WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jewish defense groups urged Congress to preserve the State Department’s anti-Semitism monitor.
Representatives of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Secure Community Network testified Wednesday before the human rights subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., the subcommittee chairman, convened the hearing to examine connections between increases in anti-Semitism in Europe and in the United States.
The witnesses spoke to the topic, but also made the case for preserving the special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. A report last month said that President Donald Trump’s administration was planning to scrap the position. No successor has been named for the the most recent anti-Semitism monitor, Ira Forman, who was on hand for the hearing.
The position is mandated by a 2004 law that Smith helped author, and the New Jersey lawmaker has joined Democrats in opposing any bid to scrap it. An array of Jewish groups and lawmakers have also urged the Trump administration to keep the post in place.
Naming a replacement for Forman “will ensure that the U.S. maintains a specialized focus on anti-Semitism,” said Stacy Burdett, the director of ADL’s Washington office.
Mark Weitzman, the director of government affairs for the Wiesenthal Center, said the position should be elevated to the ambassador level.
Speakers suggested — sometimes gently, sometimes less so — that Trump’s team needed to exhibit more sensitivity to the issue of anti-Semitism.
Weitzman cited the White House’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, which omitted any mention of Jews. He noted that anti-Semites seized on the statement as a means of denying Jewish suffering in the Holocaust.
“Even a mistake in the context of this background can be used by people with bad intentions,” he said.
Burdett said that “political leaders have the most immediate and significant opportunity to set the tone of a national response to an anti-Semitic incident, an anti-Semitic party or an anti-Semitic parliamentarian.”
Rabbi Andrew Baker, the director of international Jewish affairs for the AJC, focused on manifestations of anti-Semitism on the left and right in Europe.
Paul Goldenberg, the director of SCN, the security arm of the Jewish Federations of North America, said that extremist groups in the United States and Europe are “increasingly the context for each other” by echoing one another in the themes they embrace.
Where Will ISIS Go Next? Islamic State Group Militants, Fleeing Iraq and Syria, May Move to Libya - Newsweek
Where Will ISIS Go Next? Islamic State Group Militants, Fleeing Iraq and Syria, May Move to Libya
The Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, may regroup in war-torn Libya after facing major territorial losses in Iraq and Syria. Defense officials have said the hardline Sunni Muslim militants are considering moving their de facto headquarters to Libya.
As Anti-ISIS Coalition Gathers in Washington Trump Says US Should Never Have Left IraqWestern Journalism
Islamic State 2.0: As the caliphate crumbles, ISIS evolvesWDIV Detroit
US hosting 68 countries for major anti-ISIS summitABC News
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(JTA) — Barry Shrage, the longtime president and CEO of the Boston-area Jewish federation, announced that he will resign effective next year.
Shrage, 69, who has helmed the Combined Jewish Philanthropies for three decades, made the announcement in a letter Wednesday to the local Jewish community — the fourth largest in the United States.
A search for his successor will begin in September, Shrage said in the letter, with the transition taking place in the summer of 2018.
Shrage said in his letter that he would continue to work on “issues of greatest concern to our community, issues where I can continue to have an impact, nationally and locally, while assuring the best possible professional leadership for CJP’s future.” He said he will work with national and local Jewish institutions and foundations.
The issues, he said, include those “related to Jewish identity, especially Jewish adult learning, Birthright, outreach to young adults and interfaith households, inclusion and strengthening ties to the Jewish people and to Israel.”
Shrage cited spending more time with his family, particularly his grandchildren, as one reason he was leaving his post.
NEW YORK (JTA) — A 23-year-old Jewish singer won a prominent competition held by the Metropolitan Opera.
Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, a countertenor from Brooklyn, was one of six winners among the nine finalists who performed at the National Council Auditions Grand Finals at Lincoln Center on Sunday. The prize is often seen as the most prestigious for opera singers in the United States.
Nussbaum Cohen, the son of JTA contributor Debra Nussbaum Cohen, performed two arias, Handel’s “Dove sei, amato bene?” from “Rodelinda” and Jonathan Dove’s “Dawn, still darkness” from “Flight.”
“Expressive yet dignified, his phrasing confident and his ornamentation stylishly discreet, he brought tears to my eyes,” Woolfe wrote of Nussbaum Cohen’s rendition of the Handel aria.
The National Council Auditions is run by the Metropolitan Opera “to discover promising young opera singers and assist in the development of their careers,” according to its website. Auditions are held across the U.S. and Canada, and winners and finalists each receive $15,000 and $5,000, respectively.
Watch Nussbaum Cohen performing “Dawn, still darkness” earlier this month:
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walked the Great Wall of China at the end of a state visit to China.
During the visit, which ended Wednesday, the University of Haifa signed an agreement with the Hangzhou Wahaha Group, a Chinese conglomerate, and the Institute of Automation at the Chinese Academy of Sciences that will establish three joint artificial intelligence technology centers constructed in Haifa, Israel, Hangzhou, China and Beijing, and an initial investment of $10 million.
Chinese billionaire Zong Qinghou, the CEO of the Hangzhou Wahaha Group, will finance the Institutes for Artificial Intelligence Technology Centers.
Netanyahu was present for the signing of the agreement.
Several cooperative agreements between Israel and China also were signed during the visit in areas such as emergency medicine, science, education, intellectual property and environment.
Netanyahu thanked China for its friendship and praised the country in a meeting with President Xi Jinping.
“We admire China’s capabilities, its position on the world stage and in history. We have always believed, as we discussed on my previous visit, that Israel can be a partner, a junior partner, but a perfect partner for China in the development of a variety of technologies that change the way we live, how long we live, how healthy we live, the water we drink, the food we eat, the milk that we drink – in every area,” Netanyahu said.
During the visit, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, laid a wreath at the Monument to the People’s Heroes in Tiananmen Square.
A short visit to the Great Wall of China at the end of a successful state visit to China pic.twitter.com/4beSPUexyj
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) March 22, 2017
(JTA) — Richard Gere is sexy, suave, tough.
He’s been the star of a constellation of films, from “American Gigolo” to “Pretty Woman,” “An Officer and a Gentleman” to “Primal Fear.” At 67, the onetime People magazine Sexiest Man of the Year (1999) still has the looks and charm of a leading man.
So what is Richard Gere doing playing the title role in “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer”? His character, Norman Oppenheimer, is neither sexy, nor suave, nor tough. He’s a loser, a sad sack, a Sammy Glick wannabe who would “get it for you wholesale” for a favor in return.
As it turns out, Gere asked the same question before accepting the role, he told JTA in a telephone interview.
Gere explains he was a fan of the film’s Israeli director, Joseph Cedar. But before signing on, “I said I want to ask you a question first: ‘Why me? There are a lot of wonderful Jewish actors in New York,'” he said. “He told me, ‘That’s true, but I want people to see this character through fresh eyes. I want them to see it through your eyes.’
“It was a brilliant script, so I said OK,” he added. “I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. I worked on it close to a year.”
Just how did he “work on it?”
“I had to find my inner schlub to play Norman,” Gere said with a laugh.
“There was something about what Richard brings to this character that didn’t exist before [in the screenplay],” Cedar said. “He came with the ability to be naive and scheming, charming and repelling. Movie stars don’t usually go this low.”
By “low,” Cedar means plunging into the depths of a character who is so complex — a plotter and schemer who at the same time is somehow good at heart. He isn’t so much evil as he is delusional — convinced that he’s just one deal away from success.
“When we started screening the movie, we realized everyone had a Norman story,” Gere said. “An uncle, a friend of a friend, a parent’s friend, someone in the office — everyone has a Norman. A mysterious guy. You don’t really know where he comes from. You don’t really know his history.”
In the film, when we first meet Norman, he appears prosperous, dressed nattily in an expensive-looking suit and camel-hair overcoat. He’s walking down Manhattan streets, a cellphone plastered to his ear, ostensibly making deals. But we soon see appearances are deceiving — Norman is a hustler about whom we learn little.
He refers at times to a deceased wife and a child, but we’re not sure they exist. He doesn’t seem to have a home or office. All he seems to have is a pathological, almost shark-like need to keep moving forward, on to the next deal, the next promise, the next lie.
“As you see in the movie, he’s a steamroller,” Gere said. “Nothing will stop him.”
Shortly after the film begins, Norman follows Micha Eshel (Israeli actor Lior Ashkenzai) from a conference. Eshel is Israel’s deputy minister of trade, but feels at a low point of his career. Claiming mutual friends and acquaintances he doesn’t really have, and perhaps sensing Eshel’s vulnerability, Norman imposes himself on Eshel in front of an upscale haberdashery, convincing the Israeli to accept a gift of a very expensive pair of shoes he’d admired.
Three years later, Eshel is elected Israel’s prime minister, and when they meet at a reception in New York City he greets Norman warmly. Eshel’s staff is wary, but he seems to only remember the sympathetic and generous man he had met earlier.
That connection changes Norman’s life; suddenly he is welcomed in circles where he had been shunned. As he says in the film, “For once I bet on the right horse.”
Emboldened by his sudden popularity, Norman makes promises he can’t keep. To his rabbi — that noted Yiddish actor Steve Buscemi — he pledges to raise the millions needed to refurbish and save his synagogue. To his nephew, Philip Cohen (Michael Sheen), he offers to arrange a synagogue wedding for his interfaith marriage.
But for Norman, every silver lining has a cloud. He brags about his “shoeish” gift to an Israeli he meets, unaware that she is an operative of the Israeli Justice Department. This leads to a chain of events that threaten Eshel’s political career, as well as Norman’s dreams.
Cedar was reimagining the story of the court Jew — someone who offers a favor to a powerful man, becomes powerful himself and creates resentment in a society that’s already anti-Semitic. But the story has echoes of the current corruption investigation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
For the record, promoting the film during its Israeli premiere earlier this month, Gere suggested that the cigars and other gifts Netanyahu allegedly received are “no big deal” if the prime minister can come up with a peace plan.
“There’s no defense of this occupation,” Gere told Haaretz in an interview published March 12. “Settlements are such an absurd provocation and, certainly in the international sense, completely illegal — and they are certainly not part of the program of someone who wants a genuine peace process.”
For his part, Cedar has a more personal connection to a court Jew story. Four years ago, Cedar’s uncle by marriage, American Rabbi Morris Talansky, famously gave then-Jerusalem mayor (and later Israeli prime minister) Ehud Olmert numerous “cash-stuffed envelopes,”and then testified against him during Olmert’s bribery trial in 2013.
Cedar insists there was no connection between that and his script, but it might explain why this potentially pathetic character was so sympathetically drawn and played.
“Every once in a while I feel like a Norman,” Cedar said. “That was the motivation behind the whole project.”
“All the problems this guy faces, all the slights he faces, there really is no anger in him,” Gere said of his character. “When I first started playing him, I thought there’d be more frustration.”
While at times Norman is sympathetic, he is nonetheless a negative portrayal of a Jewish character. Given the times, I asked Gere if he had any qualms about taking the role.
“I mean, it’s a complicated thing,” he said, pausing to gather his thoughts. “This was written by a scholarly Jewish writer-director [Cedar]. He’s an intuitive writer and the story of the court Jew is really important to him.
“I was always asking him, ‘Does this feel right to you?’ and he kept reassuring me. I didn’t want to be the cliche Jew and I worked hard to avoid that.”
Gere is famously a Buddhist; he’s both follower and friend of the Dalai Lama. Buddhism, he said, “impacts everything I do. I always ask myself, ‘Why are you doing it?’ If the answer is money, that’s probably not good enough. I have a daily commitment to do something spiritual.”
I mention Leonard Cohen, who seems to have embraced both his Judaism and Buddhism.
“Some of the very best Buddhists are Jews because of their analytical approach to life,” Gere said. “The Jewish mind is an inquiring mind. I can’t tell you why that is. There is a fearlessness in examining things. Buddhism is not a religion, but a philosophy of deep exploration.”
(JTA) — At least two civilians and a police officer were killed in a car-ramming and knife attack outside of the houses of Parliament in London.
British authorities are calling the attack a “terrorist incident” as they continue to investigate the motive in the Wednesday afternoon attack.
More than 20 are reported injured, some seriously. The attacker was shot and killed by police after crashing into a crowd of pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and then exiting the vehicle brandishing a knife. He stabbed a police officer to death inside the gates of the Parliament building. The attacker has not yet been identified.
The Community Security Trust, the United Kingdom’s main watchdog group on anti-Semitism, called on the Jewish community to be “calm, vigilant and to co-operate with security measures,” a spokesman told the London-based Jewish Chronicle. The CST said there is not believed to be any immediate threat to the community.
Additional police patrols were visible in London neighborhoods with large Jewish populations, such as Stamford Hills.
U.K. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said in a statement: “Today’s attack, which targeted the very heart of our democracy in Westminster, will serve only to unite us against the scourge of violence and terrorism.
“The prayers of the Jewish community are with the families of the victims and with our security services, who so often selflessly place themselves in harm’s way for our protection.”
Prayers of the Jewish community are with the families of the victims of today's attack at #Westminster & with our brave security services
— Chief Rabbi Mirvis (@chiefrabbi) March 22, 2017
“Israel expresses its deep shock at the terror attack in London today and its solidarity with the victims and with the people and government of Great Britain. Terror is terror wherever it occurs and we will fight it relentlessly,” Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said in a statement about the attack. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also holds the Foreign Minister’s portfolio, was on an airplane back to Israel from China at the time of the attack.
Israel expresses its deep shock at the terror attack in London and its solidarity with the British people.We are fighting this war together
— Tzipi Hotovely (@TzipiHotovely) March 22, 2017
The European Jewish Congress in a statement condemned the attack, calling it a “cowardly and barbaric terror attack.” The EJC also extended its condolences to the British government and the British people.
“This strike, at the heart of democracy, on the anniversary of the Brussels attacks which claimed the lives of 32 people, once again demonstrates that radical extremists continue to have the ability and motivation to commit mass murder in Europe,” EJC President Dr. Moshe Kantor said in the statement.
“This murderous ideology targets all of Europeans and all of Europe must stand together to fight this scourge.”
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a statement condemned the attack.
“On behalf of the United States, I express my condolences to the victims and their families. The American people send their thoughts and prayers to the people of the United Kingdom. We condemn these horrific acts of violence, and whether they were carried out by troubled individuals or by terrorists, the victims know no difference,” the statement said.