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Jason Greenblatt: Abbas must choose between ‘hateful rhetoric’ and peace

Mon, 2018-03-19 22:35

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The top Trump administration Middle East peace negotiator said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas must choose between “hateful rhetoric” and peace after Abbas described the U.S. ambassador to Israel as the “son of a dog.”

“The time has come for President Abbas to choose between hateful rhetoric and concrete and practical efforts to improve the quality of life of his people and lead them to peace and prosperity,” Jason Greenblatt said in a statement emailed Monday afternoon to reporters.

“Notwithstanding his highly inappropriate insults against members of the Trump administration, the latest iteration being his insult of my good friend and colleague Ambassador Friedman, we are committed to the Palestinian people and to the changes that must be implemented for peaceful coexistence,” Greenblatt said. “We are finalizing our plan for peace and we will advance it when circumstances are right.”

On Monday, at the opening of a Palestinian leadership meeting, P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas called Friedman a “son of a dog” and a “settler” after noting that the ambassador views settlements as legitimate and supported them as a private citizen.

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, leads a three-person team seeking to restart Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. The other two members are Greenblatt and Friedman, and Abbas has made clear his dislike for Friedman in the past. In January, in a speech, Abbas called Friedman a “settler” and swore never to meet with him.

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Jewish summer camp group launches initiative to prevent sexual harassment, abuse

Mon, 2018-03-19 22:15

An illustrative photo of children at summer camp (kali9/Getty Images)

(JTA) — The Foundation for Jewish Camp has launched an initiative to prevent sexual harassment, abuse and misconduct at camps.

FJC launched the Shmira Initiative in Baltimore Sunday at its biannual Leaders Assembly conference for camp professionals, lay leaders, educators and philanthropists.

The FJC is investing an initial $100,000 in the program.

“Our Jewish communal organizations must be safe places and safe spaces, and we have to ensure that harassment, abuse, gendered power dynamics — that becomes a thing of the past, “ said FJC CEO Jeremy Fingerman in an interview  with JTA on Monday.

The initiative will educate and provide resources to camp staff about preventing, identifying and reporting sexual misconduct as well as create a campaign to change camp culture around the issue of sexuality and gender expression.

Training will be done ahead of this and next summer as well as throughout the year through in-person programs and online materials, including webinars.

FJC will also develop a national effort to encourage campers and staffers to call out sexual pressure, misconduct, homophobic language and bullying at camps.

“The #MeToo movement has emboldened victims of sexual harassment and assault to come forward and tell their stories, shining a new spotlight on crimes of child abuse,”  Marina Lewin, chief operating officer of Foundation for Jewish Camp, said in a Sunday statement. “Through the ‘Shmira Initiative,’ our camps and communities will be better equipped to address these issues head on, with immediate action in conjunction with parents and law enforcement authorities.”


Fingerman said summer camps provide an opportunity to teach future community leaders about issues surrounding gender and sexual misconduct.

“Summer camps are a prime place to begin to change gender norms, to create partners and allies for boys and young men,” he said. “Camps are developing the future leaders of our Jewish community — in some sense these camps are an incubator of what the next generation of what Jewish communal leaders will be, and our young people really have the power to shift culture and to influence change.”

In November, the Conservative movement launched a hotline for reporting sexual impropriety following an allegation of inappropriate sexual behavior against a former director of its youth movement. A flood of sexual misconduct allegations have been rattling the worlds of entertainment, politics and the media since October when dozens of women alleged that Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein harassed and in some cases assaulted them.

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Cynthia Nixon gave a Shabbat sermon in 2011 — and praised Andrew Cuomo

Mon, 2018-03-19 21:37

Cynthia Nixon speaking in New York City, Jan. 29, 2018. (Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Cynthia Nixon, the former “Sex and the City” star who just announced her campaign to be New York’s next governor, is hoping to win the votes of the state’s 20 million citizens.

But the actor and political activist has already won the hearts of progressive Jewish leaders.

Nixon isn’t Jewish herself, but she’s almost an honorary member of the tribe. Her two eldest children from her first marriage are Jewish and have both been bar- and bat-mitzvahed. At least one of them attended Hebrew school at B’nai Jeshurun, a liberal synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

She’s also an active member of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, Manhattan’s most prominent LGBTQ synagogue, and has spoken there multiple times. In June 2011, she delivered a Friday night sermon at CBST on the same day that same-sex marriage became legal in New York state. Most of the speech was about the political victory, but it wouldn’t have sounded out of place coming from the pulpit of a liberal activist rabbi.

Nixon used Hebrew phrases, made a Passover Haggadah reference and quoted at length from that week’s Torah portion, Korach, which tells a story of a failed populist rebellion against Moses and Aaron in the desert.

“Of course, any time there’s progress, it always comes with a backlash, and the bigger the step forward, the bigger the backlash, which brings us to this week’s parsha,” Nixon said to laughs, using the Hebrew word for Torah portion.

“It’s hard to imagine a time when they’ve been closer to the fulfillment of everything God has promised them when boom, backlash!” she said, going on to read a lengthy passage of the Torah. “I read this to my fiancee, Christine, and she said Korach and his cohort sound just like the Tea Party. I had to agree. It is good to remember backlashes are nothing new. Even Moses and Aaron had to go through them.”

Nixon then said something she might disagree with today — she lavishly praised Governor Andrew Cuomo for his leadership in passing the same-sex marriage bill. She will likely oppose Cuomo in the race for governor this year.

“We are lucky to have a leader like Governor Cuomo who took on marriage as a do-or-die proposition,” she said to applause. “It is fair to say that we could not have done it without him.”

She ended the sermon by saying “Onward and upward, happy Pride, mazal tov, hallelujah, and God bless Governor Cuomo!”

Beyond CBST, Nixon has been a repeat guest of progressive Jewish organizations. She hosted the 10-year anniversary gala of T’ruah, the rabbinic human rights organization, in 2013. The next year, she participated in a campaign of the American Jewish World Service to advance legislation protecting international women’s rights.

She has also waded into Jewish controversy. In 2010, she signed a letter supporting Israeli artists who pledged not to perform in the Israeli West Bank settlement of Ariel. Because of that, law professor and Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz tweeted to voters to “not support her bigotry.”

But Nixon has drawn praise from Jewish activists who share her politics. Introducing Nixon’s speech in 2011, CBST Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum said, “We’re proud of you as an artist, we’re proud of you as an activist, we’re proud of you as a partner and as a parent.” And Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the executive director of T’ruah, said Nixon in 2013 sounded genuine in her support of the organization’s work.

“It was really clear that she is a deeply religious person who is deeply committed to progressive values,” Jacobs told JTA Monday.

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‘Nobody is talking about anti-Semitism.’ You’re kidding, right?

Mon, 2018-03-19 20:53

Evan Bernstein, left, and Oren Segal discussing the arrest of a St. Louis man charged in connection with bomb threats against JCCs, at the Anti-Defamation League national headquarters in New York City, March 3, 2017. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (JTA) — Slate podcaster Mike Pesca has a theory that whenever President Donald Trump says “everybody” it means “almost nobody,” and when he says “nobody” or “anybody” it means “almost everybody.”

Try it: When Trump said, “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated” — well, nearly everybody disagreed. And when he says, “Everybody knows there was no collusion,” he means, “I insist there was no collusion, but am worried that nobody else, including Robert Mueller, agrees with me.”

That kind of verbal irony has become a way of arguing on social media. A Facebook friend complained recently that two weeks after Louis Farrakhan gave yet another anti-Semitic speech, “no one really cares.” In fact, the Farrakhan speech was widely reported in the mainstream media, from The Washington Post to CNN to Fox News to Rolling Stone, especially after a leader of the Women’s March attended the Nation of Islam leader’s speech and refused to acknowledge his hate or apologize. By waiting too long to release a tepid statement on the incident, march leaders kept the story going another week. So did the right, which used Farrakhan’s re-emergence into the public spotlight as an opportunity to bash the left.

You could say people now care about Farrakhan more than they have in 20 years.

I don’t mean to pick on my friend; the “everybody” and “nobody” trope is everywhere these days. In part it is a symptom of news overload — important things that demand attention disappear at the speed of a tweet about some other thing that demands immediate attention. Everybody knows that Trump is adept at changing the subject, and almost nobody knows how to resist the bait. And while the web has democratized news and made it theoretically easier to get a story out to the public, it also means that many more stories and ideas are jockeying for attention.

Bill Moyers does an annual survey of “Overlooked, Under-Reported and Ignored Stories.” Last year’s list included the growing movement for Medicare for All, U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and the impact of Trump’s policies — not his tweets, not his scandals — on American society. Last week, on the radio show “On The Media,” social media monitor Thalia Beaty spoke about how hard it is to get attention for the Syrian government’s vicious siege of the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta.

“It just doesn’t seem that media outlets know how to tell this story of human suffering without a geopolitical angle,” she said.

But usually when people say that “nobody is talking about something,” they mean “not enough people are talking about a story the way I want them to talk about it.” That could mean that The New York Times or CNN hasn’t put the story on the front page or at the top of the hour. Or that legislators have sent the issue to the back burner. Or that activists are focused on X when they should be focused on Y.

Jewish activists and media professionals seemed to do a “Freaky Friday” switch over the weekend when The New York Times published an essay by one of its editors charging that American Jewish leaders have done too little to call out the troubling anti-Semitism of the past two years. Jonathan Weisman, who was a target of “alt-right” anti-Semites during the 2016 campaign, has written a book called “(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump.” In Sunday’s essay, he claimed the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Federations of North America and other leading Jewish organizations “have been remarkably quiet” on the rise of anti-Semitism.

White supremacists exchanging insults with counterprotesters as they attempt to guard the entrance to Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

His evidence is rather narrow, having to do with the Anti-Defamation League and its condemnation of two popular alt-right figures for spreading anti-Semitic theories. When Ohio’s Republican state treasurer, Josh Mandel, lashed out at the ADL in defense of the two conspiracy theorists, Weisman wrote, “I did not see any organized effort to rally around the institution, one of the few major Jewish groups in the United States that is still not predominantly engaged in debate over Israel.”

It’s an odd charge. First, the ADL talks plenty about Israel. Second, if the Jewish community were a government, the ADL would be its Department of Defense, AJC would be its Department of State and JFNA would be the IRS. That’s not to say that their missions don’t frequently overlap, but the ADL is usually deferred to when it comes to anti-anti-Semitism. The AJC does a lot of work on anti-Semitism, but mainly in Europe. The JFNA is a fundraising trade group that generally avoids made-for-Twitter issues like the ADL-Mandel ruckus.

But coming after a period that included Charlottesville, the JCC bomb threats and a general feeling of disquiet following the 2016 campaign and the rise of  the alt-right, it’s just weird to conclude that Jewish organizations are ignoring or downplaying anti-Semitism. The ADL certainly has been loud and consistent in calling it out in the past 16 months, joined frequently by the  American Jewish Committee, Simon Wiesenthal Center, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Union for Reform Judaism, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and, ahem, the Jewish media

Weisman only gets it partly right when he talks about how “partisanship” has distorted the internal Jewish debate on anti-Semitism. Partisanship hasn’t silenced or cowed the ADL or left it isolated, as he suggests. But it has made it harder for Jews to agree on what constitutes the greatest anti-Semitic threat of the moment. Right-wing critics say the ADL goes after the alt-right in order to tarnish Trump. They accuse the ADL of ignoring left-wing anti-Semitism as represented by the Boycott Israel movement, which the ADL also consistently and assertively condemns. The Jewish left, meanwhile, says the Jewish establishment spends too much time vilifying domestic critics of Israel and should really be focused on the rise of white nationalism.

That’s certainly how the Farrakhan debate is playing out. The right has raised Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism as a symbol of all that plagues the left. And the left insists that the right’s focus on Farrakhan is meant to deflect from its own coddling of white nationalists and other hatemongers.

So nobody is talking about anti-Semitism? Everybody is talking about anti-Semitism. They’re just not listening to each other.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JTA or its parent company, 70 Faces Media. 

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Bernie Sanders helps launch global peace movement

Mon, 2018-03-19 20:29

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Sen. Bernie Sanders helped launch what purports to be a global peace movement on the anniversary of the Iraq War, which he said precipitated much of the chaos in the Middle East.

Organizers of the Global Call for Peace said 11,000 callers from around the world, including Israel, participated in the Sunday launch.

The emphasis of the call, which was initiated by MoveOn.org, a U.S. left-wing activist group, was on the tensions between the Koreas, but speakers also noted that it was the 15th anniversary of the Iraq War.

Sanders, I-Vt., the first Jewish candidate to win major-party nominating contests when he ran for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, made what he said were the failures of that war the centerpiece of his appeal to join the movement.

“The war in Iraq was a foreign policy blunder of enormous magnitude,” he said, describing the ensuing chaos in Iraq and consequently the civil war in neighboring Syria and the spread of the Islamic State terrorist group, or ISIS.

“Had it not been for the Iraq War, ISIS would almost certainly not exist,” Sanders said. “It undermined American diplomatic efforts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

Sanders was among four speakers who counseled peaceful mass protests and online actions. Two others addressed the Korea crisis, lauding President Donald Trump for agreeing to meet with Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, but also fretting that Trump could make good on his hints that he would launch a war to denuclearize North Korea should talks fail.

Among the groups represented on the call was Zazim, a left-wing activist group in Israel. An email said Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that backs the movement to boycott Israel, was also among the participating organizations, but no representative of JVP spoke up during the call.

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David Friedman rips PA for not condemning deadly attacks on 3 Israelis. Abbas calls the ambassador ‘son of a dog.’

Mon, 2018-03-19 20:17

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, criticized the Palestinian Authority for not condemning two terror attacks in recent days that left three Israelis dead.

Later Monday, at the opening of a Palestinian leadership meeting, P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas called Friedman a “son of a dog” and a “settler” after noting that the ambassador views settlements as legitimate and supported them as a private citizen, The Times of Israel reported.

“Son of a dog” is a mild pejorative in Arabic, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Friedman responded while at an anti-Semitism conference in Jerusalem using the term “son of a bitch,” The Jerusalem Post reported. He added: “Anti-Semitism or political discourse? I leave this up to you.”

Friedman had posted his original remarks on Twitter very early Monday morning.

“Tragedy in Israel. 2 young soldiers, Netanel Kahalani and Ziv Daos, murdered in the North, and father of 4, Adiel Kolman, murdered in Jerusalem, by Palestinian terrorists. Such brutality and no condemnation from the PA! I pray for the families and the wounded – so much sadness,” he wrote.

Tragedy in Israel. 2 young soldiers, Netanel Kahalani and Ziv Daos, murdered in the North, and father of 4, Adiel Kolman, murdered in Jerusalem, by Palestinian terrorists. Such brutality and no condemnation from the PA! I pray for the families and the wounded – so much sadness.

— David M. Friedman (@USAmbIsrael) March 19, 2018

Kolman was stabbed by a Palestinian assailant from the West Bank on Sunday afternoon and succumbed to his injuries that night. Hundreds attended his funeral Monday morning in the West Bank settlement of Kochav HaShachar.

Kahalani and Daos were killed in a car-ramming attack in the West Bank on Friday in which two other soldiers were seriously injured.

Last month, Friedman in a tweet accused unnamed Palestinian leaders of praising a terror attack that left a West Bank rabbi dead. A spokesman for Hamas had praised the murder of Rabbi Itamar Ben Gal; no members of the Palestinian Authority praised the attack.

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Israeli mayor refuses to deliver remarks in Poland censored under new Holocaust law

Mon, 2018-03-19 17:58

JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Israeli mayor canceled his participation in a ceremony with the mayor of the Polish town of Radomsko after the speech he was to deliver to Israeli high school students was censored by local authorities.

Eli Dukorsky, mayor of the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Bialik, refused to deliver the censored speech and the ceremony to be held Monday in Radomsko was canceled, Hadashot news first reported. Radomsko and Kiryat Bialik are sister cities.

The speech, which had been provided to Radomsko authorities on Friday so it could be translated into Polish, was changed in accordance with a controversial new law that criminalizes claims that the Polish nation or state was responsible for Nazi crimes.

Dukorsky was asked to omit parts of his speech in which he referred to Poles who turned Jews over to the Nazis, as well as the number of Jews murdered by Poles. The mayor also was asked to substitute the word Ukrainians for Poles when taking about complicity and use the term German Nazis instead of Nazis, according to the report.

He reportedly asked Israel’s Foreign Ministry if he should deliver the censored speech and was told it was not recommended.

“We reject any attempt at censorship,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told Hadashot. “We support the mayor’s right to deliver his speech as he planned and to not leave out any word, not even a single letter.”

Dukorsky later delivered his original speech to the Israeli students in a private ceremony. He told the students about the censorship controversy.

Violators of the law that went into effect at the beginning of the month could face up to three years in prison, though government officials say prosecution under the law is unlikely.

President Andrzej Duda signed the controversial legislation last month after both houses of parliament passed the measure. Duda also sent law for review to his country’s Constitutional Tribunal, which has yet to issue a ruling.

Critics of the law include Israeli leaders, Yad Vashem, the U.S. State Department and Jewish groups.

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European countries reportedly propose new Iran sanctions to keep US in nuclear deal

Mon, 2018-03-19 17:08

(JTA) — Several European countries reportedly have proposed new sanctions on Iran in a bid to keep the United States in the 2015 nuclear deal.

The new European sanctions would punish Iran for its ballistic missiles that it publicly tested and its interference in Syria’s civil war, according to a confidential document seen by Reuters.

In January, the Trump administration said it would halt providing sanctions relief to Iran under the deal by May 12 unless the European powers that signed the pact in July 2015 agreed to “fix the terrible flaws.” The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and six world powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — could collapse if the U.S. pulls out.

The joint document by Britain, France and Germany said they were engaged in “intensive talks with the Trump administration to achieve a clear and lasting reaffirmation of U.S. support for the (nuclear) agreement beyond May 12,” Reuters reported.

Foreign ministers of European Union countries were set to discuss the proposal on Monday in a closed door meeting, Reuters reported, citing an unnamed diplomat.

The document also indicates that the European powers would not be breaking the terms of the nuclear deal by adopting new sanctions that are not nuclear-related and that new sanctions are justified because Iran “did not commit further to stop undertaking ballistic missile destabilizing activities” under the nuclear agreement.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., in an interview on the CBS news program “Face the Nation” said he thinks that President Donald Trump will pull the U.S. out of the Iran deal in May.

“Right now it doesn’t feel like it’s gonna be extended,” Corker said. “I think the president likely will move away from it, unless our European counterparts really come together on a framework. And it doesn’t feel to me that they are.”

Corker added that he did not think the United States pulling out of a nuclear deal with Iran would affect possible negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.

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A Palestinian-born legislator dreams of rebuilding a synagogue in Berlin

Mon, 2018-03-19 16:45

Raed Saleh, left, a Berlin senator, and the city’s Jewish community president, Gideon Joffe, hold an architect’s rendering of a planned reconstruction of the Fraenkelufer Synagogue. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

BERLIN (JTA) — Raed Saleh, a Palestinian born in the West Bank, wants to rebuild a synagogue in the German capital. Now the dream of this Berlin politician is a bit closer to reality.

Standing in front of the Fraenkelufer Synagogue on a chilly March morning, the senator and leader of the Social Democratic Party here announced plans for the reconstruction of a building that was largely destroyed in the Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938.

Saleh’s goal, endorsed by Berlin Jewish Community President Gideon Joffe, is to make a statement against growing anti-Semitism in the capital city — and against discrimination targeting Muslims, too.

“If you say you want to support Jewish life in Germany and Berlin and Europe, and you don’t just want to pay lip service, then you have to carry it out concretely,” said Saleh, 40, who immigrated to Germany with his family when he was 5.

He first proposed the project in November in a column in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. His thinking: “He who builds castles can also rebuild synagogues.”

So Saleh campaigned for and won support from the Berlin Senate. The project is still a vision, but no longer a pipe dream.

It’s an idea that would have stunned Joffe 12 years ago, when he was first elected president of the Jewish community.

“I would never have thought that a Berliner of Palestinian background would help the Jewish community,” Joffe said, standing beside Saleh, who was born in a village near Nablus. “I find it to be a fantastic story that allows us to look with hope into the future.”

Also announced Thursday was a plan to renovate a former Jewish orphanage on Auguststrasse, converting it into what would be Germany’s first Jewish trade school. There already is a Jewish high school in Berlin, but the new school would cater to students who are not necessarily moving on to college.

Noting that many Jewish kids have transferred to Jewish schools because of anti-Semitism, Joffe said he hoped the new facility would open in the next two years.

While it will take longer to realize the Fraenkelufer project, Joffe said he would be “very happy to see it become a place for exchange between people, a place where they can get to know Judaism.”

Fraenkelufer, which sits on the banks of one of Berlin’s many canals, is located in a multi-ethnic neighborhood with many Arab residents, a colorful market and shops with Arabic signs.

An interior view of the surviving adjunct building of the former Fraenkelufer Synagogue in Berlin, March 15, 2018. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

For Saleh, that makes it the perfect location for such a project, “especially in a time of increased anti-Semitism, also coming from migrants; especially given that there increasingly are schools where teachers complain that they are overwhelmed with a situation that they can’t control,” he said.

His idea, still in the early stages, is to build a structure resembling the classical 1916 synagogue by architect Alexander Beer. But rather than erase the recent past, the reconstruction would emphasize the violent rupture of the Holocaust and represent hope for the future.

Saleh said the project is likely to take several years to realize and would cost nearly $30 million. The senator pledged to secure state and federal funding, as well as raise funds from German industry and private donors — including his own young sons. He said they each pledged 20 euro, about $25, from their own savings.

Rebuilding destroyed synagogues is not a new phenomenon in Germany. Since the 1990s, particularly with the influx of some 200,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union, big cities and small towns have taken on projects to build new Jewish houses of worship or rededicate old ones that had been used as storehouses or even barns over the years.

The projects were often intended as proud symbols of a new Germany. But aside from some in larger cities, like Munich and Dresden, few became hubs for growing, active Jewish communities. More often they were used as museums and interfaith meeting centers.

Before World War II, Berlin had some 175,000 Jews and numerous synagogues. The original Fraenkelufer Synagogue could house up to 2,000 worshippers. A few years after it was destroyed in the 1938 pogrom, the architect Beer was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where he was murdered in 1944.

A book shows photographs of the former Fraenkelufer Synagogue, March 15, 2018. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Today, the traditional congregation is small but growing thanks to an energetic group of younger Jews, including native Germans along with those born in Israel, the United States and elsewhere.  One of more than a dozen active congregations in Berlin, its members meet in Beer’s small former youth synagogue, which has a balcony for holiday overflow. Men and women sit separately, though without a mechitza, or divider. There are regular Friday night meals and visiting Jewish educators.

The new building would not be used for prayer services but rather for classrooms and other gatherings, including interfaith events.

It is among several projects in Berlin meant to bring together Jews, Muslims and Christians against the backdrop of increased xenophobia and populism. Conservative Rabbi Gesa Ederberg is joining with colleagues to start a multi-faith kindergarten. And the “House of One” – a concept stuck in the planning stage – would be a place of shared worship.

Best estimates there are some 30,000 Jews in Berlin, a city with a population of about 3.5 million. Fewer than 10,000 Jews belong to the official community.

Recent statistics show an increase in anti-Semitic crimes in Berlin, with 288 reported incidents last year compared to 197 in 2016.

An exterior view of the surviving adjunct building of the former Fraenkelufer Synagogue, March 15, 2018. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Though there is no silver bullet for combating anti-Semitism, interfaith meetings are an important plus, said Jonathan Marcus, a gabbai, or sexton, at the Fraenkelufer congregation and one of several volunteers who explain Jewish traditions to visitors.

He recalled a group of visiting Arab teenagers who – surprised by the similarities between the two faiths –  asked, “Why are we always fighting with each other?’”

“I said, ‘Probably because we normally look only at our differences, and not at what we have in common.’”

Marcus, who became a bar mitzvah here, also had the chance to welcome Saleh one Friday night and explain Jewish tradition to him.

On Thursday, Saleh told reporters that he had “fallen a little bit in love with this community.”

When fellow Muslims question his commitment to his own community, he tells them that he “would not be a good Muslim if I did not take a stand; a Christian would not be a good Christian if he would stand by while refugee homes burn; and a Jew would not be a good Jew if he stands by when someone tears the headscarf off a woman.”

“I am convinced,” Saleh added, “that one can only combat hate and prejudice with an open door, and this will be a place of open doors.”

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Keith Ellison says critics pressing him on Farrakhan ties are trying to divide blacks and Jews

Mon, 2018-03-19 15:42

Keith Ellison talking to reporters as he leaves a House Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol, Feb. 8, 2018. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Rep. Keith Ellison, the deputy chairman of the Democratic Party, said he has never had a relationship with Louis Farrakhan, the virulently anti-Semitic leader of the Nation of Islam.

He accused critics who are pressing him to explain his relationship to Farrakhan of trying to divide Jews and blacks, but also only alluded to his longtime association with the Nation of Islam.

“I do not have and have never had a relationship with Mr. Farrakhan, but I have been in the same room as him,” Ellison, D-Minn., wrote over the weekend on Medium, the blogging website.

“The right’s attempt to split the Jewish and Black communities is not going to work,” he said. “Now more than ever, when the right-wing is working to divide us by skin color, faith traditions and by our place of birth, human solidarity is critical to seeing us through this perilous time.”

Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, said his encounters with Farrakhan since Ellison’s election to Congress in 2006 have been perfunctory, if that.

“About a decade ago, he and I had a brief, chance encounter in Washington, D.C.,” Ellison said, an apparent reference to a video that emerged recently of Farrakhan and Ellison in the same room at a mosque in Virginia’s Washington suburbs.

“In 2013, I attended a meeting in New York City with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and nearly 50 others where I advocated for the release of an American political prisoner,” Ellison said, referring to reports that recently re-emerged of the dinner in New York, which was held during the U.N. General Assembly. “I didn’t know Mr. Farrakhan would be there and did not speak to him at the event.”

Ellison also for the first time unequivocally denied Farrakhan’s claim that the two met in a Washington hotel room in 2015 or 2016.

“Contrary to recent reports, I have not been in any meeting with him since then,” he said, referring to the 2013 U.N. gathering, “and he and I have no communication of any kind.”

Ellison condemned Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism, referring to the letter he wrote to Minnesota’s Jewish community in 2006 denouncing Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam and anti-Semitism.

“In a speech just last month he again attacked Jewish people with intolerant and divisive language,” he said, referring to a Farrakhan speech that drew attention because a leader of the Women’s March was present.

Jewish Democrats welcomed Ellison’s posting as well as other statements from African-American lawmakers whom conservatives have targeted in recent weeks for alleged ties with Farrakhan.

“Ellison’s statement leaves no ambiguity that he does not accept Farrakhan’s hateful and divisive preaching and we appreciate him reiterating this conviction. We also have been pleased to read similarly unsolicited statements from Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Gregory Meeks (D-NY) in recent weeks,” said a statement from the Jewish Democratic Council of America.

In the Medium article, Ellison only alludes to his own longtime relationship with the Nation of Islam.

“If you are a Black man from my generation, you remember the march,” he said, referring to the 1995 Million Man March initiated by Farrakhan. “I helped organize the march in my local community in Minneapolis. And I marched in it, along with civil rights leaders like Rosa Parks and Jesse Jackson.”

Ellison’s affiliation with the Nation of Islam lasted about a decade, and he was advocating for the group as late as 1998.

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Israeli parole board cuts prison time for soldier who shot downed Palestinian terrorist

Mon, 2018-03-19 15:34

Sgt. Elor Azaria sits with his parents in the courtroom at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv before the verdict on his appeal, July 30, 2017. (Avshalom Sasoni/Flash 90/Pool)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The prison sentence for the former Israeli soldier convicted of shooting and killing an injured Palestinian terrorist as he lay on the ground was reduced by the military parole board.

Elor Azaria’s sentence was cut by one-third on Monday, with a release date of May 10. He has served seven months of a 14-month sentence.

Azaria had requested an immediate release ahead of Passover.

“I shot a murderous terrorist, release me today,” he reportedly told the court.

In September, the Israeli army’s chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, shortened Azaria’s sentence to 14 months from 18 months. Eisenkot had earlier declined to pardon Azaria, who has not expressed remorse for the shooting.

In November, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin rejected Azaria’s request for pardon and the cancellation of his jail sentence for manslaughter. He entered prison in August.


A medic in the elite Kfir Brigade, Azaria came on the scene following a Palestinian stabbing attack on soldiers in the West Bank city of Hebron on March 24, 2016. One assailant was killed and another, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, was injured.

Minutes later, while Sharif was lying on the ground, Azaria shot him in the head. The shooting was captured on video by a local affiliate of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

Azaria was arrested that day and indicted nearly a month later. Autopsy reports showed that the shots fired by Azaria killed Sharif. Prior to shooting Sharif, Azaria had cared for a stabbed soldier.

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Washington councilman accuses ‘the Rothschilds’ of controlling the weather

Mon, 2018-03-19 14:36

Trayon White Sr. (Facebook)

(JTA) — A councilman in Washington, D.C., suggested on Facebook that rich Jews who control the weather caused an unexpected snowstorm.

Trayon White Sr., a Democrat representing the district’s 8th Ward, posted a video early Friday morning in which he accused “the Rothschilds” of controlling the climate to make money — an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. He later removed the video.

The Rothschilds are a well-known wealthy European Jewish dynasty descended from a Jewish banker originally from Germany. Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories over many decades have charged that the Rothschild family and other wealthy Jews have interceded in world events for their financial gain.

In the video, White said: “Man, it just started snowing out of nowhere this morning, man. Y’all better pay attention to this climate control, man, this climate manipulation. And D.C. keep talking about, ‘We a resilient city.’ And that’s a model based off the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities, man. Be careful.”

The Washington Post first reported the story.

Internet conspiracy theorists have stated the belief that the Rockefeller Foundation’s Resilient Cities initiative, which provides grants to cities, including Washington, to address environmental and economic problems, is part of a plot to control and reduce the population of North America. And some conspiracy theorists also think the Rothschilds, working together with the Rockefellers, have technology to control the weather.

White told The Washington Post, which called him for comment, that the video “says what it says” and expressed surprise that his remarks were considered anti-Semitic. He sent an apology to the newspaper for the post four hours after it appeared online via text message.

“I work hard every day to combat racism and prejudices of all kinds. I want to apologize to the Jewish Community and anyone I have offended,” he said in the text. “The Jewish community have been allies with me in my journey to help people. I did not intend to be anti-Semitic, and I see I should not have said that after learning from my colleagues.”

White said that the Jews United for Justice, a group that advocates for progressive causes and which endorsed him in 2016, was “helping me to understand the history of comments made against Jews and I am committed to figuring out ways continue to be allies with them and others.”

A City Council colleague, Brianne Nadeau, a Democrat who is Jewish and represents the district’s diverse 1st Ward, said in a Facebook post that White had reached out to her to apologize and “expressed his sincere regret, I believe, for having offended members of the Jewish community.”

“I believe he is being truthful when he says he didn’t realize what his statement implied,” Nadeau added.

She noted that elected officials need to focus on eradicating all hate and bigotry and “focus on lifting each other up rather than tearing one another down.”

“I understand how important it is to build bridges between our marginalized communities. My experiences of persecution as a Jew, and the experiences of my ancestors, are at the core of what drives me to serve the community,” Nadeau said. “My Jewish values tell me to help those less fortunate than I am, to work to repair the world and to do something when I see injustice. My Jewish values also teach me forgiveness.”

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Ronald Lauder, in rare criticism, rebukes Netanyahu over settlements and Orthodox hegemony

Mon, 2018-03-19 13:42

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, speaking at the Neue Galerie in New York, June 19, 2015. (Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for The Weinstein Company,)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, said Israeli government policies threaten the country’s democratic character and even its existence.

Openly breaking with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an op-ed published Monday in The New York Times, Lauder also pressed hard for a two-state solution — a significant stance because the cosmetics billionaire has the ear of President Donald Trump, who is about to unveil a Middle East peace proposal.

Trump has said he is agnostic about whether two states is the preferred outcome for Israel and the Palestinians, and Netanyahu over the past year has retreated from endorsing two states.

Much of the column was an excoriation of Netanyahu’s policy in terms more commonly heard on the pro-Israel left, including the argument that Israel cannot be both a Jewish state and a democracy unless it relinquises control of the lives of the Palestinians living in the West Bank.

“The Jewish democratic state faces two grave threats that I believe could endanger its very existence,” Lauder wrote.

“The first threat is the possible demise of the two-state solution. I am conservative and a Republican, and I have supported the Likud party since the 1980s. But the reality is that 13 million people live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. And almost half of them are Palestinian.”

Lauder alluded to his closeness to Trump and to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and implicitly chided Netanyahu for his repeated claims that the only thing obstructing peace is Palestinian recalcitrance.

“President Trump and his team are wholly committed to Middle East peace,” Lauder said. “Contrary to news media reports, senior Palestinian leaders are, they have personally told me, ready to begin direct negotiations immediately.”

Lauder also objected to the control that the Orthodox in Israel have over a range of issues including marriage and organized prayer at the Western Wall.

“By submitting to the pressures exerted by a minority in Israel, the Jewish state is alienating a large segment of the Jewish people,” he said. “The crisis is especially pronounced among the younger generation, which is predominantly secular.”

Lauder was close to Netanyahu for decades, backing him during his first run for prime minister in 1996 and defending him in Diaspora arenas. Over the past several years, there have been signs that they have grown apart, stemming from Lauder’s refusal seven years ago to block a report unflattering to Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, that was broadcast on an Israeli television channel in which Lauder had a part ownership stake.

Lauder, chairman emeritus of the Estée Lauder cosmetic empire and president of the World Jewish Congress since 2007, has also been one of the most consistent voices of support for Trump in the Jewish community. The two have been friends since the 1980s, when they both emerged as influential moguls on the New York political and social scenes.

In 2001, Lauder, then chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the foreign policy umbrella for the Jewish community, drew sharp criticism from the body’s constituent groups when he appeared at a rally in Israel against the then government’s proposed peace plan and its concessions to the Palestinians.

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Driver for French Consulate arrested for smuggling weapons from Gaza

Mon, 2018-03-19 12:11

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A driver for the French Consulate in eastern Jerusalem is accused of using the car with diplomatic plates to smuggle weapons from Hamas in Gaza to the West Bank.

Romain Franck, a French national, and his Palestinian security guard were arrested for the smuggling last month, the Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, announced Monday in a statement.

Franck allegedly smuggled weapons five times in recent months in a vehicle belonging to the consulate, which received easier treatment at the border crossing security check, as is customary for such vehicles. He smuggled about 70 pistols and two assault rifles, according to the Israel Security Agency.

In addition to the security guard, a resident of eastern Jerusalem, nine Palestinians from Gaza who were found illegally in the West Bank without permits also were arrested.

The Israel Security Agency said in the statement that its investigation “clearly shows that Franck acted for financial gain, of his own accord and unbeknownst to his superiors.” Several of those arrested also were found to be involved in smuggling funds from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, the investigation also found.

“This is a very grave incident in which the immunity and privileges granted to foreign missions in Israel was cynically exploited in order to smuggle dozens of weapons which could have been used in terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and members of the security forces,” a senior Israel Security Agency official said.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the incident would not harm diplomatic ties between Israel and France, and thanked the French authorities for cooperating with the investigation.

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Israeli father of four dies of wounds in Jerusalem stabbing attack

Mon, 2018-03-19 05:53

Security personnel work at the scene of a Palestinian stabbing attack that seriously injured a civilian Israeli security guard in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem on March 18, 2018. He later died of his injuries.  (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

JERUSALEM (JTA) – The Israeli civilian stabbed by a Palestinian terrorist in the Old City of Jerusalem died of his wounds.

He was named as Adiel Kolman, a 32-year-old father of four from the West Bank settlement of Kochav Hashachar.

While Kolman was a civilian security guard by profession, he was not armed and not working at the time of the attack on Sunday afternoon in Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter. He reportedly he had worked in the archaeological digs at the City of David for the last five years, according to the Times of Israel.

Kolman was stabbed several times in his upper body during the attack and arrived at Shaare Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem in critical condition. Following surgery, he remained unconscious and connected to a respirator on Sunday night before succumbing to his injuries.

The stabber, who was first identified as a Turkish national visiting Israel, was later identified as Abd al-Rahman Bani Fadel, 28, a Palestinian man from a northern West Bank village near Nablus. He was shot and killed at the scene by an Israel Police officer.

Fadel had entered Jerusalem using a five-day permit that allowed him to look for work, according to the Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet. The father of two, his brother and uncle are part of Hamas’ leadership in the West Bank, Haaretz reported. He was not active in Hamas, however, according to Haaretz.

Hamas praised the attack, saying it was an action to mark 100 days since the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced it would move the United States’ embassy there. Palestinian groups, including Hamas, had designated Friday as a Day of Rage to protest the announcement.

Parts of the Old City were closed down after the attack.

The attack comes two days after two soldiers were killed and two left in serious condition after a Palestinian car ramming attack in the West Bank.

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After 26 years, Argentine government joins ceremony to commemorate terrorist attack on Israeli embassy

Sun, 2018-03-18 18:53

Israeli ambassador to Argentina, Ilán Sztulman, speaks at a ceremony to commemorate the 26th anniversary of the terror attack on the embassy in Buenos Aires, that killed 29 and injured 242. (Courtesy/Israeli Embassy)

BUENOS AIRES (JTA) — For the first time, the ceremony to commemorate the terrorist attack on Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires was co-sponsored by the Argentine government.

The ceremony which took place on Friday to mark the 26th year since the attack also was held for the first time in the country’s human rights center instead of at the site where the attack occurred.

“Today we have decided to remember here, as a symbol that this is a top priority issue in the government’s human rights agenda “said Argentina’s Vice President Gabriela Michetti, the main speaker of the event.

The terrorist attack that destroyed the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires on March 17, 1992, killed 29 and injured 242, in the first international terrorist attack on Argentina’s soil.

The site of the ceremony was Argentina’s National Archive of Memory, where the office of the Secretary of Human Rights is located.

The building served as the Mechanics School of the Navy, or ESMA, and was used by the last Argentine military dictatorship (1976-1983) as one of the main secret detention centers for torture and extermination of political activists who struggled against the regime.

The iconic place remains open as a museum commemorating those crimes and others crimes against human rights.

“There is a paradigm shift in the Argentine State. The attack happened to us, Jews and not Jews, Israelis and non-Israelis, that’s why we are here in this place, because what happened to us happened to all of us, “said speaker Claudio Avruj, Argentina’s secretary of human rights.

The event was attended by survivors of the attack and relatives of the victims, as well as representatives of the Israeli embassy. Israeli ambassador to Argentina, Ilán Sztulman, said that the tribute was a clear expression that the attack “was a fact that has affected the entire Argentine society, this site shows that universality.”

“Twenty-six years after this tragic date, the citizens of the world are moved again because the perpetrators did not pay for the crime. The Republic of Iran, through Hezbollah, continues to expand terror globally. As we said here 26 years ago, terrorism will not defeat us,” Sztulman said.

A photo exhibition “Solidarity is Memory” about the 1992 attack was inaugurated last Friday and will remain on display for two weeks. Some of the photographs will be incorporated into the permanent exhibition at the human rights memory center.

Argentina has accused Iran of perpetrating the 1992 attack and also of the deadly 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 and injured hundreds. The perpetrators of both crimes have never been caught.

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Air India to begin direct flights to Israel over Saudi airspace

Sun, 2018-03-18 18:26

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Air India will begin direct flights to Tel Aviv, flying over Saudi airspace.

The flights for the Indian national carrier will begin on Thursday, and take about 7 hours, according to the airline, AFP reported.  Flying through Saudi airspace knocks more than two hours off the time of the flight.

El Al, Israel’s national airline, is currently the only airline to offer direct flights between Tel Aviv and Mumbai, but avoids Saudi airspace by flying over the Red Sea, past Yemen and around the Arabian Peninsula. Saudi airspace has been closed to any airline that flies to Israel. El Al has asked the International Civil Aviation Authority to intervene to convince Saudi Arabia to allow the airline also to fly over its airspace between India and Israel.

Saudi Arabia and Israel do not have official diplomatic relations. Reports in recent months have suggested that the countries may have covert relations, however.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited India in January. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Israel last year, the first Indian prime minister to do so.

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Israel’s president welcomes Mayim Bialik to Jerusalem

Sun, 2018-03-18 16:57

Actress Mayim Bialik meets Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at his residence in Jerusalem on March 18, 2018. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s president welcomed American actress Mayim Bialik to his residence in Jerusalem.

The star of the hit television series “The Big Bang Theory” is in Israel to participate in the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, which starts Monday in Jerusalem.

On Sunday, President Reuven Rivlin told Bialik that he had heard so much from his grandchildren about her, her work as an actress, and her strong support for Israel.

Bialik, 41, has a doctorate in neuroscience, and plays neuroscientist Amy Fowler-Farrah on “The Big Bang Theory.” A divorced mother of two sons, she was raised Reform and now practices Modern Orthodoxy. In many interviews she has described herself as a Zionist and has family living in Israel.

“My family came to live in Israel when I was born, and they lived in a few places around the country, so I grew up with a strong Zionist identity,” she told Rivlin.

Earlier this month Bialik asked her followers on Facebook to nominate her to light the torch reserved for a representative of Diaspora Jewry during the opening Israel Independence Day ceremony on Mount Herzl.

At the Global Forum, she is scheduled to speak about her experiences as a Jewish and Zionist actress, and about the difficulties caused by a climate of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

Other speakers scheduled for the forum, an initiative by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora Minister to coordinate and lead the international struggle against anti-Semitism, include: President of Bulgaria, Rumen Radev; Former Prime Minister of France, Manuel Valls; Israeli Education Minister and Diaspora Affairs Minister, Naftali Bennett; Israeli Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked; Former Secretary-General of the United Nations cultural organization UNESCO, Irina Bokova.

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Israeli security guard seriously injured in Jerusalem stabbing attack

Sun, 2018-03-18 16:24

Security personnel work at the scene of a Palestinian stabbing attack that seriously injured a civilian Israeli security guard in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem on March 18, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A civilian Israeli security guard was stabbed and seriously injured in a terror attack in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.

The victim, reported to be in his 30s, was stabbed several times in his upper body and is in critical condition in Shaare Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem. He was expected to go into surgery as soon as possible.

The stabber, who was first identified as a Turkish national visiting Israel, was later identified as a Palestinian man from a northern West Bank village near Nablus. He was shot and killed at the scene by an Israel Police officer.

Parts of the Old City were closed down after the attack.

The attack comes two days after two soldiers were killed and two left in serious condition after a Palestinian car ramming attack in the West Bank.

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ADL CEO tweets support for fired FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe

Sun, 2018-03-18 15:14

(JTA) — The head of the ADL expressed his support for fired FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, calling him a “patriot.”

“The country owes him our deepest gratitude and the dignity of his earnings after two decades of selfless public service,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said Saturday night in a tweet.

U.S Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe on Friday, two days before he was set to retire after more than 20 years at the FBI. McCabe had been on a leave of absence since January, when he announced that he would step down, reportedly after repeated taunting and pressure from President Donald Trump.

McCabe reportedly had accumulated enough leave time to be able to step down in January but retire this month. His firing two days before his official retirement date could jeopardize his full pension as a 21-year veteran of the FBI, according to reports.

McCabe over the weekend said that his firing was an attempt by the Trump administration to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump presidential campaign and Russia, in which he is a potential witness.

Sessions said that McCabe, who was among the first at the F.B.I. to scrutinize possible Trump campaign ties to Russia, had shown a lack of candor under oath on multiple occasions, a fire able offence.

Greenblatt on Saturday retweeted a tweet from December 23, 2017 in which he said that: “When the Jewish community faced an unprecedented wave of bomb threats earlier this year, Andrew McCabe was an ally who worked closely with us in a time of need and labored to solve the case. We are indebted to him for his patriotism, professionalism & public service.”

When the Jewish community faced an unprecedented wave of bomb threats earlier this year, Andrew McCabe was an ally who worked closely with us in a time of need and labored to solve the case. We are indebted to him for his patriotism, professionalism & public service. https://t.co/5KHuiXXnLh

— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) December 23, 2017

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