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Far-right Israeli activist attacks defense minister’s car in Hebron

Wed, 08/12/2015 - 05:29

(JTA) — A far-right Jewish activist and one-time Knesset candidate attacked the Israeli defense minister’s car in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Baruch Marzel, calling defense chief Moshe Yaalon an “enemy of the settlements” who was “strong against Jews and weak against Arabs,” jumped on Yaalon’s car while Yaalon was visiting the Tomb of the Patriarchs on Tuesday, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Yaalon was not injured and Marzel was not arrested, although security forces forcibly escorted him from the scene.

Marzel headed the outlawed Kach movement after the assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose grandson was one of three suspected Jewish terrorists placed in administrative detention without charges last week in the deadly firebombing of a Palestinian home in the West Bank. Marzel, a Boston native who lives in a Jewish settlement in Hebron, was on the Yachad party’s slate in Israel’s March 17 elections, but the far-right party did not win any seats in the Knesset.

In February, Israel’s Supreme Court overturned a government committee’s decision to disqualify Marzel, along with Arab-Israeli lawmaker Hanin Zoabi, from running in the elections, but declined to give a reason.

Donald Sterling sues TMZ and ex-girlfriend over leaked recording

Wed, 08/12/2015 - 05:22

(JTA) — Donald Sterling, the disgraced former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, is suing the celebrity gossip site TMZ and ex-girlfriend V. Stiviano.

Sterling, who owned the NBA club for more than three decades before being banned by the league last year, filed suit against the two in Los Angeles Superior Court on Friday, the Washington Post reported.

Sterling’s suit alleges that Stiviano “illicitly” recorded a phone conversation without his knowledge. In the recording, made public in April 2014, Sterling told Stiviano not to socialize with African-American men. Public outrage over his statements led to the lifetime ban from the National Basketball Association, many of whose players are African-American.

The suit contends that the recording was edited deliberately to distort his meaning and damaged him on a “scale of unparalleled and unprecedented magnitude.” In the recording, and in subsequent comments and interviews, Sterling, who is Jewish, made reference to a number of Jewish issues as well, including the Holocaust and Jewish free loan organizations.

Sterling also is suing his wife, Rochelle, and numerous other individuals.

2 Brooklyn yeshiva teachers killed in Arizona crash

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 16:04

NEW YORK (JTA) — Two young Jewish women from Brooklyn were killed and two others seriously injured in an Arizona car accident.

The vehicle’s driver, Raizel Morgenstern, 23, and a passenger, Hindy Spira, 27, both of the Borough Park neighborhood, were killed Monday afternoon when their rented Jeep Cherokee was hit by a tractor-trailer in Holbrook, the Daily News reported.

The two other Jeep passengers, Miriam Meyer, 24, and Suri Mayerowitz, 26, were taken to nearby hospitals and are expected to survive. Meyer’s father, Jack, is the founder of Misaskim, a Jewish burial society that also provides other services for Jews experiencing tragedy and bereavement.

The accident happened when Morgenstern, apparently either not seeing the tractor-trailer or underestimating its speed, made a left turn. Police said neither Morgenstern nor the driver of the tractor-trailer appeared to be speeding or under the influence of alcohol.

The driver of the tractor-trailer suffered neck and back injuries, according to the New York Post.

The women, who were all teachers at haredi Orthodox schools in Brooklyn, according to the Post, had spent the past Shabbat visiting a friend, Rochie Engel, in Los Angeles. They were en route to the Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona, according to Voz Iz Neias, a haredi  newspaper.

“I could not have asked for better friends,” Engel told Voz Iz Neias. “So smart,  great personality. Funny. They would help in any way so gracefully and graciously. They had the kindest, purest hearts and souls.”

Morgenstern’s brother, who declined to give his name, told the Post that the women had “wanted to travel, just to see Arizona, the Grand Canyon, just to see the sights, the desert, just seeing nature.”

“She wasn’t the party type or the wild type,” he said of his sister. “She was just a good teacher, a kind person.”

Volunteers from Misaskim Los Angeles traveled to the accident scene to help prepare the bodies for burial.

Baltimore Jewish educator dies in car crash

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 15:16

Neely Tal Snyder had worked in a variety of Jewish educational venues and was described as a “connector.” (Baltimore Jewish Times)

(Baltimore Jewish Times via JTA) — Neely Tal Snyder, a Jewish educator and advocate who was known for her professional dedication, was killed in a car crash.

Snyder, 37, was waiting to make a left turn on Route 30 in Reistertown, Maryland, near the Pearlstone Center, where she was the program director, on Monday morning when a tractor-trailer struck her car from behind. She was transported to a hospital, where she was declared dead. The driver of the tractor-trailer was not injured.

Snyder, a graduate of the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, previously served as the director of teen engagement at the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education and as the informal Jewish educator at the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

In a statement on its Facebook page, the Pearlstone Center, a Jewish retreat center with an organic farm and Jewish education programs, remembered Snyder’s life as “one of dedication to excellence in Jewish education and of passionate commitment to her community.”

Pearlstone’s executive director, Jakir Manela, said, “She definitely, undoubtedly, and not just at Pearlstone but for the whole community, brought a love of Torah and a love of community and really principled action [and] leadership … into our lives. [She brought] community into our lives in real ways that benefited people all around her. ”

Snyder co-founded the Jewish LGBT advocacy organization JQ Baltimore in 2012 with Mindy Dickler, among others, and while there are new co-chairs now leading the organization, Dicker said JQ Baltimore would not have been launched without Snyder.

Rabbi Faith Cantor of Beth El Congregation said Snyder was a “connector” and that her energy and outside-the-box approach to education left a lasting impact on the community.”

Snyder is survived by her husband, Rabbi Joshua Snyder, the executive director of Goucher College Hillel, and their three daughters.

Israel’s Supreme Court limits illegal migrants’ detention to 12 months

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 15:00

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that illegal migrants can only be held in a Negev detention facility for 12 months while a law is revised.

The provision in the current “anti-infiltration law” allowing the migrants to be held for up to 20 months at the Holot detention center is “disproportionate,” the court said.

The Knesset has six months to revise the law, which passed its final readings in December.

Several Israeli nongovernmental organizations have petitioned against the law.

Under the measure, an amendment to an existing infiltration law, illegal migrants can be held in closed detention centers for three months and then kept at the Holot open detention center in the Negev for up to 20 months, where they will be required to be present at a head count once a day rather than three times.

In September, the Supreme Court ordered the state to close the Holot center and struck down the section of the amendment that allows the illegal migrants to be held in closed detention for one year.

Had the new law not been passed before the Knesset dissolved, the court would have required the freeing of all 2,500 migrants being held at in Holot.

More than 40,000 Eritreans and Sudanese are in Israel, most illegally.

Prior to the court’s announcement of its decision, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said that invalidating the existing legislation would be a “declaration that south Tel Aviv is the official facility for accommodating infiltrators.”

Following the decision, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that the court “has accepted in principle the state’s position, according to which the illegal influx of labor migrants is unacceptable and that they may be held in order to achieve the necessary deterrence. The ruling will be studied and the state will act to implement it.”

Israeli police question head of extremist anti-coexistence group

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 14:50

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel Police questioned the head of the Lehava anti-coexistence group, days after he said he supports the burning of churches and mosques.

Rabbi Bentzi Gopstein was released on Tuesday after being asked “about his comments regarding the burning of churches,” a police spokesman told the French news agency AFP. Gopstein has not been linked to any recent attacks.

The rabbi made the statement during a symposium on the topic of halachah, or Jewish religious law, a recording of which was later published on the website of the haredi Orthodox news website Kikar Hashabbat.

Lehava opposes intermarriage and joint Jewish-Arab initiatives. Members of the group staged a protest in December against a marriage between a Muslim-Israeli man and a Jewish-Israeli woman. The group also protested the Jerusalem gay pride parade last week, where a lone attacker stabbed six marchers, killing a teenage girl.

A Vatican group, The Custody of the Holy Land, in a letter to Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Sunday asked that Gopstein be indicted for the threat. The group said that Gopstein poses a threat to Christians in Israel.

Jewish social worker shot dead in Vermont

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 14:43

(JTA) — A murdered Jewish social worker in Vermont was remembered as a lover of children and a “beautiful, beautiful individual” at a vigil in her honor.

Lara Sobel, 48, of Montpelier, Vermont, was shot to death on Aug. 7 outside her Barre workplace, where she was employed the past 14 years by the state Department for Children and Families. The governor ordered the state flag to fly at half-mast in her honor.

The alleged killer, Jody Herring, was apprehended by eyewitnesses immediately after the shooting and arrested.

Herring, 40, pleaded not guilty on Monday to a charge of first-degree murder and is being held without bail at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, according to WFFF, a CNN affiliate. Herring reportedly believed that Sobel was responsible for Herring losing custody of her 9-year-old daughter several weeks ago. The child is in state custody.

Herring is also a major suspect in the murder of two cousins and their mother, who were found dead in their home on Saturday.

Sobel was a member of Beth Jacob Synagogue in Montpelier, where the eldest of her two daughters recently marked her bat mitzvah, according to The Forward.

Barney Bloom, a former president of the synagogue, told The Forward that Sobel’s death, which happened just hours before the start of Shabbat, “is an unprecedented catastrophe” and “a loss of innocence.”

Sobel, a native of Long Island, New York, was known as a fierce advocate for children.

At the vigil and march, which attracted approximately 300 people on Saturday, Joseph Faryniarz, the cousin of Sobel’s husband, said, “Lara was a beautiful, beautiful individual and she really, really cared about the kids, all the kids,” The Associated Press reported.

Sobel attended Gesher Shalom Young Judaea as a camper and was later a staff member at Camp Young Judaea Sprout Lake and Young Judea’s Camp Tel Yehudah in the 1970s and 1980s, the Forward reported.

She was buried Tuesday in the Beth Jacob Synagogue section of the Green Mount cemetery. Her family requested that donations be made to Camp Tel Yehudah, Prevent Child Abuse, the Central Vermont Humane Society and Beth Jacob Synagogue.

Captured Hamas fighter provides terror tunnel information

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 12:51

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A captured Hamas fighter has provided information to Israeli security services about the location of tunnels between Gaza and Israel, planned attacks on Israel and the Hamas-Iran connection.

Ibrahim Shaer, 21, from Rafah in Gaza, was captured in a joint operation of the Shin Bet security service and the Israeli army in early July, the two agencies announced in statements Tuesday.

Shaer confessed to being involved in recent months in the digging of a terror tunnel from Rafah to the Kerem Shalom crossing, according to the Shin Bet. He said a road being paved by Hamas next to the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel is to be used for attacks against Israel.

Verifying the partnership between Iran and Hamas, Shaer confirmed that Iran supports the terrorist group’s military infrastructure. He said Iran transfers funds, advanced weaponry and electronic equipment to Hamas, and has trained Hamas operatives to infiltrate Israeli territory and airspace.

Shaer said Hamas was using materials brought to Gaza for reconstruction and rehabilitation to rebuild terror infrastructure and execute terrorist activities, and that Hamas leaders ordered operatives to use homes for weapon storage, including his own home.

The District Court of Beersheba on July 31 indicted Shaer for membership and association with illegal organizations, attempted murder, interaction with foreign spies, illegal military trainings and several weapons-related offenses.

Polish-Jewish activist appears in court over pro-Israel demonstration

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 11:44

WARSAW, Poland (JTA) — A Polish-Jewish activist appeared in a Warsaw court to face charges stemming from a pro-Israel demonstration he organized.

Tadeusz Markiewicz had permission for the July 2014 rally in Warsaw to run until 4 p.m., but it lasted longer, leading to the indictment and the trial that started Tuesday. The demonstration, which attracted about 80 people, was held during Israel’s war last summer with Hamas in Gaza

The pro-Israel rally was in response to a pro-Palestinian demonstration held the same day. Both were held next to the Israeli Embassy. Police separated the two groups of demonstrators.

In November, Markiewicz received a warrant issued by the court to pay the $570 penalty for “disruption of the second demonstration by using a sound system.” Markiewicz’s lawyer, Monika Krawczyk, appealed the judgment.

Markiewicz calls his case a matter of freedom of assembly.

“We have received legal protection from the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, an organization dealing with human rights,” he told JTA. “Despite our appeals up to today, unfortunately, nobody from Poland is interested in the case. It is the battle for the right to freedom of assembly for all Polish people, regardless of their views and beliefs.”

Piotr Kadlcik, the former chairman of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, who took part in the July demonstration, testified on Tuesday.

“It is sad that at a time when we are talking so much about civil initiatives, this protest meets with repressive and unnecessary reaction of the state,” Kadlcik told JTA. “I hope that the authorities of Polish-Jewish organizations in the future will draw more attention to the initiatives of members of our community. This is important — for Israel and for us.”

Bloomberg to Obama: Don’t oversimplify Iran deal

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 11:41

Former Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg speaking on February 10, 2015, in New York City (Monica Schipper/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Michael Bloomberg said President Barack Obama’s arguments in defense of the Iran nuclear deal are simplistic.

“Overstating the case for the agreement belies the gravity of the issue and does more to breed distrust than win support,” the former New York mayor, now reinstalled at the helm of his media empire, said Tuesday in a Bloomberg column.

Obama in an interview with NPR on Tuesday said the deal was the best guarantee of keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“The notion that somehow we are going to be safer by rejecting a deal that prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and instead leave — leaves Iran the option of installing more and more advanced centrifuges, shrinking their breakout time, that that somehow is going to make our neighbors more secure, I think is kind of a — well, it doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

Congress has until mid-to-late September to consider whether or not to reject the deal. Most Republicans are pledged to derail the deal, so the focus is on Democrats, especially the Jewish lawmakers among them.

On Monday, Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, became the 10th of 27 Jewish Democrats in Congress to back the deal.

“Iran must never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon, and that is why I support this agreement,” he said in a statement. “It is what is best for the United States, Israel, and peace in the region.

Another six Jewish Democrats have declared against the deal, chief among them Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., in line for his party’s leadership in the Senate.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has led opposition to the deal, told 22 Democrats touring Israel that he would not tell them how to vote.

“He didn’t tell them to vote one way or another,” Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the minority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives whip who is leading the tour of 21 freshmen, told Haaretz, describing the meeting Sunday. “But it was clear he hopes they will vote against the agreement because it is a bad deal that will allow Iran to have a path to a nuclear bomb in 13 years.”

Among centrist U.S. Jewish organizations, B’nai B’rith International on Monday joined AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee in opposing the deal. In a statement, B’nai B’rith said the deal “requires an unprecedented suspension of disbelief that Iran has only peaceful intentions for its nuclear program. Given its decades of dissembling, it is infeasible to conclude that Tehran will honor its obligations under this agreement.”

Also Monday, Gary Samore stepped down as president of United Against a Nuclear Iran, a group opposed to the deal. Samore, who had served as an arms control coordinator for Obama, had been a skeptic of the deal, but ultimately decided he favored it. He remains on UANI’s advisory board, although his resignation robs deal opponents of the argument that a former Obama official stood against it.

Replacing Samore will be Joe Lieberman, a former Connecticut senator and longtime Democrat who in his final six-year term was an independent who caucused as a Democrat.

AIPAC: Obama administration peddling ‘inaccuracies’ about lobby

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 11:32

WASHINGTON (JTA) – AIPAC said the Obama administration is peddling inaccuracies about the pro-Israel lobby’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.

AIPAC President Robert Cohen emailed the organization’s activists on Monday, linking to a New York Times article published last week about tensions arising between the lobby and the administration, and said it reflects “multiple inaccuracies stemming from claims by the administration.”

AIPAC’s facts, Cohen said “are well-substantiated and accurate.” President Barack Obama has said that opponents to the deal have peddled arguments distorting or omitting elements of the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal reached July 14 between Iran and six major powers.

An AIPAC affiliate, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, has run a TV ad addressing the substance of the deal.

“This ad does not single out the president in any way,” Cohen said. According to the Times article, Obama in a meeting last week with Jewish leaders conflated the CNFI ad with others attacking Obama personally.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee treated administration speakers who addressed about 700 activists who flew in last month to lobby against the deal “with courtesy and respect,” Cohen said. Administration officials have said that the speakers, among them top negotiators on the deal, were not permitted to take questions. AIPAC said the officials were free to use the 30 minutes allocated them as they pleased.

Cohen noted that AIPAC took no position on the Iraq War. Obama has said that some of the opponents of the Iran nuclear deal backed that conflict, but has been careful to distinguish these from those who oppose the deal out of concern for Israel. Some defenders of the deal have made the link between AIPAC and the Iraq War on social media.

Congress has until mid-to-late September to consider whether or not to reject the deal.

Former Italian lawmaker named Israel’s envoy to Italy

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 10:04

(JTA) — Fiamma Nirenstein, an Italian journalist and former parliamentarian, has been named Israel’s ambassador to Italy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also serves as Israel’s foreign minister, announced the decision to appoint Nirenstein on Monday. Nirenstein, 70, who moved to Israel in 2013 and received citizenship, would assume the post next summer if approved.

Upon her appointment as ambassador to Italy, she will renounce her Italian citizenship, the Prime Minister’s Office in Israel said in a statement.

Nirenstein was elected to Italy’s Parliament in April 2008 as a member of the center-right People of Freedom ticket headed by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. During her tenure, she was outspoken in support of Israel and combating anti-Semitism.

She currently serves as a board member of the Jewish Community of Rome. Nirenstein is a member of European Friends of Israel and a founding member of the Friends of Israel Initiative. In 2011, she was elected chair of the International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians.

Synagogue opens near Brazil’s iconic Ipanema Beach

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 09:30

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (JTA) —  An Orthodox synagogue was opened officially a few blocks from the iconic Ipanema Beach in Brazil.

Some 1,200 people attended Sunday’s inauguration of the four-story, 440-seat synagogue in Rio de Janeiro named for Edmond Safra, the late Brazilian Jewish billionaire and philanthropist whose foundation funded much of the project.

The 20,000-square foot building, which replaces a much smaller synagogue, took some 25 years to be established. White stones for the building’s facade were shipped from Jerusalem.

The smaller shul, Agudat Israel, was built in the 1970s on the rear of another building. The congregation of some 1,000 families is made up mostly of Sephardic families originally from Syria and Lebanon.

The new complex includes mikvahs, a social hall, classrooms, a beit midrash and a recreation area, according to Shirley Nigri Farber, editor and publisher of the Shalom Magazine.

Last year, Ipanema, an upscale neighborhood that is home to many affluent Jews, and the adjacent coastal neighborhood of Copacabana received a new eruv, a demarcation of an area that permits observant Jews to carry objects on Shabbat.

Rio, Brazil’s second largest city, is home to between 35,000 and 40,000 Jews.

Jerusalem gay pride parade stabber admitted to psychiatric hospital

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 08:09

Yishai Schlissel is escorted by police after his hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrates Court on August 11, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Yishai Schlissel, who stabbed six marchers at the annual Jerusalem gay pride parade, will be admitted to a hospital psychiatric ward.

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday ordered Schlissel’s transfer to a psychiatric institution and extended his police custody by 10 days. During his 48-hour stay in the psychiatric ward, doctors will observe Schlissel and determine his fitness to stand trial, the Hebrew-language news website Ynet reported. An examination ordered last week failed to arrive at a conclusion.

Schlissel, from Modiin Ilit in the West Bank, declined to be represented by an attorney and has refused to recognize the court’s authority.

He had been released from prison three weeks before the July 30 stabbings, which left a 16-year-old girl dead, after serving 10 years for a similar attack at Jerusalem’s 2005 gay pride parade.

Lithuanian chief rabbi considers splitting from community

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 05:53

(JTA) — The chief rabbi of Lithuania said he is considering splitting the community over a disagreement with its lay leader about plans for construction atop what used to be a Jewish cemetery.

Rabbi Chaim Burshtein said last week that he may leave the Jewish Community of Lithuania as early as this month and set up a new body, which he said may be called the Committee for Jewish Renewal in Lithuania.

“Come the holidays, I may not be chief rabbi anymore,” said Burshtein, who earlier last week said that an official had threatened to deport him. The threat was over Burshtein’s objection to the planned construction of a conference center atop a dilapidated Soviet-era building that was built on the Snipiskes cemetery, the country’s oldest, he said.

Lithuania’s Interior Ministry denied that Burshtein had been threatened with deportation, as did the Jewish community’s president, Faina Kukliansky. Burshtein implied that Kukliansky agreed to the plan to please officials.

In a statement published Tuesday on the website defendinghistory.com, Burshtein lamented that the sages buried at the cemetery never imagined the fate of their bones would depend on a “head of a Vilna Jewish community whose heart would be filled with the desire to serve the authorities and find honor in their eyes.”

In February, Burshtein accused Kukliansky of authoritarianism in running the community, though she denied the charge and said the community may fire him.

On the topic of the cemetery, Kukliansky told JTA the planned construction would not affect areas where Jewish bodies are buried.

“It is a very massive building,” she said. “It was dug very deep into the ground. Therefore there can’t be remains there.”

Parents of 3-month-old terror victim welcome new baby

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 05:36

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The parents of a 3-month-old girl killed in a car-ramming attack in Jerusalem have welcomed a new baby girl.

Hannah and Shmuel Braun’s second child was delivered Sunday night in their Jerusalem home, as the labor had progressed too far to go to the hospital, the Times of Israel reported late Monday.

The baby was delivered by an Arab-Israeli paramedic, Ziad Dawiyat — the same paramedic who had tended to their baby, Chaya Zissel, following the attack at the Jerusalem light rail station and transported her to the hospital.

“I didn’t know what to do or say — to wish them congratulations or give them my condolences,” Dawiyat told the Times of Israel. “I was very moved, so I just wished them a ‘mazal tov’ and a long and peaceful life.”

Dawiyat said that he and the family plan to keep in touch.

The Brauns were returning from a visit to the Western Wall in October when a car driven by a former Palestinian prisoner from eastern Jerusalem drove purposely into the Ammunition Hill station in northern Jerusalem. The baby was thrown from her stroller and later died at the Hadassah hospital on Mount Scopus.

Chaya was born after her parents had tried for years to conceive with no success, the baby’s grandfather told reporters at the time.

Historic former French synagogue burns down

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 05:17

(JTA) — A historic building that once housed a synagogue burned down in northeastern France.

Police are investigating the circumstances surrounding the fire last week in the town of Maizières-lès-Vic inside the 19th-century building, which was consumed by flames, the news website www.republicain-lorrain.fr reported.

The building was used by a local poultry farmer and has not functioned as a synagogue in decades, according to the report.

Police are not ruling out arson, as the building had no electrical wires that could have started a fire accidentally, according to Mayor Alain Guise.

“The synagogue had no electrical feed and it didn’t burn itself down,” he said.

France’s main union of Jewish students, the UEJF, published a statement condemning any individuals who may have started the fire.

“UEJF deplores the destruction of a synagogue that, even though it no longer welcomes worshipers, was a symbol of Jewish presence of almost a thousand years” in the region, the statement read.

An unnamed police source who spoke to the French news agency AFP on Monday warned against jumping to conclusions with regard to the fire.

Vatican group seeks indictment of Jewish leader who spoke in favor of church destruction

Mon, 08/10/2015 - 15:53

(JTA) — A Vatican group is asking Israel’s attorney general to indict the head of a far-right Jewish group who recently expressed approval for destroying churches in Israel.

The Custody of the Holy Land, in a letter sent to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Sunday, said that Rabbi Benzi Gopstein of the group Lehava poses a threat to Christians in Israel, Religion News Service reported. The letter referenced Gopstein’s comments during an Aug. 4 program that Christianity is idolatry and that the Bible calls for the destruction of idol worship.

“The writing is on the wall and the attack on people that will cause unknown results is not a matter of ‘if,’ but of ‘when,’” warned the group, which is in charge of the Catholic Church’s holdings in Israel.

In June, the Church of the Multiplication in the Galilee was damaged in an arson attack by far-right Jewish extremists. In recent years, other churches have also been targeted by Jewish extremists in “price tag” attacks.

In addition to the letter to the attorney general, the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land filed an official complaint with the Israeli police, the assembly said in a statement.

“The Catholic community in the Holy Land is fearful and feels in danger,” the statement said. The assembly called “on the Israeli authorities to ensure real protection for Christian citizens of this country and their places of worship.”

Contested report: Students deep in West Bank cost twice as much to educate

Mon, 08/10/2015 - 15:19

(JTA) — A new study, which the Israeli Education Ministry has claimed is inaccurate, has found that the government spends nearly twice as much  per Jewish student in isolated West Bank settlements as on the average Israeli pupil.

According to the new study by the Tel Aviv-based Macro Center for Political Economics, which according to its website is an “autonomous organization” that “combines scholarly research with economic efficiency,” Israel spends $3,420 per student each year in small settlements east of the security fence compared to a national average of $1,721, Ynet reported.

The study, reported on in Israeli media outlets Monday, also found that students in isolated settlements enjoy lower student-teacher ratios than the national average. Compared to settlements in large blocs west of the security fence, like Gush Etzion, these smaller, outlying settlements are considered less likely to stay under Israeli control in the event of a negotiated peace deal with the Palestinians.

“The study found that there is a particularly high investment in resources in the Judea and Samaria area, specifically in isolated settlements east of the separation fence,” said Roby Nathanson, the center’s director general, according to Ynet. “This is a policy of adding jobs and funds to these settlements, on the expense of cities and communities in the north and south that have been defined as ‘national priority areas.'”

However, the Education Ministry said in a statement released in response to the Macro Center’s study that it actually spends less in the West Bank per student than the national average, and that the class size in West Bank settlements is only slightly smaller (27.2 compared to 28) than the national average.

Nathanson said that the center’s study is based on data “from credible sources,” including reports from the Central Bureau of Statistics, the education, economy and finance ministries, and the Israeli Civil Administration. The data, he said, is from 2013.

In a related development, Haaretz reported that the Jerusalem municipality is spending $3 million to build a large mikvah in the eastern part of the city in a Jewish section within the predominantly Arab neighborhood of Ras al-Amoud. The neighborhood has only 100 Jewish families, but proponents of the new ritual bath argue that it will also serve Jewish families from other eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods.

Israel releases at least 9 Jewish suspects in firebombing of Palestinian home

Mon, 08/10/2015 - 13:26

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel has released at least nine West Bank Jews who were arrested as part of the investigation into the firebombing of a Palestinian home that left a baby and his father dead.

At least nine people were arrested Sunday in raids on two West Bank outposts; the details on the raids are under a gag order.

“All those arrested yesterday for interrogation have been released,” a spokeswoman for Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency told AFP, with no elaboration, the news service reported Monday.

The July 31 attack took place in the Palestinian West Bank village of Duma.

Three Jewish extremists, including the grandson of the slain Jewish militant Meir Kahane, are being held in administrative detention without a hearing or charges for six months in connection with the Duma investigation. One is believed to have been involved in arson attacks on two churches.