Athens Holocaust Memorial Desecrated

The Athens Holocaust Memorial was desecrated for the second time in five months.

On Oct. 30, the logo of the ultranationalist group known as the Unaligned Meander Nationalists was spray-painted in blue on the memorial.

In June, threats against the Jewish community were spray-painted on the monument, which was erected in 2010 and commemorates the more than 60,000 Greek Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust. Today, only about 5,000 Jews live in Greece.

“We call upon municipal and state authorities to effectively protect the Holocaust Monument of the capital, in order to avoid repetition of such phenomena,” said a joint statement from the Jewish Community of Athens and the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece.

The community also called on Greek authorities to enact “all necessary procedures so that the perpetrators — those whose hateful and violent actions offend the dignity and the cultural heritage of the city — be apprehended and punished.”

The same group, which describes the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party as “moderates,” vandalized the Holocaust monument on the island of Rhodes in October 2012.

Verbal Assault

As fallout from anonymous Obama administration officials’ insults toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues, advocates for people with disabilities are calling on the White House to issue a separate apology for officials’ reported use of the word “Aspergery” in their description of the Israeli Prime Minister.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, CEO of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization working to reshape American society’s attitudes toward and strive for greater inclusion of persons with disabilities, told the Washington Jewish Week Thursday that she hopes the administration directly addresses the use of that word and reforms its internal etiquette and sensitivity practices.

“Disability impacts Americans in huge ways. Literally, 18.6 percent of us have disabilities, which means a majority of us have a loved one with a disability,” said Mizrahi. “And so what they think they were trying to convey is that [Netanyahu] is a person who’s incapable of building a relationship.”

In an article published in The Atlantic on Oct. 28, journalist Jeffrey Goldberg listed the collection of outrageous words he has heard Obama administration officials direct at Netanyahu.

“Obama administration officials have described Netanyahu to me as recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous, and ‘Aspergery.’ (These are verbatim descriptions; I keep a running list.),” Goldberg wrote.

The article exploded in the media in the days following its publication primarily because of another word used by one anonymous administration official, who called the prime minister “a chickenshit.”  Yet, the use of the word “Aspergery,” which references stereotypical traits of individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome, might hurt the administration in more than just in its relationship with Netanyahu and Israel.

On Wednesday, the Ruderman Family Foundation, a disability advocacy organization based in Boston, released a statement singling out the word “Aspergery” and called for action from the administration.

“While it is perfectly acceptable for people to be critical of each other, it is unacceptable to use a term of disability in a derogatory manner,” said Jay Ruderman, the foundation’s president. “The term ‘Aspergery’ was used in a manner that is insulting to the millions of people around the world with Asperger Syndrome. It is never OK to insult someone by referring to them by using disability in a negative manner.

“The Foundation calls on the administration to release a statement denouncing the use of the name of a disability in a derogatory manner,” Ruderman continued.

Going beyond the use of that word, Mizrahi thought the insults between the two countries are unfortunate, pointing out that Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was once quoted in Israeli media questioning U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s “messianic” fervor in pursuit of an Israel-Palestine peace deal.

“I know that there is a lot of concern about what an unnamed official said about Prime Minister Netanyahu, but definitely using disability as an insult is disgusting — to use it as an insult or slur — but I will say that I hope that the insults diminish on both sides, because there are some very serious issues right now,” said Mizrahi, pointing to a reported nuclear deal with Iran in development and the escalation of violence in East Jerusalem. “Whether it’s disability names or any other kind of names, we need to work together.”

Political Shift?

Michelle Nunn and David Perdue are locked in a heated race for the U.S. Senate in Georgia.

Michelle Nunn and David Perdue are locked in a heated race for the U.S. Senate in Georgia.

As Republicans look poised to take control of the U.S. Senate after Nov-ember’s midterm elections, Senate races in a couple of states have tightened, with both political parties redirecting their funds toward key toss-up races before Election Day. In Georgia, a state with a sizable Jewish voter block, the race to fill the open seat of retiring Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss is attracting truckloads of cash from outside the state for advertising buys.

Both national parties see the race between Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican David Perdue as a must-win — especially Democrats, who need every victory they can get to maintain control of the Senate despite an unfavorable electoral map this election. Although campaign finance filings from the current quarter are not due to be released until Oct. 30, Politico reported Oct. 14 that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent $800,000 on TV ad buys in Atlanta on behalf of Nunn and is expected to spend $200,000 more in the coming weeks.

In response, the National Republican Senatorial Committee authorized $1.45 million to be spent on behalf of Perdue, even though its vice chairman, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), said in September that the NRSC does not expect to spend more than the $2 million it had already provided for the race.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, sources within Nunn’s campaign have claimed that their candidate raised more than $4.15 million for the soon-to-be-released third quarter finance report.

Traditionally, Georgia has been considered a solidly Republican state. But in the last decade, an influx of northerners seeking the benefits of Georgia’s rapidly growing job market, as well as increases in the state’s Hispanic, black and other minority populations, have led many experts to predict that Georgia will become a solidly Democratic state by 2018.

Polls throughout the 2014 electoral season have shown Nunn and Purdue in a statistical tie, and two recent polls — one by SurveyUSA conducted Oct. 10 to 13 and another by WRBL/ Ledger-Enquirer/PMB conducted Oct. 13 to 14 — showed Nunn beating Perdue by 3 and 1 percentage points, respectively. With both results well within their respective polls’ margins of error, the race is considered by most experts to be a toss-up.

Both Nunn and Perdue are running for their first political office, but both also come from political families known to Georgia voters and are proving themselves to be strong campaigners.

Nunn is a nonprofit executive on leave from serving as the CEO of Points of Light, a nonprofit organization founded by former President George H.W. Bush that is dedicated to mobilizing volunteers and other resources to tackle social problems in the U.S. and around the world. She grew up in Bethesda, Md., and is the daughter of popular former Democratic U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, who has been tirelessly campaigning for his daughter.

Perdue is a lifelong businessman who most recently served as CEO of Dollar General. His first cousin, Sonny Perdue, served as Georgia’s governor from 2003 to 2011.

Georgia’s Jewish community is second in size only to Florida in the South Atlantic region with approximately 130,000 Jews in the Atlanta-metro suburbs. Although both candidates’ positions on issues such as Israel have remained murky, efforts to reach out to the community have come in the form of Rosh Hashanah greetings from Nunn to Atlanta’s synagogues, according to a local rabbi who asked not to be named in order to remain apolitical. According to the rabbi, both candidates also attended a pro-Israel rally at the Jewish Federation of Atlanta during the summer, though they did not speak at the event.

Generally, the Jewish community does not appear energized behind either candidate. Unlike the more liberal northern Jewish communities, Jews in Atlanta are equally split between the two parties, said the rabbi, who feels that at least in his community, the Jews who usually vote Republican will vote for Perdue and those who usually vote for Democrats will support Nunn. The rabbi knows of only a few Republicans who have previously worked with Nunn now throwing their support behind her.

Although Nunn has made few public statements on Israel, JStreetPAC, the political action committee of the left-leaning lobby J Street, has spent more on her campaign than any other candidates in the nation.

According to OpenSecrets.com, Nunn for Senate has received $120,189 from JStreetPAC this election cycle. This amount is significantly more than the $97,819 the organization gave incumbent New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Despite the significant contribution, it is unknown how similar Nunn’s positions are to those of J Street. The Nunn campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Kerwin Swint, political science department chair at Kennessaw State University, agrees with the local rabbi’s assessment, saying that Jews in the Atlanta-metro region tend to vote more Republican than the national average, possibly because of income and business interests. Swint pointed out that the attorney general of Georgia, Sam Olens, is a Jewish Republican.

According to Swint, a specifically Jewish issue that might affect the state’s Senate election is Nunn sharing a party with another too-close-to-call Georgia candidacy — that of Jason Carter, who is running for governor and is the grandson of former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. Many Jews consider the former president’s past statements about Israel and the “Jewish lobby” to be anti-Semitic.

Both Senate candidates have made overtures to Jewish donors. The Nunn campaign was embarrassed last July after the National Review magazine published excerpts from a campaign plan designed for Nunn by Washington, D.C.-based consultant Diane Feldman. The plan brashly objectified minority communities — including Jews — as campaign opportunities and was accidentally published on Nunn’s campaign   website for a day last December.

The section on the Jewish community calls Jewish donors a “tremendous financial opportunity” and states that their support would be contingent on Nunn’s stance on Israel, which at the time was labeled “TBD.” The plan also included a goal for Nunn to raise $250,000 from Jewish donors.

This controversy quickly blew over without any serious repercussions for Nunn’s campaign.

Rabbi Jack Moline, director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, believes the language used to describe Jewish donors in the private campaign memo will not affect Nunn’s popularity among Jewish supporters and feels that Georgia is a state to watch closely since this election’s result could hold clues about the future of national politics and voting trends in the South.

“I’m fascinated by Georgia,” said Moline. “I think that voting in Georgia — not just Jewish voting, but voting in Georgia — is likely to give us a glimpse of what the new demographic in the South is going to be like. I think that the [Democrats’] ability to register and turn out voters in the African-American, the Hispanic and the Asian communities that have grown precipitously as voters in the South … [is] going to pay off big time.”

Despite the sudden influx of cash, the DSCC denies shifting its focus from states such as Kentucky, where incumbent Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appears to lead his Democratic challenger, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes,
according to recent polls.

DSCC communications director Justin Barasky said that there was no change in strategy and that the additional funds given to purchase TV ads on behalf of Nunn’s campaign were not taken from any other state.

Recently, Nunn appears to have effectively put pressure on Perdue with ads highlighting a deposition made by Perdue as the CEO of Dollar General, in which he confessed to outsourcing jobs. Following the deposition, Perdue made media statements implying that he was proud of those actions.

Perdue is now on the defensive against attack ads by Nunn’s campaign and various national super PACs running ads on her behalf. Perdue counters by saying that although he was forced to outsource some jobs at Dollar General, those actions saved and created many more jobs as a result of his successful stewardship of the company.

Despite the kerfuffle, GOP political consultant John K. Watson, who is also co-chair of Perdue for Senate, is confident that Georgia is still a majority Republican state that will give his candidate an advantage, and that voters will connect Nunn to President Barack Obama’s policies.

“We’re looking at a president who is struggling,” said Watson. “I think we’re looking at a number of domestic and global issues that are highlighting what a lot of people in Georgia think are the failed leadership of this president and the failed leadership with [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid, and so when you look at [the question of], ‘Are you satisfied with the direction of the country?’ most people I think, or at least the majority here, are going to say ‘no.’

“I think at the end of the day,” he added, “in this race, a vote for Michelle Nunn is essentially a vote for the continuation of Democratic leadership under Reid and the president.”

dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com

Foundation Led by Kerry’s Wife Funded Anti-Israel Eatery, Report Reveals

Conflict Kitchen, a Pittsburgh snack bar that sells sandwiches wrapped in paper printed with pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel slogans, received a $50,000 grant from a foundation run by Secretary of State John Kerry’s wife, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

The wrappers bearing the anti-Israel slogans also indicate that the take-out restaurant is supported in part by the Heinz Endowment, chaired by Teresa Heinz Kerry. Conflict Kitchen, located near Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, aims to use its menu to teach students about conflict between the U.S. and the countries it features in its cuisine selection. The information spread includes quotes defending terrorism against Israel. One wrapper reads, “How can you compare Israeli F-16s, which are some of the best military planes in the world, to a few hundred homemade rockets?”

A Heinz Endowment spokesman told the Free Beacon that it gave the snack bar the grant last April to help fund its relocation to another site in Pittsburgh. He did not say whether or not the endowment would continue to support Conflict Kitchen but stressed that “the opinions of Conflict Kitchen do not represent those of the Heinz Endowment.”

Former Spanish Prime Minister Slams European Recognition of ‘Palestine’

Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar spoke out against unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.

“The Palestinian state does not exist yet and the Gaza Strip is still controlled by Hamas, but many nations are already moving to recognize it,” he said. “The Swedish government announced it would recognize Palestine, the British Parliament voted to recognize it, and we should expect similar moves to be made throughout Europe. Regardless of good intentions, recognizing a Palestinian state is not appropriate, not helpful and wrong. It will not promote peace and will only cause the Palestinians to back away from an agreed-upon solution.”

Aznar added that Israel “has been harassed by neighbor states and terrorist groups and subsequently offered concessions to reach a fair peace agreement and was only met with refusal from the Palestinian Authority.”

Just Like Adam and Eve

(©iStockphoto.com/bhofack2 )

(©iStockphoto.com/bhofack2)

TEL AVIV — The music pounded, the liquor flowed, dancers filled the floor and khinkali meat dumplings and kababi skewers — staples of traditional Georgian cuisines — sat on almost every table.

That was back in February, before Nana Shrier, the owner of the hip Tel Aviv bar and restaurant Nanuchka, saw a television news report about factory farming. Then everything changed.

Abhorred by how animals are treated in industrial meat and dairy production, Shrier stripped all the animal products from the menu — from cheese to eggs to chicken and steak — and made the restaurant entirely vegan.

It wasn’t an easy shift. Retaining the restaurant’s Georgian character has forced Shrier to get creative, finding meat substitutes and trying new dishes. She has also noticed that customers order less hard alcohol when they don’t eat meat. But none of that matters to her.

“We understood that there’s no price worth paying to create animal products, to see, to sell, to produce or to buy them,” she said. “The atmosphere is pleasant, but I would have paid any price. I would have lost half my business for this.”

According to the activist group Vegan-Friendly, Shrier is one of approximately 300,000 vegans in Israel. At nearly 4 percent of the country, activists say Israel has the highest per capita vegan population of anywhere in the world. And the trend appears to be accelerating.

A survey conducted in January found that 8 percent of Israelis are vegetarian and nearly 5 percent are vegan. Four years ago, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics reported that just 2.6 percent of Israelis were vegetarian or vegan.

Some 7,000 Israelis have accepted the Challenge 22 to go vegan for 22 days since the initiative was launched in May by the animal rights group Anonymous. About 250 Israeli restaurants are now certified “vegan friendly” by the group of the same name, meaning that at least one-quarter of their dishes contain no animal products.

Israel is also frequently included on lists of the world’s most vegan-friendly nations, thanks in part to the fact that national staples such as falafel and hummus contain no animal products. And on Oct. 13, Tel Aviv’s second annual Vegan-Fest drew more than 10,000 attendees to a festival of food, crafts and music that organizers claim is the world’s largest.

“The makeup of the community is the biggest change,” said Omri Paz, founder of Vegan-Friendly, which organized the festival. “In the past, maybe they were more spiritual, or people society viewed as a little different, a little strange. A lot of the new vegans are mainstream — vegan lawyers, vegan teachers. Everyone can be vegan.”

The alternative and the mainstream mingled freely at the festival, where people wearing baggy tie-dyed pants and shirts reading “Proud To Be Vegan” mixed with families enjoying picnics. The food stands lining the park offered everything from vegan cakes and ice cream to vegan shwarma, Israel’s trademark spiced lamb dish.

Even Domino’s Pizza had a booth showcasing its vegan pies — first sold in Israel. Ido Fridman, the vice president of marketing for Domino’s Israel, said the company has sold about 300,000 vegan pizzas since launching the pie last year.

Israel’s vegan boom comes at a time of heightened awareness of animal welfare on factory farms.

A Hebrew-subtitled lecture on veganism has garnered nearly a million views on YouTube in a country of just 8 million people. One-fifth of the country tuned in to see a vegan activist win the latest season of the Israeli version of the “Big Brother” reality television show. And a popular investigative news show has broadcast six segments exposing the mistreatment of animals in Israel’s meat and dairy industries.

The heightened consciousness around animal welfare has bolstered vegan activists. Founded just two years ago, Vegan-Friendly has seen attendance at its festival jump 25 percent this year. Another animal rights group founded two years ago, Free 269, recently opened Israel’s first sanctuary for animals from factory farms and has spawned dozens of offshoots in other countries.

“There’s the virality of Facebook and YouTube, so the messages and the pictures and videos are exposed to tons of people,” Paz said. “It helps that people are used to eating falafel and Israeli salad.”

Israeli veganism took root in secular liberal circles, but religious Israelis are joining the movement, too. Many note that the biblical Adam and Eve were vegetarians in the Garden of Eden.

Yehuda Shein, the chairman of Behemla, a religious organization that advocates against animal cruelty, says he is undeterred by the time-honored custom of eating meat on Shabbat and holidays.

“There’s no commandment to eat meat,” Shein said. “People make their own adjustments. They stop eating meat, they do something else. But our goal is to bring the information to the public.”

Veganism is not entirely a new development in Israel. The African Hebrew Israelites have abstained from animal products for decades. But while activists have cheered the recent growth in vegan awareness, veteran vegans fear it may be a passing fad.

Arie Rave, who started the vegan Buddha Burgers restaurant in Tel Aviv eight years ago and is about to open his sixth franchise, said he hopes new adherents take it seriously.

“People don’t become vegan in one day,” said Rave, whose restaurants are filled with posters touting veganism’s moral, health and ecological benefits. “It’s not one day or one conversation. It’s not just a menu. It’s an ideology.”

The Final Divorce?

Nabil Abuznaid, the Palestinian Authority's ambassador to the Netherlands, is less than than enthused at the P.A.’s plan to expose Israel to war crimes charges. It’s a “one way move, no way back,” he said. (Courtesy James Madison University)

Nabil Abuznaid, the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to the Netherlands, is less than than enthused at the P.A.’s plan to expose Israel to war crimes charges. It’s a “one way move, no way back,” he said. (Courtesy James Madison University)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Loading a newly released video of a beheading in Syria on his smartphone, Nabil Abuznaid, the Palestinians’ ambassador here, shakes his head in disbelief.

“Look at those animals,” he said, referring to the fighters from the ISIS jihadist group who carried out the decapitation. “Do you think Israelis are immune from this craziness? Me, I’m even more scared of this fundamentalism.”

To Abuznaid, who has represented the Palestinian Authority in the Netherlands for the past five years, such barbarity is a sign that the Israelis and Palestinians should resolve their differences peacefully and stand united against the shared threat of extremism.

But on Abuznaid’s desk, under a life-size portrait of the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat, are documents connected to a move that could undo 24 years of efforts to find common ground: The Palestinian Authority’s plan to expose Israel to war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Abuznaid said he is advancing the motion with little enthusiasm. But if P.A. Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki is to be believed, within the year the Palestinian Authority will accede to the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC in 1998, which would give the U.N. tribunal jurisdiction to probe war crimes investigations against Israel.

Both the Palestinians and Israelis consider the move a game-changer, a step after which a negotiated two-state solution may be all but impossible.

“This is not the Palestinian preferred choice because going to the ICC is the final divorce: one-way move, no way back,” said Abuznaid, 60, a former lecturer in international relations from Hebron who spent a few months in an Israeli jail in the 1980s for his membership in the PLO. “I don’t think Palestinians and Israelis are ready for a final divorce.”

If the Palestinians move ahead with their plans, it is Abuznaid who will be the P.A.’s point person on the matter. Abuznaid said his family is from Haifa, where they lived before Israel’s establishment in 1948, when they left along with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were driven out of Israeli-controlled areas during the War of Independence.

As a young man, Abuznaid believed in the Palestine Liberation Organi-zation’s strand of radicalism. He was a self-described revolutionary who thought Israel had to be destroyed. But over time his politics have softened, and today even his Israeli detractors consider him a pragmatist.

“Let the person who is living in my family’s house in Haifa enjoy the beach there, and I will enjoy my life in Hebron and we can be friends,” he said. “There is no choice but todivide the land.”

Equipped with good English and a political science degree from James Madison University in Virginia, Abuznaid climbed the PLO ranks to become a personal adviser to Arafat, serving under him during the Oslo negotiations. Abuznaid later returned to the United States to serve as deputy head of the Palestinian Authority’s mission in Washington, D.C., among other positions. His wife, Lubna, and their two children are living in the United States.

“Abroad I’m a diplomat who receives the red carpet. But when I return home, I need to wait in my car for a boy the age of my son who’s treating me like I’m barely human,” he said of the soldiers who check his papers when he crosses the Allenby Bridge between Jordan and the West Bank.

Unlike his position on checkpoints — a longstanding Palestinian gripe — Abuznaid’s reluctant attitude to the ICC move seems out of sync
with Ramallah’s public defiance. Yet, despite the rhetoric, it’s not clear how eagerly the Palestinians are to play the ICC card.

In July, the Palestinian Authority’s justice minister and the general prosecutor in Gaza sent an official request for an ICC investigation of alleged war crimes committed by Israel this summer during its campaign against Hamas in Gaza. The following month, during Maliki’s visit to The Hague, he told reporters that
accession is “only a matter of time and will occur this year.”

But a letter from ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, leaked last month, states that Maliki was asked to confirm the request contained in the July letter and declined to do so.

“A decision was taken to go ahead with the ICC move, yes,” Abuznaid said. “But it’s not final until the papers are submitted. So it’s still something that can be avoided. Because if we realize the ICC option, what then? How would we go forward with the peace process? The day we sign, things will be different between us and the Israelis.”

It’s impossible to know if Abuznaid’s qualms may merely be part of a strategy that keeps the ICC option as a bargaining chip in the Palestinians’ diplomatic chess match with Israel or if he is expressing a genuine aversion to what could be a grand but ineffective gesture.

Haim Divon, Abuznaid’s counterpart at the Israeli Embassy in The Hague, believes it’s the latter.

“As a pragmatist, Mr. Abuznaid knows an ICC bid would lead nowhere and only poison the atmosphere,” Divon said.

Abuznaid and Divon know each other well from appearing together in so many forums that Divon once jokingly referred to the configuration as “The Haim and Nabil Show.” They have their disagreements, including over Abuznaid’s drawing of parallels between the Holocaust and the Palestinian exodus of 1948, but the relationship has remained cordial.

Asked about his relationship with Divon, Abuznaid said, “If it were only up to him and me, I think we would sign a peace agreement pretty soon.”

Protective Order

A handful of Secret Service agents surround President Barack Obama after disembarking from Air Force One. In contrast, at a recent luncheon in New York, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was accompanied by nearly 30 security personnel. (Pete Souza/White House)

A handful of Secret Service agents surround President Barack Obama after disembarking from Air Force One. In contrast, at a recent luncheon in New York, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was accompanied by nearly 30 security personnel. (Pete Souza/White House)

What’s the cure for the recent ills of the United States Secret Service? American officials might consider taking some advice from their Israeli counterparts at the Shin Bet security agency.

White House security breaches have sent the Secret Service scrambling to restructure itself in order to prevent similar or more serious mistakes in the future. But former Israeli security and intelligence officials note that the Shin Bet, which also protects top dignitaries, has virtually the same tactics, rules of engagement and training procedures as its American equivalent — without experiencing the same hiccups, at least in recent years. In 1995, the Shin Bet did experience its own crisis following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

“I don’t think [Israel’s protection of dignitaries] is different from what the Americans do,” said former Israeli Mossad agent Gad Shimron, who was never part of the Shin Bet’s VIP security service but is familiar with its operations. “It’s the same training, more or less. It’s like the training of an elite soldier, whether he is in the Israeli army or the American army. Maybe there are little differences, but the basic training is the same, the aim of the service is the same.”

Another former senior Israeli security official said that working on culture, rather than changing tactics or overhauling organizational structure, can help the Secret Service fix its problems.

“Every organization is built out of people, procedures and culture,” said the official, who asked to remain anonymous. “So if this is true, take out the written procedures, take out the people one by one as private individuals, and try to figure out whether there is something left.”

Shimron said that even if agencies such as the Secret Service are guarding dignitaries 24/7, all it takes is “two seconds of carelessness” for a disaster like an assassination.

“Or in this case, I’m sure that the White House normally is very well-guarded, but somehow, for reasons I can’t really tell you because I don’t know all the details, someone managed to jump over the fence and run into the White House,” he said.

Questions were raised about the effectiveness of the Secret Service after Omar Gonzalez, carrying a knife, on Sept. 19 jumped the White House fence, ran inside the front door and passed the presidential living quarters into the East Room, where he was stopped by an off-duty agent.

More embarrassment for the agency came when leaks to the media uncovered that President Barack Obama, while visiting the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, rode in an elevator with an armed security guard who possessed a criminal record and proceeded to take pictures of the president.

The last straw came with the revelation that the Secret Service delayed confessing that shots fired at the White House in 2011 hit their target. Initial reports on the incident had said that all of the shots missed the building.

After a heated House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Sept. 29 in which lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed their lost confidence in the leadership of Julia Pierson, the Secret Service’s director, Pierson resigned. Her post was quickly given to former U.S. special agent Joseph Clancy, who came out of retirement to act as interim director.

Pierson, who assumed the position in March 2013, had succeeded Mark Sullivan, who resigned after it was reported that 11 agents engaged with prostitutes while they were on a trip with the president to a summit in Colombia.

The former Israeli security official commended Pierson’s resignation, saying that when a director of such an agency steps down, it sends the message to citizens that the concept of responsibility is still important.

In Israel, the Shin Bet has a dual role: part VIP security agency and part anti-terrorism organization. With a large portion of its members coming from other Israeli intelligence agencies, the anti-terrorism branch offers protective service agents on the ground with clear alerts on threats.

The Shin Bet’s meticulousness was recently demonstrated in a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who came to the U.S. to attend the U.N. General Assembly. Reporting on a dinner between Netanyahu and Jewish philanthropist Sheldon Adelson at a New York City restaurant, a New York Post reporter mused about the 30 security personnel tagging along — closing off the block and making the restaurant’s patrons go through a metal detector.

Yet, the Shin Bet is also no stranger to security failures, in particular the 1995 assassination of Rabin by an Israeli extremist.

“That was the equivalent of the JFK assassination in America, in terms of the shock waves domestically and worldwide — and the humiliation that the bodyguards experienced,” said Dan Raviv, a CBS News correspondent who co-authored the book “Spies Against Armageddon,” which offers a history of Israeli security and espionage. “Shin Bet veterans told me that they did not imagine that an Israeli Jew would murder his own country’s prime minister. They had, in effect, been on the lookout only for threats that Arab attackers might pose.”

Shimron said that Israeli intelligence became aware of a possible internal threat to Rabin after he signed the Oslo Peace Accords. That turned out not to be enough to prevent the assassination. After the murder, the Shin Bet went through its own upheaval, which included the resignation of its director and a change in tactics.

The Shin Bet shifted its focus when protecting dignitaries toward surrounding them with agents, preferably those who were taller and bigger than the individual they are trying to protect, so that a gunshot was more likely to hit an agent wearing a bulletproof vest than the dignitary.

The number of agents protecting the prime minister was also significantly increased after the Rabin assassination. Now, whenever the Israeli prime minister goes anywhere, “the whole regiment of security people are busy making sure that there will be as little contact and as little exposure as possible,” Shimron said.

In situations involving large groups of people, the Shin Bet now utilizes casually dressed agents among the crowd who look for potential threats — often using women for the job.

“Something interesting that we found was that women have a much better capability to detect strange behavior in a potential threat than men,” said the former Israeli security official. “They probably don’t have the physical power [as male agents], but when it comes to detecting suspicious behavior that might lead to a potential threat, they are much better than men.”

The official also pointed out that there are structural differences between the Shin Bet and the Secret Service that might contribute to varying degrees of effectiveness. In Israel, Shin Bet agents are usually much younger than their American counterparts and usually serve between five and seven years. In the Secret Service, the older average age means more seasoned agents, but they may lose some of their sensitivity and alertness.

Raviv said that lapses like the recent White House intrusion are less likely to occur with the Shin Bet.

“Would anything so ridiculous as what happened at the White House occur at an Israeli government building — or, specifically, at the home of the prime minister in Jerusalem? It’s not at all likely,” he said. “Israeli facilities have fences that are far more serious, including sensors that high-tech Israeli industries developed. And, frankly, Israeli guards — [who are] part of Shin Bet — would be
far more likely to open fire on an intruder.”

dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com

‘A Great Beacon of Light’

Zelig Brez (left), director of the Dnepropetrovsk Jewish community proudly stands atop the 22-story Menorah Center with a community board member. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

Zelig Brez (left), director of the Dnepropetrovsk Jewish community proudly stands atop the 22-story Menorah Center with a community board member.
(Cnaan Liphshiz)

DNEPROPETROVSK, Ukraine — Five months into the war that turned him into a refugee in his own country, Jacob Virin has already attended 20 Jewish weddings — including those of his son and two other relatives — at the $100 million JCC of Dnepropetrovsk.

Towering over the skyline of this industrial metropolis, the 22-story Menorah Center is said to be the largest Jewish community center in Europe and a symbol of the remarkable Jewish revival here after decades of communist repression.

But with eastern Ukraine descending into chaos in recent months, the center has assumed a new symbolism. With one of its two hotels serving as temporary housing for some of the hundreds of refugees displaced by fighting between government forces and pro-Russian rebels, and a recent mass wedding for 19 Jewish couples held on its roof terrace, the center has become an emblem of Jewish survival during the current crisis.

“More than any other single complex, the Menorah Center has empowered the Jewish community of Dnepropetrovsk to better serve as an anchor for Ukrainian Jewry in difficult times and as an engine for Jewish renewal,” said Zelig Brez, the community’s director.

Completed in 2012 with funding from two Jewish oligarchs, the Menorah Center is a leviathan. Its 450,000 square feet of floor space includes a swanky event hall, a synagogue with black marble interior, a large Holocaust museum, luxurious ritual baths for men and women and several kosher restaurants and cafes.

At night, powerful spotlights illuminate the center’s seven domes, making the large complex on Sholem Aleichem Street look much like its namesake.

The Menorah Center in Dnepropetrovsk is said to be the largest Jewish community center in Europe.  (Jewish Community of Dneproperovsk)

The Menorah Center in Dnepropetrovsk is said to be the largest Jewish community center in Europe.
(Jewish Community of Dneproperovsk)

“The idea here is also to build a presence, a great beacon of light that tells the Jews of Ukraine: “We are here. Come join us. The time for hiding is over,’ ” said Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki, the energetic chief rabbi of Dnepropetrovsk and one of the Chabad movement’s most senior envoys to Ukraine.

During the Nazi occupation of Ukraine in the 1940s, German troops murdered 20,000 Jews in and around Dnepropetrovsk, essentially annihilating the community. Many Jews who escaped eastward returned after the Red Army defeated the Nazis, but the Kremlin’s anti-Semitic and anti-religious ideology kept Jewish life underground here until Ukraine gained independence in 1991.

Following the fall of communism, Dnepropetrovsk emerged as an engine for Jewish life in Ukraine. Some 15 percent of the country’s Jewish population lives here, and the city boasts several unique Jewish amenities, including the only matzah factory in Ukraine and a workshop for ritual scribes. The community’s partnership with Jewish communities in the Boston area is also the object of pride here.

Kaminezki says the Menorah Center is the largest JCC in Europe. Navigating the maze of elevators that services the building’s seven wings, he pops into a gourmet kosher restaurant with heavy cherrywood tables to chat with a donor having lunch.

Before returning to his office, Kaminezki shows off the center’s main passageway, which at lunch hour fills up with a mix of religious Jews and non-Jews, including women in short skirts and high heels who come to visit medical clinics, hair dressers or the bank — all of which rent space in the center.

The vast structure “is meant to accommodate the needs of this growing community not only now, but also in the future,” Kaminezki said back at his penthouse office overlooking the Dnepro River.

Student Nastya Moscalenko attends a class at the Menorah Center, which also includes medical clinics, shops and a bank. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

Student Nastya Moscalenko attends a class at the Menorah Center, which also includes medical clinics, shops and a bank. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

With such an impressive presence, the Menorah Center has become the Jewish community’s de facto embassy, hosting visits from ambassadors and diplomats, including the U.S. State Department’s anti-Semitism envoy, Ira Foreman, who visited in April.

Non-Jews sometimes refer to the center as the Kolomoisky building — Igor Kolomoisky, a Jewish billionaire, funded the building with fellow Ukrainian billionaire Gennady Bogolyubov, the president of the Jewish community of Dnepropetrovsk.

A banker who has poured millions into Jewish causes, Kolomoisky has become something of a national hero since making sizable donations to the ill-equipped Ukrainian army in its battle against pro-Russian separatists. In April, Kolomoisky was appointed governor of this strategically crucial region.

Brez, the community director, says he is more concerned with using the Menorah Center to leave a mark on the lives of local Jews than to impress foreigners or non-Jewish locals. So earlier this month, Brez helped arrange the mass wedding on the center’s roof, among them his son’s in-laws. Several of the couples had already wed decades ago but never had a Jewish ceremony.

“The community sheltered us, but also made us a family, right here at the Menorah Center,” said Virin, the editor-in-chief of the main Jewish paper of Donetsk, the embattled eastern city that has become a flashpoint in the fight between Ukrainian forces and the rebels.

The day after the mass wedding, Brez was back on the roof for the marriage of Baruch and Nastya Moscalenko, who met last year through a Jewish studies program at the Menorah Center. Although her family is secular, Nastya Moscalenko began attending classes at the urging of her friends.

“Baruch is from a more religious background,” she said. “We traveled in different circles, so I don’t think we would’ve met if not for Menorah.”

Kaminezki takes a more historical view of the center’s significance.

Gesturing toward a neglected yard in the building’s shadow, he indicates the spot where secret police agents in 1939 arrested the city’s chief rabbi, Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, the father of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

The younger Schneerson, revered by Chabad devotees all over the world, spent much of his adolescence in Dnepropetrovsk but left for good after his father’s arrest.

“Those who didn’t want the rebbe and other Jews here now have a 22-story building celebrating their tradition,” Kaminezki said. “That’s the story of Ukraine’s Jews.”

Dutch Student Suspended Following Threats Against Jews

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A Dutch high school student was suspended after posting a video in which he said he belonged to ISIS and wanted to decapitate Jews.

The De Spindel High School in Hengelo, a city in eastern Netherlands, suspended the 14-year-old student, who, according to the De Telegraaf newspaper, is a Muslim boy of Balkan descent. He was identified in the media only as Ilhan M.

“Hi, I am from ISIS and I would like to cut off the heads of Jews,” he is seen as saying, followed by profanities about Jewish women.

It is not yet clear whether the teen was suspended because of the video or a recent inquiry by police initiated earlier this month after faculty reported that he may have possessed a weapon. Police found the boy owned a prop gun.

The affair comes amid growing concern in the Netherlands about Dutch citizens fighting for the jihadist group ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service estimated this summer that approximately 100 Dutch citizens were fighting in Syria.

Security officials worry that the battle-hardened returnees would carry out attacks, including on Jewish targets.

— JTA