Group Tied To Al-Qaida Says It Fired On Eilat

A jihadist group affiliated with al-Qaida claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on Eilat.

An airplane of the Arkia airline takes off from the airport in the Southern Israeli city of Eilat.  Photo credit: Moshe Shai/FLASH90

An airplane of the Arkia airline takes off from the airport in the Southern Israeli city of Eilat.
Photo credit: Moshe Shai/FLASH90

The Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted the rocket fired early Tuesday morning by the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, which operates in Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula, from the Sinai near the Israel border.

The Iron Dome battery was moved to the Eilat area about a month ago.

The Mujahideen Shura Council in its statement claiming responsibility said the attack was carried out to avenge the deaths of four jihadi terrorists on Friday in a drone attack in the Sinai. The attack was blamed on Israel, though Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility.

“Eilat and other Jewish towns will not be enjoying security, tourism or economy. Jews will pay for the blood of the jihad fighters,” the statement said.

Israeli authorities late last week ordered the closure of the Eilat airport for several hours following a warning from Egyptian security services about a possible attack, according to reports.

Hotels in Eilat, a major tourist destination for Israelis and Europeans, are nearly filled at this time of year.


Hitler Wines Spark Outcry From Tourists

An Italian winery selling a line of Nazi and fascist wines has outraged both tourists and Jewish human rights organizations. Under the label known as the Historical Line, the winemaker Vini Lunardelli’s series celebrates the lives of such personalities in world political history including Che Guevara, Churchill, Napoleon, Marx, Mussolini, and Hitler.

Hitler wines - 08.13.2013The Hitler label features over 20 different images of Adolf Hitler – more than any other leader in the wine series featured on the company’s website – in various salutes and poses with Nazi slogans such as Heil Hitler and Mein Kampf. Other Nazi figures that the Vini Lunardelli wines feature is Rudolf Hess and notorious SS Officer Heinrich Himmler, who organized mass murder of Jews during the Third Reich.

A Norwegian couple vacationing in northeastern Italy this week said they were shocked to find the controversial wines being sold there, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph. And an American couple, Matthew and Cindy Hirsch, in northern Italy, were also disturbed to find the wines sold in a local Italian supermarket during a vacation last year in Garda. Cindy Hirsch’s father was a Holocaust survivor, whose parents and other family members were killed in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

“I was shocked,” Mrs. Hirsch told the Daily Telegraph last year. “It is not only an affront to Jews, even if my husband and I are Jewish. It is an affront to humanity as a whole.”

After the Norwegian couple initial shock a week ago, the LA-based human rights group, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, released a statement denouncing the selling of these wine products and called for their boycott.

“The Wiesenthal Center denounces the marketing of these products and urges wine distributors in Italy and around the world to send the only message the owner of this firm might understand that they choose not to do any business with someone using the Nazi mass murderer as a blatant marketing tool.”

The Wiesenthal center has been protesting the selling of the Hitler wines since the line came out in 1995.

Half of the Vini Lunardelli company’s wine production is dedicated to the Historical Line which has 50 different historical personalities and has become a cult object among collectors according to the company’s website. The website also notes that the Historical Line has garnered the wine company a lot of attention “from the media all over the world both for the originality of the idea and for the quality of wines.”

The direct manager and creator of the line at the wine company, Andrea Lunardelli, told Tazpit News Agency, that the Historical Line started off as a joke in response to a request from one of the company’s customers and that now the company sells many bottles.

“But we never want to do politics or to eulogize Hitler and his men or Mussolini or to offend someone,” Lunardelli responded in an e-mail to Tazpit on Monday. She also added that most of the buyers of the Hitler wines are German, but that there are orders from Austria and Eastern Europe as well.

Lunardelli also stated the Italian wine company, based in Udine, had removed Nazi symbols like the swastika and the SS symbol from the labels, and that it doesn’t use racist phrases but only nationalist phrases.

“Enough is enough,” said the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s, Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the Hitler wines, which have been sold widely across Italy for nearly 20 years. “We first protested the marketing of ‘Führerwein’ in 1995. Now an expanded line of wines that demean, diminish and mock Hitler’s victims are promoted on a slick website.”

 Anav Silverman writes for Tazpit News Agency.

Record Summer of North American Olim Volunteering to Enlist in IDF

Nefesh B'Nefesh - 08.13.2013This summer’s second charter Aliyah flight from the USA took off today, Monday, August 12th, bringing some 331 new Olim to Israel – including 125 young men and women who will be joining the IDF. The special Nefesh B’Nefesh flight was organized in cooperation with the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel, Tzofim Garin Tzabar. Today’s Olim are American, Canadian and British Jews.

Also on board the jubilee charter flight are 41 families, including 88 children. The passenger list also included 92 Olim moving to Israel’s periphery as part of the Nefesh B’Nefesh and Keren Kayemeth L’Israel Go North and Go South programs.


Arab Idol’s Residency Is More Than Just An Address

Celebrities around the world frequently change their place of residence for reasons much less compelling than meeting the needs of their career. But when the celebrity in question is leaving the Gaza Strip for the West Bank, unimagined complications emerge, as the newest Palestinian superstar is finding out.

Israel, which controls the movement of Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank, has just announced that it has given approval for Mohammed Assaf, winner of the Arab world’s franchise of the international “Idol” television phenomenon, and his family, to change their residency from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank. Assaf, for whom travel will now play a large part in his life, will no longer require the Palestinian Civil Administration to ask for Israel’s permission for the singer to leave Gaza.

As a part of the contract he signed upon winning Idol, Assaf’s actual residence will be in Dubai. But according to his aides in Ramallah, he will always want to come back to the Palestinian Territories.

“It’s easier for him to travel within the West Bank having his residency changed especially when he is invited to perform in several concerts in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho, etc.”, they told The Media Line. Assaf can also return to Gaza, but to do so he will need to apply to Israel for a permit.

But many people here believe that he will never go back to the Gaza Strip. “Why would he go back? There is nothing for him to do there,” Omar Adel, a Ramallah-based computer engineer told The Media Line.

With Israel still in control of movement there, Gazans cannot travel to the West Bank unless they are given a permit by Israel. Those who wish to travel abroad can ask for a permit to go to the West Bank, then cross into Jordan over the Allenby Bridge and fly from Amman’s international airport. Or, as most people do, they can register their name with Gaza’s Hamas government and travel via Egypt after entering through the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing point.

Upon his celebrated victory in the singing competition, Assaf was granted a diplomatic passport by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and a United Nations passport when the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) named the singer a goodwill ambassador. However, the passports will not ease his movement if he wants to leave Gaza when the border is closed: a frequent situation due to Egyptian security concerns that affects even high-level officials.

Gazans are quick to realize that Assaf’s good fortune actually began at Rafah because had the crossing point been closed, he would not have made it to the competition which was televised from Beirut. In fact, Assaf almost missed the auditions In Egypt because he was stuck at the border for two days. A fan of the former wedding singer gave him his turn to audition, leading to the storybook ending and stardom.

A few days after his victory, thousands went to the border of the Gaza Strip to greet Assaf upon his return. Sources told The Media Line that the Hamas government in Gaza told Assaf that he will not be able to hold any concerts in his hometown.

However, the situation is Ramallah is quite the opposite. Assaf came to the West Bank for second time after his June victory to inaugurate the Solomon Pools music festival in Bethlehem; and more recently returned to the West Bank to appear in the welcoming celebration for the visiting Barcelona football team in Hebron.

In fact, residents of the West Bank have already had a number of opportunities to see and hear Assaf. His first visit included welcoming FIFA (soccer league) head Sepp Blatter; hosting free concerts in Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jenin; and appearing in concert at hotels for those who paid around $125 per ticket to hear Assaf perform.

Meanwhile, fans back in Assaf’s native Gaza Strip wish they had the same opportunity to see him. The problem there is not just issues of free movement. It’s also the religious fundamentalism of the Hamas government. “Hamas prevents men and women from mingling, so we weren’t expecting that Assaf will have any parties here, but we had a dream that he would,” Rana Hamdan, a 27-year-old NGO worker living in Gaza told The Media Line.

Hamdan says she understands that Assaf was not going to stay in Gaza after he became an Arab celebrity, but many of her friends felt some of their national pride was taken away.

Others share the resentment. “The Palestinian Authority and several businessmen are using Assaf,” Ahmed Mustafa, a 30-year-old government employee from Gaza told The Media Line. “They are including him in every occasion. I don’t know how he will sing anything against the Palestinian Authority or supportive of resistance against Israel,” Mustafa said.

Palestinian writer Ramzi Sadeq Shahin published in article in the Gaza-based Donia Al Watan agency calling Assaf a “fake ambassador.” “Gaza supported Assaf, but now he forgot about it. He had always said that he’s the son of Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza, but now he and his family moved to Ramallah as if Gaza has become a disgrace to him,” Shahin wrote in part.

Others have also been disappointed by the decision for more personal reasons. “I was frustrated when I heard that President Mahmoud Abbas gave Assaf a diplomatic passport and that Israel has agreed to his residency change,” Ruba Jahshan, 25, and originally from Gaza told The Media Line.

Jahshan is unable to leave the city of Bethlehem out of fear that officials at the Israeli checkpoints in between the West Bank cities will discover her situation and deport her to Gaza.

Jahshan posted a Facebook photo of her 1 ½-year old daughter, Tia, talking to her grandmother and aunts on Skype. Jashan, who says she hasn’t seen her sisters and brother for more than 5 years, wrote to President Abbas on his Facebook page saying, “I don’t want to be a diplomat. But can’t you, Mr. President, use these passports for people like us who can’t visit their families? It’s more humanitarian.” Jahshan says she’s not sure whether the president has heard her plea.

In 2007, Jasha came to Bethlehem using a temporary permit with the intent to marry the person she loved. “I didn’t know it would be this complicated,” Jahshan explained to The Media Line. Because Israel didn’t grant her a change of residency when the permit expired, she has lived in the West Bank illegally since then. Her parents are able to visit her each year at Easter and at Christmas when Israel provides permits for Christians to spend the holidays with their families in the West Bank.

As she waits for Israeli approval to change her residency to the West Bank, Jahshan says she will not encourage any Gazan to fall in love with a West Banker. Meanwhile, she is envious of Assaf’s newfound freedom of movement.

As a singer living amid this seemingly endless conflict, many ask Assaf to refrain from internecine politics and to be closer to the people. Emad Drimly, a journalist from the Gaza Strip and a fan of Assaf is one of them.

Drimly supports the singer’s choice of residency, but thinks he should stay clear of politics. “It’s a professional decision for Assaf to move to the West Bank. I am not against the decision as the situation in Gaza prevents him from advancing his career. There is an attempt to create a division between the people of Gaza and the people of the West Bank, so I think Assaf should stay away from the political dispute,” Drimly added.


Florida Congresswoman Leads Delegation to Israel

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, quarterbacked a Congressional delegation, along with Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), to Israel. The delegation met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein to discuss the importance of the U.S.-Israel strategic partnership, regional stability, threats from Iran, Syria and Egypt, as well as the ongoing peace negotiations.

“It was a great privilege and honor to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres to discuss threats facing both of our nations as well as identifying new ways to strengthen our bilateral relationship,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's Congressional delegation to Israel met with several of the country's key figures, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s Congressional delegation to Israel met with several of the country’s key figures, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

“We must continue to work together to prevent Iran from achieving full nuclear breakout capacity because the Iranian regime continues to be an existential threat to the democratic Jewish State of Israel. In addition, the Iran-Syria nexus must be
dismantled in order keep Israel safe and secure regional stability to prevent the Middle East from becoming more violent due to extremism,” she said.

The delegation, which consisted of city, county and state officials from eight different states, also met with the Israeli Cyber Bureau and the Institute for Counter-Terrorism, received an aerial tour of the country from members of the Israel Defense Forces and visited an Iron Dome missile battery site to analyze and discuss the defensive capabilities of Israel to safeguard her citizens from Hamas short range rockets.

The group also met with Ambassador-designate Ron Dermer, human rights advocate Natan Sharansky, U.S. diplomats, and U.S. foreign service personnel. Ros-Lehtinen and Frelinghuysen also visited the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, which services both Palestinians and Israelis with state of the art medical care.

Ros-Lehtinen said that it was crucial to dialogue with entities in the Israeli government that are serving on the front lines every day.

“Visiting Iron Dome, speaking with IDF personnel and meeting with Israeli security officials reaffirms that we must continue to work closely with our ally — the people of Israel — to improve and protect our national security interests and to prevent the majority of air strikes coming from extremists in Gaza from hurting innocent civilians,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

”When Israel is strong, America is strong and that is why it is important for the U.S. to help Israel sustain its qualitative military edge. The position of the United States should be to counter all threats by strengthening our cooperation efforts with strong allies to protect our national security interests in the region.”

Between Green And Red

080913_between_green_and_redIt is virtually impossible to eat a watermelon by yourself. The juicy red fruit begs to be shared, and in a large vacant lot just outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, all kinds of people are sharing plates of watermelon and salty cheese.

The event is called The Meeting Point, and it harkens back to the 1970s when this area, which was a no-man’s land between Israel and Jordan from 1948 to 1967, was home to watermelon stands that brought Jerusalemites tog-ether. Today, the organizers have built a large wooden “bar,” serving watermelon and salty cheese, along with a performance stage.

Every night for two weeks, there are free performances, from belly dancing to poetry readings. Entrance is free, and patrons sit on small rattan stools. All of the material used to build the watermelon stand are recyclable, as is the mulch on the ground.

“The problem between us is the leadership, not the people,” Maher Al-Mufrah, a Palestinian who runs a small humus restaurant near the Damascus Gate, said. “We can communicate, sit and talk, and maybe we’ll come up with some new ideas.”

Spearing a piece of watermelon, Nader Hussein, another Palestinian agreed.

“We all live together in one city,” he said. “I have a lot of Jewish friends, and we help each other. The atmosphere here is very nice. The problems are with the government. We all want to live. We all have children and want a better life for our children.”

The event costs about $100,000 to stage — most of it covered by donations from foundations. The vibe at the event is laid-back hippy. Young couples carry babies in wrapped shawls, and several have brought their dogs along. Musrara also has a mix of ultra-Orthodox Jews and young students.

“We live in this neighbourhood, and we wanted to support this project,” Itamar Arvut, a student of psychology at Hebrew University, said. “We also wanted a chance to meet people from the eastern side of the city, which we rarely get to do.”

Although Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, most Jews and Arabs in the city live separately. Of Jerusalem’s 800,000 residents, about two-thirds are Jewish and one-third are Arab. Most of the Palestinians choose not to accept Israeli citizenship.

The project also hopes to break down barriers between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jewish residents of the city.

“I live in the Old City of Jerusalem,” Shulamit Yisrael said, referring to the area that has sites holy to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. “We used to have all kinds of Jews there — ultra-Orthodox, modern Orthodox and non- religious — but today it’s completely ultra-Orthodox.”

She said she was looking forward to meeting different kinds of people at the event.

Organizer Hamutal Vachtel said there is no political agenda to the event — just an opportunity for different kinds of Jerusalemites to bond over watermelon.

“There is so much conflict in Jeru-salem,” she said. “It may sound naive, but by bringing simple people to come and sit together and meet each other — something interesting can happen. The real peace will happen bet-ween people, and it will happen here on the seam line.”

This neighbourhood was also the birth place of the Israeli Black Panthers in the early 1970s, a protest movement for advocating for equality for Jews that emigrated from Arab countries. Organizers say they hope that spirit of justice will permeate relations between Jews and Arabs, as well.

“Jerusalem should be without any walls or boundaries,” Lana Remez, an activist for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence, said. “I try to encourage people to let the mental boundary fall first. If we anticipate fear, fear will exist. The harder work for all of us is to find the unity, harmony and tolerance.”

Linda Gradstein writes for The Media Line.

Aggressive Moves

A nuclear power plant in Bushehr, southern Iran. (EPA/Abedin Taherkenareh)

A nuclear power plant in Bushehr, southern Iran. (EPA/Abedin Taherkenareh)

Politicians, whether hardliners or conciliators, are using last weekend’s swearing in of Iran’s new president, Hassan Rohani, as a possible foothold to stop that country from gaining nuclear weapons.

“Iran may have a new president, but its march toward a nuclear program continues,” declared Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) And Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) stressed that more important than Iran’s political calendar is its nuclear clock.

Those two members of Congress introduced a House resolution to toughen sanctions including greatly restricting Iran’s oil exports and hurting its access to foreign currency. The resolution was overwhelmingly passed by a vote of 400 to 20.

Countries currently purchasing crude oil from Iran will be forced to reduce their combined purchases to a total of 1 million barrels a day within one year if the resolution becomes law. The resolution also bars entry to the United States of any vessel registered in countries that also register Iranian vessels or vessels operating on behalf of Iran.

The resolution stated that should Iran acquire nuclear weapons, it would “embolden its already aggressive foreign policy, including its arming of terrorist organizations and other groups, its efforts to destabilize countries in the Middle East and its efforts to target the United States, United States allies and United States interests globally.”

The only area member of Congress to vote against the resolution was Donna Edwards (D-Md.). When asked about her vote, Edwards’ spokesman wrote in an email that “we have no comment.”

The Senate, currently on recess, is expected to approve a similar resolution. Meanwhile a letter backed by AIPAC that also called for tougher sanctions and strengthens “the credibility of our option to use military force at the same time we fully explore a diplomatic solution to our dispute with Iran” was signed by 76 senators.

“Until we see a significant slowdown of Iran’s nuclear activities, we believe our nation must toughen sanctions,” reads the letter that was circulated by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.)

Another letter that has been making the rounds in the Senate is sponsored by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and calls on President Barack Obama to reinvigorate diplomatic efforts to convince Iran not to develop nuclear weapons. It has the backing of Americans For Peace Now and J Street.

Mehdi Khalaji, a senior fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Rohani was elected to try and ease the effects of the international sanctions on the people of Iran. He is not particularly interested in normalizing relations between Iran and the United States.

Rohani only has “partial influence” with the hardliners who run Iran, Khalaji said, adding, “As long as sanctions are relevant, Rohani is relevant.”

The hardliners are continuing with their policies but hoping Rohani can get the sanctions eased, he said.

Iran, through Rohani, is showing “a nice face outside Iran,” while the hardliners continue to control everything else, according to Khalaji.

The most liberal member of Iran’s new Cabinet is its minister of foreign affairs, which is part of the plan to make Iran seem willing to work with the United States, Khalaji said. However, the rest of the cabinet is filled with technocrats and intelligence officials.

Mark Dubowitz, executive director at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the House’s vote to make the sanctions even tougher sends a message to Iran that the ball is in Iran’s court and the United States is willing to bring that country “to the brink of economic collapse” if it keeps pursing nuclear weapons capabilities.

He expects the Senate to pass a similar resolution, also by a large majority, thereby sending it to Obama for his signature this fall.

Ratcheting up the sanctions does have an effect and is keeping Iran at the negotiating table asking for sanction relief, Dubowitz said. If the sanctions didn’t bother Iran, Rohani never would have won the presidency, he added.

However, “the cautionary note here is that there is no evidence that the sanctions have slowed down” Iran’s nuclear weapons work. “The message to Congress and the administration is sanctions are working, but they have not yet worked.”

Included in the House resolution is a section designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. Dubowitz said that “sends an important message” that the Revolutionary Guard, a branch of Iran’s military that is called upon to protect its Islamic system, is a terrorist organization “no different than al-Qaeda.”

Several Jewish organizations commended the House’s huge backing of tougher sanctions. The World Jewish Congress said the resolution enables Obama to bar companies from doing business in the United States if they carry out significant trade with Iran.

Rabbi Joel Meyers, acting chair of the American Section of WJC, said, “As Iran has continued to flout U.N. and other international sanctions, we are pleased that the United States Congress has made this bold move. We urge the U.S. Senate to follow suit.”

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) also praised the tougher sanctions, noting that “the best response to Iran’s relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons capability is further isolation form the international community,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow.

“Of course, sanctions are merely a means to an end, and we support the administration’s ongoing efforts to resolve this issue through diplomacy if possible,” added Larry Gold, JCPA chair.

The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations said it was pleased that members of Congress “will not be deceived by the attempted portrayal of the President [Rohani] as a moderate when in fact his history and his statements are far to the contrary. He is just one of a few candidates selected out of seven hundred that got the approval and clearly met the ideological and political standards set by the Supreme Leader,” said Chairman Robert G. Sugarman and Executive Vice Chairman/ CEO Malcolm Hoenlein.

The House Resolution, entitled Nuclear Iran Prevention Act, had 378 cosponsors. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who also introduced the resolution, referred to Rohani as a “so-called ‘moderate’” and noted that he “has done nothing to change two important facts: Iran is still pursing nuclear weapons capability, and the Supreme Leader is still the leader and decision-maker of Iran’s military and nuclear program.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) estimated that Iran is “a little more than a year away from becoming a nuclear weapon state — an unprecedented and absolutely unacceptable threat.” He further called the Iranian government “one of the worst human rights abusers in the world.”

But even as Congress pushes for tougher sanctions, Iran is actively campaigning in the United Nations for the position of rapporteur, a key position dealing with disarmament and international security. Iran is competing with Kuwait for the position.

B’nai Brith International expressed “outrage” and said that Iran’s “brazen and cynical attempt to win a leadership role on this committee would turn it [the committee] into a farce.”

Calling Iran “the world’s most active state sponsor of international terror, supplying arms to a number of terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah,” B’nai B’rith issued a press release urging U.N. member states to pressure Iran into withdrawing its candidacy.

Polish Democracy May Make Missteps

Tad Taube

Tad Taube

For the past decade, the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture and I, as Poland’s honorary consul in the San Francisco Bay Area, have been involved directly in furthering the renaissance of Jewish life in Poland. The renaissance is viewed as a “miracle” in Poland and around the world.

At my foundation, we receive communications every day from all corners of the globe congratulating and thanking us for our leadership in the rebirth of Jewish life and culture in Poland.

The renaissance is not just a Jewish one; it is really Poland’s renaissance, as it shakes off centuries of foreign domination and reinvents itself as a free, prosperous and vibrant democratic nation. The transition from authoritarian rule to a true democracy that safeguards the rights of its Jewish citizens and other religious minorities has been a journey of a thousand steps over the last two decades, and we are proud of the outcome.

But like the democratic process anywhere, it does not always move in simple, straight lines. We at the Taube Foundation regard the current legal debate about ritual slaughter as a moment in that complex process of reinvention and democratic evolution.

This month’s legislative decision prohibiting ritual slaughter for large-scale commercial and export use has raised questions about Jewish and Muslim rights to maintain access to kosher meat. As the chief rabbi of Poland has assured us, and as the Polish press is reporting, the parliamentarians’ vote was not driven by anti-Semitism. The vote was made both to support animal rights and to eliminate large-scale commercial and export sales, not to infringe upon the right of Poland’s Jewish citizens to have kosher meat or of its Muslim citizens to have halal meat.

The vote was based on the conviction that the Jewish community would be able to practice shechitah and acquire kosher meat as promised in a 1997 law protecting Jewish religious rights. In fact, as this is being written, a group of Jewish and Muslim leaders meeting with the government has been advised by the minister of administration, who is responsible for religious affairs, to petition the Constitutional Court for legal protection.

European Jewish Association Director Rabbi Menachem Margolin (left),  pictured at a European Parliament d iscussion on religious freedomissues in  November 2012.

European Jewish Association Director Rabbi Menachem Margolin (left),
pictured at a European Parliament d
iscussion on religious freedomissues in
November 2012.

There is no one within the hierarchy of the Polish government leadership that is not committed to maintaining shechitah. The 1997 Law on the Relationship between Poland and its Jewish Communities guarantees these rights. But now, as there are potential conflicts with the new law, they need to be sorted out by the Constitutional Court.

Some within the Jewish media or within the Jewish leadership (primarily outside of Poland) are claiming the vote represents a resurgence of anti-Semitism. This is a mischaracterization of the situation and, by injecting the anti-Semitism perspective, may be harmful to the Polish-Jewish relationship. We must remember that Poland is one of Israel’s closest allies in the European Union and that thousands of Polish youngsters travel annually to Israel, while thousands of Israeli and American Jewish youngsters visit Poland.

We at the Taube Foundation, along with our key partner, the Koret Foundation, are proud to be part of these many achievements. The capstone of our work is the Museum of the History of Polish Jews (or the Museum of the Jewish People, as I like to call it), a world-class cultural institution that uses cutting-edge concepts and technology to present the epic story of Poland’s Jewish millennium. The Poles, through their Ministry of Culture and the city of Warsaw, financed the capital campaign of this $120 million miracle, and the newly opened facility has exceeded all expectations.

The museum commands a square on the heritage site of the Warsaw Ghetto, a place of special meaning to Jews around the world. There, at the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the ghetto uprising earlier this year, the Taube and Koret foundations, together with a Bay Area delegation of 50 supporters, watched as the entire hierarchy of the Polish leadership — from President Bronislaw Komorowski to religious leaders to military commanders — witnessed the ceremonial laying of wreaths at the base of the Rapoport Memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes. They were honoring Polish Jewry’s past, present and future, and there was not a dry eye among the 2,000 or so people in attendance. I never thought I would live to see anything like it.

The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu wrote, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” Poland already has taken many steps in its relationship with its Jewish present and future. Along the journey, it will invariably make missteps, but happily the destination remains clear and firm.

Tad Taube is chairman of the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture, president of the Koret Foundation and honorary consul for the Republic of Poland in the San Francisco Bay Area. This column was provided by the JTA Wire Service.

See also, Kosher Slaughter Ban

Kosher Slaughter Ban

Lawrence Grossman

Lawrence Grossman

The Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, has a Jewish problem.

In a painful affront to the Jewish community, it recently defeated a government initiative to reinstate the legality of kosher slaughter of animals. This prompted Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, to threaten resignation and triggered sharp criticism of the Sejm from Jewish communities in Poland and around the world.

What happens in Poland regarding Jews has special significance because of the Holocaust. More than 90 percent of the country’s 3.5 million Jews were killed during the Nazi occupation. Poland began legislating against kosher slaughter in 1936, and once the Germans occupied the country three years later, the practice was banned entirely.

Since the fall of the communist regime in 1989, however, Jewish life in Poland has undergone a remarkable, and previously unimaginable, renaissance. Full recognition of the rights of Jews to practice their faith — including kosher slaughter — was enshrined in an agreement the government signed with the Jewish community in 2004.

Indeed, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, addressing an overflow crowd at the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum in Washington last month, declared his country’s historic responsibility to ensure “that today’s Jewish community in Poland is safe, welcome and res-pected.” He honored Poland’s Jewish community “not just for how it died, but for how it lives and how it is coming back to life.”

When legislation was adopted a few years ago mandating the use of electronic stunning equipment before an animal is killed — a practice prohibited under Jewish law — the Jewish community was granted an administrative exemption. In January, however, a court ruled the exemption unconstitutional. Alleged violations of animal rights trumped age-old Jewish religious practice.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s government framed legislation to override the court decision. What should have been a fairly easy corrective measure was instead defeated on July 12 by a vote of 222 to 178, leaving in place the judicial ban.

Polish animal rights demonstrators hold a rally in Warsaw opposing ritual slaughter.

Polish animal rights demonstrators hold a rally in Warsaw opposing ritual slaughter.

Thirty-eight Sejm members representing Tusk’s ruling Civic Platform party joined with the opposition in voting to outlaw ritual slaughter. In Poland, this was viewed as a major victory for animal-rights advocates, as their views prevailed against the nation’s farmers and meatpackers, who had developed a lively business exporting kosher and halal meat to Israel and Muslim countries.

Jews, however, see matters quite differently. From their perspective, the Sejm’s action stigmatizing kosher slaughter as inhumane blatantly contradicts Sikorski’s pledge to make Jews “safe, welcome and respected.” They point out that kosher slaughter — whereby the animal is rendered immediately unconscious by severing the carotid artery — is humane and that the continued legality of hunting in Poland, which results in far greater and more indiscriminate pain to animals, suggests there may in fact be another, unstated reason for outlawing kosher slaughter: anti-Semitism.

In the wake of the Sejm vote, pejorative comments about Jews in some of the Polish media and online give some credence to these fears.

Unfortunately, it is not an isolated incident. The situation for European Jews looks even grimmer in a broader context. Just a few months ago, a similar scenario unfolded in Germany when a court banned ritual circumcision — another fundamental element of the Jewish religion — on the grounds that it mutilated children without their consent. There, too, anti-Semitic motivation was not hard to discern in certain quarters amid the talk about physiological and psychological harm.

Fortunately, Chancellor Angela Merkel navigated a bill through the German parliament overruling the court and re-establishing the religious freedom of Jews to continue an age-old tradition of their faith. Whether Poland will successfully follow her example and push through a law guaranteeing the right to kosher slaughter remains to be seen.

Such attacks on Jewish religious practice, in fact, constitute just one front in a wider struggle over the future of Jewish life in Europe. Anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise, increasing by 30 percent between 2011 and 2012. In France, there was an astounding 58 percent jump over that same period, including the targeted murder last year of four Jews, three of them small children, in Toulouse.

Vocally anti-Semitic political parties are represented in the Greek and Hungarian parliaments and are gaining power on the local and regional levels in other countries. Public-opinion polls show alarmingly high levels of anti-Semitic attitudes. Demonization of Israel in the media and among some intelligentsia is often indistinguishable from Jew-baiting. No wonder that opinion surveys point to a striking number of European Jews contemplating emigration.

Alas, left uncorrected, the ban on kosher slaughter in Poland could be another bleak portent for the Jewish future in Europe.

Lawrence Grossman is the American Jewish Committee’s director of publications. This column was provided by the JTA Wire Service.

See also, Polish Democracy May Make Missteps

City of Buenos Aires Sponsoring First Kosher Festival

The Buenos Aires city government is holding its first kosher products and Jewish culture festival.

The Buenos Aires Celebrates Kosher festival on Aug. 4 will be held in Barrancas de Belgrano city park, one of the largest in the Argentinian capital. It is being organized by the city’s tourism agency and promoted by the Ministry of Culture. The event is free for visitors and exhibitors.

“We will put on display a public fair with all the kosher options of our city — food, ingredients to prepare kosher food at home, hotels and accommodations who offer kosher options to visitors, and also books, crafts and music,” Jaqueline Zeitouni, the Buenos Aires kosher program coordinator, told JTA.

Eleven city hotels have kosher certification, and their employees are trained to help the kosher tourist. The event will assist hotels in facilitating the experience of kosher visitors to the city.

“Buenos Aires is the kosher capital of Latin American since the city has a high potential in terms of the demands of this segment and our success with training of the tourism sector,” the director of Buenos Aires Kosher, Patricia Pecora, told JTA.

According to government officials, the festival will have more than 40 stands along with shows by DJs and local klezmer bands.

The city government website includes information about kosher restaurants, synagogues and other Jewish sites.

The local market for kosher food is about $25 million a year, according to the city.

The Jewish population of the city of Buenos Aires is about 156, 000, with about 244,000 in the greater Buenos Aires area, according to a local study by JOINT Buenos Aires.