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Updated: 17 min 33 sec ago

Netanyahu demands German FM cancel meetings with left-wing Israeli NGOs

5 hours 13 min ago

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded that German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel cancel scheduled meetings with representatives of left-wing Israeli organizations.

Netanyahu said he would cancel his meeting scheduled for Tuesday with Gabriel, who arrived in Israel on Monday, if he went ahead with the meetings with B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence.

Netanyahu’s office told the German delegation it would not take action if a junior member of the German delegation kept the meetings. While Israeli officials say they made the ultimatum clear to the German delegation, Gabriel asserted that he only learned of it from the media.

Gabriel responded that it would be “regrettable” if Netanyahu cancelled their meeting but that “it would not be a catastrophe” either, and that it would not damage Israel-German ties.

“You can’t get a proper and comprehensive picture in any country on Earth if you only meet in government offices,” Gabriel said.

He also said that it would be “inconceivable” for a German minister to cancel a meeting with an Israeli official over a meeting with individuals critical of the German government.

Gabriel, who has called Israel an apartheid state, met with opposition leader Isaac Herzog, head of the Zionist Union, and was scheduled to meet with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

Gabriel is scheduled to visit the Palestinian Authority and Jordan following his trip to Israel.

Trump says it’s ‘possible’ he will ditch Iran deal

Mon, 2017-04-24 21:49

WASHINGTON (JTA) — It’s “possible” that the United States will not remain in the Iran nuclear deal, President Donald Trump said.

“I believe they have broken the spirit of the agreement,” Trump told The Associated Press. “There is a spirit to agreements, and they have broken it.”

Asked by the AP whether that meant the United States would stick with the 2015 deal, which swapped sanctions relief for a rollback in Iran’s nuclear program, Trump said, “It’s possible that we won’t.”

Trump’s administration in recent weeks has delivered mixed messages about the agreement, which he reviled during his campaign as the “worst” he had ever encountered but never fully pledged to kill.

On April 19, the Trump administration affirmed in the morning that Iran was in compliance with the deal and in the afternoon said it would review its terms.

Critics of the deal say the sanctions relief allows Iran to spend toward backing terrorism and promoting instability in the region. Trump also is unhappy that Iran continues to test ballistic missiles, which is barred by U.N. Security Council resolutions but is not under the terms of the nuclear pact.

Sanders, pressed on Jon Ossoff, says it’s ‘imperative’ that Dems win Georgia seat

Mon, 2017-04-24 21:31

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Bernie Sanders said it was “imperative” to elect Jon Ossoff congressman from Atlanta’s suburbs, pushing back against the perception that Sanders was unenthusiastic about what is seen as a critical election targeting the policies of President Donald Trump.

“Let me be very clear,” Sen. Sanders, I-Vt., said Friday in a rare email to reporters from what was his presidential campaign account. “It is imperative that Jon Ossoff be elected congressman from Georgia’s 6th District and that Democrats take back the U.S. House. I applaud the energy and grassroots activism in Jon’s campaign. His victory would be an important step forward in fighting back against Trump’s reactionary agenda.”

Sanders, who last year ran an insurgent primary campaign for the Democratic nomination before losing to Hillary Clinton, is on a tour of the United States with the Democratic National Committee to promote party unity.

However, reports of differences between Sanders and the Democratic establishment have dogged the tour, with Sanders insisting that the party’s overarching emphasis must be income inequality.

Last week Sanders, asked about Ossoff by the Washington Post, said of the candidate, “He’s not a progressive.”

That sparked a social media uproar and reopened wounds for backers of Clinton, who said Sanders’ bid had wounded Clinton and that he did nor work hard enough to elect Clinton after Sanders bowed out.

Ossoff received over 48 percent of the vote in an April 18 special election in the 6th District, which has skewed markedly Republican for decades. He beat his closest Republican rival by 30 points and now faces a runoff on June 20.

Ossoff’s surprisingly strong showing is attributed to Trump’s low popularity in the district, even among Republicans. He has endeavored to strike a moderate tone to appeal to disaffected Republicans. Democrats are deeply invested in the district, hoping to strike a blow against Trump and create a momentum that would lead to congressional wins in 2018.

Sanders is the first Jewish candidate to win major-party primary contests. Ossoff also is Jewish.

Trump proclaims week of Holocaust remembrance

Mon, 2017-04-24 21:20

President Donald Trump delivering a statement on Syria from his Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Fla., April 6, 2017. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

(JTA) — President Donald Trump described how “six million Jews had been brutally slaughtered,” in a proclamation marking the week-long Days of Remembrance of Victims of the Holocaust.

The White House released the declaration Monday, Holocaust Remembrance Day, ahead of Trump’s planned speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Trump’s statement condemned the Nazi murder of 6 million Jews as well as other minorities.

“The Holocaust was the state-sponsored, systematic persecution and attempted annihilation of European Jewry by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. By the end of World War II, six million Jews had been brutally slaughtered,” read the statement, adding that other targeted groups included “Roma (Gypsies), persons with mental and physical disabilities, Soviet prisoners of war, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Slavs and other peoples of Europe, gays, and political opponents.”

The statement, as well as a pre-recorded speech given by Trump to the World Jewish Congress on Sunday, marked an evolution in his rhetoric from just three months ago, when his administration’s remembrance of the Holocaust failed to mention Jews and he seemingly appeared reluctant at first to condemn anti-Semitism.

The Monday statement reiterated U.S. support for Israel.

“We support the Jewish diaspora and the State of Israel as we fulfill our duty to remember the victims, honor their memory and their lives, and celebrate humanity’s victory over tyranny and evil,” the statement said.

Trump’s proclamation also commemorated the U.S and Allied forces’ liberation of Nazi concentration camps.

“During this week in 1945, American and Allied forces liberated the concentration camp at Dachau and other Nazi death camps, laying bare to the world the unconscionable horror of the Holocaust. We must remain vigilant against hateful ideologies and indifference,” his statement said. “Every generation must learn and apply the lessons of the Holocaust so that such horror, atrocity, and genocide never again occur.”

On Tuesday, Trump will deliver public remarks as part of the museum’s annual Days of Remembrance ceremony — a day after Holocaust Memorial Day is observed in Israel — in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.

Every president since the museum opened in 1993 has participated in Days of Remembrance events, which were first held in 1979 and later established by Congress as the nation’s commemoration of the Holocaust.

Also Monday, the U.S. National Archives announced that the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York, was formally establishing the Henry Morgenthau Jr. Holocaust Collection, a tool to help find Holocaust-related records held by the library.

Larry David is upset that his hard work made Steve Bannon rich — but did it?

Mon, 2017-04-24 21:17

Steve Bannon attending a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House where Neil Gorsuch was administered the judicial oath, April 10, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

(JTA) — The New Yorker’s Connie Bruck has written perhaps the deepest dive into what forces shaped Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s top strategic adviser.

We already know lots about Bannon: He helmed Breitbart News before he joined Trump’s campaign last year, and he called the outlet a platform for the “alt-right,” the loose assemblage of hypernationalists that includes white supremacists and anti-Semites, but also fierce defenders of Israel and Jews. Bannon launched Breitbart Jerusalem as a means of correcting what he perceived as anti-Israel media bias.

A former wife accused him of anti-Semitism; he has denied it. He was in the U.S. Navy, a Goldman Sachs banker, then a Hollywood broker, and then a producer of conservative documentaries.

Exploring his Hollywood years, Bruck details a litany of deals gone wrong. There are plenty of nuggets in the piece of Jewish interest. Here are four:

Larry David doesn’t like the ‘Seinfeld’ story – but is it all a George Costanza-style con by Bannon?

Bruck addressed one of the most media-beloved elements of Bannon’s rise: that he made a fortune off of negotiating a syndication deal for “Seinfeld.” In 1992, Bruck reports, Westinghouse hired Bannon’s private-equity fund to sell its small stake in Castle Rock Entertainment, the TV production company that owned the “Seinfeld” reruns. An assessment last year in Forbes said that if Bannon had a one percent stake in syndication, he would have made upwards of $30 million.

Larry David, the co-creator of the comedy starring his friend, Jerry Seinfeld, and the model for Seinfeld’s neurotic buddy George, was unhappy with the association.

“I don’t think I ever heard of him until he surfaced with the Trump campaign and I had no idea that he was profiting from the work of industrious Jews!” he told Bruck. Rob Reiner, who helped found Castle Rock,  was “sick” because of the association.But is Bannon really making money off the show? In a 2015 interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, Bannon said he made five times as much as he expected on the deal involving Westinghouse’s sale of its stake in the show. He claimed to have deferred part of his fee for an ownership stake. He did not say what his stake was.

But here’s the thing: It’s not clear what Bannon’s stake – if any – was. Payouts to Bannon do not appear in available records, Bruck reported, although she noted that the first months of syndication are not available, and he might have been capped and paid out before records were available.

Bruck reviewed Bannon’s extensive divorce papers and found this:

In April, 1997, he submitted an “income and expense declaration,” indicating that his annual salary was roughly five hundred thousand dollars, and that his total assets were around $1.1 million. Any profit participations from “Seinfeld” should have shown up at that time. Either they were not substantial or Bannon failed to disclose them in a sworn statement.

(In 2005 papers related to the divorce Bruck also uncovered this: “He left blank the space for his salary, and reported $967,465 in stocks, bonds, and other assets, and $41,401,067 in other property. The figure is inexplicable, and inconsistent with his other publicly available filings.”)

Why would Bannon boast about a deal that does not appear to have brought him much in the way of return? It’s not the only such anomaly Bruck uncovered. Bannon recently claimed in an interview with the Washington Post to have driven up the price Seagram — then headed by Edgar Bronfman Jr. — paid for PolyGram by bringing in a Saudi prince as a bidder. He said he got “a big fee” for his efforts. But folks involved in the deal told Bruck they could not recall Bannon’s involvement in the deal or any bid from a Saudi prince.

Bannon found the Jewish common denominator.

Bruck found a telling line in one of Bannon’s first documentaries cast in a conservative slant, “In the Face of Evil.” The movie, which chronicles the rise of President Ronald Reagan, acknowledges that Reagan as an actor was never a major Hollywood draw. Why? Because Jewish executives made it so. But wait: It’s not like Bannon is blaming these powerful Jews. It’s more like he’s admiring them.

Studios, in an “unforgiving calculus,” found Reagan wanting, the film says. These “Jewish entrepreneurs,” the film explains, “differed in taste and style, yet shared two common elements: ruthlessness and uncompromising patriotism.”

There’s Goldman Sachs, and there’s also Goldman Sachs

We’ve noted before how Trump, during his campaign, repeatedly trashed Goldman Sachs bankers, and then proceeded to hire some of their top alumni for senior advisory positions.

Bannon also shares an animus toward Goldman Sachs, but is himself an alumnus. Bruck found a rare – perhaps the only – instance of someone asking him to explain the anomaly:

In October, 2010, he appeared on “Political Vindication,” a right-wing radio show in Los Angeles. One of the hosts said that Bannon had been “evil” while he worked at Goldman Sachs. He replied equably, saying, “It was a private partnership then, and a firm of the highest ethical standards,” but it had changed when it went public. He did not mention that since it went public, in 1999, he had made every effort to do business with Goldman.

More corroborating evidence for Bannon’s alleged issue with school-age Jews

Bannon’s ex-wife has said in post-divorce papers that Bannon objected to certain schools for their twin girls because he didn’t want them consorting with Jewish students. “He said he doesn’t like Jews and that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats,’” Mary Louise Piccard said in a 2007 filing, referring to The Archer School for Girls.

She also reported that he asked another school director, at the Westland School, why there were “so many Hanukkah books in the library.”

Bannon has vigorously denied the claims. New York Magazine, in November, confirmed the “Hannukah books” incident with the Westland director, but she told the magazine she understood Bannon simply to be curious because the school was secular, and she did not detect an animus toward Jews.

Bruck uncovered an email between Piccard and Bannon in which she directly raises with him his alleged objection to the percentage of Jewish girls at Archer.

“As for the % of Jewish girls at Archer I have no idea what it is nor do I understand why that is such a concern for you,” she wrote in 2007. “I certainly have not been raising the girls to be prejudice[d] against Jews or anyone else for that matter.”

Bannon’s spokesperson told the New Yorker that he was not an anti-Semite, and noted that he paid the girls’ tuition at Archer.

Trump reportedly picks businessman Howard Lorber to head Holocaust Memorial Council

Mon, 2017-04-24 21:09

Howard Lorber, president of the Vector Group, speaking at a ceremony in New York City, April 14, 2016. (Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images for 160 Leroy)

(JTA) — President Donald Trump reportedly is tapping Howard Lorber, a businessman and longtime friend, to serve as chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council’s governing board.

Lorber, the president and CEO of the Vector Group, a New York holding company, and chairman of the real estate giant Douglas Elliman, arranged for Trump to serve as grand marshal of New York’s Salute to Israel Parade in 2004, according to Politico. The 68-year-old Jewish businessman served as an economic adviser on Trump’s presidential campaign, The Washington Post reported.

Congress established the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council in 1980 to commemorate the Holocaust and raise money for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

The museum’s governing board has 68 members, including presidential appointees, who serve five-year terms, along with senators and representatives and members of the education, interior and state departments.

On Tuesday, Trump will deliver public remarks as part of the museum’s annual Days of Remembrance ceremony — a day after Holocaust Memorial Day is observed in Israel — in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.

Every president since the museum opened in 1993 has participated in Days of Remembrance events, which were first held in 1979 and later established by Congress as the nation’s commemoration of the Holocaust. They will be observed this year April 23-29.

These American immigrants are winning back millions for victims of massive fraud in Israel

Mon, 2017-04-24 20:52

Austin Smith, a co-founder of Wealth Recovery International, speaking at its office in Tel Aviv, Feb. 22, 2017. (Andrew Tobin)

TEL AVIV (JTA) — They were part of the problem. Now they are spearheading a solution.

A Tel Aviv-based startup run by young American Jewish immigrants to Israel, or olim, has taken on the largely fraudulent binary options industry centered in this country that has been estimated to generate as much as $10 billion a year. Owned and staffed in part by former binary options employees, Wealth Recovery International has used its insider knowledge to its advantage.

“Because I worked in the industry, I understand how these companies operate,” Wealth Recovery’s co-founder Austin Smith, 33, who calls himself a one-time fraudster, said in an interview at the company’s office. “I feel a responsibility to go ahead and help people.”

In the absence of serious action against binary options fraud by Israel authorities, Wealth Recovery has helped a couple dozen alleged victims of the industry reclaim a total of more than $4 million. The company has grown rapidly since it was founded in early 2016, in some cases by helping victims of its own employees.

The binary options industry has emerged in Israel over the past decade. According to The Times of Israel, which has been investigating the industry for nearly a year, more than 100 Israel-based companies have defrauded hundreds of thousands of people worldwide of billions of dollars – and been blamed for at least one suicide.

Binary options websites have allowed clients to place short-term bets on whether a commodity will increase or decrease in value. In most cases, though, the companies behind the websites have been suspected of rigging the game to take all or nearly all of their clients’ money. Posing as investment houses based in financial capitals like London, they have used aggressive sales tactics to maximize deposits and various ploys to avoid withdrawals. Their identities have been obscured by complex corporate structures that span multiple international jurisdictions, including tax havens.

Thousands of olim from the United States and around the world have played a role in helping the binary options companies target foreigners in their native languages. Former employees of several of the companies said more than half their co-workers were olim, and most of them were Americans. Money has been a major draw, with the olim often earning several times what they could otherwise hope to in Tel Aviv, one of the most expensive cities in the world.

“David Roth,” a 24-year-old from Southern California, asked to go by the pseudonym he has used as a Wealth Recovery salesman to protect himself from retaliation by binary options companies. After making aliyah several years ago and serving as a combat soldier in the Israeli army, he worked briefly at a fast food restaurant in Tel Aviv, making about $1,000 a month before finding work in binary options. In a good month as a salesman, Roth brought in more than $30,000, mostly on commission.

“It’s a hard country, and I’m here alone. I was trying to build myself something to fall back on,” he said. “Working my ass off at a burger place for 4-5,000 shekels a month max wasn’t getting me anywhere. The problem is that working in binary made me a terrible person, and it eventually broke me.”

Former binary options employees have described the industry’s culture as depraved. Trained to lie and apply maximum pressure, salespeople have worked late into the night to hard-sell clients in foreign time zones. Managers have encouraged them to have no mercy, whether the target was a pensioner or a cancer patient.

At the central Tel Aviv office of Numaris Communication, a one-time provider of sales and other services for the BinaryBook brand, Smith and another former employee described a vulgar and hard-partying culture straight out of “The Wolf of Wall Street.” After winning a big deposit, salespeople played the video of a song adapted from an episode of the animated TV comedy “South Park.” Together the office would sing the chorus: “And, it’s gone,” referring to the client’s deposit.

BinaryBook, which has faced legal action in Britain, did not respond to multiple interview requests. Wealth Recovery and the St. Louis-based Hamm Law Firm have begun preparing a class action lawsuit against another service provider for the brand, Ukom, on behalf of 120 American clients.

In February, weeks after law enforcement officials from North American and Europe held an emergency meeting on binary options fraud in the Hague, the FBI said it was investigating the industry around the world. The United States in 2013 had outlawed the marketing of binary options to its citizens, except on a handful of regulated exchanges.

Last spring, Israel allowed binary options companies to operate in the country as long as they refrained from targeting its citizens. In August, Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky urged the government to shutter the “repugnant, immoral” industry. And in October, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office called for a worldwide ban on its “unscrupulous” practices.

Earlier this year, the Knesset’s State Control Committee held two hearings on the government’s failure to deal with binary options fraud. Despite arguments by binary options advocates that entirely shutting down the industry could hurt Israel’s economy and encourage terrorism, the hearings resulted in draft legislation that would do just that.

Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and current deputy minister, called binary options a threat to the Jewish state’s international standing and urged olim to steer clear of the industry for their own sake and that of their adopted country. He said the Knesset should launch an investigation into the industry.

“The binary options scheme could be ruinous for Israel’s foreign relations,” he told JTA. “I would tell olim: Your moral standards and Israel’s interests should deter you from engaging in this type of activity. There’s enough work in other fields.”

Wealth Recovery has provided alternative employment for a small but growing number of American olim, most of them in their 20s and 30s. Smith and his two co-owners made aliyah, or immigrated to Israel, from the United States, as did most of the people who work for them. Nearly half the staff, including Smith and another co-founder, came from binary options companies. Others chose to work at Wealth Recovery rather than enter the industry.

Former binary options employees have been essential to Wealth Recovery’s success. Their fluency in English and familiarity with the scams have prepared them to pitch the company’s services. They have used some of the same marketing and sales tactics for Wealth Recovery as they did at their previous jobs, including going by pseudonyms. But they said the motive for that has changed from deceiving the client to hiding from the binary options industry, which has threatened those who cross it.

“I have nothing to hide from clients anymore. I’m helping them here,” Roth said. “But it’s really easy for people from binary to call us, and a lot of the managers of these companies are serious criminals. You don’t want to mess with them.”

Smith, whom clients have known as Mitch Williams, for the first time opened up about his company under his real name for this article as part of an effort to position himself as a public opponent of the binary options industry, which he said he hopes will offer him another kind of protection.

“I want to distinguish myself from all the fraud around me. I want people to know what they should look for in a legitimate recovery company,” he said. “Hopefully binary companies will think twice about coming after me once my name is in the newspaper.”

Smith has also begun investing more heavily in advertising and public outreach. He will speak at an anti-fraud conference in Miami later this month, and will sponsor minor league NASCAR driver Stephen Young during a series of races in August. Young gave Wealth Recovery a discounted rate because he was scammed by binary options companies in the past.

Former binary options employees, whom Smith said often require some “deprogramming” when he hires them, have also been an asset to Wealth Recovery when it comes to gathering information — the company’s stock in trade. Wealth Recovery has gathered intelligence by developing sources within the binary options industry and searching public records. Yet to have one of its cases tried in court, the company has relied on what Smith called a “shock and awe” approach to pressure more than $4 million in settlements.

“The key is to go after little people – the ones who are working the phones and actually taking the money,” he said, “They’ll freak out and pressure their bosses to settle, or they’ll turn against the company they work for.”

Israeli attorney Nimrod Assif, who has represented alleged victims of binary options fraud and advocated for immediate government action against the suspected perpetrators, said the recovery industry has fraudulent elements, though he could not comment on specific companies. Assif recommended victims come to experienced lawyers like him, who know how to build a court case using admissible and legally obtained information, but said that what is most important are results.

“This recovery industry is a bit problematic,” he said. “First, this is legal work and people need to be licensed lawyers in order to represent victims in this country. Second, I know for a fact that there are fraudsters also in this industry.

“I will say if you put aside ethical issues, the No. 1 priority is to get recovery for victims. So if companies are able to do that, it’s good.”

Last month, the U.S.-based Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the securities industry’s own watchdog group, issued a warning about what it called binary options follow-up schemes and “recovery scams.”

‘Is there anybody doing this?’

Raised in upstate New York by what he called “loving Reform Jewish parents,” Smith has long been drawn to fraud. He spent much of his 20s in South Florida running successful scams involving light bulbs, child actors and timeshares, as well as selling subprime mortgages, between stints in rehab for heroin addiction. He made aliyah in 2014 to study at the Orthodox Aish Hatorah yeshiva in Jerusalem, hoping religion would help him live a more virtuous life.

But after a couple months, Smith moved to Tel Aviv and found a job in binary options, gradually moving up in the industry and learning how it really operated.

Smith’s account of how he turned against the industry has become a kind of founding myth at Wealth Recovery. The tale goes that after reaching a breaking point at Numaris, the second of two binary options companies he worked for over the course of a year, in January 2016 he took a despairing road trip to northern Israel. On the way back from a visit to the gravesite of his favorite Jewish sage, Rabbi Moshe Haim Luzzatto, he picked up a haredi Orthodox hitchhiker and ended up celebrating havdalah, the ceremony that ends Shabbat, with him and his large, impoverished family.

At the end of the night, the hitchhiker blessed Smith, predicting he would do something unprecedented for the Jewish people. The experience had a profound effect, and when Smith arrived back in Tel Aviv that evening during a fierce windstorm, the idea for Wealth Recovery came to him with the slam of the gate of his apartment building.

“Like a ton of bricks, the idea hit me,” he recalled. “I thought: What happens if I get the money back for the people it was taken from? Is there anybody doing this?”

Days after his epiphanic trip, Smith quit Numaris, and in February 2016 he flew home to start Wealth Recovery in his parents’ basement. His first recruit was co-owner Lee Eller, 26, with whom he had worked at Numaris. Having for years bounced between binary options companies while pursuing a career as a musician in Israel, Eller had recently returned home after her mother sustained a brain aneurysm. Eller, a believer in astrology and the metaphysical power of thought, among other spiritual philosophies, blamed her binary options work for the illness.

“I believe I caused my mom to get sick,” she said. “My whole existence was people’s pain, so I brought a lot of pain into my life. I think you get more of what you ask for, and I was inadvertently asking for that.”

Smith and Eller’s big break came quickly in the form of Steve Koel, 52, a Northern Californian businessman whose BinaryBook account they had helped manage at Numaris starting in November 2015. Within weeks of Wealth Recovery’s founding, a source inside Numaris told them managers were about to close out Koel’s account, in which he had deposited nearly $1.5 million – the vast majority of his life savings.

Koel was separated from his money by a rotating cast of characters who posed as London-based brokers. He initially saw large returns, some of which were even paid out to him, but then his account managers began making seemingly senseless losing trades. Koel, a divorced father, said he missed warning signs that he was being defrauded, like the lack of documentation of his transactions, in part because he was intent on earning money to pay for treatment for his youngest son, who had recently been debilitated by a brain aneurysm.

“You have to understand, it was a perfect storm in my life. The climate around me was very sad, and the scammers fed on that,” he said. “To be honest, there was some greed on my part as well. But then things started to go awry.”

When Smith called in March 2016, Koel said, “I didn’t feel I had much choice but to say yes.”

Steve Koel: “The climate around me was very sad, and the scammers fed on that.” (Courtesy of Koel)

With the help of Haggai Carmon, an Israeli litigator and investigator who for decades worked for the U.S. Justice Department, Wealth Recovery pressured Ukom, based in the north-central Israeli city of Caesarea, into returning all of Koel’s money in April 2016. Carmon, also the author of best-selling espionage novels, took about 10 percent up front, and Wealth Recovery collected 20 percent on the backend, which has remained its standard rate.

Koel was overjoyed and still vouches for Wealth Recovery to potential clients.

“These guys were white knights, coming in with a plan, attorneys on board and an international network of information,” he said. “Mitch was a source of total therapy for me as I worked through this. Mitch is a great guy. Mitch can stay at my house any time.”

Asked about his impression of Israel, which he has never visited, given his experience, Koel said, “It’s not an Israeli or a Jewish thing, it’s a people thing. Plus, it was Jews who helped me in the end.”

Smith and Eller used the windfall from Koel’s case to pay off business loans and move back to Tel Aviv in July 2016. They brought aboard a third co-owner, Smith’s Orthodox Jewish cousin from California who asked not to be identified, and started hiring other employees. In March 2016, Wealth Recovery moved into its current office, and several months later teamed with a local firm, Birman Law, which moved into an adjoining office.

This month, Wealth Recovery and Birman Law took the case of a Hong Kong woman who “invested” about $10 million with a binary options brand called Options XO starting in February 2015. In one month last summer, the woman, who asked not to be identified, deposited $2.75 million through a wire service in near-daily installments of $125,000. Over a cycle of escalating losses, she said family and friends had lent her about $8 million in an effort to help her earn back her initial deposit.

“The cost is not just money. I lost my peace of mind. I’m very jumpy. My health has deteriorated,” she said. “The burden of having to repay my family is weighing on me every day.”

When her account tanked again last month, the woman said her supposed brokers began pressuring her to deposit even more money, but she had run out of resources. Now living off help from her family, she said, the woman began looking for lawyers to help her negotiate with Options XO. Only after Wealth Recovery showed her a presentation allegedly outlining Options XO’s business structure and exposing the identities of its employees did she understand that she had been victimized by an alleged scam, the woman said.

“My major downfall was I didn’t realize the people at Options XO were bad people and it was all fake,” she said. “It was hard to find someone who understands binary options. Lawyers would say just pay this amount and we’ll figure it out. Wealth Recovery and Birman Law understood my situation right away and were very responsive.”

Tomer Levi, the CEO of Toro Media —  the service provider for Options XO — answered a phone call from JTA and said, “I don’t know what is Options XO, and I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Then he hung up.

About an hour later, Levi’s lawyer called, but said he could not comment on Options XO because he does not represent the company. The attorney, Alon Mizrahi of the Tel Aviv firm FWMK, said he had been hired by Toro Media.

“Options XO is not our client,” he said. “Options XO is a broker in a different country, and we represent a different client. It’s a different legal entity.”

Mizrahi declined to answer whether Toro Media had a relationship with Options XO. But he said he suspected Wealth Recovery and Birman Law were part of a single group that was illicitly accessing information about binary options companies and using it to “threaten and slander” Toro Media and others. He asked to be emailed further questions so he could check on the answers, but did not respond when sent the email.

“They were not amateurish.”

Various opponents of the binary options industry agreed that Wealth Recovery is on the right side of the fight. Carmon said Smith and Eller introduced him to the industry when they worked together on Koel’s case.

“As former insiders, they knew how to explain it to me and provide me with pertinent information,” he said. “They were not amateurish. They gave me an introduction that lasted more than four months.”

In February, Israeli lawyers Carmon and Assif started StopScams.com to represent alleged victims of binary options fraud. Like Wealth Recovery, Carmon said the group targets individuals rather than companies, which can disappear, and thus far has settled out of court to get quick results for clients.

Yossy Haezrachy, a partner at the Friedman-Haezrachy law firm in Tel Aviv, said the investigative chops of companies like Wealth Recovery make them an asset both to victims of binary options fraud and to lawyers like him who represent such people. His law firm has filed several cases on behalf of alleged victims with Israeli courts, which Haezrachy said have never ruled on such a case, as far he he knows.

“These [recovery] companies are really a blessing,” he said. “Sure they take a cut like any business, but they give an address to victims who have nowhere else to turn and they dig up information that lawyers can’t.”

Haezrachy said his law firm has been the target of “vivid threats” and badmouthing by binary options companies, so he understands Wealth Recovery employees’ desire for anonymity. But echoing many others, he said only state action would ultimately shut down the industry.

“At the end of the day, the government is going to have to clean up this mess. And I’m sure it will,” he said. “Within two years, there won’t be any binary options companies in Israel.”

As someone with intimate knowledge of how fraud works, Smith said he sees things differently. He predicted binary options companies would survive by moving to different countries and industries, as they have already started doing in anticipation of a crackdown in Israel.

Wealth Recovery has made plans to follow them. Last week, Smith visited Cyprus to look into setting up an office there, and he has been building relationships with lawyers around the world. At the same time, Wealth Recovery has begun investigating alleged fraud in Israel’s multibillion-dollar diamond industry.

Israel signs deal for 6,000 Chinese workers — but they can’t work in settlements

Mon, 2017-04-24 18:42

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel signed a deal with China to bring in 6,000 construction workers after agreeing they would not work in West Bank settlements or eastern Jerusalem.

Israel’s housing minister, Yoav Galant, and the Chinese vice minister of commerce, Fu Ziying, signed the agreement on Sunday in Jerusalem. Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Sunday that the decision to exclude work in the settlements “is based on the concern for the safety and security of the workers” and not politics.

The agreement comes after several years of negotiations over allowing Chinese laborers to work in Israel, with talks stalling over the Chinese demand that the workers not work in the settlements, according to Haaretz.

Israel reportedly needs the laborers in order to provide more housing, thus lowering housing prices by increasing supply.

The agreement allows Israel to save face by saying the workers would only be allowed to work in areas agreed to by Israel and China from time to time, according to Haaretz.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a briefing to reporters in January, after a statement of principles on the pact was signed, that “China’s position on the Palestine-Israel issue is consistent, clear and unchanged. We oppose building Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem and West Bank.”

Americans for Peace Now cancels annual Israel trip over anti-boycott law

Mon, 2017-04-24 17:48

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Americans for Peace Now has canceled its annual trip to Israel over the country’s new anti-boycott law.

The law passed last month by the Israeli Knesset bars entry to foreigners who publicly call for boycotting the Jewish state or its settlements.

Americans for Peace Now is concerned that trip participants could be stopped at Ben Gurion International Airport and denied entry into Israel, Haaretz first reported this week, noting that the dovish group has been holding its Israel Study Tour for 30 years and this is the first time it was canceling.

Peace Now reportedly canceled the early June trip after failing to get assurances from the Israeli government that participants would be able to enter the country.

Haaretz said it obtained a copy of a letter sent Friday by the organization’s directors to prospective participants, which includes board members and donors.

It read in part: “We do not know yet whether we will reschedule this tour to another date this year or whether we’ll have to suspend our Israel Study Tour program indefinitely, until the law is either revoked, amended or applied in a way that does not impact APN, its staff members, board members and activists.”

The ban applies to any foreigner “who knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel that, given the content of the call and the circumstances in which it was issued, has a reasonable possibility of leading to the imposition of a boycott – if the issuer was aware of this possibility.” It includes those who urge boycotting areas under Israeli control, such as the West Bank settlements.

Lawmakers have asserted that the measure was meant to target groups, not individuals.

The study tour’s itinerary included meetings with Israeli and Palestinian politicians, security experts, civil society and peace activists, writers and artists.

A message of “Page not found” is seen when clicking on the Study Tour section of the group’s website.

 

John Oliver gives us the harshest Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner takedown yet

Mon, 2017-04-24 16:55

(JTA) — Much ink has been spilled on Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s experience, their effect on the president, even their personalities — but none of us actually know all that much about them.

Well, that’s John Oliver’s take on President Trump’s two key advisers at least. The comedian spent most of his HBO show “Last Week Tonight” on Sunday skewering the pair of Jewish West Wing insiders.

Ivanka, Oliver argues, may not be exerting as much influence on her father as liberals like to believe. In fact, we might not even know the truth about her views at all.

Jared, on the other hand, is in the midst of handling a portfolio of responsibilities (ranging from brokering Middle East peace to revamping the federal government) that Oliver says would be “unmanageable for the smartest man on earth.” And after a close look at his past, Oliver concludes that Jared may just not be the most intelligent person on the planet.

Watch the full clip, which was the number one trending video on YouTube on Monday morning, above.

Holocaust survivors praise end of Allianz sponsorship of golf tourney

Mon, 2017-04-24 16:40

Holocaust survivors praise end of Allianz sponsorship of golf tourney

(JTA) — Holocaust survivors praised the termination of Allianz’s sponsorship of an annual Florida golf tournament.

Survivors, who say the international insurance company still owes an estimated $2 billion in unpaid claims to them, have been protesting the annual PGA seniors tournament held in Boca Raton since 2011. Allianz has sponsored the tournament for the past 11 years.

Family members and supporters joined survivors at a news conference Monday on the front steps of the Boca Raton City Hall, coinciding with Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“It is a day to remember and pray for the victims of the Holocaust who perished — and to convey our determination not to forget their suffering and the hate that brought it about,” the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA said in a statement issued Monday. “The end of the Allianz sponsorship is a tremendous victory for survivors. We also believe it will be a springboard for long-overdue actions to respect our rights and needs.”

The foundation pointed to a perennial bipartisan bill in Congress that would allow Holocaust survivors to sue insurance companies in U.S. courts. The bill was most recently reintroduced in February.

Although the survivors and activists claimed victory, a tournament director told the Palm Beach Post on Thursday that Allianz “chose not to renew” its contract but did not say why it pulled out. A spokeswoman for Boca Raton said city administrators and elected officials “did not terminate a relationship with Allianz.”

Still, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., called the decision to end Allianz’s sponsorship of the tournament “welcome but long overdue news,” in a statement issued Monday. Ros-Lehtinen has been a co-sponsor of the legislation to allow survivors to sue the insurance company in U.S. courts.

“Today will mark the beginning of a renewed effort for all of the next steps the survivors need — we can no longer sit idly by and allow these survivors to continue to be victimized and denied their day in court,” she said.

Holocaust survivors have previously attempted to sue Allianz in an effort to reclaim insurance payments on thousands of life insurance policies that the company sold to Jews in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s. Survivors who attempted to file claims with Allianz after World War II were refused due to a lack of documentation, including death certificates.

“As Holocaust survivor leaders who have long advocated for the rights, interests, and needs of survivors throughout the U.S. and the world, we applaud this important step,” the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA said in its statement. “For the past seven years, Holocaust survivors, our families, and community supporters protested at the site of the tournament, citing Allianz’s long-standing refusal to honor tens of thousands of insurance policies it sold to Jewish Holocaust victims — valued today at more than $2.5 billion. That sum represents less than three months’ operating profit for Allianz.”

Allianz has acknowledged its connections to the Third Reich and vowed to resolve any unclaimed settlements. As part of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, the company paid more than $306 million to some 48,000 claimants by 2006, but survivors say the insurance group still owes more money from insurance policies purchased by Eastern European Jews during the Holocaust.

Lawmakers from 20 states pledge to mandate Holocaust education

Mon, 2017-04-24 16:32

(JTA) — Some 26 legislators representing 20 states have committed to introduce legislation that would require public schools to teach about the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide and other genocides.

The states are among the 42 in the United States that do not already require education on genocide awareness and prevention, the New York-based Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect said in announcing that it had obtained the commitments as part of its 50 State Genocide Education Project to mandate genocide education in public schools across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The center made the announcement on Monday, observed this year both as Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, and Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.

It asked the state legislators to sign a pledge to introduce legislation that would require genocide education, or in some cases to strengthen a state’s existing requirement through a commission or task force. The 26 legislators have signed the pledge, the center said in a statement.

The 20 states are Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington.

Three states — Florida, Illinois and New Jersey — require genocide education from grades K-12, and have a state commission or task force to keep genocide education comprehensive and up to date. California and Michigan require genocide education from grades 7 or 8 through 12, and have a state commission or task force. Indiana, New York and Rhode Island mandate genocide education from grades 7 or 8 through 12 but do not have a commission or task force.

“Our goal is to teach that genocide is not just somebody else’s story,” said state Rep. Jeffrey Roy, D-Mass., who has proposed legislation on genocide education. “Genocide is not simply about killing people, but also about destroying humanity. By including genocide in the curriculum, we will give students a better understanding of the human condition and increase efforts worldwide for preventing further genocides.”

World Jewish Congress elects Argentine businessman to lead Latin American branch

Mon, 2017-04-24 15:49

(JTA) — The World Jewish Congress elected Argentine businessman Adrian Werthein as president of its Latin American branch, the Latin American Jewish Congress.

Werthein was elected Sunday at the WJC’s Plenary Assembly in New York City to succeed Jack Terpins, who has led the organization since 2001 and became its first honorary president. He is the first Argentine to head the Latin American Jewish Congress in 20 years; he served as an adviser to Terpins.

The umbrella group, which represents 21 Jewish communities, has its headquarters in Buenos Aires. Its last Argentine president was Ruben Beraja in 1998. Argentina .

President Mauricio Macri of Argentina, which has the largest Jewish population in Latin America, sent Werthein a letter of congratulations, calling his election an “excellent opportunity to strength the ties between Argentina and international Jewish organizations.”

El Presidente @mauriciomacri felicitó a través de una carta a @AdrianWerthein, Presidente electo del Congreso Judío Latinoamericano. pic.twitter.com/Nl8Zri6eBO

— Congreso Judío Latam (@CongresoJudio) April 23, 2017

Werthein, 65, is a member of a large family with a long history of involvement in business and social activities. The family is involved in supporting Jewish charitable organizations, including Tzedaka and ORT Argentina. He is a former president of the Israel-Argentina Chamber of Commerce and has been a member of the University of Tel Aviv’s board of governors since 1977.

He announced his appointment in a Twitter post.

Werthein led the $4 billion debt restructuring process of Telecom and currently serves as a board member of the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange.

The family business started in 1904 by an immigrant that arrived from Bessarabia with a little store in the country called “The Hebrew.” Today, the Werthein Group has interests in agriculture and livestock, mass consumption, telecommunications, real estate, financial services, wineries and energy, among other areas.

Here’s why Marine Le Pen is confident she will be France’s next president

Mon, 2017-04-24 15:09

Emmanuel Macron speaking in Paris after advancing to the final round of France’s presidential election, April 23, 2017. (Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Supporters of Emmanuel Macron were not alone in cheering his victory Sunday in the first round of France’s presidential elections.

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who finished second in the voting, saw it as excellent news. The two will face off in the final round next month after the centrist Macron won 23 percent of the vote, 2 points ahead of Le Pen.

She has called Macron her “ideal” adversary — Macron is relatively inexperienced and without the infrastructure of an established party, and despite running as an independent is nonetheless widely seen as a continuity candidate of the deeply unpopular government of President Francois Hollande.

“A runoff between a patriot such as myself and a caricature of a diehard globalist like him is ideal,” Le Pen, the leader of the Eurosceptic and anti-establishment National Front party, told the AFP news agency on Jan. 17. “It’s a gift.“

To be sure, the sharp-tongued and gravel-voiced Le Pen has also spoken dismissively of other candidates.

But when it comes to Macron, she is not alone in assessing his perceived weaknesses as a candidate. Nor is she alone in believing  that her anti-Muslim party, with its rich record of anti-Semitism, raw nationalism and xenophobia, is closer to the presidency than at any point in its history.

Macron, 39, a youthful-looking former banker who has never held elected office, has generated a huge following among professionals in France’s more affluent cities and regions. A supporter of corporate tax cuts and competitiveness in the job market, he has appealed to voters with a cosmopolitan worldview. He backs the European Union and promotes tolerance toward minorities while acting against radicalization.

But these very characteristics, as well as Macron’s image as an aloof wunderkind who owes his success to a corrupt establishment, make him deeply unpopular to a class, largely low-income, that feels disenfranchised by immigration, globalization and the European Union. Politically this is a perilous position, as witnessed in the 2016 vote in Britain to leave the European bloc and Donald Trump’s election in the United States.

Conservative writer Guy Millière is a Trump supporter who opposes Le Pen, but says Macron is an “inflatable doll” who, if elected, will guarantee “five more years of Hollande” and a continuation of the rule of a “clique that knows nothing about the difficulties of ordinary Frenchmen,” he wrote Monday on the rightist news site Dreuz. “He’s a candidate made up by billionaires.”

Macron’s supporters say that although he served two years as a Cabinet minister under Hollande, a Socialist, Macron is in fact an outsider to the political establishment and the only candidate who stands a chance to transcend bipartisan divisions in a deeply polarized society. Macron also was inspector of finances in the French Ministry of Economy under Jaques Chirac, a center-right president.

Yet that, too, could be an Achilles heel in a country where no independent candidate has won a presidential election since the 1970s.

Relatively inexperienced in politics and lacking the support of established party mechanisms, Macron is now up against one of France’s shrewdest and most seasoned politicians in Le Pen, a career lawmaker who heads one of her country’s most dynamic and hierarchical parties, and whose life partner and father both have devoted their adult lives to politics.

Le Pen’s family legacy, however, may play in Macron’s favor.

The daughter of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, a Holocaust denier and open anti-Semite who she succeeded as party leader in 2011, she and her party are widely regarded as extremist and borderline neo-fascist despite her efforts to rehabilitate its image.

Francis Kalifat, the president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, has called Le Pen “a candidate of hate.” On Sunday, he called on voters to vote for Macron in the second round, just to keep Le Pen out of power.

Known in France as a “republican front,” such mobilizations, in which voters set aside their differences and vote for the candidate likeliest to keep National Front out of power, have cost the party many elections. In 2002, the only time National Front participated in the second round of a presidential elections, the republican front resulted in Chirac beating Jean-Marie Le Pen with 82 percent of the vote.

Since then, Marine Le Pen has kicked out of the party dozens of members who were caught making anti-Semitic statements – including her father in 2015 after he said a Jewish singer should be put “in an oven.”

But in a remark that critics said echoed her father’s revisionism, she earlier this month said France was not responsible for how its police rounded up Jewish Holocaust victims for the Nazis.

Marine Le Pen has also vowed to outlaw the wearing of the kippah in public, explaining she does not regard it as a threat but will ban it nonetheless to facilitate imposing similar limitations on headgear worn by Muslims, whom she flagged as a “threat to French culture.”

Kalifat said she was a “threat to French democracy” and Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, wrote in a statement Monday that the younger Le Pen is “no less dangerous than her Holocaust-denying father.”

Many in the French political establishment concur, and most of the losing candidates in Sunday’s voting urged their supporters to vote for Macron. On Sunday, both Benoit Hamon of the Socialist Party and Francois Fillon of The Republicans of former President Nicolas Sarkozy urged a united front against Le Pen.

But this year, that front has at least one major gap: Jean-Luc Melenchon, the communist candidate, who is also a Eurosceptic, did not call on his supporters to vote for Macron, whose economic and foreign policies are diametrically opposed to Melenchon’s.

Meanwhile, Le Pen is already attacking Macron on points that resonate with many of her voters. In a speech she made to supporters following the first round, she called Macron “Hollande’s extension,” saying he was guaranteed to continue the president’s policy of “mass immigration.” In Macron’s world, she added, “the rich man reigns.”

In light of the challenges facing Macron, even some of his ardent supporters spoke openly of their concern ahead of the final round.

“I don’t consider today as a victory,” Michael Amsellem, one of Macron’s many Jewish supporters, wrote on Facebook. “Having Le Pen in the second round is a tragedy.”

Citing the abstention of Melenchon and his supporters from the republican front, as well as polarization between “protectionists and internationalists, “we are in a major danger zone from Le Pen,” Amsellem wrote.

“The French people are full of surprises,” he added. “This is not going to be so simple.”

What the North Korea crisis tells us about the Iran nuclear deal

Mon, 2017-04-24 14:59

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaking about Iran and North Korea at the State Department in Washington, D.C., April 19, 2017. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) – The Trump administration last week endorsed a narrative long promoted by critics of the Iran nuclear deal: It’s North Korea all over again.

“An unchecked Iran has the potential to travel the same path as North Korea, and take the world along with it,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday at a press availability. He was explaining why President Donald Trump had ordered a review of the Iran nuclear deal reached by his predecessor, Barack Obama.

“The United States is keen to avoid a second piece of evidence that strategic patience is a failed approach,” Tillerson said.

“Strategic patience” is a rubbery term that critics have applied loosely to presidents – Republican and Democratic – who do not strike back swiftly at evidence of nascent rogue weapons-of-mass-destruction programs, instead preferring diplomatic and economic pressure.

It has been applied to North Korea and the policy first instituted by the Clinton administration in 1994, when it signed the Agreed Framework with that country, but also to how President George W. Bush attempted to renegotiate a North Korea deal in the mid-2000s, and to the chemical weapons removal pact Obama negotiated with Russia and Syria in 2013.

The North Korea framework collapsed in the early 2000s, during the Bush administration, and in 2006, North Korea tested a nuclear device. Syria’s apparent use of sarin gas in an attack earlier this month that killed 89 civilians in rebel-held territory suggested that the 2013 removal of chemical weapons was not fully implemented.

Tillerson’s implication: Without a thorough review of the nuclear deal, Iran could also one day surprise the world with a nuclear test.

Is he right? It’s obviously too soon to say. But here are some ways the Iran deal is similar to its failed North Korea predecessor – and ways it is different.

Sanctions relief

In both the North Korea and Iran cases, some sanctions relief was up front – critics say that was a recipe for failure. With North Korea, the United States agreed to deliver 500,000 tons of oil to the cash-starved nation. (There were other goodies, but these were attached to progress in the dismantling of its nuclear capacity.)

In the Iran deal, the U.S. agreed to unfreeze American-based Iranian assets held since the 1978 revolution, amounting to $400 million, and to lift secondary sanctions targeting businesses in other countries that deal with Iran. (Bans on U.S. business with Iran mostly remain in place.)

It’s not clear yet what benefit Iran accrues from the lifting of the secondary sanctions – estimates vary wildly between $40 billion and $150 billion.

In addition, non-nuclear sanctions – relating to Iran’s backing for terrorism and its human rights abuses – remain in place.

“Tillerson is reflecting concerns that the Iran deal has many of the same inherent flaws as the Agreed Framework and may end up in the same scenario,” said Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the preeminent think tank opposing the Iran deal.

Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, which backed the Iran deal, said that unlike in the North Korea deal, the Iran agreement has “snap-back” provisions that allow the United States to reimpose the sanctions should Iran ever be in violation.

Critics of the Iran deal counter that while the United States may snap back the sanctions, many other nations that were part of the alliance that imposed international sanctions on Iran in 2011 would not. Deal defenders say the prospect of the United States reimposing sanctions on Iran, even if it does so alone, is enough to keep Iran from breaking the agreement.

Inspections

The North Korea deal required the dismantling of three nuclear reactors, one completed and two under construction.

The Iran pact requires 24/7 access to known enrichment facilities and allows inspectors to demand access – albeit with a waiting period of 24 days – at any other facility they suspect of nuclear weapons activity. Tillerson on the day he announced the review of the deal also affirmed that Iran was in compliance.

The North Korea agreement referred only in vague terms to inspections beyond the three facilities and did not explicitly count out weapons-enriched uranium, although its ban was certainly implied in the endgame — a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. (The reactors that were shut down enriched plutonium.) The North Koreans fiercely resisted inspections beyond the three facilities.

The difficulty is not in detecting whether a nation is violating the agreement – intelligence agencies and satellite surveillance have been proficient at tracking down violations. It was North Korea’s attempt to secretly enrich uranium in the early 2000s that precipitated the collapse of the deal, and the Obama administration exposed the existence of a secret uranium enrichment plant in Fordow, Iran, in 2009 based on intelligence reports.

Instead, problems could occur in attempts to inspect sites where inspectors do not have easy access.

Dubowitz said the provision allowing inspectors to demand access to suspected sites may be unenforceable: Hard-liners in the Iranian leadership have said repeatedly that access to military sites would be a no-go.

“It’s the covert sites that are the big problem,” he said. “If you’re not getting into the military sites, the deal is deeply flawed.”

Heather Hurlburt, the director of New Models of Policy Change at New America, a think tank that backed the Iran deal, said the inspections regime is much more intrusive in the Iranian case.

“It’s like comparing the security check at a Manhattan office tower with the security check at Ben Gurion,” she said, referencing the Israeli airport known for its stringent measures.

Neighbors

Iran is a diverse nation with an ancient tradition of multilateral ties with its neighbors. North Korea is a secretive Stalinist regime and has just one significant relationship – with China.

Kimball said the world powers that negotiated the Iran deal granted Iran considerable leverage: Iran does not have the self-contained system that allows Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, to retain power even as his people starve. In order to survive, he suggested, the regime must allow Iranians to trade and thrive.

“The Iranians highly, highly value the removal of nuclear sanctions and access to oil markets,” Kimball said. “There was no similar incentive for North Koreans.”

Iranians “deeply fear” losing access to the outside world, he said.

“As time goes on they will be more accustomed to this liberal environment of trade and investment,” Kimball said, “and that will make it more appealing to them to continue to comply.”

Dubowitz said it was Iran’s ambitions in the region that made it more dangerous, adding that Kim was unlikely to strike unless he felt his regime was threatened. The Iranians, Dubowitz argued, could one day use nuclear leverage to support their expansionist claims in the Middle East, including in Syria, where they are backing the Assad regime in quelling the rebellion, in Yemen, in the Persian Gulf – and against Israel.

“North Korea is an isolationist pariah nation with a Stalinist ideology that appeals to no one,” he said. “Iran sees itself as guardian of the Islamic world.”

Deadlines

The goal of the Framework Agreement was a “nuclear-free Korean peninsula” – no nukes, period. North Korea was to be allowed to get light-water reactors, which are proliferation resistant.

Iran, beginning eight years after the 2015 agreement, will be allowed in increments to reactivate centrifuges that could conceivably enrich uranium to weapons grade.

That has been a key concern of critics of the Iran deal, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“The JCPOA fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran,” Tillerson said in his press availability. “It only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state.”

Kimball sounded exasperated at what has become a common misperception.

“The deal obliges Iran to never pursue nuclear weapons in the future,” he said.

While it is true that the agreement allows Iran to enhance its enrichment capabilities over time, and decreases the breadth of the inspections regime, Iran remains a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As part of the deal, it signed on again to the “additional protocol” that allows International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors expanded access to sites in perpetuity. (Iran had previously shucked off the additional protocol.) The protocol has no sunset clauses.

Why can’t we be friends?

It wasn’t just bad actions by North Korea that killed the deal – it was bad faith and distrust on all sides. President Bill Clinton signed the deal in 1994, but by the time of implementation, an adversarial Republican Congress was in place and frustrated the deliveries of promised heating oil.

In both the North Korea and the Iran cases, missile development has been an obstructing factor. Neither deal touched ballistic missiles, but testing the devices, capable of delivering a nuclear weapon, has exacerbated tensions.

The United States in the late 1990s began to sanction North Korea for its ballistic missile tests, but North Korea defiantly kept testing them and said the sanctions were eroding the framework agreement.

A similar scenario is playing out now. The Obama administration last year and the Trump administration this year issued new sanctions following Iranian missile tests; Iran has said it sees the sanctions as undermining the agreement.

Trump made clear he sees the missile tests as the problem, saying this week of Iran that “they are not living up to the spirit of the agreement.”

Anti-Semitic, racist fliers found on Princeton campus

Mon, 2017-04-24 13:26

(JTA) — Fliers with anti-Semitic, racist and anti-immigrant messages were posted on the campus of Princeton University.

The fliers were discovered in at least four areas of the campus on Thursday, the Daily Princetonian student newspaper reported, including on the door to the main entrance of the campus Center for Jewish Life.

The person posting the fliers was wearing dark clothing and a ski mask, the Daily Princetonian reported.

The fliers were from a white nationalist organization called Vanguard America, which bills itself as a group for “White Nationalist American youth working to secure the existence of their people.”

Among the charges made on the flier: “Jews are 10% of Princeton’s students, an overrepresentation of 500%,” and 80 percent of the first Soviet government was Jewish.”

The flier also was posted on the group’s Twitter feed on Thursday, the anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s birthday.

Hate Facts With Hitler#Happy420#VanguardAmerica pic.twitter.com/E0NAw54xXE

— Vanguard America (@TrueAmVanguard) April 20, 2017

The fliers were removed after a complaint was called in to the university.

The campus Public Safety is investigating the fliers as a bias incident.

In an email to the campus community, Michele Minter, vice provost for institutional equity and diversity, said: “Princeton is committed to protecting and promoting free expression, but it regards actions that are threatening  or harassing based on identity as serious offenses. These flyers were contrary to the values of the university, which seeks to create and maintain an environment free from discrimination and harassment.”

Teen arrested for JCC bomb threats charged in Israel with thousands of offenses

Mon, 2017-04-24 12:42

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Israeli-American teen accused of making threats against Jewish community centers throughout the United States was charged in a Tel Aviv court.

The teen from Ashkelon in southern Israel, who was arrested in Israel last month in a joint operation with the FBI, was charged Monday in district court in Tel Aviv with thousands of counts of offenses including extortion, publishing false information, causing panic, computer hacking and money laundering.

According to the indictment, the teen, who has dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship, cannot be named in reports originating from Israel, made threats to 2,000 different institutions around the world, including the Israeli embassy in Washington and other Israeli diplomatic missions, schools, malls, police stations, hospitals and airlines.

Threats to three different airlines, including Israel’s national carrier El Al, led to planes making emergency landings, dumping fuel, and requiring military escorts, according to the indictment.

He is also charged with threatening Republican Delaware State Senator Ernesto Lopez, for publicly criticizing the person who made the threatening calls to Jewish institutions, including sending illicit drugs to the lawmakers house and threatening to publish photographs and call the authorities to arrest him for possession. He also is charged with harassing a former Pentagon official, George Little, including threatening to kidnap and kill his children.

Other charges include buying drugs, running an online hacking and document forging service, buying and selling weapons online, and possession of child pornography, as well as assault of an Israeli police officer who came to arrest him, according to the Times of Israel.

Israel’s State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan is opposed to allowing the extradition to the United States of the suspect, Haaretz reported Monday, echoing a report from Sunday on Israel’s Channel 2 that said Israel has rejected a U.S. Justice Department request to extradite the teen.  A formal extradition request has not been filed, according to Haaretz, but in informal negotiations Israeli justice officials have said they want to put the teen on trial in Israel.

The U.S. Justice Department said Friday it was charging the teen with 28 counts of making threatening calls to JCCs in Florida, conveying false information to the police and cyberstalking.

The teen’s parents and attorney have said he has a benign brain tumor that affects his behavior, as well as a very low I.Q.

 

Palestinian woman 41, who stabbed soldier had a death wish

Mon, 2017-04-24 11:30

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A Palestinian woman who stabbed a female soldier at a West Bank checkpoint told investigators that she committed the attack because she wanted Israeli security forces to kill her.

The woman, identified by the Shin Bet security service as Asia Kabaneh, 41, from Duma in the Nablus area, approached a female security officer early Monday morning at the Qalandiya checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah and told her she wanted to ask a question. The woman then pulled out a knife and stabbed the soldier in the shoulder.

Other security personnel at the checkpoint disarmed the Palestinian assailant and wrestled her to the ground, according to reports.

The Shin Bet, also known as the Israel Security Agency, said in a statement issued later Monday that the Palestinian woman told investigators that she is the married mother of nine children and that she and her husband had been experiencing marital trouble. She told Shin Bet investigators that she quarreled on Sunday night with her husband over their children’s’ education and that he threatened to divorce her.

She told the Shin Bet investigators that she “decided to commit a terrorist attack so that the security forces would shoot her because – in her words – she was fed up with her life,” according to the statement.

The stabbed female soldier was slightly injured, and taken to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem for treatment.

The Palestinian stabber on the Jerusalem light rail Jamil Tamimi, 57, who last week killed British exchange student Hannah Bladon told investigators that he chose his victim based on the fact that she was standing next to a soldier who was carrying a rifle, and he wanted to commit suicide by having the soldier shoot him.

 

 

Anti-Semitic incidents rise in US by more than 1/3 in 2016, surge in first quarter of 2017

Mon, 2017-04-24 04:05

Vandalized gravestones at the Stone Road or Waad Hakolel Cemetery in Rochester, New York, March 3, 2017. (Gretchen Stumme/AFP/Getty Images)

(JTA) – Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States rose by more than one-third in 2016 and shot up 86 percent in the first three months of 2017, the Anti-Defamation League reported.

There has been a massive increase in harassment of American Jews, largely since November, and at least 34 incidents linked to the presidential election in November, the ADL reported Monday in its annual Audit of Anti-Semitic incidents.

There were a total of 1,266 acts targeting Jews and Jewish institutions during 2016, a 34 percent increase of incidents of assaults, vandalism, and harassment over the previous year. Nearly 30 percent of those incidents, or 369 of them, occurred in November and December.

The acts included 720 harassment and threat incidents, an increase of 41 percent over 2015;  510 vandalism incidents, an increase of 35 percent; and 36 physical assault incidents, a decrease of 35 percent.

There are preliminary reports of 541 anti-Semitic incidents for the first quarter of 2017.  One reason for the jump in incidents in the first quarter of 2017 appears to be the bomb threats called in to Jewish community centers and other Jewish institutions around the country, mostly by an Israeli-American teen who has been arrested in Israel and charged in the U.S.

The 541 anti-Semitic incidents so far in 2017 include: 380 harassment incidents, including the 161 bomb threats, an increase of 127 percent over the same quarter in 2016; 155 vandalism incidents, including three cemetery desecrations, an increase of 36 percent; and six physical assault incidents, a decrease of 40 percent.

“There’s been a significant, sustained increase in anti-Semitic activity since the start of 2016 and what’s most concerning is the fact that the numbers have accelerated over the past five months,” ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt said in a statement. “Clearly, we have work to do and need to bring more urgency to the fight. At ADL, we will use every resource available to put a stop to anti-Semitism. But we also need more leaders to speak out against this cancer of hate and more action at all levels to counter anti-Semitism.”

The states with the highest number of incidents were those with large Jewish populations, including California, New York, New Jersey, Florida and Massachusetts.

While incidents on college campuses stayed mostly static, after nearly doubling in 2015, incidents in non-Jewish elementary, middle and high schools increased 106 percent from 114 in 2015 to 235 in 2016, with another 95 incidents reported for the beginning of 2017.

The ADL has been tracking anti-Semitic incidents since 1979.  During the past decade, the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents peaked at 1,554 in 2006.

Separately, Tel Aviv University’s watchdog on anti-Semitism reported Sunday that the number of anti-Semitic incidents worldwide has decreased by 12 percent in 2016 despite a spike in cases in the United Kingdom and the United States.

UN Secretary General: denial of Israel’s right to exist is ‘modern form of anti-Semitism’

Mon, 2017-04-24 02:02

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaking to reporters at the U.N. headquarters in New York, Dec. 12, 2016. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (JTA) — United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres vowed to take action to end anti-Semitism, and called denial of Israel’s right to exist a modern form of anti-Jewish hatred.

In a speech Sunday night at the World Jewish Congress’ Plenary Assembly in New York, Guterres said he could not control all expressions of bias against Israel at the United Nations. But he said Israel has the right to be treated like any other U.N. member state.

“A modern form of anti-Semitism is the denial of the right of the State of Israel to exist,” Guterres said. “As secretary-general of the United Nations I can say that the state of Israel needs to be treated as any other state, with exactly the same rules.”

Israeli and United States officials, along with supporters of Israel, have long accused the U.N. of irredeemable bias against Israel. According to U.N. Watch, a pro-Israel group that monitors the international body, the U.N. General Assembly condemned Israel 20 times in 2016, compared to six condemnations for the rest of the world combined.

But Guterres emphasized that treating Israel fairly does not mean agreeing with all of its government’s decisions. He also advocated the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“That does not mean I will always be in agreement with all the decisions made by any government position taken by any government that sits in Israel,” he said regarding his commitment to treat Israel fairly, but added that he supports “the absolutely undeniable right of Israel to exist and to live in peace and security with its neighbors.”

The secretary-general, speaking ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day, called the Holocaust “the most heinous crime in the history of mankind” and promised to marshal the U.N. to eliminate anti-Semitism.

“You can be absolutely sure, as secretary-general of the United Nations, I will be in the front line of the struggle against anti-Semitism, and to make sure the United Nations is able to to take all possible actions for anti-Semitism to be condemned, and if possible, eradicated from the face of the earth,” he said.

Speaking the same day right-wing populist Marine Le Pen advanced to the second stage of France’s presidential election, Guterres decried rising anti-Semitism in the U.S. and Europe, which he said was fueled by populism.

“We see today anti-Semitism alive and well,” he said. “We see it in acts of physical aggression, murders of Jewish people in different parts of the world, destruction of property, destruction of monuments, destruction of centers. And very unfortunately we have seen the multiplication of forms of populism, of xenophobia, of hatred.”