Category Archive: News

IDF Arrests, Releases Former Palestinian Governor and Fatah Leader

Israeli forces reportedly arrest former Tulkarem and Jenin governor, Talal Dweikat, early Wednesday.

ShowImageThe IDF released Talal Dweikat, a former PA governor of Tulkarm and Jenin, on Wednesday afternoon, after arresting him several hours earlier.

He also served as a general in the Palestinian Authority intelligence services.

Dweikat was arrested “for his involvement in weapons trade,” a spokesman for the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said in an email, without elaborating.

Hours later, however, the spokesman sent another email, saying that Dweikat “was released because his detainment was determined to be unnecessary following his interrogation.”

In addition to Dweikat, the IDF on Wednesday arrested two others in Nablus and raided the home of Dweikat’s brother Sarhan, who also has the rank of general, Wafa, the official PA news site reported.

Dweikat, who was elected to the Fatah Revolutionary Council in December, was a head of the PA intelligence services in Nablus in the early 2000s and was appointed as Tulkarm governor in 2006, where he oversaw the rehabilitation of the PA security forces in the aftermath of the second intifada.

In 2012, Dweikat was appointed governor of Jenin, serving until 2014 when he accepted a position as an adviser in the PA presidency.

Fatah spokesman Munir Jaghoub responded to Wednesday’s arrests, saying that they confirm Israel’s hostile mentality.

“The Israeli arrests and attacks against Fatah’s leadership and cadres are intensifying day after day all over the homeland, sending a clear message to the Palestinian people and its leadership that the current situation is incredibly difficult and complicated… and that the occupation’s mentality is only that of killing, destruction, arrest and denying Palestinian rights, requiring all of us to take a serious stand and confront its arrogance,” Jaghoub told Wafa.

The IDF says that it carries out arrests of suspects who pose a security threat.

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Auschwitz Memorial Sees Record Number of Visitors in 2016

World Youth Day was a large boost to attendance. But how about Pokémon Go?

The memorial and museum and Auschwitz-Birkenau announced on Monday that a record 2,053,000 people visited the former Nazi concentration camp in 2016. Tops among attendees are from Poland, the UK, the U.S., and Italy; 97,000 visitors came from Israel, a 59 percent increase from the year prior. Also boosting yearly attendance were the 155,000 people who visited for World Youth Day, including Pope Francis. Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, the museum’s director, said eloquently, “In today’s world—torn by conflicts, increased feeling of insecurity and strengthening of populist tones in public discourse—it is necessary to re-listen to the darkest warnings from the past.”

A few weeks before the Pope visited Poland, there was hubbub about the fact that kids had begun playing Pokémon Go—a newly-released, augmented reality GPS-enabled videogame in which players try to catch, say, a Jigglypuff—at Auschwitz. The museum’s spokesman called it “disrespectful.” Tablet senior writer made the case otherwise, arguing that the forced emotion, the requisite sadness, that is struck upon young visitors is oppressive. “When urged to bow before death, life finds a way.”

Let these kids play their game, then, not even in Auschwitz, but especially there. Let them feel again that mad methectic magic Huizinga spoke about. They can’t make sense of Auschwitz, anyway; they can’t fathom what led to such brutality, can’t make sense of such hate. But they can catch a Jigglypuff and feel a burst of life whistling through the airless chambers of the factory of death. And that’s no small thing, no minor testament to the same resilience the Nazis eagerly and futilely tried to extinguish. Where better than Auschwitz to admit we’ll never have real knowledge, and where better to declare we’ll always have great games?

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French candidate under fire for Holocaust comparison

Vincent Peillon, running in Socialist Party primaries ahead of elections, said Nazi persecution of Jews similar to situation of French Muslims today

Vincent_Peillon_Mutualité_11102-e1483584907819-635x357French Jews accused a left-wing presidential candidate of encouraging Holocaust denial following his comparison of the Nazi persecution of Jews to the situation of French Muslims today.

Vincent Peillon, who is running in the Socialist Party primaries ahead of the elections this year, made the analogy Tuesday during an interview aired by the France 2 television channel.

Peillon, a former education minister who has Jewish origins, was commenting on a question about France’s strict separation between state and religion, referred to in France as “laicite.”

“If some want to use laicite, as has been done in the past, against certain populations … Forty years ago it was the Jews who put on yellow stars. Today, some of our Muslim countrymen are often portrayed as radical Islamists. It is intolerable.”

In a statement Wednesday, CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish communities, accused Peillon of making “statements that only serve those trying to rewrite history.”

Peillon neither retracted his remark nor apologized in a statement published Wednesday on his website, but said he would wanted to elaborate on what he meant in light of the controversy it provoked and to “refine my view, which may have been misrepresented because of brevity.”

Peillon wrote that he “clearly did not want to say that laicite was the origin of anti-Semitism of Vichy France,” which was the part of the country run by a pro-Nazi collaborationist government. He also wrote that “what the Jews experienced under Vichy should not be banalized in any way” and that he was committed to fighting racism and anti-Semitism.

“I wanted to denounce the strategy of the far right, which always used the words of the French Republic or social issues to turn them against the population. It is doing so today with laicite against the Muslims,” Peillon wrote.

But in its statement condemning Peillon’s remark, CRIF wrote that the history concerning the deportation of more than 75,000 Jews from France to concentration camps and death and the looting of their property, “as well as discriminatory laws such as the one about wearing yellow stars, should not be instrumentalized to create a false equivalence of suffering.”

CRIF “demands a clarification and immediate correction on the part of Vincent Peillon,” it said.

Peillon, a lawmaker in the European Parliament, announced his candidacy in December to succeed President Francois Hollande as party leader and run as its candidate in April. He was appointed education minister in 2012 and served for two years.

In the Socialist primaries, Peillon will face Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who has strong support in the Jewish community. Peillon’s mother, Françoise Blum, is Jewish.

Peillon, who rarely talks about his Jewish roots publicly, signed a petition by the left-wing Jcall group, the European counterpart to J Street, supporting Palestinian statehood.

In 2009, he celebrated the bar mitzvah of his son Elie at a Paris synagogue. He has another son, Isaac. Peillon is married to Nathalie Bensahel, a journalist who has written about France’s anti-Semitism problem.

Peillon opposed the ban last summer on women wearing the burkini, the full-body swimsuit favored by some Muslims, on public beaches. Valls supported the ban, citing what he said was its use by radical Muslims to oppress women.

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Norwegian TV sorry for spoofing Holocaust

In satirical video, college students seen touring concentration camp, asking if ovens were for making pizza

norwegian-holocaust-e1483035375779Norway’s public broadcaster apologized for referencing Nazi death camps and the Jewish genocide in a satirical cartoon about the financial situation of university students.

“This cartoon should not have spoofed the Nazi genocide, and we’re sorry this reference obstructed what the sketch is really about,” a spokesperson for the NRK broadcaster wrote on Facebook last week following complaints about the video, which on Thursday remained accessible on NRK’s online satirical section.

It features three young characters who are taken by an older character on a tour of what appears to be a Nazi concentration camp similar to Auschwitz-Birkenau in southern Poland. When the group reaches an oven full of ashes and the remains of a human rib cage, one of the students enthusiastically inquires whether the oven is for making pizzas.

The video, which opened the annual best-of compilation for 2016 of NRK’s Satiriks online satirical video platform, ends with the same students triumphantly holding up a rental contract while the other two students unload boxes at the concentration camp.

“The animated video is about the student economy, which often has students in desperate situations,” NRK wrote. “To make this point, we used visual references to a concentration camp.”

Norway, where the Nazis installed the collaborator Vidkun Quisling as a puppet ruler, was home to 1,700 Jews before the Holocaust, according to Yad Vashem. Despite some protests by Christian faith leaders and the help of resistance fighters to Jews, a total of 763 Jews were deported from Norway by the Nazis and local police to death camps. Only 24 survived to return to Norway after the war.

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Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ is German bestseller, again

First reprint of Nazi leader’s anti-Semitic manifesto since WWII sells 85,000 copies in year, topping nonfiction list

000_jk1ti-635x357BERLIN, Germany (AFP) — The first reprint of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” in Germany since World War II has proved a surprise bestseller, heading for its sixth print run, its publisher said Tuesday.

The Institute of Contemporary History of Munich (IfZ) said around 85,000 copies of the new annotated version of the Nazi leader’s anti-Semitic manifesto had flown off the shelves since its release last January.

The respected institute said that far from promoting far-right ideology, the publication had enriched a debate on the renewed rise of “authoritarian political views” in contemporary Western society.

It had initially planned to print only 4,000 copies but boosted production immediately based on intense demand. The sixth print run will hit bookstores in late January.

The two-volume work had figured on the non-fiction bestseller list in weekly magazine Der Spiegel over much of the last year, and even topped the list for two weeks in April.

The institute also organized a series of presentations and debates around “Mein Kampf” across Germany and in other European cities, which it said allowed it to measure the impact of the new edition.

“It turned out that the fear the publication would promote Hitler’s ideology or even make it socially acceptable and give neo-Nazis a new propaganda platform was totally unfounded,” IfZ director Andreas Wirsching said in a statement.

“To the contrary, the debate about Hitler’s worldview and his approach to propaganda offered a chance to look at the causes and consequences of totalitarian ideologies, at a time in which authoritarian political views and rightwing slogans are gaining ground.”

‘Not reactionaries or radicals’

The institute said the data collected about buyers by regional bookstores showed that they tended to be “customers interested in politics and history as well as educators” and not “reactionaries or rightwing radicals.”

Nevertheless, the IfZ said it would maintain a restrictive policy on international rights. For now, only English and French editions are planned despite strong interest from many countries.

The institute released the annotated version of “Mein Kampf” last January, just days after the copyright of the manifesto expired.

Bavaria was handed the rights to the book in 1945 when the Allies gave it control of the main Nazi publishing house following Hitler’s defeat.

For 70 years, it refused to allow the inflammatory tract to be republished out of respect for victims of the Nazis and to prevent incitement of hatred.

But “Mein Kampf” — which means “My Struggle” — fell into the public domain on January 1 and the institute said it feared a version without critical commentary could hit the market.

Partly autobiographical, “Mein Kampf” outlines Hitler’s ideology that formed the basis for Nazism. He wrote it in 1924 while he was imprisoned in Bavaria for treason after his failed Beer Hall Putsch.

The book set out two ideas that he put into practice as Germany’s leader going into World War II: annexing neighboring countries to gain Lebensraum, or “living space,” for Germans, and his hatred of Jews, which led to the Holocaust.

Some 12.4 million copies were published in Germany and from 1936, the Nazi state gave a copy to all newlyweds as a wedding gift.

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Controversial antisemitism bill dies in House

controversial-antisemitism-bill-dies-in-house-620x350(JTA) — The House of Representatives ended this congressional session without taking action on a bill targeting campus anti-semitism, a measure that had been backed by mainstream Jewish groups, criticized by civil libertarians and passed unanimously by the Senate on Dec. 1. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary, did not advance the bill through his committee, a congressional staffer told JTA. Congress formally ends its session on Monday afternoon, but the session is pro forma and most members are already back in their districts for a Christmas break. With the end of the session, bills still in committee lapse. The vast majority of bills don’t make it through Congress because of time considerations, although Jewish Insider reported Friday that Goodlatte opposed “rushing” the bill through the House without adequate study. The antisemitism bill’s sponsors likely will reintroduce a version of the bill in 2017, their staffers told JTA.

The bill outlined when criticism of Israel crosses into antisemitism, citing the “three D’s” first advanced by Natan Sharansky, the Israeli politician and former prisoner of the Soviet gulag: demonization, double standards and delegitimization. The act billed itself as a tool “to help identify contemporary manifestations of antisemitism, and includes useful examples of discriminatory anti-Israel conduct that crosses the line into anti-Semitism.”

The Anti-Defamation League, which led lobbying for the legislation, said the bill, should it become law, “addresses a core concern of Jewish and pro-Israel students and parents: When does the expression of antisemitism, anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Zionist beliefs cross the line from First Amendment-protected free expression to unlawful discriminatory conduct?”

Critics of the bill included Michael Macleod-Ball, chief of staff of the American Civil Liberties Union’s legislative office in Washington, who told The Forward that the bill could impinge on the free-speech rights of critics of Israel. The act “opens the door to considering anti-Israel political statements and activities as possible grounds for civil rights investigations,” he said. Kenneth Stern, who as the American Jewish Committee’s former specialist on antisemitism and extremism wrote a similar definition of antisemitism later adopted by the Department of State, told The Forward that the congressional version is “both unconstitutional and unwise.” A number of left-wing and pro-Palestinian groups had criticized the legislation.

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Austria lawmakers vote to seize Hitler birth house

After years of legal wrangling, government decides to expropriate former home of Nazi leader; fate of building uncertain

austria-hitler-house_horo-635x357VIENNA, Austria – Austrian MPs voted late Wednesday to expropriate the home where Adolf Hitler was born, ending years of bitter legal wrangling with the current owner over the infamous building’s future.

A large majority approved the new law, which was submitted by the government earlier this year in a bid to stop the dilapidated house in the northern town of Braunau am Inn from becoming a neo-Nazi shrine.

Local resident Gerlinde Pommer — who has been renting the premises to the Austrian state since 1972 — will receive compensation under the legislation.

It is not yet clear what will happen with the yellow corner house at Number 15 Salzburger Vorstadt Street, located right in Braunau’s historic center.

In October, Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka announced it would be “torn down” to make place for a new building to be used by a charity.

He said the decision was based on recommendations from an expert committee.

But several of the 13-member panel were quick to deny that the commission had backed Sobotka’s push to bulldoze the place where Hitler was born on April 20, 1889.

“A demolition would amount to negating Austria’s Nazi past,” the experts said in a joint statement in October.

Although Hitler only spent the first few weeks of his life there, the address has been a thorn in Austria’s side for decades, drawing Nazi sympathizers from around the world.

Every year on Hitler’s birthday, anti-fascist protesters organize a rally outside the building, next to a memorial stone reading: “For Peace, Freedom and Democracy. Never Again Fascism, Millions of Dead Warn.”

The property has been empty since 2011 when Austria became embroiled in a dispute with Pommer.

Her family has owned the 800-square-meter (8,600-feet) building for nearly a century.

Since the early 1970s, the government had been renting the premises for around 4,800 euros ($5,000) a month and used it as a center for people with disabilities.

But the arrangement came to an abrupt end five years ago when Pommer refused to allow much-needed renovation works.

The famously elusive owner also rejected a purchase offer made by the increasingly exasperated interior ministry.

The issue has also sparked debate among Braunau’s 17,000 residents.

Some want the building to become a refugee center, others a museum dedicated to Austria’s liberation from Nazi rule.

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Descendant of Holocaust survivors leads assault on Holland’s far right

Dutch Deputy PM Lodewijk Asscher is taking people to task for a glut of hate-speech masquerading as politics

lodewijk-asscher-965x543AMSTERDAM (JTA) — Even in a country where hate speech is the subject of intense political and judicial review, Dutch Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher’s Facebook post from February about the phenomenon was unprecedented.

Titled “Disrespectful Dog,” the 735-word essay by Asscher, a descendant of Holocaust survivors who last week became Dutch Labour’s candidate for prime minister, featured a compilation of racist insults used against him on social media. Asscher, 42, explained that anti-Semitic attacks over his Jewish roots were causing him to limit his use of Twitter and Facebook.

The text, a sarcastic open letter to online abusers, stood out in a country where the media typically keep out of the private lives of senior politicians — and where politicians, in turn, rarely speak of their ethnicity or religion. The post made the front pages of leading dailies and earned praise for Asscher. The top political commentator of the RTL television and radio broadcaster, Frits Wester, called the post “brave.”

This outspokenness by Asscher, an eloquent yet down-to-earth statesman who once served as deputy mayor of Amsterdam, was key to his comfortable victory last week in the Labour primaries. He ran on a relatively aggressive platform that promised left-wing voters an unrelenting assault on Holland’s rising far right ahead of the general elections in March.

After thanking his predecessor at Labour’s helm, the first goals that Asscher listed in his victory speech were “the need for unity against right-wing politics” and a “progressive and uniting answer to Wilders.” Geert Wilders heads the far-right Party for Freedom, which has emerged as the country’s most popular party in five major voting polls conducted after November 25.

The success of Wilders — an anti-Islam provocateur who on Friday was convicted of incitement for having promised to “arrange” for Holland to have fewer Moroccans — is part of a surge of popularity for the far-right in Europe amid fears of home-grown jihadist terrorism.

Wilders “rides a wave of fear and uses societal divisions,” Asscher said in his victory speech on Friday. “But the politics of blame can never be the answer.”

Asscher also referenced the rise of populist causes elsewhere, from the British vote in June to leave the European Union to Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election.

“We have four years of President Trump ahead of us, and in our own country, Geert Wilders is ahead in the polls,” he noted.

To be sure, Asscher’s predecessor, Diederik Samsom, is no fan of Wilders and has spoken out against him. But Samsom’s priorities in the government, where Labour is a junior partner to the center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, have been largely economical and too pragmatic for some Labour voters who see him as overly accommodating to the free-market policies of the ruling party.

“Asscher is more value-driven than Samsom, who some critics saw as focusing too heavily on economic growth charts while the far right was surging,” said Ronny Naftaniel, a Dutch Labour member and a prominent member of the country’s Jewish community. “I think his election enriches the Dutch political system and gives progressive voters a voice through which to express their rejection of extremism.”

In an interview for the NOS television and radio broadcaster, Asscher said, “Wilders needs to be confronted in debates, among voters, not in courtrooms.”

It was a criticism of the general strategy of the mainstream Dutch left wing, which some observers accuse of doing too little to block Wilders.

Whereas Labour has focused on the economy, the Dutch left-of-center Socialist Party has been less enthusiastic about defending multicultural values that are seen as controversial for its working-class voter base. With the ruling party reluctant to bleed rightist votes by picking a fight with Wilders, vocal opposition to his policies fell to smaller parties that are seen as elitist, thereby strengthening his image as the enemy of the elite.

While Wilders’ prominence on Asscher’s to-do list is new, Asscher has consistently been quick to denounce other expressions of hate speech — including against Jews and Israel, Naftaniel said. He noted Asscher’s strongly worded reaction in 2014 to a remark by a Labour member and government-employed cybersecurity expert who said that the Islamic State terror group was a Zionist invention to malign Muslims.

“It made me sick to my stomach,” said Asscher, the senior-most politician to comment on the incident.

To Naftaniel, this demonstrated a zero-tolerance attitude in Dutch Labour to left-wing anti-Semitism. And that, Naftaniel added, sets his party apart from its British counterpart under Jeremy Corbyn, who has expressed support for Hamas, Hezbollah and some attempts to boycott Israel.

“Corbyn is a radical,” Naftaniel said of the man whom many British Jews accuse of allowing anti-Israel rhetoric by some party members to morph into open anti-Semitism. “And while Asscher has his [own] values, he is a pragmatist.”

Asscher’s great-grandfather, Abraham, was a leader of the Jewish council set up by the Nazis to control Dutch Jews ahead of their extermination in death camps. He is not the first Labour leader with Jewish roots; former Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen led the party for two years until 2012.

Whereas Cohen has downplayed his Jewish origins — “I have a Jewish name, and that’s about it,” he said in a 2010 interview — Asscher, who has three sons with his non-Jewish wife, “is more at ease or open to talking about his Jewish roots,” Naftaniel said.

This openness was on display in Asscher’s unusual Facebook post from February.

“Many of you possess a keen historical insight,” Asscher wrote sarcastically in that letter, which he addressed to the people who hurl anti-Semitic insults at him online, including those accusing his great-grandfather of collaborating with the Nazis. “You found out that I’m related to Abraham Asscher, who was a chairman of the Jewish council. Chapeau,” he wrote, using a French-language expression for “well done.”

Despite his eloquence, Asscher does not appear to be in an advantageous position to take on Wilders, according to Manfred Gerstenfeld, a former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, who has authored several books about the Netherlands.

With anti-immigrant sentiment running high and the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service warning of the “sudden and explosive renewal of Dutch jihadism,” Asscher’s anti-Wilders rhetoric “will likely not change or even address the very real social problems, created by many members of the Muslim minority, that Wilders is pointing out in his populist style,” Gerstenfeld said.

In Dutch politics, the party with the highest number of votes is tasked by the monarch to form a coalition government. The leader of that party usually becomes prime minister.

The scope of Labour’s challenge is visible in recent polls that show Labour trailing Wilders by more than 20 seats, Gerstenfeld said. Asscher’s party is expected to garner approximately 11 seats in Parliament out of 150, compared to the 30 or so seats the polls predict for Wilders’ party.

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