Antisemitic Russian Hackers, Belgium Kosher Ban, & Qatari Terror Lawsuits

December 18, 2020

Antisemitic Russian Hackers, Belgium Kosher Ban, & Qatari Terror Lawsuits

December 18, 2020
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Shabbat Shalom!

Today we’re diving into:

  • Inside the U.S.: Senate elevates antisemitism monitor; Russia wields online antisemitism; attacks on Jewish Wisconsin justices; lawsuits against Qatari terror; and Trump’s appointment of Giuliani’s son to Holocaust post
  • Inside Europe: EU allows Kosher ban; convictions in Charlie Hebdo/ Kosher supermarket killings; Labour Party plans to combat antisemitism; Netherlands rejects Holocaust restitution claim; and Belarus fines Holocaust survivor
  • Israel’s Neighbors: Pakistan peace deal rumors; Saudis revise textbooks; and Kushner’s upcoming Morocco delegation
  • Inside Israel: Election politician party shakeup; Gantz’s unusual interview; and Israel’s anti-missile tests
  • Coronavirus: Rabbis encourage vaccine; and new surge of cases in Israel
  • Celebrate & Remember: Jaffa dig uncovering ancient artifacts; and Happy Birthday Steven Spielberg!


Senate passes bill elevating antisemitism monitor to ambassador, reporting directly to secretary of state

Elan Carr, the U.S. Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism, May 6, 2019 (Source: U.S. Embassy in Ukraine)
Senate upgrades antisemitism post to ambassadorship: The U.S. Senate passed bipartisan legislation elevating the government’s antisemitism monitor, a job created in 2004, to the status of an ambassadorship. The change in position would guarantee greater funding for the envoy and greater clout as well. The bill clarifies that the special envoy shall report directly to the secretary of state and be the primary advisor and coordinator for U.S. government efforts to monitor and combat antisemitism and antisemitic incitement in foreign countries. The legislation also prohibits the special envoy from being double-hatted with another portfolio of issues. The House of Representatives has already passed similar bills in the past, meaning the legislation is likely to get the necessary joint approval from both houses of Congress. The organization Hadassah said: “This legislation provides the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism with the tools, resources and gravitas necessary to apply much-needed pressure on foreign governments to create more tolerant societies as part of their relationships with the United States.” 
Russia wields antisemitism in U.S. to sow discord: The Network Contagion Research Institute released a new report showing how online antisemitism has been wielded by Russian disinformation campaigns to sow discord in the United States and around the world. The NCR’s founder, Joel Finkelstein, said: “These [antisemitic] tropes are used very reliably by anti-democratic forces at very specific times.” The group’s study examined approximately 250 million online posts. It detailed how the orchestrated online frenzy can translate into real-world damage: on a given day, there are about 2,000 to 3,000 antisemitic posts related to George Soros. In the leadup to the 2018 Tree of Life shooting, however, posts spiked to an average of 14,000 a day, including by the shooter. One such tweet was: “George Soros is the puppet master. He’s funding both sides.” This was sent by jojoh888, one of thousands of accounts later suspended by Twitter for being a Russian-planted bot. Finkelstein said: “They’re willing to use whatever tune of antisemitism is most adaptive to exacerbate ethnic tensions. State actors are now working essentially in tandem with extremist communities.” 
Antisemitic attacks on Wisconsin justices after Trump ruling: Two Jewish Wisconsin judges have received dozens of antisemitic and misogynistic messages and threats online and through other media. This comes after the Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit filed by President Trump in his attempt to invalidate the results of the presidential election. Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Jill Karofsky was called “hook-nosed” and a “terrorist,” while her colleague Rebecca Dallet was called a “traitor” who won’t get justice “when the people rise up.” The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website and publication, furthered antisemitic claims against the women, identifying them as “Wisconsin Jews” and “an elite Jew sitting next to another Jew determining the course of our government.” Both justices have reached out to law enforcement, citing fears for their safety. 
Lawsuits by U.S. victims accuse Qatari banks of financing terror: In American court, U.S. victims of terrorism in Israel are alleging that Qatar’s financial institutions are financing Palestinian extremist groups responsible for American deaths to the tune of millions of dollars. The complaints allege that the Qatari government and its royal family are engaged in a “terrorism financing conspiracy” which channels funding to groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, two U.S.-recognized terrorist entities. According to the plaintiffs, money bound for stabbings, car-rammings, and rocket attacks has slushed through the U.S. banking system under the respectable name of Qatari institutions. Instead of targeting countries that are state sponsors of terrorism as suits in the past have successfully done, these legal actions are taking on three financial bodies maintained in Qatar, a U.S. ally, and which operate in the U.S. The lead plaintiffs on one of the suits are the parents of Taylor Force, a U.S. veteran who was stabbed to death by a terrorist in Israel in 2016 and whose killing sparked Congress to penalize the Palestinian Authority for its payments to terrorists and their families.
Trump appoints Giuliani’s son to Holocaust Council: President Donald Trump tapped three personal friends to sit on the U.S. Holocaust Museum Council for five year terms. One spot went to Andrew Giuliani, the son of Trump’s personal lawyer and ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and another went to Trump’s personal bodyguard, Nick Luna. Neither Giuliani nor Luna are Jewish. Only Mitchell Webber, a lawyer in the Office of the White House Counsel, who is Jewish and wrote about Jewish and Israeli issues for the conservative New York Sun over a decade ago, seems to have any record of experience in those areas. The appointment of these men is the latest in a string of similar moves by Trump to place friends on coveted boards.


In a “catastrophic blow to Jewish life in Europe,” EU ruling allows states to ban kosher and halal ritual slaughter

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg
EU allows Kosher ban in Belgium: The European Union’s Court of Justice has given a green light to Belgian laws banning Kosher and Halal ritual animal slaughter. The Court reasoned that the laws “allow a fair balance to be struck between the importance attached to animal welfare and the freedom of Jewish and Muslim believers to manifest their religion.” The laws went into effect last year in two of Belgium’s three states. Ritual slaughter bans are currently in place in other EU countries like Sweden, Finland, Estonia, and Luxembourg. Israel’s ambassador to Belgium said the ruling was “catastrophic and a blow to Jewish life in Europe.” The head of the French-speaking Jewish group the Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organizations in Belgium said that after this ruling, Europe “no longer protects religious minorities.”
Charlie Hebdo/Kosher supermarket suspects found guilty: 14 terrorists were convicted in Parisian court for their part in the Charlie Hebdo and Kosher supermarket shootings in that city in 2015. The court found one man guilty for being an accessory to murder — he was given 30 years in prison — and found another three guilty of belonging to a terrorist enterprise. There are 10 other terrorists who were charged with aiding the plot; six of them were convicted of belonging to a criminal enterprise (a lesser charge than that of belonging to a terrorist entity). Three people were convicted in absentia, including the widow of one of the three active murderers, each of whom were killed by police during the shootings themselves. 
UK Labour Party plans to combat antisemitism: The United Kingdom’s Labour Party announced on Thursday a plan to address antisemitism within the party after an October report revealed that the party had, under its leader Jeremy Corbyn, violated several equality acts while dealing with reports of antisemitic incidents. The establishment of an independent investigative body for addressing antisemitism, racism, Islamophobia, and other acts of discrimination will be one of its top priorities, along with increasing transparency in the management of antisemitic incidents. Labour Party leaders Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner said they “have made rooting out antisemitism [their] number-one priority,” and their goal is to “ensure Jewish people feel safe to return to their political home.”
Dutch court refuses to return painting to Jewish family: A court in the Netherlands has rejected the appeal of a Jewish family for the return of a painting that was “misappropriated during the Holocaust.” The painting, a $22 million 1909 Wassily Kandinsky, was sold by the Lewenstein family in 1940 to the City of Amsterdam. Amsterdam claims that the sale should be viewed with the consideration of the family’s deteriorating financial status before the Second World War. The court did not place much emphasis behind the reason for the family’s deteriorating financial circumstances in 1940.  The German invasion of the Netherlands, Belgium and France started in May of 1940. During 1940, the German occupation authorities banned Jews from the civil service and required Jews to register the assets of their business enterprises. Many Jews were forced to sell their businesses, homes, and possessions at far less than prevailing market values because of Aryanization and loss of income. The Lewensteins said they would appeal the “disappointing” ruling. The painting currently resides in the Stedelijk Museum.
Belarus fines Holocaust survivor displaying symbolic protest flag: Elizaveta Yakovlevna Bursova, an 87-year-old Belarusian Holocaust survivor, has been fined nearly a month’s worth of pension funds over displaying a flag seen as a protest towards authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko. The flag is not currently outlawed, but legislators under Lukashenko are looking to ban it. Bursova, who fled from Nazi persecution in 1941, says Lukashenko’s rule has “trampled on the most basic human freedoms.” She will “most likely” support future efforts to use the flag as a symbol of protest in unity with younger people combatting Lukashenko’s dictatorship. Her nephew, Ales Bely, has tried to raise awareness of her story as well as the ongoing situation in Belarus, saying that spreading “the stories of ordinary people” is what will return the country to normalcy.


Pakistani officials may have met with Israelis amid rumors of peace deal

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Sayed Bukhari, and Jared Kushner, July 23, 2019 (Source: @PTIofficial / Twitter)
Rumors of possible Pakistan-Israel peace deal: Rumors have been circulating in recent days about a possible peace deal between Israel and Pakistan, including a “secret but successful meeting” between Israeli and Pakistani politicians, according to Noor Dahri, founder of British think tank Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism. Pakistan has historically been hostile to Israel over the Palestinian conflict but has faced pressure from Arab nations to abandon its alliance with the Iranian bloc. A normalization deal with Israel may help Pakistan regain footing with Saudi Arabia, which has halted oil sales and financial aid to Pakistan amid its ties to Iran and Turkey. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have reportedly put explicit pressure on Pakistan to normalize ties with Israel as well.
Saudis remove some antisemitism from textbooks: A report by IMPACT-se, a non-profit organization which monitors tolerance in school education, has found that much antisemitic and anti-Zionist material has been removed from textbooks in Saudi Arabia over the course of 2020. Most notably, a section containing a religious prediction of a war in which Muslims would kill all Jews has been removed, as well as a chapter denouncing Israel’s right to exist. However, there still remains a substantial amount of antisemitic and anti-Israel content, and no new tolerant material has been added. Still, IMPACT-se generally says the disposition towards Jews and Israel is becoming “more balanced and tolerant,” and that changes to-date “show promise” for more progress.
Kushner will lead Israel-Morocco delegation: Jared Kushner is planning to lead an American and Israeli delegation to Morocco next week, in what will be the first direct commercial flight from Tel Aviv to Rabat. Kushner will travel alongside Israel’s National Security Adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat. The trip will be an opportunity to finalize the details of the normalization agreement between Morocco and Israel, and American arms sales and investment into Morocco. Morocco became the fourth Arab country this year, after the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan, to recognize Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu said he expects the Morocco-Israel relationship to be a friendly, warm one.


As election deadline looms, politicians leave their parties and attempt to unite political blocs

Benny Gantz, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset during a vote for the parliament to dissolve itself, on December 2, 2020. (Source: Danny Shem Tov/ Knesset Spokesperson)
Liberman attempts to unite political blocs: Barring an unlikely compromise between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz to agree on a budget and prevent elections, the Knesset will automatically disperse on December 23 and a fourth election in less than two years will be mandated. Yisrael Beytenu’s leader, Avigdor Liberman, has written to three other prominent party heads to urge them all to join forces in potential upcoming elections. Writing to Gideon Sa’ar, the head of the newly established party A New Hope, now Opposition Leader Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, and Naftali Bennett of Yamina, Liberman warned of growing influence in the Knesset both by the ultra-Orthodox parties and the Arab bloc. All four leaders are strong critics of Netanyahu. Of a coalition between these four, he said: “Such a bloc would be a true alternative to Netanyahu, and can ensure his replacement, which so many citizens want.” The effort to band these four parties together would not be without major challenges, though. Liberman’s party has large Russian-born Israelis’ backing and is right-wing, secular, and nationalist. Gideon Sa’ar’s new party will likely be right-wing and pro-settlement. Lapid’s Yesh Atid is a center-left, secular Zionist party, and Naftali Bennett’s is a far-right, religious Zionist party. Lapid, perhaps the man most on the ideological outskirts of the group, has said in the past he would not “give up values for seats.” 
Ministers leaving their parties amid elections: Another Likud minister has defected from the party in favor of A New Hope, Gideon Sa’ar’s new rival venture. Yifat Shasha-Biton, a popular female lawmaker, joined Sa’ar as the third addition to his team. Earlier this year, Shasha-Biton led the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee where she sharply criticized and overturned restrictions by the government. In response, Netanyahu stripped the Committee of its ability to overturn government decisions. The news of Shasha-Biton’s addition to A New Hope gave the party a jolt in election polls, which now show Sa’ar nipping at Netanyahu’s heels, with 21 seats in the Knesset to Likud’s 27. A New Hope will be a right-wing party that will encourage settlement in the West Bank as official policy. A senior source in the Blue and White party said that Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi may leave his party because “Ashkenazi won’t want to be No. 2 or 3 in a crumbling party that is getting five or six Knesset seats in the polls.”
Gantz gives unusual interview; open to sharing Jerusalem: In a highly unusual conversation with a Saudi newspaper, Defense Minister Benny Gantz spoke frankly about the future of Jerusalem in an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution. Gantz said: “Jerusalem must stay united, but it will have place for a Palestinian capital,” an uncommonly open statement for a prominent Israeli politician and a highly unpopular opinion in most of Israeli discord. Of the Palestinians, Gantz went on to say: “I want them to be part of the peace process. I invite them to cooperate with me and with the Arab countries so that they could have a respectable place in the new peace process. The Palestinians want and deserve an entity in which they can live independently.” Gantz did, however, say that Israel will not return to the pre-1967 borders and that Israel will continue to prioritize security above all else. For his statements, particularly those on Jerusalem, Gantz was quickly lashed by other political figures. Likud member Nir Barkat said: “Jerusalem is the capital of only one nation. It is the capital of the eternal Jewish people.” Another Likud Minister, Ze’ev Elkin, said: “Benny is confused. There is no room in a united Jerusalem for a Palestinian capital – there isn’t and there never will be. It’s that simple: No.” 
Iron Dome intercepts cruise missiles for first time: In cooperation with the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Israel’s Defense Ministry said it successfully carried out a series of large-scale anti-missile tests to assess the short-range Iron Dome, mid-range David’s Sling, and long-rang Arrow systems. The ministry said it was the first time the Iron Dome system intercepted a cruise missile. The successful series is a critical milestone in Israel’s operational capabilities in defending itself against current and future threats, the Defense Ministry said in a press release. The tests helped demonstrate and ensure that these defense systems (Arrow missile, David’s Sling, and Iron Dome) will be able to intercept different threats simultaneously during a conflict.


Prominent Orthodox figures encourage the vaccine, as cases start to surge again in Israel

Rabbi Gershon Edelstein meeting with the chairman of a medical support organization, December 15, 2020 (Source: Courtesy of Office of Rabbi Gershon Edelstein)
Prominent Orthodox figures OK vaccine: Three leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Israel, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, and Rabbi Shalom Cohen, have agreed to encourage their followers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus when the inoculation is made available. Recent reports show that about 50% of Israelis are currently unwilling to take the vaccine. The Health Ministry has launched a massive public information campaign with designated outreach to five specific communities: the ultra-Orthodox, the population in East Jerusalem, Arab communities in the north, Bedouins, and Russian speakers. The Ministry aims to “flood the public” with images of well-trusted figures getting the vaccine. The first in line this weekend will be the Prime Minister, the President, and the head of the IDF. After that, health officials aim to vaccinate 60,000 people a day, two million by the end of January. 
New surge in Israel’s cases: The start of the vaccination campaign comes as another surge of coronavirus cases is hitting the country. Cases have reached over 2,800 a day, surpassing the 2,500 limit that the government said would trigger new restrictions. New data has shown that an overwhelming number of coronavirus patients who died—92%—had  some preexisting condition, most with diabetes or high blood pressure. In the Palestinian Territories, Gaza is experiencing an out-of-control surge, with new cases upwards of 1,000 a day—almost half of the number of its much bigger neighbor, Israel. As of today, the Palestinian Authority has closed every school, university, restaurant, barbershop, gym, and leisure venue in the West Bank for two weeks, and will extend its nightly curfew which is already in effect. Additionally, all crossing in and out of Israel will be banned by the PA, despite the authority over that decision resting with Israel’s government. Israel’s Deputy Health Minister said Israel may be able to provide vaccine surpluses to the Palestinians.  


Greek mosaic from the Byzantine cemetery in Jaffa (Source: Nick Davidov)
Today we celebrate ancient artifacts spanning millennia found during Jaffa digs! Archaeological digs in five spots in ancient Jaffa have revealed a treasure trove of finds. The recovered artifacts date back beyond even the time of Ramses II, 1250 BCE, the Pharaoh who may have battled Moses. Yet the objects span the history of Israel, including revelations from the Hellenistic era, the Byzantine Empire, Islamic rule and the Crusades, and the Ottoman and British mandates. The most dramatic discovery was an infant’s remains which had been interred in a jar. The jar was dated to the Middle Bronze Age, approximately the 18-17th centuries BCE. Archeologists also uncovered a Greek mosaic from a 5th century CE cemetery, almost 2,000 years newer than the jar, which read: “Be of good courage, all who are buried here. This is it!” The digs were sparked by new construction in the area which has now covered the completed excavations. 
Today in 1946, director Steven Spielberg was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Spielberg’s family were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, and he was raised in the Orthodox movement. He went on to become one of the film industry’s most critically successful and influential filmmakers in the world, with high praise for his directing talent and versatility. Some of his works deeply explored his Jewish roots, including Schindler’s List and Munich. Spielberg later established the University of Southern California Shoah (Holocaust) Foundation. 

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