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Critics accuse Gal Gadot of cultural appropriation for accepting Cleopatra role

Mon, 2020-10-12 16:50

(JTA) — A social media storm has erupted after the announcement that Israeli actress Gal Gadot will portray the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra in a blockbuster film. Critics complained that Gadot is neither Egyptian nor Arab, while others are pointing out that Cleopatra wasn’t actually Arab.

Indian journalist Sameera Kahn blasted the casting, which was reported Sunday, in a tweet that has stirred widespread discussion on the platform.

“Which Hollywood dumbass thought it would be a good idea to cast an Israeli actress as Cleopatra (a very bland looking one) instead of a stunning Arab actress like Nadine Njeim? And shame on you, Gal Gadot. Your country steals Arab land & you’re stealing their movie roles… smh,” Kahn wrote.

Njeim is a Lebanese and Tunisian actress who was elected Miss Lebanon 2004.

Israeli journalist Sarah Tuttle-Singer responded to Kahn’s tweet, writing: “Sucks when a woman in power belittles another woman for her ‘bland’ looks. Also, Cleopatra was neither Arab nor African nor Israeli. She was Macedonian Greek.”

Cleopatra was the last monarch of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, which ruled the country from 305 BC to 30 BC. She is a descendant of Ptolemy I Soter, a Macedonian Greek general.

Kahn responded to Tuttle-Singer, saying “Cleopatra was part Greek and part Berber. That’s what we know for sure. Scholars have been debating this topic for centuries now.”

Historians have not definitively proven the ethnicity or identity of Cleopatra’s mother.

Other Twitter users accused Gadot of supporting “genocide” for her Israeli heritage or called for the role to go to a Black actress, because Egypt is part of Africa.

The Cleopatra film will be directed by Patty Jenkins, who has also helmed the Gadot “Wonder Woman” films, the second of which is set to hit theaters this Christmas.

In her announcement of the film, Gadot said the Cleopatra movie would “tell her story for the first time through women’s eyes, both behind and in front of the camera.”

Gadot’s husband Yaron Varsano and the couple’s Pilot Wave production company will be involved in the project as well. Universal, Warner Bros, Netflix and Apple also vied for the rights to the film, according to reports.

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Facebook will now ban Holocaust denial, in a major shift

Mon, 2020-10-12 15:11

(JTA) — Facebook announced that it will now ban any posts that deny or distort the Holocaust, a landmark change from its previous policy.

For years, Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, had defended Holocaust denial as a misguided but legitimate form of expression. In 2018, regarding Holocaust denial, he said, “I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong.”

That approach garnered widespread outcry from scholars and anti-Semitism watchdogs.

On Monday, Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post that he now believes banning Holocaust denial “is the right balance.”

“I’ve struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust,” he wrote. “My own thinking has evolved as I’ve seen data showing an increase in anti-Semitic violence, as have our wider policies on hate speech.”

The change comes after months of activism by anti-discrimination groups pushing Facebook to change its policies on hate speech in general and Holocaust denial in particular. It also comes amid rising anti-Semitism in the United States and Europe, and weeks ahead of a presidential election that analysts and government agencies fear will spark violence from white supremacist groups.

This summer, the Anti-Defamation League, NAACP and other civil rights groups organized a boycott of Facebook in which 1,000 companies, including major corporations, paused advertising on the site for at least one month in protest of its lack of action against hate speech, including Holocaust denial. Other Jewish organizations worked in consultation with Facebook to persuade the site to ban Holocaust denial. Facebook’s statement credited the World Jewish Congress and American Jewish Committee with advising on the new policy.

It also cited a recent poll showing a lack of knowledge regarding the Holocaust among Americans younger than 40. The poll found that more than 10% of respondents believed Jews caused the Holocaust, while half of respondents said they had seen Holocaust denial online.

The World Jewish Congress has been speaking with Facebook about how to combat anti-Semitism since 2016, and has held daily meetings leading up to this policy change, said Yfat Barak-Cheney, the group’s director of international affairs.

She said her organization preferred engagement with Facebook rather than external activism because, through her meetings, she saw the social media giant gradually move toward banning Holocaust denial.

“We have flagged to them Holocaust denial, over and over, as an issue on the platform, as an issue in principle that needs to be recognized as anti-Semitism and hate speech,” Barak-Cheney said. “Holocaust denial is not a studying and discussion about historical facts. It’s a tool to spread hatred against Jews.”

She added, “They’ve adapted and they’ve come to understand that by allowing Holocaust denial on their platform, and Holocaust distortion, they’re actually allowing the spread of hatred.”

In a statement, the Anti-Defamation League said it was “relieved” to see the ban on Holocaust denial and called for the company to issue public reports about enforcing the policy.

“While we are relieved to learn this news, we also would note that platform decisions of this nature are only as good as the companies’ enforcement,” read the statement by ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. “Facebook now needs to reassure the global community that it is taking meaningful and comprehensive steps to ensure that Holocaust deniers are no longer able to take advantage of Facebook’s various platforms to spread antisemitism and hate.”

Facebook’s announcement of the new policy did not define what constitutes “content that denies or distorts the Holocaust.” And the company said it “will take some time to train our reviewers and systems on enforcement,” and that deletion of Holocaust denial “cannot happen overnight.”

“Normally this process would be the other way around,” with Facebook spelling out rules before announcing a new policy, Barak-Cheney said. “Here, because of the importance of the issue and how prevalent it has been, they really decided to make the announcement, but they have a lot of hard work ahead of them on making those boundaries.”

The new policy comes after Facebook tightened its restrictions on other forms of anti-Semitism and hate speech. Last week, Facebook announced that it was banning all groups and pages promoting QAnon, the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. In August, Facebook banned posts about Jews controlling the world as well as other forms of hate speech.

The changes on Holocaust denial and other forms of discrimination reflect a larger shift in Facebook regarding how it deals with freedom of expression and combating hate speech. Zuckerberg, invoking the First Amendment, has consistently said that he favors allowing a broad array of speech regarding politics and other issues, even as a chorus of voices has asked him to do more to prohibit bigotry and disinformation.

In a speech last year at Georgetown University, Zuckerberg said, “I’m proud that our values at Facebook are inspired by the American tradition, which is more supportive of free expression than anywhere else.” During the George Floyd protests this year, Facebook allowed a post by President Donald Trump, who has personally courted Zuckerberg, that said, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter flagged the post as glorifying violence.

“I know many people are upset that we’ve left the President’s posts up, but our position is that we should enable as much expression as possible unless it will cause imminent risk of specific harms or dangers spelled out in clear policies,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post defending the decision.

Facebook has also been criticized for its perceived lack of action regarding political disinformation campaigns during the 2016 election. It has taken more action this year to combat such activity.

“There’s a company ethos for Facebook about the issue of information and not removing information from the platform,” Barak-Cheney said. But regarding Holocaust denial, she added, “I think they realized it’s just been too much and they need to do something about it.”

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Israeli army opens two coronavirus wards for civilians in Rambam Hospital in Haifa

Mon, 2020-10-12 15:07

(JTA) — The Israel Defense Forces opened two civilian coronavirus wards in an underground parking complex designed to be used for medical purposes during wartime.

The opening of the wards at Rambam Hospital in Haifa mark the first time the military has opened medical wards for civilians.

The wards, which opened to patients last month, are in a facility constructed after the hospital came under fire during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

The wards will be staffed by about 100 members of the military’s medical staff, the IDF said in a statement. Over the last week, medical personnel assigned to the wards underwent training by Rambam staff, according to the IDF.

The effort is part of the military’s Operation Tribe of Brothers to help battle the coronavirus pandemic.

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Israeli firefighters battle 250 blazes over hot, dry weekend

Mon, 2020-10-12 15:02

(JTA) — Thousands of Israelis were forced to evacuate their homes over the weekend as a result of fires burning across the country.

Some 250 fires, including 13 identified as very large, spread throughout the country, including the West Bank. Dozens of homes were burned.

Fire and Rescue Commissioner Dedi Simchi told the Kan national broadcaster that some of the fires in the West Bank are believed to have been deliberately set by Palestinians.

Firefighting aircraft flew over 150 sorties to dump flame-retardant foam on the fires, according to the report. Most of the fires started on Friday and were brought under control by the end of the day Saturday.

Some 10,000 people were evacuated from their homes.

Israel has been suffering from a record-breaking heatwave in recent weeks.

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Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat tests positive for the coronavirus

Mon, 2020-10-12 14:59

(JTA) — Chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Palestine Liberation Organization made the announcement Thursday on Erekat’s Twitter feed.

Erekat has quarantined at his home in Jericho, Al Jazeera reported. He met days ago with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the rest of the PLO executive committee, all of whom have since tested negative for the virus.

Erekat is considered at high risk for complications from the coronavirus since he had a heart attack in 2012 and a lung transplant due to pulmonary fibrosis in 2017. He is 65 years old.

Erekat has led the Palestinians in negotiations with Israel for the last 25 years. He is the secretary general of the PLO.

The Secretariat of the PLO Executive Committee and the NAD announce that Dr.Saeb Erekat, the PLO SG and the Head of the Negotiations Dept,has been infected with COVID-19,and wishes him a speedy recovery.We apologize for canceling all his appointments until his complete recovery. https://t.co/xUytieknl8

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Israel’s oldest man dies at 117

Mon, 2020-10-12 14:55

(JTA) — Israel’s oldest man, Shlomo Sulayman, has died at the age of 117.

Sulayman died Sunday with is family by his side, according to Ynet. He is survived by six children as well as “dozens of grandkids, great and great-great grandkids.”

Sulayman was living on his own and his mind was clear until the very end, said his grandson Gil Radia, who said that confinement to his home in recent months due to the coronavirus pandemic did his grandfather “harm.”

“Until the pandemic, he would go to the synagogue, even at the age of 116. He was a very modest man, which is why everyone loved him. But I guess the isolation at home contributed to his health deteriorating,” Radia said.

Sulayman, who his family says was born in 1903, immigrated from Yemen to Israel with his wife and four children in 1949. Two other children were born in Israel. Sulayman served in the Israel Defense Forces and worked in agriculture. His wife died several years ago at the age of 94.

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Federal appeals court upholds US citizenship for twin son of same-sex couple

Mon, 2020-10-12 14:48

(JTA) — The son of a Jewish same-sex couple should be granted U.S. citizenship, a federal appeals court ruled.

The ruling on Friday by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upholds an earlier district court decision recognizing the citizenship from birth of Ethan Dvash-Banks, who was born by surrogacy in Canada to Andrew and Elad Dvash-Banks, a married gay couple. Ethan’s twin brother, Aiden, was granted citizenship from birth.

Andrew Dvash-Banks, an American, and Elad Dvash-Banks, an Israeli, married in Canada in 2010. Their sons were conceived with donor eggs and the sperm from both fathers, and were born from the same surrogate mother minutes apart in September 2016. Both fathers are listed as the parents on the birth certificates.

Shortly after the births, the fathers applied for American citizenship for their sons. The officer asked for “highly personal details” about the conception of the twins, leading the men to leave the consulate “shocked, humiliated, and hurt,” according to a lawsuit filed in 2018. The men were forced to undergo DNA tests that proved Elad is the father of Ethan and Andrew is the father of Aiden. The State Department then denied Ethan citizenship and treated both children as if they were born out of wedlock.

In February 2019, a federal district judge ruled that the State Department was wrong to deny citizenship to Ethan because U.S. law does not require a child to show a biological relationship with their parents if the parents were married at the time of birth. Ethan was then issued a U.S. passport, but the State Department appealed the decision.

“No longer will these parents have to worry that their twin sons will be treated as if they were born out of wedlock simply because they have two fathers,” Aaron C. Morris, executive director of Immigration Equality and co-counsel for the family, said in a statement.

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Jewish American Paul Milgrom shares Nobel Prize in economics for auction theory discoveries

Mon, 2020-10-12 14:44

(JTA) — Jewish American economist Paul Milgrom will share the Nobel Prize in economics with American economist Robert Wilson for their work in auction theory, the the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced Monday.

The laureates’ theoretical discoveries in their studies of how auctions work have improved auctions in practice, according to the prize committee. Milgrom and Wilson have “used their insights to design new auction formats for goods and services that are difficult to sell in a traditional way, such as radio frequencies. Their discoveries have benefitted sellers, buyers, and taxpayers around the world.”

Milgrom, 72, raised in a Jewish family in Detroit, earned a PhD in economics from Stanford University in 1979 and is now the the Shirley and Leonard Ely Jr. Professor of Humanities and Sciences there. Wilson was his thesis advisor.

He is not the first Jewish Nobel laureate this year — last week, scientist Harvey Alter shared the prize in medicine and poet Louise Gluck won the prize in literature.

Milgrom is known for analyzing the bidding strategies in a number of well-known auction formats, demonstrating that a format can give the seller higher expected revenue when bidders learn more about each other’s estimated values during bidding.

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After Heshy Tischler is arrested for inciting a riot in Borough Park, his followers mob the home of the reporter he targeted

Mon, 2020-10-12 05:36

(JTA) — A dispute that has roiled Borough Park, an Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn, took a dark new turn Sunday night after Heshy Tischler, the man who led protests against COVID-19 restrictions there last week was arrested and charged with inciting a riot.

The New York Police Department announced Sunday night that it had taken Tischler into custody and that he had been charged with “inciting to riot and unlawful imprisonment in connection with an assault of a journalist.”

That journalist was Jacob Kornbluh, a reporter for Jewish Insider whom Tischler, with a crowd at his back, cornered during a protest Wednesday night and accused of being a “moser,” or informant — a charge that some Jewish legal texts say merits the death penalty. Kornbluh, a Borough Park resident, has reported about rising infection rates in Orthodox areas and the behaviors, including relatively infrequent mask-wearing, that may be fueling the rise.

Late Sunday, following Tischler’s arrest, crowds formed outside Kornbluh’s apartment building, at a busy intersection in Borough Park, with people in the crowd again shouting the “moser” accusation. In one video posted by a “Tischler fan account” on Twitter, people can be heard shouting, “Shame on you.” Other videos circulating on WhatsApp, the messaging service popular among Orthodox Jews, showed a significant police presence amassing outside the apartment building.

Last week, Kornbluh said he would press charges against Tischler, a flamboyant local activist who has emerged as a leader for those in Borough Park who feel that Orthodox Jewish communities are being unfairly singled out in the city’s pandemic response. And a wide range of local officials condemned him, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who said Thursday about Tischler’s behavior, “It’s absolutely unacceptable, disgusting, really” and vowed a stronger police response. (Read our profile, produced in partnership with New York Magazine, for more background.)

Tischler had announced in a video late Friday that he had been told he would be arrested Monday morning and mused aloud about whether to invite his supporters. But the arrest came earlier, just after the conclusion of the Simchat Torah holiday.

In videos shared on WhatsApp, Tischler can be seen complaining about the timing to the officers who had come to arrest him. One says, “I don’t know what happened. This is above us.”

Tischler shouts, “They tricked me. They’re telling everybody that I’m supposed to be arrested tomorrow.” To the officer, he says, “You’re arresting me when we made a deal. We made a deal that I was supposed to be arrested tomorrow.”

As officers lead a handcuffed Tischler to a squad car, he shouts, “You see what they’re doing? You see what they’re doing, guys?” Onlookers jeer the officers.

A GoFundMe that says it is established for Tischler Sunday evening raised more than $10,000 toward a goal of $50,000 in just four hours, mostly in very small increments. “Please help us raise money for Heshi,” says the fundraising page. “He has done so much for the community, now is our chance to show solidarity.”

Early Monday morning, Kornblum tweeted appreciation for his many well-wishers, drawing nearly a thousand “likes” within minutes.

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Tens of thousands of Israelis renew protests against Netanyahu

Mon, 2020-10-12 01:33

(JTA) — Tens of thousands of Israelis reportedly demonstrated against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in hundreds of sites across Israel on Saturday night, renewing a movement that had been halted by a sharp second wave of the coronavirus.

The country’s second COVID-19 lockdown has kept Israelis from going far from their homes, so many smaller protests erupted in different locales. For instance, fewer than 100 people gathered in Jerusalem’s Paris Square, the site of large past protests. A group of people on bicycles were fined for trying to ride in front of Netanyahu’s private home in Caesarea earlier on Saturday.

But as they did regularly for months earlier in the year, the protesters decried Netanyahu’s botched coronavirus pandemic response, his handling of the economy and his alleged involvement in multiple corruption scandals. Hundreds were able to gather in Tel Aviv, including many in Rabin Square and Habima Square.

Police claimed that there were several injuries due to protester violence.

Israel is in the midst of a strict second nationwide lockdown instituted to stop the rapid spread of the coronavirus. On Saturday, a report claimed that the health ministry believes the lockdown will last for months.

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Seeking to contain the damage, Israel eyes a 4-month exit from second COVID lockdown

Mon, 2020-10-12 01:04

(JTA) — Israel’s health ministry will recommend a four-month plan to exit the current COVID-19 lockdown to government officials this week.

The exit strategy will involve nine stages that will likely take until February 2021, Israel’s Channel 12 reported on Saturday.

A specific drop in the daily number of infections is required to trigger each stage.

Israel went into a second nationwide lockdown in mid-September after an alarming spike in coronavirus cases representing what many are calling the worst second wave of infections in the world.

Politicians across the spectrum admit that the country’s economy opened too quickly the first time around, and the health ministry’s strategy takes a much slower tack. The government’s coronavirus committee will need to approve the new plan.

The first stage, set to begin in a week, will not progress until there are less than 2,000 daily infections. It will open pre-schools and kindergartens, end the under-a-mile limit that people can travel from their homes, allow family visits and reopen Ben Gurion Airport. The second stage, tentatively set for the first of November, will not allow more than 1,000 daily infections; it would open school for first through fourth grade and open synagogues.

The third stage, aimed for two weeks later, will require less than 500 new coronavirus cases a day. It will reopen retail stores, gyms, malls and markets.

Cities and towns with high rates of infection could reopen more slowly if their numbers do not improve.

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Gal Gadot to star as Egyptian queen Cleopatra in historical biopic

Mon, 2020-10-12 00:50

(JTA) — Gal Gadot will channel a real-life wonder woman as the star of a blockbuster film about the Egyptian queen Cleopatra.

The Israeli star will work on the film alongside “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins, Deadline first reported.

Gadot’s husband Yaron Varsano and the couple’s Pilot Wave production company will be involved in the project as well. Universal, Warner Bros, Netflix and Apple also vied for the rights to the film, according to the report.

The most famous Cleopatra film starred Elizabeth Taylor and won four Academy Awards at the 1964 Oscars after being nominated for a total of nine.

Gadot currently is filming “Red Notice,” the most expensive Netflix feature film to date, with Ryan Reynolds and Dwayne Johnson.

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Israel’s cycling team notches first-ever stage win at one of the sport’s biggest races

Sun, 2020-10-11 14:48

(JTA) — An Israeli professional cycling team won a stage of one of the three major international races for the first time ever on Saturday.

Alex Dowsett won Stage 8 of the Giro d’Italia for Team Israel Start-Up Nation, which was established in 2015 and joined the highest level of professional cycling only last year.

The Giro d’Italia is one of cycling’s three prestigious Grand Tour races, along with the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana.

Dowsett cried after he passed the finish line.

“All the excitement demonstrates that our project has significance beyond sport, it’s showing the true heart of Israel to hundreds of millions of fans around the world. I could not be more proud,” team co-owner Sylvan Adams said in a statement.

Israel Start-Up Nation made its first appearance in the Giro d’Italia in 2018 when Adams, a Canadian-Israeli real estate magnate, brought the cycling race to Israel for the first three stages, the first time any leg of cycling’s Grand Tour races took place outside of Europe.

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