‘Homeland’ creator to direct film on Israel’s rescue of Ethiopian Jews


Since adapting his Israeli show “Prisoners of War” for U.S. audiences in the form of the Showtime hit “Homeland,” writer and director Gideon Raff has seen his Hollywood career take off.

After creating the series “Tyrant” for FX and “Dig” for USA, the Israeli Raff has now sold a pitch for a film on Israel’s early 1980s rescue of Ethiopian Jews to Fox Searchlight Pictures.

According to Variety, Raff will write, produce and direct “Operation Brothers,” which will be based on Israel’s efforts in the ’80s to airlift Ethiopian Jews who were trapped in refugee camps and discriminated against in Sudan. Raff’s film will follow the story from its beginnings in 1977, when then-prime minister Menachem Begin ordered the Mossad to devise a plan to save the Ethiopians. It is unclear yet whether the film will depict either of Israel’s two biggest rescue operations: Operation Moses (1984 -1985 ) or Operation Solomon (1991), which combined led to the rescue of over 20,000 Ethiopians.

A French film from 2005 named “Live and Become,” which centered on a young Ethiopian’s journey during Operation Moses, won a Cesar award (the French equivalent of an Oscar) for best screenplay and garnered several other awards in international festivals.

Alexandra Milchan, who was an executive producer on the 2013 hit “The Wolf of Wall Street,” is set to produce alongside Raff.

Raff has been arguably the most successful Israeli crossover filmmaker in recent years, bringing Israeli and Middle Eastern themes and political issues into the Hollywood mainstream. “Homeland” and its progenitor “Prisoners of War” both involved soldiers who return home after being held captive by Islamists. “Dig,” which got poor reviews and was cancelled after one season, followed an American FBI agent on an archaeological mission in Jerusalem. “Tyrant,” which has reached moderate success, follows the son of a fictional tyrannical Arab ruler in a fictional Middle Eastern country. The latter two shows had to be filmed outside of Israel during the summer of 2014 when the conflict between Israel and Hamas flared up.

But if Raff’s new project succeeds, it might be the most quintessential Israeli work he has created so far.

Jerusalem-based series ‘Dig’ cancelled after one season


The American television drama series “Dig,” which was filmed in Jerusalem, reportedly has been cancelled after one season.

The USA Network decided to cancel the series after soft ratings, the Seriable website reported.

The network had planned to base each new season around a new mystery while retaining some of the original characters, according to the website.

The first season, staring Jason Isaacs and Anne Heche and produced by Gideon Raff, centered on an American FBI agent stationed in Jerusalem who uncovered a conspiracy while investigating the murder of an American archaeologist.

The series raised the hackles of pro-Palestinian groups when it was announced that it would be filmed in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, which has been a flashpoint in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Briefs: Palestinians riot near Jerusalem dig; Brandeis threatened with loss of donations


Palestinians Riot Around Jerusalem

Palestinians rioted at entry points to Jerusalem to protest a ban stemming from previous riots over an Old City dig. Police banned Palestinian males under age 50 from attending Friday prayer services at mosques on the Temple Mount, and extended a ban on Raed Salah, leader of Israel’s Islamic Movement. Police arrested 15 people in scuffles in and around the city. Worshipers have rioted in recent weeks to protest a construction project near the Temple Mount.

Israeli authorities say the renovation of a staircase leading to the Temple Mount does not threaten the integrity of the site, but Salah, who has frequently concocted imaginary Jewish plots against the Temple Mount to incite his public against Israel, has led protests at the site and scuffled with police officers. Last Friday, he called for a Muslim intifada to “save” the mosque from the Jews. The Israelis “want to build their Temple while our blood is on their clothing, on their doorposts, in their food and in their water,” Salah said.

Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter asked the attorney general to investigate whether Salah’s comments constitute incitement and sedition.

Brandeis Threatened With Loss of Donations

Mideast scholar Daniel Pipes called on donors to reconsider their support of Brandeis University. In an op-ed published Tuesday in the Brandeis student newspaper, The Justice, Pipes claimed that his planned appearance at the university had been put on hold pending approval from a new committee created to vet potential speakers on the Middle East.

The committee also reportedly is holding up an appearance by Norman Finkelstein, a noted critic of Israeli policy who has argued that the Jewish state exploits the Holocaust for political purposes. Evidence that pressure on the university may be intensifying came from a report Friday in the New York Jewish Week that “more than a handful” of major donors told Brandeis they would no longer contribute following a recent controversial visit by former President Carter, who discussed his book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” which is harshly critical of Israel. A Brandeis spokeswoman told the Jewish Week that she wasn’t aware of any communication from donors.

Hezbollah Seen Expanding Arsenal

Hezbollah aims to stockpile more weapons than it had before last year’s war with Israel, a top Israeli intelligence analyst said.

Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz, chief of research in Israel’s Military Intelligence, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in a briefing Monday that the Lebanese terrorist group was smuggling in rockets to replace the thousands it lost fighting Israel during the summer war. Once it receives new shipments from neighboring Syria, Baidatz said, Hezbollah will have a larger rocket arsenal than it did before the war.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz interjected that this should not be a gauge of the threat posed to Israel by Hezbollah. Peretz noted that Hezbollah deprived of its border positions was in far less of a position to launch attacks.

Hezbollah admitted it has resumed stockpiling arms on Lebanon’s frontier with Israel.

“We can reveal that we have arms, and of all kinds,” Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said last Friday in a speech. “We move them covertly, and Israel does not know about it.”

Nasrallah said the smuggling would continue in defiance of Israel, foreign peacekeepers and the Lebanese army, which deployed in southern Lebanon as part of the U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended last year’s war.

“We are not a burden to the Lebanese army but rather a supporter of its mission,” Nasrallah said.

Iran Defies U.N. Demands

Iran signaled that it will not honor a demand by the United Nations to halt sensitive nuclear projects. The Foreign Ministry in Tehran announced Sunday that Iran has no intention of meeting a Feb. 21 deadline set by the U.N. Security Council for suspending uranium enrichment. Under Security Council Resolution 1737, which was passed in late December, Iran was subjected to limited international sanctions that could be expanded if it defied the 60-day deadline on uranium enrichment, a key potential process for making nuclear bombs.

While China and Russia surprised other Security Council members by backing the original resolution, it was unclear whether they would support further sanctions given their robust trade ties with Tehran and public skepticism over whether the Iranians are seeking nuclear weapons.

Feinstein Reintroduces Cluster Bomb Bill

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein cited Israeli cluster bombs left behind in Lebanon in introducing legislation to restrict the sale of the devices.

“What gives rise, in part, to my bill are recent developments in Lebanon over alleged use of cluster bombs by Israel,” Feinstein, a Jewish Democrat who is seen as strongly pro-Israel, said last week in introducing the legislation with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Israel dropped some 4 million bomblets in southern Lebanon during last summer’s war with Hezbollah, and 1 million failed to explode, she said.

“As Lebanese children and families have returned to their homes and begin to rebuild, they have been exposed to the danger of these unexploded bomblets lying in the rubble. Twenty-two people, including six children have been killed and 133, including 47 children, injured.”

Israel said it used the weapons in areas where civilians had already fled, and says the postwar casualty rate is due to U.S.-made bombs that have a high rate of delayed explosion.

Human-rights groups have noted that Hezbollah also used cluster bombs during the war, firing them directly into Israeli cities. Feinstein and Leahy introduced similar legislation immediately following the war, but it failed.

Jerusalem Opens Alcohol-Free Bar

An alcohol-free bar opened in Jerusalem with municipal funding. Lugar opened its doors in central Jerusalem on Monday with a teetotaling format geared toward minors.

The initiative was conceived by Mayor Uri Lupolianski following growing evidence that youths in Jerusalem, including many foreigners on study visits, were increasingly abusing lax controls on alcohol consumption in public places.

Lupolianski said he hoped other cities in Israel would emulate the Lugar pilot.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Briefs: Israel reviews Jerusalem dig; U.S. offers reward for Islamic Jihad leader


Israel Reviews Jerusalem Dig

Israel is pressing ahead with a controversial dig near the Temple Mount but will review plans to build at the site. The Jerusalem Municipality announced Monday that a plan to renovate a pedestrian walkway leading from the Temple Mount’s Mughrabi Gate to the Western Wall Plaza would be put on hold to allow for consultations with police and Muslim authorities.

“This is due to the sensitivity of the plan,” the municipality said in a statement, referring to recent Palestinian rioting sparked by Arab allegations that Israel is trying to undermine the foundations of two major Muslim shrines on the Temple Mount.

But the municipality said excavations in the Western Wall Plaza would continue in order to salvage any archeological artifacts that might be damaged by the planned renovation. Israel has said the dig does not threaten the Muslim shrines and is designed to prevent the pedestrian walkway from collapsing due to weather erosion. Muslim leaders have incited their followers in the past with accusations of Jewish plots to destroy the mosques on the Temple Mount.

Holocaust Denier Says He Accosted Wiesel

A Holocaust denier claims he is the one who accosted Elie Wiesel, with the aim of kidnapping him. “Eric Hunt” posted an acknowledgment on ZioPedia, an anti-Semitic Web site, saying he followed Wiesel onto an elevator at San Francisco’s Argent hotel after the author, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor participated in a panel on peace. Wiesel reported such an assault on Feb. 1 and San Francisco police are seeking the assailant.

“After ensuring no women would be traumatized by what I had to do (I had been trailing Wiesel for weeks), I stopped the elevator at the sixth floor,” Hunt wrote. “I pulled Wiesel out of the elevator. I said I wanted to interview him. He protested, grabbed at his chest as if he was having a heart attack. He then screamed HELP! HELP! at the top of his lungs.” Hunt said he let Wiesel go because “he was no use to our worldwide struggle for freedom if he had a heart attack.”

He said he “had planned on either getting Wiesel into my custody, with a cornered Wiesel finally forced to state the truth on videotape, getting arrested or fleeing.”

U.S. Offers Reward for Islamic Jihad Leader

The United States put a bounty on the head of a Palestinian terrorist leader. The State Department this week offered up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest of Islamic Jihad chief Ramadan Shallah, who is based in Damascus.

Shallah is wanted for complicity in suicide bombings, murder, extortions and money laundering. Responding to the State Department’s announcement, Islamic Jihad said it would attack American targets if Shallah is taken into custody.

The State Department offered a separate bounty for Mohammed Ali Hamadei, a Lebanese Hezbollah member suspected of involvement in the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 that resulted in the murder of a U.S. sailor.

Katsav Complainant Tells All

A woman who accused Israel’s president of raping her gave a full account to a British newspaper. Moshe Katsav’s former secretary, whose name is withheld from publication by law, told Britain’s Sunday Times the president first subjected her to unwanted sexual scrutiny until finally forcing himself on her when she reached up to get a book in his office.

“Maybe I didn’t struggle enough,” she said. “I was shocked. I was thinking, what if people know, what if I don’t have a job.” The complainant — who was described by the newspaper as “Michelle Pfeiffer in Chanel tortoiseshell glasses” — came forward last year, prompting Israel’s attorney general to draft rape charges against Katsav. The Israeli president has denied wrongdoing.

Jewish Groups to Stage Eco-Friendly Conferences

Two Jewish organizations have pledged to offset the carbon produced by their upcoming conferences. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life announced they’ll calculate the amount of carbon produced by their three-day conferences in Washington in late February, and will offset it through reforestation projects. The conferences, which will include nearly 1,000 participants, will limit the amount of carbon they produce through greater energy efficiency and the use of renewables.

“The Jewish Council for Public Affairs is dedicated to doing its part to combat climate change,” said Steve Gutow, the group’s executive director. “Offsetting the carbon emissions from our conference is an easy and effective way to help make a positive difference in our environment.”

The effort, billed as the first of its kind for Jewish groups, will be facilitated by Carbonfund.org, the country’s leading carbon-offset organization.

Klezmatics Win Grammy Award

The Klezmatics received the Grammy award for Contemporary World Music Album for “Wonder Wheel,” with lyrics by Woody Guthrie, on Sunday in Los Angeles.

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Briefs: Western Wall dig starts, Israel and U.S. back gays at U.N.


Israel Starts Western Wall Dig

Israel began a controversial dig in the Western Wall Plaza. Bulldozers from the Antiquities Authority broke ground Tuesday near a ramp connecting the plaza to the Temple Mount, with officials saying the aim was to search for historical artifacts before fixing weather damage to the structure. Footage relayed live on Middle East television stations prompted Arab leaders to accuse Israel of trying to undermine the Al-Aksa Mosque and another major Muslim shrine on the Temple Mount.

“I appeal to all our Palestinian people to be united and to rise up together to protect Al-Aksa,” Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said.The Antiquities Authority’s director of excavations, Gideon Avni, denied that such a threat existed.

“Nothing in the work touches the wall of the Temple Mount,” he told reporters.Israeli police went on high alert for possible riots and restricted Palestinian access to the site.

Adelson Gives $25 Million to Birthright

Billionaire Sheldon Adelson pledged $25 million to Birthright Israel. The money will allow the organization to double the number of free trips to Israel that it offers Jewish youth this summer, bringing the total to 20,000. The gift is being made by the Adelson Family Charitable Foundation, founded recently by the majority owner of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson.

According to a Birthright spokesman, the foundation anticipates making similar $25 million gifts for the next several years. In December, the Adelson foundation gave $5 million to Birthright to pay for 2,000 free trips for Jews aged 18 to 26. Adelson, whose net worth was estimated in September at $20.5 billion, is America’s third wealthiest man behind Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

“The Birthright Israel program is one of the best ideas our time has seen because it has the greatest potential for establishing Jewish continuity,” Adelson said.

Jewish Groups Urge Budget Fight

A coalition of Jewish groups urged Congress to fight President Bush’s budget cuts.

“We urge you to fight cuts that would be harmful to the vulnerable populations we advocate on behalf of,” said the letter sent Monday to every member of Congress and signed by 16 national groups and 62 local and state groups.

It identified programs such as the Social Services Block Grant, the Community Services Block Grant, Food Stamps, State Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program as “critical to the elderly, refugees, children and persons with disabilities. Please keep these populations in mind as Congress develops its budget resolution.”

The letter was spearheaded by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; signatories include the American Jewish Committee, United Jewish Communities federation umbrella group, and the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform streams. Programs favored by the Jewish community that face significant cuts in the president’s budget released Monday include Medicaid and Medicare; a Housing Department program that funds independent living for the elderly; and block grants to states for social services that pay for adoption services, refugee assistance and other programs.

British Jews Urge ‘Independent’ Stand on Israel

A group of Anglo-Jewish notables urged Jews to take a more “independent” stance on Israel than do mainstream community groups. In a statement posted Monday on a Web site linked to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, the left-leaning group Independent Jewish Voices called for equitable treatment of Israelis and Palestinians, and deplored anti-Arab bigotry as akin to anti-Semitism.

The group, comprised of dozens of Jewish intellectuals and celebrities including actor Stephen Fry and film director Mike Leigh, hinted that it sought to break from the umbrella Board of Deputies of British Jews, which has backed Israel in its recent conflicts with Hezbollah and the Palestinians.

Anti-Semitism Monitor Gets Top Radio Post

A scholar known for his work monitoring anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli activity in Europe was named president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Jeffrey Gedmin starts in March, according to a statement released last Friday by the congressionally funded pro-American radio network. In a 2004 interview Gedmin, who has headed the Berlin office of the influential Aspen Institute since 2001, said anti-Israel sentiment in Europe was rooted in the continent’s anti-Semitic past.

Group Mounts Bone-Marrow Drive

Ezer Mizion will hold a nationwide bone-marrow testing drive in Israel on Feb. 14. The largest Jewish bone-marrow testing registry is looking for a match for an 8-year-old Jewish leukemia patient. The Brooklyn-based organization hopes to screen some 20,000 people at dozens of testing stations around Israel. For information, call (718) 853-8400.

Israel, U.S. Back Gays at U.N.

Israel and the United States were among a minority at the United Nations in favor of accrediting a gay-rights group. The Coalition of Gays and Lesbians of Quebec applied this month for registration with the United Nations Committee on Nongovernmental Organizations, but was rejected by a majority vote of mostly Muslim countries. Voting in favor were Israel, the United States and four other countries. A motion to admit a second gay advocacy group, the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights, was deferred by the NGO committee.

Agudah Rabbis Call for Pollard’s Release

Agudath Israel of America’s rabbinical councils called on “all caring Jews” to appeal to President Bush to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, who was sentenced to life in 1987 for spying for Israel.

“Mr. Pollard’s life sentence — a penalty far more severe than that imposed upon others who committed similar or even more serious crimes — is difficult to comprehend,” said the statement issued Monday by the fervently Orthodox group’s Council of Torah Sages, Rabbinic Presidium and nearly 100 signatories from its Conference of Synagogue Rabbis.

“At this time, it appears that all legal avenues through the judicial system have been shut off. Only the president of the United States, by granting Mr. Pollard executive clemency, can save him from spending the rest of his life behind bars.”

Agudath Israel says it will join other Jewish organizations in asking its members to phone the White House daily between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. EST until Passover.

The phone-in is primarily organized by the National Council of Young Israel.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

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