Category Archive: News

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.

Source

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.

Source

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.

Source

In Holland, 270-year-old menorah sells for record $440k

Unnamed Jewish collector buys candelabra that belonged to family of Jewish resistance fighter killed by the Nazis

menora-635x357AMSTERDAM — A 270-year-old menorah became the most expensive artifact of its kind sold in the Netherlands in recent memory after it fetched $441,000 at auction.

The menorah, which belonged to the family of a Dutch Jewish resistance fighter killed by the Nazis, was sold last week by the Venduehuis der Notarissen auction house in The Hague to an unnamed Jewish collector, the Omroep West broadcaster reported.

Manufactured in Amsterdam in 1747, the menorah, which used to be part of the collection of the family of George Maduro, triggered an international bidding war that caught the auctioneers unprepared, according to the NOS broadcaster.

“We started it at 20,000 euros but the first bid was already 100,000,” said the auction house’s director Peter Meefout. “Then it went to 200,000 and kept on rising. We watched it all dumbfounded.”

The object in question was estimated to sell for anywhere between $9,000 and $15,000. Dozens of telephone calls came in with bids for the menorah, forcing the auction house to divert all available manpower to deal solely with that sale, Meefout said.

George Maduro, who during World War II helped smuggle stranded British pilots from continental Europe back to Britain, joined the resistance after the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. He was caught and sent to the Dachau concentration camp where he died just three months before its liberation.

To commemorate their only son, Maduro’s parents financed the construction of one of Holland’s best-known tourist attractions: The Madurodam miniature city, which opened in 1952.

According to Omroep West, there is but one known piece that is identical to the Maduro menorah, which is part of the collection of the Dutch Royal House and is currently on display at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam.

The Maduro menorah was the single most expensive item in the auction of the silver and porcelain collection of Rebecca D. Maduro, George Maduro’s mother, which the Venduehuis der Notarissen auction house concluded selling on Friday.

Source

Russian ice skating contest features Holocaust-themed performance

Saturday evening’s chilling performance did not represent the first time Russian TV featured performers dressed in Holocaust-themed decor to perform in a reality show competition.

The social media sphere reacted with a largely cold reception after two “celebrity” ice skaters, donning Holocaust-era Jewish prison uniforms fitted with yellow stars of David, performed Saturday night on the Russian reality television show “Ice Age.”

Olympic ice dance champion Tatiana Navka, along with her skating partner Andrew Burkovsjy, slid and glided across the ice, in their chilling performance accompanied by “Beautiful that Way,” Jewish Israeli singer Acinoam “Noa” Nini’s vocal version of the theme song from the heart-wrenching Italian Holocaust film “Life is Beautiful.”

Eyebrows were further raised as Navka is the wife of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson.

However, Saturday evening’s number did not represent the first time Russian television featured performers dressed in Holocaust-themed decor to perform in a reality show competition.

In April, Russia’s version of “Dancing with the Stars” featured a dance number starring a Nazi officer searching for a young Jewish girl hiding behind a piano.

The piece began with the officer playing the instrument, stopping suddenly and demanding the girl reveal herself before “shooting” his weapon at her feet.

Taken aback at her beauty, he lowers his weapon and the two begin to dance to “Fly me to the Moon” by Frank Sinatra.

The piece arrived at a heartbreaking conclusion when an “enemy” assault leaves the Jewish girl dead on the ground while he screams and shoots randomly in no particular direction.

Russia’s ostensibly insensitive posture toads the Jewish community also extended itself earlier this month, when a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson caused controversy after suggesting that the recent US presidential election was influenced by a “Jewish conspiracy,” according to the BBC.

During an interview with a Russian television chat show, Maria Zakharova quipped that the best template to gauge America’s political landscape was the New York Jewish community.

“If you want to know what will happen in America, who do you need to talk to? You have to talk to the Jews, of course. It goes without saying.”

At this, the live studio audience applauded loudly, according to the BBC.

Zakharova added that she had formulated the claim while visiting New York during an official visit with a Russian delegation in September.

“I have a lot of friends and acquaintances there, of course I was interested to find out: how are the elections going, what are the American people’s expectations?”

The Russian state employee than attempted to mimic a Jewish accent and said Russian Jews had told her: “Marochka, understand this – we’ll donate to Clinton, of course. But we’ll give the Republicans twice that amount.’ Enough said! That settled it for me – the picture was clear,” adding that “if you want to know the future, don’t read the mainstream newspapers – our people in Brighton [Beach] will tell you everything.”

Source

Croatian president poses with pro-Nazi regime symbol

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic photographed with coat-of-arms of Ustasha, which persecuted and killed vast numbers of Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascists

15110261_10209507936608588_4074372119233309036_o-e1480201423583-635x357ZAGREB — Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic sparked online debate Saturday as it emerged she posed for a photo during her recent Canada trip with a flag carrying a symbol of her country’s wartime pro-Nazi regime.

Her office shrugged off the incident, insisting there was “nothing questionable” about it.

The photo, posted on Facebook by a Croatian man living in Canada, shows Grabar-Kitarovic posing with him and others in front of a flag bearing the coat of arms used by Croatia’s World War II-era Ustasha regime, which persecuted and killed hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascists.

The checkerboard-patterned shield in the middle of Croatia’s current national flag has 25 red and white squares, starting with a red one in the top-left corner.

A different version with a white square in that corner has been used at other points in Croatia’s history — notably by the Ustasha. It was replaced by the current shield after World War II when Croatia was part of the former Yugoslavia.

Both versions were briefly in use in 1990 ahead of Croatia’s declaration of independence, but under a December 1990 law the national flag bears the red-first version of the shield.

The presidency batted off the row over the photo of Grabar-Kitarovic, telling N1 television, “We see nothing questionable in it.” It noted that such a flag was displayed in front of the Croatian parliament in 1990.

The president’s view on the wartime regime is “clear and she voiced it on several occasions,” it added. Grabar-Kitarovic has condemned the Ustasha in the past.

The row sparked mixed responses online.

“This issue involving our president is more than shameful,” Visnja Skreblin, a woman from Zagreb, commented on online portal Index.

But reader Mario Babic defended the president, saying it was “Croatia’s historic shield, created far before the darkest chapter of Croatia’s history.”

Grabar-Kitarovic took over the presidency — a role with limited powers — in 2015 as the candidate of the ruling conservative HDZ party.

The previous HDZ-led government, which fell in June, was accused by critics of turning a blind eye to a far-right surge in the country, including nostalgia for the pro-Nazi past.

Source

Fund begins reimbursing survivors shipped to Nazi camps via French rail

US administering reparations to those who were not entitled to make claims under existing programs in France

nazi-campPayments have started issuing from a US-run compensation fund for Holocaust survivors deported to Nazi camps via the French rail system.

The $60 million compensation fund established in December 2014 has approved 68 claims and is processing an estimated 700 in total, Stuart Eizenstat, the secretary of state’s special adviser for Holocaust issues, said in a conference call Thursday.

The money comes from France, but the United States is administering and distributing the funds to eligible Americans, Israelis and other foreigners, their spouses and heirs who were not entitled to make claims under existing French programs.

In return, the United States protects France from American lawsuits related to Holocaust deportations of Jews from the country. Several US state governments banned their local transportation services from contracting with the French railway SNCF, a major exporter of rail cars, until the reparations issue was resolved.

Survivors can receive $204,000 under the program, while their spouses can receive $51,000.

The deadline for filing claims has been extended to January. The claims form and other instructions are available on the State Department website.

Source

Anne Frank story to be told in street theater across Amsterdam

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (JTA) — A Dutch Jewish broadcaster is co-organizing the launch of an annual Holocaust commemoration event featuring theater shows about Anne Frank and other victims at their former homes.
A blueprint of the event by the Joodse Omroep Jewish broadcaster, or JO, and its Christian partner, the Evangelische Omroep, or EO, was leaked last week to the Dutch blog GeenStijl.nl.
The initiative, titled “National Remembrance Walk,” is set to debut next year, the 75th anniversary of the murder of the Dutch Jewish diarist Anne Frank at a German concentration camp, with an event called “Anne Frank: One face out of millions.”
According to the blueprint, the event will launch on May 4, the Netherlands’ official day for Remembrance of the Dead, at several locales connected to Anne’s life. The concept has participants walking in a silent procession from one location to another in Amsterdam, the Dutch capital.
But the plan is in an early phase and “may change before the actual date,” said Alfred Edelstein, JO’s director. “We still need to look at the various elements.”
The project aims to produce “an integrated account of a victim and their personal story in a way which places the lessons of the past at the center of the present,” according to the leaked document, which also describes the initiative as a way to combat persistent anti-Semitic attitudes and indifference and ignorance of the Holocaust among young Dutch people.
According to the document, National Remembrance Walks from 2016 onward will focus on other Holocaust victims from elsewhere in the Netherlands, which lost 75 percent of its Jewish population of 140,000 in the Holocaust, the highest death rate in Nazi-occupied Western Europe.
The concept, which was drawn up with assistance from the communications firm Eye2Eye Media, has Dutch actress Carice van Houten of the hit series “Game of Thrones” portraying Miep Gies, a resistance fighter who tried to save Anne Frank and her family during their two years in hiding from the Nazis before their capture in 1944. The cast will include additional Dutch actors and celebrities, and the walks will feature public singing of songs from World War II, the concept said.
But in a statement on Twitter, van Houten wrote that she had been unaware of the plan before it was leaked.