4 more boys charged — but not for hate crime — in school bus arson outside Brooklyn yeshiva


Four more boys have been charged for allegedly setting ablaze a school bus parked outside a Brooklyn yeshiva.

On Thursday night, officials with the New York Police Department announced they had charged each boy, along with a fifth boy arrested earlier in the week, with hate crimes for Sunday’s arson. However, on Friday afternoon, an unidentified NYPD official told the Wall Street Journal they were dropping the hate crimes charges and just charging each with one count of arson and one count of criminal mischief.

Two of the boys facing charges are 11 years old, one is 12 and two are 14. All the boys in the surveillance video released by the police on Tuesday appear to be African-American. The official told the Wall Street Journal that after detectives interviewed each boy, they decided “there was not sufficient evidence that the Jewish affiliation [of the school bus] was the motivating factor.”

The boys carried cardboard pieces onto the unlocked bus parked outside the Beth Rivkah School for Girls in Crown Heights early Sunday evening, then set them on fire, according to police. No one was injured in the fire, but several prayer books and other items were destroyed.

Beth Rivkah is a Chabad school. Crown Heights, a racially mixed and gentrifying neighborhood, is home to Chabad’s world headquarters. In 1991, the neighborhood was rocked by days of rioting after an African-American boy was accidentally struck and killed by a car in the Chabad rebbe’s motorcade.

One father loves Israel, the other hates it. Guess which one is Arab?


I was struck by the contrasting reactions of the fathers of two accused terrorists, both Israelis. One son shot up a Tel Aviv pub, murdering two and wounding seven, while the other firebombed a house killing an infant boy and his parents and severely injuring his 4-year-old brother. Both sons have records for hate crimes.

One father quickly alerted police when he suspected his son's involvement, and publicly expressed deep regrets over the incident, offering condolences to the victims and their families.  He declared his “loyalty” and “love” for Israel.

The other father insisted his son was innocent and that his confession was tortured out of him.  He denounced the State of Israel and declared his hatred for it.  He called the country's president “the fuhrer.”

The father who called on his son to surrender is an Israeli Arab who has been a volunteer with the Israeli police for more than 30 years. 

The other father, who called Israel the “most anti-Semitic country in the world,” is the ultra-Orthodox rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Karmel Zur.     

The Arab suspect in the shooting on Dizengoff Street, Nishat Milhem, 31, is still at large as of this writing. Early Tuesday, his father, who has called on his son to surrender, and five other relatives and family friends were arrested as possible accessories, but some reports suggest they were being used as bait to get Nishat to turn himself in. 

The Jew, Amiram Ben-Uliel, 21, was indicted last week for the July 31 fatal firebombing of the Dawabsha family home in the village of Duma while they slept. 

A third father sought to take political advantage of the tragedies. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, noting that his sons were about the same age as the pub shooting victims, tried to spread the blame over all Israeli Arabs and exploit the tragedy for political gain.  

Six months earlier he condemned the Duma arson as “Jewish terrorism” but dismissed the killers as “extreme and marginal, and [they] certainly don't represent religious Zionism.” 

But on Dizengoff Street this weekend the Israeli leader played his customary race card with a verbal assault on Israel's Arab citizens. 

He blamed the killings on “wild incitement of radical Islam,” and lectured one fifth of the nation's population about its responsibilities as citizens. He demanded all Arab Knesset members, “without exception…condemn the murder clearly and unequivocally.” There was no such demand of Jewish MK's after the Duma murders.

Netanyahu cemented his position as Israel's inciter-in-chief with his wholesale indictment of Israel's Arabs and dismissal of Jewish terrorists as an almost irrelevant fringe group.

In terror attacks when he was out of power, Netanyahu was quick to blame the sitting prime minister for lax security. But now that Bibi's in charge, it's always someone else's fault.

Netanyahu has that Trumpian penchant for taking credit for what works and blaming others for what goes wrong.  

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said the PM smeared all Israeli Arabs because of his own inability to provide security.  

Israel charges two over arson attack that killed Palestinian family


Israeli prosecutors filed murder charges on Sunday against a man and a minor for an arson attack in the West Bank that killed three members of a Palestinian family and helped fuel the fiercest eruption of street violence in years.

The attack on July 31 killed 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh and his parents Saad and Riham.

Amiram Ben-Uliel, a 21-year-old from a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, was charged with three counts of racially motivated murder at Lod court near Tel Aviv. A second Jewish defendant, whose name was withheld due to his age, was charged as an accessory.

Defence lawyers said the pair had given false confessions under torture in close-door interrogations, an allegation denied by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Shin Bet security agency. 

“I doubt such confessions will stand up in court,” lawyer Hai Haber told reporters. “We know there's no significant external evidence linking the suspects to this incident.”

The attack in Duma village and ensuing Israeli investigation laid bare fissures in Netanyahu's coalition government, where one ultra-nationalist partner voiced misgivings about the handling of Jewish suspects.

Thirteen other Israeli Jews, most of them minors, were also indicted for hate crimes, including assaulting a Palestinian, vandalism of Arab property and setting fire to a church.

Referred to in Israel as “price-tag attacks”, such offences have usually been carried out in what the attackers say are reprisals for Palestinian violence against Israelis or government curbs on unauthorized West Bank settlement building.

WAVE OF ATTACKS

Saad Dawabsheh's brother Naser said he hoped the defendants would receive the maximum penalty, but was skeptical of Israel's seriousness in prosecuting the case.

“We have no trust in the Israeli judiciary. They would not have launched an investigation were it not for the international pressure on them,” he said, accusing the government of effectively “support(ing) the terrorism conducted by (West Bank) settlers against our people”.

The time it has taken Israel to crack down on the Jewish militants, compared to the speedy and sometimes lethal response by state security forces to similar actions by Arabs, has angered Palestinians, contributing to a wave of stabbings, car-rammings and shooting attacks against Israelis since Oct. 1. 

Twenty-one Israelis and a U.S. citizen have died in the latest bloodshed, a number that will rise if police deem a Tel Aviv shooting that killed two people on Friday as a pro-Palestinian attack. The gunman, an Israeli Arab, is at large. 

Israeli forces or armed civilians have killed at least 132 Palestinians, 82 of whom authorities described as assailants. Most of the others were killed in clashes with security forces.

Israeli Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party had urged a high-level investigation of the allegations that the Duma defendants were tortured and for a Shin Bet overhaul. His party's leaders, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, disagreed. 

Israeli officials said their investigation into the attacks by far-right Jews were hampered by the suspects' operating in small, tight-knit cells and eluding electronic surveillance.

Netanyau said the indictments demonstrated the rule of law in Israel, telling his cabinet in broadcast remarks: “We oppose murder of all kinds. We oppose violence of all kinds.”

Police, other NYC officials meet with Bukharians about rash of arsons


The president of the New York City borough of Queens, the New York Police Department’s chief of detectives and numerous other city officials met with Bukharian Jewish leaders about a string of arsons affecting the community of central Asian Jews.

At a meeting Tuesday morning at the Bukharian Jewish Community Center in Forest Hills, a neighborhood that has experienced seven arsons since October, officials promised heightened security measures, the Queens Times Ledger reported.

The previous day, the NYPD announced it sent several elite units to the neighborhood and published surveillance video showing the suspected arsonist.

All seven fires, the most recent one over the weekend, have been set at construction or renovation sites of Bukharian-owned homes. An estimated 50,000 Bukharians live in New York, the vast majority of them in Forest Hills, where community members’ construction of large, expensive homes, mostly on plots that once housed more modest residences, has sparked tensions with longtime residents in recent years.

“Today’s meeting was a very good sign that both the community and the Police Department, Fire Department and elected officials are all interested in solving the problem at hand,” Aron Borukhov, a Bukharian community leader, said at a news conference after the meeting.

Borukhov said his community is organizing security patrols that will work cooperatively with police.

Borough President Melinda Katz said: “This is something that we take extremely seriously and the community stands together in making sure that we find this arsonist that is out there destroying not only people’s homes, but people’s lives and people’s dreams.

NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said the police do not believe the suspect has ties to terror groups, but that they have not yet determined his motives. While NYPD officials have told the media they do not believe the arsons are hate crimes, Boyce said Tuesday that the department’s Hate Crimes Task Force is among those investigating.

“We have a specific community that is being targeted here,” Boyce said. “That community is behind me today, and we need their support.”

Deputy Inspector Judith Harrison, commanding officer at the 112th Precinct including Forest Hills, said, “We are speculating about the motive, but that’s what it is, speculation. We aren’t ruling anything out. We don’t believe it is bias at this time, but everything could change.”

Harrison said police have a list of 29 buildings in the area that are under construction in the neighborhood and they plan to monitor the sites.

The NYPD is offering a $12,500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the arsonist; the Bukharian Jewish Community is offering a $50,000 reward.

At the news conference, State Sen. Toby Stavisky said, “It’s sad that [Bukharian Jews] cannot feel safe in their homes anymore, that they left a disturbing situation in the former Soviet Union and they have to face this in their new home.”

Jewish-Arab school arsonist sentenced to jail in Jerusalem


One of the men found guilty in an arson attack on a Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem was sentenced to three years in jail.

Yitzhak Gabai, 24, was sentenced Tuesday in Jerusalem District Court. He also was ordered to pay tens of thousands of shekels in compensation to the school. Gabai was convicted in September.

The fire was set in a classroom at the Max Rayne Hand In Hand Jerusalem School on Nov. 29, 2014. “Death to Arabs” and “There is no coexistence with cancer” were among the anti-Arab epithets spray-painted on the walls.

Brothers Nahman and Shalom Twitto, ages 18 and 22, were convicted as part of a plea bargain in April and sentenced to prison terms of 2 and 2 1/2 years, as well as some financial reparations. Gabai refused a plea bargain.

The Twittos and Gabai are active members of Lehava, a far-right organization that tries to prevent marriages and coexistence programs between Jews and Arabs.

The Hand In Hand Jerusalem School is Israel’s largest joint Arab-Jewish school and the only such primary and high school in the city. Five Hand in Hand schools are located throughout the country.

West Bank Bedouin tent burned down in suspected arson attack


A tent in a West Bank Bedouin village was set on fire in a suspected arson attack.

The tent in the village of Kafr Malik, located north of Ramallah, was burned completely early Thursday morning, according to reports. It had been used for storage and unoccupied at the time of the fire.

Graffiti spray-painted on a rock near the burned-down tent included a Star of David and the words “administrative revenge,” which could refer to the recent administrative detention orders for three suspected Jewish extremists. Under administrative detention, prisoners can remain in custody for up to six months without a hearing or charges, renewable indefinitely. Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners remain in administrative detention in Israeli prisons.

The suspected extremists were arrested after the July 31 arson attack on a West Bank Palestinian home that left a baby and his father dead. The West Bank village of Duma, where the attack occurred, is located about three miles from the Bedouin village where Thursday’s attack took place.

Later Thursday, three Jewish youths reportedly were arrested in the area in connection with the attack. The youths’ car also was seized and they were prohibited from meeting with an attorney.

Rabbi’s car set on fire outside Chabad synagogue


Security cameras at Chabad of Mt. Olympus show two individuals vandalizing a Hyundai Sonata belonging to Rabbi Sholom Rodal, the Chabad’s rabbi, at 2 a.m. on the morning of June 24, according to Rodal as well as a police official.

The two were caught on camera setting the car on fire. It was parked outside of the Rodal home on a residential street in Laurel Canyon where the home, which also serves as a synagogue, is located. Rodal said prayer books and tefillin that were in the car were destroyed, but he said nothing was stolen from the vehicle.

“At about two in the morning we heard loud noises and explosions…[they] torched our car,” which was parked in the street, Laurelmont Drive, Rodal told the Journal on Wednesday. The rabbi’s family was at home at the time.

Lt. Alex Vargas of the Los Angeles Police Department Hollywood Division said Wednesday that police were conducting an investigation into the incident, which did not cause any injuries. As of Wednesday afternoon, no arrests had been made.

Rodal said he did not know whether the perpetrators intentionally targeted his car, or if they did so randomly. Security cameras recorded the incident but did not clearly identify the people responsible.

The 41-year-old rabbi said his chief concern was providing reassurance to his synagogue community that everything would be OK.

“I’m just trying to let our community members know we’re working on making it safe,” Rodal said.

Chabad of Mt. Olympus serves an array of Los Angeles Jewish community members, including people from the Russian community, the Persian community and others, Rodal said.

Baltimore begins clean-up after riot over police-custody death


Baltimore residents on Tuesday began to clear the wreckage of rioting and fires that erupted after the funeral of a 25-year-old black man who died in police custody, while the city's mayor defended local law enforcement's light initial response.

Acrid smoke hung over streets where violence broke out just blocks from Freddie Gray's funeral and spread through much of the poor West Baltimore neighborhood. Nineteen buildings and 144 vehicles were set on fire, and 202 people were arrested, according to the mayor's office.

Police said 15 officers were injured, six seriously, in Monday's unrest, which spread throughout the city as police initially looked on but did not interfere as rioters torched vehicles and later businesses.

Looters had ransacked stores, pharmacies and a shopping mall and clashed with police in riot gear in the most violent unrest in the United States since Ferguson, Missouri, was torn by gunshots and arson in late 2014.

Gray's death gave new energy to the public outcry that flared last year after police killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, New York City and elsewhere.

“It's a very delicate balancing act, when we have to make sure that we're managing but not increasing and escalating the problem,” Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake told reporters on Tuesday.

Police in Ferguson came under intense criticism last year for quickly adopting a militarized posture, using armored vehicles, showing heavy weapons and deploying tear gas in a forceful response that some said escalated tensions in the St. Louis suburb.

New York's police department took a more flexible approach in protests later in the year, monitoring marches that crisscrossed the city but largely averting the kind of violence seen in Ferguson and Baltimore.

For nearly a week after Gray died from a spinal injury on April 19, protests in Baltimore had been peaceful.

'HERE TO HELP OUT, MAN'

On Tuesday, volunteers in Baltimore swept up charred debris in front of a CVS pharmacy as dozens of police officers in riot gear stood by and firefighters worked to damp down the embers.

“I'm just here to help out, man,” said Shaun Boyd, 30, as he swept up broken glass. “It's the city I'm from.”

National Guard troops on Tuesday began to stage around the city, including in front of the police station where officers were bringing Gray at the time he was injured.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, declared a state of emergency on Monday and Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat, imposed a one-week curfew in the largely black city starting Tuesday night, with exceptions for work and medical emergencies.

Baltimore-based fund manager T. Rowe Price Group Inc said it would close its downtown office on Tuesday. Legg Mason, also headquartered downtown, said its office would be open, but it was encouraging employees to work from home.

Schools were closed on Tuesday in the city of 620,000 people, 40 miles (64 km) from the nation's capital.

A day after rioters hit a mall in West Baltimore, the Security Square Mall outside the city closed after reports that protesters could be targeting it.

“When you see the destruction you've also got to realize there's pain, there's pain behind a lot of this,” said U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, a Democrat who represents the region hit by the rioting.

The mayor, he said, should “assure us that the police department be looked at from top to bottom, everything from parking tickets straight up to indictments for murder.”

CAUGHT OFF-GUARD

Gray was arrested on April 12 while running from officers. He was transported to the police station in a van, with no seat restraint and suffered the spinal injury that led to his death a week later. A lawyer for Gray's family says his spine was 80 percent severed at the neck while in custody.

Six officers have been suspended, and the U.S. Justice Department is investigating possible civil rights violations.

Much of Monday's rioting occurred in a neighborhood where more than a third of families live in poverty. Parts of it had not been rebuilt since the 1968 rioting that swept across the United States after the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Deadly confrontations between mostly white U.S. police and black men, and the subsequent unrest, will be among the challenges facing U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who was sworn in on Monday and condemned the “senseless acts of violence.”

In 1992, more than 50 people in Los Angeles were killed in violence set off by the acquittal of four police officers who beat black motorist Rodney King. Dozens died in 1968 riots.

Rashid Khan, 49, and his neighbors were cleaning up his King's Grocery Mart on Tuesday after looters caused what he estimated at $20,000 to $30,000 in damage.

Khan said he believed people from outside the neighborhood had caused the damage.

“Neighborhood protect me,” Khan said. 

Brussels synagogue fire was arson, watchdog says


A fire that broke out at a synagogue near Brussels was the result of arson, a Belgian watchdog said.

Three people had to be treated for inhaling smoke on Tuesday at the synagogue on de la Clinique Street in Anderlecht, one of the municipalities that make up the Brussels region, the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism, or LBCA, wrote in a statement. Unknown individuals deliberately set fire to four places so it would catch, according to the report.

LBCA President Joel Rubinfeld wrote that Belgian police confirmed they believed the fire was the result of criminal activity.

The synagogue fire followed an anti-Semitic incident on Sunday at the National Memorial Site for Jewish Victims of the Holocaust in Belgium, also in Anderlecht.

Several people hurled large stones and a bottle at the monument. Several dozen people were standing near the monument, which they visited as part of the events of European Day of Jewish Culture, LBCA reported.

Hours earlier, Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo in an address at the reopening of the Jewish Museum of Belgium in central Brussels had vowed to punish perpetrators of anti-Semitic crimes. The museum had been closed since a May 24 shooting there killed four people.

“The increase of anti-Semitic acts in Belgium in recent months underlines the urgency connected to integrating the fight against anti-Semitism into the government’s plan of action for the future,” Rubinfeld said. “More than ever before, fighting anti-Semitism must truly become a national cause. At stake is our country’s honor and probably its future.”

Suspect arrested in firebomb attack on German synagogue


A suspect has been arrested in an attempted arson attack on a German synagogue.

A neighbor of the New Wuppertal Synagogue in the former West German state of North Rhine-Westphalia called police at about  2 a.m. on Tuesday to report burning objects in the street next to the synagogue, according to German news reports. Three men reportedly threw Molotov cocktails at the synagogue, which was dedicated in 2002.

WDR broadcast news reported that an 18-year-old man was arrested nearby. Police did not reveal further information about the one apprehended suspect, but according to Reuters the man told authorities he is Palestinian.

There were no injuries but traces of a flammable liquid were found around the building.

A local group, the Palestinian Friendship Association, distanced itself from the incident which it condemned  “profoundly.” Association spokesperson Ismail Karsoua said such acts are counterproductive to political discussion, WDR reported.

In related news, police in the city of Essen, also in North Rhine-Westphalia, last week received a tip that an attack on the city’s Old Synagogue had been announced on Facebook for 3 a.m. on July 24. Police arrested three men at the scene at 1 a.m. that day, after they rolled down the window of their car and threatened, “We’ll see you later.” The men were later released.

Sherman Oaks arsonist remains at large


On Thursday, Itzchik Weinstein, walking on his way to Chabad of Sherman Oaks, passed by The Hair Studio, an upscale salon on Ventura Boulevard, between Colbath and Stern Avenues in Sherman Oaks, that had nearly caught on fire on the evening of Sept 25.

“Some lunatic — meshugennah — who is trying to get attention,” Weinstein said of the unknown arsonist, who remains at large and is thought to be responsible for six rubbish fires Wednesday night, including one in an alleyway behind The Hair Studio.

The fires all were set off in trashcans in the area of the 13900 block of Ventura Boulevard, a largely Jewish neighborhood. The one behind the salon was considered the most destructive of the  fire, seriously damaging a vacant two-story apartment building that shares an alley with the salon. No one was injured in the fires, which also left a pile of burnt rubble in the salon's parking lot. A fire official said the damage from the six fires is estimated to be as high as $100,000.

Authorities are still looking for the person responsible for setting off the fires.

“The investigation related to these series of fires is ongoing,” David Liske, senior arson investigator at the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD), said during a press conference outside the hair salon on Thursday morning.

All six fires occurred within close proximity, but Liske did not list their exact locations.

Around midnight on Thursday morning, the Los Angeles Police Department-Van Nuys division made an arrest in connection with the fires, based on “a solid description of a person-of-interest,” Liske said. The arrestee turned out to have no connection to the fires, however.

Authorities have kept that individual in custody for an unrelated crime, Liske said.

Meanwhile, as of press time, authorities were continuing to search for the suspect — Liske said they believe all of the fires were likely set by one person.

Authorities received the first report about a fire in Sherman Oaks at approximately 8:15 p.m. Wednesday. The fires were contained by 9:30 p.m., according to Liske.

There have been no subsequent fires today, following a “massive undertaking to try and arrest and stop the individual responsible for these fires,” Liske said.

The neighborhood is home to many Jews of all levels of observance, including many Iranian Jews and Israelis. Many Jewish businesses operating in the neighborhood were closed through Saturday, in observance of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

Nearby business owners in the neighborhood expressed their disbelief at Wednesday night’s events, including Sarah Vidana, the owner of The Hair Studio, which Vidana said has a sizable Jewish clientele. She called the news of the fires “shocking” but said she “felt relief” upon learning her salon was not damaged.

“Do you know lucky we are that it didn’t hit this place?” Vidana said while inspecting the pile of rubble and the charred apartment building outside her salon on Thursday morning.

Two miles west down the road at the Chabad, dozens of men worshipped in honor of Shemini Atzeret, the final day of Sukkot. Allen Feinstein, 52, whose sister, Pamela, lives at Moorpark Street and Stern Avenue—less than two blocks from where the biggest fire occurred—said he was confident authorities would nab their suspect.

“They’ll find him,” Feinstein said. 

Arson being probed in bus fires in Arab-Israeli town


Police are investigating possible arson to two buses belonging to a company that began offering special bus lines to transport West Bank Palestinian passengers.

The buses belonging to the Afikim bus company caught fire Monday night in Kfar Kassem, an Arab-Israeli town about 20 miles east of Tel Aviv. Afikim was ordered to remove its buses immediately from the town.

The special bus lines, which will bring Palestinian passengers into central Israel, began Monday morning. They run from the Eyal checkpoint north of the West Bank Palestinian city of Kalkilya to several cities where the Palestinians have permits to work.

Some Palestinians rioted Monday morning when there were not enough buses to ferry all the Palestinian workers to their jobs.

The institution of the special lines is meant to ease the overcrowding of bus lines that go into Jewish settlements, the Transportation Ministry told Ynet. Palestinians may still take the regular buses.

Palestinians cannot enter Jewish settlements. They board the buses at stops on the Trans-Samaria Highway.

Jewish bus riders have complained that the buses were overcrowded and said they were concerned about security risks, Ynet reported. Jewish and Palestinian riders have scuffled verbally and physically on the buses, according to reports.

Beitar Jerusalem soccer fans arrested in connection with arson attack


Some members of the Beitar Jerusalem's nationalist and extremist fan club were arrested in connection with the arson attack on the soccer team's office and trophy room.

Jerusalem police arrested as many as seven fans belonging to the club called La Familia; more arrests reportedly are coming.

The alleged arsonists reportedly were identified through electronic surveillance.

La Famillia said it would suspend its activities due to the recent events, including the harsh reaction to the hiring of two Muslim team members from Chechnya. The club occupied the bleachers at the eastern side of the soccer field; the eastern bleachers have been ordered closed for the next five games by the Israel Football Association's disciplinary court.

Memorabilia and team records were damaged in the Feb. 8 fire.

“The history of Beitar has gone up in flames,” property caretaker Meir Harush told the news site NRG.

The attack followed the indictments that day of four Beitar Jerusalem fans suspected of incitement against Arabs and Muslims. On Jan. 26, the indictment said, the four men, all in their 20s, called “death to the Arabs” while watching a game from the bleachers.

On Feb. 10, some 35 supporters of Beitar Jerusalem were removed from Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem for racist chanting.

Beitar arson attack linked to racial incitement


A suspected arson attack damaged the main club house of Israeli Premier League side Beitar Jerusalem on Friday, a day after four fans were charged in court in connection with racist incitement against the team's recruitment of Muslim players, police said.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the fire, which caused no injuries, caused “extensive damage” to the premises next to the team's main training grounds. Reuters television footage showed trophies and other memorabilia were destroyed.

“Initial findings show the blaze was caused by a number of suspects” and police were investigating a possible link to protests over the team's signing up of two Chechen Muslim players last month, Rosenfeld said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the violence, saying in a statement on Friday: “This behavior is shameful. We must not accept such racist behavior.”

He added: “The Jewish people which has suffered from boycotts and persecution, should serve as a light unto other nations.”

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said police would take “a heavy hand to put an end to this issue,” and praised the club for what he saw as steps toward “fighting racism and violence”.

The Israel Football Association (IFA) said that soccer's world governing body FIFA had requested clarification following racist chanting by fans at a league fixture last month against the Chechen players.

A Jerusalem court had indicted four fans on Thursday for involvement in that incitement, police said.

The club has also been disciplined for that incident and were ordered to close the Teddy Kollek Stadium's 7,000-seat eastern grandstand, where hard core supporters sit, for five matches. They also received a 50,000 shekels ($13,500) fine.

Beitar are a bastion of Israel's political right wing and the only leading team in the country never to have signed an Arab player because of fan pressure.

They have the worst disciplinary record in Israel's Premier League. Since 2005, Beitar have faced more than 20 hearings and have received various punishments, including points deductions, fines and matches behind closed doors.

Arab citizens make up some 20 percent of Israel's population of almost eight million. Arab players feature prominently at all other clubs and have long been included in Israel's national team.

Additional reporting by Ori Lewis; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by John O'Brien

Arson suspected in fire at Eritreans’ Jerusalem apartment


Two African migrants were injured after a fire was allegedly set at the entrance to their Jerusalem apartment.

The fire broke out early Thursday morning; firefighters reportedly found rags soaked in an accelerant at the entrance to the apartment.

Its residents, a man and his pregnant wife, both from Eritrea, were taken to Hadassah-Ein Kerem Hospital suffering from moderate burns and smoke inhalation.

Four Eritrean migrants were injured a month ago when their Jerusalem apartment was set alight. There also have been several arson incidents against African migrants in Tel Aviv.

Palestinian teens arrested for Jerusalem arson, shots fired inside Gaza Strip restaurant


Two Palestinian teens were arrested for setting a fire near Jerusalem that destroyed 15 acres of forest.

The teens were arrested Monday and reportedly admitting to intentionally setting the June 26 fire, as well as to setting other fires and being involved in rock-throwing incidents, Ynet reported.

Some 35 firefighting teams from across the country and six firefighting planes battled the blaze, which was ignited near Kibbutz Ma’aleh Hahamisha, as well as another near the entrance to the city.

The Jerusalem area reportedly has suffered hundreds of fires in recent weeks, and many are believed to be the result of arson.

Meanwhile, shots fired from inside the Gaza Strip damaged a restaurant at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai. The Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Monday evening, according to a statement from the Israel Defense Forces. A car also was hit by the machine-gun fire, Ynet reported.

The IDF and police patrolled the area before lowering the alert levels.

Massive Jerusalem fire under control


A fire near Jerusalem that threatened homes and closed the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway reportedly is under control.

It will still take time to extinguish all of the blazes near the city, according to fire officials.

Some 35 firefighting teams from across the country and six firefighting planes have battled the blaze, which reportedly erupted in two places.

Fire officials told Israeli media that the fire was either intentionally set or caused by negligence.

The Jerusalem area reportedly has suffered hundreds of fires in recent weeks, and many are believed to be the result of arson.

Fire at apartment of Eritrean migrants called arson


A Jerusalem apartment home to migrant workers from Eritrea was set on fire.

Ten Eritreans were rescued from the burning apartment early Monday morning; four were injured in the blaze.

An initial investigation by the Jerusalem Fire Department found that the fire was the result of arson.

Investigators found on one of the apartment walls spray-painted graffiti that read “Get out of the neighborhood.”

The fire reportedly was set near the door of the apartment, making it nearly impossible for the occupants to escape.

More than a month ago, firebombs were thrown at several apartments in Tel Aviv that are home to African migrants.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday condemned violence against African migrants, calling the Jerusalem attack a “heinous crime.”

“No person has the right to violate the law and resort to violence against others, certainly not to endanger lives, for any reason whatsoever. Law and ethics prohibit any injury to the other, the guest and the foreigner. Jewish history compels us to take exceptional caution on these matters,” the ministry said in a statement.

State Department condemns vandalism of West Bank mosque


The United States condemned the vandalizing of a mosque in the northern West Bank.

“The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s most recent vandalizing of a mosque, as well as the burning of three cars, in the West Bank village of Dir Istiya. Hateful, dangerous, and provocative actions such as these are never justified,”  the State Department said in a statement released late Wednesday.

The words “price tag” and “Gal Arye Yosef” were spray-painted on the wall of the mosque in the village of Dir Istiya, near Ariel, in the early Wednesday morning attack. The graffiti refers to an illegal outpost that was razed the previous day.

The State Department statement noted that the Israeli government “pledged to capture those responsible for these reprehensible attacks and to bring the perpetrators to justice” and called on the local authorities to “work together with the community to reduce tension and to defend religious freedom.”

“We again call for calm on the part of all parties and urge them to avoid any actions that could lead to an escalation of violence. Violence only serves to impede the search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians based on acceptance and respect,” the statement said.

An attempt to attack the mosque was carried out last September.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak strongly condemned the attack and commanded the Israel Defense Forces and officials in the defense establishment to “act resolutely, purposefully and to use all the means at their disposal to capture the lawless rioters and bring them to justice,” according to a statement issued from the Ministry of Defense.

“Such acts prevent the IDF from carrying out its primary missions, including the basic protection of the region’s residents,” Barak said. “These activities are designed to damage the fragile relationship between Israelis and Palestinians in the Judea and Samaria region, as well as between Israel and its neighbors. The IDF, in cooperation with the police and security personnel, will act robustly against these criminal activities.”

N.Y. arson attack investigated as insurance scam


An arson attack last year on cars in a predominately Jewish neighborhood of New York reportedly is being investigated as an insurance scam instead of a hate crime.

The attack on Nov. 11, the day after Kristallnacht commemorations, included the spray-painting with anti-Semitic graffiti of the nearby sidewalk and park benches. Elected officials and Jewish leaders roundly condemned the attack.

Police sources told local media, including the New York Daily News and the New York Post, that the cars were likely set alight in order to collect insurance money, and the graffiti was spray-painted in the area to make the attack look more like a realistic hate crime.

The owners of the cars did not live in the neighborhood where they were torched, and beer bottles found at the scene were wiped clean of fingerprints, which police said pointed away from an act of hate.

A police spokesman told the Daily News that police had not ruled out a bias crime. The New York Police Department’s Hate Crimes Task Force investigated the incident.

Dozens of fires break out in northern Israel


More than 40 fires broke out across northern Israel over the weekend, many of which are suspected arson attacks.

While some of the forest fires are being considered the result of negligence, many are being investigated as arson attacks due to their multiple sources of ignition, according to Haaretz.

Dozens of people in the western Galilee were evacuated from their homes and hundreds of acres of forests were destroyed, according to reports. Hot dry winds and warm temperatures caused the fires to spread quickly.

Fire trucks and firefighter aircrafts were called in to control the blazes.

An out-of-control fire in the Carmel Forest last December led to 44 deaths. In addition, 250 homes were destroyed or severely damaged, 17,000 people were forced to evacuate, more than 12,000 acres were burned and an estimated 5 million trees were lost.

Vandalism on Safed synagogues being probed as retaliation for mosque arson


Police are investigating vandalism on four synagogues in Safed as possible retaliation for a mosque arson in northern Israel.

The words “Death to Jews” were spray-painted on the synagogues and a car Tuesday night in the northern Israeli city.

The mosque arson took place on Oct. 2 in the Bedouin Arab town of Tuba Zanghariya. Two Arab cemeteries in Jaffa also were vandalized last week.

“This is an unusual phenomenon, which does not characterize the nature of the relationship between Jews and Arabs in Safed,” the city’s mayor, Ilan Shohat, told Haaretz. “Just as we condemn the desecration of Islamic holy sites, so we condemn despicable acts like this.”

Two suspects, men with ties to the West Bank, have been arrested in the mosque arson. The attack is being called a “price tag” attack, in which extremist settlers exact a price in attacks on Palestinians in retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions or for Palestinian attacks on Jews.

The mosque attack referenced the death of a West Bank resident who was killed in a rock attack on his car.

Judge: Not enough evidence to convict mosque arson suspect


A Petach Tikvah judge gave police five days to produce evidence that a West Bank Jewish man burned a mosque in northern Israel.

Magistrate Court Judge Nitza Maimon agreed Tuesday to extend the 18-year-old suspect’s remand until Sunday, but said there is not enough evidence now to convict him of the Oct. 2 torching of the main mosque of the Upper Galilee Bedouin-Arab town of Tuba Zanghariya. The suspect, who is from northern Israel, reportedly studied at a West Bank yeshiva. He was arrested hours after the arson attack.

The judge said that if no new evidence is produced, she will order police to release the suspect.

A second suspect has been arrested in connection with the attack. Few details have been released about the second suspect, who reportedly is a resident of the West Bank. He appeared Monday in a Tel Aviv court and his remand extended.

Both suspects are suspected of “direct involvement” in the arson attack, Israel police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told news agencies.

Second suspect arrested in mosque arson


A second suspect was arrested in connection with the burning of a mosque in a Bedouin-Arab town in northern Israel.

Few details have been released about the second suspect, who reportedly is a resident of the West Bank. He was scheduled to appear Monday in a Tel Aviv court for a hearing on extending his remand.

An 18-year old Jewish man from northern Israel was arrested hours after the Oct. 2 torching of the main mosque of the Upper Galilee town of Tuba Zanghariya. He reportedly studied at a West Bank yeshiva.

Both suspects are suspected of “direct involvement” in the arson attack, Israel police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told news agencies.

Suspect arrested in mosque arson


Police have arrested an 18-year-old Jewish male in connection with the arson of a mosque in a Bedouin Arab town in northern Israel.

Police confirmed that they made the arrest several hours after the attack and that the suspect since then has been held in prison, according to reports.

The mosque in Tuba-Zangariyye was set alight Oct. 2, destroying holy books and prayer rugs.

Graffiti, including the words “price tag” and “Palmer,” were spray-painted on the walls of the mosque.

Price tag refers to the strategy that extremist settlers have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians in retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions or for Palestinian attacks on Jews. Palmer likely refers to Israeli Asher Palmer, who was killed Sept. 23 along with his infant son after a rock thrown in an apparent terrorist attack crashed through the windshield of his car, causing him to lose control of the vehicle, which then flipped over.

Israeli and Jewish leaders around the world, as well as the governments of several countries, condemned the arson attack. 

A U.S. State Department statement Tuesday “strongly” condemning the arson noted “that the Israeli Government also strongly condemned the attacks, and we endorse stepped-up efforts by law enforcement authorities to act vigorously to bring to justice those responsible for this heinous act and similar attacks that have taken place in the West Bank.”

Major U.S. Jewish groups, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the foreign policy umbrella body, also have condemned the arson.

A New Israel Fund appeal to Jewish clergy to condemn the mosque’s burning and to thank Israel’s leadership for speaking out against it garnered nearly 400 signatures within three hours.

Bedouin Arabs riot following mosque arson


Residents of the Bedouin Arab town of Tuba-Zangariyye in northern Israel have torched local community buildings in the wake of an arson attack on a local mosque.

The protesters, mostly village youth, set fire to the local council building Monday night and also seriously damaged the local youth cultural center and village health clinic by breaking doors and windows, and damaging property inside. They also threw rocks at police and were dispersed with tear gas.

On Sunday night, the community’s mosque was set on fire, destroying holy books and prayer rugs.

Graffiti, including the words “price tag” and “Palmer,” were spray-painted on the walls of the mosque, according to reports. Police reportedly have arrested some suspects in the Sunday night arson attack.

Price tag refers to the strategy that extremist settlers have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians in retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions or for Palestinian attacks on Jews. Palmer likely refers to Israeli Asher Palmer, who was killed Sept. 23 along with his infant son after a rock thrown in an apparent terrorist attack crashed through the windshield of his car, causing him to lose control of the vehicle, which then flipped over.

Residents of Tuba-Zangariyye, which has a population of slightly more than 5,000, have blamed extremists from the nearby town of Safed. The village also is near the Golan Heights.

Bedouin villages in the north have declared a general strike beginning Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Israeli police have stepped up alerts in the area out of concern that Israeli Arabs will carry out revenge attacks, Haaretz reported.

The attack was condemned across Israel’s political and religious spectrum and by Jewish organizations in the United States.

Arson suspected in major Jerusalem forest fire


Arson is suspected in a major forest fire in Jerusalem that led to the evacuation of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum.

The fire was under control by Sunday night after burning nearly 40 acres of the Jerusalem Forest and forcing the evacuation of Yad Vashem and some streets in Jerusalem neighborhoods.

The blaze reportedly began in four areas of the forest simultaneously on Sunday afternoon, leading to the arson suspicion.

Twenty-three firefighting units and 60 firefighters from the Jewish National Fund, as well as four firefighting planes, fought the fire. At least five people were treated for smoke inhalation, according to reports.

The fire approached the Har Nof and Bayit Vegan neighborhoods of Jerusalem and an oil refinery. Some homes were evacuated as a precaution and the area around the refinery was secured. Yad Vashem employees reportedly were prepared for an emergency evacuation of the museum’s most important artifacts, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The Israeli military was mobilized to help battle the blaze.

New York shtetl where arson attack occurred, the rebbe’s word is law


For years, this leafy Chasidic village about an hour north of New York City has been a shtetl-like haven where residents could live their strictly Orthodox lifestyle far from the temptations and bustle of the nation’s largest city.

Out of view of all but very few, life in this community of some 7,000 Skverer Chasidim has revolved around its spiritual leader, the Skverer rebbe, Rabbi David Twersky.

In the wake of a recent arson attack that left a dissident New Square resident in the hospital with third-degree burns over more than half his body—and thrust this community into the harsh glare of media and police investigators—the question is whether the centrality of the rebbe to community life has created an atmosphere of dangerous coercion.

“We cannot encourage theocratic rule,” said Michael Sussman, the civil rights attorney representing the burn victim, Aron Rottenberg. “Yet by tolerating these communities, we’re doing that.”

The incident that has thrust New Square into the spotlight came in the wee hours of May 22, when police say that Rottenberg approached a man carrying a rag soaked with flammable liquid behind his family’s house. In the ensuing altercation, which took place at approximately 4 a.m., Rottenberg and his alleged assailant—Shaul Spitzer, 18—were badly burned. Both remain hospitalized.

The incident appears to be the culmination of a dispute about enforcing the will of the rebbe—something akin to the rule of law in New Square.

The rebbe likes his followers in New Square to pray at his synagogue. But since the fall, Rottenberg and a small group have been making the milelong trek to Friedwald Center, a nursing home in the adjacent village of New Hempstead, for a minyan. That instantly marked Rottenberg, a 43-year-old plumber, as persona non grata in the community.

The campaign of intimidation began soon after.

Rottenberg had stones thrown through his car and home windows, received threatening phone calls late at night and found his children expelled from the village’s religious schools, according to Sussman.

Then came the arson incident involving Spitzer, who had been serving as Twersky’s live-in butler for about a year.

In a letter sent to state and federal judicial officials, Sussman said the campaign of intimidation occurred “under Twersky’s authority” and asked for the arson attack to be classified as a hate crime.

The FBI reportedly has joined forces with the Ramapo Police Department to investigate the attack, according to The New York Times.

Most New Square residents defend Twersky as innocent, according to Yossi Gestetner, a Chasidic journalist and public relations consultant.

“Few people in New Square think that the New Square grand rabbi or anyone in leadership actually ordered or at all wanted this arson attempt to take place,” said Gestetner, who is based in the nearby village of Spring Valley, N.Y. “However, many people living in New Square think that leadership owes responsibility—in a moral, not legal sense—for not coming out strongly against the low-level violence in the past.”

The haredi Orthodox AMI magazine published an interview with Twersky last week in which he condemned “in the strongest possible terms any violence or coercion under any circumstances.”

Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter, the magazine’s publisher and editor in chief, said it is unfair to blame Twersky for the actions of one member of his community.

“It’s racism to attack an entire community based upon a lost soul or criminal minds who perpetrate crime against others,” he said. “When we have an attack like that, we don’t go ahead and attack an entire community, and we don’t attack the rebbe, who has never been accused of a crime.”

In communities like New Square, however, where Chasidic leaders influence not just residents’ spiritual lives but their financial and political endeavors as well, little happens without the rebbe’s say-so, says Shmarya Rosenberg, author of Failedmessiah.com, a watchdog blog about the haredi Orthodox community.

“There’s no concept of democracy. There’s no concept of any kind of a civil society at all,” Rosenberg said. “Every institution in the community is completely under the rebbe’s thumb.”

If a New Square resident crosses the rebbe or breaks one of the village’s many unwritten rules, one New Square resident told JTA, his neighbors will treat him “like a goy”—not saying hello in the morning, not answering his questions or acknowledging his presence. The man, who asked to be identified only as Weiss, agreed to talk only if the interview were conducted outside New Square.

Weiss said a dissident faces even more harassment: His house windows might be broken, his car’s tires slashed and his kids expelled from school.

“Everyone’s fighting because they think the rebbe is God,” he said. “I’m not going to fight, even for God. They make sick people because of the rebbe.”

Shulem Deen, a former New Square resident whose ex-wife and five children still live in the village, said dissent is not tolerated and leaving is extremely difficult. Deen himself faced harsh resistance from the village’s rabbinic court before he eventually left the village about six years ago.

“New Square is not an organization, it’s not a private club where you join, pay dues and then you can cancel your membership,” he said. “Their entire life is in that community.”

Deen recalled an incident about seven or eight years ago when a family chose to circumcise their son in Brooklyn rather than New Square. Their tires were slashed and their house was vandalized, he said.

“This is definitely a sea change,” Deen said of the arson attack. “This is not new, but it’s never been anything quite like this.”

Nomi Stolzenberg, a University of Southern California Law School professor and an expert on haredi Orthodox Jewish communities, says internal divisions often arise in the successor generations following the death of the Chasidic rebbe who founded the community.

In New Square, Twersky, 70, took over in 1968 after the death of his father, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Twesky, who founded the community in 1954. Twersky lives in a mansion and is treated like royalty by community members—as are most Chasidic rebbes by their followers.

“Competing factions arise,” said Stolzenberg, also the co-author of the forthcoming book “American Shtetl.” “Even if there hadn’t been an outside world looking on, it’s inevitable that schisms and factions and divisions within the community were going to develop.”

Still, most Skverer Chasidim remain loyal to Twersky and believe the incident is being unfairly magnified by secular authorities, Deen said.

“I think they primarily see it as a public relations issue. I would be very surprised if there are discussions going on there that are about actual change,” said Deen, who runs Unpious.com, a blog about the haredi Orthodox world. “Most of the discussion there is now is how do we respond to the world as opposed to how do we be reflective about what we’ve been doing wrong.”

New Square resident Meyer Knoloch said the Rottenberg story has been blown out of proportion by outsiders and anti-Semites.

“Most of the population living here is very satisfied with the village—just a few people not so satisfied who make the trouble,” Knoloch said. “People live here peacefully. There’s no fighting, no drugs, no weapons. There’s no break-ins in houses. But there are rules.”

Hank Sheinkopf, a public relations consultant hired shortly after the attack by “a group of concerned citizens,” says New Square’s peaceful and philanthropic past should prompt outsiders to think twice before lambasting the village.

“Nonsense, untrue, inaccurate,” Sheinkopf said of the rumors of a campaign of intimidation against Rottenberg. “The rebbe’s been very clear about this.”

Still, there are certain rules that come with living in a 0.4-square-mile modern-day shtetl, and Sheinkopf said residents know what they’ve signed up for.

“They know what community they live in,” he said. “There’s a rebbe, there’s a way of life, it’s worked for 60 years and it will go forward.”

Jewish settlers accused of torching mosque


Palestinian leaders are blaming Jewish settlers for a fire in a West Bank mosque.

The fire early Tuesday morning broke out in a mosque inside a village school building in Hawara, near Nablus. The governor of Nablus, Jibreen al Bakri, accused settlers of arson, Reuters reported.

Two Palestinian men from Hawara have been arrested and reportedly confessed to the murder of five members of the Fogel family from the nearby Jewish settlement of Itamar.

Israeli police are investigating the mosque incident. Unlike other recent arson and vandal attacks in West Bank Palestinian areas, where graffiti written in Hebrew was found at the scenes, no such signs were found in Hawara, police told Reuters.

Apparent arson destroys N.Y. kosher market set to reopen


An apparent arson attack destroyed a renovated kosher supermarket in New York City that was set to reopen.

The Seasons market in the Kew Gardens Hills neighborhood of Queens reportedly was set alight early Monday morning, during the Passover holiday. The attack ruined the inventory and destroyed most of the building, according to the New York Post. The New York Police Department is investigating the incident.

Security cameras showed two men pouring flammable liquid into vent covers on the building’s roof and setting it alight, the Post reported. The sprinkler system activated and doused the store all day, until the end of the holiday, flooding the supermarket.

Seasons had been scheduled to reopen Wednesday. It has three other branches: on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, as well as in suburban Scarsdale in Westchester County and Lawrence on Long Island.

A message posted on the store’s Facebook page Wednesday read, “Thank you to all of you who have expressed their concerns. Your outpouring of support is greatly appreciated.”