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Holocaust survivors will soon be gone. Now it’s up to us to speak out against hate.

Fri, 2020-01-17 16:12

NEW YORK (JTA) — It is a fact well-documented and well worth repeating: Within 25 years, it is likely that no survivors of the Holocaust will be alive.

As a Jew, I am frightened by how the world looks in 2020. The rise of anti-Semitism we are experiencing today, both in the United States and elsewhere, feels eerily like 1933 Europe.

The Interior Ministry in Germany reported last year that anti-Semitic incidents in that country rose almost 20 percent between 2017 and 2018, reaching 1,799 politically motivated crimes with a presumed anti-Semitic motive in 2018, the most recent data available. Yet Germany is failing to provide police protections to synagogues.

On Yom Kippur last year, a white supremacist would have killed far more than the two innocent victims he did had Roman Yossel Remis not bravely protected his fellow congregants in Halle. When I visited that German town mere weeks after the attack, I was shocked that a historic Jewish house of prayer, which had survived even the Nazis, was abandoned to its own fate, left to face the hate alone, unguarded and defenseless.

In the first half of 2019, there were nearly 800 anti-Semitic incidents in the United States alone — including the attack on a synagogue in Poway, California, that left one woman dead — and the year ended on a similarly distressing note. As Jews around the world celebrated Hanukkah last month, a small group of worshippers in Monsey, New York, were attacked by a machete-wielding zealot while convening at a rabbi’s home for a holiday party. Earlier in the month, three innocent people were shot to death in a Jersey City kosher supermarket by the same two shooters who killed a police officer nearby.

This bloodshed comes in addition to the seemingly unending stream of verbal and physical assaults launched at Jews in Orthodox neighborhoods. And the year before saw the worst attack on Jews in the history of the country, when a gunman killed 11 people during Shabbat morning services at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

The rate of increase of anti-Semitic crimes in the United States and abroad should frighten every citizen, everywhere, whether they live in a community with a large Jewish population or not. We all have a responsibility to sound the alarm in order to prevent further violence and vitriol because left unchecked, we know all too well the horrors that threaten. We must prevent history from repeating itself.

As International Holocaust Remembrance Day approaches, together we must remind ourselves and others why 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis: Because they were Jewish.

The survivors of the Holocaust who so courageously share their stories have taken it upon themselves to relive the horrors they experienced so no one else has to. But with the number of living survivors rapidly dwindling, it is more imperative than ever that every person of conscience does their part to educate others on what can come if hatred and evil are left to fester unchecked.

The atrocities of the Holocaust must not be forgotten, and the best way to ensure that is through organized, formal and ubiquitous Holocaust education.

I’m grateful to global leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who just last month, while visiting Auschwitz for the first time as the leader of her country, publicly declared her own personal commitment as well as Germany’s to increasing Holocaust education there. And there is still so much more to do.

We must encourage leaders around the world to stand up to a horrifying new wave of hatred. To curb the rise in anti-Semitism and bigotry, we need action, not words.

For the fourth year, the World Jewish Congress is leading the #WeRemember campaign, bringing people together on social media to ignite a conversation about the critical need for Holocaust education. The project is simple, yet extremely impactful, and anyone can take part.

From now until Jan. 27, when the campaign will culminate at the official commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, take a photo of yourself — or in a group —  holding a sign that says “We Remember,” and then post it to your favorite social media platforms using the hashtag #WeRemember.

I implore you to join us in stating emphatically that together, “We Remember.”

When the world was silent, millions of innocent people were systematically murdered in cold blood. Let us join forces and raise our voices to ensure the atrocities of the Holocaust will never be repeated.

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Where the top 7 Democratic candidates stand on Iran

Fri, 2020-01-17 15:57

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The post-debate analysis this week focused largely on the ongoing spat between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. While we hope they can sort that out soon, the debate featured something else more relevant to JTA readers: Everyone on stage thought that President Donald Trump made a huge mistake in 2018 when he pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal and said outright or implied that as president, they would return to the deal.

(To be more precise, Warren did not speak up on the topic, but she has expressed similar sentiments elsewhere.)

The situation in Iran has changed drastically since Trump left the deal. So we went searching for the details of what the leading Democrats would do to contain the Iranian threat amid the new tensions brewing between Iran and the U.S.

Spoiler alert: There’s not a lot out there. But in no particular order, here’s what the top seven candidates have to say. (We’re adding Michael Bloomberg because his polling numbers would qualify him for the debates, but his self-funded campaign has him below the outside campaign contribution threshold.)

Bernie Sanders

Sanders would rejoin the nuclear deal as a means of stopping Iran from going, well, nuclear.

“As you know, the nuclear deal with Iran was worked on with a number of our allies,” the Vermont senator said at the debate. “We have got to undo what Trump did, bring that coalition together and make sure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon.”

His website does not elaborate, but a supporters website, FeelTheBern.org, has compiled his statements and adds some perspective. Sanders slots removing Iran’s nuclear threat into a wider effort to denuclearize the planet. In 2009, Sanders said after Obama first mooted an Iran deal, “We must limit nuclear proliferation, now and in the future. We must end the production of weapons-grade uranium.”

Sanders also sees rejoining the nuclear deal as a means of containing the escalating non-nuclear tensions.

Joe Biden

As he said in the debate, Biden believes the Iran deal was doing its job.

“It was working. It was being held tightly,” he said. “There was no movement on the part of the Iranian government to get closer to a nuclear weapon.”

On his campaign’s foreign policy page, Biden does seem to acknowledge some flaws with the package he championed as Obama’s vice president, alluding to the expiration dates on some of its restrictions and its omission of non-nuclear mischief.

“If Tehran returns to compliance with the deal, President Biden would re-enter the agreement, using hard-nosed diplomacy and support from our allies to strengthen and extend it, while more effectively pushing back against Iran’s other destabilizing activities,” his website reads.

Pete Buttigieg

Buttigieg in the debate said he would rejoin the Iran deal as a means of keeping Iran from becoming nuclear and, like Sanders, suggested that the agreement would also stem escalating non-nuclear tensions.

“By gutting the Iran nuclear deal — one that, by the way, the Trump administration itself admitted was working, certified that it was preventing progress toward a nuclear Iran — by gutting that, they have made the region more dangerous and set off the chain of events that we are now dealing with as it escalates even closer to the brink of outright war,” he said.

Buttigieg in his signature foreign policy speech in June at the University of Indiana echoed a familiar claim of Iran deal proponents — the deal freed up the United States to confront Iran on its non-nuclear bad acts.

“This agreement was concluded not to do Iran a favor, but because it is in our national security interest — just as a parallel policy of confronting Iran’s support for terrorism and abysmal human rights record reflects our values and security interests,” the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said.

Amy Klobuchar

Klobuchar during the debate said she would rejoin the deal, but also suggested that she wanted some improvements related to the expiration dates of some enrichment restrictions and on what the nuclear inspectors are allowed to do.

“I think there are changes you can make to the agreement that are sunset, some changes to the inspections, but overall that is what we should do,” she said.

In her signature foreign policy speech last month at the Council on Foreign Relations, Klobuchar outlined a long-term policy that would confront Iran’s bad acts and also specified its threat to “the security of Israel.” 

“We need a realistic long term strategy for Iran that will contain its aggressive actions and prevent it from gaining nuclear weapons,” the Minnesota senator said, but did not add details.

Tom Steyer

During the debate, Steyer cast the Iran nuclear deal as having stemmed Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its adventurism.

“What worked with President Obama was an alliance of our allies and us putting economic pressure on them for them to give up their military tactic,” he said. “That, to me, is called strategy.”

Elizabeth Warren

Warren, the Boston Globe has noted, has not been eager to address the Iran crisis on the stump, although she will answer questions when asked.

In a September interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, she said she would re-enter the Iran deal, but also hinted that she was unhappy with its sunset provisions. The Massachusetts senator also called for a robust posture countering Iranian aggression and said leaving the deal made that harder.

“We also need to address serious concerns about Iran’s policies beyond its nuclear program, including its ballistic missile program and support for destabilizing regional proxies,” she said. “The [Iran deal] made addressing these problems easier by taking the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran off the table.”

Mike Bloomberg

In 2015, Bloomberg said he had “deep reservations” about the Iran deal, especially with its sunset provisions, and in an op-ed on Bloomberg News he accused President Obama of playing politics and “smearing critics.”

More recently, unburdened by tough questions during debates, he has not weighed in on whether he would return to the deal. However, he told The Washington Post last week that he would keep an open line with Iran and install a version of the red phone that Cold War presidents used to keep at bay crises with the Soviet Union.

In Other News

Impeachment trial

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday named seven managers for the Senate trial of President Trump on the House’s charge of impeachment for pressuring Ukraine’s government to launch an investigation into Biden. Her lead manager is Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, and also taking a lead is Rep. Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Nadler and Schiff are Jewish.

At the news conference Pelosi said that “time has been our friend” — a rebuke to those who criticized her for delaying the formal relaying of the charges of impeachment to the Senate. Certainly a flood of interviews this week with Lev Parnas, the indicted Ukrainian-American businessman involved in pressuring Ukraine, seemed timed for maximum damage to Trump’s case. Parnas in those interviews said that Trump’s sole consideration in pressuring Ukraine was to harm Biden.

A tale of two hearings

Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., the Jewish chairman of the House Intelligence and counterterrorism subcommittee of the Homeland Security Committee, convened a hearing Wednesday to address the rise in domestic anti-Semitic terrorism.

Watching the hearing was like seeing two movies simultaneously, one about the recent physical threats to Jews, and another about the nuances of how to confront Israel boycott movements.

Two witnesses, Jonathan Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League CEO, and Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union director, came prepared with the recommendations that Rose sought in his opening statement, in which he asked how to prevent the attacks that have traumatized communities recently. Rose cited the lethal shooting in Jersey City and the stabbing in Monsey late last year, as well as harassment on the streets of his native New York City.

Greenblatt urged lawmakers to pass a number of legislative initiatives, including training and equipping police to identify and deal with hate crimes and domestic terrorism; extending existing restrictions on incitement from broadcast media to online media; adding funding to nonprofit security; and promoting Holocaust education.

Diament described, vividly, the specific threat that “visibly” Orthodox Jews face and also urged increased security funding for nonprofits. He said a program that Jewish institutions have long used should be ready to accommodate requests from Muslim and Christian institutions, among others.

Another two witnesses called by the committee’s Republican minority seemed to come prepared for a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.

Clifford May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, focused mostly on foreign threats at a hearing geared to domestic threats, listing anti-Jewish rhetoric and actions in France, Germany and Malaysia, and also arguing that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel is an expression of anti-Semitism. Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at George Mason University’s Scalia Law School, testified virtually only about BDS, arguing that it was “inherently anti-Semitic” and adding that “discriminatory boycotts do not in themselves call for violence.”

You talking to meatball?

How concerned is Bloomberg that he’s missing the debates? Not so concerned, considering the photo mashup of his face and a meatball that his campaign posted during the debate on Tuesday.

Obama’s Middle East team is back, and advising Elizabeth Warren on foreign policy.

Worth A Look

Virginia Statehouse (Wikimedia Commons)

Virginia turned blue in November elections, and now its fully Democratic government is instituting gun controls. Second Amendment advocates plan to rally, peacefully, against the reforms, but violent white supremacists are trying to hitch a ride, alarming the government, law enforcement and, I’m told, Jewish civil liberties groups. At Vice, Tess Owen breaks down the threat.

Tweet So Sweet

Tom Steyer is the waiter walking over with mozzarella sticks 30 seconds after the couple starts the breakup convo. https://t.co/SY5QN4CCeC

— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) January 15, 2020

The tense post-debate moment between Sanders and Warren arguing over who accused whom of lying featured a cameo by Steyer, who just wanted to be friends. Ben Collins, an NBC reporter, captures precisely the role the billionaire stumbled into.

Stay In Touch

Share your thoughts on The Tell, or suggest a topic for us. Connect with Ron Kampeas on Twitter at @kampeas or email him at thetell@jta.org.

The Tell is a weekly roundup of the latest Jewish political news from Ron Kampeas, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Washington Bureau Chief. Sign up here to receive The Tell in your inbox on Thursday evenings.

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Trump adds Alan Dershowitz to his impeachment team

Fri, 2020-01-17 15:26

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Alan Dershowitz, the constitutional scholar, will join President Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team.

“Professor Dershowitz will present oral arguments at the Senate trial to address the constitutional arguments against impeachment and removal,” New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman quoted Trump’s legal team as saying on Friday.

The team is led by Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, and Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal lawyer. Also joining is Ken Starr, who as an independent counsel led the impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s.

Dershowitz, although he was not part of Clinton’s defense team, robustly defended the president in opinion pieces and on television during Starr’s proceedings. Now they will be on the same team.

“While Professor Dershowitz is nonpartisan when it comes to the Constitution — he opposed the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and voted for Hillary Clinton — he believes the issues at stake go to the heart of our enduring Constitution,” the statement said.

Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor and author, is a prominent defender of Israel and has consulted with Trump on his Israel policy. He has appeared on cable news as a defender of Trump during the recent impeachment crisis and is often touted by Trump defenders as a liberal who is defending a conservative president on principle.

The U.S. House of Representatives impeached Trump last month on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress stemming from his pressure last year on Ukraine to launch an investigation into his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. The Senate trial began this week.

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Muslims chant about killing Jews outside Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque

Fri, 2020-01-17 15:19

(JTA) — Hundreds of Muslims chanted about killing Jews outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on Friday morning, prompting police to disperse the crowd.

The chants began as worshippers were leaving the mosque following prayers atop the Temple Mount, Israel’s Channel 13 reported.

No one was injured in clashes with police, who broke up the impromptu march where the chants occurred.

In footage from the march, many men can be heard shouting in Arabic, “Jews, remember Khaybar, the army of Muhammad is returning.”

The cry relates to an event in the seventh century when Muslims massacred and expelled Jews from the town of Khaybar, located in modern-day Saudi Arabia.

They also shouted: “With spirit and blood, we will salvage Al-Aqsa” and “Jews, the army of Al-Aqsa is returning.”

The last mass disturbance by Muslims near Al-Aqsa was in summer during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. Worshippers threw chairs and stones at police, triggering a temporary closure of the mosque.

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Chelsea soccer club unveils mural with Jewish soccer players murdered at Auschwitz

Fri, 2020-01-17 15:01

(JTA) — The Chelsea soccer club in Britain marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day with a commemorative mural of Jewish players and prisoners of war who were sent to a Nazi camp.

The mural was unveiled Wednesday on a wall outside of the West Stand at Stamford Bridge and is part of Chelsea’s Say No to Antisemitism campaign being funded by the club’s Russian-Israeli owner, Roman Abramovich.

“By sharing the images of these three individual football players on our stadium, we hope to inspire future generations to always fight against anti-Semitism, discrimination and racism, wherever they find it,” Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck was quoted as saying about the event in a statement on the club’s website.

The mural features three portraits.

Julius Hirsch, a German Jewish international footballer, was murdered sometime after 1943 at the Auschwitz Nazi camp in occupied Poland. Also depicted is Árpád Weisz, a Hungarian Jewish football player who was murdered there in 1944.

The third portrait is of Ron Jones, known as the “Goalkeeper of Auschwitz,” who was a British prisoner of war at Auschwitz. He survived the camp.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is Jan. 27, a  date designated in 2005 by the United Nations. On that day, Red Army troops liberated Auschwitz. This year is the liberation’s 75th anniversary.

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Ukrainian parliament commemorates Holocaust for the 1st time

Fri, 2020-01-17 14:53

(JTA) — Ukraine’s parliament for the first time commemorated the Holocaust ahead of the international date in memory of the victims.

The Verkohvna Rada in Kyiv held a memorial ceremony on Thursday ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27. The date was designated in 2005 by the United Nations. On that day, Red Army troops liberated the Auschwitz Nazi camp in occupied Poland. This year is the liberation’s 75th anniversary.

“The Holocaust was a disaster not only for the Jewish people but for the whole world and specifically the Ukrainian people,” lawmaker Daniel Gatmanzov said in his address.

Memorial candles were lit and a minute’s silence was observed.

Among those on hand was Israel’s ambassador, Joel Lion, who in recent years has protested the glorification of Nazi collaborators in Ukraine, including by some officials.

Last week, Gennady Nadolenko, the head of Ukraine’s diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv, issued the first public reaction to Lion’s protests.

The subject is related to “internal issues of Ukrainian politics” and Israel’s protests about it are “counterproductive,” Nadolenko told Israeli diplomats, according to the new site Jewish.ru.

Also at the ceremony were a local rabbi, Jonathan Markovich; Israel’s honorary consul in Ukraine, Oleg Vyshniakov; and lawmaker Alexander Konitsky.

The 75th anniversary of the Auschwitz liberation will be commemorated at an international summit next week in Jerusalem organized by Israel’s government and Moshe Kantor, president of the World Holocaust Forum Foundation and the European Jewish Congress.

Another ceremony will be held Jan. 27 at the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum near Krakow, Poland.

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Mike Pence to attend Holocaust forum in Israel

Thu, 2020-01-16 22:30

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Vice President Mike Pence will attend a conference on the Holocaust in Israel.

The White House announced Wednesday that Pence and his wife, Karen, would attend the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, in Jerusalem on Jan. 23.

This year’s conference coincides with the 75th anniversary of the Allies’ liberation of Auschwitz. Haaretz quoted Israeli officials as saying that Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, also would attend. Pelosi’s office would not confirm the travel.

In a teleconference Wednesday with reporters, Cherrie Daniels, the State Department’s special envoy on Holocaust issues, and Elan Carr, the department’s special envoy to monitor anti-Semitism, outlined Trump administration plans to mark the 75th anniversary of the Auschwitz liberation.

Daniels said the State Department would honor the Holocaust rescuers this year.

“These types of themes can show that for people like those who resisted and those who tried to rescue their fellow citizens at great risk to themselves, kept their humanity during the darkest of times,” she said.

Carr said the United States would seek to add countries to those adopting as policy the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism. The definition includes Holocaust denial and certain forms of anti-Israel activity.

He also said the U.S. would press countries to combat anti-Semitism, including on social media, and to secure their Jewish communities.

“Anti-Semitism is on the rise and the stakes are high, but I want to stress that there’s also good news,” said Carr, who is Jewish. “There are many leaders around the world who are genuinely appalled by rising anti-Semitism and are committed to this fight.”

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Synagogues should not arm ordinary congregants, Jewish security agency says

Thu, 2020-01-16 21:58

(JTA) — If synagogues hire armed guards, they should be trained police officers, a top Jewish security agency says in a new report.

Armed congregants who are not law enforcement officers “are unlikely to have experience dealing with high-stress situations,” according to the report issued Wednesday by the Secure Community Network, the umbrella security agency for Jewish institutions. These congregants “are unlikely to have comprehensive training about when not to use lethal force,” it says.

The report was composed following consultations with a group of law enforcement and security experts in August. It was commissioned in the aftermath of the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh in October 2018 and Poway, California, six months later.

“It is the Task Force’s view that employing a uniformed police officer is the option most likely to achieve the common goals identified,” the report says. “More broadly, employing an on- or off-duty law enforcement officer or a recently retired officer who continues to maintain relevant certifications and training is the recommended best practice.”

The report says synagogues must consider a number of factors before deciding to hire armed guards, including cost, legal liability, public perceptions and the opinions of congregants. It says that hiring armed security needs to be part of a broader plan that includes doing a threat assessment, coordinating with local police, bolstering the building’s physical security, and training clergy and congregants to respond in an emergency.

“In some locations, the presence of firearms may be readily accepted, or even expected,” the report says. “One should not assume that the presence of firearms will be reassuring to all; some may find the presence of firearms distressing.”

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Trump threatened 3 European allies with tariffs if it did not confront Iran over breaking nuclear deal

Thu, 2020-01-16 21:41

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Donald Trump warned the three European parties to the Iran nuclear deal that he would impose high tariffs on automobile exports if they did not confront Iran over its increased uranium enrichment.

The Washington Post on Wednesday reported the threat, which was made a week before the countries formally complained about the increased enrichment. The Post quoted anonymous U.S. and European officials, but the German defense minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, confirmed the threat at a news conference Thursday in London.

Britain, Germany and France planned to file a complaint about the increased uranium enrichment under the deal’s mechanism in any case, the Post reported.

Trump throughout his presidency has leveraged threats of tariffs in attempts to leverage more favorable trade deals, but it is highly unusual to use economic leverage to influence an ally’s unrelated foreign policy decisions. The European parties to the deal have sharply criticized Trump’s pullout in May 2018, saying the pact is the best means to keep Iran from becoming nuclear. Trump wants to replace it with a more stringent agreement.

Iran started violating the terms of the 2015 sanctions relief for nuclear rollback deal some time after Trump pulled out the United States. It has accelerated its violations in recent months as U.S.-Iran tensions have escalated.

On Thursday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani claimed that his country was enriching more uranium than it did before the deal.

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Meet the Jewish travel blogger who soon will have visited every country

Thu, 2020-01-16 20:29

(JTA) —In 2012, Drew Goldberg spent part of his junior year of college studying abroad in Prague. It was only his second time leaving the United States — the other time was for Birthright, the free Israel trip for Jewish young adults.

The trip to the Czech capital was life-changing, literally. Goldberg spent the next five months balancing his studies with traveling, managing to visit more than 20 countries. After that he was hooked.

Now he’s closing in on a goal inspired by the Prague trip — visiting each of the 193 countries recognized by the United Nations. In just a few months, the 28-year-old will have done it.

He’s managed the feat by making traveling his job.

Goldberg, who goes by the name Drew Binsky online, posts daily videos of his travel adventures and earns $5,000 to $30,000 each month through ad revenue and sponsorships.

His videos include everything from learning what it’s like to live in North Korea, discussing race in South Africa and talking to Syrians who fled their homes due to war. Goldberg has 4 million followers on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

 

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He also holds two Guinness World Records — for visiting the most UNESCO heritage sites in 24 hours (12) and for fastest time to pack a suitcase (35.59 seconds).

“I haven’t stayed in one place longer than two weeks in eight years,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a video interview from Manila, where he shares an apartment with his Philippines-born girlfriend Deanna.

This spring, Goldberg will embark on the last leg of his eight-year trip, traveling to the five countries he has yet to visit: Ghana, Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, Jamaica and Palau. He will bring along a film crew and hopes to make a documentary of the visit.

“It’s surreal,” he said. “I’ve been working with this goal for eight years.”

Goldberg grew up in a Jewish family in Scottsdale, Arizona. He attended Temple Chai, a Reform congregation, where he had his bar mitzvah.

After graduating with an economics degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Goldberg tookt a job teaching English in South Korea. He created a travel blog to document his experience traveling throughout Asia over the next 18 months.

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Goldberg makes a point of visiting Jewish communities in the countries he visits, and he says traveling has helped him connect with his Jewish identity. He has visited Jewish communities in Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Ethiopia and the Philippines.

“I feel more connected with the religion from a global perspective because I’ve really gone in the houses of Jews around the world,” he said.

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Though he says he has been well-received as a Jewish person, it helps that he publishes under the name Binsky, his childhood nickname, which is less obviously Jewish than Goldberg.

“I think it’s not the worst thing in the world to have an alter ego, especially when I’m traveling to countries like Syria and Libya and stuff,” he said. “It’s not the best to rep Goldberg.”

Goldberg says he enjoys teaching people about Judaism in areas of the world where there are few Jews.

“In general I think I’m in a very good position to promote Judaism to Muslims and to people who aren’t familiar with the religion,” he said.

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Goldberg generally feels safe while traveling and says he wasn’t worried visiting North Korea since he was on an organized tour. Still, there have been some scary moments, such as falling asleep to the sound of bombs raining down just miles from his hotel in Libya, and missing a car explosion by only an hour in Yemen. On a recent trip to Syria, he had to lie about having visited Israel to enter the country.

“I had to hide all my videos about Israel on my website,” he said.

Goldberg says he won’t stop traveling once he has hit his goal, but will shift his focus to longer-form content and post less frequently. He also hopes to get a travel show like Anthony Bourdain, the late food travel personality who Goldberg considers an idol.

“It’s so cool to be able to take people along with me and inspire them and teach them about the world,” he said. “And I get more satisfaction out of doing that than experiencing it myself.”

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FBI arrests 3 suspected neo-Nazis who planned to bring weapons to a pro-gun rally in Virginia

Thu, 2020-01-16 19:20

(JTA) — The FBI has arrested three men alleged to be members of a neo-Nazi hate group who had planned to travel with firearms to a pro-gun rally in Richmond, Virginia.

The rally is scheduled for the Martin Luther King Day holiday on Monday to protest gun control measures proposed by the state legislature and its new Democratic majority.

Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, declared a state of emergency this week over credible violent threats from out-of-state militia groups and hate groups reminiscent of the 2017 Unite the Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Northam has also temporarily banned weapons from the state Capitol grounds through Jan. 20.

One of the men arrested, Patrik Mathews, is a former reservist in the Canadian Army who was dismissed after his ties to white supremacists became known, The New York Times reported. He was a main recruiter for The Base, a group working to foment anarchy and race war.

The others arrested are Brian Mark Lemley of Elkton, Maryland, and Newark, Delaware, and William Garfield Bilbrough IV of Denton, Maryland, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office, The Hill reported.

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Lev Parnas says in interviews that Trump ‘knew what was going on’ in Ukraine

Thu, 2020-01-16 18:04

(JTA) — Lev Parnas, the Ukrainian-American businessman charged with campaign finance violations related to the Trump-Ukraine scandal, said in a series of media interviews that President Donald Trump “knew exactly what was going on” in Ukraine.

Parnas spoke to several news outlets, including MSNBC, The New York Times and CNN on Wednesday night, as the U.S. House of Representatives voted to formally send the articles of impeachment against Trump to the Senate.

Parnas allegedly helped Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani coax Ukrainian officials to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son over the latter’s seat on the board of Burisma Holdings, a major Ukrainian natural gas producer. Parnas and another Ukrainian-American Jewish businessman, Igor Fruman, have pleaded not guilty to charges of campaign finance violations related to the scandal.

House impeachment investigators released material that Parnas had turned over to them including text messages, photos and calendar entries.

“He was aware of all my movements. I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president,” Parnas told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Wednesday night.

Parnas told The New York Times that while he did not speak to Trump directly about efforts to jump-start a Ukrainian investigation, he was told by Giuliani that the president was kept in the loop.

Trump has denied knowing Parnas and Fruman, though there are several photos of them together, and there are reports that Fruman and Parnas had a private meeting with Trump and Giuliani during a White House party in December 2018.

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‘Incitement’ director Yaron Zilberman tries to get inside the head of Yitzhak Rabin’s killer

Thu, 2020-01-16 16:21

LOS ANGELES (JTA) – Over the past century, Jews have endured what filmmaker Yaron Zilberman calls a “trilogy of traumas”: the Holocaust, the Yom Kippur War and the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The Israeli-American writer, director and producer has spent much of his career exploring these ordeals, and his latest film is no exception.

“Incitement” focuses on the 1995 shooting of Rabin in Tel Aviv and specifically on the man who pulled the trigger — Yigal Amir, the Orthodox child of Yemenite immigrants. It took Zilberman five years to research the path followed by Amir, from ambitious law student to murderer, and another year to put the film together.

“The assassination of Rabin is arguably the most traumatic event in the history of Israel,” Zilberman, 53, said in an interview. “The murder of a Jewish prime minister was impossible to comprehend, and the circumstances leading to it were not, at the time, investigated in full — perhaps to avoid a civil war.”

The sense of a nation on the precipice is vividly re-created in “Incitement,” which takes viewers back to the mid-1990s and powerfully dramatizes the deep fissures then opening up over the pursuit of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

The signing that year of the Oslo II Accord promised to bring the country closer to a peaceful resolution to the conflict. But since the agreement called for the return of some of the land won by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967, a determined opposition virulently fought against any concession.

As passions intensified, protesters displayed effigies of Rabin in Nazi uniform or as Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Rabin, a former general who had engineered the Israeli victory in the 1967 war, was called a traitor at increasingly vitriolic public demonstrations.

The film shows newsreel footage of Benjamin Netanyahu, then a rising young right-wing politician and now prime minister, encouraging the protesters at one such event — though not, he insisted later, advocating violence.

On Nov. 4, 1995, at 8:30 p.m. as Rabin left a peace rally in Tel Aviv, Amir emerged from the crowd and pumped two pistol shots into the prime minister. Rabin was rushed to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Amir is portrayed by Yehuda Nahari Halevi, an actor whose family lived in the same Yemenite neighborhood as Amir and who dominates the screen throughout most of the film. Critics have applauded his performance, but some have observed that his powerful portrayal might elicit the sympathy of the audience, his horrible deed notwithstanding.

That criticism doesn’t surprise Zilberman, who co-wrote and directed the film. One reason it took so many years to make the movie was that Zilberman wanted to get into Amir’s mind and avoid portraying him as a unidimensional “monster.”

In Zilberman’s retelling, Amir’s road perdition is paved with real or perceived personal slights and the misguidance of certain rabbis — and even of his own mother.

The former led Amir to conclude that Jewish law permits, and even encourages, the killing of traitors. Amir’s mother, in her short turn, drums it into her son’s head that he is super-smart and destined for greatness.

On top of all that, his longtime girlfriend Nava (Daniella Kertesz) breaks up with him, leading Amir to conclude that her Ashkenazi family opposed her relationship with a dark-skinned Yemenite.

Just about every review of the film draws a parallel between the popular mood in Israel in the 1990s and the one in the United States today. Variety writes that the film’s portrayal of a divided democracy, in which provocative language from politicians and the media lead to lethal violence, is hardly a relic of history.

“This plot summary sounds as if it could be ripped from recent U.S. headlines,” the magazine said.

Zilberman doesn’t dispute the parallels. Both Netanyahu and President Donald Trump are cut from the same political cloth and “play off the same book and incite their respective bases while frequently pretending that the victim in a given situation is really the criminal,” Zilberman said.

In Israel, the film is known by the punchier title “Yamim Noraim” — literally “Days of Awe,” the collective name for the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a period of self-examination and judgment. “Incitement” was deemed the best motion picture of the year in Israel and became the country’s automatic entrant for the Academy Award for best foreign film, though it didn’t make the cut of the final 10.

Zilberman splits his time between New York and Tel Aviv. He is married to the film producer Tamar Sela and the couple have three children.

“Incitement” was co-written with Ron Leshem and Yair Hizmi. The film opens Jan. 31 in New York City and Feb. 7 in Los Angeles, to be followed by a rollout in other U.S. cities.

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Italian police arrest suspected synagogue vandal caught on video

Thu, 2020-01-16 16:11

(JTA) – Police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste analyzed security videos to identify and arrest a man suspected of vandalizing the city’s synagogue twice in the past few months.

The suspect was accused of breaking two windows “for the purposes of ethnic-religious hatred,” police said.

A statement issued this week said careful analysis of the video enabled police to identify the suspect, an unemployed Italian man around 30 years old who was already “known to the police.”They said he punched out exterior windows at the synagogue on Oct. 24, 2019, and Jan. 3.

Trieste Police posted security videos on its Facebook page showing the man walking back and forth in front of the synagogue and jumping up on its wall. He also turns to the camera, makes the sign of the cross and mimics shooting a pistol.

The police announcement said the man, whose name was not released, confessed to the vandalism, saying it had a “mystical-religious meaning.” Local media reported that when police detained the man, he shouted anti-Semitic invective at them, including “I would kill all Jews — If you were Jews and we were at war, I would kill you both.”

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Why intersectionality fails the Jews

Thu, 2020-01-16 16:02

NEW YORK (JTA) — Thirty years ago, Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality as a way to help explain the oppression of African-American women. The theory of how different forms of discrimination interact is a useful tool to recognize the way privilege and oppression overlap. It can serve to challenge notions about oppressions and hierarchies, class struggles and racial divides.

But the recent spate of anti-Semitism in New York compels us to ask if it also has its demons.

Identifying Jews as white in the context of American history is not only a perversion of the Jewish past but a denial of its peoplehood. In American politics, white implies one who is a beneficiary of the past 500 years of European exploration and exploitation. It is identified with control, dominance and exclusivity — hardly accurate characteristics of Jewish history. 

While in the past 50 years American Jews have enjoyed privileges associated with hierarchical whiteness, only a collective amnesia would preclude us from recalling just how recently Jews were still barred from exclusive hotels, unwelcome in select restaurants, country clubs and even neighborhoods, and restricted by elite universities that had a “Jewish problem” (i.e too many Jews), forcing them to limit Jewish registration by implementing quotas. 

It is nearly impossible to imagine that any other group who had one out of every three of its members wiped out in a six-year span would be considered privileged. This narrative, however, is facilitated by the absorption of Jewishness into whiteness, which is both an erasure of Jewish ethnicity and misrepresentation of the dynamic Jewish identity.  

Jewishness as whiteness obscures the unique and often oppressed experiences of Jews, including those of Sephardic, Arab, African or Middle Eastern descent. It also accentuates and accelerates anti-Semitic tropes based on Jewish power.

The subsuming of Jewishness into whiteness was displayed recently by Linda Sarsour, who was filmed one month ago saying that Israel was “built on the idea that Jews are supreme to everyone else” and implied that one cannot be against white supremacy unless he or she is against the Jewish state. 

Although Sarsour tried walking back her word choice, the linking of white supremacism to Israel — a country that is distinctively Jewish — was intentional. White supremacism is an acceptable identifier — even if it obfuscates the Jewish experience and demographic reality — whereas Jewish supremacism sounds reactionary and bigoted.

The discourse associating Jews with power based on their perceived whiteness is particularly threatening given the centrality of the myth of Jewish hegemonic pursuit in the repertoire of historic anti-Semitism. 

As law professor David Schraub notes: “The Whiteness of the Jewish figure served to cleanse, even validate, arguments that otherwise would reek in their anti-Semitic familiarity.”

In fact, a perceived all-encompassing Jewish power, or cabal, is one of the few tropes that unites extremists on the right and left. In November, white supremacist Patrick Little of Idaho declared his candidacy for the general election, running as a Republican. He told the Idaho Press that “the only way to challenge Jewish power in this country is with local elections.” He also said that the “top priority” for the Jewish people is to displace white people specifically, adding that the Jews control the media, entertainment industry and politics. 

Along these same lines on the left, British Parliament member Angela Ormerod of the Labour Party was suspended in 2018 after a tweeting that “Jews control media.” 

From ancient through medieval times, the fear of a secret Jewish conspiracy to dominate both the economy and government was used to justify anti-Semitic violence. Later, the Nazis capitalized on old Christian themes of secret Jewish dominance to propagandize and mobilize support for their Jewish liquidation program. Today, that fear has been expanded by modern anti-Semites to the point of caricature to include the media, global markets and geopolitical stability.  

Framed according to this trope, a paradox develops: Not only is the Jewish experience lost in whiteness, but Jewishness serves to epitomize whiteness’ vilest iteration. A white Jew is not only powerful but hyper powerful. He is not only exploitative and manipulative but the arch puppeteer, controlling world affairs. 

While intersectionality can be a valuable tool, it has been ineffective in the case of “white Jews.” The result is a dangerous distortion of the Jewish experience — its history, diversity and challenges. 

Although Jewish skin comes in every shade — reflecting the diversity of a people that spans the globe and is all at once an ethnicity, nation and religion — some of its whitest members endured a genocidal program that prompted the world to proclaim Never Again. 

An intersectional approach can prove useful only if the two identities are separated and if the Jewish experience is articulated rather than subsumed or dismissed. Fighting anti-Semitism will begin when the complexity of Jewish experience is properly portrayed rather than lost in skin color.

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LA-area condo owner ordered to remove swastika and threatening material from balcony

Thu, 2020-01-16 15:16

(JTA) — The Jewish mayor of a Los Angeles suburb has ordered a local condo owner to remove material posted on his balcony that includes swastikas and threats against the president.

“This type of material and language has no place in our community and we are working tirelessly to get the material taken down,” Mayor Alicia Weintraub of Calabasas said in a statement Wednesday on social media.

The statement said that the city notified the homeowner that he has 24 hours “to remove the offensive material posted on his property since it violates city code covering inflammatory language and threats to others.”

Complaints about the display first came in to the Los Angeles Police Department on Tuesday afternoon, the Los Angeles Times reported.

In addition to the swastikas posted alongside American flags, the signs on the second floor condo threaten Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney. They also appear to attack Christians and say “Death to America.” In one sign, the homeowner identifies himself as Jewish.

Calabassas has a large Jewish population among its some 23,000 residents.

The Los Angeles Human Rights Commission released a report in September that said anti-Semitic hate crimes in the city increased 14 percent in 2018 from the previous year, the Jewish Journal reported.

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Vandal paints swastika on stairs of Nebraska synagogue, then takes a picture of his work

Thu, 2020-01-16 15:09

(JTA) — A man sprayed a swastika and racial epithets on the stairs and front door of a synagogue in Lincoln, Nebraska, then took a picture of his vandalism.

The graffiti discovered on Wednesday morning on the South Street Temple was drawn in orange spray-paint, KOLN’s 1011 NOW news reported.

Surveillance video shows the vandal painting the door and steps before stepping back and taking a photo of his work, the news station reported. “F U Black Shirt” also was painted on the front doors.

The Lincoln Police Department is investigating the incident as a hate crime, according to the report.

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Florida man who hugged Nazi camp guard in court withdraws as plaintiff amid survivor controversy

Thu, 2020-01-16 14:51

(JTA) — A Florida man who has presented himself as a child Holocaust survivor has withdrawn as a plaintiff in a trial against a former Nazi concentration camp guard.

Moshe Peter Loth made headlines in November when he hugged defendant Bruno Dey during his trial in Hamburg, Germany.

Loth has told journalists over the years that his grandmother and mother were both imprisoned in the Stutthof camp where Dey worked, turned in by his own grandfather, whom he described as a Nazi. Loth also claimed to have received information from the Red Cross that he was born in the camp.

But information provided to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency by four major Holocaust archives showed that the woman Loth identified as his mother — Helene Anna Flood — was released from the camp one month after she was taken there and several months before Loth was born.

Loth wrote in a statement to the court dated Saturday that he would withdraw from the case, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported.

“Please accept my most sincere apologies for having caused any problems,” Loth wrote in the statement. The court, he wrote, “must work for justice.”

He also told Spiegel that he realizes he should have had his reconciliation with Dey “in private.”

Dey, 93, is charged as an accessory in the murders of 5,230 people at the Stutthof concentration camp near what is today Gdansk, Poland.

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Netanyahu and Putin discuss fate of jailed Israeli backpacker Naama Issachar

Thu, 2020-01-16 13:21

JERUSALEM (JTA) –Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin about regional developments and about the case of an American-Israeli woman jailed for drug smuggling.

“The conversation was warm and to the point and strengthened the Prime Minister’s optimism that the issue of the release of Naama Issachar is advancing towards a solution,” read a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday.

Naama Issachar, 26, was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison in October following her conviction for smuggling marijuana into the country. She had been detained since April after nine grams (less than one-third of an ounce) of marijuana were found in her luggage at the airport in Moscow where she was transiting from India to Israel.

Her initial charge of possession of cannabis, which entails a fine and a month of detention, was subsequently changed to narcotics smuggling, which carries a prison term of three to 10 years. Issachar was passing through Russia on the way home from India, causing many in Israel to question the charge of smuggling.

Issachar, born to Israeli parents,  grew up in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, and also holds American citizenship. She and her parents returned to Israel when she was 16.

Putin will visit Israel next week, where he is slated to speak at the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu has previously requested that Putin pardon Issachar.

In a letter sent on Monday to Issachar, Netanyahu wrote: “The citizens of Israel are thinking of you. We do not abandon anyone to their fate and so it is in your case as well. The State of Israel and I are investing ceaseless efforts to effect your release. We are in contact with members of your family and in every conversation with them we emphasize our commitment to bringing you back home soon.”

 

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New Jersey pizzeria fires manager who went on anti-Semitic tirade over day off for Rosh Hashanah

Thu, 2020-01-16 13:10

(JTA) — A New Jersey pizzeria has fired the manager accused of sending anti-Semitic text messages to a teenage employee after he asked to take off for a Jewish holiday.

The family that owns Maurizio’s Pizzeria & Italian Ristorante in Eatontown, New Jersey, also has apologized to the teen who worked as a pizza delivery driver.

Nicholas Bogan, 17, had been working for a short time at the pizzeria, when he asked to take off the first night of Rosh Hashanah.

A lawsuit filed by Bogan and his parents in late November alleges that the store manager, Francesco Scotto Di Rinaldi, then sent a series of offensive text messages, which included Hitler references.

The Schianodicola family, owners of the pizzeria, had been visiting Italy for three weeks, and were there when the news of the lawsuit broke earlier this month.

“The actions of this one employee are inexcusable and completely distasteful, [and] such actions will not be tolerated,” the family said in a statement to NJ.com.

“We would like to be clear that the single actions of this employee in no way reflects the beliefs and values of the owners of Maurizio’s…. Most importantly, we would like to apologize to Mr. Bogan and his family for any hardship or offense that these events have caused his family,” the statement also said.

The restaurant has been receiving “hateful” messages and phone calls since the lawsuit was made public, NJ.com reported.

In the lawsuit, Bogan is seeking back pay, benefits and punitive damages. He also asks the court to order pizzeria employees and supervisors to undergo anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training, according to the report.

 

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