Brussels-area Stib bus company disassociated his company Friday from the flag display.

The spokeswoman, Françoise Ledune, told the broadcaster RTL that while employees have the right to their opinions, they are not allowed to associate their views with the company.

“This behavior runs contrary to our charter,” she said.

Stib received complaints about the flag display from the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism.

“This is an explosive subject that brings up anti-Semitic disturbances,” said Joel Rubinfeld, the league’s head. “So it is now more important than ever to keep the public sector a sanctuary.”

Israeli soldier dies in Gaza incursion

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 11:42

WASHINGTON (JTA) — An Israeli soldier was killed in Israel’s Gaza Strip incursion, the first Israeli military casualty in the latest conflict.

Eitan Barak, a sergeant with a Nahal unit, was killed by light arms fire during the initial stages of the incursion, Israeli media reported. The army was investigating whether he was killed by friendly fire.

Dor Chanin, an Israeli bringing food to soldiers, was the first Israeli civilian to be killed in the conflict. He died July 15 when he was hit by mortar fire at Erez Crossing on the Israel-Gaza border.

About 270 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in the latest conflict which started July 8 when Israel launched air strikes in response to an intensification of rocket fire from Gaza.

Pope makes video for AMIA bombing anniversary; calls Abbas, Peres about conflict

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 10:49

ROME (JTA) – Pope Francis phoned Israeli and Palestinian leaders to urge an end to fighting and made a video to mark the 20th anniversary of the AMIA bombing.

Francis personally called Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday to urge peace. A Vatican statement said Francis had made the calls “to share his very serious concerns regarding the current situation of conflict involving in particular the Gaza Strip which, in a climate of growing hostility, hatred and suffering for the two populations, is claiming many victims and giving rise to a serious humanitarian emergency.”

Francis hosted Abbas and Peres at a prayer meeting for peace in the Vatican garden June 8, a few days after he returned from a visit to the Holy Land.

In his phone calls, the Vatican statement said, the pope “reminded the presidents, whom he considers to be men of peace and seekers of peace, of the need to continue to pray and endeavor to ensure that all the interested parties and those who hold political office at local and international level work to bring an end to hostilities, making efforts to promote truce, peace and reconciliation in the hearts of those involved.”

Meanwhile, Francis sent an unprecedented video message to Argentine Jews to mark 20 years since the 1994 attack on the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, where he served as archbishop before becoming pope last year.

The video was made for Friday’s ceremonies in Buenos Aires marking the anniversary of the bombing, Argentina’s worst terror attack, which left 85 dead. It was recorded at the Vatican two weeks ago by the pope’s friend Claudio Epelman, the director of the Latin American Jewish Congress, on Epelman’s smartphone. In it Francis expressea solidarity with the Argentine Jewish community and calls for justice for victims of the attack. “On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the tragedy at the AMIA, I would like to express my solidarity with the Jewish community of Argentina and with all the family members of the victims, be they Jews or Christians,” he said in Spanish.

“Terrorism is lunacy. Terrorism’s only purpose is to kill. It does not build anything, it only destroys,” Francis said. “For this reason, I stand side by side with all those who have seen lives cut short, hopes destroyed, and ruin. Today, together with my solidarity and my prayers for all the victims, comes my desire for justice. May justice be done!”

 

Pro-Palestinian rally in Berlin features anti-Semitic chants

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 10:25

A participant demonstrating at a protest against Israeli military action in Gaza, July 17, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. The event took place at the same time as a ‘We Stand With Israel’ demonstration elsewhere in the city. (Adam Berry/Getty Images)

BERLIN (JTA) — Following a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Berlin on Thursday at which participants chanted anti-Jewish slogans, the American Jewish Committee Berlin office filed a complaint with police.

According to a press statement, marchers chanted, “Jew, Jew,cowardly pig, come on out and fight.”

Deidre Berger, director of the AJC’s Berlin office, wrote an open letter to the members of the German Bundestag calling on them to be vigilant in protecting Jewish citizens. Police should crack down on such threats “to show that anti-Semitism has no place in our society.”

The danger of uncontrolled demonstrations was made clear last week in Paris, when violent protesters trapped Jews inside a synagogue and chanted such slogans as “Hitler was right” and “Death to Jews.” In Germany, such expressions are  illegal and not protected by free-speech laws.

“We’re concerned that there are no more taboos against open expressions of anti-Semitism at such protests,” Berger said. Reports of aggressive anti-Israel demonstrations have come in from other cities in Germany, including Frankfurt, Gelsenkirchen, Kassel and Bremen.

Another pro-Palestinian demonstration is scheduled for Saturday in Berlin. Several thousand demonstrators are expected.

Bulgaria names suspected Burgas suicide bomber

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 09:19

(JTA) — Bulgaria has identified a dual Lebanese-French citizen as the alleged culprit in the suicide bombing of a bus containing Israeli tourists two years ago.

The Bulgarian prosecutor’s office and the national security agency said Friday in a joint statement Friday that the alleged bomber was 23-year-old Mohamad Hassan El-Husseini, who was born in Lebanon, the Associated Press reported.

“The offender, who was using a fake driver’s license in the name of Jacque Felipe Martin, was indeed Mohamad Hassan El Husseini,” the Bulgarian State Agency for National Security and the country’s Prosecutor’s Office said in a joint press release.

Husseini had two suspected accomplices in the attack, also of Lebanese origin, who remain at large. Bulgarian prosecutors have named the two suspects as Meliad Farah, 32, an Australian citizen, and Hassan El Hajj Hassan, 25, a Canadian citizen.

“Identity was categorically established after performing the DNA expertise and numerous other investigative procedures,” it said.

Investigators also discovered that Husseini’s friends and relatives have published on social networks eulogies of his death as a “martyr,” the press release said.

“The investigation continues,” the press release added.

The July 2012 explosion outside an airport on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast killed five Israeli tourists, the Bulgarian bus driver and the bomber. Thirty-five people were wounded.

Last year Bulgaria accused the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah of mounting the attack.

Following the attack, the European Union designated Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist group.

Kerry meets with Jewish leaders

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 08:34

WASHINGTON (JTA) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The State Department on Friday posted the meeting on its schedule, noting that it is closed.

The meeting focused on the Iran nuclear talks and Israel’s conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. According to a Presidents Conference release, Kerry said the Obama administration still favored an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire, which Israel accepted earlier this week and Hamas ignored.

“The delegation, many of whom recently visited Israel, expressed appreciation for assistance that made possible the Iron Dome missile defense system that has saved so many lives,” the release said.

“They also noted the support of the United States for Israel to take the steps necessary to defend its citizens and end the constant barrage that has seen more than 1,000 missiles hit Israel in recent days,” it said. “They urged the United States to continue to press the international community to stand by Israel, which has demonstrated remarkable restraint and gone to unprecedented lengths to avoid civilian casualties.”

Kerry on Thursday met with a delegation of Jewish members of Congress and briefed them on Israel’s conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and talks between the major powers and Iran on Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Kerry is believed to favor extending the Iran nuclear talks beyond the July 20 deadline.

Netanyahu: IDF preparing to increase ground activity in Gaza

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 08:04

(JTA) — The Israel Defense Forces is prepared to substantially expand its incursion into Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu made the announcement Friday during a cabinet meeting held at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv.

“My instructions, and those of the defense minister, to the IDF, with the approval of the Security Cabinet, are to be ready for the possibility of a significant expansion of the ground operation, and the Chief of Staff and the IDF have prepared accordingly,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office quoted him as telling the Cabinet.

Netanyahu said Israel had secured a substantial degree of international support for the operation.

“Through constant, methodical diplomatic and media activity, we have been creating the international space — which is not self-evident –- so that we can take systematic and strong action against this murderous terrorist organization and its terrorist partners,” Netanyahu told his cabinet.

“Unlike in the past, this time there are many in the international community who understand that it is Hamas – and Hamas alone – that is responsible for the victims,” he said. “This is important for the State of Israel.”

The IDF, which has been carrying out strikes in Gaza since the July 8 launch of Operation Protective Edge against Hamas, began ground operations in Gaza on Thursday night, after a failed attempt by 13 militants to penetrate Israel’s Kibbutz Sufa, which is near the border. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said the IDF was targeting tunnels used by terrorists to launch attacks inside Israel.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asked Netanyahu to focus on terrorist tunnels, the U.S. State Department said.

More than 250 Palestinians, including some civilians, and two Israelis, a civilian and a soldier, have died in the recent conflagration, which began when Hamas increased the volume of its rocket launches from Gaza into Israel.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said: “The operation will continue for as long as necessary; it requires patience until the task is completed. We will expand the ground activity if necessary.”

Nazi victims group raps reduced hours at Austrian Mauthausen memorial

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 07:53

(JTA) — A group representing Nazi concentration camp victims criticized Austrian authorities’ decision to close Mauthausen national memorial site on Mondays for most of the year.

In May the Interior Ministry announced the new hours for the memorial site, in a statement noting that the Monday closing would happen from September until February.

But the Association of Social Democrat Freedom Fighters appealed to the Interior Ministry on Wednesday to reconsider, calling the closure “a disgrace.”

Gerald Netzl, head of the group’s Vienna branch, told Reuters that because Adolf  Hitler was born in Austria, “We have a special responsibility for history and for the future. We must take this responsibility seriously.”

He added: “Mauthausen… is the central Austrian remembrance and commemorative site for the crimes of National Socialism, comparable to Auschwitz-Birkenau for Poland.”

An interior ministry spokesman said the closures were needed for technical improvements and updates of the visitor center and museum, which have been expanded in recent years, and the days had been chosen to coincide with the least busy periods.

A spokesperson also noted that the partial closure was accompanied by a decision to cancel the $2.70 admissions fee.

About 200,000 visitors a year come to Mauthausen, the center of a complex of concentration camps where between 100,000 and 300,000 prisoners, including many Jews, died between 1938 and 1945.

The camp’s location, near Hitler’s home city of Linz, was chosen mainly for its proximity to granite quarries, where prisoners were initially put to work extracting building materials for prestigious buildings in Nazi Germany.

For decades, Austria — which was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1938 — maintained that it was Hitler’s first victim and glossed over the enthusiastic welcome he got from many Austrians.

Over 600 turn out for Washington pro-Israel rally

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 06:44

WASHINGTON (JTA) — More than 600 people attended a pro-Israel rally in Washington D.C., cheering Jewish and Christian clergy and lawmakers who pledged to stand with Israel during the Gaza conflict.

Speakers at the rally Thursday in Farragut Square, just blocks from the White House, called for an end to the barrage of missiles launched by Hamas and other groups.

The speakers rejected equating Hamas and Israel in the current conflict, saying that Israel goes out of its way to warn Palestinians while Hamas places its arms among its civilians.

If counting the number of dead is the way to decide which side is right, then “by that reckoning, you look at World War II and you see that Eisenhower is a war criminal” due to the high number of German casualties, said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.).

“Every rocket fired into Israel is a war crime,” he said.

His colleague, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) spoke of Congress’ strong support for Israel.

If Hamas “would protect their own children as much as Israel protects their own children, we would have a chance for peace. Hamas needs to understand Israel is here to stay forever,” Franks said.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, praised the unity of the crowd in its support for Israel, but also called for consideration of the civilians on both sides who suffer.

“We are gathered here as one people,” he said. “Never before in history has a nation taken the steps Israel has to avoid civilian killing.”

He added: “We must never, never turn our backs when civilians die. It is painful whenever a child dies.”

The rally was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, a number of area synagogues and about 50 Jewish organizations. Canadian and Israeli diplomats also attended.

Several pro-Palestinian counter protesters tried unsuccessfully to shout over the speakers.

Several hundred people turned out for a pro-Palestinian demonstration on July 11 at the Israeli embassy in Washington.