Day: March 11, 2017

Yemen Withdraws Permission for U.S. Antiterror Ground Missions

WASHINGTON — Angry at the civilian casualties incurred last month in the first commando raid authorized by President Trump, Yemen has withdrawn permission for the United States to run Special Operations ground missions against suspected terrorist groups in the country, according to American officials.

Grisly photographs of children apparently killed in the crossfire of a 50-minute firefight during the raid caused outrage in Yemen. A member of the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, Chief Petty Officer William Owens, was also killed in the operation.

While the White House continues to insist that the attack was a “success” — a characterization it repeated on Tuesday — the suspension of commando operations is a setback for Mr. Trump, who has made it clear he plans to take a far more aggressive approach against Islamic militants.

It also calls into question whether the Pentagon will receive permission from the president for far more autonomy in selecting and executing its counterterrorism missions in Yemen, which it sought, unsuccessfully, from President Barack Obama in the last months of his term.

Mr. Obama deferred the decision to Mr. Trump, who appeared inclined to grant it: His approval of the Jan. 29 raid came over a dinner four nights earlier with his top national security aides, rather than in the kind of rigorous review in the Situation Room that became fairly routine under President George W. Bush and Mr. Obama.

The raid, in which just about everything went wrong, was an early test of Mr. Trump’s national security decision-making — and his willingness to rely on the assurances of his military advisers. His aides say that even though the decision was made over a dinner, it had been fully vetted, and had the requisite legal approvals.

Mr. Trump will soon have to make a decision about the more general request by the Pentagon to allow more of such operations in Yemen without detailed, and often time-consuming, White House review. It is unclear whether Mr. Trump will allow that, or how the series of mishaps that marked his first approval of such an operation may have altered his thinking about the human and political risks of similar operations.

The Pentagon has said that the main objective of the raid was to recover laptop computers, cellphones and other information that could help fill gaps in its understanding of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, whose leaders have tried to carry out at least three attacks on the United States. But it is unclear whether the information the commandos recovered will prove valuable.

The White House continued its defense of the raid on Tuesday, making no reference to the Yemeni reaction.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, denied reports that the purpose of the attack was to capture or kill any specific Qaeda leader. “The raid that was conducted in Yemen was an intelligence-gathering raid,” he said. “That’s what it was. It was highly successful. It achieved the purpose it was going to get, save the loss of life that we suffered and the injuries that occurred.”

Neither the White House nor the Yemenis have publicly announced the suspension. Pentagon spokesmen declined to comment, but other military and civilian officials confirmed that Yemen’s reaction had been strong.

It was unclear if Yemen’s decision to halt the ground attacks was also influenced by Mr. Trump’s inclusion of the country on his list of nations from which he wants to temporarily suspend all immigration, an executive order that is now being challenged in the federal courts.

According to American civilian and military officials, the Yemeni ban on operations does not extend to military drone attacks, and does not affect the handful of American military advisers who are providing intelligence support to the Yemenis and forces from the United Arab Emirates.

In 2014, Yemen’s government temporarily halted those drones from flying because of botched operations that also killed civilians. But later they quietly resumed, and in recent years they have been increasing in frequency, a sign of the fact that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is considered one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist groups.

The raid stirred immediate outrage among Yemeni government officials, some of whom accused the Trump administration of not fully consulting with them before the mission. Within 24 hours of the assault on a cluster of houses in a tiny village in mountainous central Yemen, the country’s foreign minister, Abdul Malik Al Mekhlafi, condemned the raid in a post on his official Twitter account as “extrajudicial killings.”

In an interview with Al Jazeera this week, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, Yemen’s ambassador to the United States, said that President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi raised concerns about the raid in a meeting with the American ambassador to Yemen in Riyadh on Feb. 2.

“Yemen’s government is a key partner in the war against terrorism,” Mr. Mubarak said in the interview, adding that Yemen’s cooperation should not come “at the expense of the Yemeni citizens and the country’s sovereignty.”

The Pentagon has acknowledged that the raid killed several civilians, including children, and is investigating. The dead include, by the account of relatives, the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Qaeda leader who was killed in a targeted drone strike in 2011.

In a sign of the contentiousness that public disclosures of the raid have caused, Pentagon officials on Tuesday provided lawmakers on Capitol Hill with a classified briefing on the mission. One participant in that meeting said military officials told them “they got what they wanted,” without offering details. But Senator John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said afterward that the raid was a failure.

American counterterrorism officials have expressed growing fears about their lack of understanding of Qaeda operations in Yemen since the United States was forced to withdraw the last 125 Special Operations advisers from the country in March 2015 after Houthi rebels ousted the government of President Hadi, the Americans’ main counterterrorism partner.

The Pentagon has tried to start rebuilding its counterterrorism operations in Yemen since then. Last May, American Special Operations forces helped Yemeni and Emirati troops evict Qaeda fighters from the port city of Al Mukalla.

Al Qaeda had used Al Mukalla as a base as the militants stormed through southern Yemen, capitalizing on the power vacuum caused by the country’s 14-month civil war and seizing territory, weapons and money.

The deadly raid last month, launched from an amphibious assault ship off the Yemeni coast, was the first known American-led ground mission in Yemen since December 2014, when members of SEAL Team 6 stormed a village in southern Yemen in an effort to free an American photojournalist held hostage by Al Qaeda. But the raid ended with the kidnappers killing the journalist and a South African held with him.

The United States conducted 38 drone strikes in Yemen last year, up from 23 in 2014, and has already carried out five strikes so far this year, according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal.

In response to the raid, Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen urged followers last weekend to attack the United States and its allies in the country.

Qasim al-Raymi, the leader of the Qaeda offshoot, likened his fighters to extremists battling American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a speech translated by SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks extremist activities and messaging.

Specialists in Yemeni culture and politics have cautioned that Al Qaeda would seize on the raid to whip up anti-American feelings and attract more followers.

“The use of U.S. soldiers, high civilian casualties and disregard for local tribal and political dynamics,” the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a report released last Thursday, “plays into AQAP’s narrative of defending Muslims against the West and could increase anti-U.S. sentiment and with it AQAP’s pool of recruits.”


This Sephardi studies scholar sees preserving Ladino as an ‘act of resistance’ against Trump

(JTA) — One-year-old Vidal doesn’t know the significance behind the lullaby his father sings him at bedtime. He knows it helps him fall asleep, but not that the Ladino song is part of an effort to teach him what served as the lingua franca of Sephardi Jews of the Ottoman Empire for over 500 years.

And he doesn’t know that when he says his first words, he will join a shrinking cadre of Ladino speakers, most of them elderly, who hold the keys to a culture that is on the brink of extinction.

“To lose a language is to lose a world, and we’re on the cusp of that,” his father, Devin Naar, told JTA.

Naar, a professor of Sephardic studies at the University of Washington, is deeply passionate about preserving Ladino — which is also known as Judeo-Spanish, Judezmo or Judio — the language his grandfather’s family spoke in their native Greece. By teaching Vidal Ladino, Naar hopes to fulfill a longtime dream of transmitting its legacy to his son.

In recent months, there’s something else at stake too. The 33-year-old Seattle resident sees the linguistic roots of Ladino, which include Hebrew, Spanish, Turkish and Arabic, as providing a way to connect Jews with Latinos and Muslims. Preserving Ladino is “a specific political act of resistance in Trump’s America,” Naar said.

“It’s a language of linguistic fusion that is based in Spanish but really brings together a lot of other linguistic elements that I think give it a special resonance, especially in today’s world, because it serves as bridge language between different cultures — between Jewish culture, between Spanish culture and between the Muslim world,” Naar said.

President Donald Trump has signed executive orders to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and to ban immigrants from some Muslim majority countries.

“If Trump is interested in building a wall, Judezmo serves as a bridge, and I think that we need bridges such as this in our time,” Naar said.

Naar’s grandfather came to the United States with most of his family in 1924 from Salonica, Greece, in the midst of discriminatory measures being passed against Jews there. Family members left behind later perished in the Holocaust, along with 95 percent of the city’s Jews.

In the U.S., there were other difficulties. Naar’s grandfather heard anti-Semitic slurs and other insults from bigots who mistook him for South American or Middle Eastern.

Speaking Ladino serves as a method of “reclaiming that heritage and activating that heritage not only for personal and family reasons but for political reasons,” Naar said.

Ladino emerged following the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, when the community dispersed throughout the Ottoman Empire and came in contact with local languages as well as different Iberian dialects. At its height in the beginning of the 20th century, the language had about half a million speakers, Naar estimated.

Estimates of current Ladino speakers vary widely, from between 160,000-300,000 people with some familiarity with the language to around 50,000-100,000 speakers. Most of the population today is elderly, but there is renewed interest in the language in some universities in the U.S. and Israel as well as among Sephardi Jews.

Teaching Vidal Ladino has its challenges — there is no complete English-Ladino dictionary and most speakers are older. Naar was recently reading Vidal a children’s book about a dinosaur with “slippery flippers” and found himself at a loss for how to translate that expression into Ladino. He consulted a scholar in Israel and a local Ladino speaker to get it right.

“It’s a learning process for me, both speaking to him and recognizing the limits of my vocabulary and trying to expand my vocabulary,” Naar said.

But he isn’t alone. Naar enlisted the help of a Seattle-based group of elderly Ladino speakers, who translated “Little Red Riding Hood” into the language as a gift to Vidal. And his wife, Andrea, speaks to their son in a mix of English, Spanish and Ladino.

Rachel Amado Bortnick, the founder of an online community for Ladino speakers, told JTA that she had only heard of one other case in the last decade of a child being taught to speak Ladino.

“There’s no community that uses it daily — it’s very challenging, to put it mildly, to actually pass on the language in the way that a person like me grew up in,” said Bortnick, who learned Ladino as a child in her native Turkey.

Naar’s interest in the language goes back to his family history. He grew up hearing his grandfather and older relatives speak the language.

But by the time he started college in 2001, he had only learned a few words: greetings, curses, food-related words and liturgical passages. Questions from classmates about his last name, which did not sound like the Ashkenazi Jewish names they were familiar with, motivated him to dig deeper into his heritage.

He started studying Sephardi history and asked his grandfather to teach him Ladino.

A year later, Naar was able to read letters detailing the fate of family members who had perished in Auschwitz. The letters, written in Ladino by a family friend after World War II, had been tucked away in a closet, and some of Naar’s family members had been unaware of their existence and the details they provided of the deaths of family members.

“The older generation, they couldn’t believe it. They hadn’t heard somebody speak like that in years, so that was very powerful for me,” Naar said.

Now he’s doing his part to pass the language on to the next generation — and with it, a set of values.

“One of my goals in trying to teach Vidal Ladino would be so that he has a sense of connection and awareness, not only of where he comes from, but also how the culture that he is connected to is connected to many other people, so that if he sees that immigrants in general or Spanish-speaking immigrants or Muslims in America are being maligned, I hope that he would be inspired to stand up.”



Last week, US Marines were sent to Syria to aid in the battle to oust Islamic State from its capital in Raqqa. This brings the total of US troops there to almost 1,000, according to multiple reports.

As the Marines were arriving, the US 75th Infantry Regiment (Ranger) carried out a very visible maneuver, driving around the outskirts of a town called Manbij, flying the Stars and Stripes in a show of force to warn off Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies. The Turks had threatened to attack Manbij, which is being held by US allies known as the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The US decision to up its commitment to Syria comes after six years of bloody war, which is one reason it was not met as a major surprise. The Russians intervened in Syria in 2015 to support the regime and Turkey sent troops into the country in 2016 to support Syrian rebels. The American role is not unique in this respect; it is backing its mostly Kurdish allies in the east.

The American moves in Syria represent a greater internationalization of the conflict that began in 2011 as a revolution by Syrians against decades of dictatorship by the Assad family. The Pentagon’s involvement in the country is aimed at destroying Islamic State, first from the air, then with special forces and small arms, and now with Marines and Rangers. Along the way the Americans have learned that supporting their main allies in Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces, is a complicated venture.

The SDF is an outgrowth of the successful Kurdish war against ISIS. The Kurdish armed forces in Syria, called the People’s Protection Units (YPG), are viewed as terrorists by Turkey which asserts they are connected to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The SDF was established as a way to create some space between the YPG and Arab units it recruited as it conquered territory from ISIS. The SDF also allowed the YPG to rebrand itself beyond its Kurdish cantons, as a diverse Syrian entity. Between May and August 2016 the SDF conquered a swath of area across the Euphrates and took the town of Manbij.

The SDF advance was checked by the Turkish- backed intervention that began in August, dubbed Euphrates Shield. Ostensibly the Turks were intervening to clear ISIS from their border and take the town of al-Bab, but statements often targeted the SDF and YPG as equal adversaries. On March 2, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that “after the liberation of al-Bab from Daesh [ISIS] terrorists, Turkey’s new target in Syria is Manbij. Manbij is a city which belongs to Arabs, and the SDF must also not be in Raqqa.” Erdogan, however, faces pressures at home over a referendum and a new UN report highlighting alleged abuses in the war against the PKK.

US Army Lt.-Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (established by the US-led coalition to fight ISIS), told reporters that he was concerned about the convergence of Turkish, Russian, Syrian regime and ISIS forces in the areas near Manbij. “Essentially three armies and an enemy force have all converged within the same grid.”

This creates two problems for the Americans. If Turkey attacks America’s SDF allies in Manbij, then the SDF will divert resources from the Raqqa offensive to fight Turkey and its Arab allies. At the same time the SDF is closing in on Raqqa more rapidly then expected, coming within 20 kilometers of the city center on Thursday. The SDF is also on the verge of breaking a threeyear siege of Deir ez-Zor, a city downstream on the Euphrates from Raqqa. The Syrian regime has held Deir ez-Zor against ISIS since 2014.

The US wants Raqqa captured, and its dispatch of the Marines to man M777 155mm artillery that will zero in on the ISIS fighters and pummel them, as it did in the Mosul offensive in Iraq, is key to the strategy. What was not foreseen as key to the effort was to send US Rangers to drive around Manbij in armored vehicles, just to show the flag and make the Turks and their allies think twice about any moves on the city.

Here the US has embarked on a unique strategy and in a sense “bought in” to the Syria war. Before the flag-flying its presence was clouded in secrecy, ambiguous and often imprecise, praising the SDF while meeting with the Turks and never giving clear signals as to which force would actually take Raqqa. The Turks have kept urging for an Arab Turkish-allied force to help take Raqqa. There seems no chance of that now; the Turks are too far away and their statements against the SDF do not warrant any alliance with them.

Instead what has happened is that the SDF has grown closer to the US, the Syrian regime and Russia, and the US finds itself in an awkward position where it may help retake Raqqa, only to see the city eventually handed over to the Syrian government of Bashar Assad. That would mark a sea change since two years ago, when the US was still insisting Assad leave power and the CIA was reportedly backing Syrian rebels in Jordan and Turkey.

Now it appears more US troops will be on the way and the model for how Mosul was taken – embedding US special forces at the front – will be used to clear out Raqqa. The question that US policy- makers have to ask, after all this investment in eastern Syria, including in airfields and allying closely with the Kurds, is what happens when ISIS is defeated. On that question the Pentagon has remained mum, as has the US administration.



WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM — A comprehensive agreement settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would advance peace across the region and the world, US President Donald Trump told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a phone call on Friday, according to a readout of the conversation released by the White House.

In his first call with the Palestinian leader, Trump said: “Peace is possible and that the time has come to make a deal,” underscoring that an agreement must be negotiated directly between the two parties.


“The United States will work closely with Palestinian and Israeli leadership to make progress toward that goal,” the White House said.

“The president noted that the United States cannot impose a solution on the Israelis and Palestinians, nor can one side impose an agreement on the other.”

Trump invited Abbas to visit Washington for consultations “very soon,” Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeinah told Wafa, the official PA news site.

A Palestinian source, who was present during the phone call, said the call lasted 10 minutes and was cordial.

The source added that the topics of settlement construction and the American embassy were not discussed.

According to Abu Rudeinah, Abbas stressed his firm belief “in peace as a strategic choice to establish a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel.”

Abbas called Jordan’s King Abdullah II shortly before and after his conversation with Trump, amid reports that the US president’s team is eyeing a regional approach to a new Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

PA representatives and Trump administration officials have only met twice since the president assumed office, while two top Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have already made official visits.

In early February, PA General Intelligence chief Majid Faraj and National Security Council officials met in the US capital. A week later, Abbas and CIA Director Mike Pompeo met in Ramallah, a day before Netanyahu arrived in Washington to hold talks with Trump.

Trump cast doubt on the US’s longtime commitment to the two-state solution, speaking at a press conference on February 15 when Netanyahu visited Washington. “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like… I can live with either one,” Trump said.

Friday’s call comes a week before Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s adviser for international negotiations, plans to visit the Middle East. Greenblatt is slated to visit Jerusalem and Ramallah to discuss a variety of issues pertaining to the peace process.



Two German tabloids in Hamburg and Berlin wrote on Friday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is one of the world’s seven most insane dictators, prompting the Israeli Embassy to slam the report as antisemitic.

In unsigned articles titled “The seven looniest dictators of the world,” the papers included Netanyahu on a list with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Syria’s Bashar Assad, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.


The article listed the initials of the author as MKR.

The Hamburger Morgenpost and Berliner Kurier, part of the same publishing house, wrote under a picture of Netanyahu that he “long refuses to agree to a two-state solution. He continues to carry out construction of settlements and thereby provokes his Palestinian neighbors. In the long-running troubles with Iran, he tried without success to pressure Barack Obama to launch an air attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. With Trump that could turn out differently.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry and the embassy immediately responded to a Post query on Saturday.

The Israeli Embassy in Berlin told The Jerusalem Post: “The fact that the elected prime minister of a Western democracy – that has been struggling for its life ever since it was founded – is placed in the same category as some of the worst dictatorships in the world, bears witness more than anything to the newspaper’s level of understanding about what is happening in the world today or about something much worse, that should have disappeared from the world long ago: antisemitism.”

Volker Beck, a Green Party deputy in the Bundestag, wrote to his more than 73,400 Twitter followers that the articles are “simply outrageous.” One can criticize Netanyahu but whoever prepared the list “lost all sense of proportion.”

The Morgenpost has a daily circulation of nearly 73,000 in the northern city of Hamburg. The paper also criticized Israel as a travel destination, writing, “Israel brutally represses the Palestinians in occupied West Jordan [sic]. Vacation in Israel is an experience, but a matter of taste for critical travelers.”

Carsten Ovens, the scientific spokesman of the Christian Democratic Union in Hamburg, told the Post that “Israel is, in fact, a great travel country. How one can as the editorial department of a German daily paper combine an unreflective and one-sided criticism of the only democracy in the Middle East with a negative travel recommendation is highly questionable. I will on Monday invite the editorial management of the Mopo [Morgenpost] to a personal conversation.” Ovens is a politician in the Hamburg legislature who has led the fight against boycotts of Israel in the city.

Claudio Casula, the author of the popular pro-Israel blog Spirit of Entebbe, was one of the first to draw attention to the article, on Twitter. He told the Post that “it is a joke to include the elected prime minister of Israel on the list of the seven insane dictators.” He said Israel’s democracy is ranked at 36th of 167 countries in the world, according to the Democracy Index.

Casula, a longtime observer of German media coverage of Israel, added that the list failed to include Sudan President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The Mopo tweeted on Saturday evening: “The classification of Netanyahu in the list was incorrect. We apologize for that.”

The Morgenpost and the Kurier did not immediately respond to Post inquires.



Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is ratcheting up pressure on banks to close the accounts of groups that boycott Israel, including one organization that has links to an internationally recognized Palestinian terrorist organization.

“Facilitating the bank accounts of BDS organizations constitutes support for BDS. Banks maintaining such accounts should carefully consider the danger of running afoul of strict anti-BDS legislation in the US and other countries,” Erdan told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive statement on Thursday.


“Countries have already shut BDS accounts for legal reasons and we urge others to do the same,” he added.

The Post’s ongoing investigative series on financial institutions enabling boycott groups to target Israel revealed that BDS South Africa’s bank account is maintained at that country’s First National Bank.

BDS South Africa – one of the most powerful and aggressive anti-Israel groups internationally – held a series of fund-raisers in 2015 with Leila Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which the US and EU have designated as a terrorist organization.

The BDS South Africa website shows a photograph of Khaled hosted by the group with a caption that reads, “Leila Khaled fund-raising dinner in Rustenburg.” A second photograph carries the caption: “Leila Khaled fundraising dinner in Pretoria.”

Khaled was a key member of a terrorist cell that hijacked TWA Flight 840 in 1969. A year later, she participated in the hijacking of EL AL Flight 219. BDS South Africa termed Khaled a “Palestine icon” on its website. It is unclear whether the money raised was sent via the First National Bank account to the PFLP and Khaled, or held in the account to promote BDS in South Africa and abroad.

Concerns about money laundering for crime and terrorism, as well as anti-BDS laws, have triggered the closure over the past year of BDS accounts in Ireland, US, Austria, France, the UK and Germany.

Nainesh Desai, First National Bank’s business chief risk officer, wrote to the Post: “Due to client confidentiality, First National Bank (FNB) cannot disclose information about any of its customers to a third party.”

In June, the Austrian financial giant BAWAG closed the bank account of Vienna’s Austrian-Arab cultural center, OKAZ, because it hosted Khaled in April.

First National Bank maintains a correspondence bank relationship with the UK’s Standard Chartered. When asked if First National used Standard Chartered to transfer BDS funds and payments for the PFLP, Julie Gibson, a Standard Chartered spokeswoman, said: “Whenever we receive complaints or information about potentially suspicious activity, we look into it.”

Gibson told the Post by phone that an investigation had been opened into the BDS account, but Lauren Callie, a Standard Chartered spokeswoman in South Africa, wrote to the Post that Gibson “made no reference nor commitment to the bank specifically investigating the BSD account with First National.”

According to Callie, Standard Chartered’s official position is as follows: “In line with the bank’s commitment to preventing fraud, money laundering and terror financing, Standard Chartered will investigate any external reports or tipoffs we receive. Regrettably, we are unable to provide any specifics on our investigations, in the interest of client privacy and confidentiality.”

Gibson told the Post that Standard Chartered has terminated correspondence bank accounts in the past but has declined to state the reasons. She added that the bank complies with US laws regarding terrorism.

Standard Charted admitted in 2012 that it violated sanctions against Iran, and paid $667 million to the US government.

The US government reopened an investigation in 2015 against Standard Chartered for additional violations of Iran sanctions.

Numerous Post press queries to BDS South Africa were not returned.

The International Association of Democratic Lawyers – a pro-BDS organization that supports Iran’s nuclear program – has accounts with Texas-based Comerica Bank and Spain’s La Caixa. When asked about Erdan’s statement, Wayne Mielke, a spokesman for Comerica, told the Post: “We decline to comment outside of reiterating that we have a robust compliance program in place at the bank.”

An anti-BDS bill is working its way through the Texas legislature.

Several queries to La Caixa were not immediately returned.



The deluge of bomb threats against Jewish community centers across North America in recent weeks has caused some parents to opt for alternative early childhood programs, according to the president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, Jerry Silverman.

“As a parent, if you hear that your child has been evacuated from the school, obviously there is a fear factor involved and we have heard of some parents who have chosen other early childhood programs as a direct result,” he told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, a day after 15 more bomb threats were made.
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“Yet, we have a strong message of resiliency and a strong message of strength for many of our constituents where they follow the method and protocols of what you do in a certain instance of any type of threat. The institutions and JCCs do it with excellence, and it’s business as usual in many cases,” Silverman, who will speak at The Jerusalem Post Conference in New York on May 7, stressed.

While some have pointed fingers at US President Donald Trump, alleging that he and his supporters have emboldened antisemites, Silverman refuses to partake in any blame game.

“The [antisemitic] environment, I believe, is something that is years in the making. Things tend to move from Europe, as BDS did, into America and I think the commitment and priority that has been given to our federal and local officials, that this is a very high priority, is what it’s about,” he said. “I think anyone pointing fingers… that’s not taking the right direction.”

Rather, he said, the focus should be on action taken in response to these incidents.

“We feel very good about the support we are getting from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and all the law enforcement departments,” Silverman emphasized.

He also expressed gratitude for voices of support emanating from Israel. In the past several weeks, Israeli leaders have increasingly spoken out against antisemitism in the US after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had faced some criticism for not commenting publicly on the matter.

While some political pundits have declared Israel a partisan issue in the US – with Republicans expressing stronger support for Israel and Democrats showing more sympathy for the Palestinians – Silverman disagrees with assessments of this kind.

“I think there is a strong bipartisan approach across the board still, and I hear it from various parts of the aisle. I think there is strong commitment to our ally in the Middle East,” he maintained.

Silverman is, however, concerned by the growing distance between Israel and US Jews over issues of religious pluralism, the unimplemented deal for an egalitarian section at the Western Wall being a symbol of that friction.

“I think that when you have ministers or varying haredi [ultra-Orthodox] leaders expressing lashon hara [derogatory speech] against Reform Jews or Conservative Jews, when there’s a resolution that’s approved by the government on the Kotel – that because of the haredi parties not wanting any change in the status quo [they] have stopped it – it does create challenges and questions,” he reflected, adding that strongly pro-Israel Reform and Conservative rabbis are struggling with these issues of policy and of politics.

Silverman said that while he does not believe the relationship between Israel and US Jews has been seriously damaged due to these issues, he is “fearful that if this trend continues we could see some erosion.”

He enthusiastically backs Netanyahu’s recent appointment of Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi to coordinate efforts for a resolution over the Western Wall issue.

Turning to US Jewry amid talk of assimilation and dilution of Jewish identity, Silverman remains optimistic.

“I am concerned, but I look at the positives,” he said, referring to the 45,000 young adults going on Birthright trips to Israel this year, in addition to the 550,000 who have already participated in the program, the 13,000 participants of long-term MASA programs in Israel and 4,000 students signed up for internships in Israel this summer, as well as some 6,000 high school students participating in Israel-based programs.

Stressing the importance of these initiatives in enhancing Jewish identity, Silverman draws hope from these numbers.

“Yes, I’m concerned about people’s Jewish education and their Jewish identity as it evolves and if we do nothing it could be a problem. But the fact is we’re not doing nothing, we’re doing things that are hitting critical mass and I truly believe will make a difference over the next decade and we will continue to do these things and we will continue to add to them,” he asserted, adding that he does not believe the current climate in the US is hindering those efforts.

Pointing to a host of other Jewish identity programs which are gaining strength across the US, Silverman said he is “cautiously optimistic that the momentum will shift with the data in the next decade.”

For Silverman, engaging the next generation in Jewish life is the most important challenge and responsibility of US Jewish leaders: “To make sure our children and grandchildren have a Jewish understanding and background – however they practice – that they connect to and understand their Jewish identity. Engaging them is the biggest challenge and that’s why we put so much effort and investment in that.”

UN: 20 million people in four countries face starvation and famine

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The world faces the largest humanitarian crisis since the United Nations was founded in 1945 with more than 20 million people in four countries facing starvation and famine, the UN humanitarian chief said Friday.

Stephen O’Brien told the UN Security Council that “without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death” and “many more will suffer and die from disease.”

He urged an immediate injection of funds for Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeast Nigeria plus safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid “to avert a catastrophe.”

“To be precise,” O’Brien said, “we need $4.4 billion by July.”

Stephen O'Brien, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator

Without a major infusion of money, he said, children will be stunted by severe malnutrition and won’t be able to go to school, gains in economic development will be reversed and “livelihoods, futures and hope will be lost.”

UN and food organizations define famine as when more than 30 percent of children under age 5 suffer from acute malnutrition and mortality rates are two or more deaths per 10,000 people every day, among other criteria.

“Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations,” O’Brien said. “Now, more than 20 million people across four countries face starvation and famine.”

O’Brien said the largest humanitarian crisis is in Yemen where two-thirds of the population — 18.8 million people — need aid and more than seven million people are hungry and don’t know where their next meal will come from. “That is three million people more than in January,” he said.

The Arab world’s poorest nation is engulfed in conflict and O’Brien said more than 48,000 people fled fighting just in the past two months.

During his recent visit to Yemen, O’Brien said he met senior leaders of the government and the Shiite Houthi rebels who control the capital Sanaa, and all promised access for aid.

“Yet all parties to the conflict are arbitrarily denying sustained humanitarian access and politicize aid,” he said, warning if that behavior doesn’t change now “they must be held accountable for the inevitable famine, unnecessary deaths and associated amplification in suffering that will follow.”

For 2017, O’Brien said $2.1 billion is needed to reach 12 million Yemenis “with life-saving assistance and protection” but only 6 percent has been received so far. He announced that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will chair a pledging conference for Yemen on April 25 in Geneva.

The UN humanitarian chief also visited South Sudan, the world’s newest nation which has been ravaged by a three-year civil war, and said “the situation is worse than it has ever been.”

“The famine in South Sudan is man-made,” he said. “Parties to the conflict are parties to the famine — as are those not intervening to make the violence stop.”

O’Brien said more than 7.5 million people need aid, up by 1.4 million from last year, and about 3.4 million South Sudanese are displaced by fighting including almost 200,000 who have fled the country since January.

“More than one million children are estimated to be acutely malnourished across the country, including 270,000 children who face the imminent risk of death should they not be reached in time with assistance,” he said. “Meanwhile, the cholera outbreak that began in June 2016 has spread to more locations.”

In Somalia, which O’Brien also visited, more than half the population — 6.2 million people — need humanitarian assistance and protection, including 2.9 million who are at risk of famine and require immediate help “to save or sustain their lives.”

He warned that close to one million children under the age of five will be “acutely malnourished” this year.

“What I saw and heard during my visit to Somalia was distressing — women and children walk for weeks in search of food and water. They have lost their livestock, water sources have dried up and they have nothing left to survive on,” O’Brien said. “With everything lost, women, boys, girls and men now move to urban centers.”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres is surrounded by Somali refugees as he speaks to the media in an area where arrivals from Somalia have settled, on the outskirts of Dagahaley Camp, outside Dadaab, Kenya, July 10, 2011. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

The humanitarian chief said current indicators mirror “the tragic picture of 2011 when Somalia last suffered a famine.” But he said the UN’s humanitarian partners have a larger footprint, better controls on resources, and a stronger partnership with the new government which recently declared the drought a national disaster.

“To be clear, we can avert a famine,” O’Brien said. “We’re ready despite incredible risk and danger … but we need those huge funds now.”

In northeast Nigeria, a seven-year uprising by the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram has killed more than 20,000 people and driven 2.6 million from their homes. A UN humanitarian coordinator said last month that malnutrition in the northeast is so pronounced that some adults are too weak to walk and some communities have lost all their toddlers.

Twin bombings kill at least 46 in Damascus Old City

DAMASCUS, Syria (AFP) — Twin bombs targeting Shiite pilgrims on Saturday killed 46 people in Damascus, most of them Iraqis, a monitoring group said, in one of the bloodiest attacks in the Syrian capital.

There have been periodic bomb attacks in Damascus, but the stronghold of the regime of President Bashar Assad has been largely spared the destruction faced by other major cities in six years of civil war.

A roadside bomb detonated as a bus passed and a suicide bomber blew himself up in the Bab al-Saghir area, which houses several Shiite mausoleums that draw pilgrims from around the world, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“There are also dozens of people wounded, some of them in a serious condition,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

State television said there were 40 dead and 120 wounded after “terrorists detonated two bombs.”

It broadcast footage of several white buses with their windows shattered, some of them heavily charred.

Shoes, glasses and wheelchairs laid scattered on the ground covered in blood.

Syrian Interior Minister Mohammad Shaar said the attack targeted “pilgrims of various Arab nationalities.”

“The sole aim was to kill,” he said.

The Iraqi foreign ministry said around 40 of its nationals were among the dead and 120 among the wounded.

There was no immediate claim for the attack.

Shiite shrines are a frequent target of attack for Sunni extremists of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group (IS), not only in Syria but also in neighboring Iraq.

The Sayeda Zeinab mausoleum to the south of Damascus, Syria’s most visited Shiite pilgrimage site, has been hit by several deadly bombings during the six-year-old civil war.

Twin suicide bombings in the high-security Kafr Sousa district of the capital in January killed 10 people, eight of them soldiers.

That attack was claimed by former al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front which said that it had targeted Russian military advisers working with the Syrian army.

It was widely seen as an attempt to disrupt UN-brokered peace talks that took place the following month which to the anger of Fateh al-Sham were supported by its former Islamist rebel ally Ahrar al-Sham.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura has called a new round of talks for March 23.

Fateh al-Sham has been repeatedly bombed in its northwestern stronghold this year, not only by the Syrian army and its Russian ally but also by a US-led coalition battling IS in both Syria and Iraq.

The rift over the UN-brokered talks between the rebels and the government has also seen deadly clashes between the jihadists and their former Islamist rebel allies.

The two groups had together seized virtually all of the northwestern province of Idlib but are now vying for territorial control.

Bomb attacks are rare in Damascus. The Syrian capital is sometimes the target of shelling by rebel groups who hold areas on the outskirts.

On December 16 a seven-year-old girl wearing an explosive belt blew herself up outside a police station in Midan district, wounding three police officers.

Two blasts near state security agencies in Kafr Sousa in December 2011 killed more than 40 people and wounded more than 150, the Syrian government said at the time.

Trump praises arrest of ‘troubled’ White House intruder

POTOMAC FALLS, Va. (AP) — US President Donald Trump said Saturday that the US Secret Service did a “phenomenal job” apprehending a “troubled person” who got onto the White House grounds after climbing a fence on the east side of the property while Trump was inside the executive mansion.

It was the first known security breach at the White House since Trump took office nearly two months ago.

The Secret Service said in a statement that the individual, whom it did not identify, was arrested on the south grounds without further incident after climbing an outer perimeter fence near the Treasury Department and East Executive Avenue at about 11:38 p.m. Friday.

No hazardous materials were found during a search of a backpack the individual carried over the fence, the agency said.

“Secret Service did a fantastic job last night,” Trump said Saturday from his golf club in Northern Virginia. Trump described the intruder as a “troubled person” and “very sad.” He was briefed on the matter Friday night.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly also was briefed on the incident, the Secret Service said. Kelly was among several Cabinet secretaries and senior White House staff members who attended a working lunch with the president at the Trump National Golf Club.

President Donald Trump, center, meets Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, right, and Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, left, along with other members of his cabinet and the White House staff, Saturday, March 11, 2017, at the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The Secret Service also said a search of the north and south White House grounds found “nothing of concern to security operations.”

The agency didn’t provide an update Saturday on the individual’s status. Standard practice is to turn intruders over to the local police department