JTA News Briefs: September 8, 2016

BBYO pledges to double the organization's growth rate this year. Pictured are participants in the BBYO International Conference in Baltimore, Feb. 18, 2016. (Jason Dixson Photography)

Netanya mayor held in suspected multimillion-dollar bribery scandal

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Netanya Mayor Miriam Feirberg is in police custody on suspicion of bribery, fraud and breach of trust after being interrogated for several hours.

Feirberg, who has been mayor of the coastal city for nearly two decades, was questioned by the Lahav 443 investigations unit of the Israel Police on Wednesday and ordered held for 10 days by the Rishon LeZion Magistrate’s Court, according to the police.

She is one of several city officials detained or arrested in a suspected bribery scandal involving multimillion-dollar real estate deals in Netanya.

Two building contractors also have been arrested, and the mayor’s son, Tsafrir, was arrested Monday. Police and tax inspectors reportedly raided their homes and offices, and froze their bank accounts and other assets. Police raided the Netanya municipal offices earlier this week.

The municipality said in a statement that it “is cooperating and will fully cooperate with enforcement bodies, and municipal activities are continuing as usual.”

Archaeologists restore Herodian floor tile of Second Temple courtyard
(JTA) — Archaeologists working in Jerusalem have restored floor tiling that was part of the courtyards of King Herod’s Second Temple over 2,000 years ago.

It was the first time archaeologists successfully restored a part of the Temple complex built by King Herod, who ruled in Jerusalem for three years beginning in 37 BCE, according to Gabriel Barkay, director of The Temple Mount Sifting Project.

The flooring “enables us to get an idea of the Temple’s incredible splendor,” Barkay said in a statement.

The tiles were opulently designed, said Frankie Snyder, a member of the archaeology project.

“This type of flooring, called ‘opus sectile,’ Latin for ‘cut work,’ is very expensive and was considered to be far more prestigious than mosaic tiled floors,” Snyder said. “The tile segments were perfectly inlaid, such that one could not even insert a sharp blade between them.”

The tiles will be showed publicly on Thursday at the 17th Annual City of David Archaeological Conference.

The Temple Mount Sifting Project was founded in 2005 to recover archaeological artifacts that had been removed from the Temple Mount area by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, which manages the Muslim buildings at the site. The archaeology project is run under the auspices of Bar-Ilan University and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

Holocaust-denying leaflets distributed on campuses in 3 Australian cities

SYDNEY (JTA) — Leaflets distributed at Australian universities claiming that the Holocaust never happened have been referred to university authorities for investigation and led to calls for tougher action against racism on university campuses.

Since February, hundreds of the leaflets have been left on campuses in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.

The leaflets assert that the Nazi genocide against Jewish and other communities during World War II never occurred, and that historical evidence of the Holocaust is “the greatest swindle of all time.”

Michael Fisher, national chairman of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students, called the distribution of the leaflets “part of a coordinated campaign aimed at intimidating Jewish students and academics.”

“Although the leaflets are closely similar to one another in content and appearance, they have appeared in three slightly different forms, suggesting that there have been three separate print runs,” he said.

Fisher described the leaflets as “toxic propaganda” and “a contemptible attempt to abuse and isolate Jewish students and staff, many of whom lost family in the Holocaust and whose grandparents in Australia are survivors of the genocide.”

Fisher identified “neo-Nazi groups” as the most likely authors and distributors of the leaflets.

The University of Western Australia Crawley campus has seen a spate of anti-Semitic graffiti featuring Nazi swastikas. At the University of Sydney, graffiti reading “Kill Jews” has been painted on campus.

“Everyone has the right to feel safe and welcome on campus,” Fisher said. “Australian universities must vigorously tackle the surge in anti-Semitism, and identify and punish the groups which are disseminating this poison.”

Jews and Muslims rally for kosher, halal food in NYC public schools
NEW YORK (JTA) — Muslim and Jewish students rallied with lawmakers in support of a bill that would provide kosher and halal food options in New York City public schools.

“The cost is limited compared to having a healthy meal, allowing students to eat and to be able to perform,” said State Assemblyman David Weprin, a Queens Democrat, at the Tuesday rally in front of City Hall, according to CBS New York.

The bill, which is sponsored by State Sen. Tony Avella, also a Queens Democrat, would provide kosher and halal food options in public schools, where at least a quarter of students belong to a religious community with dietary restrictions, according to The Jewish Press.

There are vegetarian school lunch options, but not kosher or halal ones, according to the city’s Department of Education.

One Muslim student spoke of the difficulty of finding food he could eat during lunch.

“It’s definitely very hard to find something you can eat,” he said. “It’s either you pick up peanut butter and jelly or you don’t eat that day.”

Supporters of the bill said that students are not always able to bring homemade lunches that fit their dietary restrictions due to cost and time limitations, CBS reported.

Hebrew U professors win prestigious Columbia science prize
(JTA) — Two Hebrew University of Jerusalem professors seen as pioneers in the field of epigenetics were honored with an award often seen as a precursor to a Nobel Prize.

Howard Cedar and Aharon Razin have received Columbia University’s 2016 Horwitz Prize, the New York City school announced on Tuesday. Gary Felsenfeld of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, also was awarded the prize.

Forty-three previous Horwitz Prize winners have gone on to win the Nobel.

Cedar and Razin’s work has strongly influenced epigenetics, the study of how organisms change by altering gene expression and not genetic code.

Felsenfeld’s research has helped explain how chromatin, a combination of DNA and proteins, regulates gene expression.

“These three scientists have advanced our understanding of how gene regulation works and what happens when the processes go wrong,” Lee Goldman, chief executive of Columbia University Medical Center, said in a news release. “These are fundamental medical discoveries that may lead to innovative treatments for a range of diseases.”

Dutch lawmaker accused of anti-Semitism after refusing to shake Netanyahu’s hand
(JTA) – A Dutch-Turkish lawmaker who refused to shake hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel rejected claims from the local media that his behavior was anti-Semitic.

Tunahan Kuzu, an Istanbul-born former Labour Party politician who represents the far-left and pro-immigration DENK party, staged the incident in The Hague on Wednesday, the second and last day of Netanyahu’s visit to the Netherlands.

As Netanyahu met with members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Dutch Parliament, Kuzu, wearing a Palestinian flag lapel pin, smiled and did not extend his hand to shake hands with the Israeli leader, who shrugged and moved on to the next politician. Kuzu posted a short video explaining he decided to attend the meeting instead of boycotting because he wanted to “do my best to make it a difficult talk.”

The meeting was closed to the media.

Michael van der Galien, editor-in-chief of the popular Dutch news and opinion website De Dagelijkse Standard, was among the critics who accused Kuzu of behavior that diverges from the norms of discourse between political adversaries because Netanyahu is Jewish.

“This is shameful behavior,” van der Galien wrote. “Even if you disagree with Netanyahu’s policies, as a parliamentarian you are obliged to treat him respectfully on his visit to the Netherlands. But Kuzu apparently can’t do that because just imagine what will happen if you are seen shaking the hand of a Jewish leader of the only Jewish state? An Islamist like Kuzu can’t even bear the thought.”

But Kuzu did shake hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, van der Gailen wrote, despite his persecution of dissidents.

“Kuzu has unmasked himself. He is no more than an Islamist inciter of hate,” he added.

The Post Online quoted Kuzu as saying: “We are not anti-Semitic, and criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism.”

The incident comes after former Dutch Prime Minister Dries van Agt, a longtime Palestinian activist, said in an interview on a public television station that Netanyahu is a “war criminal” who should be prosecuted during his visit to the Netherlands.

British producer Brian Eno orders Israeli dance troupe to stop using his music
(JTA) — British composer and producer Brian Eno, a longtime supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, has ordered an Israeli dance company to stop using his music.

The Batsheva company has been using an Eno composition in its dance routine titled “Humus” since 2013, the London-based Jewish Chronicle reported. It was scheduled to perform the routine this week at a dance festival in Italy.

Eno, who has produced albums by rock bands including U2, Coldplay and Talking Heads, called on the dance company not to use his composition at the festival after learning that the performance was sponsored by the Israeli Embassy.

He was one of more than 1,170 British artists to sign the Artists Pledge for a cultural boycott of Israel that was launched in February 2015 by Artists for Palestine UK.

In a letter to the dance company and its choreographer, Ohad Naharin, Eno said he was not aware until last week that Batsheva used his work.

“(T)hough in one way I’m flattered that you chose my music for your work, I’m afraid it creates a serious conflict for me,” he wrote.

“To my understanding, the Israeli Embassy (and therefore the Israeli government) will be sponsoring the upcoming performances, and, given that I’ve been supporting the BDS campaign for several years now, this is an unacceptable prospect for me.”

Eno condemned “the demolition of Palestinian homes and confiscation of Palestinian land” and the lack of “any attempt to limit settler activity in any way.”

“I am trying to understand the difficulties that must face any Israeli artist now – and in particular ones like yourselves who have shown some sympathy to the Palestinian cause,” he wrote. But the bottom line, Eno said in the letter, is “I don’t want my music to be licensed for any event sponsored by the Israeli Embassy.”

Italian newspapers have picked up the story and are reporting some opposition to an Israeli government-sponsored performance at the TorinoDanza festival in Turin.

The piece using Eno’s composition “Neroli” was pulled from the schedule, according to The Guardian.

Israeli passengers bristle at Air Serbia flight headed for ‘Palestine’
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Several Israeli passengers refused to board an Air Serbia flight from Belgrade to Tel Aviv after it was announced the plane was headed to “Palestine.”

Only when the flight crew at Serbia’s Nikola Tesla International Airport in Belgrade corrected the announcement would the passengers board the Aug. 29 night flight, Ynet reported Wednesday. The Air Serbia representative then explained to the passengers that “the flight is to Tel Aviv, not to Israel,” according to Ynet.

One Israeli passenger told the ground crew that he would not board the flight until they announced three times that it was landing in Israel, or Tel Aviv. The Tel Aviv announcement was indeed announced three times, and the airline manager at the desk apologized, according to the report. The passenger issued a complaint to the Israeli Embassy in Serbia.

Air Serbia’s CEO expressed shock at the incident and called it completely unacceptable in a conversation with Israel’s ambassador to Serbia, Alona Fisher-Kamm, Ynet reported, citing the envoy.

An investigation later found it was an airport employee, not an Air Serbia employee, who made the announcement.

Atlas labeling Jerusalem as Israel’s capital won’t be pulled from Czech schools
JERUSALEM (JTA) — A school atlas that labels Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will not be removed from Czech schools, as originally announced.

The Czech Education Ministry said last week that the atlas would be removed following a complaint by the Palestinian ambassador in Prague to the ministry. But on Tuesday night, Education Minister Katerina Valachova told Czech Radio that Jerusalem would not be removed from the textbooks after all.

“Jerusalem is Israel’s capital from the viewpoint of the declaration of the country to which this relates, which means Israel,” Valachova said in the radio interview, according to The Jerusalem Post. “If there is a sentence relating to all of the international steps, I believe that this fact will not offend either side.”

The Czech Republic does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital pending a comprehensive peace agreement and maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Sunday wrote a letter to Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka calling on him to revoke the decision.

“Jerusalem is on the map!” Barkat said in a statement Wednesday, adding, “Truth has indeed overcome lies.”

He also said: “I’m thankful to the Czech government for making the right choice and for refusing to surrender to Palestinian incitement and lies.

Barkat said the friendship between the Czech and Jewish peoples has deep and historical roots.

“Future generations of Czech students will continue to learn the truth: Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and the heart and soul of the Jewish people,” he wrote.

The atlas, first published by the Czech firm Shocart in 2004, was approved by the ministry for use in Czech elementary and secondary schools in 2011. However, after the envoy’s complaint, the ministry said it would demand the publisher alter the labeling to show Tel Aviv as the capital, according to a report last week by the Czech newspaper Mlada fronta Dnes.

Czech Jews had organized a protest for Wednesday in Prague.

Polish artist finds 19th-century Jewish scripture in garbage heap
(JTA) – An artist from southern Poland found a cache of priceless Jewish scripture books, including volumes from the 19th century, in a pile of garbage.

Vladimir Pietal of Rzeszow, a city 90 miles east of Krakow, recently discovered the leather-bound books waiting to be picked up with the trash near the Lubomirski Palace, the TVN 24 channel reported Wednesday. Some of the books, which contain Russian, Hebrew and Polish letters, were printed in Vilnius, Warsaw and London.

“These books came from all over the world, only to end up as trash,” said Pietal, who added that he noticed the books’ “beautifully decorated bindings” while walking near the palace with a friend whom he immediately enlisted to help carry the dozen-odd volumes.

Among the books are parts of the Chumash, the Five Books of Moses that form the Torah — nuclear text of the Jewish law and faith – and the Talmud, a compendium that for centuries has formed the cornerstone of rabbinical education on Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history.

Pietal said he will give the books to the Jewish community of Krakow or to the persons responsible for the synagogue in the nearby city of Lancut.

“I am glad that I was able to save part of the story,” he said, adding that the books show some damage but are “in good condition.”

Pietal said he did not know who threw away the books or why.

Some 113,000 Jews lived in the Rzeszow district before the Holocaust, according to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem — part of Poland’s prewar population of 3 million Jews, of whom 90 percent were killed.

In September 1939 the district came under Nazi control. The Germans established ghettos and several labor camps, and in the summer of 1942 began to systematically destroy the Jewish population. Thousands were killed during roundups and the remaining Jews were sent to the Belzec extermination camp. Others were taken to camps and used as slave laborers there.

In addition to the Jews killed in roundups, an estimated 9,800 Jewish men, women and children were killed in 378 villages of the Rzeszow region and in the nearby forests.

BBYO launches $90 million campaign to double annual growth rate
(JTA) — BBYO launched a five-year, $90 million campaign — aided by two unprecedented gifts — in an effort to double the Jewish youth organization’s annual growth rate.

The “This Moment in Time” campaign will also enable BBYO, the world’s largest pluralistic Jewish youth group, to expand its workforce, increase summer program offerings and grow its endowment.

As part of the initiative, the organization set a goal of 27,000 members annually by the end of the 2022 school year and a reach of 110,000 North American Jewish teens in its programs, according to a statement. The group says it now has 19,000 members with a reach of over 80,000 teens.

The initial grants, totaling $28.8 million, came from longtime funders The Jim Joseph Foundation and The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, two organizations promoting education and Jewish identity building.

“We believe that BBYO is uniquely positioned to ensure that the Jewish future is vibrant,” said Stacy Schusterman, co-chair of the Schusterman Family Foundation.

BBYO’s CEO, Matthew Grossman, said the organization was “grateful for these significant investments, which will help position us for even greater global reach and impact on Jewish teens.”

The new initiative is based on a six-month study of how the group can build infrastructure in order to increase growth.

BBYO must raise additional funds to reach the $90 million goal.

German judge faces punishment for helping survivors apply for ghetto pensions
(JTA) — Jewish leaders and others are rallying to the aid of a German judge facing punishment for helping Holocaust survivors apply for ghetto pensions.

In an open letter that has been picked up by German Jewish and mainstream media, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany has urged the German minister-president of North Rhine-Westphalia to intercede on behalf of Jan-Robert von Renesse, a social welfare judge in her state.

In 2014, Von Renesse was accused of causing “reputational damage of the social jurisprudence” after it emerged that the judge — who had questioned the rejection of ghetto pension applications — visited Israel eight times in 2007 and 2008 to interview more than 120 Holocaust survivors there.

The judges’ disciplinary court in Dusseldorf will render its verdict in the case on Tuesday. If found guilty, von Renesse faces a fine, a reprimand, suspension or forced resignation from his post in Essen.

Von Renesse said he had gone the extra mile for the survivors because he felt that many applicants for the so-called ZRBG pension had been unduly rejected based purely on written testimony. He said written testimony is admissible only if there is no other way to get information from a witness, so he went to Israel to gather his own information.

Afterward he was banned from hearing ZRBG cases and his expected promotion was canceled.

According to the Claims Conference, in 2012, when the judge successfully pushed for the retroactive payment of the pension to 1997, his superiors filed charges against him, claiming his petition was inappropriate because of his status as a judge.

Claims Conference President Julius Berman said in a statement that “Germany would be setting a horrible precedent to punish a public servant who is pursuing justice.”

Among those signing the letter urging leniency from the minister-president, Hannelore Kraft, are Colette Avital of the Centre of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel and a former Knesset member; Volker Beck, a Bundestag member from the Green Party and a member of the German-Israel Parliamentary Group; Deidre Berger, director of the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee; Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, and Rudiger Mahlo, Germany’s representative to the Claims Conference.

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