Coming Up Short

013015_iranWASHINGTON — For the second year running, a bid to pass a bill intensifying sanctions against Iran appears to be foundering on threat of a presidential veto.

In his State of the Union address Jan. 20, President Obama vowed to veto further sanctions legislation, saying it would “all but guarantee” his efforts to achieved a deal on Iran’s nuclear program would collapse.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) responded by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to address Congress on the subject. Netanyahu, who will address Congress in March, is expected to express full support for new sanctions legislation.

The turbulence this week surrounding the sanctions legislation, authored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) with the strong backing of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has left the bill in limbo. Netanyahu’s scheduled March 3 address to Congress coincides with AIPAC’s annual policy conference, which he will also address.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House minority leader whose position on the bill would be critical to whipping the two-thirds majority to override a veto in the House, said the timing of Netanyahu’s speech was inappropriate, both because of the proximity of the March 17 Israeli elections and because Boehner has cast it as a rebuttal to Obama’s veto threat.

“We cannot have [Iran talks] fail when Congress wants to flex its muscle unnecessarily,” she told reporters Jan. 22 echoing Obama’s argument that new sanctions could scuttle talks with Iran on keeping it from obtaining nuclear weapons. “If that is the purpose of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit two weeks before his own election right in the midst of negotiations, I just don’t think it’s appropriate and helpful.”

Irking Pelosi especially was that Boehner issued the invitation “on behalf of the bipartisan leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate” before consulting with her or Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate minority leader.

“It is out of the ordinary that the speaker would decide that he would be inviting people to a joint session without any bipartisan consultation,” she said.

Boehner’s office did not respond to a query about consulting with Democrats over the invitation.

Senate Democrats who would be key to building a veto-proof majority of 67 votes in the chamber were sounding notes of reluctance.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who backed a similar Kirk-Menendez bill a year ago, seemed to backtrack in an interview Jan. 22.

“I’ve always supported additional sanctions, [but] it’s a matter of timing,” he said. “The administration has pretty strong views about bringing it up for a vote at this particular moment.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the top Democrat on the Senate’s Banking Committee, which must approve the sanctions before they advance to the Senate floor, said he was not ready to endorse them just yet.

“I don’t know how I’m going to vote yet, but I think that we need to slow it down a little bit,” he said. “I talked to a number of our allies. I want to make sure we do this in a way that Iran does not walk away from the negotiations.”

Reid, speaking for the first time to the press after recovering from a serious exercise injury, was noncommittal. “He’s going to come give a speech to a joint session of Congress, and we’re going to listen what he has to say,” he said.

For Menendez, a longtime champion of Iran’s isolation, it was deja vu all over again, and he was furious. A year ago his hallmark legislation foundered under almost identical circumstances: Solid support for the legislation dissipated among Democrats in both chambers after Obama issued a veto threat in his State of the Union.

This time around, though, the calculus was supposed to be different. Reid, as majority leader, used parliamentary maneuvers to scuttle the bill in 2014, but Republicans are in the majority now.

At a hearing Jan. 21 of the Foreign Relations Committee, on which he is the lead Democrat, Menendez accused Obama administration officials of bad faith.

“I have to be honest with you, the more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran,” Menendez said. “And it heeds to the Iranian narrative of victimhood, when they are the ones with original sin: an illicit nuclear weapons program over the course of 20 years that they are unwilling to come clean on.”

Backers of the bill had at first seemed confident of its swift passage, shepherded by the new majority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The Banking Committee was due to consider the bill on Jan. 22, and AIPAC sent Senate offices a bill summary on Jan. 12 — unusual for a bill that had yet to be formally launched.

“The agreement clearly complies with the commitment President Obama made that the United States would impose no new sanctions during the course of negotiations with Iran,” AIPAC said.

The Banking Committee subsequently postponed its consideration of the bill until Jan. 29, and a number of alternatives are now under consideration that stop short of introducing new sanctions, including a proposal by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, that would subject any deal with Iran to an up or down congressional vote.

Leading Democrats said they saw sanctions as off the table for now.

“I do not support raising sanctions now,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). “If the process fails, that’s another subject, but there’s no question that if we did it now, in my mind, it would bring on failure right away.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), said he opposed new sanctions as well as Corker’s proposal.

“I think this Congress has a pretty miserable record of fairly judging international agreements presented to Congress by this president,” he said. “I think that we should be in the business of approving treaties, [but] I’m not sure if we need to be adding to our workload when we have an agreement that is not technically a treaty under the Constitution.”

Cardin suggested that Menendez would align with his caucus.

“I think Sen. Menendez has a pretty good understanding of the pros and cons here, so we’re all trying to keep the unity and, to me, the more we can work together with the president, the better off we are,” he said.


dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com

Ohio Rabbi Apprehended

013015_abuseRabbi Ephraim Karp, director of spiritual living at Menorah Park Center for Senior Living in Beachwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, was arrested in New York Jan. 15 on an active felony warrant from Maryland.

According to the Queens, N.Y., district attorney’s office, Karp has been charged by the state of Maryland with perverted practice, sex offense, sex abuse of a minor and sex abuse. He is listed in court records as Frederick M. Karp, and a release from the Baltimore County Police Department linked the charges to the alleged abuse of a juvenile female over a period of time.

Karp, 50, was arrested at 9:25 p.m. Jan. 15 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York as “a fugitive from justice” on the warrant issued by the District Court of Maryland, Baltimore County, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department.

He was arraigned Jan. 16 in Queens Criminal Court and will likely be extradited to Maryland, said Ikimulisa Livingston, spokeswoman for the Queens district attorney’s office. As of Jan. 21, he was in custody at the Anna M. Kross Correctional Facility in East Elmhurst, N.Y., according to the New York Department of Correction website. Public records were not available from Baltimore County referencing the case.

Karp is president of Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains, formerly known as the National Association of Jewish Chaplains, and was en route to the annual NAJC conference in Jerusalem at the time of his arrest, a spokesperson for Menorah Park said. The conference is set for Jan. 26 to Jan. 29.

In June 2013, the organization’s national board, which includes Karp, was at the Pearlstone Center in Reisterstown for a conference.

In a statement, however, Baltimore County Police said there was no evidence that any incidents of abuse occurred at any local Jewish facilities.

Steven R. Raichilson, executive director at Menorah Park, issued this statement Jan. 21: “[On Jan. 20] we learned that Rabbi Ephraim Karp has been charged in Baltimore County, Md., with a series of offenses accusing him of sex abuse that allegedly took place in Maryland. We do not have further details regarding the charges, but we continue to be assured by local authorities that there is no connection between these charges and Rabbi Karp’s work for Menorah Park.

“We were tremendously saddened by this development. Rabbi Karp joined us seven years ago with solid recommendations,” he continued. “We conducted a thorough background check, and no issues or concerns surfaced during that process.”

Beachwood Police Chief Keith Winebrenner confirmed that police from Baltimore County came to Beachwood on Jan. 15 looking for Karp but said he could not provide any more details.

“I know he was arrested in New York, but I don’t know what he was arrested for or if he has been charged with anything,” Winebrenner said. “It’s still under investigation.”

Karp, of Beachwood, came to Menorah Park in 2008. He is one of two full-time Orthodox rabbis in the nursing home’s spiritual living department.

Before coming to Menorah Park, he was community chaplain for seven years for the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County in New Jersey, where he founded its joint chaplaincy program.

Karp, who grew up on Long Island, N.Y., was ordained at the Ayshel Avraham Rabbinical Seminary in Spring Valley, N.Y., in 1998. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and a master’s degree in social work in international and community development at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J.

Queens County records show that, at the time of his arrest, Karp was aware of the incident in question and had been in contact with a lawyer and the Baltimore police. He awaits extradition to Maryland.

hnorris@jewishtimes.com
Ed Wittenberg writes for the Cleveland Jewish News.

The Hogan Era Budget delivers on promise of cuts

013015_budget1

Governor Larry Hogan (File)

Newly sworn-in Gov. Larry Hogan started his tenure in office with a bang last week when he announced his 2016 budget, following through on his campaign promise to close the state’s looming budget gap.

“Maryland’s FY 2016 budget establishes balance without slashing agencies, laying off workers and while fully funding education and all of our essential priorities,” said Hogan in his Jan. 22 news conference announcing his proposed budget.

The budget, he told news crews and officials gathered in Annapolis, achieves three main objectives: It is structurally balanced; it does not raise taxes or fees or eliminate agencies, departments or services or require furloughs or layoffs; and it increases spending on kindergarten through grade 12 education and higher education.

While some praised Hogan’s fiscal conservativism, for many in Maryland’s government, the budget left much to be desired. The legislature’s chief budget analyst, Warren Deschenaux, criticized the budget’s unspecified call for state agencies to cut 2 percent from their budgets, and though education overall would see a record high in funding, areas such as Baltimore City and the counties surrounding Washington, D.C., will lose millions of dollars in funds over the next few years.

“I’m really disappointed that there are such enormous cuts to our education budget. Baltimore County is due to lose nearly $13 million and Baltimore City over $30 million,” said Baltimore County Del. Shelly Hettleman (D-District 11), who sits on the House Appropriations Committee. “If the governor is serious about creating a better business environment, research has shown that one of the most important aspects businesses look at when considering where to locate is the quality of a state’s schools. Such dramatic cuts to our school budgets will, no doubt, have a detrimental effect on the quality of our public schools.”

Hettleman was far from alone in her critique of the governor’s education spending plan.

“It’s just not a tenable way to fund education,” said Montgomery County Sen. Roger Manno (D-District 19), who sits on the Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee and chairs the Spending Affordability Committee. “You might be able to balance the books that way, but it seems to me that that’s a hell of a way to balance the books: on the backs of kids.”

Manno said he understands the difficult financial situation the new governor came into but stressed that the state has grappled with deficits before and managed to not cut funding from education and environmental programs.

“We don’t deconstruct state government because revenue estimates came in south of where they thought they’d be,” said Manno. “We figure it out.”

Manno was also concerned about the lack of funding included in the budget for some of the Jewish community initiatives in Montgomery County.

“Some things pay for themselves,” he said of Jewish social service agencies and programs that had seen state dollars in the past but would not be seeing funding in 2016. “They’re investments in communities and people that yield huge dividends, and the truth of the matter is this: They define us. What we do down here is who we are.”

The Baltimore Jewish Council is also concerned about funding for community programs that have received state aid in the past. In the FY 2015 budget, the Jewish Museum of Maryland was allotted $12,533 in funds from the state; Sinai Hospital received $2.5 million; and the Hillel Center for Social Justice at the University of Maryland was the recipient of $1 million in funding for construction. This year, Executive Director Arthur Abramson sees few of the items he and the BJC have been advocating for in the governor’s proposal.

“We are concerned — based on prior conversations with the governor and others — that, as we peruse the budget, we’re not finding some of the items that we believe are vital to our community and that we expected, based upon prior conversations, would be in the budget,” said Abramson, who added that he and his staff are in communitcation with both the governor’s office and legislators about what can be done to salvage some of the funds he said the community desperately needs.

In particular, Abramson said, the BJC is looking for funds to help equip Sinai hospital with the tools necessary to respond to any potential attack on the community of Northwest Baltimore and funds for Northwest Hospital’s domestic violence and elder abuse programs.

“We are dependant upon funding and we hope that Gov. Hogan will continue providing the necessary money to enhance the quality of lives for those people who require our efforts.

hnorris@jewishtimes.com

Negotiating the Negev The coexistence of development, preservation and growth

David Ben-Gurion’s vision was to make the Negev desert bloom, but Israel’s efforts to develop the arid lands of its southern interior often pit environmentalists against government land officials, and native Bedouin tribes against an influx of immigrants and longtime Israeli urban-dwellers.

Only 8 percent of Israel’s population lives in the vast Negev region, an area that comprises about 60 percent of the nation’s landmass. Agriculturally, the country can produce about 45 percent of its calories, while the larger percentage of food is imported, said Alon Tal, associate professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Institute for Dryland Environmental and Energy Research in Be’er Sheva. He thinks Israel could do better — such as by growing food in the Negev — but, he urges, not at the price of environmental destruction.

“We need innovative agriculture,” not government subsidies to bring in “one Jewish family … so they can hire 40 Thai workers. I don’t think this is in the national interest,” said Tal, who sits on the international board of the Jewish National Fund/Keren Kayemet LeYisrael. He believes non-profit foundation and government subsidies should focus on “solar industries and clean tech and biotech and make [the Negev] a place to be.”

Wadi Attir, a unique sustainable agriculture project that addresses Tal’s urging, celebrated its dedication ceremony Jan. 27 in the Bedouin village of Hura, north of Be’er Sheva. Initiated at the end of 2007 and estimated to be a $10 million project once fully realized, it is a collaboration of Dr. Michael Ben-Eli’s New York-based Sustainability Laboratory and Hura Mayor Dr. Mohammed Alnabari.

Ben-Eli, a 20-year veteran of sustainability research and advocacy, found himself drawn to the region’s 180,000 Bedouin residents during a visit to the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research.

“My God, this is impossible,” he recalled saying, during a trip through some villages, “that Israeli citizens live in such conditions.”

Alnabari said the average age is 14 in the Bedouin community, and more than 60 percent are under 18. The Bedouin have lived a very simple and stable life, he explained, but now they feel they’ve lost everything, as a highly technological life encroaches on them. They need to learn methods to bridge those worlds, he said.

Interested in applying sustainability practices to help improve Bedouin living conditions, Ben-Eli met with Alnabari and others in Hura on a subsequent trip as well as researchers at the university. Seed funding from private donors allowed them to proceed.

“We were able to assemble a very unusual group of partners,” namely the Israeli government, academia, NGOs, the Jewish National Fund and private donors.

Wadi Attir fuses traditional Bedouin agricultural and husbandry practices with the pioneering and inventive agriculture methods presented by Ben-Eli’s team. The staff learns techniques for soil enhancement and water retention and can receive training for eventual employment. They maintain the herds and crops and produce dairy products, medicinal herbals and cosmetic goods.

“[Wadi Attir] is a big opportunity,” said Alnabari, “with many resources for the future.”

Situated in a semi-arid region, the teams were charged with the sizable task of enriching the soil.

 

Stefan Leu, a scientist at the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, said in the Negev region “the soil productivity and fertility is about 10 times less than it could be” and he is working to replenish it after its destruction “thousands of years ago by early settlers and passing armies. The problem is the restoration of this vegetation; getting it all back is a very slow process.”

Echoing Bedouin farming practices, Leu recommended planting native trees such as olive, acacia, pistachio and carob that are useful as food as well as anchoring and nourishing the soil. He devised systems of augmenting the landscape with natural rain catches made of small earth mounds and also overlaying the soil with leaves and straw, all of which capture water and prevent it from being washed into gullies or ravines.

Leu admits restoration of vegetation can take years, though initial successes are taking root as he and his team make the soil more permeable. But, he said, there is an obstacle even more impenetrable.

“It is the nonexistent or ambiguous land ownership,” he said. Wadi Attir, after years of permit applications and negotiation, finally owns about 100 acres. “Every single other piece of land from this area from Be’er Sheva to Eilat and to Dimona … is not available because it’s under disputed ownership. Bedouins claim it is theirs, the government does not want to accept that claim, and, therefore, nothing can be done.”

But the collaboration of Wadi Attir has been encouraging, he noted, because it encompasses “sustainable development and also addresses economic, environmental and social problems” and it helps to ameliorate them within the Bedouin community. That holistic approach is a steadfast principle of Ben-Eli’s Sustainability Laboratory.

To date, staff at Wadi Attir has planted 3,500 olive trees, constructed animal pens for their goat and sheep herds and built a large barn. There is also a sophisticated combination solar- and wind- energy system that heats up stored power to augment its energy output. Plans include a visitors’ center, a milking facility, dairy operation and technology to convert waste into an energy resource. Ultimately, Ben-Eli said, the desire is to replicate the project in other desert regions around the world.

But agriculture is only part of the Negev’s evolution, with government planners seeing the region as a potential home for those seeking suburban, or more affordable, lifestyles.

It’s nearly impossible to look around anywhere in Israel and not see some development, power lines or a village, said Shahar Solar, head of the Environmental Planning and Green Building Division at the Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection.

“You can drive for days [in the U.S.] and the only thing you’ll see is the road. You see nothing,” Solar said, recalling a recent two-week cross-country drive during his stay as a Wexner Israel Fellow at Harvard. “And here we don’t have that. So we have to think really carefully how we develop Israel. And the planning system should be precise.”

Shahar said “people perceive the Negev as empty” so it attracts projects such as hazardous waste treatment plants and power facilities that, he admits, are needed, but the government also sees it as fertile ground for growing new communities. In the planning stage are 11 new villages, said Shahar, most are north and east of Be’er Sheva, and includes Kasif, a village designated for an ultra-Orthodox community just across the road from a Bedouin village.

He likened the new villages to suburbs, containing about 100 to 200 homes and offering lower taxes, so they tend to attract higher economic-level families. His hope is that he and his colleagues can prevent some of the projects from moving forward.

“We think the way to develop Israel is going to existing cities like Dimona, Yerucham, Be’er Sheva, Netivot, Sderot … and invest there.” He added, “Then more people will enjoy the investment, not [just] the small minority.”

Tal agrees.

“We’ve got to help people make their [existing] towns economic and social successes,” he asserted. “We don’t need to take the limited resources we have as a society and build expensive new infrastructures so that a group of privileged yuppies can have their own little garden community. Those days are gone; they should be gone if we were running this country responsibly, both in terms of our ecological responsibilities and in terms of our social responsibilities.”

Solar said it is not only suburban sprawl, but also the unrecognized, unauthorized Bedouin communities that create challenges for the design and implementation of responsible planning.

He explained the danger is, with many small communities spread so far apart, that infrastructure cannot be efficiently disseminated to allow access for basic needs such as educational and health facilities or even electrical power. For example, when long power lines are used, 4 percent of electricity is lost in the transmission.

“We have to deal with this issue, … and on the way minimize [the Bedouin] impact on the environment. It’s a big issue.” He added, “The [Bedouin] people now live in insufficient conditions. … It’s not a matter of religion, it’s because they live so spread out … There is very low density but the impact is there.  They have roads and houses, tents, cattle, all the impact of a small village.”

Proposed plans would require Bedouin families from low-density areas to move to larger settlements in order to access the provided services. Solar said in addition to improving the living situation of the communities “the ecological system will benefit. It’s a very political issue.”

With all of the good intentions of planned development and nonprofits encouraging movement to the Negev, Solar said, making it a reality is a very different thing.

“There is no demand to live in the Negev, especially in the remote places,” he said. “We should increase the demand for cities like Be’er Sheva, which has huge potential. … We can’t spread the money, the attention, the energy, in all kinds of remote places which are not serving anyone.”

The Jewish National Fund, which owns of about 13 percent of the land in Israel, maintains a bird’s -eye view across many different desert developments that reach far south into the Negev region. Its Blueprint Negev initiative is comprehensive in that it works with new and established communities and promotes improvements in health care accessibility and agriculture as well as cleaning up, restoring and preserving areas of historic and natural beauty.

According to Eric Narrow, JNF Midatlantic senior campaign executive, his organization’s role “is to be the collaborator and a partner in resources and funding.”

“Because right now, in terms of intergenerational justice ecologically, Israel is failing. We are not leaving our children as healthy a land of Israel, as that which we received. We need to do better. We owe them that.”

JNF grants funds but also works to empower its partners, explained Narrow. “Our goal is to create a sustainable model for socioeconomic growth and prosperity.”

Previous to Wadi Attir, JNF was not working directly with Bedouin communities but welcomed the opportunity to support and collaborate with the Sustainability Laboratory, an organization that mirrored its mission, said Narrow. “When you look at what our focus is, it’s providing a future for Israel, so as the needs of the country changed, that changed the focus of what we were doing.”

Since then JNF has implemented other programs focused on Bedouin communities.

Continuing with the spirit of collaboration and meshing with its desire to sustainably develop the southern Negev, JNF also partners with Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, near Eilat, where primarily Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian students work with a cadre of international environmentalists on interdisciplinary research that centers on innovative environmental technologies.

Arava International Center for Agricultural Training (AICAT) is another JNF partner organization committed to sustainable development and education, located in the central Arava region.

“Now [the institute] hosts 1,200 students from more than a dozen countries that learn cutting-edge farming techniques they can bring back to their countries,” Narrow said. “We also teach them about Israel.”

One of the ways you can bridge cultures is through the shared struggle with land challenges, said Narrow, “So there becomes a shared interdependency. They go back [to their countries of origin] with a stronger knowledge of business and agriculture and a stronger knowledge of the Jewish people … They are usually from countries that would not [typically] be inclined to work with us.”

The Arava Institute, co-founded by Tal, exemplifies the innovative, collaborative thinking he promotes as necessary to responsibly foster growth in the Negev.

“I’m a powerful advocate for development of the Negev,” said Tal, “But we have to do it right so we leave something for our children to be proud of.  Because right now, in terms of intergenerational justice ecologically, Israel is failing. We are not leaving our children as healthy a land of Israel as that which we received. We need to do better. We owe them that.”

Focus on Bedouin Youth
A New Dawn creates opportunity for young at-risk population

Jamal Alkirnawi, 35, grew up in the Negev’s largest Bedouin community of Rahat, just north of Be’er Sheva. Since his teen years, he’s not been satisfied sitting on his laurels, instead, he has pushed “to enact real change” in his community.

At 16, he established a never-before-existing student council at his school and through that met students from around the country. That exposure widened his horizons, and he began to see the opportunities possible, he said. At that young age Alkirnawi dedicated himself to activism for his community.

He earned a scholarship to McGill University in Montreal, completed a degree in social work and returned to Israel as an academic counselor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Alkirnawi quickly realized he couldn’t “just be in a nice office, at a university.”

“I needed to get back to the ground,” he said. “I can’t sit on the [sidelines] and say things will move by themselves.”

Alkirnawi also became a father.

“You care about your kids, you don’t want them to have the same challenges, you want to break the cycle,” he said. “This drives me so much.”

In 2009, he and several Bedouin and Jewish colleagues founded A New Dawn in the Negev, for which he is director. A New Dawn provides academic and cultural education and international exposure for about 600 Bedouin youths from ages 5 to 18. Programs range from after-school English instruction, a language exchange that includes German, English, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and Hebrew, the Strings of Change Bedouin Youth Orchestra and a digital media center. Visiting graduate students from around the world also work with the youths.

Imminent approval by the Israeli government will enable the start of a scholarship program for A New Dawn’s international student exchange, beginning with Germany.

“Change is always hard and is sometimes shunned, but we have been successful in the Bedouin communities for a few reasons,” Alkirnawi said. The main reason is the large demand for youth programming, previously nonexistent. The programs stand out because they are “social services for Bedouins by Bedouins,” he added.

“A New Dawn is working to bring the Bedouin community to a higher standard … in partnership with the surrounding society,” he said, “to create a flourishing and blooming Negev.”

mgerr@jewishtimes.com

Nisman Mystery Hezbollah, Argentine government fingered in death of AMIA prosecutor

Demonstrators at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires protest the death of federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman. The banner at left reads, "I am Nisman. I am the republic."  (Movimiento Argentino de Fotógrafxs Independientes Autoconvocadxs Facebook page)

Demonstrators at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires protest the death of federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman. The banner at left reads, “I am Nisman. I am the republic.”
(Movimiento Argentino de Fotógrafxs Independientes Autoconvocadxs Facebook page)

The mysterious death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman seems ripped straight out of a crime thriller.

Nisman — the indefatigable prosecutor collecting evidence of culpability in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people — was found dead in his apartment just hours before he was to present evidence to Argentina’s congress that he said implicated his country’s president and foreign minister in a nefarious cover-up scheme.

The charge? That the two agreed to whitewash Tehran’s role in the AMIA bombing in exchange for oil shipments to energy-hungry Argentina.

Nisman’s body was discovered late Jan. 18 in his 13th-floor apartment with a single gunshot wound to the head.

Officials connected to the president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, quickly said evidence pointed to suicide, noting that a .22-caliber pistol and spent cartridge were found near Nisman’s body.

But the suicide theory was dismissed out of hand on the streets of Buenos Aires and among people around the world familiar with Nisman and his work investigating the AMIA attack. Instead, they said Nisman, 51, was the victim of foul play. The suicide theory lost more ground last week with the revelation by the prosecutor investigating Nisman’s death, Viviana Fein, that no traces of gunpowder were found on Nisman’s hand. There also was no suicide note.

“The idea of suicide I think is nonsense,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

“The Jewish community has lost a stalwart hero, and Argentina and all people who pursue the truth and justice with a passionate zeal have lost a great fighter,” Foxman said. “Throughout the years, all kinds of forces have tried to put him down, to destroy him. Every time he uncovered new stuff or exposed some interests that weren’t happy, they set the courts against him or they set the police against him. And every time they tried to put him down, he fought it, he got up and beat them.”

The investigation of the 1994 bombing — the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentine history and one of the worst incidents of anti-Jewish violence in the Diaspora since World War II — was seen as hopelessly inept and corrupt until Nisman took over the case in 2005.

There were no significant arrests for years after the AMIA bombing, which was preceded by the deadly 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29. After 20 local men, including 19 police officers, were put on trial in 2001 on charges of involvement in the Jewish center attack, the investigating judge, Juan Jose Galeano, was caught on video offering one of the men a bribe in return for evidence. The case collapsed, the police were acquitted, and Galeano eventually was removed from the case and impeached.

Appointed to take over the case by then-President Nestor Kirchner, the late husband of the current Argentine leader who had called the handling of the case a “national disgrace,” Nisman launched a more professional investigation. He traced the links from the Iranian leaders who ordered the attack to the Hezbollah operatives who planned its execution, formally charging Iran and Hezbollah in 2006. Interpol eventually issued arrest warrants for six Iranian officials in connection with the bombing, including Iran’s defense minister at the time, Ahmad Vahidi. The Islamic Republic denied any connection and refused to hand over the suspects.

In 2013, when Argentina and Iran signed a joint memorandum of understanding to investigate the bombing, Nisman and Jewish community leaders in Argentina and abroad decried the deal as a farce. Many were particularly incensed that the deal was negotiated by Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, a prominent Argentine Jew whose father, Jacobo Timerman, had been a well-respected Argentine-Israeli human rights activist. The governments of Israel and the United States also denounced the deal.

Nisman challenged the arrangement in court as “wrongful interference” by the president in judicial affairs and the probe was never implemented.

All the while, Nisman and his investigating team continued to press forward with their effort to bring those responsible to justice. Last week, Nisman filed a 300-page complaint alleging that Kirchner, Timerman and others were seeking to “erase” Iran’s role in the AMIA bombing in exchange for establishing stronger trade relations, including oil sales to Argentina. He was slated to present his evidence Monday to Argentina’s congress.

A few years ago, during a 2009 visit to New York, Nisman said a trial of the AMIA bombing should be moved outside Argentina if it is to have any chance of success.

“We’re thinking of taking this case to a court in a third country due to the challenges of pursuing it in Argentina,” Nisman said at a briefing at ADL’s national headquarters. “There is a practical impossibility of doing it in Argentina because Iran has said it won’t deliver the people we have accused. It’s also been hard for Interpol to arrest those people because whenever they leave Iran, they do so under diplomatic immunity.”

Even outside Argentina, Nisman said, it was highly unlikely that Iran would submit suspects for trial, but the move could bring some closure to the families of the AMIA bombing victims.

“I’m following the wishes of relatives and looking for a way to get them some closure,” Nisman said through a translator. “I cannot give up on ways of trying to get justice.”

Among Argentina’s 200,000 Jews — the largest Jewish community in Latin America — Nisman, who also was Jewish, was seen as a crusading hero.

So who could have wanted him dead? Many Argentines are pointing the finger at President Kirchner. By Sunday night, thousands had gathered outside the presidential palace to protest Nisman’s death, with some holding aloft signs reading “Cristina murderer.” The hashtag #CFKAsesina — Kirchner’s initials and the Spanish word assassin — was one of the top topics trending on Twitter in Argentina on Monday.

In Jewish and Israeli circles, some analysts speculated that Nisman may have been killed by Hezbollah, whose operatives were fingered for carrying out the AMIA bombing on behalf of Iran.

Just hours before Nisman’s death — he did not eat dinner on Sunday night, investigators said, suggesting he likely was shot before dinnertime — several Hezbollah fighters were killed in an airstrike in southern Syria attributed to Israel. Among the dead were Mohammed Allahdadi, a general in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and Jihad Mughniyeh, son of the late Hezbollah mastermind Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in a February 2008 car bombing in Damascus. Mughniyeh was the one whom Nisman found had coordinated and oversaw preparations for the AMIA bombing.

Hezbollah accused Israel of being behind Sunday’s airstrike. Israeli officials, adhering to protocol in such cases, declined to comment. But an unnamed senior Israeli security source confirmed to Reuters that Israel was behind the strike but said it wasn’t meant to target a senior Iranian general.

“We did not expect the outcome in terms of the stature of those killed — certainly not the Iranian general,” the source told Reuters. “We thought we were hitting an enemy field unit that was on its way to carry out an attack on us at the frontier fence.”

Could Hezbollah have pulled off Nisman’s killing so quickly after the airstrike in Syria? It would be uncharacteristic for the Lebanon-based group, which typically has carried out its well-planned reprisals months or years after Israeli attacks. But some analysts noted Iran and Hezbollah have sleeper cells that can carry out operations on short notice.

The circumstances of Nisman’s death, assuming he indeed was murdered, certainly represent a failure of the Argentine authorities. Nisman had been under police protection, including the positioning of police guards outside the luxury high-rise where he was found dead.

Nisman had made several prescient references to the possibility of his untimely demise, saying as recently the day before his passing, “I might get out of this dead.”

On Jan. 28, the guards assigned to protect Nisman said they hadn’t been able to reach him by telephone, and his newspaper lay untouched outside his apartment door. His mother was called and came with her spare key, but the lock was jammed with the key stuck in the other side. After a locksmith opened the door, Nisman’s body was found in the bathroom.

Jorge Kirszenbaum, a former president of the Argentine Jewish community’s political umbrella group, DAIA, said that a cousin of Nisman who visited the crime scene found a note to the house maid with Monday’s tasks spelled out.

Rabbi Sergio Bergman, a Jewish leader and member of Argentina’s congress, called Nisman, who is survived by two daughters, “victim 86 of the AMIA attack.”

Argentine-Israeli journalist Roxana Levinson, whose uncle, Jaime Plaksin, was killed in the AMIA attack, said Nisman’s death was devastating.

“This death is like another bomb,” she said. “It’s a death sentence for truth and justice in the AMIA case.”

Now that Nisman is gone, it’s not clear what will happen with the AMIA investigation or his accusations against Kirchner and Timerman.

In another one of his eerily prescient comments, Nisman told a TV interviewer last week after news of his accusations against the president made the papers, “With Nisman around or not, the evidence is there.”

A JTA correspondent in Buenos Aires contributed to this report.

Kamenetz Proposes Stormwater Fee Reduction

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is proposing a reduction in the stormwater management fee, known derisively as the “rain tax,” by about one-third, for homes, businesses and nonprofits.

“The Council and I have been discussing ways to reduce this fee for some time,” Kamenetz said in a press release. “This has been a collaborative effort, and it allows us to continue to protect the Chesapeake Bay while making the fee more reasonable for homeowners, businesses and nonprofits.”

Kamenetz is also asking Gov. Larry Hogan to advocate for an extension on a 2025 federal compliance date.

The proposed reductions will be introduced at the Council’s legislative session on Feb. 2, discussed at a public work session on Feb. 24, and the bill will be voted on at its March 2 legislative session.

The fees came about from a 2010 federal lawsuit between the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency, the result of which was the EPA ordered Maryland to reduce runoff water that carries toxins and nutrients into the Bay with measurable results by 2025. The Maryland legislature instituted a mandate under which Maryland’s 10 largest jurisdictions would pay for cleaning up the Bay. Baltimore County established a fee-based structure, which took effect July 1, 2014, to curb phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment pollution into the Bay.

Although fees nonprofits are currently paying were reduced from what was originally proposed, businesses and nonprofits alike feel that the fees affect them disproportionately. Both entities’ fees are based on the amount of impervious surfaces they have, i.e. parking lots. The larger the parking lot, the higher the fee.

“Now that we’re into this a little bit we see that our business are suffering from the amounts of money they have to pay for stormwater management,” Councilwoman Vicki Almond, D-2, said.

The county is able to reduce the fees because of a lesser revenue requirement due to efficiencies achieved in the first year of the program, the press release said.

Under Kamenetz’s proposal, the fee for an individual home would be reduced from $39 to $26, the fee for an attached home from $21 to $14, the fee for a condominium from $32 to $22, the fee for a commercial property from $69 to $46 per 2,000 square feet of impervious surface and the fee for institutional nonprofits from $20 to $14 square feet of impervious surface.

Almond said the Council is discussing Kamenetz’s proposal, but she hopes the county executive’s administration will look for more money in its budget rather than ask for a federal extension, which she acknowledges will be a challenge given the uncertainty in state funding for the county.

“I think we want to study the issue more,” she said. “The Council is certainly talking about it, but I think we need to study it more.”
— Marc Shapiro

Pikesville Guidance Counselor to be Honored at White House

A local high school guidance counselor will be received at the White House by the offices of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama and the American School Counselor Association.

Jeremy Goldman, school counseling department chair at Pikesville High School, was named one of the 16 national semifinalists for the ASCA’s National School Counselor of the Year awards program. Goldman, now in his fourth year at Pikesville, was the winner of the 2014 Maryland School Counselor Association’s School Counselor of the Year award at the high school level. He serves as the president of the MSCA. Goldman lives in Lutherville and is a member of Temple Oheb Shalom.

The semifinalists, among them two other Maryland counselors, will be honored at a White House ceremony on Friday followed by a black-tie gala hosted by the ASCA.

This is not Goldman’s first brush with the first family. At the ASCA annual conference last summer, the first lady called him out by name.

“Well, Jeremy noticed that hardly any African-American students in his school were enrolling in AP classes, so his counseling team worked with teachers and the principal and created an action plan to close this gap,” she said. “And today, both enrollment and test scores are up for African-American students in his school.”

Goldman, who will be attending the gala with his wife Emily, is glad for the publicity just ahead of National School Counseling Week, which begins on Monday.

“I think that having that recognition on public school counselors shows that students in public schools have just as much opportunity to attend competitive colleges,” said Goldman. “[Guidance counselors] can be proactive and reach out to all students and help all students achieve their goals.”
— Melissa Apter

Krieger Schechter Wins $1,000 BGE Grant

013015_krieger_schechter_briefKrieger Schechter Day School was awarded $1,000 by Baltimore Gas and Electric for its entry in the company’s Wires Down Video Challenge.

The school was one of 11 elementary schools awarded prizes out of 26 video submissions from 24 participating schools. The $10,000 winner was Sarah M. Roach Elementary School in Baltimore City; Northwood Elementary School in Baltimore City won $5,000. There were three $3,000 winners, and KSDS was one of six $1,000 winners.

The students had to make a video about downed wires using BGE’s famed “Wires Down” song, which debuted in a 2000 commercial that won an Emmy Award.

Alex Thaler, the school’s science teacher, was teaching the fourth-graders about electricity when it came to their attention that BGE was holding the contest. They decided to enter and came up with comic book imagery for their video.

“It was really the fourth-graders’ idea. One of them said ‘Let’s have the BGE workers be super heroes and they’re fighting these evil downed wires,’” he said. “That’s how it evolved into super hero versus villain.”

Over the next three to four weeks, the class practiced the song, came up with choreography, made costumes and turned the class into a movie studio, complete with a blue screen. The video was shot in two class periods, and Thaler edited the video himself.

Last week, the school found out the video won the $1,000 grant. The money will support the lower school’s science program.

“It was great. There were cheers in the classrooms, and faculty were congratulating the fourth-graders,” Thaler said. “It was really a feeling of accomplishment, and I think the students saw that what they did in the classroom really had a real-life appreciation, and that’s what I was aiming for.”

He hopes to enter the contest, in its third year, every year.

To date, BGE has awarded almost $81,000 to 27 elementary schools in Central Maryland through the contest. To view the winners, including Krieger Schechter’s video, visit bgevideochallenge.com.

New Coalition Aims to Strengthen Pikesville Schools

How does a school, in an area saturated with choices both public and private, rise above persistent rumors and misconceptions?

Pikesville Middle School advocates are hoping the answer lies with a new dynamic principal, a newly formed schools coalition and support from CHAI.

CHAI decided to expand outreach to Pikesville, taking a cue from its successful involvement with schools in Northwest Baltimore for many years, according to executive director Mitchell Posner, because “strong schools are a core element of a strong community.”

“Schools are the hub and the heartbeat of a community,” said Michelle Shaivitz, director of school and community partnerships at CHAI. “We are trying to engage in community conversations about diversity and equity. We’re trying to have a continuation of academic success for the students.”

CHAI is in the early stages of collaborating with Pikesville school principals, community leaders and other stakeholders to identify and secure resources, in what CHAI envisions will be a long-term commitment. Coalition.

The announcement of CHAI’s involvement was music to the ears of Eddie Matz.

Dr. Whitney and Eddie Matz have three children in Pikesville schools. Two of their children attend Summit Park Elementary School and their oldest, Ben, is in sixth grade at Pikesville Middle. Eddie is, in his own words, “a huge proponent of the public schools.” He grew up in Randallstown, graduated from Randallstown High School and estimates that “99 percent” of the kids he grew up with attended the public schools. It was a no-brainer that his children would also attend public school.

Whitney, on the other hand, had a few reservations. She had heard rumors about fights, about the alleged over-rigor of the gifted and talented classes, of not enough rigor in the non-GT classes.

“We had many discussions about what we were going to do,” said Whitney. “We talked to our son about it and he was very interested in Pikesville because all his friends were going.”

So far it has worked out. Whitney and Ben even spoke at a CHAI-sponsored question and answer session for potential PMS families hosted at the Parke at Mount Washington in mid-December.

“Ben is very happy. He is extremely academically challenged. Eddie and I have absolutely no concerns about Ben’s safety at school,” said Whitney. “I have a lot of confidence in the teachers. They are a big reason why it has been a success for our family.”

The Matzes, along with other parents, believe that the negative rumors surrounding Pikesville Middle are a byproduct of ignorance as to what is really going on in the halls of the school. Jeff Jerome, leader of the Pikesville Schools Coalition and former Pikesville High School PTSA president, concurs.

“When my son was going to school, the feeling in the community was that Pikesville Middle school may have had some behavioral issues,” he said. “It was sort of an unsaid thing…” Now, Jerome is working with the coalition to inform the community about school realities and “keep the school system in the area strong.”

“The coalition gives all these [stakeholders] a voice to give us more leverage than we would have as individual groups,” he added.

“People think these schools are different because there is diversity. I think that they are better because of it,” Jen Rosen, president of the PTA at Summit Park ES, said via email. “The Pikesville schools are a reflection of the society we live in, there are children from all walks of life learning and socializing together. The teachers are really great at PMS and with Diane Richmond in charge, disciplinary issues will be nipped in the bud as quickly as possible.”

Despite these assurances, parents still struggle with the public versus private school question.

Michael Mann is frequently approached by parents for advice. He has a unique perspective because his eldest child is in seventh grade at The Park School of Baltimore, while his two youngest attend PMS and Fort Garrison.

“We try to walk [parents] through the same thought process we went through,” said Mann. “[We] explain our experiences with the Park school and the public school system. Both offer distinct advantages.” And, he added, he tells parents not to start from a place of thinking of public schools are “second best.”

“There’s not necessarily a drop-off in quality in public or private. It’s just different. It’s not orders of magnitude different and each has a lot to recommend the choice.”

Julie Jacobstein likewise has a foot in both worlds. Her family has a third grade student at Krieger Schechter Day School, a sixth grade student at PMS and an eighth grade student at McDonogh School. When her middle son was readying for middle school, a natural transition point, he wanted to partake in the Gateway to Technology — a STEM program — at PMS.

Jacobstein, who attended Fort Garrison Elementary School as a child but did not attend PMS, admits to being a bit wary, but was blown away by the teachers and principal at the back to school night.

“In Baltimore [there] are so many choices and so many options. It’s all about what’s best for your kid,” said Jacbostein, even if having three kids in three different schools might make life more hectic for parents. “It would be really easy to have them all in the same place and have the same schedule, but they are all really where they need to be.”

The PMS parents were unanimous in their support of Principal Richmond, who came to PMS this year after 12 years at Summit Park ES. She is careful not to comment on the private versus public school question, calling it a personal choice that has long been a topic of conversation in the community, nor on the rumors that have plagued PMS.

“I can’t tell you where these misperceptions come from. I do know that Pikesville Middle School is an outstanding program because of the caliber of teachers that we have here.”

Adding, “I couldn’t be more proud of this school and the teachers here, the students here and the parents that have gotten involved. It’s a wonderful, warm community.”

mapter@jewishtimes.com

Life Well-Lived

Just weeks before he passed away, Rabbi Dovid Edelman spoke at the special 90th birthday celebration at the Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy, where he was director for over 64 years. (Provided)

Just weeks before he passed away, Rabbi Dovid Edelman spoke at the special 90th birthday celebration at the Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy, where he was director for over 64 years. (Provided)

When he passed away on Jan. 2 at age 90, Rabbi Dovid Edelman left behind his wife, Leah, their eight children, approximately 100 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren, as well as three generations of students. Although family members and friends had no choice but to share him, according to grandson, Rabbi Chesky Tenenbaum of Baltimore, almost everyone who met him believed they had a special connection to the rabbi.

As the first grandson to be named after Edelman’s father, and the only one to live in Baltimore, his grand-father’s hometown, Tenenbaum, director of Jewish Uniformed Service Association of Maryland, felt a particularly strong bond with the late rabbi.

Cheyskel Edelman, Rabbi Dovid Edelman’s father, left Poland for the U.S. at age 18 and settled in East Baltimore. At first, he had difficulty finding work since he was Orthodox and unwilling to work on Shabbat. Eventually, the young man, who had trained as a shoemaker in his native country, found a job at a shoe repair shop that closed for the Sabbath.

“The owner liked him and eventually sold the store to him,” explained Tenenbaum.

Cheyskel married his wife, Toba, at Shomrei Mishmeres on Lloyd Street in East Baltimore (now B’nai Israel Congregation and part of the Jewish Museum of Maryland), and the couple had three children including the future Rabbi Dovid Edelman. The shoe repair store, located at 103 N. Exeter St., had an apartment at the back, where the Edelman family lived.

“A few months ago,” said Tenenbaum, 35, who moved to Baltimore with his wife and four children about three years ago, “I visited my grandfather and asked him about his childhood in Baltimore. He spoke about playing near the Shot Tower and said that after his bar mitzvah, he used to read Torah at Anshei Bobruisk Congregation, a shul on North High St., and he was paid 50 cents a week.”

“My grandfather spoke about playing near the Shot Tower, and said that after his bar mitzvah, he used to read Torah at Anshei Bobruisk Congregation, a shul on N. High St. and he was paid fifty cents a week.”
— Rabbi Chesky Tenenbaum


After studying at Talmudical Academy of Baltimore and attending Baltimore City College, Edelman moved to Brooklyn N.Y., to study at Central Lubavitcher Yeshiva, headquarters for the Chabad movement and the site of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn’s (known by his followers as the Rebbe) study and residence, and later, his son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn’s office.

After three years at the yeshiva, Edelman received word that Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn wished to speak with him. The rabbi said Edelman should leave Brooklyn and to go to Bridgeport, Conn., to open a Jewish school. Edelman agreed, and in 1944, the 19-year-old founded the new yeshiva. Then in 1948, Edelman married Leah, a native of Georgia, (then part of the Soviet Union), and daughter of Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Zuber, a rabbi in Sweden.

In 1950, shortly before Rabbi Schneersohn’s death, the Edelmans again received word that the rabbi wished to relocate them to Springfield, Mass. to grow the Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy. The Edelmans remained at this post for the next 60 years.

Edelman and his wife did whatever was needed to keep the school afloat. In the late 1970s, the school moved to a nearby suburb called Longmeadow. As the late Schneersohn had hoped, Edelman succeeded in developing the yeshiva from a fledgling day school to a large institution that included a day school, a religious school, a summer camp and a synagogue, and the school enjoyed significant growth despite dwindling numbers of Orthodox Jews in the surrounding area. In 1984, the institution was fully staffed, and Edelman became dean, a position he held until his death, while his son-in-law served as principal.

Even in his later years, Tenenbaum noted that Edelman continued to travel and participate in family functions.

“He always tried to get to all the simchas; he came twice for my son’s bris,” Tenenbaum said. “The first time he came, the baby was jaundiced so it had to be rescheduled. So he came a second time. Up until two years ago, my grandfather used to walk two miles to shul every week. All the grandchildren wanted to walk with zayde because they loved to hear his stories. He never aged. And he was larger than life.”

sellin@jewishtimes.com