Naz Shah, UK Labour Party Member Suspended for Anti-Semitic Posts is Reinstated


The Britain that was a reliably gray media backwater for half a century is no more. It has been replaced by a Britain in which news that normally would have made the front page for weeks—for example, the resignation of a prime minister—is replaced within minutes by other a cascade of other pressing updates, such as the resignation of almost the entire opposition. 

 

So it was this week, when news that Naz Shah, a parliamentarian who was suspended by the Labour party two months ago when her Facebook posts jokingly proposing the eradication of the State of Israel surfaced, was reinstated into the party—and welcomed by the British Jewish community. 

 

But the day of Shah’s political rehabilitation was almost immediately eclipsed by the publication of the Chilcot Report, a 7-year investigation into the British role in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

 

It was a scathing condemnation of former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to join the US invasion, concluding that “the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.”

 

Blair, the report asserts, deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein as he made the case for military action to the British parliament and public. Blair disregarded warnings about the potential consequences of military action, and relied too heavily on his own beliefs, rather than the more nuanced judgments of the intelligence services, the report states. “The judgments about Iraq’s capabilities … were presented with a certainty that was not justified,” Sir John Chilcot determined.

 

Fourteen years later, a regretful but defiant Blair, his voice feathery, described his decision as “the hardest, most momentous, most agonizing decision I took in 10 years as British prime minister.” 

 

In an exhausting press conference lasting over two hours, Blair said he felt “deeply and sincerely… the grief and suffering of those who lost ones they loved in Iraq…There will not be a day when I relive and rethink what happened.”

 

But he maintained his belief that “we made the right decision and the world is better and safer.” 

 

Behind the dramatic scenes, Shah was re-admitted into the party, one of at least 20 Labour party figures who were suspended or ejected from the party in recent months, in a swirl of anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic slurs, statements and posts that have blanketed the Labour party since the 2015 election of its leader, the longtime activist Jeremy Corbyn. 

 

Last April, Shah admitted writing a Facebook post supporting the notion Israel’s population being transferred to the United States. It showed an image of Israel superimposed onto the mid-west, and Shah’s comment: “Problem solved and save you bank charges for the £3 billion you transfer yearly,” a reference to United States aid to Israel. 

 

Shah added that she’d propose the scheme to President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron as it would “save them some pocket money.” 

 

Days later, a second post emerged, comparing Israel to Nazis. Hashtag IsraelApartheid, she posted alongside the quote “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.” Shah, one of nine Muslims in the British parliament, was suspended the same day. 

 

“Of all those suspended by the Labour Party for anti-Semitic actions, Naz Shah stands out as someone who has been prepared to apologize to the Jewish community at a local and national level, and make efforts to learn from her mistakes,” the Board of Deputies of British Jews wrote in a statement reacting to her return. “In that regard, her reinstatement today seems appropriate and we would hope for no repeat of past errors.”

 

While visiting a Leeds synagogue in May, Shah said she hoped to make a “real apology” rather than a “politician’s apology.” 

 

“I looked at myself and asked whether I had prejudice against Jewish people. But I realized I was ignorant and I want to learn about the Jewish faith and culture. I do not have hatred for Jewish people,” she confessed.

 

Shah’s mea culpa was not universally lauded. On Twitter, a self-identified Socialist named Marcus Storm wrote that she “sold herself, her soul and her religion to the Zionists for personal gain.” 

 

“Well, that is what an anti-Semite looks like, Gary Spedding, a pro-Palestinian activist who has been fighting anti-Semitism in the political left said to The Media Line, adding that he’d been attacked online for hours after opposing such remarks. 

 

“It is important to say that I do not believe Naz Shah is in any way anti-Semitic. Having known her since before she was elected as a Member of Parliament I have always found her to be sincere and engaged in various ways when it comes to community relations,” Spedding added. 

 

Corbyn, who was elected to his post with no previous executive experience and who has referred to the Islamist militias Hamas and Hizbullah as “friends” and recently appeared to compare Israel with the Islamic State terrorist group, said earlier this week that he regretted his 2009 endorsement of Hamas.

 

During a session of the Home Affairs Committee on anti-Semitism last week, Corbyn initially denied that Hamas is anti-Semitic only to be forced to concede the point after a lawmaker read him lines from Hamas’ charter calling for killing Jews.

 

Corbyn rejected the contention that he is fostering an atmosphere of anti-Semitism within the party. 

 

“That is unfair,” he complained. “I want a party that is open for all. A long time ago there were sometimes anti-Semitic remarks made, when I first joined the party and later on. In recent years, no, and in my constituency not at all.”

 

Jonathan Sacerdoti, director of communications at the British NGO Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, said “Corbyn’s evidence given to the Parliamentary inquiry was totally inadequate. It will only further worry British Jews.”

 

Hugo Rifkind, a columnist for The Times of London, told The Media Line he hoped the moment marked a de-escalation of “that scary Israel obsession which marks out the loony Corbynite left.” 

Hasidic school in London reprimanded for not teaching about sexual orientation


A Hasidic school in London was reprimanded by Britain’s Office for Standards in Education for not teaching its students about sexual orientation.

The inspection report released last week praised the Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass in Stamford Hill for making strides in some areas, but it criticized the school for avoiding teaching subjects related to gender or sexuality.

“The school’s ethos is based on its founding principle of ‘unconditional adherence to the Shulcan Aruch (code of Jewish law).’ This means that pupils are shielded from learning about particular differences, such as sexual orientation,” the report said. “In practice, across the curriculum this means that the explicit teaching of all the protected characteristics, specifically those that relate to gender or sexuality, is avoided.”

Inspectors noted in the report that the school had made progress in literacy and numeracy schemes, although the planned revisions of science and physical education had yet to be implemented, and had improved its career guidance.

“The last inspection reported that the school failed to meet a number of the independent school standards relating to promoting pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. Leaders have taken action towards addressing the unmet standards” in this area, it said.

The report said that students “continue to show respect towards themselves and to others in their community.”

It also said: “During visits to classrooms, pupils were observed discussing confidently respect for one another and for those of different faiths and religions.”

In May 2015, the Belz-run school said in a letter that allowing women to drive was against the Hasidic sect’s traditional rules of modesty and students would not be allowed to enter school if their mothers drove them there. The school later retracted the rule after Britain’s education secretary ordered an investigation.

Ex-Israeli FM Tzipi Livni decries British summons on war crimes allegations


British police asked Tzipi Livni to appear for an interview regarding war crimes allegations while she was Israeli foreign minister in 2008-09.

Livni, who was headed to London for a conference convened by the Haaretz newspaper, declined the voluntary summons on Thursday before leaving Israel, the newspaper reported Sunday.

Israeli officials took the precaution, however, of arranging a meeting for her with British foreign office diplomats so her visit would be under cover of diplomatic immunity. Livni is now a member of the opposition Zionist Union faction in the Knesset.

Livni, a member of the Security Cabinet during the 2008-09 war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, decried the threat of arrest by British police faced by senior Israeli officials who visit London. The police are acting on complaints filed by pro-Palestinian groups.

“The fact that Israeli decision-makers and army commanders are forced to participate in a theater of the absurd when we come to London is something that is not acceptable,” she told Haaretz. “It’s not a personal issue, it’s a moral issue and this is something that needs to be changed.”

British Jewish groups condemn hate crimes in wake of Brexit vote


Jewish groups in Britain condemned the uptick in racist harassment and other hate crimes in the wake of the country’s vote to leave the European Union.

There has been a 57 percent rise in reported hate crimes and racial incidents since the June 23 referendum, according to reports.

The Community Security Trust, the security arm of the Jewish community in the United Kingdom, told JTA on Tuesday that it has not observed any increase in expressions of anti-Semitism in the wake of the vote.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews in a statement issued earlier this week called on the government, civil society and businesses to make it “absolutely clear that EU nationals and other minorities resident in the United Kingdom are protected and valued.”

“It is important during these times of political uncertainty in our country to ensure that nobody feels vulnerable and threatened,” said the statement from the board’s chief executive, Gillian Merron.

Merron added: “The Jewish community knows all too well these feelings of vulnerability and will not remain silent in the face of a reported rise in racially motivated harassment.”

The head of the London-based Jewish Leadership Council, an umbrella body of more than 30 Jewish communal organizations, said in a statement issued Tuesday that it “join(s) with fellow communal leaders and politicians in condemning the incidents of hate crime and intolerance following last week’s Referendum. As Jews, we have long had experience of hatred and discrimination and trust that all leaders will ensure that the outcome of the Referendum does not undermine the tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness of the society we live in.”

The council’s chief executive, Simon Johnson, also said his group is following the reaction of the economic markets to the Brexit vote.

“Any long-term impact on the economy risks challenging the generous philanthropic environment in which Jewish charities operate. Jewish charities will continue to offer the highest quality and widest support to those who need it,” he said. “They have done so through previous challenging economic circumstances. We will work closely with our members to ensure that we fully understand any developments and are able to respond accordingly.”

UK agency fears for future of kosher slaughter following Brexit vote


A group working to safeguard kosher slaughter in Britain warned of uncertainty surrounding its mission following the British vote to exit the European Union.

A spokesman for Shechitah UK said Tuesday that he fears losing the European Union’s protections of “faith communities” or seeing kosher slaughter put to a vote in Parliament that might be influenced by critics of Jewish and Muslim techniques for slaughtering animals.

“While some European countries have implemented domestic legislation against shechitah and there was a danger that a wider precedent would be set,” Shechitah UK spokesman Shimon Cohen told JTA, Britain’s government “has always been guided by the European Union and the European Commission has put great emphasis on protecting faith communities.”

But if Britain leaves, Cohen said, its government “would either have to ask parliament to adopt” EU regulations that exempt faith communities from certain regulations “or come up with its own law. Either way, if it goes to a vote in the House of Parliament, it’s a numbers game and the risks are very high.”

Shechitah, the Hebrew word for kosher slaughter, and the Muslim variant of the practice are facing attack in Europe because they are deemed by many to be cruel to animals since stunning is prohibited prior to slaughter.

Other opponents of ritual slaughter resent its proliferation following the arrival to Europe of millions of Muslims from the 1950s onward.

However, EU membership does not necessarily enshrine shechitah, as member states are free to dispense with the exemptions from EU regulations.

Opposition to schechitah led to a ban by the Netherlands in 2010, but it was overturned by the Dutch Senate in 2012. Also, the Polish parliament banned the practice in 2013, though the prohibition has since been partially overturned. The practice is currently illegal in two EU member states – Sweden and Denmark – as well as three other non-EU countries in Western Europe: Norway, Switzerland and Iceland. EU members Finland, Austria and Estonia enforce strict supervision of the custom that some Jews there say make it nearly impossible.

In the debate leading up to the Brexit vote, advocates of remaining argued that staying in the EU assured protection for religious liberties. Supporters of an exit took the opposite view, citing legislation limiting religious freedoms on the continent.

On Brexit, a view from an American rabbi in London


I awoke this morning in a different country. Yesterday I accompanied my wife (who holds UK citizenship) to vote on the ‘Brexit’ referendum.  She voted that the UK remain in the European Union, a position favored overwhelmingly by people in their 20s and 30s (as much as 75 percent).  Last night, we stayed up watching as the votes came in and the percentages on the referendum waffled, and with them the value of the British Pound.  Although the measure was predicted to fail by a margin of 4 percent or so, when we woke up this morning we were greeted by a country in chaos.

The measure passed.

The value of the British Pound dropped 10 percent (and with it the value of salaries, pensions, etc.), banks and industry might look to flee the country, the Prime Minister announced he will resign.  Huge numbers of EU migrant workers could face expulsion over the next few years, British citizens who live in Spain or France may face problems.  Scotland is suggesting a break from England.  Most important, the entire political structure of the European Union is undermined, as other countries could now call for referenda to opt out.

How did this happen?  The tropes should sound very familiar in the United States.  Xenophobia, racism, protectionism, a failing rural economy with high levels of wealth inequality.  Generational divides in wealth and success here in BritaÓin are some of the highest in the world.  Ultimately, all these factors led to a rise in far-right-wing politics and a rage-vote of no confidence in the EU.

Even within my own synagogue, admittedly a wealthy suburban congregation, we have had a number of people express anti-European sentiments.  Some of them are themselves immigrants who fled from the Nazis who now wish to pull up the ladder after them and leave Syrian refugees wallowing on the other side of the Channel in France.  Rural voters and those in towns where industry collapsed twinned with the wealthy conservative class to vote in what was presumed to be the self-interest of Britain at the expense of the EU. 

A few words on the EU — not only is the European Union an economic power, but it also has helped Europe function as a political unit since the last World War.  It allows for free movement of labor between its member states and encourages a common currency. 

The vote has been a disaster already and emerged from a country wracked with economic divisions between the super-wealthy and everyone else.  It should sound familiar, and if it doesn’t, Donald Trump’s statement in support of Brexit should clarify any possibility of misunderstanding.

In the U.S., fear of Mexican immigrants has prompted a case for building a new Great Wall of China.  We must not allow demagoguery to triumph; we must not allow rage to dictate the democratic process.  The consequences for Britain on Day 1 post-Brexit-vote have already been dramatic and unpleasant.  Predictions are that the Pound may continue to fall, the economy may collapse, the banking industry (the thing keeping the economy afloat) may flee to Dublin or Paris, and if this continues the future looks bleak.

We must not allow hatred, fear, and xenophobia to govern the democratic process.  Here in London the fear is the Syrian refugees and Muslim ‘terrorist’ migrants (if you want to know what this looks like, google “the Jungle” in Calais).  As Jews, the echoes should be obvious: a group of people fleeing an oppressive government, camped on one side of a narrow strait of water looking for a way to get across to safety.  If the Biblical echoes aren’t enough, we only need to reach back a few decades to see our own people fleeing from Iran, Ethiopia, and Poland.


Rabbi Jason S. Rosner (Wimbledon Synagogue, London), is a Reform Rabbi ordained by Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles (2015).  He lives with his wife Noemie in South West London.

British minister compares Brexit opponents to Nazi campaign against Einstein


Britain’s justice minister likened some opponents of the campaign to have Britain leave the European Union to Nazis behind the smear campaign against Albert Einstein in 1930s Germany.

Michael Gove, who co-chairs the Vote Leave campaign working for Britain’s exit from the EU in the national referendum being held Thursday, made the comparison the previous evening in an interview with LBC radio.

“We have to be careful about historical comparisons, but Albert Einstein during the 1930s was denounced by the German authorities for being wrong and his theories were denounced, and one of the reasons of course he was denounced was because he was Jewish,” said Gove.

Gove was speaking about economists who in the buildup to the vote warned that an exit would have dire consequences for the British financial establishment and market. Prime Minister David Cameron and many of the ruling party’s lawmakers also oppose leaving the European Union.

Elaborating on the Einstein comparison, Gove added: “They got 100 German scientists in the pay of the government to say that he was wrong and Einstein said: ‘Look, if I was wrong, one would have been enough.'” Gove urged listeners to “interrogate the assumptions that are made.”

Noting low growth rates in continental Europe and high unemployment, he said that “freeing ourselves from that project can only strengthen our economy.”

The International Monetary Fund, 10 Nobel Prize-winning economists and the Bank of England have all warned that leaving the EU could damage the economy. Results from numerous polls show a 50-50 split in eligible voters, making the surveys too close to call.

An exit by Britain, one of the union’s leading economies, is widely seen as endangering the body’s integrity.

Millions of Britons arrived Thursday at thousands of polling places to vote on the referendum, despite rainy and stormy weather. Some 46 million are registered to vote.

The Chabad movement, meanwhile, contrasted in an article on its official website the European Union’s fragile state with what Rabbi Menachem Posner, the website’s editor, described as the Jewish people’s unwavering unity.

“A change in circumstance can very well render the union a burden rather than a boon,” he wrote Thursday about the Brexit debate, adding that “there are unions that just don’t break up. Like the union of the Jewish people.”

Despite disagreements and profound differences, “We are one people, united by a common Torah and a common Father in Heaven,” Posner wrote.

Fear as a Campaigning Platform


Today the people of the United Kingdom will vote to decide if they wish their country to remain a member the European Union or not – the subject of a domestic debate possibly more heated and vitriolic than any seen in British politics in recent decades. Both halves of the campaign, dubbed Leave and Remain, have been accused of using fear to scare voters into siding with their argument. 

The venom with which both sides campaigned was suddenly, and temporarily, halted last week following the killing of Jo Cox, a Member of Parliament for the Labour Party, by a suspected British nationalist. 

Cox died after being attacked in the street in the middle of the day in her local constituency. Her alleged attacker is 52-year-old Thomas Mair who when asked to identify himself in court said, “My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”

Should this incident be a warning to all of the cost that using fear as a tool to win an argument might exact? If so, then this is valid for a wider audience than just the UK.

Across the Atlantic Ocean billionaire-businessman Donald Trump is accused of continuously using fear to whip up support for his bid to become the next President of the United States. Elsewhere, in Israel last year incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was mocked when in response to a critical domestic report into housing he evoked the existential threat posed to the country by Iran. 

Are politicians leaning on our fears more heavily than in the past in order to sway our attitudes and if so what are the consequences?

“As a kid growing up in the States during the Cold War I remember being told by Republicans, ‘don’t vote Democrats (because) if you don’t vote for us the Communists are going to benefit,’” Scott Lucas, a professor of politics at Birmingham University in the UK, told The Media Line. Playing to our fears has routinely been a tactic used by politicians, Lucas said. 

However, with Trump’s campaign to capture the White House or the ‘Brexit’ (shorthand for British Exit from the EU) debate the prevalence of this rhetoric has increased, the professor suggested. 

Campaigning by, “projecting all kinds of anxieties without having to spell them out or having any empirical evidence is an old trick,” being employed by the populist right in Europe, Ruth Wodak, a professor of linguistics at Lancaster University and author of The Politics of Fear, told The Media Line. The difference is now these groups are attracting attention and, increasingly, voters. 

An accompanying tactic to fearmongering is to find somebody to blame for these now enflamed fears. “It is a simplistic solution to say that if we get rid of the scapegoat then that problem will be solved,” Wodak said, arguing that this is a central campaigning method of the populist right. 

The problem with pouring this sort of rhetoric into your debate is eventually it can lead to somebody getting hurt. “Mobilizing fear and appealing to emotions of such a negative kind is a step towards aggression against others. It implies envy, aggression and eventually violence,” Wodak said.

In order to be scared people need to have someone to be fearful of. By painting a group in this light politicians then begin to represent them as enemies, Scott Lucas said, opining that both the Trump campaign and the Leave faction in the UK referendum are guilty of this. 

“This language of enemy and threat, it means that by extension if you support the rights of immigrants or refugees, it may be possible that you are an enemy,” Lucas suggested. Though this language did not directly lead to the death of Jo Cox, “a person could have certainly drawn from that environment of fear and hate to reinforce his own deluded views that she represented a traitor.”

To lay all the blame at right-wing politicians might be missing the point however. After all, the Leave campaign in the UK debate is viewed as representing the right-wing argument and yet it is the Leave camp that has been dubbed (admittedly by its opponents) “Project Fear.” While Leave politicians have been warning of the dangers posed by European bureaucrats, immigrants and Turkish absorption into the EU their rivals have countered with concerns over a second recession and European devolution into a Third World War.

It is accepted wisdom that when people become scared they shift to more conservative modes of thinking – however what might be more accurate is that people on the left and right are alarmed by different threats, Gilad Hirschberger, a professor of social and political psychology at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya, told The Media Line.

 Physical threats, such as terrorism or immigration, the chief concerns of the right are more attention grabbing as they are immediate and psychologically closer, Hirschberger explained. By contrast, symbolic threats like racial profiling, government attitudes to human rights or climate change, those more likely to scare people on the left, are “vague and somewhere in the future,” he argued. 

The reason fearmongering is an effective tactic is that there is always a grain of truth behind it, the psychologist suggested, citing the wave of stabbings that have taken place in Israel in the last year. 

Statistically speaking an individual walking down the street is extremely unlikely to be attacked, “but if you are a smart and cynical politician and you can focus people’s attention on (this) threat, which is minor, then you can get a lot of political power.” People scared about being stabbed are less likely to complain that the cost of housing is exorbitant. 

Polls close in UK referendum, UKIP leader sees Remain victory


Polling closed in Britain's bitterly fought referendum on whether to quit the European Union on Thursday, with a prominent Leave campaigner saying he expected to lose and an early survey suggesting voters had chosen to remain in the bloc.

The survey by pollster YouGov showed Remain ahead by a margin of 52 to 48 percent. Unlike a classic exit poll, it was based on online responses by a pre-selected sample of people rather than a survey of voters as they left polling stations.

Nigel Farage, head of the UK Independence Party and a leading voice in favour of leaving the EU, told Sky News he did not expect to be on the winning side.

“Turnout looks to be exceptionally high and looks like Remain will edge it,” he said according to the broadcaster. Sterling rose 0.75 percent to $1.4987 on the Farage comments and the poll.

The four-month campaign has sharply polarised the nation and the final outcome of the vote could change the face of Europe.

If Britain becomes the first state to leave the EU, the so-called Brexit would be the biggest blow to the 28-nation bloc since its foundation.

The EU would be stripped of its second-biggest economy and one of its two main military powers, and could face calls for similar votes by anti-EU politicians in other countries.

If it votes to stay, Britain has been promised a special status exempting it from any further political integration, but European leaders will still have to address a sharp rise in euroscepticism across the continent.

A Brexit vote would also deal a potentially fatal blow to the career of Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the referendum and campaigned for the country to stay in, against a Leave camp led by rivals from within his own Conservative Party.

Results are due to be announced by most of the 382 individual local counting areas between around 0000 GMT and 0300 on Friday.

There is no exit poll because the margin of error for an event which has no precedent is too large. Turnout in each counting area will be announced, beginning at around 2230 GMT.

The vote came on a day when London and parts of southeast England were hit by torrential rain, causing floods and widespread transport chaos.

Five London polling stations opened late as staff struggled to get there, and two closed briefly because of flooding but were quickly re-opened in back-up locations.

“In London/southeast and want to vote in the #EURef? Make sure you plan now to get back to your local polling station by 10pm!” the Electoral Commission said on Twitter, as crowds of frustrated commuters struggled with train cancellations.

Among those affected was former London mayor Boris Johnson, a leading voice in the Leave campaign, who cast his vote with just 25 minutes to spare after returning to the capital from his daughter's graduation in Scotland.

“Let's see, let's see. It's in the hands of the people now,” he said when asked how he felt about the vote.

CAMERON'S FATE

The Leave campaign focused on warnings that Britain would be unable to control immigration levels as long as it was an EU member. Remain said a Brexit would cause economic chaos, impoverish the nation and reduce its clout on the world stage.

The killing of pro-EU lawmaker Jo Cox, a 41-year-old mother of two who was shot and stabbed on a street in her electoral district in northern England a week ago, prompted soul-searching about the vicious tone of the campaign.

Her suspected murderer told a court his name was “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. Campaigning was suspended for three days out of respect for Cox, resuming on Sunday.

An Ipsos MORI poll for the Evening Standard newspaper found support for Remain on 52 percent and Leave on 48 percent. A Populus poll put Remain 10 points ahead on 55 percent. Both were conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday and published on Thursday.

Cameron called the vote in 2013 under pressure from the rebellious anti-EU wing of his Conservative Party and the surging UK Independence Party (UKIP), hoping to end decades of debate over Britain's ties with Europe.

Unless Remain wins by a wide margin, he could struggle to repair the rifts in his party and hold on to his job. He has said he would stay in office but in the event of a vote to leave he is likely to face calls to resign.

Johnson is the bookmakers' favourite to replace him.

A Brexit could also cause the United Kingdom to break up because Scotland, where sentiment towards the EU is much more positive than in England, could hold an independence referendum if it was being dragged out of the EU against its will. Scots voted by 55 to 45 percent against independence in 2014.

OBAMA V TRUMP

After months of non-stop tit-for-tat confrontation between the sides, any substantive debate was over on Thursday. Due to legal restrictions, there were no large-scale campaign events and no television programmes rehearsing the arguments.

Traders, investors and companies were braced for volatility on financial markets whatever the outcome of a vote that has both reflected, and fuelled, an anti-establishment mood also seen in the United States and elsewhere in Europe.

Britain is divided on EU membership along broad age and education lines, polls show. Older and less educated voters tend to favour exit and younger voters and those with higher levels of education lean towards staying.

Whatever the outcome of the vote, the focus on immigration to Britain, which has increased dramatically in recent years, could worsen frictions in a country where the gap between rich and poor has also been widening.

Foreign leaders, from U.S. President Barack Obama to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, have called on Britain to remain in the EU, a message supported by global financial organisations, many company bosses and central bankers.

International banks have warned that the value of the pound could fall dramatically if Britain votes to leave and traders expect markets to be more volatile than at any time since the 2008-9 financial crisis.

David Cameron: Britain needs to be in the EU to stand up for Israel


In an appeal to his country’s Jews, Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain can only positively affect Europe’s approach to Israel by remaining in the European Union.

“When Europe is discussing its attitude to Israel, do you want Britain — Israel’s greatest friend — in there opposing boycotts, opposing the campaign for divestment and sanctions, or do you want us outside the room, powerless to affect the discussion that takes place?” Cameron said Monday night during an address to Jewish Care, a Jewish health and social services charity.

It is Cameron’s only scheduled address to a British Jewish audience before Thursday’s national referendum on Britain’s staying in or leaving the European Union. The London-based Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish British news website Jewish News reported on the address.

In December, Britain’s Parliament voted to put the decision on Brexit, as the UK’s withdrawal has come to be known, to a national vote.

Cameron, who is staunchly against Britain exiting the EU, also told the predominantly Jewish audience that Britain was better placed to “stop Iran getting nuclear weapons” from within the EU.

The prime minister referenced the pro-Brexit “Breaking Point” poster campaign by Independence Party head Nigel Farage. Farage argues that by staying in the European Union, Britain will be asked to absorb thousands more migrants from Arab countries.

“I’m proud that Britain is home to people who fled persecution – including those who fled the Nazis and from Russians pogroms,” Cameron said. “We should say to Farage and his campaign of division and intolerance ‘we don’t want your vision of Britain, we don’t want you’re selling, you’re not selling the kind of country we want for ourselves or our grandchildren’ – and I say we should vote decisively to reject it on Thursday.”

Cameron spoke about the murder of British lawmaker Jo Cox by a pro-Brexit activist who reportedly shouted “Britain first” before attacking her. Cox’s husband called on the British public to oppose hate in her memory.

“Wherever we find hatred, we should drive it out of our politics and drive it out of our communities,” Cameron said. “No one understands this better than our Jewish community.”

Middle East poised for impact of UK withdrawal from EU vote



In the run up to Thursday's vote in Britain on whether to exit the European Union, Israeli policymakers have studiously avoided comment, desiring not to be seen as interfering in the UK's internal affairs.

Israeli analysts nevertheless stress that Israel has a definite stake in the outcome, though they differ on whether a British exit (Brexit) would be good or bad for its interests.

Polls show that the race is too close to call, with the latest surveys pointing to a resurgence in support for remaining in the EU. An opinion poll for the Mail on Sunday taken June 17-18 showed 45 percent in favor of remaining and 42 percent in favor of leaving.

The stakes for Israel became greater on Monday when all 28 EU foreign ministers decided to endorse the French peace initiative, which began with a meeting in Paris earlier this month and which, according to French President Francois Hollande’s plan, will culminate in an international peace conference dedicated to relaunching Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to be held before the end of the year.

Israel adamantly opposes the French initiative, seeing it as a bid to impose a solution on it against its security and interests. ''International conferences like those that the EU's foreign ministers welcomed push peace further away because they enable the Palestinians to continue to avoid direct talks and compromise,'' the Israeli foreign ministry said in a statement Monday.

Israel's hopes of staving off the initiative and its standing vis-à-vis the EU could be set back if Britain exits the body, according to Oded Eran, former Israeli ambassador to the EU and now a senior analyst at the Institute for National Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv. ''It is preferable for Israel that Britain remain in the EU, where it is a voice of moderation'' in favor of Israel, Eran told The Media Line.

Because of Britain's close relationship with the United States, London tends to be more sympathetic to Israel than many other EU countries, Eran says. Economically, the EU is Israel's largest trading partner ''and it is important that it remain robust'' he says. In the security sphere, Britain is one of the most active members of the EU and NATO, he notes. ''We prefer to see a stronger Europe in its battle against terror and other threats,'' he says.

But it is in the coming diplomacy over the French initiative that Eran believes Britain's presence in the EU is acutely needed by Israel. In the run up to the planned conference, ''Britain's role is still very important for Israel,'' he said.

In Eran's view, the United States is not very enthusiastic about the French initiative and is likely to seek to foil it, possibly in favor of an American initiative, provided Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu facilitates this by showing some flexibility on peace issues. In this case, he believes, Britain would assist the US in trying to convince the French and other Europeans to make way for American moves. ''Britain would play the role of facilitator of the American efforts to enable Netanyahu to take a different track than the French initiative.'' However, if London exits the EU, ''Israel will lose a moderating factor, a voice that could help it avoid the French initiative if necessary.''

British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose political future depends on a vote to remain, is seen in Israel as a reliable friend. Defense and intelligence ties have reportedly been quietly but considerably strengthened under Cameron. During the Gaza conflict in 2014, his Conservative party for weeks withstood pressure from its Liberal Democrat coalition partners to condemn Israel's military campaign.

The international conference push is far from the first time that Israel finds itself at loggerheads with the European Union. The EU considers Israeli communities built on the territories captured by Israel during the 1967 war – commonly referred to as “settlements” — to be illegal while Israel disputes this. The EU says the settlements are an obstacle to peace, something Israel denies. Last November, the differences came to a head as the EU required goods emanating from the post-1967 areas to be labelled to that effect, rather than being marked ''product of Israel.'' The Israeli foreign ministry blasted the decision, terming it in a statement ''an exceptional and discriminatory step inspired by the boycott movement.''

Israel and the EU are also at odds over Israeli demolition of Palestinian structures, some of them EU-funded, in the Oslo Accords-designated “Area C” part of the West Bank, meaning under full – administrative and security – control by the Israelis. Israel maintains it is merely acting against illegal construction while the EU views the same building as vital to the Palestinian presence in an area it sees as crucial to Palestinian statehood.

In the view of Efraim Inbar, head of the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, the EU stances on these issues reflect an ''anti-Israel'' orientation emanating from Brussels.

''If Britain leaves and the EU becomes weaker, it will impact positively on Israel,'' he told The Media Line. ''The EU as a whole is much more anti-Israel than its individual countries so if it is weakened that will be good.'' Inbar adds that a British exit, in so much as it can be seen to reflect heightened nationalism of individual European nations, could help boost sympathy for Israel. ''The EU is basically a post nationalist phenomenon while Israel is a nationalist phenomenon, so with each country being nationalist there will be a greater understanding of Israeli behavior,'' he says.

In contrast to Inbar, Alon Liel, the dovish former director-general of the Israeli foreign ministry, says that Britain exiting the EU would be a negative development. ''The EU as an aggregate is much more pro-peace than its individual members. To have such a major country depart is weakening the Brussels machine,'' Liel told The Media Line.

The Palestinians for their part do not expect the British decision to have a significant impact on them, according to Ghassan Khatib, Vice President of Birzeit University in the West Bank. Regardless of what happens with the vote, there is a trend in European and within British public opinion of greater sympathy with the Palestinian cause, he says. The French initiative’s acceptance reflects this, he adds.

''These trends will continue in the EU and Britain whether Britain is in or out because there are objective reasons for them,'' Khatib tells The Media Line, citing Israeli behavior as being  foremost among them. ''Israel is doing the kind of thing that even friendly countries like Germany and Britain don't want Israel to do such as expanding the settlements and this is effecting negatively their support for Israel.''

In Amman, Sabri Rbeihat, the former minister for political development, says that supporters of the Jordanian monarchy want Britain to stay in the EU.

''There is a long historic relationship and a feeling that the British have an understanding of the area and its geography and history. Many feel the Jordanian regime was created and maintained by Britain,'' he told The Media Line. The EU without Britain ''would be an unknown, a question mark, there is a sense of uncertainty over what would happen and who would steer the EU.''

British lawmaker shot dead, EU referendum campaigns suspended


A British member of Parliament was shot dead in the street in northern England on Thursday, causing deep shock across Britain and the suspension of campaigning for next week's referendum on the country's EU membership.

Jo Cox, 41, a lawmaker for the opposition Labour Party and vocal supporter of Britain remaining in the European Union, was attacked as she prepared to hold a meeting with constituents in Birstall near Leeds.

Media reports said she had been shot and stabbed.

West Yorkshire Police said a 52-year-old man was arrested by officers nearby and weapons including a firearm recovered. The motive for the attack was not immediately known.

“The whole of the Labour Party and Labour family – and indeed the whole country – will be in shock at the horrific murder of Jo Cox today,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said in a statement.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the killing of Cox, who was married with two children and had worked on U.S. President Barack Obama's 2008 election campaign, was a tragedy.

“We have lost a great star,” the Conservative prime minister said in a statement. “She was a great campaigning MP with huge compassion, with a big heart. It is dreadful, dreadful news.”

British lawmakers are not in parliament ahead of the June 23 referendum on whether Britain should remain in the EU.

The rival referendum campaign groups said they were suspending activities for the day and Cameron said he would pull out of a planned rally in Gibraltar, the British territory on the southern coast of Spain.

It was not immediately clear what the impact would be on the referendum.

“It's fairly clear no one is quite sure what has happened,” said John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde. “Until it's clear who was responsible and what their motivation was or it might have been, all it does is stop the campaign when the 'Remain' side probably would not want it to be stopped.”

The pro-EU “Remain” campaign has fallen behind the “Leave” camp in pre-referendum polls.

The last British lawmaker to have been killed in an attack was Ian Gow, who died after a bomb planted by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) exploded under his car at his home in southern England in 1990.

MAKESHIFT GUN PULLED FROM BAG

Police said a 77-year-old man was also assaulted in the incident and suffered injuries that were not life-threatening.

One witness said a man had pulled an old or makeshift gun from a bag and had fired twice.

“I saw a lady on the floor like on the beach with her arms straight and her knees up and blood all over the face,” Hichem Ben-Abdallah told reporters. “She wasn't making any noise, but clearly she was in agony.”

BBC TV and other media showed a picture of the alleged suspect, a balding white man, being apprehended by police.

Dee Collins, the Temporary Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, said a full investigation was under way into the motive for the attack.

“This is a very significant investigation with large numbers of witnesses who have been spoken to by police at this time,” she told reporters. “We are not in a position to discuss any motive at this time. We are not looking for anyone else in connection with this incident.”

Media reports citing witnesses said the attacker had shouted out “Britain First”, which is the name of a right-wing group that describes itself on its website as “a patriotic political party and street defense organization”.

Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of Britain First, said the attack was “absolutely disgusting” and suggested that Britain first was a common slogan being used in the referendum campaign by those who support taking Britain out of the EU.

“We were as shocked to hear these reports as everyone else,” Fransen told Reuters. “At the moment would point out this is hearsay, we are keen to verify the comments but we can only do that when the police provide more details.”

Britain's sterling currency rose against the dollar after news of the attack, adding around two cents as investors speculated that Cox's death might boost popular support for the referendum “Remain” campaign.

The last attack on a British legislator was in 2010, when Labour member and ex-cabinet minister Stephen Timms was stabbed in the stomach at his office in east London by a 21-year-old student who was angry over his backing for the 2003 Iraq war.

In 2000, a Liberal Democrat local councillor was murdered by a man with a samurai sword at the offices in western England of lawmaker Nigel Jones, who was also seriously hurt in the attack.

Cox, a Cambridge University graduate, spent a decade working in a variety of roles with aid agency Oxfam, including head of policy, head of humanitarian campaigning based in New York and head of its European office in Brussels.

She was known for her work on women's issues, and won election for Labour in northern England's Batley and Spen district at the 2015 general election.

Fellow lawmakers from several parties expressed their horror at the attack, praising Cox as a rising star of politics.

“She's a tiny woman, five feet nothing and a lion as well – she fights so hard for the things she believes in. I cannot believe anyone would do this to her,” fellow Labour lawmaker Sarah Champion told BBC TV.

2 British women claim they were sexually abused by Sigmund Freud’s grandson


Two elderly women in Britain said that they had been sexually abused, one of them as a child, by a late lawmaker who was a grandson of the Austrian Jewish psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

The accusations were leveled against Clement Freud, a celebrated British broadcaster and politician, to ITV in a documentary scheduled to be aired Wednesday, the television channel revealed Monday.

Clement Freud, who died in 2009, was never convicted of the offenses, which fall outside Britain’s statute of limitations.

One complainant, Sylvia Woosley, said Clement Freud, who was a close family friend and 14 years her senior, initially started to touch her inappropriately when he lived near her parents’ house in the south of France in 1952.

“He’d stroke me and he’d kiss me at the back of the bus on the mouth. … It was horrible and I didn’t like it. I was disgusted and upset,” she said.

Woosley said Freud continued to abuse her when her parents’ marriage broke up when she was 14 and she was sent to live with Freud, his new wife and baby daughter.

Another unnamed woman said that in 1978, when she was 18, Freud raped her at her parents’ home, where he showed up to cook dinner when they were away.

Freud’s widow, Jill, 89, told Exposure she was “shocked and deeply saddened by the claims.”

UK anti-Semitic incidents down 22% from record number, security monitor says


The number of anti-Semitic incidents documented last year in Britain was lower by 22 percent than the record figure in 2014, the Jewish community’s security umbrella said.

The Community Security Trust, or CST, counted 924 anti-Semitic incidents in 2015 compared to the 1,179 incidents recorded the previous year, the group wrote in its annual report published Thursday.

Still, the 2015 figure is the third-highest total ever recorded by CST in the more than three decades it has been monitoring anti-Semitism in Britain. The second-highest annual total was 931 incidents in 2009.

Of the 2015 incidents, 86 were violent assaults, 9.3 percent of the total. In 2014, the 81 violent assaults accounted for 6.8 percent of the total. All other categories, including threats and hate speech, also saw a decline in comparison to 2014, which featured Israel’s war in Gaza over the summer.

Of the 85 cases of violence, four were categorized as extreme because they resulted in grievous bodily harm or a threat to life. In one incident, a 17-year-old Jewish teenager was beaten unconscious at a train stop in Manchester.

CST recorded one incident of extreme violence in 2014 and none in 2013.

The “abusive behavior” category in the 2015 report comprised 685 incidents, including verbal abuse, hate mail, graffiti and hate speech on social media.

Another 686 incidents were reported to CST but were not deemed to be anti-Semitic and therefore were not included in the report.

Britain pays tribute to 7/7 victims 10 years after London bombings


Britain held a minute of silence on Tuesday to mark the 10th anniversary of al Qaeda-inspired attacks in which four suicide bombers killed 52 people across London's transport system.

The commemoration came just four days after the country came to a standstill to mourn a massacre of mainly British tourists at a resort in Tunisia last month.

The government and security services warned the threat of further attacks remains severe.

“Ten years on from the 7/7 London attacks, the threat from terrorism continues to be as real as it is deadly – the murder of 30 innocent Britons whilst holidaying in Tunisia is a brutal reminder of that fact. But we will never be cowed by terrorism,” Prime Minister David Cameron said in a statement.

Relatives of the victims, survivors, royals and senior politicians fell silent as they remembered those killed in the bombings.

In the early hours of July 7 2005, less than 24 hours after it was announced London would host the 2012 Olympic Games, four young British Muslims travelled from northern England to the capital, where they detonated homemade bombs hidden in rucksacks on three underground trains and a bus during the morning rush-hour.

They killed themselves and 52 other people and wounded around 700 others. Citizens from Poland, Israel, Australia, France, Italy, Afghanistan, Nigeria, New Zealand and a Vietnamese-American were among the victims.

On Tuesday, Cameron and London mayor Boris Johnson stood silently, heads bowed, before laying wreaths at the 7/7 memorial in Hyde Park, where victims' families and survivors were later joined by Prince William, Queen Elizabeth's grandson.

The main service of remembrance took place at St Paul's Cathedral, where petals fell from the cathedral's dome and the names of those killed were read out.

SILENCE

At underground stations where victims were brought to the surface, floral tributes were laid on Tuesday on steps leading down to the platforms.

Esther Hyman, 46, whose sister Miriam was killed on the No. 30 bus when it was blown up at Tavistock Square, told Reuters many young people seemed unaware of the bombings.

“The events of 7/7 do seem to have slipped out of public consciousness,” said Hyman, who with her mother last week launched a program to help teach school pupils about the attacks and to steer them away from violent extremism.

Britain is currently on its second highest alert level of “severe”, meaning a militant attack is considered highly likely, mainly due to the danger the authorities say is posed by Islamic State fighters and Britons who have joined them.

Cameron's government is planning new laws to combat extremism among the country's 2.8 million Muslims and to give security services extra surveillance powers. Critics say these are an assault on freedoms.

Mark Rowley, Britain's most senior counter-terrorism police officer, said Islamic State was creating an “enormous” list of potential targets, focused on propaganda value rather than high-impact complex attacks.

“The terrible events in London on 7 July, 2005 are enduring reminders of the reality of what MI5 is striving every day to prevent,” Andrew Parker, head of Britain's domestic spy agency, said in a statement.

In Britain, Jewish and Muslim women connect over Mitzvah Day


Good deeds can be contagious. Just ask Laura Marks, a British Jew who is widely credited with creating one of her community’s most widely celebrated new traditions: an annual Mitzvah Day, now in its 11th consecutive year, in which thousands of British Jews perform charity work in retirement homes, homeless shelters, hospitals and even neglected cemeteries.

Inspired by the custom of some American Jewish communities, including in Los Angeles and Detroit, Marks thought the activity not only promised to brighten people’s lives but would give American-style confidence to a community where “many feel being Jewish is slightly embarrassing,” as Marks put it.

The idea took off — and its scope has reached far beyond the Jewish community. In 2010, inspired by Mitzvah Day, Britain’s Hindu community launched a date of good deeds called Sewa Day. And in March, the Muslim community held its first Sadaqa Day.

“I took the inspiration and the model completely from what Laura is doing, and I have no hesitation in saying that,” said Julie Siddiqi, director of the Islamic Society of Britain and the founder of Sadaqa Day.

Marks facilitated the creation of Sadaqa Day, and the cooperation between the two women gave birth to a new interfaith initiative that launched last week with an event at the Jewish Museum in the London Borough of Camden attended by 100 women.

In working together to adapt Mitzvah Day to the Muslim community, Siddiqi, a British-born convert to Islam, and Marks “realized charity and social action were an effective basis for strengthening women’s involvement in communal life in both communities,” Marks said.

For Muslim men and women, “Sadaqa Day’s a good way to show what their faith is about as opposed to what people think and read about Islam,” Siddiqi said. For Muslim women especially, she added, “it’s a way to do something self-led in a way that they are not given, or feel they’re not given, the opportunity to do normally in their male-led faith communities.”

Muslims and Jews unite around Mitzvah Day in Detroit, where members of both communities hold joint charitable activities each year. But Muslim-Jewish relations are far more strained in Britain, where Jews last year were the target of at least 1,168 anti-Semitic attacks, of which many are believed to have been perpetrated by Muslims over Israel’s actions last summer in Gaza.

Across Europe, interfaith dialogue took a hit in recent years as Jewish communities reported attacks at record levels. In France, the French Council of the Muslim Faith pulled out of the annual dinner in February of its Jewish counterpart, CRIF, an umbrella of French Jewish communities and groups, after CRIF’s president said that most anti-Semitic attacks were the handiwork of Muslims. And in the Netherlands, the Jewish-Moroccan Network was disbanded amid fights over Israel.

“It’s true that when something happens in Gaza, people all over social media talk about it and it becomes very toxic,” Siddiqi said. But while politics can sometimes poison relationships, “Mitzvah Day and social action are apolitical, helping to form friendships that will hopefully stop the dynamic in the next round of violence,” she added.

At the interfaith event, participants divided into four tracks — sports, culture, business and social action — to brainstorm and draw up plans for interfaith work in those fields.

Women especially have the potential of changing the dynamic, according to Rabbi David Rosen, the England-born, Israel-based director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee.

“Despite the setbacks, interfaith dialogue is expanding and is actually more robust now than it has ever been,” Rosen said. He cited Vatican initiatives and a host of joint Jewish-Muslim actions to curb the radicalism that led to the slaying of 12 people in three attacks on Jewish targets in France and Belgium by Islamists since 2012.

In this context, Rosen added, the development of women’s initiatives “has great potential because it expands interfaith beyond the male-dominated establishment” of Muslim and Jewish communities, “reaching new audiences”— an  elusive goal for interfaith activists seeking to extend beyond their own progressive circles to compete for the rank-and-file’s hearts and minds.

“The contribution of women, who, I think we can all agree tend to be more sympathetic, can be profound,” Rosen said.

Back in London, Marks and Siddiqi’s new initiative is already bringing down barriers for Nicola Gee, a London Jewish mother of four who, despite having many Muslim friends, has never visited a mosque in Britain.

“Instead of writing 13 emails to arrange a tour or whatever, I called one of the women I met last week at the launch,” she said. “I’m going to the mosque Friday.”

British right-wing party backs ban on religious slaughter


Britain’s right-wing UKIP party has come out in support of legislation that would ban the production of ritually slaughtered meat.

The United Kingdom Independence Party  became the first major political party in the country to call for a ban on religious slaughter for halal and kosher meat.

“Animal and veterinary science has long concluded that cutting the throats of animals whilst they are fully conscious can cause significant distress and pain,” a UKIP statement sent to the media said. Stunning before slaughter must occur as it is “fully compatible with all world religions,” the text also said.

Jewish religious law, or halachah, requires that animals be conscious when they are slaughtered – a principle that is accepted by the major denominations of Judaism in certifying food as kosher. A similar requirement exists in Islam, though it is less strictly observed, according to some accounts.

Many Jewish professional slaughterers and rabbis claim that kosher slaughter, or shechitah, is as quick, painless and compassionate as any other method used in Western commercial slaughterhouses.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed several times to ensure ritual slaughter remains legal in Britain out of respect for religious groups that require it.

UKIP’s statement said, “We find the government response to this issue is weak, lazy and bordering on spineless.” It added, “We find the rights and demands of groups within those religions override the UK’s compassionate traditions of animal welfare.”

At least one senior representative of UKIP, European Parliament member Stuart Agnew, opposed the policy announcement, The Jewish Chronicle reported.

Shimon Cohen, an adviser to Britain’s Jewish communities on how to defend the practice and campaign director for the Shechita UK not-for-profit, said UKIP’s new position is based on “weak, agenda-driven science” as well as “an opportunistic and a disappointing shift” that “returned UKIP to the fringes of mainstream politics.”

Bombing the death camps during World War II


Every decade, someone indignantly tells us that the United States and Britain should have bombed the rail lines at Auschwitz and other death camps during World War II. They imagine modern GPS-guided bombs that are accurate enough to enter a window. They think World War II bombs had the same accuracy.

As Auschwitz Liberation Day (Jan. 27) approaches, it is time to put such notions to rest, once and for all.

During World War II, the only accurate way to deliver bombs (all unguided) was with a dive bomber that attempted to fly perfectly vertical, release the bomb at an altitude of a few thousand feet, then pull out without hitting the ground, and escape the blast. Their radius of action was about 200 miles. Bombing errors were by half a mile because of the difficulty of maintaining a vertical trajectory, and the cross winds. The Germans used dive bombers because their airfields were close to Poland and Russia. The German Stuka had dive brakes (deployable flat panels) on the wings to slow the aircraft’s vertical fall. The vibrating dive brakes and wind vortices caused a characteristic screaming sound.

Failure to bomb the camps was not an anti-Jewish conspiracy. It was a rational strategy to deploy long-range bombers where they could help win the war, even by carpet bombing German civilians near their factories.

However, dive bombers did not have the range to reach concentration camps or other German targets from British bases. American and British bombing was done with long-range multiengine bombers from altitudes of about 25,000 feet. The aircraft flew at those altitudes trying to stay above the German flak (anti-aircraft fire, usually radar-directed) and interceptors. High-altitude bombing errors were considerably greater than three miles. The art of “error analysis” was invented during the war to account for the aircraft’s ground speed at the time of release, for winds aloft and their variation as the bomb fell to earth in about three minutes, and for weather that sometimes obscured the targets. Other errors were due to the pilot’s inability to fly precisely over the targeted point, by the release of bombs in strings over an interval of about five seconds (at 250 feet per second airspeed, that is a spread on the ground of more than a thousand feet). Formation flight ensured that only one aircraft could be precisely over the desired release point. Other errors were caused by pitch and crab of the aircraft at the time of release, by manufacturing tolerances in the bombs (especially the fins) and by a host of smaller factors. The individual errors were combined statistically and compared to observed impact errors. The observed CEP (Circular Error Probable, a circle containing half of the impacts) was greater than three miles radius. Night bombing was even less accurate but offered some protection against flak and German interceptors. After the war, there were conflicting reports about the effectiveness of bombing.

The probability of hitting a rail line that is 4.8 feet wide from 25,000 feet was infinitesimally small. Hence, salvos of bombs were released — carpet bombing — so bombs targeted at rail lines would also have fallen on the prisoners’ dormitories, hospitals, offices and factories, killing hundreds of prisoners and making life even more miserable for the survivors. The Germans would have relished telling the world that the Allies were killing their prisoners.

Even if a rail line was hit, the prisoners would have been organized to remove the bent rails and ties, then lay new ballast, ties and track. Repair of a rail line would have taken less than three days.

Dwindling numbers of ex-inmates and emigres who fled German-occupied Europe survived. Most were Jews fleeing the occupied countries where the Germans imposed an irrational, unproductive campaign to murder all the Jews under their control. Today, some of these people periodically complain that failure to bomb the camps was to ignore the plight of the Jewish inmates. They are nontechnical people whose emotions outweigh their reason.

Failure to bomb the camps was not an anti-Jewish conspiracy. It was a rational strategy to deploy long-range bombers where they could help win the war, even by carpet bombing German civilians near their factories. Revisionist humanitarians are influenced by GPS-guided precision bombing since the 1990s and by images of dive bombing in World War II.


Myron Kayton is a retired graduate licensed engineer who worked on the electronics for the Apollo Lunar Module, Space Shuttle, and other spacecraft and aircraft. He is past president of the Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society and of the Harvard Club of Southern California. He holds a doctorate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

After uproar, HarperCollins to remove atlases that omit Israel


HarperCollins issued a statement Wednesday that it will stop the sale of atlases that omit Israel from maps of the Middle East. These books were being sold and distributed in some Arab countries. Earlier Wednesday, an official from the company’s subsidiary had defended the omission of Israel, based on the demands of its clients in the Arab countries that purchase the books.

Currently, the printed map shows a piece of land without a label sandwiched between Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank.
A statement from HarperCollins issued in an email to the Journal Wednesday afternoon states that the omission was a mistake and that no more such books will be sold. The statement also said unsold books with the omission will be destroyed.

“HarperCollins regrets the omission of the name Israel from their Collins Middle East Atlas,” the statement from the U.S.-based publishing giant says. “This product has now been removed from sale in all territories and all remaining stock will be pulped. HarperCollins sincerely apologises for this omission and for any offence caused.”

Earlier Wednesday, a spokesperson from Collins Bartholomew, a HarperCollins subsidiary, was quoted in The Tablet, a Catholic weekly based in Britain, saying that to include Israel would have been “unacceptable” and would not have agreed with the “local preferences” of the atlases' target audience.

British lawmaker calls for labeling of non-stunned animal’s meat


Meat sold in Britain should be labeled if the animal has not been stunned before slaughter, a British lawmaker said.

Neil Parish, who heads the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Beef and Lamb, made the call on Monday for the increased stunning of animals undergoing ritual slaughter during a parliamentary meeting of the group, the London-based Jewish Chronicle reported.

Parish, of the Conservative Party, told the meeting that the government should continue to research shechitah, or Jewish ritual slaughter, and halal, Muslim ritual slaughter.

He also said he would hold discussions with Jewish religious officials over stunning before slaughter. Parish added that he wanted labels to indicate whether or not an animal had been stunned before slaughter, not whether it was slaughtered kosher or halal.

Muslim and Jewish ritual slaughter require that animals be conscious before their necks are cut.

“There is a danger that an outright ban on religious slaughter would not improve animal welfare,” Parish said.

Jewish lawmakers and those representing large Jewish constituencies defended shechitah during the meeting.

Louise Ellman of the Labor Party called a ban on kosher meat production a “gross infringement” of the Jewish community’s civil rights, according to the Jewish Chronicle.

In recent years, kosher and halal slaughter has come under attack in many European countries by animal welfare activists and secularists, but also by right-wing nationalists who view the custom as foreign.

Since 2010, slaughter that does not involve stunning has been banned in Poland and Denmark. The lower house of the parliament of the Netherlands also banned the practice, but the ban was reversed in 2012 by the senate.

In May, the then-president-elect of the British Veterinary Association called for a ban on slaughtering cattle without first stunning it, which in effect would outlaw traditional kosher slaughter.

An online petition calling for an end to slaughter without stunning for all animals in Britain has received more than 77,700 signatures.

The British government in its response to the petition said that it “encourages the highest standards of welfare at slaughter and would prefer to see all animals stunned before they are slaughtered for food. However, we also respect the rights of the Jewish and Muslim communities to eat meat prepared in accordance with their religious beliefs.”

Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed recently that there would be no ban on religious slaughter in the United Kingdom, the response noted.

 

On last visit before vote, British PM Cameron appeals to Scots to keep Britain intact


British Prime Minister David Cameron used his last visit to Scotland before a historic independence referendum this week to implore Scots to remain part of the United Kingdom, warning on Monday that a breakaway vote would be irreversible.

With opinion polls suggesting the referendum remains too close to call, Cameron, the leader of the ruling Conservative party, which draws most of its support from England, pleaded with voters not to use the referendum as a protest vote.

[Related: Why Scottish Jews are nervous over referendum]

“There's no going back from this. No re-run. If Scotland votes 'yes' the UK will split and we will go our separate ways forever,” he told an audience packed with Conservative party supporters in Aberdeen, the center of Scotland's oil industry.

“Don't think: I'm frustrated with politics right now, so I'll walk out the door. If you don't like me I won't be here forever. If you don't like this government it won't last forever. But if you leave the UK that will be forever.”

Cameron's trip was a last-ditch effort to try to persuade Scotland's many undecided voters to reject independence. Up to 500,000 people out of more than 4 million registered voters are estimated to be unsure how they will vote.

Campaigning in Scotland is fraught with difficulty for Cameron, whose right-leaning party is unpopular with Scots who have traditionally voted for the left-leaning opposition Labour party and harbor bitter memories of former Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher's 1979-1990 stint in power.

Cameron's Conservatives have only one of 59 British parliamentary seats in Scotland, and the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) has elbowed Labour aside in recent years to emerge as the dominant political force.

Cameron, his voice at times faltering with emotion, spoke after a video was shown extolling British achievements and some of the most prominent figures of British history from Winston Churchill to Alexander Fleming, a Scot who discovered penicillin.

“Independence would not be a trial separation. It would be a painful divorce,” Cameron said, standing in front of a giant Union Jack flag and a poster saying “Lets stick together”.

“Head and heart and soul, we want you to stay.”

Cameron has conceded his public image as a privileged Englishman with aristocratic roots does not make him the best person to advocate against Scottish independence.

Scottish nationalists criticized him for staying away in the early months leading up to the vote as complacent, and now that he is showing his face, they portray him as a condescending Englishman in no position to advise Scots on how to vote.

Details of his visits north of the English border are not revealed until the last minute for security reasons and critics say his advisers try to minimize his contact with the public to avoid nationalist heckling. The visit was expected to last only hours.

CONFIDENT PRO-INDEPENDENCE LEADER

Alex Salmond, the pro-independence SNP leader, was out campaigning too on Monday in Edinburgh where he met business leaders who back the breakaway campaign.

He predicted Scotland would vote for independence and that the next time Cameron visited would be to discuss the details of the 5-million strong population's divorce settlement from the United Kingdom.

“The next time he comes to Scotland it will not be to love-bomb or engage in desperate last-minute scaremongering,” Salmond said in a statement. “It will be to engage in serious post-referendum talks.”

Independence supporters say it is time for Scotland to choose its own leaders and rule itself, free of control from London and politicians they say ignore their views and needs.

Cameron repeated the anti-independence “Better Together” campaign's core message: that by staying in the United Kingdom, Scotland can take advantage of the benefits of belonging to a larger, more influential entity while enjoying an ever-increasing measure of autonomy.

“No” campaigners counter that Scotland is more secure and prosperous as part of the United Kingdom and say the end of the union would destroy three centuries of bonds and shared history as well as bring in economic and financial hardship.

Cameron's visit comes after David Beckham, the retired footballer, added his name to a petition of English celebrities who say they want the Scots to stay. The celebrity group, “Let's Stay Together”, is organizing a public rally on Monday evening in London's Trafalgar Square.

It was the pro-independence camp's turn on Sunday night when a host of Scottish rock stars including the band Franz Ferdinand and Mogwai played a concert in Edinburgh.

Singer Amy McDonald told the audience: “People fight and die for this (independence) and all we have to do is put a little cross in a box. Scotland, you know what to do.”

Opinion polls indicate the vote is hard to call.

Out of four recent polls, three showed those in favor of maintaining the union had a lead of between 2 and 8 percentage points. But an ICM poll conducted over the Internet showed supporters of independence in the lead with 54 percent and unionists on 46 percent. More than 4 million Scots as well as English and foreign residents, from the Highlands and Islands to Glasgow's gritty inner city estates, are eligible to vote.

The question on the ballot paper will ask simply: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Additional reporting by Alistair Smout and Angus MacSwan in Edinburgh and Sarah Young, William James and Kate Holton in London; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

British Jews, Muslims issue joint statement for peace and tolerance


Jewish and Muslim leaders in the United Kingdom issued a joint statement, calling for peace in the Middle East and “constructive dialogue” between the two groups in Britain.

“In spite of the situation in the Middle East, we must continue to work hard for good community relations in the UK. We must not import conflict. We must export peace instead,” read the statement issued Wednesday by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Muslim Council of Britain.

Called “unprecedented” by the London-based Jewish Chronicle, the statement also contends that  “the targeting of civilians is completely unacceptable and against our religious traditions.”

The statement condemned “any expression of Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or any form of racism,” including during rallies and on social media.

It also called for a redoubling of efforts “to work together and get to know one another.”

“We need constructive dialogue to limit our disagreements and identify the widest possible range of areas for cooperation. There are more issues that unite us than divide us,” the message concluded.

Meanwhile, a rally to demand zero tolerance against anti-Semitism in London and throughout the United Kingdom is scheduled to be held Sunday outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism announced Thursday.

The rally comes after four synagogues in Britain were vandalized in the past month, Jews were attacked on the street, and a Jewish graveyard and Holocaust memorials were vandalized, also all in the last month. An uptick in anti-Semitic acts occurred during Israel’s recent military operation in Gaza.

“British Jews are afraid. Citizens are looking to the police and government to enforce the law with zero tolerance against anti-Semites, as they do in other cases of racism. It is only through zero tolerance that the tide of anti-Semitism can be turned,” Jonathan Sacerdoti of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism said in a statement.

 

Galloway probed for declaring his British constituency an ‘Israel-free zone’


Police in Britain are looking into complaints against a lawmaker who called for his constituency to be “declared an Israel-free zone.”

George Galloway of the far-left Respect Party made the call during a speech over the weekend in Leeds, prompting an investigation by West Yorkshire Police.

“We don’t even want any Israeli tourists to come to Bradford even if any of them had thought of doing so,” Galloway said. “We reject this illegal, barbarous, savage state that calls itself Israel — and you have to do the same.”

Galloway also said that Israeli goods, services and academics were likewise unwelcome. “We have declared Bradford an Israel-free zone,” he added.

A spokesperson for West Yorkshire Police told the BBC police has received two complaints againt Galloway in connection to his speech in Leeds.

Discrimination on the basis of nationality or race is illegal in Britain, as is inciting to hatred.

Galloway has said Israel should be abolished and replaced with a bi-national state. He called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas an “American stooge.”

Asked about Galloway’s statement, David Ward of the left-wing Liberal Democrats party said “Israel-free zone was a nice sound bite,” but any boycott had to be nationwide.

Last year, Ward was suspended from his party for three months for writing that he was “saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.”

Ward is now facing new disciplinary scrutiny for writing last month on Twitter: “The big question is – if I lived in #Gaza would I fire a rocket? – probably yes.”

On Thursday, Nick Clegg, a British deputy prime minister and the leader of Ward’s party, said the government would announce a suspension of Britain’s arms export licenses to Israel if it resumes its attacks in Gaza.

Anti-Semitic incidents double in Britain since start of Gaza op


Anti-Semitic incidents in Britain have risen since the start of Israel’s operation in Gaza.

The Community Security Trust told the Jewish Chronicle that 70 anti-Semitic incidents had been reported in the period between the start of the operation on July 8 and Friday.

The Daily Mail reported Sunday that more than 100 hate crimes have been recorded by police and community groups so far in July, more than double the usual number.

Among the reported incidents were the physical assault last week of a rabbi in Gateshead, attacks on synagogues and an attack by an Arab woman wearing a niqab on a Jewish boy riding his bicycle in northern London.

“We are sending out emails to schools, shuls and Jewish organizations reminding them of safety protocols. We are determined to do all we can to allow Jewish life to continue as normal,” Mark Gardner, director of communications at the Community Security Trust told the Jewish Chronicle.

The Muslim Council for Britain said in a statement that the Gaza conflict should not disrupt interfaith relations in the UK. In a statement posted on its website, Shuja Shafi, Muslim Council for Britain secretary-general, urged Jews and Muslims to “remember the importance of civility and courtesy between each other.”

Iran, six powers agree to four-month extension of nuclear talks


Iran and six world powers on Friday agreed to a four-month extension of negotiations on a long-term nuclear deal that would gradually end sanctions on Tehran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, diplomats close to the talks said.

Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China had set a July 20 deadline to complete a long-term agreement that would resolve the decade-old dispute over Tehran's nuclear ambitions. But diplomats said they were unable to overcome significant differences on major sticking points.

“We have reached an agreement to extend the talks,” a senior Iranian diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Several Western diplomats echoed his remarks.

The extension agreed to on Friday begins on July 21 and negotiations on a long-term deal are likely to resume in September, diplomats said. They added that the talks were set to conclude by late November.

It has been clear for days that Iran and the six powers would miss the Sunday deadline to reach an accord due to disagreements on a number of key issues in the discussions.

Among the issues dividing them are the permissible scope of Iran's nuclear fuel production capacity and how to address the country's suspected past atomic bomb research. The negotiations began in February in Vienna.

The talks are taking place because of a preliminary agreement reached in Geneva in November 2013 that gave Iran limited sanctions relief in exchange for halting some nuclear activities and created time and space for the negotiation of a comprehensive deal to end the decade-long dispute.

But it remains uncertain whether four more months of high-stakes talks will yield a final agreement, since the underlying differences remain significant after six rounds of meetings this year.

Western nations fear Iran's nuclear programme may be aimed at developing a nuclear weapons capability. Tehran denies this.

The powers want Iran to significantly scale back its nuclear enrichment programme to make sure it cannot yield nuclear bombs. Iran wants sanctions that have severely damaged its oil-dependent economy to be lifted as soon as possible.

After years of rising tension between Iran and the West and fears of a new Middle East war, last year's election of a pragmatist, Hassan Rouhani, as Iran's president led to a thaw in ties that resulted in November's diplomatic breakthrough.

But Iran's new government still insists that the country has a right to develop a nuclear energy programme that includes the production of atomic fuel. The West fears that this fuel, if further processed, could also be used to make bombs.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters earlier this week that Tehran would be willing to delay development of an industrial-scale uranium enrichment programme for up to seven years and to keep the 19,000 centrifuges it has installed so far for this purpose.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry joined the talks last weekend and held several face-to-face meetings with Zarif, but he said before leaving Vienna on Tuesday it was “crystal clear” that Iran keeping all of its existing centrifuges was out of the question.

The United States and its European allies also want Iran to accept restrictions on its nuclear programme for at least 10 years, which Tehran says is excessive.

Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Vienna and by Alissa de Carbonnel in Moscow; Editing by Louise Ireland and Tom Brown

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks spends a weekend in L.A. envisioning the Jewish future


Swiping his finger to the left, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s now-former chief rabbi, and arguably the world’s most prominent religious Jewish leader, was looking for a text he felt might show how Orthodox Jews can spread a Jewish message to the Western world.

He wasn’t leafing through the Talmud, and he didn’t have in mind a specific passage from the Torah. He wasn’t even looking for a Jewish text. 

He was browsing his iPad, and after a few seconds lost in his app collection, he finally found what he was looking for.

“The Waste Land” — a poem by T.S. Eliot, an American-born Englishman widely regarded as among the 20th century’s most influential literary figures.

“Hang on,” Sacks said, as he prepared me for the pinnacle of the app, a specially filmed performance by actress Fiona Shaw. “This is magic. This is the masterpiece.” 

Shaw’s voice — that of the Petunia Dursley character from the “Harry Potter” series — emerged majestically from the speaker: “The Waste Land. The burial of the dead.” 

This is how Orthodox Jews might learn from and teach religious texts? 

Sacks put his beloved iPad down and looked at me, ready to clarify.

“Can you imagine having a siddur [prayer book] where you’ve got the text,” he said, “You’ve got the translation, you press one button [and] you get the commentaries?” Then added, “You press another button, and you get half a dozen shiurim [lessons] on that paragraph.”

It was Sacks at his most dynamic, blending Western poetry with ancient tradition, rabbinic commentaries with one of Silicon Valley’s proudest inventions. 

I was sitting with the former chief rabbi, his wife, Elaine, and his assistant at a table in the lobby of the Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel in Beverly Hills. It was the morning of Feb. 23, and I was still absorbing the past four days, during which I had followed Sacks, the unofficial spokesman for Modern Orthodox Jewry, around Los Angeles. 

From Feb. 20 to Feb. 23, he gave 11 lectures to Los Angeles’ Orthodox community, all but one in the Orthodox Pico-Robertson neighborhood, as part of a weekend sponsored by Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, a local Modern Orthodox school.

[Related: Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, left, met with students at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, including Eli Isaacs and Sarina Finn, both eighth-graders and student council presidents at the school. Photo by David Miller

Speaking everyone’s language

Sacks knows how to keep the tone light. 

His first public appearance in Los Angeles was on Feb. 20 at Young Israel of North Beverly Hills, joining talk-show host Michael Medved and the head of the Orthodox Union, Rabbi Steven Weil, for a panel discussion in front of 300 people. 

As at every event he spoke at during the weekend, he did not shy away from people who sought his attention. Dozens from the audience introduced themselves and wanted to speak with him. 

Like any good rabbi, he started with a joke. He recounted how, upon his appointment as Britain’s chief rabbi at just 43, someone asked him, “Aren’t you a little young for the job?”

His response: “Don’t worry, in this job I’ll age rapidly.” 

His audience that evening was predominantly parents and grandparents, so his leadership message to them was about communal religious leadership. “Make friends with Jews who are less religious than you are — and by lifting them, you yourself will be lifted.”

His speech followed a performance by the Shabbaton Choir, a British choral group that has traveled around the world with the rabbi. As he took the microphone, he expressed his gratitude to the choir and then asked the crowd to give them another round of applause. In fact, during a musical event on Feb. 22 at Congregation Mogen David, he joined the choir in song.

On Feb. 21, Sacks was at the Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy for three consecutive addresses. He spoke first to grade-school students, then to local political, educational and religious leaders, and, finally, to teens from local Orthodox high schools.

With the children, most of whom may not appreciate for years to come who they were meeting, the rabbi did not change his message; he simply tweaked his delivery and tone. 

“Your young [class] presidents are going to be presidents of the United States one day,” Sacks said as he walked through the aisle that separated the boys from the girls, making eye contact with the young children. “Get to know them now, because one day they are going to be very big stars — and so are all of you.”

A few minutes later, upstairs, Sacks led a roundtable discussion with a diverse group of Los Angeles’ political, educational and religious leaders, that notably included a woman rabbi — Rabbi Deborah Silver of Adat Ari El Synagogue — as well as a Christian clergymember — Monsignor John Moretta of Resurrection Catholic Church, illustrating that although Sacks predominantly speaks to Orthodox groups when speaking to Jewish audiences, he does not wish to restrict himself to that relatively small enclave. 

It was, for him, an opportunity to impart a few ideas to the people — Jewish, Christian, secular — who will help shape the next generation of leaders. 

More than 20 people were in the room, and when each said his or her name and position, he looked at them warmly and acknowledged their presence.

“Each one of you is engaged in God’s work,” he said. “The purpose of education is to allow people to achieve their full dignity in the image and likeness of God.” 

Sacks stressed teaching kids how to teach, relating a conversation that he’d had with his late father when he was only 5 years old. 

Walking home from Shabbat services with his father one day, the young boy asked his father to explain certain prayers and Jewish practices. Sacks’ father, who’d dropped out of school at 14 to help support his family, answered:

“Jonathan, I didn’t have an education, so I can’t answer your question. But one day you will have the education I didn’t have. And when that happens, you will teach me the answers to those questions.”

By the time he took the podium Saturday morning for his Shabbat address at Beth Jacob Congregation, the largest Orthodox synagogue in the Western United States, nearly 800 people filled the main sanctuary. It was so packed that, so as to not violate fire code, the synagogue had to turn away throngs of people who had hoped to hear the former chief rabbi.  

As he prepared to speak, the anticipation inside was palpable. 

Standing sideways, with his right arm propped on the podium, Sacks glanced toward Beth Jacob’s Senior Rabbi Kalman Topp, then toward the congregation, and said with a smile, “I am going to try very hard to deliver a good speech. Do you know why? Your rabbi promised me that if I do, he will give me a lollipop.” 

The room immediately relaxed as Sacks began to explore his main passion, and something he hadn’t yet spoken of at much length during this visit — the deeper messages hidden in the stories of the Torah.

The week’s portion was Vayakhel. On the surface, the text speaks in detail about the Israelites’ construction of the mishkan, the Tabernacle, a portable holy place the Jews built as they wandered in the desert where they could properly worship God. 

It’s a very technical, detailed Torah portion, and Sacks related that in one of his learning sessions with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, he had pointed out that while God needed only a few verses in Genesis to create the entire universe, the Torah dedicated five entire portions to the construction of the Tabernacle. Why?

Because, he said, until the Jewish people were given a task to build, a project that called for unity and purpose, they could not possibly lead.

Now 65, Sacks is a London native, but has known America well since the summer of 1968, when, while studying philosophy as an undergraduate at the University of Cambridge, he came to the United States to meet as many prominent rabbis as he could. With a $100 unlimited Greyhound pass, he traveled from New York to Los Angeles to stay with his now-late aunt in Beverly Hills.  

Based on the recommendations of many rabbis he met, the young Sacks was most eager to meet Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the now-late leader of the Chasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement — who was viewed as religious Judaism’s ambassador until his death in 1994.

That encounter, he’s often said, set him on the path to becoming the leader of two synagogues, the director of the rabbinic faculty at Jews’ College (now the London School of Jewish Studies) and, perhaps just as formative, a philosophy scholar and a lecturer at several secular British universities, including Manchester and Essex. 

Beyond the texts, Sacks demonstrated during his speeches here and in our interview his deep knowledge of non-Jewish philosophy and history — Plato, Aristotle, Darwin, Tocqueville, Locke, Churchill — as well as popular culture. 

Aaron Sorkin’s screenwriting in “The West Wing” was “genius,” he told me, and “Gravity” is an “extraordinary film” that demonstrates the existential need for faith.

Bridging Judaism with society

In his 22-year term as chief rabbi, Sacks was far more than a leader for British Orthodox Jewry and the 62-member synagogues, all Orthodox, of the United Hebrew Congregations. He became the bridge between Orthodoxy and British society, publishing 25 books in 24 years, several of which could just as well have been written for non-Jews.

Like many leaders, though, Sacks could never please everyone, on either side of him. Agudath Israel of America, a leadership organization of ultra-Orthodox Jews, criticized Sacks following his July 2013 retirement dinner, in which he critiqued what he sees as a trend toward increased insularity within the Orthodox world.

It was a message he repeated in Los Angeles. “There are Jews moving very far away from social engagement, turning inwards,” Sacks told me, choosing his words very carefully. The implication, though, was clear — much of the ultra-Orthodox world is not spreading the Jewish message to the outside world, and that has led to the growth of what he called “aggressively secularized tendencies.”

For the British Jews more liberal than he, Sacks was perceived as beholden to his country’s Charedi community during his tenure. He did not, for example, attend the funeral of prominent British Reform Rabbi Hugo Gryn, and he never attended Limmud, the largest annual interdenominational Jewish education event, now held worldwide and which got its start in London.

In 2012, Sacks signed his name to a joint response from Britain’s rabbinical court to the government, opposing same-sex marriage. In response, 26 prominent British Jews wrote an open letter criticizing Sacks for trying to “influence how the generality of the population leads its life”— somewhat ironic because influencing society, and not just the Jewish community, is one of his main goals.

And yet, even as he openly admires some of Nietzsche’s work, he also has written groundbreaking commentaries on four Orthodox prayer books, for Shabbat, Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. According to his office, he’s currently working on ones for Sukkot and Shavuot.

And although as chief rabbi, Sacks did not speak on behalf of Britain’s Reform, Conservative or Charedi movements, from a marketing perspective he might as well have been, for British society viewed him as the Jewish spokesman.

As he became Great Britain’s de facto Jewish ambassador, a Sacks brand developed — a polished look for television appearances, a royal-sounding voice for radio broadcasts, a scholarly tone for books and op-eds, and an ability to condense his message into sound bites while rarely making news for saying the wrong thing.

Although he shies away from attracting controversy, Sacks will be outspoken when he feels he must. At a BBC-sponsored debate, Sacks told Dawkins that the beginning of Chapter 2 in the atheist’s book, “The God Delusion,” is a “profoundly anti-Semitic passage.”

In Britain, Sacks was viewed as the face of British Jewry by two groups of people — his natural followers, the Modern Orthodox, and also the politicians and media. His acceptance into the House of Lords as Baron Sacks of Aldgate, and his regular broadcasts and documentaries on BBC, helped inject Torah ideas into the British conversation.

In America, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour recently interviewed Sacks about Jewish assimilation, the Israeli-Arab conflict, anti-Semitism, the Vatican, Iran and Ariel Sharon — topics with which every Jewish community in the United States has grappled in recent months.

He is quickly climbing to the top of the American media’s speed dial list for interviews on all things Jewish — if he isn’t already there.

During his talk at YINBH, he told a story about one of his core goals — to reach Jews who don’t attend synagogue regularly (which includes 76 percent of American Jewry), teach Jewish things to non-Jews.

So Sacks decided that, as chief rabbi, he would broadcast regularly on BBC Radio. Yes, its audience is overwhelmingly non-Jewish, but, all the better.

“A Jewish guy comes to his office one morning, and the non-Jewish guy who has the office next to him says to him, ‘You know, I heard your chief rabbi on the radio this morning. He’s quite good,’ ” Sacks said at YINBH. “I turned a whole of non-Jewish Britain into an outreach organization for the sake of Judaism!”

The Orthodox ascent?

Sacks’ prediction of an Orthodox ascent in America stems from the October report by the Pew Research Center, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” which says that the Orthodox community’s relatively high birth rate and low, or nonexistent, rate of intermarriage could give it a comparative demographic advantage, over time, to both the Conservative and Reform movements.

“It has become really clear that Orthodoxy is the only element of the Jewish people in America that’s growing,” Sacks said. Based on Modern Orthodoxy’s current position in American Jewry, Sacks’ prediction sounds a bit, well, optimistic. 

According to the Pew survey, only 11 percent of Jews in America identify as Orthodox, and only 3 percent as Modern Orthodox. In other words, Sacks is predicting that a minority within a sliver of American Judaism may hold, within 25 years, the mantle of influence.

A second Pew analysis, however, shows that Orthodoxy is gaining ground on Conservative and Reform Jewry — very quickly. Twenty-seven percent of Jews younger than 18 live in Orthodox homes, and as sociologist Steven M. Cohen told the Forward in November, “Every year, the Orthodox population has been adding 5,000 Jews,” while the non-Orthodox has been losing 10,000.

Therefore, Sacks calls upon the Orthodox movement to prepare as if it will soon inherit American Judaism’s mantle, so that its members will know how to lead on a mass scale and not just in yeshivas or at Shabbat morning sermons.

“The non-Orthodox Jewish world always had a strong sense of tikkun olam [repairing the world],” Sacks told me. “What I’ve tried to show is we in the Orthodox world can have that sense as well.”

“We’ve got a technical glitch”

Mesopotamian cuneiform, Chinese ideograms, Linear B — Sacks was more philosopher than rabbi as he delivered a short keynote address at Harkham Hillel’s gala at the Universal City Hilton, offering a call to Orthodoxy’s leadership to use technology to reach as wide an audience as possible, and to make learning more interesting for Jewish children.

Today, he said, we are living through an information revolution, inaugurated by “Steve Jobs [coming] down the mountain with the two tablets, the iPad and the iPad Mini.”

In fact, he related, on the morning the iPad was released, Jan. 27, 2010, Sacks walked into his London office and told one of his assistants, “This is the game changer.”

When sitting with me, Sacks asked if I could wait a moment as he showed off some of his favorite Jewish iPad apps. “I hear God knocking at our door saying, ‘Use Me. Use this gift that I have given you to spread My message,’ ” Sacks said

“Let’s have a look at this week’s parsha [Torah portion],” he said as he played with an app that serves as a type of Wikipedia for Jewish texts. “Touch that, here are the mefarshim [Torah commentaries].”

And then, Orthodoxy’s challenge stared us in the face.

The app froze. 

“We’ve got a technical glitch,” Sacks said humorously, referring to his app — or was he speaking about the Orthodox movement? 

“It took a long time for Orthodox Jews to be able to develop the techniques and the skills,” Sacks said. “We just haven’t had enough time, to be honest with you, to develop the real resources for the Web and the iPad.”

And beyond creating operational iPad apps, Sacks wants Orthodox Jews to act more like, well, him — using mass media to communicate.

Of course, in America, the decentralized nature of Judaism — there is no chief rabbi — makes it difficult for any one person to spread his religious ideology. That’s why Sacks believes observant Jews should work with Hollywood.

“I would so love to see a film not just about how Jews died, but how Jews live, and I’m afraid I haven’t seen enough of those,” Sacks said, a message that recurred in several of his Los Angeles appearances. 

Speaking at YINBH, he even let the audience in on one of his script ideas — a film on the life of Jewish philanthropist Anne Heyman — and said, only half-jokingly, that he would love to see someone in the room help turn his idea into a film.

Less power, more influence

As he adjusts to a career in which he no longer has the power of chief rabbi, he seems to believe his new role may allow him more influence. 

Perhaps that is why issues of leadership seem to make its way into most of his work these days.

Every week, Jews across the world receive an e-mail from his office titled “Covenant & Conversation” containing his weekly essay on the Torah, written in English but also translated into Hebrew and Portuguese.

In it, he weaves together biblical narrative with a historical, philosophical and scientific framework — Oxford meets Yeshiva University. This year, he decided, each essay will center around one theme — leadership. 

In Britain, Sacks showed that to influence a society, leaders must work with the followers they are given, and not compromise on core principles for the sake of adding fans. 

In America, he suggested that a window of opportunity is opening up — a window that will allow America’s Modern Orthodox movement to inject Torah values into mainstream American culture, as he has tried to do in Britain. 

And whether the predicted Orthodox ascent comes to pass, and whether Sacks’ insistence on preparation for leadership pays off, he is giving something to American Orthodox Jewry, something that perhaps no one else can deliver quite as well — a clear, passionate and hopeful 25-year advance warning. 

Iran, six powers meet on steps to carry out nuclear deal


Iran and six world powers began expert-level talks on Monday to work out nitty-gritty details in implementing a landmark accord for Tehran to curb its disputed nuclear program in return for a limited easing of sanctions.

The preliminary accord is seen as a first step towards resolving a decade-old standoff over suspicions Iran might be covertly pursuing a nuclear weapons “breakout” capability, a perception that has raised the risk of a wider Middle East war.

Officials from Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia met at the Vienna headquarters of the U.N. nuclear agency, which will play a central role in verifying that Tehran carries out its part of the interim deal.

The outcome of the meeting is expected to determine when Iran stops its most sensitive nuclear activity and when it gets the respite in sanctions that it has been promised in return.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it would have “some involvement” in the discussions, which are expected to continue on Tuesday. Media were barred from the floor where the meeting, held under tight secrecy, took place.

The talks are aimed at “devising mechanisms” for the Geneva accord's implementation, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi was quoted by state Press TV as saying. Iranian nuclear as well as central bank officials would take part, he said.

Western diplomats said detailed matters not addressed at the Nov. 20-24 talks in Geneva must be ironed out before the deal can be put into practice.

These include how and when the IAEA, which regularly visits Iranian nuclear sites to try to ensure there are no diversions of atomic material, will carry out its expanded role.

A start to sanctions relief would hinge on verification that Iran was fulfilling its side of the accord, they said.

The deal was designed to halt Iran's nuclear advances for a period of six months to buy time for negotiations on a final settlement of the standoff. Diplomats say implementation may start in January after the technical details have been settled.

Scope for easing the dispute peacefully opened after the June election of a comparative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, as Iranian president. He won in a landslide by pledging to ease Tehran's international isolation and win relief from sanctions that have severely damaged the oil producer's economy.

ARAK REACTOR

Diplomats caution that many difficult hurdles remain to overcome – including differences over the scope and capacity of Iran's nuclear project – for a long-term solution to be found.

In a sign of this, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pressed the powers on Sunday to take a hard line with Iran in negotiations on a final agreement, urging them to demand that Tehran abandon all uranium enrichment.

A day after President Barack Obama deemed it unrealistic to believe Iran could be compelled to dismantle its entire nuclear infrastructure, Netanyahu said Tehran should have to take apart all centrifuges used to refine uranium.

Israel sees Iran, which has repeatedly said it seeks only civilian energy from uranium enrichment, as a mortal threat. Iran says it is Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power, that threatens peace.

Under last month's pact, Iran will halt the activity most applicable to producing nuclear weapons – enrichment of uranium to a higher fissile concentration of 20 percent – and stop installing components at its Arak heavy-water research reactor which, once operating, could yield bomb-grade plutonium.

In the Vienna talks, government experts will also discuss details of which components Iran is not allowed to add to the Arak reactor under the deal, as well as issues pertaining to the sequencing of gestures by both sides, the diplomats said.

Officials from the office of European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who coordinates talks with Iran on behalf of the six powers, were also at the meeting.

Additional reporting by Isabel Coles in Dubai; Editing by Mark Heinrich

U.S., France, Britain to press Assad on chemical arms


The United States, France and Britain warned President Bashar Assad on Monday that there would be consequences if he fails to stick to a deal under which Syria must give up its chemical weapons, and U.N. experts confirmed sarin gas was used in the August 21 attack in Damascus.

Russia, which negotiated the deal with the United States, cautioned against imposing tough penalties on the Syrian leader, who is Moscow's close ally. In Syria, fighting was reported on several fronts, and Turkey said its warplanes shot down a Syrian helicopter after it violated Turkish airspace.

The three Western permanent members of the United Nations Security Council said they would seek a strong U.N. resolution setting binding deadlines for the removal of Syria's chemical weapons, French President Francois Hollande's office said.

A U.N. report on the August 21 attack confirmed “unequivocally and objectively” that chemical weapons were used, according to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“This is a war crime,” Ban told the Security Council. “The international community has a responsibility to hold the perpetrators accountable and to ensure that chemical weapons never re-emerge as an instrument of warfare.”

As expected, the report did not say who carried out the attack. Ban said on Friday that Assad “has committed many crimes against humanity,” although he did not ascribe blame for this specific incident.

Assad and Moscow have blamed the rebels.

The United States reached a deal at the weekend with Russia that could avert U.S. strikes on Syria as punishment for last month's attack.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a news conference in Paris that the three powers agreed with Russia that Assad must suffer consequences if he fails to comply with U.N. demands.

“If Assad fails in time to abide by the terms of this framework, make no mistake, we are all agreed – and that includes Russia – that there will be consequences,” Kerry said.

The accord offered the Syrian leader “no lifeline” and he had “lost all legitimacy”, Kerry added.

After Hollande met Kerry and British Foreign Secretary William Hague and their French counterpart Laurent Fabius, an aide to Hollande said: “The idea is to stick to a firm line”.

“They've agreed to seek a strong and robust resolution that sets precise and binding deadlines with a calendar,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Russia accused the Europeans of trying to reinterpret the agreement.

Speaking in Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said any rush to draw up a resolution threatening to punish Syria in the event of non-compliance showed a “lack of understanding” of the agreement reached for Assad to give up his chemical weapons.

“Our (European) partners want to again unilaterally review what we've agreed on with the Americans. That's not how you do business, and I'm sure that despite these statements that are coming from European capitals, the Americans will, as proper negotiators, strictly stick to what has been agreed on,” Lavrov said.

PEACE TALKS PLAN

He also said it may be time to consider efforts to force the opposition to attend an international peace conference instead of just urging them to do so. So far, the rebels have said they will not attend talks if the Syrian president is there too.

The deal reached in Geneva put off the immediate threat of air strikes, and Lavrov stressed at the time that it did not include any automatic use of force in the event of Syria's failure to comply. But President Barack Obama has said force remains an option if Assad reneges.

Syria's government at the weekend hailed as a “victory” the Russian-brokered deal, which rebels who have been fighting Assad's forces since 2011 say has benefited their enemy in the civil war.

Assad briefly dispersed his forces to protect them from strikes threatened by the United States in response to the chemical weapons attack in Damascus, which Washington says killed more than 1,400 people, many of them children.

The report by chief U.N. chemical weapons investigator Ake Sellstrom, which was presented to the U.N. Security Council on Monday, said there was “clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used” in that attack.

Opposition voices say the chemical weapons deal effectively gives Assad permission to carry on with his conventional war, in which so far more than 100,000 people have died, according to U.N. figures.

Fighting between rebels and government forces, which often kills more than 1,000 people a week, ground on from the outskirts of Damascus in the southwest to the central Hama province to Deir al-Zor in the east.

Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said Turkish warplanes shot down a Syrian helicopter after it violated Turkish airspace.

Some rebels earlier reported that a warplane which appeared to be non-Syrian – and which some of the rebels presumed was Turkish – had shot down the helicopter, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad monitoring group based in Britain.

The reports contradicted other rebel accounts that it was insurgents who shot down the aircraft, the Observatory said.

The Observatory said the helicopter had gone down in an area between the Jisr al-Shughour and northern Latakia areas, near the border with Turkey's Antakya region.

Government warplanes also hit targets in the Sbeneh area south of Damascus and in the eastern Deir al-Zor province, according to the Observatory, which has a network of sources across Syria.

The rebels have struggled to counter Assad's air power, but Western countries have been wary of supplying them with sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons they fear may end up in the hands of anti-Western Islamist factions.

CHEMICAL WEAPONS

The Syrian government has told the United Nations it will adhere to a treaty banning chemical weapons. The U.S.-Russian framework agreement calls for the United Nations to enforce the removal of existing stockpiles by the middle of next year.

Assad has less than a week to begin complying with the deal by handing over a full account of his chemical arsenal. He must allow U.N.-backed inspectors from the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to complete their initial on-site checks by November.

Assad told Russian state television last week that his cooperation was dependent on an end to threats of war and to U.S. support for rebel fighters. But it seems likely that Moscow can prevail on him to comply, at least initially, with a deal in which it has invested considerable personal prestige.

Experts say the removal of up to 1,000 metric tons of chemical agents will be highly problematic in the middle of Syria's civil war, although they assume that the dozens of chemical weapons sites remain under government control.

“The OPCW just doesn't have the manpower to man such an operation like this, so they would bring in other experts,” former OPCW official Dieter Rothbacher told Reuters. “Moving an entire stockpile is something that has never been done before.”

He estimated that even in normal circumstances it would take a team of 15 to 20 inspectors several months to take an inventory and verify Syria's stockpile.

The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria said on Monday it was investigating 14 alleged attacks with chemical weapons or chemical agents in Syria over the last two years.

U.N. human rights investigators also said hardline Syrian rebels and foreign fighters invoking jihad, or holy war, had stepped up killings, executions and other abuses in the north since July.

There were now a number of brigades made up entirely of non-Syrians, underlining how the 2-1/2-year-old conflict has pulled in neighboring countries and widened sectarian faultlines across the region.

“The point is that these extreme elements have their own agenda and certainly not a democratic agenda that they are seeking to impose,” investigator Vitit Muntarbhorn told Reuters.

Additional reporting by Alexander Dziadosz, Stephanie Nebehay, Elizabeth Pineau, John Irish, Louis Charbonneau, Michelle Nichols, Jonathan Burch and Anthony Deutsch; Writing by Giles Elgood and Claudia Parsons; Editing by David Stamp and David Storey

U.S. readies strikes, Syrians prepare for attack


People in Damascus stocked up on supplies on Wednesday and some left homes close to potential targets as U.S. officials described plans for multi-national strikes on Syria that could last for days.

United Nations chemical weapons experts completed a second field trip to rebel-held suburbs, looking for evidence of what – and who – caused an apparent poison gas attack that residents say killed hundreds of people a week ago.

But as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon appealed for unity among world powers and sought more time for the inspectors to complete their work, Washington and its European and Middle East allies said their minds were made up and that President Bashar Assad must face retribution for using banned weapons against his people.

Syria's government, supported notably by its main arms supplier Russia, cried foul. It blamed rebel “terrorists” for releasing the toxins with the help of the United States, Britain and France and warned it would be a “graveyard of invaders”.

Syrian officials say the West is playing into the hands of its al Qaeda enemies. The presence of Islamist militants among the rebels has deterred Western powers from arming Assad's foes – but they say they must now act to stop the use of poison gas.

Britain pushed the other four veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council at a meeting in New York to authorize military action against Assad to protect Syrian civilians – a move certain to be blocked by Russia and, probably, China.

The United States and its allies say a U.N. veto will not stop them. Western diplomats called the proposed resolution a maneuver to isolate Moscow and rally a coalition behind air strikes. Arab states, NATO and Turkey also condemned Assad.

Washington has repeatedly said that President Barack Obama has not yet made up his mind on what action he will order.

A senior U.S. official said strikes could last several days and would involve other armed forces: “We're talking to a number of different allies regarding participation in a possible kinetic strike,” the administration official said on Wednesday.

Western armies are expected to wait until the U.N. experts withdraw. Their initial 14-day mandate expires in four days, and Secretary-General Ban said they need four days work.

A second U.S. official said objectives were still being defined but that the targets could be chosen to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons in future. Washington was confident it could handle Syrian defenses and any possible reprisals by its allies, including Iran and Lebanese militia Hezbollah.

INVESTORS, RESIDENTS ALARMED

With only the timing of an attack apparently in doubt, oil prices soared to a six-month high. World stock markets were hit by jitters over where the international escalation of Syria's civil war might lead – however much Obama and his allies may hope to limit it to a short punitive mission.

Neighboring Turkey, a NATO member, put its forces on alert. Israel mobilized some army reservists and bolstered its defenses against missile strikes from either Syria or Lebanon.

Syria's envoy to the United Nations said he had asked Ban to have the team investigate three new attacks by rebel groups.

People in Damascus, wearied by a civil war that has left the capital ringed by rebel-held suburbs, braced for air strikes.

In a city where dozens of military sites are mixed in among civilian neighborhoods, some were leaving home in the hope of finding somewhere safer, though many doubted it was worth it: “Every street, every neighborhood has some government target,” said a nurse in the city center. “Where do we hide?”

At grocery stores, shoppers loaded up on bread, dry goods and cans. Bottled water and batteries were also in demand.

TIMING CALCULATIONS

Numerous factors, including weather and assessments of Syrian air defenses, may affect the timing of strikes. Analysts expect cruise missiles to be launched from U.S. ships in the Mediterranean. Aircraft could also play a role, as may forces from other NATO powers, notably Britain and France.

Obama is waiting for a U.S. intelligence report, though its findings are in little doubt. U.S. officials have already blamed Assad for the attacks on August 21.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has recalled parliament to debate the Syria crisis on Thursday. He should be able to secure cautious support, despite widespread misgivings among Western voters about new entanglements in the Muslim world. But British action is unlikely before lawmakers have had their say.

The prospect of a Group of Twenty summit in St. Petersburg next Thursday may also weigh in calculations over timing any strikes. Russian host President Vladimir Putin has made clear his view that Western leaders are using human rights as a pretext to impose their will on other sovereign states.

“The West behaves like a monkey with a grenade in the Islamic world,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted on Wednesday. Western leaders in the G20 may prefer to have any strikes on Syria completed before the summit starts.

As diplomats from Russia, China, Britain, France and the United States met at the United Nations, Moscow said Britain was “premature” in seeking a Security Council resolution for “necessary measures” to protect Syrian civilians.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Russia and China might veto the move but added: “It's time the U.N. Security Council shouldered its responsibilities on Syria which for the last two and a half years it has failed to do.”

A senior Western diplomat said: “Of course there will be a Russian veto, but that's part of the objective – to show that we tried everything and the Russians left us no choice.

“The Americans want to go quickly.”

INTERNATIONAL LAW

China's official newspaper also criticized on Wednesday what it saw as a push for illegal, Iraq-style “regime change” – despite U.S. denials that Obama aims to overthrow Assad.

The U.S.-led NATO alliance said evidence pointed to Assad's forces having used gas, calling it a threat to global security.

Ban's special envoy for Syria, Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, said “international law is clear” in requiring Council authorization for any military action. But Western leaders say precedents, including NATO's bombing of Russian ally Serbia in 1999 during the Kosovo war, allow them to protect civilians.

There was tension between the United Nations and Western governments. One U.N. official said: “The U.N. is annoyed and feels the Western powers haven't shared data or evidence with them, which is a problem. It kind of undercuts U.N. authority.”

Rebel fighters and opposition activists showed the inspectors homes in the eastern Damascus suburb of Zamalka that had been hit by last week's gas release. The experts also tested and interviewed survivors in hospital, as they did on a first trip on Monday that came under sniper attack.

Amateur video showed the convoy of white U.N. jeeps driving along a road, accompanied by rebels. One pick-up truck was mounted with an anti-aircraft gun. Gunmen leaned from the windows of another. Bystanders waved as the vehicles passed.

Syria's civil war has killed more than 100,000 people since 2011 and driven millions from their homes, many crossing borders into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

It has heightened tensions between Assad's sponsor Iran and Israel, which bombed Syria this year, and has fuelled sectarian bloodshed in Lebanon and in Iraq, where bombs killed more than 70 people on Wednesday alone.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that U.S. action would be “a disaster for the region”.

Additional reporting by Wiliam Maclean and Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Guy Faulconbridge and Andrew Osborn in London, Steve Gutterman in Moscow, Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Yeganeh Torbati and Yara Bayoumy in Dubai, Anthony Deutsch and Thomas Escritt in The Hague, Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Will Waterman and David Stamp

EU adds Hezbollah’s military wing to terrorism list


The European Union agreed on Monday to put the armed wing of Hezbollah on its terrorism blacklist, a move driven by concerns over the Lebanese militant group's involvement in a deadly bus bombing in Bulgaria and the Syrian war.

The powerful Lebanese Shi'ite movement, an ally of Iran, has attracted concern in Europe and around the world in recent months for its role in sending thousands of fighters to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government, an intervention that has turned the tide of Syria's two-year-old civil war.

Britain and the Netherlands have long pressed their EU peers to impose sanctions on the Shi'ite Muslim group, citing evidence it was behind an attack in the coastal Bulgarian city of Burgas a year ago that killed five Israelis and their driver.

Until now, many EU capitals had resisted lobbying from Washington and Israel to blacklist the group, warning such a move could fuel instability in Lebanon and in the Middle East.

Hezbollah functions both as a political party that is part of the Lebanese government and as a militia with thousands of guerrillas under arms.

Lebanese caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said the decision was “hasty” and could lead to further sanctions against the movement that would complicate Lebanese politics.

“This will hinder Lebanese political life in the future, especially considering our sensitivities in Lebanon,” he told Reuters. “We need to tighten bonds among Lebanese parties, rather than create additional problems.”

The blacklisting opens the way for EU governments to freeze any assets Hezbollah's military wing may have in Europe.

“There's no question of accepting terrorist organizations in Europe,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said in a statement that the EU had taken an important step by “dealing with the military wing of Hezbollah, freezing its assets, hindering its fundraising and thereby limiting its capacity to act”.

In the United States, Secretary of State John Kerry said Syria was an important factor behind the EU vote.

“A growing number of governments are recognizing Hezbollah as the dangerous and destabilizing terrorist organization that it is,” he said.

QUESTIONING EFFECTIVENESS

By limiting the listing to the armed wing, the EU was trying to avoid damaging its relations with Lebanon's government, but the split may complicate its ability to enforce the decision in practical terms.

Hezbollah does not formally divide itself into armed and political wings, and Amal Saad Ghorayeb, who wrote a book on the group, said identifying who the ban would apply to will be difficult.

“It is a political, more than a judicial decision. It can't have any real, meaningful judicial implications,” she said, adding it appeared to be a “a PR move” to hurt Hezbollah's international standing, more connected with events in Syria than with the case in Bulgaria.

Israel's deputy foreign minister Zeev Elkin welcomed the step, but said the entire group should have been targeted.

“We (Israel) worked hard, along with a number of countries in Europe, in order to bring the necessary materials and prove there was a basis for a legal decision,” he told Israel Radio.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague sought to allay concerns about the practical impact of the decision, saying it would allow for better cooperation among European law enforcement officials in countering Hezbollah activities.

Hezbollah parliamentary member al-Walid Soukariah said the decision puts Europe “in confrontation with this segment of people in our region”.

“This step won't affect Hezbollah or the resistance. The resistance is present on Lebanese territory and not in Europe. It is not a terrorist group to carry out terrorist attacks in Europe, which is forbidden by religion.”

TRICKY RELATIONS

The Iran-backed movement, set up with the aim of fighting Israel after its invasion of Lebanon three decades ago, has dominated politics in Beirut in recent years.

In debating the blacklisting, many EU governments expressed concerns over maintaining Europe's relations with Lebanon. To soothe such worries, the ministers agreed to make a statement pledging to continue dialogue with all political groups.

“We also agreed that the delivery of legitimate financial transfers to Lebanon and delivery of assistance from the European Union and its member states will not be affected,” the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

Already on the EU blacklist are groups such as Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip, and Turkey's Kurdish militant group PKK.

Their assets in Europe are frozen and they have no access to cash there, meaning they cannot raise money for their activities. Sanctions on Hezbollah go into effect this week.

Hezbollah denies any involvement in last July's attack in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian interior minister said last week Sofia had no doubt the group was behind it.

In support of its bid to impose sanctions, Britain has also cited a four-year jail sentence handed down by a Cypriot court in March to a Hezbollah member accused of plotting to attack Israeli interests on the island.

The decision also comes at a time of strained relations between the EU and Israel after Brussels pushed ahead with plans to bar EU financial aid to Israeli organizations operating in the occupied Palestinian territories.

EU foreign ministers held a video conference with Kerry who announced on Friday that Israel and the Palestinians had tentatively agreed to resume peace talks after three years.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Oliver Holmes, Stephen Kalin and Reuters Television in Beirut; Editing by Will Waterman