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House bill would penalize compliance with European and UN boycotts

Tue, 2020-01-14 22:40

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A House bill introduced Tuesday would extend penalties for boycotting Israel to compliance with boycotts organized by international organizations.

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act introduced Tuesday by Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Jewish Republican from New York, would add language to 1970s-era anti-boycott laws that targeted the Arab League boycott of Israel to include “international governmental organizations.”

It ratchets up pressure on Democrats who in recent years have increasingly opposed expanding penalties targeting Israel boycotters, saying they impinge on speech freedoms. A separate anti-BDS bill in the Senate last year garnered the support of just over half the party’s caucus. Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the House speaker, has resisted considering the measure in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill specifically names the United Nations and affiliated bodies, and the European Union, entities that in recent years have recommended boycotts of goods made in Israeli settlements.

It had 59 co-sponsors, 58 of them Republicans. The sole Democratic co-sponsor is Tom Suozzi of New York.

In a statement Zeldin, whom Republicans have designated as their lead Israel spokesman, said the measure targeted the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.

“This legislation would not only reinforce Congress’ opposition to the BDS movement, but protects American companies from being forced to provide information to international organizations that peddle this hate-filled movement, and holds those who attempt to violate that protection accountable,” he said.

Unlike the 1970s laws, the bill does not include criminal penalties, but it preserves the earlier laws’ monetary punishment.

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Obama’s Middle East policy team has a new home in Elizabeth Warren’s campaign

Tue, 2020-01-14 22:18

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Much of Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign narrative subtly casts her as the anti-Obama, the potential president who will not broker sweetheart deals for big business.

That was the subtext — actually it was the overt text — of a buzzy Politico magazine article in September titled “‘Why Are You Pissing In Our Face?’: Inside Warren’s War With the Obama Team.” It chronicled tensions at the beginning of Barack Obama’s first term, when Warren, then a Harvard law professor, was the most prominent critic of the bailout championed by the president.

It’s been a narrative useful to the Massachusetts senator as she vies with Sen. Bernie Sanders to be the no-compromise candidate the party’s left is dreaming about.

But there was a hiccup in the anti-Obama narrative last month when reports emerged that Obama was “talking up” Warren in private conversations with donors.

Now a CNN story on Warren’s foreign policy team reveals that her Middle East policy advisers are nearly all Obama-ites.

As the story notes, Warren has been uncharacteristically silent about her foreign policy, delivering only one speech and an article about it in the year or so she’s been campaigning. She fumbled at an October debate on a foreign policy question when she readily agreed with another candidate, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, saying “I don’t think we should have troops in the Middle East.”

Warren later backtracked, and an aide told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that she was referring only to combat troops. But the impression remained that she was not deeply immersed in the issue.

It didn’t help that the same month she told J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, that she was ready to leverage aid to Israel to pressure the country into compliance with U.S. policy — but was short on details.

Her campaign consultants, as outlined in the CNN story, offer a clearer picture and distinguish Warren from two of her main rivals for the Democratic nomination, Sanders and Joe Biden, the former vice president.

Among them is Ilan Goldenberg, who helped shape Iran policy under Obama. Goldenberg later was chief of staff to Martin Indyk, who tried to broker a Middle East peace deal in 2013-14. Warren also is talking with Hady Amr, Indyk’s deputy during that doomed peace deal attempt.

They join a raft of Gen-Z foreign policy wonks who served under Obama.

Here are some takeaways from the revelations in the CNN article:

Assistance to both Israel and the Palestinians: Warren’s pledge to J Street to consider cuts to Israel assistance notwithstanding, Goldenberg and Amr are steeped in an understanding of Middle East peace brokering that uses American carrots, and not sticks, for both sides.

Indyk and Secretary of State John Kerry went out of their way to offer Israelis incentives for sticking with the talks, notably including U.S. investment in defense infrastructure in the West Bank to assuage Israeli concerns about ceding any security control in the region.

That process was packed as well with economic incentives for the Palestinians — Amr’s brief . That’s consistent with the Warren pledge to resume the assistance to the Palestinians that President Donald Trump has eliminated.

The anti-Biden: Biden has taken on board as senior advisers boomer wonks like Tony Blinken and Nicholas Burns. Blinken held senior posts in the Obama administration, but got his start on President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council. Burns was a career diplomat through the Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

Those are resumes that reflect the last vestiges of the post-World War II vision of an expansive U.S. role on the planet. Warren’s consultants, by contrast, are more identified with Obama’s retreat from using U.S. military power as leverage. They have a harder-nosed outlook of the limits of U.S. influence, but at the same time repudiate the “America first” isolationism that Trump has come to embody.

The anti-Sanders, too: Goldenberg, Amr and Warren’s other consultants are nonetheless seasoned executive branch diplomats and policymakers.

Sanders, typical of his brand, is taking advice from activists and thinkers he has recruited from outside the Democratic establishment. His top foreign policy adviser, Matt Duss, for a time was the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, which has as its focus two-state advocacy and is sharply critical of Israel policy in a way that Democrats until recently were not.

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The granddaughter of a Cambodian princess had a bat mitzvah

Tue, 2020-01-14 21:54

(JTA) — Members of the Cambodian royal family gathered last month at the Raffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh for a celebration. There was music, traditional Cambodian dance performances and plenty of food.

The occasion? The coming-of-age party of the granddaughter of one of the princesses. Well, a bat mitzvah to be exact.

The celebrant, Elior Koroghli, is the the great-granddaughter of the late King Sisowath Monivong, who reigned from 1927 to 1941. She is also an Orthodox Jew.

The 13-year-old grew up in Las Vegas, the daughter of Monivong’s granddaughter Sathsowi Thay Koroghli, who converted to Judaism as an adult, and Ray Koroghli, a Persian Jew. While in Cambodia for the bat mitzvah, the Koroghlis met with the current king and queen mother, and the extended family posed for a photograph, the tzitzit fringes worn by Elior’s brothers clearly visible in the frame.

The festivities reflected the various parts of her heritage. Elior wore both a traditional Cambodian costume and a sparkly bat mitzvah dress. She lit a menorah — the celebration took place during Hanukkah — and performed a Persian-style candle-lighting ceremony. And she played traditional Jewish, Persian and Cambodian songs on the piano, including the classic “Hava Nagila.”

Elior Koroghli, right, with her parents, brother Matanel and half-sister Elizabeth Koroghli Damavandi in front of the menorah they lit at the party. (Kang Predi and Teh Ranie)

The Koroghlis provided kosher food with the help of Rabbi Bentzion Butman, the Chabad emissary in Cambodia. Chabad.org first reported on the celebration.

“It was just incredible how you can bring Cambodian, Jewish and Persian all into one, where we go to Cambodia and I’m wearing their costume but I’m also lighting a menorah there, and I’m wearing ‘tznius’ clothing,” Elior told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, using the Hebrew word for modesty.

For members of her family who live in Cambodia, it was the first time they had been to a Jewish event of any kind.

Elior’s mother, Sathsowi, was born in Washington, D.C., where her father was serving as a Cambodian diplomat. Her mother, Princess Sisowath Neary Bong Nga, was King Monivong’s daughter. Sathsowi moved back to Cambodia with her family when she was 2, but most of her childhood was spent in Long Beach, California. She met her husband at a birthday party in Las Vegas.

“He just came to ask me to dance and that was it,” Sathsowi told JTA in a telephone interview.

Today the couple lives with their three children — Elior and her brothers Matanel, 11, and Eliav, 7 — in Henderson, a suburb popular among Las Vegas Jews. Ray works in commercial real estate and Sathsowi is a homemaker.

Though their cultures differ, Sathsowi, who was raised a Buddhist, said religion did not come up much while she and Ray were initially dating. But a few years later, she joined her husband for a lecture by Rabbi Shea Harlig, the Chabad emissary in Las Vegas. Sathsowi only caught the end of the talk, but the rabbi’s teaching about God being infinite stuck with her.

Elior with relatives and guests during the candle-lighting ceremony. (Kang Predi and Teh Ranie)

“I was taught about Buddha. And I’m thankful for all that I was taught because it made me who I am. It gives me patience, it makes me who I am at [my] core,” Sathsowi said. “But on the other hand, I just believe that something created all this. So when the rabbi spoke about that, it was just like, whoa, this is how I’m feeling. So that’s why I wanted to know more.”

Sathsowi eventually became a Jew by choice, initially converting through the Conservative movement in 2003. Two years later, she and Ray were married in Israel. The couple would come to embrace Orthodox Judaism and, nine years after her first conversion, Sathsowi had a second one with an Orthodox rabbi. The couple also had a second wedding ceremony performed by an Orthodox rabbi.

“It just kind of happened naturally,” she said. “It took a long time, many years.”

The process wasn’t all easy. She faced pushback from her mother, who was unhappy her daughter was leaving the religion of her birth. At times she felt like an outsider as the only Asian person in her husband’s Persian Jewish family.

It was a desire to reconcile those identities that led Sathsowi to celebrate her daughter’s bat mitzvah in Phnom Penh. The family had already held a celebration at their home in Henderson a year earlier, but Sathsowi wanted something different.

“We want to show her her identity — she’s Persian, she’s Cambodian, she’s Jewish,” Sathsowi said.

For Elior, the identities seem to go hand in hand easily.

“It’s just awesome to be part of a little bit of everything,” she said, “and it’s all different and they all give me different feelings.”

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‘Uncut Gems’ puts age-old Jewish stereotypes front and center. Why has there been no backlash?

Tue, 2020-01-14 21:43

(JTA) — Almost every movie, TV show and other work of art gets put under Twitter’s sensitive microscope these days. Depictions of Jews in contemporary culture are especially of interest, given the wave of anti-Semitism rising across the country.

So in a sense it might be surprising that “Uncut Gems,” the critically acclaimed Diamond District thriller starring Adam Sandler that depicts a series of age-old negative tropes about Jews, hasn’t been subject to a controversial level of public scrutiny.

Directed by Jewish filmmakers Josh and Benny Safdie, the movie features Sandler as Howard Ratner, a New York City jeweler who juggles a seemingly endless series of bets, hustles, false promises and scams throughout the more than two-hour production.

Howard is a sleazy, greasy, greedy, dishonest businessman who wears his hair slicked back and dons lots of ostentatious jewelry and clothing. He’s obsessed with making money — perhaps to a clinical extent — and is even shown to have exploited the work of people in Africa (Ethiopian Jews, to be exact).

Sandler’s Howard, who another character calls a “crazy Jew,” is almost a parody of the anti-Semitic caricature that paints Jews as cheap and profit-driven.

It’s not as if this is some arthouse film relegated to a few small screens — “Uncut Gems” has made over $40 million at the box office and garnered serious Oscar buzz before this week, when it surprised critics by being shut out of the nomination list.

So why hasn’t there been an angry response from Jewish organizations or on social media? And why are Jews some of the film’s biggest fans?

From left, Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie and Adam Sandler at a screening of “Uncut Gems” in New York City, Dec. 3, 2019. The film failed to garner any Oscar nominations, surprising many critics. (Mark Sagliocco/Getty Images for The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)

There are a few possible reasons, including that Sandler, the writers and directors are all Jewish. The Safdies, who are from New York City, said in a New York Times Magazine interview late last year that Sandler’s comedy meant a great deal to them when they were young.

But the Jewish factor hasn’t completely shielded films from such criticism. When “Borat” came out, for example, the Anti-Defamation League took Sacha Baron Cohen to task for promoting anti-Semitic stereotypes in a widely seen blockbuster, despite his good intentions.

Sandler has built up a large amount of goodwill among Jewish audiences over the years with his iconic “Hanukkah Song” and role as an Israeli hairdresser in the 2008 liberal Zionist classic “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan.”

He’s been forward with his Jewishness, too, in a profession where Jewish performers habitually changed their names. Even in his lowbrow comedies, Sandler has played characters with names like Sonny Koufax, Dr. Danny Maccabee, Sandy Wexler, Chuck Levine and Dave Buznik.

In the Times profile, Sandler made a point of taking the reporter to the Hillcrest Country Club, a longtime stronghold for what he called “Jewish big shots.”

“Uncut Gems” never shies away from Jewishness. There’s a Passover seder scene, complete with Hebrew prayers. Jewish actress Idina Menzel plays Howard’s wife, while Judd Hirsch plays his father-in-law. Josh Ostrovsky, the controversial Instagram influencer known as The Fat Jew, has a small role owing to his long friendship with the Safdies.

Idina Menzel in her character’s old bat mitzvah dress in “Uncut Gems.” (Courtesy of A24)

In a Slate interview, the Safdies said “the humor of the film is explicitly Jewish.”

“[T]he early inspirations were these titanic 20th-century Jews, these overachievers, these overcompensators, these guys with interesting perspectives based on that, trying to work their way into society: the Rodney Dangerfields, the Lenny Bruces, the Don Rickles, the Al Goldsteins,” Josh Safdie said.

But the main reason “Uncut Gems” has avoided controversy is likely because of how it approaches and depicts its Jewish protagonist and the larger Jewish world of the Diamond District with a real sense of authenticity.

“The culture is not like an Ashkenazi Jewish lawyer from Westchester,” Jon Hammer, a former Diamond District worker, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “The character was very accurately portrayed in mannerisms, clothing, jewelry, and even the love of the NBA (a lot of the guys I worked with loved the NBA).”

The Safdies are descended from Syrian Sephardic Jews on their father’s side, a specific Jewish demographic that is well represented in the New York jewelry world, in the film and real life. They based the Howard character on both their own father and others in the Diamond District, where he worked — in addition to lots of additional research. The Times profile called their script prep work “pseudojournalism.”

Sandler himself also immersed himself in the Diamond District, meeting and following around real jewelers to craft his character. The final product is a study of a real type of person from a real place that wasn’t created to feed into anti-Semitic stereotypes.

In the Slate interview, the Safdies said they were well aware of portraying Jewish stereotypes — and put them out there for a reason.

“I think what you see in Howard is the long delineation of stereotypes that were forced onto us in the Middle Ages, when the church was created, when Jews were not counted toward population, and their only way in, their only way of accruing status as an individual, as a person who was considered a human being, was through material consumption,” Josh Safdie said.

“[A]s assimilation has accrued, the foundation, the DNA of the strive has become kind of cartoonized in a weird way. What you’re seeing in the film is a parable. What are the ill effects of overcompensation?”

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The first Reform rabbinical school in Buenos Aires ordains its first rabbi

Tue, 2020-01-14 21:03

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (JTA) — The first Reform rabbinical school in Buenos Aires has ordained its first rabbi.

Rabbi Diego Elman has started working at Mishkan: The Jewish Spirituality Center in the Argentine capital following the approval of his rabbinical studies by a specially convened rabbinical court, or beit din, late last month.

Elman is the first rabbi to be ordained by the Ibero American Institute for Rabbinical Education of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, or WUPJ, in Buenos Aires. The official ordination ceremony will be held in mid-May at the city’s iconic Temple Libertad, the oldest Jewish house of worship in the country.

Rabbinical leaders of the Reform movement in Latin America — Reuben Nisenbom, Roberto Graetz, and Sergio Bergman – made up the court.

Graetz, who traveled from San Francisco to Argentina to serve on the beit din, stressed the importance “of having arrived at this auspicious moment for the consolidation of a liberal Jewish movement in the region.”

Ibero-America is a region in Central and South America made up of areas where Spanish or Portuguese are the predominant languages, usually former territories of Portugal or Spain.

In addition to Elman, the court evaluated eight other students from Argentina, Brazil and Chile. They were promoted to the final stage of the school’s rabbinical training.

The institution, which was launched in 2016, also has students from Belgium, Colombia, Guatemala, Peru and Spain.

Buenos Aires also is home to the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary, founded in 1962 by Rabbi Marshall Meyer, which has ordained approximately 110 Conservative rabbis since 1972.

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Former Ottawa professor sues Canada for extraditing him to France over synagogue bombing

Tue, 2020-01-14 20:54

MONTREAL (JTA) — A former Canadian university professor and his family are suing the Canadian government for $69 million for extraditing him to France in 2014 for allegedly being involved in the deadly 1980 bombing of a Paris synagogue.

Hassan Diab, a Lebanon native who became a Canadian citizen in 1993, was sent back to France six years after a lengthy extradition process. French authorities alleged that Diab was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and took part in the attack of a synagogue on Rue Copernic that killed four people and injured 40.

Diab, who taught sociology at the University of Ottawa, spent three years in a Paris jail before his release in January 2018 due to compelling evidence that he was in Beirut, Lebanon, at the time of the bombing.

In his lawsuit, which was filed last week, Diab claims damages for a “negligent investigation, malicious prosecution, malfeasance in public office, spoliation of evidence, deceit, abuse of process, and intentional affliction of emotional distress.”

Diab, 66, also is seeking damages based on having his Canadian charter rights allegedly breached.

A review of Canada’s extradition process in 2019 cleared Canadian prosecutors of any wrongdoing but recommended improving the extradition process.

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Jewish groups again call for Stephen Miller to quit because of white nationalist ties

Tue, 2020-01-14 20:46

WASHINGTON (JTA) — For the third time in two months, an array of Jewish groups has joined in a call for the resignation of Stephen Miller, a top adviser to President Donald Trump.

The latest call, released Tuesday, is from 25 faith groups. Among the 15 Jewish groups that signed are the Anti-Defamation League, National Council of Jewish Women, and the Reform and Reconstructionist movements. Some of the groups have joined more than one of the statements calling for Miller’s removal. NCJW spearheaded this latest release.

Like the previous statements, this one cites emails published by the Southern Poverty Law Center linking Miller to white supremacist groups and views. It links his apparent sympathy for white nationalist views to Trump administration immigration policies. Miller is Trump’s lead adviser on immigration.

“We firmly oppose the anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, and anti-asylee policies enacted by this administration, including (but not limited to) the Muslim ban, efforts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) wherever possible, onerous barriers for family reunification, the increased criminalization of immigrants, family separation, decimating of the nation’s refugee resettlement program, and repeated attacks on asylum,” the statement says. “As organizations of many faiths, who feel love and respect where Miller advances disdain and hate, we call for his resignation immediately.”

In November, Jewish groups joined civil liberties groups in seeking Miller’s removal. In a separate letter the same month, three Jewish religious streams — the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements — made the same call. In December, 25 Jewish Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives called for his removal, and a number of Jewish Democrats in the Senate have joined similar calls.

The latest SPLC email dump, posted Tuesday, shows Miller making far-right arguments against the DACA program, which allows undocumented migrants who arrived in the United States as children to stay. President Barack Obama instituted the program.

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Monsey is one of 2 NY towns to get funding for high-speed security cameras

Tue, 2020-01-14 20:36

(JTA) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced $680,000 in new funding for license plate readers to provide extra security in Monsey and another upstate community with a large Jewish population.

A license plate reader, which contains a high-speed camera, was used to find and arrest the man accused of stabbing at least five people in an attack last month on a rabbi’s home in Monsey.

Cuomo made the announcement on Monday at Ramapo Town Hall. The other town is New Square.

“If anybody thinks about attacking the community, they better think again,” the governor said. “We will know. We will find you. We will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”

Cuomo defended the cameras as a security measure and not an invasion of privacy, the Rockland/Westchester Journal News reported. They will be installed on streetlights, street poles, highway overpasses, mobile trailers and police cars.

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Bar Refaeli would avoid jail in family’s tax evasion plea bargain deal. The Israeli supermodel’s mom would not.

Tue, 2020-01-14 20:03

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Bar Refaeli would avoid prison and her mother would be sent to jail under a plea bargain proposal to prosecutors by the Israeli supermodel and her parents over suspected tax evasion and perjury.

Meanwhile, Refaeli on Tuesday gave birth to a son, her third child and first boy.

The deal on her tax evasion would include 18 months in jail for Refaeli’s mother, Tzipi, and community service for the supermodel, Israel’s Channel 13 first reported on Monday.

In April, the Central District Court in Lod ordered Refaeli to pay about $2.25 million in back taxes. She appealed to the Supreme Court.

During the years in question, 2009 and 2010, Refaeli claimed that her main residence was in the United States, where she shared a house with then-boyfriend Leonardo Di Caprio, and therefore she owed less in taxes to Israel.

Tzipi Refaeli also is suspected of failing to report income of nearly $1 million from commissions she received as her daughter’s agent and by making deposits in foreign bank accounts on behalf of her daughter.

In the good news for Bar Refaeli, her new baby — his name has not been announced — joins a family that also includes daughters Liv, born in August 2016, and Elle, born in October 2017. She is married to Israeli businessman Adi Ezra.

View this post on Instagram

About to explode

A post shared by Bar Refaeli (@barrefaeli) on Jan 4, 2020 at 10:53am PST

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Following Poland’s lead, Lithuania proposes a controversial Holocaust law

Tue, 2020-01-14 19:48

(JTA) — Poland passed a controversial Holocaust law last year that drew sharp international criticism and damaged its relations with Israel, United States and Jewish groups around the world. Many feared the law, which prohibited rhetoric accusing Poland of complicity in Nazi crimes — since the Nazis occupied Poland, Polish leaders argue — would hamper education and historical research of the genocide.

Those concerns and issues have not disappeared in the year since Poland passed the legislation. Despite several attempts to bury the hatchet, Polish President Andrzej Duda last week pulled out of a major Holocaust commemoration event in Jerusalem.

Some historians and survivors say the Polish legislation has encouraged other European nations with far more sinister Holocaust records to attempt to whitewash their own participation in the genocide.

One such country is Lithuania, where Nazi complicity was both widespread and a major reason why about 95 percent of the country’s 250,000 Jews were wiped out, according to major international research institutions about the Holocaust.

Trying to counter that narrative, a Lithuanian lawmaker for the ruling party of Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis announced last month that a committee he heads is drafting legislation declaring that neither Lithuania nor its leaders participated in the Holocaust.

“The Lithuanian state did not participate in the Holocaust because it was occupied, just as the Lithuanian nation could not participate in the Holocaust because it was enslaved,” said the lawmaker, Arunas Gumuliauskas.

To Rosa Bloch, a 91-year-old survivor of the Kaunas, or Kovno, ghetto, the assertions are “so clearly false and outrageous that it could only have been the result of the Polish legislation,” she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

“The Lithuanians saw it worked for the Poles, so they also went ahead,” Bloch said.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki walks past flags of the European Union at an EU summit in Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2019. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The Lithuanian push is perhaps more disturbing to Bloch than the Polish one “because the Lithuanians were active and cruel partners in the Holocaust. There isn’t a Lithuanian Jew alive who didn’t lose relatives to Lithuanian murderers,” she said.

The causality Bloch and many others see between the law in Poland and the legislation being contemplated in Lithuania is difficult to establish, but the projects are clearly connected.

In September, Gumuliauskas organized a meeting with Polish lawmakers about historical memory, referring to what he described as a common challenge.

“Today, when Lithuanian-Polish relations are good, third parties are trying to knock us over the head by using the prism of historical memory,” he said in an interview about the meeting. Gumuliauskas did not name the third parties.

The meeting, he added, was to promote “cooperation between historians of both countries in pursuit of common goals.”

Whatever the exact relationship between the Polish and Lithuanian pushes for exoneration – Gumuliauskas did not respond to JTA’s query on the matter — they are part of a broader effort on the part of Eastern European nations to emphasize their populations’ victimhood and contradict or diminish allegations of complicity in the Holocaust.

Whereas Western European societies have increasingly assumed responsibility for the persecution of their Jews, the opposite has happened in Eastern European nations, where education about the Holocaust was largely absent or lacking under communism.

Many in Eastern Europe today excuse their compatriots’ collaboration with Nazi Germany as “aimed at achieving independence from the Soviet Union” rather than to kill Jews, Michael Berenbaum, a former director of the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s research institute, told JTA. He also said that the Polish law was “encouraging” politicians in other countries to seek similar legislation.

Amid rising nationalism across the continent, governments in multiple Eastern European countries now celebrate Nazi collaborators, including perpetrators of the Holocaust, as patriotic heroes.

Adolf Hitler shown in what is today called Klaipeda, Lithuania, in March 1939. (Berliner Verlag/Archiv/picture alliance via Getty Images)

In Ukraine, the parliament passed a law in 2015 that praised “anti-communist partisans,” including Nazi collaborationists, and criminalized uttering “insults” about their memory. Streets there are named for collaborators Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych, among others.

In 2014, Latvia introduced a law stipulating up to five years in jail for those who deny the role of “the foreign powers that have perpetrated crimes against Latvia and the Latvian nation” without mentioning the involvement of Latvian SS volunteers in murdering nearly all of the country’s 70,000 Jews. German SS veterans march annually through the streets of the capital Riga flanked by ultranationalist activists.

Back in Lithuania, a school is named for Jonas Noreika, a wartime leader who helped killed Jews.

Seen in this context, the proposed legislation in Lithuania is a trial balloon and “the next step in Holocaust distortion in Eastern Europe,” said Efraim Zuroff, the Eastern Europe director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who in recent years has focused on Holocaust history and revisionism in Lithuania.

If a nation with a Holocaust record such as Lithuania’s passes a law that exonerates it without significant diplomatic fallout, Zuroff suggested, “it could be a terrible sign for others.”

Ruta Vangaite, a bestselling author in Lithuania who has written about the Holocaust, said the law would be a “travesty.”

“On the first week of occupation, the Lithuanian government established the first concentration camp and created a battalion that killed Jews. This was the Lithuanian government. And everybody knows it,” she said.

The remarkable brutality of anti-Semitic pogroms in Lithuania is another challenge for the law’s architects. One of the most infamous happened in Kaunas, where dozens of Jews were butchered by club-wielding locals at a bus garage. Some perpetrators posed for pictures over the tortured bodies of their victims while displaying the murder weapons.

From a historical perspective, Poland has a far stronger case than Lithuania for opposing allegations of complicity in the Holocaust, according to Zuroff.

In both countries, he said, the Holocaust would not have happened if not for the Germans. And in both, locals killed thousands of Jews during the Nazi occupation.

But Poland “didn’t exist as a country” when the Nazis occupied it, and its government in exile “didn’t encourage actions against the Jews.” In Poland today, expressions of admiration for Nazi collaborators are quite rare.

Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff saying Kaddish, a mourning prayer, for Holocaust victims near Kaunas, Lithuania, Feb. 15, 2015. (Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)

By contrast, the collaborationist Provisional Government of Lithuania was responsible for countless murders in the six weeks of its brief existence.

Language used by leading Holocaust historians about the two countries reflects that difference.

On Poland, Sara Bloomfield, director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, wrote last year in a letter to the Polish president that “The Polish nation was the victim of German aggression and suffered an exceptionally brutal occupation. Characterizations – due to either ignorance or malice – of Polish responsibility for the establishment of Nazi concentration and death camps are unquestionably historically inaccurate.”

Bloomfield also mentioned the many Poles who saved Jews alongside many others who helped kill them.

Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum, writes on Poland that “Facing a ruthless occupation and being engaged in a constant struggle for existence, the Polish public at large paid little attention to the immensely greater distress” of the Jews.

Both museums use different terminology about Lithuania.

“The Lithuanians carried out violent riots against the Jews both shortly before and immediately after the arrival of German forces,” a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum summary reads, noting that most of the country’s Jews had been shot during the brief lifespan of its Quisling government.

Lithuania is the only Nazi-occupied country noted by Yad Vashem for its people’s “enthusiasm” for collaboration with Germany. Even when this enthusiasm “subsided … hostility towards Jews and denunciation persisted,” the Jerusalem museum says.

Zuroff said Lithuania’s government needs to face this record.

“While nongovernmental organizations carry out important commemoration work, the main thrust of Holocaust education is done in the school system and by prosecuting perpetrators,” he said. “These are things only a government can do.”

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South Dakota governor signs executive order prohibiting Israel boycotts

Tue, 2020-01-14 19:17

(JTA) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed an executive order on Tuesday prohibiting state offices from doing business with companies that boycott Israel.

South Dakota is the 28th state to have enacted an anti-Israel boycott executive order or legislation.

Its measure requires vendors who want to contract with South Dakota agencies, authorities, commissions, departments or institutions not to work with companies that participate in boycotts of Israel. It applies to companies or contractors with more than five employees and on contracts of $100,000 or more.

Noem signed the order in the capitol Rotunda in Pierre an hour before her State of the State address, which marked the beginning of the state Legislature’s 2020 session. She visited Israel in 2013 while serving as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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German police raid Islamists planning attacks that may have included Berlin synagogue

Tue, 2020-01-14 19:09

(JTA) — German police raided suspected Islamists across the country alleging that they were planning violent attacks, including on a Berlin synagogue.

The Islamists of Chechen origin were arrested early Tuesday in Berlin, as well as in the German states of Brandenburg, North Rhine-Westphalia and Thuringia, AFP reported, citing the Berlin Attorney General’s Office.

The alleged attackers are aged 23 to 28 and “suspected of having scouted locations for a possible Islamist attack,” Berlin police said in a statement.

The German news magazine Spiegel reported that the suspects may have planned to attack the synagogue after police found a video of the building in their possession. Police confirmed the report that a synagogue may have been targeted.

Along with the synagogue, the suspects also scouted out several shopping centers, according to the Spiegel report, which was cited by other media outlets.

Police said there was not yet any concrete danger of an attack.

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Jersey City kosher store shooters had powerful bomb and planned to target Jews and police

Tue, 2020-01-14 17:56

(JTA) — The two Jersey City kosher store shooters were carrying a bomb in the van they were using that had enough firepower to kill or wound people in an area the size of five football fields.

Federal officials on Monday also said that David Anderson and Francine Graham had enough materials to make a second bomb.

Anderson and Graham killed two Jews and a non-Jewish worker at the JC Kosher Supermarket, as well as a police officer at a nearby cemetery, in the Dec. 10 attack. Police killed the shooters during a standoff that lasted several hours.

Craig Carpenito, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, said Monday that the shooters planned even greater acts of violence on Jews and law enforcement, The New York Times reported.

“Anderson and Graham both targeted Jewish victims and law enforcement, and we know now that they planned greater acts of mayhem on both communities,” he said.

Since their deaths, the pair have been linked to the shooting at a “visibly Jewish” New Jersey driver near Newark Airport of his back window and to the murder of a taxi driver.

Carpenito said video from inside the market before Anderson was killed showed him saying “They stole our heritage, they stole our birthright, and they hired these guys to stop us.” They also expressed hatred of Jews and law enforcement in notes left at the grocery shooting scene and in online posts, The Associated Press reported.

Surveillance video showed that the shooters had driven past the market in the rented van at least twice in the week before the shooting, according to Carpenito.

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A decade ago, linking Israel’s founding to the Holocaust started a firestorm. Today it’s accepted.

Tue, 2020-01-14 17:42

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A decade ago, in a speech in Cairo addressing the Islamic world, President Barack Obama issued a call to understand Israel’s importance in the context of the Holocaust — and it started a political firestorm in the world of Jewish politics.

Not so this week.

A nonbinding resolution on Holocaust education introduced recently by three Republican lawmakers essentially echoes Obama’s call, but it has barely evinced a peep.

Why the differing reactions?

First, people tend to pay more attention to the leader of the free world making a signature foreign policy address than a pack of backbenchers introducing your everyday nonbinding resolution. It’s also understandable to chalk up any inconsistency to our political culture of selective outrage.

In this case, however, a third possibility should be considered: Maybe there was nothing wrong with what Obama said in the first place? Or, more to the point, maybe the president never said what his critics say he said.

Here’s what Obama said in a 2009 passage blasting the prevalence of Holocaust denial in Muslim societies (italics added):

America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied. Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust.

Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

Obama’s clear message to the Muslim world was to cut out the Holocaust denial and threats against Israel. But the execution upset some prominent Jewish organizations and Israeli commentators.

“The President implied that the Holocaust was the primary reason for Israel’s creation,” the American Jewish Committee’s CEO, David Harris, said at the time. “That is unfortunate – and factually incorrect.”

“While he made strong statements against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, it should have been made clear that Israel’s right to statehood is not a result of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust,” the Anti-Defamation League said then.

Aluf Benn, who at the time edited Haaretz, wrote in The New York Times that the speech was especially offensive to Israelis.

“Here we are taught that Zionist determination and struggle – not guilt over the Holocaust – brought Jews a homeland,” Benn said.

Yossi Klein Halevi, the Israeli-American writer, said in The New Republic that Obama “inadvertently reinforced Muslim misconceptions regarding Jewish indigenousness. The Holocaust helps explain why Israel fights, not why Israel exists.”

Obama’s spokesmen endeavored afterward to make clear that he was not tying Israel’s founding directly to the Holocaust, nor was he saying that the Holocaust was the reason Israel existed. A close reading of his speech showed that he was noting the way the Holocaust shapes how Jews and Israelis view the world, and not setting up a causative sequence or an exclusive justification for Israel’s creation.

Sort of the same way organizations that blasted Obama make a stop at Israel’s Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, a must-see on their Israel tours.

Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting at The Venetian Las Vegas ahead of an appearance by President Donald Trump, April 6, 2019. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The resolution introduced this week by Rep. Ted Budd of North Carolina and two Jewish lawmakers, Lee Zeldin of New York and David Kustoff of Tennessee, encourages Holocaust education as a way of stemming anti-Semitism, itself not noteworthy — there are a number of efforts on the state level to get Holocaust education into the curriculum.

It ends, however, on an Obama-esque note, encouraging “public schools throughout the country to design and teach a curriculum about the history of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, and the historic importance of the creation of the Jewish State of Israel in 1948 that served as a refuge for Jews all over the world to escape persecution following the Holocaust.”

When the Jewish Telegraphic Agency asked the congressmen about the resolution, each replied with a vehement affirmation of ancient Jewish claims to Israel, which did not obviate the message of the resolution — that the meaning of Israel to Jews is wrapped up in the persecution that Jews have suffered.

“Of course, Israel has been the historic homeland of the Jewish people for thousands of years,” Budd said. “The resolution was simply intended to highlight that the State of Israel has also served and continues to serve as a refuge for Jews around the world to escape any form of persecution. That is why the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Zionist Organization of America endorsed this resolution.”

“The Jewish homeland has existed for thousands of years, and the modern charter governing the State of Israel was no doubt made possible by the struggle and determination of the Zionist community,” Zeldin said. “It is thanks to these countless years of Zionist resolve that Jews from around the world were able to seek refuge in their rightful homeland during one of the darkest periods of our people.”

Kustoff said “Israel has been the historic, rightful homeland of the Jewish people for thousands of years. Thanks to years of determination by many in the Zionist community, Jews from around the world were able to seek refuge in the State of Israel during times of persecution, including the Holocaust.”

We asked the ADL and the AJC for comment on the resolution — and how it does or doesn’t echo Obama’s Cairo speech. The AJC did not reply to multiple requests for comment, and the ADL said it would get back to the JTA, but had not by press time.

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America and a fierce Obama critic, said he did not have a problem with that passage in the president’s speech (although other parts, in which Obama recognized Palestinian grievances, angered him at the time), and he had no problem with the resolution.

“To say Israel serves as a refuge — it does serve as a refuge,” Klein said in an interview. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

JTA asked the Republican Jewish Coalition, which like the ZOA had looked over the resolution before its release, for comment. The RJC said the relevant congressional staffer was gone for the day.

One factor mitigating controversy this time around might be that it has become consensus in recent years among Republicans and some Democrats, as well as some centrist Jewish groups, that bashing Israel is equated with anti-Semitism. Joining Holocaust education with Israel’s founding makes sense in that context.

The resolution lists a litany of recent violent attacks and then also notes the boycott Israel movement, calling it a cause of “rampant” anti-Semitism.

None of the violent incidents listed in the resolution, including the deadly attacks in Pittsburgh, Jersey City, New Jersey, and Poway, California, have had any link to the boycott Israel movement.

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Philissa Cramer named editor in chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Tue, 2020-01-14 17:19

NEW YORK (JTA) — Philissa Cramer, a co-founder and editor at large of the award-winning education news organization Chalkbeat, has been named editor in chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Cramer comes to JTA after 11 years at Chalkbeat, an independent journalism nonprofit covering American education with bureaus in seven locations. She was a co-founder of Chalkbeat’s predecessor, GothamSchools, and served as bureau chief of the site’s New York bureau;  managed editors and reporters across the country; and supervised investigative and enterprise series.

Prior to founding Chalkbeat, Cramer was a reporter at Insideschools. The Brown University graduate’s reporting has appeared in many publications, including the New Republic, The Atlantic and the Village Voice.

“I am honored to be joining the terrific team at JTA,” Cramer said. “Now more than ever, the Jewish world needs ambitious, impartial and inspiring journalism. I look forward to leading JTA to deliver more of the pace-setting reporting that has distinguished the news organization for the past century.”

As JTA editor in chief, Cramer succeeds Andy Silow-Carroll, who served for three years prior to his departure over the summer to take the same post at The New York Jewish Week.

“During her time at Chalkbeat, Philissa tackled challenges similar to the ones faced by JTA, like the need to produce smart and credible reporting on complex and polarizing subject matters, and doing so in a manner that meets the needs of local and national audiences,” said Ami Eden, the CEO and executive editor of 70 Faces Media, JTA’s parent company. “Philissa shares our commitment to pursuing ambitious change, and in a manner that honors our storied history and is true to our core values and standards.”

Eden said that in addition to her professional focus on education, Cramer is passionate and knowledgeable about the Jewish world.

“As the wife of a rabbi who has worked in small and large communities,” he said, “Philissa also brings an intimate familiarity with various types of Jewish communities and their experiences.”

Founded in 1917, JTA covers issues impacting Jewish life around the world, with reporters, editors and freelance contributors based in North America, Israel and Europe.

The JTA Archive includes more than 250,000 stories spanning more than a century of Jewish history. In addition to serving a growing readership of online users, JTA remains committed to serving more than 65 Jewish and Israeli media outlets with millions of monthly users.

In 2015, JTA merged with My Jewish Learning to create 70 Faces Media, the largest Jewish media group in North America. In addition to JTA, 70 Faces Media operates My Jewish Learning, Kveller, The Nosher and Alma.

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Alleged Monsey stabber pleads not guilty to federal hate crimes charges

Tue, 2020-01-14 17:01

(JTA) — The man accused of a stabbing attack at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, New York, that left an elderly man in a coma pleaded not guilty to federal hate crimes charges.

Grafton Thomas, 37, appeared Monday in federal court in White Plains. A federal grand jury last week ordered his indictment on hate crimes charges for the Dec. 28 stabbing attack. He faces a total of 10 federal charges.

Thomas already has been indicted on state charges, including attempted murder and burglary. He remains in jail on $5 million bail.

Federal prosecutors allege that Thomas targeted his victims because they were Jewish. They were attending a Hanukkah party at the rabbi’s home.

Josef Neumann, 71, who was injured in the stabbing, remains unconscious and on a respirator.

U.S. District Judge Cathy Seibel said at the hearing Monday that if Neumann dies, Thomas could face the death penalty, Reuters reported.

Thomas’ family says he has a long history of mental illness.

Police who searched Thomas’ home found handwritten journals that they say expressed anti-Semitic views, including references to Adolf Hitler and ‘Nazi culture.’ He also had searched online on his cellphone for “German Jewish Temples near me” and “Zionist Temples” in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and on Staten Island.

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Slovenian court voids Nazi collaborator’s treason conviction

Tue, 2020-01-14 16:46

(JTA) — A court in Slovenia voided the treason conviction of a Nazi collaborator who was executed in Yugoslavia shortly after World War II.

The Supreme Court of Slovenia, a European Union member on Italy’s eastern border, nullified the 1946 conviction of Leon Rupnik last week, the director of the Jewish Cultural Center of the capital Ljubljana wrote in a statement. The court ordered a retrial for Rupnik, the Nazis’ puppet ruler for Slovenia.

“We were shocked and deeply concerned to learn about the decision,” the JCC’s director, Robert Waltl, wrote.

The court ruled that Rupnik’s trial by the judiciary under Yugoslavia’s communist rulers was unjust.

Rupnik has inveighed often against Jews, calling on listeners to “do battle with them.”

Rupnik’s police under the leadership of Lovro Hacin, likewise sentenced and executed in 1946 as a war criminal, organized the arrests and deportations of the remaining Slovenian Jews in Ljubljana and its vicinity in the years 1943 and 1944, according to the local Jewish community.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center protested the nullification in a letter sent Tuesday to the country’s ambassador to Israel.

“This shameful decision constitutes a shocking distortion of the history of the Holocaust and a horrific insult to Rupnik’s many victims and their families,” the center’s Eastern Europe director, Efraim Zuroff, wrote Ambassador Andreja Purkart Martinez.

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Australian woman flies Nazi flag from her home, angering neighbors

Tue, 2020-01-14 16:15

SYDNEY (JTA) — A woman with German ancestry is flying a Nazi flag in the front yard of her Australia home.

Her neighbors in the town of Beulah, in southeastern Australia, have complained to police. The municipality said it does not have any legislation in place that would allow it to demand the flag’s removal.

The flag features a large swastika in the center surrounded by several other Nazi-related symbols.

The homeowner, identified by The Age as Cheryl Lawdorn, has told reporters that she defends her right to fly the flag, noting her German ancestry.

The premier of the State of Victoria, Daniel Andtorews, called the flying of the flag “disgusting,” saying that “if there is decency in that household, they will take down the flag immediately.”

The chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission, Dvir Abramovich, called on the state government and the opposition to “lock arms,” and when the state parliament resumes to immediately pass legislation that bans the public display of the Nazi insignia.

Abramovich said the situation is “a stomach-turning outrage that is a stain on our community. The flying of the Nazi flag in the skies of our nation is like plunging a dagger in the heart of Holocaust survivors and spitting in the face of the diggers who fought to defeat Hitler and his genocidal regime.”

The president of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, Jennifer Huppert, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the “symbol represents pure evil and has no place in our Victorian or Australian society.”

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Secret Hitler board game removed from 3 Montreal stores

Tue, 2020-01-14 16:04

(JTA) — A board game called Secret Hitler was removed from the shelves of three stores in Montreal.

Branches of the Tour de Jeux chain removed the game following a call from B’nai Brith Canada. Harvey Levine, B’nai Brith’s regional director in Quebec, told the Montreal Gazette that his office had received complaints from members of Montreal’s Jewish community about the game, which is about the rise of fascism.

“Anything that depicts anything regarding Hitler is a very sensitive issue, especially with growing anti-Semitism throughout Canada, the U.S. and around the world,” Levine told the newspaper.

The game, set in Germany in 1933, divides players into two teams – the liberals and the fascists.  The fascists work to put their leader in place, while the liberals try to find and stop the player who is designated the Secret Hitler. The game came out in 2017; it was removed from the Tour de Jeux stores on Sunday.

It remains available on Amazon, which calls it a “fast-paced game of deception and betrayal” with “beautiful wooden components” and “Hidden roles and secret envelopes for five to ten players.”

One of the creators, Max Temkin, a designer from Chicago, is Jewish. He also is the co-creator of the politically incorrect game Cards Against Humanity. Secret Hitler was financed through a Kickstarter campaign launched in 2015.

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Liverpool deli owner hanged himself after rabbis made him paint over kosher symbol on store’s sign

Tue, 2020-01-14 15:57

(JTA) — The owner of the deli that was the main outlet for kosher food in Liverpool, England, was “completely broken” after being forced to paint over the sign identifying the store as kosher.

Hours later, Robert Kaye hanged himself.

Kaye owned Roseman’s Delicatessen in Liverpool as well as Gough’s Deli in Manchester. He was found dead on June 18 after it became public that he had been selling nonkosher meat for seven years at Roseman’s and was stripped of his kashrut licenses, the Manchester Evening News reported.

The rabbis of the Manchester Rabbinical Court made Kaye paint over the sign identifying the store as kosher.

His partner, Kathryn Davies, during a hearing Monday at the Rochdale coroner said that Kaye had been left “completely broken” by the decision, according to the Liverpool Echo.

Accusations were made against Kaye, who also suffered from multiple sclerosis and depression, after a member of the Gough staff refused to accept a delivery of liver that did not appear to be kosher. The order was for Roseman’s. The product supplier then confirmed it had delivered nonkosher meat to Roseman’s for seven years.

The three rabbinical court judges had followed Kaye back to Gough’s Deli after their meeting in June and watched as he painted over the Manchester Beit Din’s symbol identifying the shop as kosher.

Davies found Kaye hanging in the loft of their Manchester-area home on June 18.

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