British student union votes out president who backed boycotts, ridiculed Zionists

(JTA) — A Muslim activist who supports boycotting Israel and Palestinian resistance to the Jewish state has lost in her bid to be re-elected as president of the United Kingdom’s National Union of Students.

Jewish groups welcomed news that Malia Bouattia, who once described Birmingham University as a “Zionist outpost,” lost Wednesday to Shakira Martin, who received 402 votes to Bouattia’s 272.

“Shakira’s election demonstrates a rejection of the divisive rhetoric used by the current president, Malia Bouattia, whose past anti-Ssemitic comments have remained problematic for Jewish students for over a year,” a spokesperson for the Union of Jewish Students told the Jewish Chronicle. “The overwhelming majority of Jewish students across the UK will be grateful that NUS will soon be led once again by a capable leader who is genuinely committed to ensuring that the student movement stands up for all its members.”

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Lawmakers (White Freemasons) introduce bipartisan resolution to honor Israeli-American community

(JTA) — Two New York Congress members introduced a bipartisan resolution to honor the Israeli-American community ahead of Jewish Heritage Month in May.

On Wednesday, Reps. Grace Meng, a Democrat, and Lee Zeldin, a Republican, introduced the resolution, which “affirms that the Israeli-American community has contributed immensely to American society and culture.”

The resolution lauds Israeli-Americans’ contributions to the fields of national security, high-tech and biotech, and highlights two successful Israeli Americans — Abraham Karem, an aerospace engineer, and Safra Catz, the CEO of Oracle.

Meng and Zeldin, who is Jewish, in a statement Thursday praised the contributions of Israeli Americans.

“From creating technological advancements that we use every day, to starting businesses that employ tens of thousands of Americans, the Israeli-American community continues to thrive, thereby strengthening our economy,” Meng said.

Zeldin said: “Israeli-Americans contribute in many ways that create jobs and help grow our economy, while strengthening our nation’s national security to protect America’s interests at home and abroad.”

Jewish refugee aid group criticizes Trump’s hotline on undocumented criminals

(JTA) — A new government program to aid victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants unfairly singles out minorities, says a Jewish refugee aid group.

HIAS, which runs refugee resettlement programs, criticized the new Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office, or VOICE, which was created Wednesday. VOICE, which will be run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, will provide counseling to victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, as well as information on the immigration status of the perpetrator.

A statement announcing VOICE’s launch said “ICE wants to ensure those victimized by criminal aliens feel heard, seen and supported.” An existing state-level program, Victim Information and Notification Everyday, already provides counseling to crime victims without focusing exclusively on undocumented immigrants, according to the New York Times.

In a statement Thursday, HIAS said VOICE discriminates against a vulnerable population.

“Singling out certain people based solely on their immigration status sets a dangerous new direction for our society,” the statement said. “This new, taxpayer-funded government office only serves to marginalize minority communities, demonize newcomers and divide us.”

HIAS compared the office’s work to accusations a century ago that Jewish immigrants were committing widespread crime. Other critics have gone further. Democracy Now!, a news program seen as progressive, has compared Trump’s emphasis on crimes by undocumented immigrants to reports in Nazi German papers on Jewish crime.

“For example, during the early part of the twentieth century, HIAS-assisted Jewish refugees who fled persecution in Europe were blamed for the majority of crimes in New York City,” the HIAS statement said. “It is unfair to demonize immigrants based on the actions of a few while failing to recognize the overwhelmingly positive contributions new members of our society make to our economy and our communities.”

US Holocaust Memorial Museum condemns reported persecution of gay men in Chechnya

(JTA) — The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum said it was “deeply concerned” about recent reports that the Chechnyan government is persecuting gay men.

“The reports about the targeting of LGBT persons in Chechnya combined with statements from Chechen officials seemingly endorsing violence are cause for great concern,” Sara Bloomfield, director of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, said Thursday in a statement. “Both the Chechen and Russian governments need to investigate these allegations and ensure the safety of LGBT populations within the Russian Federation.”

The Russian opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported earlier this month that at least 100 gay men had been arrested and three were killed in Chechnya. Although the Chechnyan government denied the allegations, with one government spokesman telling The New York Times that gay men did not exist in the country, the report drew wide media attention. Human Rights Watch confirmed the report, saying “a brutal campaign against LGBT people” had been taking place in the country for several weeks.

“The Holocaust teaches us what can happen when state-sponsored, group-targeted violence is allowed to go unchecked,” Bloomfield said in the  statement, which noted that homosexuals were also persecuted by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., also condemned the reported persecution.

“I am disgusted by the reports that Chechen authorities are unlawfully detaining, torturing, and possibly killing large numbers of gay men. There have also been reports of LGBT persons fleeing Chechnya in search of sanctuary from persecution,” the Jewish lawmaker said last week in a statement.

April 23-30 serve as the U.S. Days of Holocaust Remembrance.

JEWISH OFFICIALS HAIL AUSTRIA’S DECISION TO ADOPT ANTISEMITISM DEFINITION

 

Officials and Jewish representatives have welcomed a move made this week by Austria to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, a week after an NGO reported that 2016 saw record levels of antisemitism in the country.

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz tweeted on Tuesday that the Austrian Council of Ministers had decided to take on the definition, adding that the move sent an important signal and was crucial “in order to identify and combat antisemitism more easily with a universally valid definition.”

 

Austria follows the UK and Israel in adopting the definition.

The IHRA formulated the definition last May amid concerns of rising antisemitism, in an effort to clamp down on discriminatory or prejudicial behavior that might fall between the cracks due to unclear or differing definitions of antisemitism.

The IHRA definition adopted by the group’s 31 member countries reads: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Talya Lador, Israel’s ambassador in Vienna, took to Twitter to thank Kurz and the Austrian government, saying the decision was “most important.”

Kurz’s announcement follows Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern’s first visit to Israel this week, during which he participated in the state Holocaust Remembrance Day events and said, “We will not rest in the fight against antisemitism.”

Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Union’s coordinator on combating antisemitism, also hailed the move as an “excellent step,” describing the IHRA definition as a tool to help discern various forms of antisemitism.

The European Commission does not have a structural mechanism to formally adopt legally nonbinding working definitions such as this one, but refers to it on its website as a “useful tool for civil society, law enforcement authorities and education facilities to effectively recognize and fight all forms of antisemitism.”

The European Jewish Congress’s Austrian affiliate, the IKG Wien, said it was “very proud and satisfied by the decision.”

The Israeli-Jewish Congress also applauded Austria, stating that the IHRA’s definition “exhaustively, and appropriately, outlines antisemitism as both a hatred against Jews, and its modern-day manifestation in the assault on Israel’s legitimacy, including against Zionism and applying a double standard to Israel that is not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

While adding that “much more work needs to be done, including a paradigm shift in how we approach the combating of antisemitism,” IJC said this is a “welcome step in the positive direction, which we hope will be followed by other nations across Europe.”

The announcement comes on the heels of a report released last Thursday by the Forum Against Antisemitism, which found that a record number of antisemitic incidents, ranging from verbal and online threats to assaults, were recorded in Austria last year.

The number of cases rose slightly in 2016 to 477 from 465 the previous year, when the figure had jumped by roughly 200, the NGO said.

The report follows a finding by Austria’s BVT domestic intelligence service a year ago that incidents involving xenophobia, Islamophobia and antisemitism were on the rise in the small country that was swept up in Europe’s migration crisis and where the refugee influx has become a hot-button issue.

“It is, of course, alarming,” Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish Community of Vienna, said in reaction to the report.

“We now have two consecutive years at a record level,” said Deutsch, who put the size of Austria’s Jewish community at roughly 13,000-15,000 in an overall population of 8.8 million.

PALESTINIANS MUST ADMIT DEFEAT, REPUBLICAN CAUCUS (WHITE FREEMASONS) SAYS

 

WASHINGTON — A number of conservative Republicans in Congress have launched a pro-Israel caucus predicated on getting the Palestinians to acknowledge defeat.

The co-chairs of the new Israel Victory Caucus, Reps. Bill Johnson of Ohio and Ron DeLantis of Florida, were among those on hand for Thursday’s launch. A number of other Republicans stopped by to express support; no Democrats spoke.

 

“We believe Israel has been victorious in the war and that this reality must be recognized for any peace to be achieved between Israel and its neighbors,” Johnson said.

An array of conservative pro-Israel groups was represented, including the Middle East Forum, the Zionist Organization of America, Emet, Christians United for Israel and Americans for a Safe Israel.

Daniel Pipes, the Middle East Forum president, who recently laid out the theory that imposing defeat on the Palestinians was the likelier path to peace, said decades of negotiations assuming neither side had won had resulted in a “war process” instead of a peace process.

“Victory means imposing your will on your enemy,” Pipes said.

Code Pink, a left-wing protest group, briefly disrupted the event.

Pipes’ paper, published in the March issue of Commentary, acknowledges that Israelis prefer a negotiated solution, but calls this consensus “myopic.” Instead, he advocates “coercing” Palestinians to change their view, including reoccupation of Palestinian areas should they be used to launch attacks on Israel and cutting off water and electricity as a means of responding to intensified violence.

A bipartisan Congressional Israel Allies Caucus exists and embraces pro-Israel policies identified with more conservative supporters of Israel, including the recognition of all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv. However, like much of the pro-Israel community, it defers to Israeli government positions on the peace process.

Liberal groups slammed the Israel Victory Caucus, with the Southern Poverty Law Center saying its recommendations were “extreme” and J Street, the liberal pro-Israel lobby, advising Congress members to “stay as far away from such savage and dangerous ideas as possible.”

RUSSIA SLAMS ALLEGED ISRAELI STRIKE ON SYRIA

 

The Kremlin condemned an alleged Israeli strike against Damascus International Airport on Thursday, urging Israel and other countries to avoid carrying out any action that could heighten tensions in the region.

“We continue to consider that all countries need to refrain from any kind of actions that lead to an increase in tension in this already restive region and call for respect of the sovereignty of Syria,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

 

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova later slammed the alleged Israeli strikes, calling them unacceptable.

“Gross violations of Syrian sovereignty, no matter how they are justified, are unacceptable,” she said, adding that “Moscow condemns acts of aggression against Syria.”

Earlier Thursday Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said that the reports of an air strike targeting Damascus Airport matches Israel’s policy of preventing the transfer of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah.

Katz, while not confirming outright that Israel struck the airport, stated that the “attack is consistent with our policy to prevent Iran’s smuggling of advanced weapons via Syria to Hezbollah by Iran.”

Katz, who is in the United States meeting with senior officials, made the comment after Arab media reported that Israel attacked a Hezbollah arms hub near Damascus airport with five sorties at around 3:25 a.m. No injuries were reported, but a large fireball was seen by locals.

Iranian Defense Minister Brig.-Gen. Hossein Dehghan also condemned the alleged strike and Syria’s official news agency SANA stated that Israel had fired “several missiles” from inside the Golan Heights “in a desperate attempt to raise the collapsed morale of terrorist groups due to the Syrian Army’s blows, and this aggression will not dissuade the army from continuing the war.”

According to an intelligence source who spoke to Reuters, the arms depot handles a large amount of weapons supplied by Iran, which regularly sends weapons to Syria via commercial and military cargo planes to Hezbollah and other Iranian- backed militias fighting for the regime of Bashar Assad.

Iran has been accused of using commercial planes to ferry troops and weapons into Syria. In 2011, Iran Air was singled out by the US Treasury in part due to its role in transporting “potentially dangerous Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-related cargo” as well as “missile or rocket components” to Syria. Sanctions against the airline were dropped in 2015 as part of the nuclear deal, but there continue to be indications that the airline flies in weapons and troops to the wartorn country.

According to Farzin Nadimi, a Washington-based analyst specializing in the security and defense affairs of Iran and the Persian Gulf region, “Iranian and Syrian airlines have hauled about 21,000 passengers between Tehran/Abadan and Damascus in the past two months alone, along with over 5,000 tons of supplies.”

Nadimi, who made the comment in a briefing for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, stated that all the flights are “fully chartered by the IRGC and usually unavailable to the general public,” and that the flights are also operated only at nighttime “in order to hinder satellite monitoring.”

According to a flight radar tracking site, flightradar24.com., four Iranian cargo planes had landed at Damascus Airport just hours before the alleged strike.

Israel has reiterated its view several times that any transfer of advanced weaponry to the Lebanese Shi’ite terrorist group is a redline and that it will work to prevent any such movement.

While the IDF neither confirms nor denies the strikes, on Tuesday in a rare admission a senior officer said that last month Israel destroyed some 100 Syrian missiles, many of which were due to be delivered to Hezbollah.

On Wednesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who is in Moscow for a security conference, said that Israel is concerned about Iranian activity in Syria and that Tehran is using Syria as a base for arms smuggling to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel, he said, “will not allow Iranian and Hezbollah forces to be amassed on the Golan Heights border.”

Israel’s intelligence minister urges US to team up with Russia against Iran

WASHINGTON — The Israeli government wants the United States to negotiate with the Russians to ensure Iran does not gain a permanent military foothold in Syria, Israel’s Intelligence and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said.

In meetings with senior-level administration officials and high-ranking members of Congress, Katz urged the US to get the Russians to remove Iranian forces from the country, which is in the sixth year of a devastating civil war.

“We discussed how the Americans can negotiate with the Russians,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s in the common interest not only for Israel, but for the Sunni Arab countries in the region.”

Katz, who is a member of the high-level security cabinet, was sent to Washington by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss Syria and other matters with American officials.

“In our region, there are two different things, but the things that are existing now are, on the one hand, big threats and dangers, and on the other hand, big chances for cooperation,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, seen next to Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz at the weekly cabinet meeting at Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem, September 4, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Israel believes that Trump is signaling a new policy toward the Middle East — evident in his ordering a missile attack on a Syrian airfield over an Assad regime chemical weapons attack, and his rhetoric toward Tehran — that will possibly include shifts in how Washington deals with the Iranian challenge, Katz said.

“There is a new policy in the United States, and Iran is on the bad side, not the good side,” he said. “It’s very clear. You see it in declarations and acts.

“Because of the next American policy against Iran, against the Shi’ite axis that Iran leads with the backing of Russia, this is a big opportunity to bring real changes to the regional security situation,” he added.

Katz came to Washington after visiting New York, where he addressed the World Jewish Congress.

‘There is a new policy in the United States, and Iran is on the bad side and not the good side’

In the capital, he met with North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr (R), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and New York Rep. Adam Schiff (D), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

He discussed with them Israel’s hope that the US will negotiate with the Russians to remove an Iranian military foothold in Syria.

Katz insisted that Trump could apply pressure to Russian President Vladimir Putin to soften his resolve to prop up Assad.

“If the Russians want to keep Assad, they have to push Iran out of Syria,” Katz said. The White House is “very close to deciding that Assad has to go,” he added, “so if the Russians want to have the chance to keep Assad in his job, they have to act and to help move Iran out of Syria. Because if they will not do it, they will move Iran out or we will move Assad out.”

On Wednesday, Katz also met with Trump’s Special Envoy for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt to discuss his plan to develop a regional transportation system that would link Israel to Saudi Arabia by railroad via the West Bank and Jordan.

Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, left, meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

“We are maybe going to call it not a truck rail, but a Trump rail,” he said.

Katz said he believes the administration will support his initiative, not necessarily as a component of its hope to broker a “conflict-ending” Israeli-Palestinian accord, but to improve the region, which could foster greater conditions for a peace deal.

“If the United States would support it — and we want them to support it — it would be very much in their interests, because it would be good for Jordan’s economy, its stability, and for the Palestinians’ [economy] as well,” he said.

He also said there was “a strategic logic” to solidify ties between the Sunni world and Israel, which share an interest in countering the Iranian-led Shiite axis.

After the meeting in which Katz presented his plan to Greenblatt, the former lawyer tweeted: “I look forward to discussing the possibilities with all parties.”

Congressman: In Israel, Trump will announce embassy move

WASHINGTON — Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) said Thursday that US President Donald Trump will announce the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem when he visits Israel at the end of May, fulfilling a campaign promise he appeared to walk back after assuming office.

Trump’s planned visit — his first to the Jewish state — coincides with Jerusalem Day, when Israel will celebrate 50 years since the reunification of the city under Israeli control after the 1967 Six Day War.

“What better time could there be to announce the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem than when you are over here celebrating with our Israeli friends this very important 50th anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem?” DeSantis said.

Israeli officials confirmed on Thursday that Trump’s team is planning a visit on May 22. The White House told The Times of Israel that it is “exploring” the visit, but did not flesh out any further details.

US President Donald Trump smiles during a national teacher of the year event in the Oval Office of the White House April 26, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski)

“I think the announcement of that trip is a signal that it is more likely to happen than not, and will send a powerful signal to other countries around the world that America is back and will stand by our allies and will not let folks cower us into not doing the right thing,” added DeSantis.

The Florida congressman’s remarks were made at an event on Capitol Hill launching the Congressional Israel Victory Caucus, a group made up of several staunchly pro-Israel Republicans.

DeSantis, who is chairman of the House Oversight National Security Subcommittee, has oversight on American embassies around the world. A Trump ally, he has been adamant the president will follow through on this campaign pledge.

Last month, the congressman visited Jerusalem touring potential embassy sites and told reporters Trump would eventually authorize the relocation, or, at the least, allow it to happen. Indeed, on that trip, he also predicted the president would announce the move around the anniversary of the Six Day War.

Donald Trump speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2016 Policy Conference at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC, March 21, 2016. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

“He’s in a position where he’s either going to follow his campaign promise or he’s actually going to have to sign this waiver, and I just think knowing the president, he has been a man of his word,” he said.

“I don’t think that he’s going to, on the same month where people here in Jerusalem are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem Day, sign the waiver. I would bet that he would not do that and he would announce that the embassy would be moving.”

Indeed, Trump’s trip to Israel also coincides with an important decision he will have to make on whether to move on the status of the US Embassy in Israel.

Congress passed a law, in 1995, mandating the embassy be moved to Jerusalem, but allowed the president to exercise a six-month waiver on national security grounds. Every president since, including Barack Obama’s predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, signed such a waiver every six months.

The last waiver, signed in December by Obama, expires at the end of May, when Trump will have to decide whether to sign it or follow through on his campaign promise and allow the change.

Republican Reps. Ron DeSantis of Florida, Keith Rothfus of Pennsylvania, Doug Lamborn of Colorado and Alex Mooney of West Virginia, speak at the launch of the Congressional Israel Victory Caucus on Capitol Hill on April 27, 2017 (Courtesy, Middle East Forum)

The move would be a highly symbolic gesture, valued by Israel as confirmation of the city as its capital, but strongly opposed by Palestinians and the Arab world.

After vowing to move the embassy practically immediately, Trump changed course at the onset of his presidency.

Following meetings with Arab leaders, and especially Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump said he would like to see the move take place eventually but that he wouldn’t go through with it right away.

Trump’s pick to serve as US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, was also highly vocal in his resolution that the president would move the embassy, saying in an announcement of his nomination that he expected to carry out his duties in Jerusalem.

Friedman is due to arrive in Jerusalem on May 15 and to present his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin in June.

Israel said pushing for massive East Jerusalem expansion as Trump visits

The Housing Ministry is reportedly pushing forward with a massive plan that would add some 25,000 new homes to Jerusalem, including 15,000 units over the Green Line, in a move that may test the new US administration’s understandings with Israel over building in areas the Palestinians want for a state.

According to a Channel 2 report Thursday, the plan is set to be announced while US President Donald Trump is in the country in late May, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem and the unification of the once-divided city.

Housing Minister Yoav Galant (Kulanu) is pushing the initiative in meetings with Jerusalem city officials.

According to the report, the plan will cost some NIS 4 billion ($1.1 billion).

Parts of the plan were reported by Channel 10 earlier in the week.

Galant’s office and the Jerusalem municipality could not be immediately contacted for confirmation.

Israeli officials confirmed on Thursday that Trump’s team is planning a visit on May 22. The White House told The Times of Israel that it is “exploring” the visit, but did not flesh out any further details. Jerusalem Day, which marks the capture of East Jerusalem during the 1967 war, begins that evening.

Of the 15,000 units planned over the Green Line, the lion’s share would be in two new residential neighborhoods: Atarot in the north of the city and Givat Hamatos in the south.

The Atarot industrial zone, with Ramallah suburb Kafr Aqab seen in background. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Atarot, currently an industrial area near Ramallah that is home to a small abandoned airport, would see 10,000 homes built, marketed for ultra-Orthodox families.

In a statement, the municipality said it had not yet decided how to use the area of the old Atarot airport and was reviewing several options.

Another 2,000 would be built in Givat Hamatos, a mostly empty hill that critics say could cut East Jerusalem off from neighboring Bethlehem.

A mobile home in Givat Hamatos, seen in 2014. (Flash90)

A further 3,000 would be built in Ramat Shlomo, an existing ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in the city’s north.

In 2010, a building plan for Ramat Shlomo was announced during a visit by US vice president Joe Biden, sparking a diplomatic crisis between Jerusalem and Washington.

In addition the plan includes 1,000 homes near Malha, 2,000 in Arnona and Ramat Rahel, and 7,000 in Ein Kerem and other parts of the western half of Jerusalem.

The proposal is slated to be one of the largest housing projects over the pre-1967 Green Line in recent years, a period when Israel faced significant international pressure to halt construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Both the Atarot and Givat Hamatos plans were frozen during the tenure of former US president Barak Obama, a harsh critic of Israel’s building policy in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Trump, seen as more conciliatory on the subject than his predecessor, has nevertheless said that he does not consider settlements “a good thing for peace” and has asked the Israelis to “hold back” on settlement building.

Housing Minister Yoav Galant arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, December 18, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem)

Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 war and considers it part of its undivided capital, does not regard building in the city as settlement activity and has said in maintains the right to build anywhere within municipal boundaries.

During recent discussions between Israeli and US officials over where Washington would tolerate building, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would not “negotiate” on halting construction of new homes in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.