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Labour’s anti-Semitism problem is an election issue for non-Jews, too

Fri, 2019-11-15 19:31

(JTA) – Just like the Democratic Party in the U.S., Britain’s liberal Labour Party usually counts on star power for a boost.

Ahead of the upcoming Dec. 12 general election, for instance, Labour has scooped up endorsements from major celebrities such as former Oasis lead singer Liam Gallagher, pop star Lily Allen and comedian Eddie Izzard.

But for the first time in decades, Labour is also beginning to take serious flak from celebrities and other significant parts of the electorate over a festering anti-Semitism problem.

Two dozen prominent non-Jewish Brits — including Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, novelist John le Carré, author Fay Weldon and actress Joanna Lumley — said in a letter published Thursday in The Guardian that they will not be voting for Labour because of the anti-Semitism controversy.

“The coming election is momentous for every voter, but for British Jews it contains a particular anguish: the prospect of a prime minister steeped in association with antisemitism,” the celebrities wrote. “Opposition to racism cannot include surrender in the fight against antisemitism. Yet that is what it would mean to back Labour and endorse Corbyn for Downing Street.”

Novelist John Le Carré is among the celebrities who signed a letter saying they will not vote for Labour in the upcoming election. (Matt Crossick/PA Images via Getty Images)

The letter is part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that British Jews are not the only ones who have been following the Labour scandal. The party, under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, is becoming increasingly unpalatable to non-Jews, too.

In a Jewish News poll last month of more than 1,000 non-Jewish voters, 55 percent agreed with the statement that Corbyn’s “failure to tackle anti-Semitism within his own party shows he is unfit” to lead.

In the poll, 51 percent said Labour has a “serious anti-Semitism problem” – up from 34 percent when the same question was asked by an earlier ComRes poll. Just 18 percent disagreed.

According to a YouGov survey from May, 80 percent of British voters are now aware of Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis, and just 19 percent are still convinced by Labour and Corbyn’s arguments that they are not anti-Semitic.

The Guardian letter was published a week after The Jewish Chronicle, Britain’s oldest Jewish paper, published an op-ed on its front page addressed directly to non-Jews asking them not to vote for Corbyn, who was elected to lead Labour in 2015.

“Throughout his career, he has allied with and supported antisemites such as Paul Eisen, Stephen Sizer and Raed Salah,” the op-ed said.

“He has described organizations like Hamas, whose founding charter commits it to the extermination of every Jew on the planet, as his ‘friends.’ He has laid a wreath to honor terrorists who have murdered Jews. He has insulted ‘Zionists’ — the word used by antisemites when they mean ‘Jew’ because they think it allows them to get away with it — as lacking understanding of ‘English irony,’” the article continued.

Corbyn has argued consistently that he is a committed anti-racism campaigner without any anti-Semitic bias. But last year, Labour was placed under a probe of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a government watchdog, over its handling of an explosion of anti-Semitic incidents that occurred after 2015.

Following Corbyn’s takeover of the party, hate speech against Jews and Israel began proliferating in Labour’s ranks. Thousands of incidents have been recorded both by internal Labour groups like Labour Against Anti-Semitism, and external ones, including the Campaign Against Antisemitism.

In 2016, an interparliamentary committee, which included Labour representatives, accused the party of creating a “safe space for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people.”

The issue continues to haunt Labour in the general polls. Although Boris Johnson, who has suffered a succession of policy defeats, has the lowest approval ratings of any British prime minister in over 40 years, his Conservative Party has opened up a lead of approximately 11 points. The Conservatives have been the majority in British Parliament for the past decade.

“Voters aren’t stupid,” said Jonathan Arkush, the previous president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. “There is now a pretty widespread perception that there’s something rather nasty around Labour.”

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Holocaust rescuer gets a surprise 100th birthday party in Poland

Fri, 2019-11-15 18:01

(JTA) — The day after he turned 100, Jozef Walaszczyk prepared to attend yet another Holocaust commemoration ceremony in his native Warsaw.

Walaszczyk is Poland’s oldest living Righteous Among the Nations – a title given by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust – and he attends several such events each year. But he was in for a different experience when a Ferrari pulled up to his apartment building Thursday to take him to the event.

After some negotiation on Walaszczyk’s part to get into the sports car’s famously low frame, he was driven to a birthday gala organized to honor him and 19 other rescuers from Poland, Belarus, Albania and beyond.

“I was so surprised and honored that all of this was done for me,” Walaszczyk told reporters waiting for him at a restaurant inside the famed Zamoski Palace. He called it “the best surprise I have ever gotten in my life.”

As the foreman of a factory outside Warsaw, Walaszczyk helped protect 30 Jews after the Nazis invaded, according to Yad Vashem. Then he took a Jewish woman sought by the Gestapo into his home and arranged false papers for her.

The woman, Irena Front, was subsequently arrested. Walaszczyk bribed police to release her and 20 other Jews, some of whom moved into his apartment. He hired a maid to take care of them in hiding. When they were arrested in 1944, Walaszczyk again intervened to get them out and housed them in a rural hiding place. He continued to support them after the war ended.

“I did what I did because it was the right thing to do,” he said at the birthday bash. “I never did it thinking of credit or praise.”

Edward Mosberg, a 93-year-old Holocaust survivor from New Jersey and honorary president of From the Depths, the Holocaust commemoration group that hosted the gala, traveled to Warsaw under medical supervision due to cancer treatments to attend the event.

“These heroes did something that most of us would never do,” Mosberg said, “so for me to come to Poland and have an opportunity to spend time with them is an honor and privilege.”

Jonny Daniels, the 33-year-old Israeli activist who founded From the Depths in Poland in 2014, said his generation especially “must do all we can to show our honor and respect to rescuers whilst we still can,” calling people like Walaszczyk “a beacon of light in a time of absolute darkness.”

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The Tell: The Jewish players in impeachment

Fri, 2019-11-15 17:59

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The first public hearings in the Trump impeachment inquiry began this week with quite a splash.

A bunch of Jewish actors are at play in this drama, and we’ve covered some before:

In the hearings Wednesday, and in their aftermath, there were some new and familiar Jewish wrinkles. Here are a few:

Who was that lawyer?

Democrats handed the first 45 minutes of questioning to Daniel Goldman, and his restrained sarcasm immediately drew attention. “I want to spend a little time reading the transcript, as we’ve been encouraged to do,” he said. Trump has urged Twitter followers to “read the transcript” at least a dozen times. (Of course, Goldman proceeded to read parts of the transcript that backed the Democrats’ charges.)

Goldman is a former U.S. attorney who earned a reputation for busting mobsters and became a “TV lawyer” on NBC. (Watch him confess to popping the question to his wife with a ring inside a fortune cookie.) He’s also descended from Levi Strauss stock.

Schiff v. Nadler

Among the six House committee chairmen assigned a role in the impeachment hearings, three are Jewish: Schiff, who chairs Intelligence, and two New York reps, Jerry Nadler (Judiciary) and Eliot Engel (Foreign Affairs).

Nadler led the hearings related to the special counsel’s report into Russian interference in the 2016 election. But he was criticized in and out of his caucus for handing Republicans a political win — his hearings at times appeared hijacked by Republicans exercising parliamentary maneuvers, and commentators agreed that his primetime witness, Robert Mueller, fell flat in his public testimony.

Wednesday’s hearing, led by Schiff, was a stark contrast. Schiff cut off Republicans seeking to interrupt the hearings. Committee Democrats stuck to a script and asked the two witnesses pointed questions aimed at shaping a cohesive narrative.

It wasn’t until hours into the testimony that Republicans were able to score some points, with Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio emphasizing that neither of the witnesses had first-and knowledge of the exchanges between Zelensky and Trump. Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York pointed out that the alleged bribe never came to fruition: Zelensky did not open an investigation into Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 election or into Biden, and Ukraine eventually got its aid.

Who’s afraid of George Soros?

Soros, the liberal Jewish philanthropist who has become a bugbear for Trump and the Republicans, did not surface in the hearing — but he did in its prequel and aftermath.

Soros had come up in closed testimony last month when Fiona Hill, a former top National Security Council staffer, alleged that Trump fired Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch because of a smear campaign orchestrated by Giuliani depicting Yovanovitch as in Soros’ pocket — a narrative Hill called “frankly anti-Semitic.”

Hill’s lawyer wanted it noted for the record that Stephen Castor, the lead Republican staff lawyer (who helped lead the questioning at Wednesday’s public hearing), was laughing when Hill brought up anti-Semitism. Castor shot back that it was “outrageous” and “ridiculous” to suggest he was laughing at Hill’s characterization of the smear campaign as anti-Semitic.

Soros also came up in Fox Business Channel post-hearing analysis: Victoria Toensing and Joseph DiGenova, the lawyer couple who represent a Ukrainian oligarch tied into the scandal, as well as John Solomon, a right-wing muckraker who has advanced the Biden corruption narrative, told Lou Dobbs that Soros runs, well, everything.

“There’s no doubt that George Soros controls a very large part of the career foreign service at the United States State Department. He also controls the activities of FBI agents overseas,” DiGenova said.  “He corrupted FBI officials, he corrupted foreign service officers.” DiGenova did not offer any evidence.

(Fun fact: DiGenova was the U.S. attorney who in the 1980s led the successful prosecution of Jonathan Pollard, the spy for Israel.)

What’s up next?

Two Jewish witnesses are on the docket for next Wednesday, each with firsthand testimony.

  • Gordon Sondland, a Portland hotelier whose parents fled Nazi Europe, is a longtime Republican donor who disavowed Trump during the 2016 campaign when Trump disparaged the Muslim parents of a slain soldier. But after Trump was elected, Sondland funneled $1 million into Trump’s inauguration and earned a role as ambassador to the European Union. Sondland took a lead role in Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine, an unusual involvement for an EU ambassador. One of Wednesday’s witnesses, William Taylor, dropped a bombshell at the hearing: Sondland told a Taylor aide that Trump cared more about damaging Joe Biden than about helping Ukraine. Expect Sondland to be grilled about the conversation.
  • Alexander Vindman is the senior NSC staffer who listened in on the Trump-Zelensky call and raised alarms afterward. He has been smeared as having dual loyalties to Ukraine.

In Other News

Condemning the rockets: Several candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination condemned the rocket attacks on Israel this week: Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana; former vice president Joe Biden; Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado; and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. AIPAC compiled condemnations on its Twitter feed.

Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the leading left-wing candidates, expressed sympathy for both Israelis and Palestinians and called on both sides to change their behavior.

Granger danger: Rep. Kay Granger, the top Republican on the powerful Appropriations Committee, faces a primary challenge in her affluent North Texas district. Colleyville City Councilman Chris Putnam, a telecom software business owner, depicts Granger as part of “the swamp” Trump has pledged to drain — i.e., a Washington insider. He told The Texan in September that he plans to focus on spending. “Spending and debt are out of control in D.C.,” he said.

That raises alarm bells for AIPAC-affiliated donors for one obvious reason: Granger is a longtime friend of the lobby who is now in one of Congress’ most influential spending decision roles. It’s alarming enough for the pro-Israel community that Nita Lowey of New York, who chairs the committee, is leaving next year.

Brother Bernie’s Sister Souljah moment: Bernie Sanders writes about anti-Semitism for Jewish Currents in what is probably his most expansive riff on his Jewish identity. Not so surprising: Bashing Trump for enabling anti-Semitism. Somewhat surprising: Taking the left to task for its occasional expressions of anti-Semitism, “especially when it denies the right of self-determination to Jews, or when it plays into conspiracy theories about outsized Jewish power.”

Bible bump? Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia holds a Hebrew Bible in an ad that explains why she is backing Trump’s impeachment. The camera goes so close up that viewers can see her name inscribed on it.

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Worth a Look

Nick Fuentes answers questions during an interview with Agence France-Presse in Boston, May 9, 2016. (William Edwards/AFP via Getty Images)

At The Nation, Jeet Heer examines the Nick Fuentes-led “groyper army” — white nationalists and anti-Semites who attend conservative and Republican events and try to corner speakers into endorsing their views. Heer considers the degree to which establishment conservatism is responsible for “groypers.”

Tweet So Sweet

I NEED HIM. https://t.co/nGqNH0gW8H

— Zach Braff (@zachbraff) November 13, 2019

Actor and director Zach Braff wants the dog with the tail on its head.

Stay In Touch

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

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

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Tiny Portuguese Jewish community makes a $1.2 million feature film about its history

Fri, 2019-11-15 17:37

(JTA) — The tiny Jewish community of Porto, Portugal, made a feature film about its history that is likely the costliest production by any European Jewish community.

The 90-minute film, titled “Sefarad,” covers centuries of Jewish history in Portugal, alternating between the ages and following individual stories of real historical figures beginning in the 15th century to community leaders in modern times.

The film, which had a budget of more than $1.2 million, was released Friday on Amazon Prime and is scheduled for a Dec. 15 release on iTunes.

The opening scene features dozens of extras in medieval costumes and period drama filming techniques that are rarely seen in promotional videos of small Jewish communities.

The film focuses on Artur Carlos de Barros Basto, an army captain who in the 1920s helped promote Jewish life in Porto and was subsequently falsely accused of sexual crimes and dismissed from the military.

A former leading member of the community told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on condition of anonymity that the film’s budget came from revenues earned by vetting the applications of hundreds of people claiming to be descendants of Sephardic Jews.

In 2015, Portugal and Spain passed law entitling such descendants to become citizens as atonement for past persecution. Jewish communities vet the applications. Porto’s says it has 400 members.

A communications specialist working for the community said the production is “privately funded.” Michael Rothwell, a spokesman for the community, declined to speak on the subject with JTA.

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I have been fighting for ultra-Orthodox students for nearly a decade. New York’s new regulations are vital for them.

Fri, 2019-11-15 17:08

NEW YORK (JTA) — On our first date nearly nine years ago, my (now) husband resolved to improve Hasidic education. He had grown up in the Belz Hasidic community in Brooklyn, attending Belz schools from nursery through post-high school. But in all those years, he never learned science, geography, history, how to write an essay or how to calculate a tip. Instead, he and his peers devoted as many as 14 hours a day to the study of ancient Hebrew and Aramaic religious texts.

Despite his ambition and vision, he felt handicapped by his inadequate education, which is why I took on a serious role in helping him start Yaffed, an organization that advocates to improve Hasidic education. I have since met dozens more individuals who, like my husband, continue to suffer from their deficient education and want to see change.

Eight years after we started Yaffed, in response to the organization’s efforts, New York State’s Education Department proposed regulations in June that would ensure Hasidic yeshivas provide a decent secular education to their students. 

In the next two weeks, the New York City Department of Education is expected to release an updated report on the state of secular education in city yeshivas.

Between now and April, the New York State Education Department will be deciding on whether or not to enforce the proposed regulations of private schools, and the enforcement would begin soon thereafter. 

The regulations outline a mechanism by which education officials can uphold the state’s century-old education law in private schools. The regulations articulate the local school districts’ role in reviewing all private schools — once within the next three years and regularly thereafter to assess whether they are complying with education law — and delineate the required subjects and hours of instruction, as well as protocols for schools that are not in compliance.

But two Orthodox lobbying groups, Agudath Israel and Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, led a massive campaign this summer in protest. Their campaign rallied over 140,000 individuals to write letters to the state Education Department — nearly 90 percent of them coming from the Orthodox community. They claimed that yeshiva education is responsible for producing successful individuals like themselves and yeshivas offer a kind of moral education that cannot be measured by the state. Thus, they argued, the Education Department should not regulate any private schools, but instead should defer to leaders and professionals like themselves within the Orthodox community to self-regulate. 

Their assertions, however, are highly misleading and fly in the face of established data.

Reports clearly demonstrate that Hasidic communities have some of the highest rates of poverty and dependence on government assistance in the state and in the country. Though this should seem intuitive, defenders of yeshiva education are claiming the opposite to be the case. Dr. Moshe Krakowski, director of the master’s program of Jewish education at the Azrieli School of Yeshiva University, has gone so far as to claim that the religious studies taking place in Hasidic schools might better prepare students for future success than a secular curriculum — a claim that finds no support in the data. 

A letter to the New York State Education Department signed by 230 Orthodox mental health professionals claims that their own professional achievements are sufficient to “refute misguided claims that yeshivas provide inadequate academic preparation for professional success.” A letter signed by nearly 600 educators argues that “the trope of yeshivas’ education inferiority … is belied by our own academic and professional achievement.” And a letter signed by a handful of Harvard Law School graduates allegedly claims that their yeshiva education positioned them for academic success before asserting that the state Education Department should refrain from regulating private schools. 

But it is a classic bait and switch: These signatories fail to mention that most of them attended non-Hasidic yeshivas or girls’ schools, both of which typically provide a copious secular education in addition to a religious studies curriculum. 

In non-Hasidic yeshivas, students typically receive an education that includes required subjects such as English, math, history and science for three to five hours each day — in contrast to Hasidic boys’ schools, some offering no secular instruction an all, and others offering a mere hour and a half of instruction in some cases by teachers who are themselves disfluent in the English language.

Another letter to the state Education Department signed by more than 200 rabbis claims that yeshiva education produces “prominent leaders in almost every field” and provides students with “a moral framework for life.” But this “moral framework” argument is a red herring. Plenty of ultra-Orthodox schools manage to teach secular studies in compliance with state requirements without compromising on “moral” or religious instruction. 

Many non-Hasidic yeshivas provide a model that Hasidic schools would do well to follow, prioritizing religious studies while still offering a sound secular education — precisely what the state’s regulations are aiming to ensure.

But without regulations, we have begun to see the opposite trend. Lately, some non-Hasidic yeshivas have been regressing, cutting corners on secular education and coming closer to a Hasidic education model. Without intervention, we will likely see more schools following the Hasidic model and, as a result, poorer economic outcomes in the future among other Orthodox sectors.

It is unconscionable that Orthodox professionals who attended non-Hasidic yeshivas would leverage narratives of their own success to deny Hasidic boys the very educational opportunities that allowed them to thrive. By deliberately obfuscating the issue, Orthodox leaders and professionals demonstrate that they cannot be relied upon to ensure Hasidic children receive a proper education. It is imperative that the New York State Education Department intervene and ensure Hasidic children receive a basic education.

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5 Jewish things to know about Deval Patrick

Fri, 2019-11-15 16:23

(JTA) — The crowded field of Democratic 2020 hopefuls has welcomed another latecomer to the fray: Deval Patrick, the former Massachusetts governor.

On Thursday, Patrick released an announcement video that recalled the struggles he faced growing up on Chicago’s South Side and said he wanted to make the American Dream accessible to all Americans.

In a spirit of profound gratitude for all the country has given to me, with a determination to build a better, more sustainable, more inclusive American Dream for everyone:

I am today announcing my candidacy for President of the United States.https://t.co/hObdLNiFMJ pic.twitter.com/fGmI0qxkxS

— Deval Patrick (@DevalPatrick) November 14, 2019

After serving as governor from 2007 to 2015, Patrick worked as a managing director at Bain Capital — the investment firm formerly headed by Sen. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate in 2012. Patrick, 63, also served as assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Clinton administration.

Patrick, the first African-American governor in Massachusetts, implemented the health care reform in his state that Romney, his gubernatorial predecessor, had enacted, and worked to improve the state’s education system.

He also built ties between different faith and ethnic communities, and forged a close relationship with his state’s Jewish community.

Jeremy Burton, the executive director of Boston’s Jewish Community Relations Council, recalled the ease with which Patrick would participate in Jewish events.

“He considered himself at home when he was in a Jewish space, and the Jewish community considered him to be part of it,” Burton told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Thursday.

Here are some of the highlights of Patrick’s interactions with the Jewish community.

A rabbi gave the benediction at his inauguration.

Patrick first met Rabbi Jonah Pesner when he was exploring a run for governor. Pesner, who now serves as the director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, was involved at the time with interfaith work in Boston. The two grew so close that Patrick asked the rabbi to deliver the benediction at his inauguration as governor in 2007.

Patrick later returned the favor by giving the keynote address at Pesner’s installation at the RAC in 2015.

“He was able to uniquely give a speech that told the story of the importance of Jewish leadership inside and through our work in civil rights and social justice in America and across the world,” recalled Pesner, who before heading the RAC was rabbi of Temple Israel in Boston.

He has received several Jewish awards.

In 2009, Patrick received an honorary doctorate from the University of Haifa for, according to the school, his leadership and contribution to social equality, protection of religious freedom and civil rights, and promoting friendship with Israel. The previous year, he had signed a $1 billion law to promote research and business with the Jewish state.

The American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center honored him with the 2014 Yitzhak Rabin Leadership and Public Service Award for his work to improve the economy in Massachusetts and promote the state’s trading partnership with Israel.

In 2016, the American Jewish Committee’s New England chapter chose Patrick to be the inaugural recipient of its Coexistence Award for his efforts to promote understanding among ethnic, religious and racial groups.

Patrick serves as founding chairman of Our Generation Speaks, an organization founded in 2014 that brings together Israeli and Palestinian youths through entrepreneurship. Patrick introduced the organization’s founder, Ohad Elhelo, at last year’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference.

He led two economic development missions to Israel.

In 2011, Patrick led a trade mission to Israel with local business leaders, including New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. During the trip he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then-President Shimon Peres and other Israeli politicians.

Patrick led a similar delegation in 2014, where he and more than 100 participants met with startup founders and other business innovators in Israel.

He helped create a direct flight between Boston and Tel Aviv.

For years, Patrick pushed for the Israeli airline El Al to launch a nonstop flight between the two cities. In 2015, his efforts paid off when Boston became the fourth city in North America to have a direct El Al flight to Israel.

He invoked Jewish refugees in offering to host refugee children.

In 2014, an influx of women and unaccompanied children from Central America were seeking asylum in the U.S. Talking to a reporter at the time, Patrick cited the experiences of Jews during the Holocaust in arguing for why Massachusetts should host refugee children.

“My inclination is to remember what happened when a shipful of Jewish children tried to come to the United States in 1939 and the United States turned them away, and many of them went to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps,” Patrick said. “I think we are a bigger-hearted people than that as Americans, and certainly as residents of Massachusetts.”

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Dutch government gives $2.76 million to restoring Jewish cemeteries

Fri, 2019-11-15 16:02

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — The Dutch government has allocated $2.76 million toward the maintenance and restoration of Jewish cemeteries in the Netherlands.

Culture Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven announced the funding last week in a letter to the lower house of the parliament.

Local Jews have trouble maintaining the graves because the community’s numbers never recovered after the Holocaust. Dutch Jews suffered the highest death rate of any Western European country occupied by the Nazis, in part because of local collaboration.

Fewer than 40,000 Jews survived in a population of some 140,000, and fewer still returned to the Netherlands. Today there are about 45,000 Jews living in the kingdom, including more than 5,000 Israelis, according to the Organization of Jewish Communities in the Netherlands, or NIK.

Thus the small Dutch Jewish community is stretching its resources to maintain more communal property than it can handle.

“Jewish cemeteries are often the only remnant of Dutch-Jewish culture, which was largely destroyed in 1940-1945,” NIK said in a statement about the funding.

Especially “forgotten cemeteries or ones with an unusual character will be treated in the coming five years” with the new funding, NIK wrote.

The organization said it was “deeply satisfied with minister and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science’s decision to address the issue” of neglected Jewish burial places.

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As an Orthodox educator, New York’s new regulations would undermine my ability to serve my students

Fri, 2019-11-15 16:02

NEW YORK (JTA) — Jewish education is both my career and my calling, so I enjoy talking about my schools’ mission and curriculum. In the past year, however, my conversations have been to explain why regulations proposed in New York will undermine religious and private education.     

We now find ourselves in a fight for the preservation of Jewish education in the United States. 

This is not an exaggeration. If the state has its way, Jewish children may still receive an education, but it will no longer be an education designed and implemented by Jewish educators. The state will have usurped that role.

Parents in New York have long been authorized to send their children to private schools that provide instruction that is “substantially equivalent” to local public schools. That worked without friction until last November, when the state education commissioner sought to reinterpret that standard to require private schools to teach precisely the same dozen subjects taught in public schools, in some grades for precisely the same amount of time.   

In April, an Albany court declared those new rules “null and void,” finding that the commissioner did not have the authority to unilaterally impose them. Ten weeks later, the nullified rules were repackaged as regulations and released for public comment.   

The public certainly has commented. Over the summer, more than 140,000 parents, alumni, educators and other concerned citizens wrote to the state Education Department to express their opposition to the proposed regulations.

The Council for American Private Education wrote that “the proposed regulations would constitute an unprecedented level of state interference with the independence of private schools” and would “have a severe impact on their ability to provide their students with the education they, their students and their students’ parents’ want them to have.”

That is surely the effect they would have on yeshiva education. The regulations would require our schools to limit the instruction we offer in Jewish studies and require us to replace them with classes in theater, arts, dance, consumer and family science, and other subjects that our parents and our school leaders do not want. 

Yeshiva education is not identical to public school education. In addition to a robust secular studies curriculum, we offer our students an education that includes studies in Jewish law, ethics and customs. Parents make that choice when they opt for yeshiva. Yeshivas have a tradition of graduating millions of productive citizens who are leaders in their professional lives, as well as in their faith communities.

The New York State School Boards Association called upon the state Education Department to withdraw the regulations, explaining that they “find no enabling statutory authority that would support their adoption.” The association also noted that authority of school boards is limited to private schools “with a shorter school day or year or both.”

Yeshivas have neither. Our elementary schools begin early in the morning and run until late afternoon or early evening. That is necessary to accommodate our dual curriculum, with the morning and early afternoon hours devoted to Jewish studies. Those classes have Jewish texts as their foundation and Jewish values and continuity as their goal, but they also impart important linguistic, comprehension, analytical and reasoning skills.

The proposed regulations also run counter to current trends in the public schools. New York City decided recently to move toward a “culturally responsive” education in its public schools. Proponents of the new policy explained that “research shows that when students see themselves and their peers reflected in the books they read and the lessons they learn, academic outcomes improve.” 

So why is the state proposing regulations that limit our dual curriculum and undercut our ability to build on the cultural funds of knowledge students bring with them to the classroom?

The few proponents of the regulations focus their criticism on a small number of schools they claim must improve. With nearly 450 yeshivas in New York, it would be surprising if none had room to improve. Yet here the dichotomy between what the regulations propose for private schools and what occurs in public schools is even starker.  

The regulations call for a transformation of all private schools because of supposed deficiencies in a small number of them. As one head of school from Amherst described them, “this really feels like a gigantic hammer of a solution for a tiny nail of a problem.” 

Public schools not yet up to par have coaches who evaluate them, additional resources provided to them and are given time to implement long-term improvement plans. Contrast that with the proposed regulations for private schools, which offer inspectors, investigations and threats of punishment and closure for schools that are not deemed equivalent.

Our schools measure success not by the median income of our graduates but by their character and values. The Board of Regents should allow religious schools to educate them about the education yeshivas provide before deciding to alter a school system it neither understands nor appreciates.

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Netflix to add clarification to Demjanjuk documentary maps that angered Poland

Fri, 2019-11-15 15:41

(JTA) — Netflix said that it will add a clarification on some maps shown in its new documentary about the Nazi concentration camp guard John Demjanjuk following complaints.

The correction announcement Thursday came days after Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki sent a letter to Netflix’s chief executive saying the maps featured in the series “The Devil Next Door” should be modified. They showed Nazi death camps in an area labeled as Poland, even though they were erected there by Nazi Germany after it invaded Poland and occupied it during World War II.

Last year, the Polish government has passed legislation outlawing phrases like “Polish death camps,” which it says blames the Polish nation for crimes committed partly against it by the Nazis.

A Netflix spokeswoman said Thursday that the company will not alter the maps themselves, but will add text saying that the camps were run by the Nazi regime, which invaded the country in 1939 and occupied it until 1945. She was careful to say that the move was a response to complaints from subscribers rather than from Poland, The New York Times reported.

Released last week, the documentary focuses on the case of Demjanjuk, a retired autoworker from the Cleveland area who was put on trial in Israel in the 1980s after he was accused of being the notoriously cruel guard “Ivan the Terrible” at the Nazi-run concentration camps.

Demjanjuk was acquitted on appeal in Israel but prosecuted and convicted of crimes against humanity in Germany. He died in 2012 while appealing that conviction.

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More than one-third of US Christians have heard their clergy speak out about Jews

Fri, 2019-11-15 15:06

(JTA) — Thirty-nine percent of American Christians who attend church have heard their clergy speak out about Jews, and 9 percent have heard them say something negative.

That’s according to a new study published Friday by the Pew Research Center on religion and public life.

The survey found that American Jews were ambivalent toward the role of religion in public life.

Some other numbers among the churchgoing Christians:

  • 20 percent have heard their clergy speak positively about Jews.
  • 8 percent have heard both positive and negative things from clergy.
  • 1 percent have heard mostly negative things.
  • 9 percent have heard neither positive nor negative things from their clergy about Jews.

The survey included responses from 6,384 adults, including 3,886 Christians and 290 Jews. The overall margin of error was 1.7 percent overall, 2.1 for Christians and 8.9 for Jews.

Here are some Jewish numbers:

  • 47 percent of Jews say religious organizations do more good than harm, 31 percent say they do more harm than good, and 21 percent say they “don’t make much difference.”
  • Most Jews — 81 percent — believe religion’s influence is declining in American life. Thirty-five percent of American Jews say that’s a bad thing and 25 percent say it’s a good thing.
  • 58 percent say religion has too much influence over American politics. Sixty-nine percent say houses of worship should stay out of politics.

Christians are more supportive of religious influence in public life: 67 percent say religious organizations do more good than harm, 58 percent say declining religious influence is a bad thing and 21 percent say religion has too much influence on politics.

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Toronto Jewish deli to close down after 47 years

Fri, 2019-11-15 11:36

(JTA) — One of Toronto’s most iconic Jewish delis, Yitz’s Delicatessen, is closing its doors after 47 years in business.

The deli, which is not kosher and known for its smoked meat, matzoh ball soup and steak and eggs, opened in 1972 on Eglinton Avenue, a major traffic artery that is one of the Canadian city’s oldest streets.

Yitz’s will be closing on December 1, but posts to social media indicate that they’ll be available for catering in 2020, according to an article published Thursday by the website blogto.com.

Yitz Penciner, who dies in 2013, established the restaurant. He sold it in 2000 to Barry Silver.

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Bloomberg apologizes for being ‘disrespectful’ to women

Fri, 2019-11-15 11:06

(JTA) — Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is said to be preparing to become a Democratic presidential candidate, apologized for using “disrespectful” language about women.

Bloomberg, who is Jewish, apologized through a spokesman in a New York Times article published Thursday.

“Mike has come to see that some of what he has said is disrespectful and wrong,” Stu Loeser, the spokesperson, said in the statement Thursday. “He believes his words have not always aligned with his values and the way he has led his life.”

The rhetoric appeared in a booklet that employees of Bloomberg’s private firm gave him in 1990. It contained quotes attributed to him.

“If women wanted to be appreciated for their brains, they’d go to the library instead of Bloomingdale’s,” Bloomberg was quoted as saying in the booklet, titled “The Portable Bloomberg: The Wit and Wisdom of Michael Bloomberg.”

Bloomberg also joked, according to the booklet, that the Bloomberg terminal, a reference to a product produced by Bloomberg’s digital data company, could “do everything,” including oral sex. “I guess that puts a lot of you girls out of business,” Bloomberg is quoted saying.

Some of Bloomberg’s controversial statements became campaign fodder during his successful 2001 race for mayor, running on the Republican and Independence Party lines.

Bloomberg came under fire after being quoted in a 1998 deposition that he’d believe a rape claim if there was “an unimpeachable third-party witness”. A saleswoman claimed a Bloomberg manager raped her. That’s “not what he believes,” Loeser said Thursday.

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Bernie Sanders says that as president he’d give Ocasio-Cortez ‘very important’ role

Fri, 2019-11-15 10:41

(JTA) — Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said that if he is elected, he would give a “very, very important role” in White House to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

Sanders, a senator from Vermont, said this in a joint interview with Ocasio-Cortez last week to ABC News, adding that the Bronx-Queens freshman congresswoman has ideas that “are resonating all over this country,” and: “If I am in the White House, she will play a very, very important role. No question.”

“I don’t want you to hear this, because your head will explode,” Sanders said in jest to Ocasio-Cortez, before adding, “I don’t know of any person … who has had more of an impact on American politics as a freshman member of Congress than she has.”

Polls from the previous two weeks have Sanders, who is Jewish, in second or third place, trailing Joe Biden and, in most polls, also Elizabeth Warren. Ocasio-Cortez is not running and has endorsed Sanders.

Ocasio-Cortez has drawn considerable admiration and criticism for her recent insistence on calling migrant detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border “concentration camps.”

She has been critical of Israel for its treatment of Palestinians and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sanders has also criticized Israel and last month suggested that some of the money Israel receives from the United States for defense assistance should go to humanitarian relief in the Gaza Strip.

Israel uses the money to buy systems and materials for its military and defense from the United States.

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‘Schindler’s List’ producer and Holocaust survivor Branko Lustig dead at 87

Thu, 2019-11-14 22:09

(JTA) — Branko Lustig, the Oscar-winning producer of the Holocaust film “Schindler’s List,” has died.

Lustig died Thursday at his home in Croatia at the age of 87. His death was announced by the Festival of Tolerance, a Jewish film festival held in the Croatian capital of Zagreb for the last 13 years.

Born to a Jewish family in 1932, Lustig was imprisoned in Auschwitz during the Holocaust. Much of his family was killed by the Nazis, including his father and grandmother.

He began his film career in the Yugoslavian film industry in the 1950s and worked as a production supervisor on the 1982 Hollywood film “Sophie’s Choice,” part of which was shot in Yugoslavia.

Lustig’s work on American films helped him move to Los Angeles in the 1980s, where he met Steven Spielberg, who directed “Schindler’s List.” The film won the Oscar for best picture in 1994.

“My number was 83317,” Lustig said in an emotional speech at the award ceremony. “I’m a Holocaust survivor. It’s a long way from Auschwitz to this stage.”

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Lustig went on to recall the people he saw die in the camps, who urged him to be a witness to their murder.

“By helping Steven to make this movie, I hope I fulfill my obligation to the innocent victims of the Holocaust,” Lustig continued. “In the name of the 6 million Jews killed in the Shoah, and other Nazi’s victims, I want to thank everyone who acknowledge this movie.”

Lustig went on to work with other Hollywood luminaries. He produced the 1997 film “The Peacemaker” starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman and served as executive producer of the 2001 Ridley Scott film “Black Hawk Down.” He won another Oscar for producing Scott’s 2000 film “Gladiator,” which also won best picture.

A decade ago he returned to Croatia to become president of the Festival of Tolerance.

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Australian Jews break world record for longest challah

Thu, 2019-11-14 22:00

(JTA) — A kosher bakery in Sydney, Australia, has broken the Guinness world record for longest challah.

Grandma Moses Bakery, in partnership with the Jewish National Fund chapter in New South Wales, broke the record on Thursday, according to a Facebook post from the group.

The record-setting challah clocked in at more than 32 feet long and required over 150 pounds of dough and ten hours to bake.

The previous record, set in Brooklyn in 2015, was a 20-foot challah.

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34 Palestinians killed, 58 Israelis injured in rocket attacks from Gaza and Israel this week

Thu, 2019-11-14 21:50

(JTA) — Fifty-eight Israelis were injured during the wave of rocket attacks fired by terror groups from Gaza this week. Thirty-four Palestinians, most of them reported to be members of Islamic Jihad and other Gaza terror groups, were killed in retaliatory strikes.

The attacks cost the Israeli economy $315 million and three homes were directly hit, the Consulate General of Israel in New York said in a statement Thursday.

After the Israel Defense Forces killed two Palestinian Islamic Jihad senior commanders — Baha Abu al-Ata and Rasmi Abu Malhous — in targeted airstrikes, a total of 450 rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel between Tuesday morning and Thursday morning’s ceasefire.

One of the rockets hit an an assisted-living facility in the southern Israel city of Ashkelon, injuring a woman in her 70s. Israel retaliated in an operation it called Operation Black Belt.

The initial airstrike into Gaza also killed at least eight members of Malhous’ family. BBC reported that 111 Palestinians were injured in the exchange of fire.

“Israel is not interested in an escalation, and quiet will be met with quiet. However, Israel will take all necessary steps to protect its citizens and will not tolerate attacks by terrorist organizations that target Israeli civilians,” the consulate’s statement added.

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Yair Golan was once Netanyahu’s pick to head the army. Now he calls him a ‘coward.’

Thu, 2019-11-14 21:24

(JTA) — Five years ago, Major General Yair Golan was on the cusp of running the Israeli army under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Golan had already helmed two of the Israel Defense Forces’ major commands and ascended to the military’s second-highest rank. Following the 2014 Gaza War, he was reportedly Netanyahu’s first choice to be the IDF’s top commander, though the job ultimately went to another general. Golan ended up serving as deputy chief-of-staff for three years.

Now, Golan is one of Netanyahu’s most strident critics in the Israeli parliament. In an era when the majority of Jewish Israelis self-identify as right-wing, and neither of the country’s two major parties endorses the creation of a Palestinian state, Golan is an endangered species: a former senior Israeli general who is vocally left-wing — at least in Israeli terms.

“It’s terrible to me when leadership builds itself not on hopes, not on what’s noble, not on the mind, but on the darkest feelings people have,” Golan told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency during a recent visit to New York to speak to the Israel Policy Forum, a center-left group that favors negotiations with the Palestinians. “I’m talking about Bibi Netanyahu. He’s the most dangerous kind of populist leader.”

He added, “We’re lucky he’s a coward. Or cautious, to put it in positive terms.”

Golan, 57, is the son of a Holocaust refugee and a member of the liberal Zionist Democratic Union party, which holds just five seats out of 120 in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. He wants Israel to extricate itself from the Palestinians, loosen the grip of the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate over marriage and divorce, and safeguard the country’s democratic institutions.

But when he gets down to specifics, Golan’s proposals illustrate how far Israel has moved since the last time the left governed the country, in 2001.

Yes, Golan wants Israel to end its control of most of the West Bank, but he believes Israel’s priority should be separating Israel from the Palestinians — whether through a peace treaty or not. His first step would be to expand Israeli settlement blocs near the border to ensure they remain part of Israel. He’s prepared to evacuate more isolated settlements.

“The Palestinians interest me, but I’m not trying to do good for them — I’m trying to do good for the Jewish people,” he said. “You need to support a separation. If it’s through a two-state solution, fine. If it’s through the framework of, I don’t know, Egypt annexing Gaza and Jordan annexing the West Bank, what do I care?”

If Israel becomes a single Jewish-Palestinian state, Golan said it will be a “surefire recipe for civil war.”

Golan recognizes that most Israelis are suspicious of a withdrawal from the West Bank and do not trust the political left. The leader Golan name-checked when speaking to JTA was not Yitzhak Rabin, the former general who launched the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in the 1990s, but Ariel Sharon, the hardliner and previous leader of Netanyahu’s Likud Party who unilaterally withdrew Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005. Golan has praised Rabin in the past, but he calls himself a “Sharon-ist.”

“The Israeli left created a perception in the Israeli public — and I think it’s an incorrect perception — that it isn’t patriotic,” he said. “That it cares more about Palestinians than it does about Jews, that it cares more about civil rights than it does about the national interest.”

Yair Golan, right, walks next to then-IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, June 15, 2011. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Golan noted that a number of senior Israeli security officials have come out in favor of some form of withdrawal from the territories following their military service. The party currently challenging Likud, Blue and White, includes three former IDF chiefs of staff, all of whom served under Netanyahu in various capacities. The party leader, Benny Gantz, commanded the IDF under Netanyahu for four years.

“I think that everyone in the top echelon of the security establishment understands the complexity Israel finds itself in, and understands that there are no simple solutions,” Golan said. “And that Israel, from a place of strength, needs to take risks and needs to initiate policy.”

Golan had one more chance to get the chief of staff job himself, in 2018, but by then his politics had become publicly known.

Two years earlier, in a controversial speech delivered on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Golan inveighed against populist nationalism and spoke of “the recognition of the horrifying processes that occurred in Europe in general, and particularly in Germany, back then – 70, 80 and 90 years ago – and finding signs of them here among us today in 2016.” Detractors accused him of comparing Israel to Nazi Germany.

Based on that and other statements — like one saying Israeli soldiers should risk their lives rather than unnecessarily killing a 60-year-old woman — a group of families of Israeli terror victims signed a letter against him.

“The statements of Yair Golan paint a concerning picture of a commander who is prepared to take unnecessary risks with his soldier’s lives while comparing our country to Nazi Germany, and more,” the letter said. “A person who sees our children’s blood as cheap cannot protect and command them.”

The job again went to someone else. But Golan stands by the 2016 speech — and the message he hoped to send to Netanyahu.

“I didn’t say we’re Nazis, we’re the same, or something, but its a speech that led to national soul-searching in the context of the lessons of the Holocaust,” he said. “I came to say a simple thing: Stop. As public officials, stop acting like this. It’s intolerable.”

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Prominent non-Jews in Britain say they will not vote for Labour over anti-Semitism controversy

Thu, 2019-11-14 20:19

(JTA) — Two dozen prominent Brits — including Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, “Spider-Man” star Tom Holland, author Fay Weldon and actress Joanna Lumley — said Thursday that they will not be voting for the British Labour Party in elections next month because of the party’s ongoing anti-Semitism controversy.

“The coming election is momentous for every voter, but for British Jews it contains a particular anguish: the prospect of a prime minister steeped in association with antisemitism,” a letter they signed in The Guardian reads. “Opposition to racism cannot include surrender in the fight against antisemitism. Yet that is what it would mean to back Labour and endorse [Jeremy] Corbyn for Downing Street.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been dogged for years by accusations that he allows anti-Semitism in the party’s ranks, and some have argued that his past connections to anti-Israel figures and groups prove that he is anti-Semitic.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has the lowest approval rating of any British leader in over 40 years, but his Conservative Party is still projected to defeat Corbyn’s in the Dec. 12 balloting.

“The path to a more tolerant society must encompass Britain’s Jews with unwavering solidarity,” the letter continues. “We endorse no party. However, we cannot in all conscience urge others to support a political party we ourselves will not. We refuse to vote Labour on 12 December.”

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University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill agrees to resolution over anti-Semitism complaint

Thu, 2019-11-14 20:14

(JTA) — The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has agreed to a resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education over an anti-Semitism complaint.

The Zionist Organization of America filed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in April over a university-sponsored conference the previous month titled “Conflict over Gaza: People, Politics and Possibilities.” The conference featured a performance by the Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar that was condemned as anti-Semitic. Days after the conference, swastikas and anti-Semitic fliers were discovered on campus.

Under the resolution, the university agreed to respond to and investigate allegations of anti-Semitic harassment and to issue a statement that such harassment will not be tolerated. UNC also said it would host meetings for students and staff to talk about concerns over anti-Semitism and to include anti-Semitic harassment issues in staff training.

“UNC has agreed to take concrete, meaningful steps that will make it clear to the entire university community that anti-Semitic harassment is illegal and will not be tolerated,” Morton Klein, ZOA’s national president, and Susan Tuchman, director of its Center for Law and Justice, said in a statement. “In addition, UNC has committed itself to investigate and effectively address any incidents of anti-Semitic harassment that occur.”

The complaint was filed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Title VI prohibits national origin and other forms of discrimination at federally funded programs, and protects Jewish students from anti-Semitic harassment.

The Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation in June, but earlier this month notified ZOA that the university agreed to resolve the complaint through a resolution agreement before its completion.

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Rabbi calls on German auction house to cancel sale of items owned by Hitler and other Nazi leaders

Thu, 2019-11-14 19:34

(JTA) — A rabbi representing Jews in Europe has asked a German auction house to cancel the sale of items belonging to Nazi leaders, including Adolf Hitler.

The Berlin-based Hermann Historica in an auction planned for Nov. 20 will sell 147 items that feature dresses belonging to Hitler’s longtime companion, Eva Braun; and a copy of Hitler’s rental contract in Munich. There are personal belongings such as framed photographs, silver dinner services, plates, and letters of Hermann Goering and Joseph Goebbels.

“I am writing to respectfully ask you to withdraw the auction,” Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chairman of the European Jewish Association, wrote in a letter to the auction house. “This is not a legal appeal to you, but very much a moral one. What you are doing is not illegal, but it is wrong. I need not remind you of the many millions of lives lost as a result of national socialism, nor of the approximately six million Jewish lives that were lost due to mindless antisemitic hatred. This is history.”

Margolin said the memorabilia has “little intrinsic historical value” except to those seeking to glorify the Nazis and that canceling the sale would “send a message that some things particularly when so metaphorically blood soaked, should not and must not be traded.”

Hermann Historica director Bernhard Pacher told the Bild daily: “Yes, Hitler sells, but most of all to customers who are approaching it with serious historical interest.”

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