Steven Sotloff’s parents implore Obama to bring home a missing American journalist


The parents of Steven Sotloff, the Jewish freelance journalist beheaded by the Islamic State nearly two years ago, have joined the families of three other killed U.S. hostages in urging President Barack Obama to bring home a missing American hostage.

Shirley and Arthur Sotloff, in an essay published Wednesday in the McClatchy newspapers, called on Obama not to leave behind any Americans when he leaves office in January, referring to freelance journalist Austin Tice, who disappeared in Syria in August 2012. Tice is the only American reporter known to be held hostage anywhere in the world, according to Reporters Without Borders.

The other authors of the essay are Diane and John Foley, the parents of journalist James Foley; Ed and Paula Kassig, the parents of humanitarian aid worker Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig, and Carl, Marsha and Eric Mueller, the parents and brother of humanitarian aid worker Kayla Mueller.

 

The families pointed out that one year ago this week, Obama “made a commitment to improve our government’s dismal record on the return of American hostages.”

“We are four families bonded together by tragedy and terror,” they wrote. “We will never fully recover from the horrific outcome of our own hostage crises. But there is something that still can be done: Bring Austin Tice safely home.”

Each family also wrote a personal message.

The Sotloffs read: “We, the family of the late journalist Steven Sotloff, remind President Obama of the following: You told us in person that if it were your daughters, you would do anything in your power to bring them home. We implore you: Bring Austin Tice home.”

Tice, now 34, was working as a freelance journalist for McClatchy and The Washington Post when he was taken captive. Besides a brief video clip posted about six weeks later showing him with unknown gunmen, there have been no other signs of life.

Obama announces new hostage response, but no U.S. ransoms


President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced a more coordinated U.S. response to help rescue Americans held hostage by terrorists and acknowledged the government had sometimes let the families down.

After an emotional meeting with relatives of executed hostages, he said: “I acknowledged to them in private what I want to say publicly, that it is true that there have been times where our government, regardless of good intentions, has let them down.”

He added: “I promised them that we can do better.”

The president reasserted the main plank of the U.S. policy, that unlike some allies the government would not make concessions or pay ransoms to hostage takers, saying this would enrich the militants and encourage further abductions.

“I know this can be subject of significant public debate. It's a difficult and emotional issue, especially for the families,” he conceded.

But he set out a more cooperative policy in which the government would work with the families, and said a special presidential envoy would be appointed to coordinate the efforts of law enforcement and diplomats.

The new approach was drawn up over six months after complaints by families that their initiatives to free relatives had been discouraged and sometimes blocked by officials who threatened legal action if they raised ransoms privately.

The new approach, set out in a presidential directive, allowed “communication with hostage takers by our government, the families of hostages or third parties who help these families,” Obama told lawmakers and officials gathered at the White House.

“When appropriate, our government may assist these families and private efforts in those communications, in part, to ensure the safety of the family members and to make sure that they're not defrauded,” he added.

He added: “My message to these families was simple. We're not going to abandon you. We will stand by you.”

A central hub was being created at the FBI that would bring together experts from across the government to locate and bring home hostages and which would work closely with the families.

The issue exploded last summer when black clad Islamic State militants posted gruesome videos on social media of the execution of a number of Americans and others held in Syria.

Obama said since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks more than 80 Americans had been taken hostage abroad, and more than half had ultimately come home.

White House Homeland Security Adviser Lisa Monaco told reporters that more than 30 Americans were now being held outside the United States.

Captive American journalist in Syria set free in Israeli Golan Heights


An American journalist held hostage in Syria by a group affiliated with al-Qaida was released to the Israeli Golan Heights.

Peter Theo Curtis, who wrote under the byline Theo Padnos, was released Sunday to United Nations peacekeeping forces on the Golan Heights and reportedly was taken to Tel Aviv by U.S. diplomats. Curtis was taken hostage in October 2012, shortly after crossing into Syria, according to reports.

Curtis was held by Jabhat Al-Nusrah, an al-Qaida-linked group currently among the rebels fighting a three-year-long civil war with government forces led by Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“Over these last two years, the United States reached out to more than two dozen countries asking for urgent help from anyone who might have tools, influence, or leverage to help secure Theo’s release and the release of any Americans held hostage in Syria,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement issued after the release was concluded.

“Every waking hour, our thoughts and our faith remain with the Americans still held hostage and with their families, and we continue to use every diplomatic, intelligence, and military tool at our disposal to find them and bring our fellow citizens home,” Kerry said.

The release of Curtis comes days after the spread of a video by the Islamist group ISIS showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley, who was kidnapped in Syria in 2012. ISIS said the execution of Foley was a warning to President Obama following U.S. airstrikes in Iraq.

 

 

U.N. curbs Golan patrols after peacekeepers seized, diplomats say


U.N. peacekeepers monitoring the ceasefire line between Syria and the Israel's Golan Heights have scaled back patrols after rebels detained 21 Filipino observers for three days last week, diplomats said on Thursday.

The seizure of the unarmed observers highlighted the vulnerability of the 1,000-strong U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), whose mission began in 1974, to the growing violence in Syria.

It also heightened concern in Israel that Islamist rebels, separated from Israeli troops only by a toothless U.N. force, may be emboldened to end years of quiet maintained by President Bashar al-Assad and his father before him on the Golan front.

“They have reduced their patrols for now, halted patrols in areas like the place where the Filipinos were taken hostage,” one diplomat in the region said.

A U.N. official in Damascus declined to comment, but two Israeli officials confirmed that UNDOF had reduced operations.

The capture of the 21 peacekeepers was the latest challenge for the United Nations force, comprised of troops from the Philippines, India, Croatia and Austria.

Japan said it was withdrawing soldiers from UNDOF three months ago in response to the violence in Syria. Croatia said last month it would also pull out its troops as a precaution after reports, which it denied, that Croatian arms had been shipped to Syrian rebels.

Two weeks ago the United Nations said an UNDOF staff member had gone missing. It did not identify him but one rebel source identified him as a Canadian legal adviser and said he had been captured by another rebel force and held for ransom.

VIOLENCE MAY FORCE CHANGES

The diplomat said the new restrictions on UNDOF affected mainly the southern part of its “area of separation”, between Syrian and Israeli forces, a narrow strip of land running 45 miles from Mount Hermon on the Lebanese border to the Yarmouk River frontier with Jordan.

“But it does affect all areas where there are potential security issues,” she said, adding that the whole UNDOF operation may need to be “reframed and reworked”.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a December report to the Security Council that fighting between Syrian armed forces and rebels inside the area of separation has “the potential to ignite a larger conflict between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic, with grave consequences”.

Israel warned 10 days ago that it could not be expected to stand idle as Syria's civil war, in which 70,000 people have been killed, spilled over into the Golan Heights.

The 21 Filipino peacekeepers were released on Saturday by Syrian rebels who had seized them and held them for three days in the southern village of Jamla.

The rebels from the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade initially accused the peacekeepers of collaborating with Assad's forces during heavy fighting last week and of failing to carry out their mandate to keep heavy arms away from the frontier region.

At first they demanded the Syrian army cease shelling in the area and pull back from Jamla village as a condition for releasing the peacekeepers, but later described them as guests and escorted them to freedom in Jordan.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Mariam Karouny in Beirut; Editing by Alistair Lyon

Foreigners still caught in Sahara hostage crisis


More than 20 foreigners were still either being held hostage or missing inside a gas plant on Friday after Algerian forces stormed the desert complex to free hundreds of captives taken by Islamist militants.

More than a day after the Algerian army launched an assault to seize the remote desert compound, much was still unclear about the number and fate of the victims, leaving countries with citizens in harm's way struggling to find hard information.

Reports on the number of hostages killed ranged from 12 to 30, with anywhere from dozens to scores of foreigners still unaccounted for.

Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, eight of whose countrymen were missing, said fighters still controlled the gas treatment plant itself, while Algerian forces now held the nearby residential compound that housed hundred of workers.

Leaders of Britain, Japan and other countries expressed frustration that the assault had been ordered without consultation. Many countries were also withholding information about their citizens to avoid helping the captors.

Night fell quietly on the village of In Amenas, the nearest settlement, some 50 km (30 miles) from the vast and remote desert plant. A military helicopter could be seen in the sky.

An Algerian security source said 30 hostages, including at least seven Westerners, had been killed during Thursday's assault, along with at least 18 of their captors. Eight of the dead hostages were Algerian, with the nationalities of the rest of the dead still unclear, he said.

Algeria's state news agency APS put the total number of dead hostages at 12, including both foreigners and locals.

Norway's Stoltenberg said some of those killed in vehicles blasted by the army could not be identified. “We must be prepared for bad news this weekend but we still have hope.”

Northern Irish engineer Stephen McFaul, who survived, said he saw four trucks full of hostages blown up by Algerian troops.

The attack has plunged international capitals into crisis mode and is a serious escalation of unrest in northwestern Africa, where French forces have been in Mali since last week fighting an Islamist takeover of Timbuktu and other towns.

“We are still dealing with a fluid and dangerous situation where a part of the terrorist threat has been eliminated in one part of the site, but there still remains a threat in another part,” British Prime Minister David Cameron told his parliament.

A local Algerian source said 100 of 132 foreign hostages had been freed from the facility. However, other estimates of the number of unaccounted-for foreigners were higher. Earlier the same source said 60 were still missing. Some may be held hostage; others may still be hiding in the sprawling compound.

Two Japanese, two Britons and a French national were among the seven foreigners confirmed dead in the army's storming, the Algerian security source told Reuters. One British citizen was killed when the gunmen seized the hostages on Wednesday.

Those still unaccounted for on Friday included 10 from Japan and eight Norwegians, according to their employers, and a number of Britons which Cameron put at “significantly” less than 30

France said it had no information on two Frenchmen who may have been at the site and Washington has said a number of Americans were among the hostages, without giving details. The local source said a U.S. aircraft landed nearby on Friday.

The attackers had initially claimed to be holding 41 Western hostages. Some Westerners were able to evade capture by hiding.

They lived among hundreds of Algerian employees on the compound. The state news agency said the army had rescued 650 hostages in total, 573 of whom were Algerians.

“(The army) is still trying to achieve a 'peaceful outcome' before neutralising the terrorist group that is holed up in the (facility) and freeing a group of hostages that is still being held,” it said, quoting a security source.

MULTINATIONAL INSURGENCY

Algerian commanders said they moved in on Thursday about 30 hours after the siege began, because the gunmen had demanded to be allowed to take their captives abroad.

A French hostage employed by a French catering company said he had hidden in his room for 40 hours under the bed, relying on Algerian employees to smuggle him food with a password.

“I put boards up pretty much all round,” Alexandre Berceaux told Europe 1 radio. “I didn't know how long I was going to stay there … I was afraid. I could see myself already ending up in a pine box.”

The captors said their attack was a response to a French military offensive in neighbouring Mali. However, some U.S. and European officials say the elaborate raid probably required too much planning to have been organised from scratch in the single week since France first launched its strikes.

Paris says the incident proves that its decision to fight Islamists in neighbouring Mali was necessary.

Security in the half-dozen countries around the Sahara desert has long been a pre-occupation of the West. Smugglers and militants have earned millions in ransom from kidnappings.

The most powerful Islamist groups in the Sahara were severely weakened by Algeria's secularist military in a civil war in the 1990s. But in the past two years the regional wing of Al Qaeda gained fighters and arms as a result of the civil war in Libya, when arsenals were looted from Muammar Gaddafi's army.

Al Qaeda-linked fighters, many with roots in Algeria and Libya, took control of northern Mali last year, prompting the French intervention in that poor African former colony.

The Algerian security source said only two of 11 militants whose bodies were found on Thursday were Algerian, including the squad's leader. The others comprised three Egyptians, two Tunisians, two Libyans, a Malian and a Frenchman, he said.

The plant was heavily fortified, with security, controlled access and an army camp with hundreds of armed personnel between the accommodation and processing plant, Andy Coward Honeywell, who worked there in 2009, told the BBC.

The apparent ease with which the fighters swooped in from the dunes to take control of an important energy facility, which produces some 10 percent of the natural gas on which Algeria depends for its export income, has raised questions over the value of outwardly tough security measures.

Algerian officials said the attackers may have had inside help from among the hundreds of Algerians employed at the site. The attackers benefitted from bases and staging grounds across the nearby border in Libya's desert, Algerian officials said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said those respsonsible would be hunted down: “Terrorists should be on notice that they will find no sanctuary, no refuge, not in Algeria, not in North Africa, not anywhere…. Those who would wantonly attack our country and our people will have no place to hide.”

WARNING OF MORE ATTACKS

The kidnappers threatened more attacks and warned Algerians to stay away from foreign companies' installations, according to Mauritania's news agency ANI, which maintained contact with the group during the siege.

Hundreds of workers from international oil companies were evacuated from Algeria on Thursday and many more will follow, said BP, which jointly ran the gas plant with Norway's Statoil and the Algerian state oil firm.

The overall commander of the kidnappers, Algerian officials said, was Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a one-eyed veteran of Afghanistan in the 1980s and Algeria's bloody civil war of the 1990s. He appears not to have been present.

Algerian security specialist Anis Rahmani, author of several books on terrorism and editor of Ennahar daily, told Reuters about 70 militants were involved from two groups, Belmokhtar's “Those who sign in blood”, who travelled from Libya, and the lesser known “Movement of the Islamic Youth in the South”.

Britain's Cameron, who warned people to prepare for bad news and who cancelled a major policy speech on Friday to deal with the situation, said he would have liked Algeria to have consulted before the raid. Japan made similar complaints.

U.S. officials had no clear information on the fate of Americans. Washington, like its European allies, has endorsed France's military intervention in Mali.

Shalits reveal content of 2006 letter from Gilad


The family of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit has allowed public access to a letter he wrote just months after being taken captive by Palestinian militants in 2006.

The letter was handed over to Israel by Egyptian mediators in October 2006, four months after Shalit was seized in a cross-border raid.

Read the full story at HAARETZ.com.

Jewish Agency events mark Shalit birthday


Events marking the 23rd birthday of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit will be held around the United States on Friday.

The Jewish Agency for Israel is organizing about a dozen ceremonies to honor the soldier, who was taken captive in a cross-border raid at the Gaza-Israel border more than three years ago. He is believed to be alive and in captivity in Gaza. Shalit’s birthday is Aug. 28.

In Columbus, Ohio organizers will grant Shalit honorary citizenship. In San Francisco, a documentary on Shalit will be screened at the Jewish film festival. In Miami, children will release 1,000 balloons symbolizing the hope that he will be released soon.

“Participants at the events will be asked to sign post cards to the Red Cross asking that Shalit receive the full rights of an abducted soldier under international law and that the Red Cross work for the soldier’s release,” the Jewish Agency said in a news release on Monday.

In Israel, activists on behalf of Shalit marked his upcoming birthday by demonstrating Tuesday in front of two prisons in which Palestinians are incarcerated, disrupting family visits. Demonstrators have called on the Israeli government to withhold visitors to Hamas prisoners until Hamas allows the Red Cross to meet with Shalit.

Sion Ebrahami: I was taken hostage by the moujahadeen


If you ask retired Iranian Jewish accountant and author Simon “Sion” Ebrahimi about being held hostage for many months in his office in Tehran during the Iranian revolution, he will tell you the circumstances were a sort of a tragic comedy. Ebrahimi’s office was located across the street from the U.S. Embassy.

In November 1979, when the embassy was taken over by armed revolutionary thugs, Ebrahimi and his partners were also held hostage inside their offices by his armed employees. Now 70 and residing in Los Angeles, Ebrahimi is penning a fictional, multigenerational family saga loosely based on his family’s life in Iran. He talked recently about his experiences as a captive.

Jewish Journal: Can you give some background into your accounting firm in Iran and the circumstances that led up to your being taken hostage?

Simon Ebrahimi: Before the revolution, I was a partner of the largest international CPA firm in Iran, where the employees with excellent performance records would qualify to become a partner of the firm. At the time, we had over 500 employees.

Since all partners came from the employees’ pool, we worked in a close, friendly environment. I always had an open-door policy with my staff. The same bonding was there, even if you became a partner.

At the time, I had nine British and American partners and five Iranians of different religions and ethnic backgrounds. They included Muslims, Jews, Assyrians and Armenians.

As clients were both major corporations with international affiliations and also Iranian government institutions, I knew and worked with people at a very high echelon of the private and the government levels.

With the early signs of the revolution in 1978, the staff went on a sitting strike, and as the situation culminated into the takeover of the American Embassy compound and hostage-taking — which I was an eyewitness to. Since our office was facing the embassy, this stimulated our staff more, and soon my partners and I were taken hostage. This situation paralyzed the firm.

With them not going to work, the cash flow started getting messed up. What they were demanding from us was to terminate them all, pay them a termination compensation of $20 million, then re-hire them. Where was the money that we didn’t have going to come from, we asked? ‘Your hidden bank accounts in Israel and America!’ they responded.

JJ: Who were the people that took you hostage?

SE: With the passage of time, we realized that these people were from three factions within the firm, which included the Mojahedeen faction, the communist faction and there were the very fanatic pro-Khomeini faction.

And we had a few people who were still loyal to us and gave us inside information as to how these people were confronting one another. As the unrest escalated and Khomeini ended up coming to Iran, with the hostage situation happening in the embassy, my partners and I were also taken hostage by my employees.

JJ: Typically, people are terrified when they are taken hostage. What did you find humorous about the incident?

SE: The comedy side of this whole thing was more appealing to me than the tragic side, because these were not ordinary factory workers who would put the factory owners in a dark room and threaten to kill them. We had our breakfast, our kebab for lunch and our dinners; they were very polite — it was dead crazy!

But we were not allowed to go home. They assigned each partner a guard, which came from the employee pool. They said, ‘Please don’t go home tonight, because we are thinking of coming up with an answer to your end of the bargain’ — and we knew then that we were hostages.

Then they came to our offices and told us, ‘Please don’t go home.’ They were very nice, polite, civilized — but sons of bitches!

JJ: How did you eventually extricate yourself from this hostage situation?

SE: So here I am in the middle of the hostage-taking, sitting in my office, and one of my clients, a major subsidiary of the French government, calls me. The guy was my connection, and he asked me what was happening with his case.

I thought this was a God-given thing, because they owed us somewhere around $60,000. So I asked my client to come over to Tehran, and he said, ‘Are you crazy? Are you kidding me? Why don’t you come here?’ I said OK, and he agreed to give me the check when I came to France.

By then, my office was being run by a revolutionary committee, which was comprised of my own driver and a few other hoodlums. I called the revolutionary committee into my office and told them my clients have called me to Paris, and I was going to get the $60,000.

Now the office was in a financial mess; no one was paying their salaries, and $60,000 was a ton of money at that time in Iran. My driver — a revolutionary committee member — said, ‘I think he’s going to escape.’

And then I told my captors, ‘Get the hell out of my office; make up your mind, then come back and tell me if you want me to go and get you $60,000!’ Of course, the latter part of my cry worked.

They returned and asked what guarantees I could give them that I would not escape. I said, ‘My family is here; I have no intention of escaping,’ and they agreed to remove my name from the black list — the list of people who were forbidden to leave the country.

I called my client and asked him for a visa. Fortunately, I had my whole family on one passport, and he arranged for a six-month visa to France. After three days of work in Paris in September of 1980, I returned to Tehran with the check, and these people were celebrating the mighty dollars and distributing it amongst themselves.

I had already packed up a few suitcases. I grabbed my family, jumped on a plane and escaped to France. The fortunate thing was that they had forgotten to blacklist me again. We came to France, we applied for a visa to come to America and eventually made it here.

Candles in the wind


Report: illegal West Bank construction up; Phosphorous bombs used in Hezbollah fight


Report: Illegal West Bank Construction Up

Israel reportedly has suppressed a government report revealing large-scale settlement expansion in the West Bank. Ha’aretz reported Tuesday that a study conducted over the past two years found that settlements and outposts often have been expanded without government permission, and on Palestinian-owned land in the West Bank. The newspaper alleged that unnamed officials in the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration have removed information on settlement expansion from a government database to obscure the extent of the construction. The Defense Ministry confirmed that a study had been put together, but said its contents were classified since it hadn’t yet been submitted to the Cabinet. The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv declined comment on the report, saying only that Washington expects Israel to keep to its commitments under the “road map” peace plan, which include a freeze on settlement expansion and the dismantling of illegal outposts.

Phosphorous Bombs Used in Hezbollah Fight

Israel confirmed that it used white phosphorous bombs during the war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. Ha’aretz this week quoted Cabinet minister Jacob Edery as telling a lawmaker that Israeli forces fired an unspecified number of white phosphorous shells at Hezbollah targets during the war. Security sources confirmed the statement. The material is designed to wipe out enemy emplacements by causing severe burns. Israel says it abided by international law, which bans its use against civilian targets.

Hamas Threatens More Kidnappings

“We will abduct more soldiers if Israel does not release Palestinian prisoners,” Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas member, told supporters at a Gaza Strip rally over the weekend.

Hamas was the main actor in a June 25 raid across the Gaza border in which two Israeli soldiers were killed and a third, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, captured. The Palestinian Authority has demanded that Israel release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit. While Israel has formally ruled this out, a Hamas aide was quoted as saying over the weekend that it could relent soon. “Soon we will find a solution to the matter of the captive soldier,” said Ahmed Youssef, an adviser to P.A. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. “Israel has voiced readiness to accept the Palestinian terms, which include the release of Palestinian prisoners.”

Report: Spy Heading U.N. Hostage Efforts

The United Nations reportedly appointed a German spy to help secure the release of two Israeli soldiers held hostage by Hezbollah. The German news magazine Der Spiegel reported Saturday that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan made the appointment in September during a secret meeting with the unnamed BND intelligence agent in Madrid. According to Der Spiegel, the spy will lead behind-the-scenes efforts to secure the release of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, whose abduction by Hezbollah in a July 12 border raid triggered the war in Lebanon. The BND, Germany’s foreign spy service, was integral to brokering a 2004 deal in which Hezbollah repatriated a captured Israeli businessman and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers in exchange for Israel’s release of hundreds of Arab security prisoners. Neither the BND nor the United Nations commented on the report.

Russia: Go Easy on Hamas

Russia’s foreign minister called for Hamas to be included in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking efforts. Sergei Lavrov said in an interview published Tuesday that it’s unrealistic for Western powers to shun the radical Islamist group to get it to recognize Israel’s right to exist and renounce terrorism.”I have said repeatedly that asking Hamas to change its positions 100 percent is not realistic. We must look at what is possible,” Lavrov told the London-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. “Undoubtedly, Hamas, as the power that received a mandate from voters, must be a part of the solution and not the problem itself. As we know from our dealings with Hamas and its representatives, Hamas is ready to move toward common ground.”Russia broke with the United States and European Union by engaging Hamas politically after it won Palestinian Authority elections in January. The group has said it could enter a long-term truce with Israel but would never recognize the Jewish state.

Jewish Groups Among Top Philanthropies

U.S. Jewish groups are well-represented in The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual list of the 400 largest charities. The list in the publication’s Oct. 26 issue, which named the 400 U.S. charities that took in the most money from private donors in 2005, included 23 Jewish charities, down from 26 in 2004. The United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group for North America’s 155 federations, took in $333,824,000 and was the highest-ranked Jewish group at No. 34, while the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest in New Jersey was the last organization named on the list. The Jewish Communal Fund moved up the list to No. 54, after increasing its intake by 49 percent since the previous year, to $203,330,851, according to the chronicle. The Jewish National Fund made the list for the first time, coming in at No. 359. Three federations, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, and the San Diego-based Jewish Community Foundation, dropped off the list.

Religious Rights Claimed in Bay Area Shul Battle

A northern California synagogue claims its religious rights are being violated as neighbors seek to block expansion plans. Congregation Kol Shofar, an 1,800-member congregation in Tiburon north of San Francisco, wants to add two wings to its existing structure for weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs. Hundreds of neighbors signed petitions objecting to the expansion, and the town planning commission denied the permit. The synagogue has turned to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a national foundation that fights for religious freedom. Rabbi Lavey Derby told the San Francisco Chronicle that he doesn’t believe anti-Semitism is involved, but that not allowing the synagogue to expand will restrict its right to exercise its religion. The Tiburon Town Council will make its decision Nov. 15.

Campaign to Compensate Jewish Refugees

A campaign to gain restitution for Jews expelled from Arab countries in the mid-20th century was launched. The “International Rights and Redress Campaign” opened with a one-day summit in Jerusalem on Sunday attended by representatives of Jewish communities from 10 countries. Participants called for a campaign to document properties lost by an estimated 900,000 Jews who were driven out of Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen after Israel’s founding in 1948. Most of the refugees ended up in the nascent Jewish state, while others immigrated to the West. One group, the World Organization of Jews From Arab Countries, has valued the refugees’ lost property at $100 billion, and wants a concerted effort to sue for reparations.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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