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Israeli soldiers shoot and kill 3 Palestinians who entered Israel from Gaza

2 hours 48 sec ago

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli soldiers shot three suspected Palestinian terrorists on Wednesday who had crossed the Gaza border fence into southern Israel.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that the infiltrators were hiding in a wooded area opposite Kibbutz Kissufim near the border. After one of the infiltrators threw what the IDF identified as “an explosive charge or grenade” at the Israeli troops pursuing them, the soldiers opened fire.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group in the Gaza Strip, sent the infiltrators, Ynet reported Wednesday, citing unnamed sources in Gaza.

Haaretz identified the infiltrators as teenagers from central Gaza aged 16-18.

Hamas called the killing an “ugly crime.”

“While the Israeli leadership is busy welcoming leaders from all around the world, Israeli tanks killed three Palestinians in cold blood,” the terror group said in a statement, Ynet reported. “This is a message to all those arriving in Israel, all they [Israelis] know is killing.”

The statement referred to the gathering of world leaders who will be attending the World Holocaust Forum being held Thursday in Jerusalem.

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Amar’e Stoudemire signs with Maccabi Tel Aviv, spurring calls of traitor by fans of his former Israeli club

2 hours 7 min ago

(JTA) — Amar’e Stoudemire has signed to play with the defending Israeli basketball champions Maccabi Tel Aviv, stirring calls of traitor from fans of his former Israeli squad of which the one-time NBA All-Star was a part owner.

Stoudemire returns to Israel through the end of the season after playing 11 games for the Fujian Sturgeons in the Chinese Basketball Association. Maccabi Tel Aviv, a perennial power, is in first place in the Israel Premier League after winning the title the last two seasons.

The 6-10 forward played for Hapoel Jerusalem in 2016 and 2017, then returned for the 2018-19 season, during which time he was granted Israeli citizenship. He is a part owner of the club, which has a healthy rivalry with Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Along with calling Stoudemire a traitor, Hapoel fans took to social media said his signing with Maccabi was “absurd.”

“I am very humbled for the opportunity, happy to be in Israel, the place that I love,” Stoudemire said in a statement posted on Maccabi’s website. “I have a chance to play in the highest level in Europe, which is a dream come true.”

He identifies with the Hebrew Israelites, African-Americans who believe they are connected to the biblical Israelites, and observes Jewish holidays. He told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency last year that he is in the process of an Orthodox conversion to Judaism.

Stoudemire played for the New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns among other teams in his 16-year NBA career.

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Monty Python’s Terry Jones cut a ‘Nazi Jew’ scene from the classic comedy ‘Life of Brian’

2 hours 36 min ago

(JTA) — Terry Jones, one of the core members of the Monty Python comedy troupe, died Tuesday night at 77. He had been suffering from dementia.

In addition to starring in numerous Python productions, the beloved comedian directed some of the group’s biggest films, including “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” “The Meaning of Life” and “Life of Brian.”

The last of those tells the story of a Jewish man named Brian Cohen, who is born on the same day as and subsequently mistaken for Jesus Christ. At the time of its release in 1979, the film angered Christian groups around the world for making light of the Jesus story, but it was a huge box office success. “Life of Brian” has since been recognized as one of the funniest movies of all time.

Part of the film involves a group of Jewish revolutionaries who plot a revolt against their Roman rulers. In 2007, Jones told the U.K. Telegraph about a scene that he cut from the script that likely would have angered Jews:

One scene deleted from the film was the “Otto” scene, which features a radical, first-century Jewish revolutionary who has the same dreams as the young Adolf Hitler. Otto sports a toothbrush moustache [sic], and, in case we still haven’t got the message, his disciples all wear a symbol that combines the Star of David with a swastika. These are “Nazi Jews.”

Jones insists he didn’t make the cut to avoid giving offence [sic]. “It was a very funny scene,” he says, “but it wasn’t relevant; it wasn’t part of the story. When I took it out, the film just flowed so much better.” He regretted having to cut the scene at the time and regrets it even more so now. “I think what it addressed is extremely relevant today,” he says, “with what’s going on in Israel. Eric [Idle, who wrote the scene] put his finger on something; it was quite prophetic.”

The potential character divided the cast. According to the book “Jesus and Brian: Exploring the Historical Jesus and his Times via Monty Python’s Life of Brian,” Terry Gilliam once said to his Python mates, “Listen, we’ve alienated the Christians, let’s get the Jews now.” But Michael Palin had reservations about it, and Idle himself said in “The Pythons: Autobiography” that he was uncomfortable about the character as well, calling it a “pretty savage attack on rabid Zionism.”

In the end, Otto didn’t make the final cut, so we should all just look on the bright side of life.

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French President Emmanuel Macron loses his temper with Israeli police officers protecting him

2 hours 47 min ago

JERUSALEM (JTA) — French President Emmanuel Macron shouted at Jerusalem police officers on Wednesday when they tried to accompany him into a Jerusalem church owned by the French government and considered French territory.

“We know perfectly — everybody knows the rules. I don’t like what you did in front of me. Go out … out,” Macron yelled at an officer on the threshold of Saint-Anne Church in the Old City. The moment was captured in a video that was posted on social media.

“Nobody has to provoke nobody, OK … You did a splendid job in the city. Please respect the rules that have been carried out for centuries. Everyone will respect the rules. Please,” he also said.

However, Jerusalem police officers are posted inside the church on the Via Dolorosa, Ynet reported.

Macron arrived in Israel on Wednesday for the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem to be held the following day.

The faceoff that afternoon echoed a similar incident in 1996, when then-President Jacques Chirac confronted Israeli security officers outside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as they urged him on and pushed away Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem who were trying to shake his hand.

Chirac demanded an apology from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, threatening to abort his visit otherwise. Netanyahu refused and said that “if he wants to leave, he can leave,” according to Ynet.

Coup de colère de #Macron contre la police israélienne à Jérusalem. Dans les pas de Chirac en 1996 pic.twitter.com/DKP5ICThTK

— Ava Djamshidi (@AvaDjamshidi) January 22, 2020

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Israel’s president offered Polish counterpart a platform to speak at Holocaust forum, Israeli official says

2 hours 59 min ago

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli President Reuven Rivlin promised Polish President Andrzej Duda “some kind of platform” to speak if he attended the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, according to a Rivlin official.

The president’s residence director-general, Harel Tubi, told Radio South that Rivlin plans to invite Duda to Israel for his own official visit, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Duda announced earlier this month that he would not attend the forum, which includes some 47 delegations of world leaders, because he was not invited to speak at the main event.

He told the Polish media that he had been asking the organizers of the Jerusalem event to allow him to speak during the ceremony as the representative of the country with the “largest number of citizens who were brutally murdered by Nazi Germans in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.” Duda also objects to the fact that the presidents of governments that collaborated with the Nazis will speak.

Rivlin will attend the International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Auschwitz on Jan. 27 and will meet with Duda, Tubi said.

Meanwhile, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda announced on Tuesday that he would not attend the meeting in Jerusalem and would send the parliament speaker in his place.

Nauseda gave no reason for his decision to cancel, but an unnamed source told The Times of Israel that it was because Putin is being allowed to speak but not Duda.

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The Israeli left is dead. Can Jewish and Arab cooperation save it?

3 hours 31 min ago

(JTA) — Two center-left parties in Israel merged their electoral lists last week ahead of a submission deadline for the March 2 election. Labor, the “founding party” of Israel, will run with Meretz, a left-wing party long committed to ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state. This reluctant alliance likely signals the beginning of the end of the Zionist left as a serious electoral force.

There seems to be only one feasible way now that the left could surge back to relevance: teaming up with the anti-Zionist Arab parties.

As several commentators in Israel observed, the joining of forces was primarily a means of survival. In the last election, in September — the one in March will be the third vote in less than one year — Labor and Meretz ran separately and received a cumulative nine seats out of 120 in the Knesset. If the parties ran again separately, they risked not attracting enough votes to be elected to the Knesset at all.

Such a result once would have been unthinkable. From the state’s founding until 1977, the Labor Party (sometimes labeled Mapai or The Alignment) led every Israeli government. As recently as 1992, the Zionist left — then, as now, represented by Labor and Meretz — won 56 seats in the Knesset. But since the last Labor-led government collapsed shortly after the collapse of peace talks with PLO and the start of the second intifada, the Israeli left has struggled to remain competitive

Among the country’s dwindling camp of peace activists, the Labor-Meretz merger was met with a cool reception. Despite the danger that one or both parties would not cross the electoral threshold, many believe that a crucial opportunity to form an “Arab-Jewish partnership” party was missed. 

Instead, Labor-Meretz and the Joint List, the conglomerate of parties representing Israel’s Arab population, will compete against each other for the votes of Israelis — Arab and Jewish — who do not see Benny Gantz, the former Israeli military leader who leads the centrist Blue and White party, as a real and substantive alternative to Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party. 

Much has been written about what an Arab-Jewish partnership might look like. Indeed, in some ways, it already exists in the form of the Joint List itself: Hadash, its largest constituent party led by the List’s chairman, Ayman Odeh, is neither officially Jewish nor Arab, but a non-Zionist movement encompassing Israel’s Communist Party (Maki). 

Still, a unified political movement committed to building a shared society remains elusive. But if trends continue, the Zionist left may not have much of a choice but to join forces with like-minded Arab Israelis, or perhaps even be led by them.   

Among the Jewish population in Israel, the traditional ideals and policy priorities of the left are not realistic or particularly pressing. In terms of the peace process with the Palestinians, the left’s goal of a two-state solution is seen as a pipe dream at best and a potentially dangerous delusion at worst.

On domestic issues related to democracy and the dilemma of Arab minorities in the Jewish state, the chasm between the left and the center and right, where most Jewish Israelis have their political home, is wide. A glance at surveys of younger Jewish Israelis quickly throws cold water on the notion that the Zionist left has much of a future operating in a sectarian environment in which it is simply unimaginable that Arab-Israeli non-Zionists could wield political power. 

This is why the Zionist left has not served as the main opposition to Likud-led governments in over a decade. In its place, a succession of centrist parties and coalitions have tried and failed to unseat Netanyahu since he returned to power in 2009. Gantz has come the closest, denying Netanyahu a majority coalition in two consecutive elections in 2019. Now, however, the left barely has the electoral strength to even serve as an ancillary force to the centrist opposition.

If the Zionist left is to survive, it clearly must come to terms with the immediate reason for its decline: It no longer has enough support among Israeli Jews to sustain itself for much longer on the traditional model of Israeli governance, which excludes Arab-led political parties. 

The future of the Israeli left — in better times called the peace camp —  will depend on Jewish and Arab progressive leaders finding a compromise between progressive Zionism and non-Zionism. It will take immense bravery and humility on both sides, but there is no other choice, save for the political grave.

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Pelosi-led congressional delegation visits Krakow Jewish center

3 hours 52 min ago

WARSAW, Poland (JTA)  — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the Jewish community center in Krakow along with a congressional delegation and received honorary membership.

The bipartisan delegation led by Pelosi visited JCC Krakow on Tuesday after visiting the site of the former Auschwitz Nazi camp and touring the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum in advance of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the camp.

The delegation, after being welcomed by JCC Executive Director Jonathan Ornstein, began its visit in Frajda, JCC Krakow’s preschool where they met the JCC’s youngest members. The delegation had a private meeting with Ornstein, 84-year old Holocaust survivor Zofia Radzikowska and Rabbi Avi Baumol, who was representing Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich.

Ornstein told the Congress members about the JCC’s leading role in rebuilding Jewish life in Krakow, and Radzikowska spoke of her journey from surviving the Holocaust as a child to being JCC Krakow’s most active member.

Ornstein presented an honorary JCC Krakow membership card to Pelosi. Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., recalled visiting Krakow 30 years ago and finding only “remnants [of Jewish life],” whereas this time he found “revival.”

Before visiting the JCC, Pelosi visited the Auschwitz Museum and saw the exhibition “Shoah” prepared by the Yad Vashem Institute.

“In memory of every single person killed in Auschwitz. Let them rest in peace. We all should commit ourselves to fulfill the promise of ‘Never again’,” Pelosi wrote in the museum’s memorial book.

Following their meeting at JCC Krakow, the delegation visited the former Jewish ghetto wall, where they left roses in tribute to Holocaust victims. The group is now headed to Israel before traveling back to the United States.

Along with Pelosi and Schneider, the rest of the delegation was Reps Nita Lowey and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y; Joe Wilson, R-S.C.; and Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch, D-Fla.

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Most American adults don’t know 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, survey finds

4 hours 21 min ago

(JTA) — Half of American adults are unaware of basic facts regarding Nazism and the Holocaust, including the number of Jews who were killed and how Nazis came to power.

Those are some of the findings of a new study by the Pew Research Center released on Tuesday, about a week ahead of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The study asked nearly 13,000 respondents, Jewish and non-Jewish adults and teenagers, four questions about the Holocaust.

Most knew that the Holocaust took place between 1930 and 1950, and that Nazi ghettos were areas of cities where Jews were forced to live. But only 45 percent knew that 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust. About 12 percent each thought that the number was lower or higher, and 29 percent did not know the answer. Among the teens, only 38 percent knew the number of Jews killed.

Those numbers, however, are higher than those reported in a 1993 survey of U.S. adults commissioned by the American Jewish Committee. That survey found only 35 percent of adults knew the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust, and only a slim majority said the word “Holocaust” referred to the extermination of Jews — as opposed to 84 percent of U.S. adults in the Pew survey.

In the Pew study, 43 percent of the American adults knew that Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany through a democratic process. A quarter of adults thought Hitler came to power through violence and another 25 percent did not know. Only a third of the teenage respondents, ages 13 to 17,  knew Hitler assumed the position democratically.

Overall, in the Pew study, nearly half of the adults knew the answers to three or four of the questions, while 16 to 18 percent knew the answers to zero, one or two questions. Teens answered all four questions correctly at lower rates than adults. College graduates answered all four questions correctly at above-average rates.

Jewish respondents to the Pew survey answered all the questions correctly at higher rates than the overall sample. Ninety percent knew the era when the Holocaust happened, 86 percent defined ghettos correctly and knew 6 million Jews were killed, and 57 percent knew that Hitler became chancellor democratically.

The survey was conducted in February 2019 with a total sample of 10,971 U.S. adults. The total sample had a margin of error of 1.5 percent, while the Jewish sample of 429 respondents had a margin of error of 8.6 percent. The teens were surveyed in March and April 2019, and the total sample of 1,811 had a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

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With Holocaust summit in Jerusalem, Israel gets dragged into Europe’s memory wars

4 hours 45 min ago

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A major gathering of world leaders in Jerusalem meant to highlight the world’s determination to learn the lessons of the Holocaust has become mired in controversy even before it has started, dragging Israel into a battle over history debates still raging in Europe three-quarters of a century after the end of World War II.

Some 46 presidents, princes and prime ministers are due to converge on the Israeli capital on Thursday for the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, an event organized by President Reuven Rivlin, Yad Vashem and the Israeli Foreign Ministry to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The brainchild of European Jewish Congress head Moshe Kantor, the event will feature addresses by the leaders of Germany and Allied nations, including Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Kantor has asserted that the event’s purpose is “to discuss moral status of the world, to examine the situation of civil societies and work together to address threats and dangers.” But that message is proving at odds with the divisions the event has generated.

Angered by Putin’s invitation to address the gathering, Polish President Andrzej Duda announced earlier this month that he would withdraw from the commemoration and attend his own event at Auschwitz if he were not allowed to speak. Yad Vashem pushed back, saying it was “especially appropriate” for the leaders of the Allies that “liberated Europe” to speak.

Poland and Russia have a tense relationship complicated by a bloody past, and they continue to tussle over responsibility for wartime atrocities. In December, Putin accused Poland of cooperating with Germany in 1938 and called Poland’s prewar ambassador to Nazi Germany “scum and an anti-Semitic pig” for praising Hitler. In January, Duda accused Russia of much the same, saying in a speech to Polish Jewish leaders that Russia had attacked Poland in 1939 “alongside Nazi Germany” and “co-facilitated” the murder of European Jews.

Today attempts are being made in a number of western countries to equally blame both Hitler’s Germany and the Soviet Union for the II World War breakout. Many of these countries are turning a blind eye to number of facts.#WWII #History #Commemoration #USSR #Germany #Poland pic.twitter.com/tUO5snOtJN

— MFA Russia (@mfa_russia) September 1, 2019

The dispute over the current commemoration echoes a similar fight over the last one, in 2015, when Poland declined to invite Putin to attend a memorial event at the Auschwitz concentration camp in southern Poland. Putin was subsequently invited to appear at an alternate event organized by Kantor’s European Jewish Congress in Prague, eliciting fierce protests by Czech Jews. The Russian leader ended up attending an International Holocaust Remembrance Day event at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow.

“Neither Russia nor Poland are innocent when speaking about the Second World War or the Holocaust,” said Havi Dreifuss, a historian at Tel Aviv University. “This ceremony, which should have promoted discussions about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, became a platform for political conflict over history. It is not a historical debate but a political and diplomatic one that uses — and mainly misuses — history.”

Russia and Poland are hardly the only post-communist nations continuing to wage public battles over wartime guilt. In Hungary, a dispute over how to portray the country’s collaboration with Germany delayed the opening of a Holocaust museum in Budapest for years. Lithuania, which has come under fire for rewriting its own wartime history to absolve its citizens of Holocaust crimes, has criticized Russia for its own revisionism.

Fireworks of ‘liberation’ of Warsaw in Moscow tonight. The pattern of cynical falsification of history continues. In fact, such ‘liberation’ meant years of terror & oppression. #liberationWITHOUTfreedom https://t.co/TKMdYvCjEX

— Linas Linkevicius (@LinkeviciusL) January 17, 2020

“In the end, most important is that whoever does speak should speak the historical truth and should not seek to politicize Auschwitz,” Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whose country is still in an undeclared war with Russia in which the Kremlin has repeatedly accused it of terrorizing its Jewish population, announced on Sunday that he would attend the Jerusalem gathering. Only days earlier, his ambassador in Tel Aviv told JTA that the matter was “still under consideration.”

Despite persistent rumors that Zelensky was holding off on announcing his attendance because he was not among the speakers, the Jewish comedian-turned-politician told The Times of Israel that he had postponed his decision due to the recent downing of a Ukrainian jet over Tehran.

“I think I should [speak], but I will go anyway,” he was quoted as saying. “It is very important to honor the memory of the Holocaust victims.”

Others in Kyiv took a more confrontational approach. A spokesman for the Vaad, one of several competing umbrella organizations claiming to represent Ukrainian Jewry, accused Kantor of working to “create a good format for Vladimir Putin to instrumentalize the Holocaust subject for propaganda needs.”

A spokesperson for the World Holocaust Forum, the nongovernmental organization Kantor chairs, said decisions regarding speakers had been made in conjunction with the Israeli government and that “it would be a great shame to waste this opportunity on disagreements, diplomatic rivalries and politics.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet at the Kremlin in Moscow, Feb. 27, 2019. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Both Yad Vashem and Rivlin’s office declined to comment on Putin’s presence.

Israel has largely tried to avoid directly addressing the battle over the historical record in Central and Eastern Europe, where many nations are seeing a revival of veneration for nationalist figures who resisted the Soviets but were complicit in the persecution of Jews.

But in 2018, the country could not avoid protesting Polish legislation that made it illegal to blame Poland for Nazi crimes. Israel said the law limited free speech and research about the Holocaust, including about the actions of Polish citizens who killed Jews, and the exchange triggered a diplomatic crisis.

Jerusalem has also become increasingly critical of Ukrainian attempts to rehabilitate ultranationalists, with the Israeli and Polish ambassadors to Kyiv issuing a joint letter earlier this month condemning the honoring of Stepan Bandera and Andryi Melnyk, two collaborators with the Third Reich.

Israel finds itself “between a rock and hard place if you see it solely through the prism of historical issues,” Efraim Zuroff, a Holocaust scholar and the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office. “But there is also realpolitik involved, and in that respect we have to have good relations with Russia because of its role in the Middle East regarding Syria and Iran.”

The question, Zuroff said, isn’t why Israel is not taking Putin to task for his revisionism, but why it does not do more in confronting smaller countries that play much less of a regional role.

Yaakov Dov Bleich, one of several men competing for the title of chief Ukrainian rabbi, told JTA he hoped the speeches at the event would not be used as a platform for scoring political points.

“I would hope that Putin will be wise enough not to use this forum to espouse his attacks on Ukraine or Poland,” Bleich said. “I understand that it is a bit late in the game to try and change the format of the event, since indeed so many heads of state will be attending.”

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Polish lawmaker posts on social media drawing of cows wearing striped Nazi camp uniform

6 hours 13 min ago

(JTA) – A Polish lawmaker at the European Parliament shared on social media a drawing showing cows at a slaughterhouse wearing striped uniforms with yellow stars like the ones the Nazis made Jews wear at concentration camps.

Sylwia Spurek, a 43-year-old Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats representative, shared the drawing by Jo Frederiks, an artist who focuses on animal welfare.

Amid criticism of her actions on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Spurek defended them by quoting “the Jewish Noble laurate Isaac Bashevis Singer,” as she described him, who once wrote that: “In their behavior toward creatures, all men were Nazis.”

She added about the painting: “Does this art delight me? No, it scares me how people treat other animals and I think that every intelligent person should understand the message of this artist.”

Spurek’s critics charged that the comparison she endorsed is offensive to Holocaust victims. People involved in Holocaust commemoration and animal welfare activists often have clashed over the drawing of parallels between the genocide and the meat industry.

From the Depths, a commemoration group in Poland, on Wednesday wrote to complain about Spurek to European Parliament President David Sassoli.

The group’s founder, Jonny Daniels, called it a “hateful post” and asked Sassoli to take “disciplinary actions” against Spurek and to urge her to apologize to survivors and their families.

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Orthodox-run soup kitchen brings together Jewish and black leaders for MLK Day

Tue, 2020-01-21 22:45

NEW YORK (JTA) — An Orthodox-run soup kitchen brought together a diverse group of local leaders to stock shelves for charity on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The event, run by Masbia, a soup kitchen network based in the largely Orthodox Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park, was meant as a display of solidarity following a rash of attacks on Jews in Brooklyn and other Hasidic areas near New York City.

Masbia also announced a drive to donate goods via Amazon to communities in Puerto Rico, which has been affected by recent earthquakes and is still recovering from Hurricane Maria. Masbia ran a similar drive for Puerto Rico in 2017, when the hurricane hit.

The event attracted several Jewish local officials, including New York City Councilman Kalman Yeger, State Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein and Aron Wieder, a legislator from Rockland County, the site of the stabbing last month at a rabbi’s home on Hanukkah.

Also present was Denise Ridley, the city councilwoman who represents the Greenville section of Jersey City, where two shooters killed four people in an attack on a kosher supermarket. The largely African-American neighborhood has a growing Jewish population.

Several pastors, local officials and representatives of the New York Police Department also were on hand for the Masbia event.

“When you’re being attacked, we need other people, other neighbors, to stick up and to stop the hate,” Yosef Rapaport, father of Masbia’s founder, Alex Rapaport, said at the event. “If children are being separated from their parents at the border, put into camps — yes they are camps — I protest. You can’t be quiet when you have discrimination.”

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On patrol with a Monsey Hasidic security force

Tue, 2020-01-21 22:24

MONSEY, N.Y. (JTA) — Eleven days after a man barged into a rabbi’s home on Hanukkah here and stabbed five Jews, Josef Margaretten was patrolling this Hasidic neighborhood in an SUV marked with police-like insignia and equipped with siren and radio looking for anything suspicious.

He held his phone to his left ear while his right hand gingerly gripped the steering wheel from below. Next to the gear shift was a switchboard that ran the kind of yellow lights you see on some official vehicles that might be police cars but aren’t. Stenciling on the windshield read “Safety patrol,” and a decal on the side read “911 emergency.”

It was a weekday in early January and Margaretten was explaining the concept of tefillin to a sanitation worker on the other end of the line.

“It’s the religious item that we use every morning to pray with,” he said. “It’s one of the most holy things that we have and it’s very respectful, especially it shouldn’t be in a garbage. Let’s say, unfortunately, if it’s [in] a fire and it gets burnt, this has to be buried with respect.”

Here’s the backstory: An adolescent in Monsey’s Orthodox Jewish community accidentally left his tefillin at a synagogue and it ended up in the garbage. So Margaretten called the waste management company and convinced them to stop the truck that had picked up the load and spill out its contents. Margaretten and a few other volunteers sifted through the trash until they found the tefillin. Now Margaretten was calling someone from the union to thank them for helping.

Margaretten is the coordinator of the Chaverim (Friends in Hebrew) of Rockland, an all-volunteer Orthodox Jewish emergency services organization in Rockland County that aims to provide an extra layer of security for the Hasidic community in this upstate suburb. Following two stabbing attacks against Jews in the county since November, its mission has become newly relevant.

A Chaverim volunteer at work unlocking a car, Jan. 9, 2020. (Ben Sales)

Calls to the group have tripled in recent weeks, Margaretten says. Chaverim is also distributing free emergency phones to area synagogues and other Jewish institutions. And its volunteers are driving past synagogues and schools more frequently to help the Jewish community feel safe. He said the group’s sense of alert has gone up.

“I’m nervous, but I’m afraid it shouldn’t happen again,” Margaretten said regarding the stabbings. “When it happened the first time, I thought, ‘That’s it, it happened once.’ When it happened again, you never know what’s going on. When there’s hate involved, we don’t know what to expect.”

Most of Chaverim’s work is quotidian: attending to flat tires, helping people deal with internet scams, finding lost objects, assisting the elderly. The group also helps with crowd control at Jewish events, and will translate and broadcast government announcements into Yiddish. Later in the day, Margaretten and another volunteer helped a woman who was locked out of her sedan outside a Jewish day school for girls. The group’s members generally do not carry guns.

The organization serves its largely Jewish clientele in two ways. First, many in the Hasidic community are reticent to interact with government authorities and prefer to register their concerns through a Jewish group. Also, many speak Yiddish as a first language, so Chaverim helps translate their complaints for the local police. Chaverim also educates the police about Jewish customs and holidays.

“Many times people in our community have a language barrier with the local officials,” Margaretten wrote in an email to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “And if we get involved, we can get the accurate information and details and give it over for officials to help us handle it all, since we work hand in hand with the local officials. We make sure the police get all the information they need.”

The work can be dramatic: Two weeks ago, a Chaverim member rescued a baby from a pit bull. And there was a Chaverim member who was present at the Hanukkah stabbing before the police arrived. Det. Sgt. Michael Higgins, a spokesman for the Ramapo Police Department, said that “policies have been established between ourselves and them that help us, more guidelines of what’s expected of both.”

“They sometimes act almost like a liaison for us,” Higgins said. “They don’t have police authority. They’re assisting in the community. They’re advised not to take any police action in any crime. They’re more or less the eyes and ears in the community and report to us.”

Two of Chaverim’s SUVs, equipped with sirens and insignia. (Ben Sales)

Founded 20 years ago, Chaverim currently has 120 volunteer patrollers and seven emergency vehicles. According to its 2017 tax filings, the most recent available, the group reported a budget of $240,000. Margaretten says this mostly comes from private donations, but he confirmed the group also receives funding from the Town of Ramapo. A more detailed tax filing in 2016 reported that the group was given $3,500 in government grants. Ramapo officials declined to comment on the matter.

The organization’s processes are a mix of informality and rigor. There’s no formal certification needed to be a member, but Margaretten does conduct an extensive background check before hiring volunteers — checking their criminal record as well as inquiring with local rabbis and communal institutions.

All of the members are men, and Margaretten says he prefers married men because they tend to be more stable and responsible. Once volunteers are accepted, they ride along with a veteran member for a month, learning how to pry open locks or run a generator before patrolling solo. Margaretten says he has 200 applications sitting on his desk waiting to be processed.

In 2019, the organization received 31,000 calls — an average of approximately 100 a day, not counting Shabbat and Jewish holidays, when Orthodox Jews don’t use the phone. On those days, Chaverim contracts with a security company that takes over its fleet of vehicles. Having the SUVs patrol on Shabbat, Margaretten says, deters potential attackers as well as possible car thieves who know that Orthodox Jews don’t drive on Shabbat.

Beyond that, he says the group looks out for people acting suspiciously around synagogues or Jewish schools. That could mean someone hanging around a synagogue for an extended period of time — most Jews visiting a synagogue will walk in for prayers and then leave — or circling the neighborhood in their car.

Josef Margaretten speaks on the phone as he patrols Monsey, N.Y., for Chaverim, Jan. 9, 2020. (Ben Sales)

“Whatever you see that doesn’t belong there, or something,” Margaretten said. “Certain people don’t belong in certain places, you can see [are] suspicious. During the day, there’s not so much suspicious activity usually. At night, when you see a guy walking from house to house, pulling handles of cars, he is suspicious and you call the police department right away.”

Rockland County Executive Ed Day says Chaverim plays a positive role in the community, just like a volunteer fire or medical service. But police preferably would be doing much of Chaverim’s work.

“Ideally, you want to have sworn officers doing the job,” Day said. “What we have here is a collaborative effort in recognition of the force involved in policing. Where towns, villages decide that if we can blend our approach, we’ll be able to provide a better level of protection in terms of having eyes and ears out there.”

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Palestinian Authority newspaper calls for violence to disrupt Holocaust event in Jerusalem

Tue, 2020-01-21 22:22

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Palestinian Authority’s official newspaper called for violence against Israelis in an effort to disrupt the World Holocaust Forum being held this week in Jerusalem.

A columnist for Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, in an article over the weekend, said that Israel was planning a ceremony to memorialize Jews killed in Europe even as “the Palestinian holocaust by Israel” is ignored.

“One shot will disrupt the ceremony and one dead body will cancel the ceremony,” Yahya Rabah wrote in an article published Saturday, according to Palestinian Media Watch.

In a statement, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations condemned the article, saying: “Such a call for violence can never be justified, but it is especially repugnant for the PA to incite terrorism deliberately aimed at disrupting an occasion as solemn and significant as this.”

The statement noted that the day the article was published, a teenage Palestinian assailant stabbed an Israeli man in Hebron.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Channel 13 television reported that the Israeli military said it would launch airstrikes in response to any attacks, even if international dignitaries are in the country.

On Tuesday, Hamas praised the launches in recent days of incendiary balloons at Israel and threatened more. Several were discovered in recent days in southern Israel. One with a working homemade explosive attached landed in Beit Shemesh, located about 13 miles west of Jerusalem. No injury or property damage was reported.

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Despite warnings, the far right was a no-show at Richmond pro-gun rally. So a Jewish food festival went on as planned.

Tue, 2020-01-21 21:26

RICHMOND, Va. (JTA) — Hedy Lapkin’s boyfriend wanted to attend the pro-gun rally in this capital city, but she had reservations.

“My boyfriend has a lot of guns,” Lapkin, 79, said of her 83-year-old boyfriend. “He said, ‘You want to go to the rally?’ I said, ‘Are you out of your mind?'”

Lapkin was busy anyway: She was volunteering at the annual Richmond Jewish Food Festival at the Jewish community center about five miles up the road from Capitol Square, the site of the rally. Some 20,000 people met there on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to protest gun control proposals by Virginia’s newly Democratic legislature.

She explained to her boyfriend, a Republican, why it made no sense for her to go: She’s a liberal, she votes Democratic and she’s Jewish.

There were reports before the rally that white supremacists would disrupt it, and there were fears the demonstration would turn violent — possibly even deadly, like the far-right rally about an hour away in Charlottesville in 2017.

The fears did not materialize. A Jewish Telegraphic Agency reporter at the rally saw just a single poster using a racially charged term, one  Confederate flag and a scattering of camouflage-clad militia members armed with assault rifles. Social media turned up a couple of white supremacists.

Infowars, the conspiracy-mongering website beloved by the far right, and its armored vehicle turned up, but one of its “reporters” pushing through the crowd talked mostly to himself.

The vast majority of protesters were peaceful and armed only with the conventional slogans of activists whose agenda is upholding the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms. Virginia, which already has a Democratic governor in Ralph Northam, flipped its House and Senate in November elections to Democratic.

In the first weeks of this year, Northam and the Democratic majorities proposed a number of restrictions on gun purchases and possession, including increased background checks and the ability for localities to enhance restrictions on ownership.

“We will not comply” and “Don’t Tread on Me” proliferated among the banners on display. “USA!” was a repeated chant. There was plenty of material lauding President Donald Trump for upholding gun ownership protections.

A pro-gun rights demonstrator in Richmond speaks into a megaphone featuring the web address of the far-right Infowars site, Jan. 20, 2020. (Zach D. Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

To the degree that there was a race component to the rally, it was in efforts by some of the protesters to co-opt anti-racist rhetoric as compatible with gun rights. A number of banners referred to Alabama’s rejection in 1956 of King’s application for a concealed carry permit after his house was bombed. (King later said that he reconsidered and thought that possessing guns was counter to his message of nonviolent resistance.)

The organizer of the rally, the Virginia Citizens Defense League, urged participants ahead of the rally to be peaceful and respectful.

“We cannot stress enough that this is a peaceful day to address our Legislature,” a guide for participants said. “IF YOU SEE A BAD ACTOR flag down a police officer and point it out.”

“I think the media tried to beef it up to make it look like we’re all that way — and we’re not,” said a protester named Wendy, who was holding up a sign noting King’s troubles with concealed carry. “The Second Amendment is a unifying force whatever your sex, your race.”

Wendy, from West Virginia, did not give her last name in order to avoid trouble with her employer.

Will Wampler, a Republican lawmaker in the Virginia House of Delegates, urged the crowd to “keep up the energy” and pledged that his party would retake the state’s government in 2021.

Concerns were stoked in part because a number of violent white supremacists were arrested ahead of the rally, some of whom had planned to disrupt it. Northam declared a state of emergency and banned weapons from the immediate vicinity of the state Capitol.

National Jewish security officials were on alert and coordinated with Richmond Jewish officials to enhance security.

Daniel Staffenberg, the Richmond Jewish Federation’s CEO, said the JCC briefly considered whether to cancel its food festival, but decided against — it’s seen as a key annual moment of outreach to the wider community. The majority of the festival’s participants, which numbered some 10,000 this year, are not Jewish.

So the food festival went ahead with 1,600 pounds of brisket, 500 pounds of shawarma, 150 gallons of matzah ball soup and a pumpernickel-flavored beer manufactured specially by a local microbrewery.

For the first time, said Diane Goldberg, who has organized the festival for 13 years, bomb-detecting dogs patrolled the event — part of the enhanced security triggered by the gun rally.

“The dogs did a double-take at the pickles,” she said. “Apparently pickles set them off.”

Marge Pritchett, a retired librarian who is not Jewish, was grateful for an opportunity to hang out with her husband and another couple, and not think about the political tensions five miles away.

“I loved the latkes!” she said. “It takes my mind off the rally.”

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Israel’s parliament schedules immunity hearings for Netanyahu

Tue, 2020-01-21 20:48

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested immunity in the three corruption cases against him — and now the Knesset will discuss.

The Israeli parliament’s Arrangements Committee said on Tuesday that the House Committee will begin immunity hearings on Jan. 30, though a House Committee has yet to be formed. The full Knesset will vote on Jan. 28 to set up the required House Committee. There are six sessions over the course of one week allotted for the hearings ending on Feb. 6.

Hours before a deadline early this month, Netanyahu announced that he would ask the Knesset to grant him the parliamentary immunity.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit cannot open trial proceedings against Netanyahu before the immunity request is considered.

But Netanyahu will have to face a trial at some point: The immunity would last only until the Knesset that grants it is dissolved.

The prime minister apparently believed that the current caretaker Knesset would not be able to form a House Committee and vote on the immunity request, and that the request would not be taken up until the Knesset formed after the March 2 national elections.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein announced Sunday that he would convene lawmakers next week to vote on forming the House Committee, raising the ire of Likud lawmakers and Netanyahu. Benny Gantz and his Blue and White alliance had threatened to remove Edelstein if he did not convene the Knesset.

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Employees become owners at Chicago’s beloved kosher barbecue restaurant

Tue, 2020-01-21 19:58

CHICAGO (JTA) — A group of longtime employees is taking ownership of Milt’s Barbecue for the Perplexed, the popular kosher restaurant here that has been donating its profits to support local charities for seven years.

Within months of opening in 2013, Milt’s menu of home-smoked meats and barbecue dishes had made it a hit among both kosher and non-kosher diners. Chicago Magazine named it one of the best new restaurants in the city, and it has been a beloved institution.

The consortium of employees bought the restaurant for $1 earlier this month. Controlling shares will be owned by Bryan Gryka — Milt’s chef since 2013 and its general manager since 2018 — and Ryan Evans, the restaurant manager Gryka calls his “right-hand man.” Other workers who have been with the restaurant for at least three years will enjoy a system of profit sharing under current plans.

“As I thought about the restaurant’s philanthropic purpose, I could not help but also think about how fortunate we have been to have a group of core employees over the past seven years [who] made this dream a reality,” said Milt’s owner and founder Jeff Aeder, who named the restaurant after an eccentric uncle (and a seminal Jewish text by the ancient scholar Maimonides).

“The disconnect between the talent and dedication of Milt’s staff and their ability to achieve financial security became increasingly troubling to me on a personal and societal level. If the restaurant had a true social purpose, then the obvious answer was to give the restaurant to the employees.”

Aeder, a property developer, has donated Milt’s profits to over 80 local charities, supporting a mix of Jewish and Chicago causes.

While the new owners plan some changes to the restaurant, they plan to keep the charitable giving as a key part of the business model.

“We’re more than just a restaurant,” Gryka affirmed about the charity aspect. “That’s very important to me. That’s something I promised to Jeff [Aeder] we’re keeping, it’s not going away.”

However, instead of donating the profits to charity each month, the restaurant will likely set aside a fixed amount. Gryka cautions that it’s too soon to speculate on the amounts, but estimates that the monthly donations “will be in the four figures.”

As details of the new ownership are ironed out, the menu isn’t changing much. Favorites like the Milt’s burger, barbecue beef ribs and chili nachos are staying put on the menu. Gryka’s planned new ventures include a line of Milt’s products to be sold in stores, such as its sauces and signature pickles. He also aims to increase the catering business and is open to exploring a second location outside of Chicago.

Now that years of devotion will take the form of partial ownership or profit sharing, Gryka said that “morale is obviously very high” as employees realize that in the world of Milt’s, “hard work and loyalty does pay off.” He is confident the restaurant will keep getting better over time.

“I thought we were doing well five years ago,” Gryka said. “Now I look back and say ‘wow, we are so much better at our jobs now.’ We will probably say that again in five years [from now].”

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Yiddish institute YIVO, facing budget shortfall, lays off its library staff

Tue, 2020-01-21 19:37

(JTA) — The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, which preserves and promotes the study of Eastern European and Yiddish culture, has laid off four librarians to make up for a budget shortfall.

The news was first reported by the Forward, which reported that the layoffs constitute the entire library staff.

“Despite this very difficult decision and the loss of valued staff, the YIVO library will remain open to the public and scholars with the support of other YIVO staff until such time as we can rebuild our library staff,” the institute said in a statement posted on social media.

The institute’s archival staff, “who have an intimate knowledge of the workings of the YIVO Library,” will assist with the library in the meantime, the statement said.

YIVO had a $550,000 revenue shortfall in 2019, since most of its revenue comes with donor restrictions, according to the Forward. The institute had 39 employees before the firing and reported spending of $5.1 million in 2018.

Its library contains 400,000 books, newspapers and other publications, according to the Forward. It is separate from the archive and its 23 million items.

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Ukraine’s Jewish president heaps praise on Israel in pre-visit interview

Tue, 2020-01-21 19:09

(JTA) — President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine extolled Israelis as a “united, strong, powerful” and “unique” people in his first interview for an Israeli publication.

The Times of Israel published the interview with the Jewish Zelensky on Sunday ahead of his arrival in Israel to attend the World Holocaust Forum, an international event in Jerusalem commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the former Auschwitz Nazi death camp in occupied Poland. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is hosting the event on Thursday.

“The Jews managed to build a country, to elevate it, without anything except people and brains,” Zelensky, an actor who was elected in May, told The Times of Israel.

“The Jewish people in Israel is a unique people, a unique population. It has economic strength. There are many countries in the world that can protect themselves, but Israel, such a small country, can not only protect itself, but facing external threats, can respond.”

Despite “being under the threat of war, they enjoy every day,” Zelensky added. “I’ve seen it.”

Zelensky said he visited Israel many times when he was an actor.

“I have relatives there — an aunt of my mother, and her relatives. They moved to Israel, some of them, about 10-15 years ago. Maybe longer. At the end of the ’90s,” he told The Times of Israel.  “So I was in Israel many times. For meetings, business meetings, TV meetings and concerts — in my previous life.”

Asked whether he did comedy there, Zelensky answered: “Yes. In Tel Aviv, in Beersheva, in Haifa, in Jerusalem. In so many cities. So I know Israel. I know people there.”

Zelensky said he believes he should have been invited to speak at this week’s ceremony at the Yad Vashem memorial museum, since more than a million Ukrainian Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. He was not invited to speak alongside other leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On the glorification of Nazi collaborators in Ukraine, which recently has caused diplomatic discord between Israel and Ukraine, Zelensky said the issue was “very complicated and sensitive.” He stopped short of condemning such glorification, but said he would rather see other people celebrated as heroes.

“Let’s find those people whose names do not cause controversy in our present and in our future. Let’s name the monuments and streets for those people whose names do not provoke conflict,” he said.

Across Ukraine, local governments have named streets for collaborators like Stepan Bandera and Andryi Melnyk, whose troops killed thousands of Jews. A law from 2015 makes it illegal to “insult their memory.” The nationalists who fought alongside Nazi Germany are seen by many as courageous patriots also for taking up arms against the Soviet Union.

Zelensky in the interview cited a Pew Research Center survey from 2018 that he said “assessed the level of anti-Semitism in Europe and the lowest level of anti-Semitism was in Ukraine.”

He apparently was referencing “Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe,” a 2017 project that in fact dealt with attitudes toward religion. In the study, Ukrainians and Estonians were rated the most tolerant when it came to welcoming Jews as fellow citizens. However, some 29 percent of Ukrainian respondents still said they opposed having Jews in their family and 13 percent said they would not like Jewish neighbors.

In a 2019 Anti-Defamation League survey that did set out to measure anti-Semitism, 46 percent of Ukrainian respondents expressed anti-Semitic views – an increase of 14 points from a survey the ADL performed there in 2015. Of the 18 countries surveyed that year, Ukraine had the second highest prevalence, trailing Poland by 2 percentage points.

In the interview, Zelensky also was asked about his family’s history.

“On my father’s side, my grandfather and his three brothers were all on the front [in the Red Army] in World War II and only he returned,” he said. “My grandmother was living in Kryvi Rih, in a part of south Ukraine which was occupied by the fascists. They killed all the Jews who remained. She had left in an evacuation of Jews to Almaty, Kazakhstan. Many people fled to there. She studied there. She’s a teacher. After World War II, she came back. That’s where I was born.”

His family was “not Orthodox.”

“An ordinary Soviet Jewish family. Most Jewish families in the Soviet Union were not religious,” Zelensky said. “You know religion didn’t exist in the Soviet state as such.”

A July phone call to Zelensky from President Donald Trump is at the center of the impeachment proceedings now taking place in the United States. Trump is alleged to have asked Zelensky to dig up dirt on the Ukraine business actions of Hunter Biden, the son of Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential contender.

“I didn’t do anything illegal,” Zelensky told The Times of Israel. “I had phone calls with the president of the United States. As the president of Ukraine, I did what I could do as the president of Ukraine to have a good, reliable and strong relationship with one of our strategic partners, the United States of America.

The Ukrainian leader went to say of the U.S.: “It is their country, and they treat their country the way they like it. And I do not want them to involve us in any case related to their internal politics.”

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Benny Gantz says he will annex Jordan Valley after elections

Tue, 2020-01-21 18:46

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Benny Gantz said that following national elections in March, he will work to establish Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley “in coordination with the international community.”

“We would like to reiterate that the Jordan Valley serves as the eastern border of the State of Israel in all future scenarios,” Gantz, chairman of the Blue and White alliance, which garnered the most votes in the last election, said on Tuesday during a visit to the area.

“Past governments that have discussed returning this land have made a grievous security and strategic mistake. We see this land as an integral part of the State of Israel,” he said.

Gantz said that until Israel has sovereignty, it would continue to cultivate the Jordan Valley and ensure its development, agricultural and physical infrastructure, settlement and tourism.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who previously has called for annexation of the Jordan Valley, responded immediately to Gantz, his rival for the prime minister post.

“Why wait until after the election if we can apply sovereignty over the Jordan Valley right now with broad consensus in the Knesset?” Netanyahu tweeted.

The prime minister then reiterated in a meeting with leaders of West Bank region of Binyamin region that he would extend Israeli sovereignty over all West Bank settlements.

Gantz responded on social media: “Bibi, first we’ll deliberate immunity and afterwards we’ll manage applying sovereignty.” He was referring to Netanyahu’s request for immunity from prosecution from the Knesset on corruption charges in three criminal cases against him.

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Serbian president flies yellow flag with Star of David to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day

Tue, 2020-01-21 18:35

(JTA) — Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is flying a yellow flag to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day at his official residence in in the capital of Belgrade.

The flag, which bears a Star of David and the word “Jude,” is meant to evoke the yellow star badge that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust. It is flying alongside the Serbian national flag at the Novi Dvor building.

Vucic tweeted a photo of the flag on Tuesday with the words “This sign was a symbol of an attempt to destroy the Jewish people by the Nazis. Today it is a badge of honor. 75 years later. Never again.”

Vucic is scheduled to attend the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on Thursday. International Holocaust Remembrance Day is Jan. 27.

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