Netanyahu opens school year with visit to Arab town


More than two million Israeli children headed to school for the 2016-2017 school year.

Thursday was the first day of school for most Israeli children from kindergarten to 12th grade.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett welcomed students to their first day of school at Tamra Haemek public elementary school in Tamra, an Israeli Arab town in northern Israel.

The lawmakers were welcomed during an opening ceremony  by the school’s approximately 200 pupils in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

Netanyahu told the students to listen to their teachers and to listen to their parents.

“I want you to learn – learn to write, learn to read, learn Hebrew, Arabic and English. I want you to learn mathematics. I want you to learn science. I want you to learn history – history of the Jewish People, the history of your public. I want you to learn the truth, and the truth says that we were destined to live together,” Netanyahu told the students according to his office.

“I want you to be doctors, scientists and writers, and be whatever you want to – and are able to – be. I want you to be loyal citizens, integrated into the State of Israel; this is your state,” he said.

Of the 2.2 million Israeli students who started school on Thursday, some 159,000 are entering first grade and 123,000 are entering their last year of high school.

There are some 180,000 educators working in the Israeli school system, including 9,000 who are teaching this year for the first time.

Islamist terrorists call to attack Israeli delegation and others at Rio Olympics, report says


Islamist terrorists have issued directives to “lone wolves” to carry out attacks against the Israeli delegation and others at the Rio Olympics this summer, according to a news website.

The Foreign Desk reported that a list of directives published on social media advises jihadis to target American, British, French and Israeli athletes, saying “One small knife attack against Americans/Israelis in these places will have bigger media effect than any other attacks anywhere else insha Allah,” meaning “If Allah wills.”

“Your chance to take part in the global Jihad is here! Your chance to be a martyr is here!” the jihadis said, citing the easy process of obtaining visas for travel to Brazil as well as the wide availability of guns in “crime-ridden slums,” according to the report by Lisa Daftari, an investigative journalist specializing in foreign affairs as well as a Fox News analyst.

Israeli athletes are further singled out.

“From among the worst enemies, the most famous enemies for general Muslims is to attack Israelis. As general Muslims all agree to it and it causes more popularity for the Mujahideen among the Muslims,” the jihadis said on social media.

In parallel, Brazilian police on Thursday ordered the detention of 12 people who allegedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group via social media and discussed possible attacks during the games.

Operation “Hashtag” was announced by the justice minister, Alexandre Moraes, on Thursday morning at a news conference in Brasilia. The arrests took place based on Brazil’s new anti-terror law for which Jewish officials had advocated.

“There is only one way to face terrorism with efficiency: prevention,” Fernando Lottenberg, president of the Brazilian Israelite Confederation, told JTA in March.

“The concern with the recruitment network of the Islamic State scattered across Brazilian cities and on the internet has been growing and flagged by specialists. We have met congressmen and federal authorities many times to express the need for such legislation,” he said.

Allegedly members of a group called Defenders of Sharia, those arrested are believed to have been in online contact via social media with members of Islamic State. They are also reported to have discussed the acquisition of AK-47 assault rifles and celebrated the recent terror attacks on Orlando and Nice.

The Rio Olympics begin on Aug. 5. Between 500,000 and 1 million tourists are expected in Brazil’s second largest city, including some 10,000 Israelis coming to see their country’s largest-ever Olympics delegation compete for medals.

Israel says Arab citizen illegally crosses into Gaza Strip


An Israeli from the country's Bedouin Arab minority illegally crossed into Gaza on Tuesday, Israel's military said, an incident that may affect a proposed prisoner swap with the Palestinian enclave's Hamas authorities.

Hamas says it is holding two Israeli soldiers whom the army declared dead after they were lost in action in the 2014 Gaza war. The Islamist militant group also says it has two Israeli civilians who previously walked into the fenced-off enclave.

The man who entered Gaza on Tuesday was not authorized to do so and was believed to be inside Palestinian territory, a military spokeswoman said. She declined to say how she knew he is a Bedouin Arab citizen, or to elaborate on the incident.

“This matter is under investigation,” the spokeswoman said.

Palestinian authorities did not immediately comment, but witnesses in the Gaza Strip reportedIsraeli spotter aircraft overhead.

Israeli officials previously said they sought to recover the two soldiers' remains and the two civilians held by Hamas, signaling willingness to repeat past amnesties of jailed Palestinians in a trade. Hamas has conditioned any discussion of the four on a preliminary release of detainees byIsrael.

Relatives of the two Israeli civilians who previously entered Gaza, one of whom is Jewish and the other a Bedouin, have described them as suffering from psychological problems.

Islamic State says it’s holding ‘Israeli spy’ in Syria


Islamic State said on Thursday it was holding an Israeli Arab who had posed as a foreign fighter in order to spy for Mossad, an account denied by Israel and by the man's family, who said he had been kidnapped.

In an interview published by Islamic State's online English-language magazine Dabiq, Muhammad Musallam, 19, said he had joined the insurgent group in Syria so as to report to the Israelis on its weapons caches, bases and Palestinian recruits.

After his conduct aroused the suspicion of Islamic State commanders, Musallam was quoted as saying, he broke cover by phoning his father in East Jerusalem, leading to his capture.

“I say to all those who want to spy on the Islamic State, don't think that you're so smart and that you can deceive the Islamic State. You won't succeed at all,” he said, according to Dabiq.

“Stay away from this path. Stay away from helping the Jews and the murtaddin (apostates). Follow the right path.”

Musallam's father, Said, denied his son was a spy, saying he went missing after traveling as a tourist to Turkey. Muhammad then phoned home, saying he had been abducted to neighboring Syria but could buy his way out, his father said.

“He said, 'Dad, I need $200 or $300 so they will let me go,'” Said Musallam told Reuters. Before he could send the money, he said, another man phoned to inform him Muhammad had escaped his captors but had been seized by Islamic State.

An Israeli security official said Musallam traveled to Turkey on Oct. 24 in order to fight for Islamic State in Syria.

“He went on his own initiative, without his family's knowledge,” the official told Reuters. Asked whether his statement constituted a denial that Musallam was an Israeli spy, the official said: “You can understand it that way, yes.”

POROUS BORDER

Worried that members of its 20-percent Arab minority might travel to Syria or Iraq to join Islamist insurgent groups and then return radicalized and battle-ready, Israel has stepped up monitoring and prosecution of suspected would-be volunteers.

Turkey draws many Israeli Arab holidaymakers. It is also a major conduit for foreigners who slip across the border to help insurgents trying to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Muhammad Musallam worked as an Israeli firefighter, his family said. A friend of his who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said Musallam had posted pro-Islamic State messages on social media. Reuters could find no social media accounts under Musallam's name.

In the first conviction of its kind, Israel in November jailed Ahmed Shurbaji, an Arab citizen who returned voluntarily after spending three months with Islamic State in Syria.

He received a relatively light term of 22 months in return for cooperation with security services that would likely “help the State of Israel defend itself against this organization in various ways,” the court said, in a possible allusion to information he provided about Islamic State.

A source in the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, said Israeli Arabs returning from Syria were routinely questioned for intelligence on jihadi groups.

Shurbaji had phoned an Israeli security official from Syria to broker a deal. The Shin Bet source said such communications with Israeli Arabs who wanted to return from Syria had sometimes been handled by Ayoob Kara, an Israeli Druse politician and former army officer close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Contacted by Reuters, Kara said he was aware of Musallam's case and did not believe he was a Mossad spy.

While declining to discuss Musallam in detail, Kara said he knew of several young Israeli Arabs who had gone to Syria to aid refugees or for the thrill of available women or booty, only to be kidnapped and exploited by insurgents like Islamic State.

For Israeli tennis ace Andy Ram and ‘home’ crowd in Fla., a finale to remember


It wasn’t Tel Aviv, but thousands of people chanting his name at a Davis Cup match following a grueling victory was a pretty good way for Israel’s Andy Ram to leave the game of tennis to which he had devoted more than half his life.

Ram, 34, and his longtime doubles partner, Yoni Erlich, had just outlasted the Argentine duo of Federico Delbonis and Horacio Zeballos in a five-set match on Saturday that lasted nearly three-and-a-half hours.

With Ram sprawled out on center court — on his back, in tears — the crowd waved Israeli flags and “Todah [Thank you] Andy Ram” signs in Hebrew and chanted “Andyoni” and “Tishaer [Stay],” suggesting that he put off the retirement he had announced recently.

His teammates, wearing “Todah Andy” shirts, surrounded Ram, hoisted him in the air and carried him off the court. They proceeded to dump an ice-filled bucket on his head.

He would stay on the court for 20 minutes signing autographs and posing for pictures.

At a news conference afterward, Ram talked about his actions following the match, with Erlich and coach Eyal Ran at his side.

“I ran out of energy,” he said. “Then, as I was looking up at the sky and the birds, I got very emotional. And I cried like a baby.

“I thought of my father who couldn’t be here. I thought of my mom who was here. I left home at 14 to play tennis. Most of our relationship was on the phone. It meant the world to me that she was here.”

The doubles victory had put underdog Israel ahead 2-1 in the team match, but Argentina took both singles matches the following day to advance in the international tournament.

Despite the thunderous reception — as well as the Hebrew music heard frequently during the changeovers — Ram and his Israeli teammates lamented that the match was not played in central Israel, as scheduled, rather than South Florida.

In July, the Argentine Tennis Association requested a change in venue from the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv due to security concerns surrounding the conflict in Gaza. The International Tennis Federation informed Israel in August that the match had to be moved. Israel appealed but lost; it would have to serve as host in a different location.

The Sunrise Tennis Club was selected from among several options. Much of the crowd there backed the Israelis, with a section of Argentines clad in light blue and white shirts rooting on their guys.

“We are playing here in the U.S.; it is a good feeling and yet it is not the best feeling,” Ram told JTA on Friday. “It was supposed to be in Israel. I wanted to play in front of my home crowd.”

His teammate, Dudi Sela, was a little more direct.

“The ITF made a mistake,” Sela told JTA. “We were looking forward to playing in front of 11,000 people cheering for Israel.”

Asi Touchmair, the chair of the Israel Tennis Association, noted in a statement that Israel has hosted the Davis Cup during times of war and military operations without having to move the matches.

Despite the distance and the logistics difficulties involved, Touchmair said, “we decided to play the Davis Cup in South Florida due to the warm and welcoming relationship that Israel receives from the United States, and where an atmosphere of a ‘home away from home’ will be experienced by our Israel Davis Cup team.”

Among those who made the trek to Sunrise was Andrea Eidman, an Argentine sports journalist who came from Buenos Aires.

“People asked me, who do you cheer for? And honestly, I didn’t care!” she said.

Eidman added, “For me, being present at that tennis court … with the Hebrew music going on and on, with the Israeli flags, the ‘Hatikvah,’ the shofar — it was a party from beginning to end!”

Ram, sitting in the stands on Friday with Erlich, 37, and cheering on his teammates during singles’ matches, told JTA he had no problem looking toward the future.

“I try to put it behind me, like in the past,” he said. “I am the kind of guy who is always thinking, ‘What’s next?’

“It was fun. It was a good time. Next is to focus on my kids [aged 5 and 7]. To see them growing, to be great athletes. To find myself, my way.”

Ram and Erlich – natives of Uruguay and Argentina, respectively — reached as high as No. 5 in the world doubles rankings. They advanced to 36 finals and won 20 of them, including the 2008 Australian Open. Ram also won the Wimbledon mixed doubles in 2006 and the French Open mixed doubles in 2007.

Ram is particularly proud of his Davis Cup record of 19-5 following the one final victory – achieved despite pulling muscle in his left leg late in the fifth set.

“I sent Jonathan on a suicide mission,” Ram joked. “He said, ‘Just get the serves in. I will do the rest.’ ”

Erlich’s particularly strong volleys powered the duo in the final set in 91-degree heat.

Ram spoke of his partnership with Ehrlich.

“When we go on court together, magic happens. We communicate. We know what the other one will do,” Ram said.

Erlich offered, “We had motivation, energy and a lot of belief.”

Eidman summed up what much of the crowd was likely feeling on seeing Ram’s finale.

“I felt like crying when Andy Ram said goodbye to tennis,” she said, noting that the Argentina team’s Jewish captain, Martin Jaite, was playing in his final match, too.

Eidman also said, “I would have loved to travel to eretz Israel instead of America. … It hurt my heart not to go to Israel because of the war.”

But, Ram said, “11,000 people screaming Andyoni is amazing!”

Olmert retrial in Talansky Affair begins


Ehud Olmert went on trial for the second time in the the bribery case that led the Israeli prime minister to resign in 2008.

Olmert’s retrial in what became known as the Talansky Affair began with a hearing Tuesday in Jerusalem District Court.

Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the new trial last month and said it will allow new testimony from Olmert’s former assistant Shula Zaken, including recordings of conversations between Olmert and Zaken, who provided the information last spring as part of a plea bargain. Zaken and Olmert reportedly will take the stand in the retrial.

In 2012, The Jerusalem District Court acquitted Olmert on charges of fraud, breach of trust, tax evasion and falsifying corporate records in what became known as the Talansky and Rishon Tours affairs. He was found guilty on a lesser charge of breach of trust in what was known as the Investment Center case.

Olmert was accused of allegedly paying for family vacations by double billing Jewish organizations through the Rishon Tours travel agency; allegedly accepting envelopes full of cash from American businessman and fundraiser Morris Talansky; and allegedly granting personal favors to attorney Uri Messer when he served as trade minister in the Investment Center case. The charges were filed after he became prime minister in 2006, but covered his time as mayor of Jerusalem and later as a government minister.

He officially resigned as prime minister after police investigators recommended that he be indicted.

Zaken was convicted on two counts of fraudulently obtaining benefits and fraud, and breach of trust in the Rishon Tours case.

In May, Olmert was sentenced to six years in prison for accepting bribes in the real estate scam known as the Holyland Affair and ordered to report to prison on Sept. 1. The prison date was suspended pending his appeal.

He could spend more time in prison if convicted in the second Talansky trial.

Israeli woman refused service at Florida gas station; called ‘killer’ by attendant


An Israeli woman, a resident of Coral Springs, Fla., for 15 years, was recently denied service and asked not to return again to a gas station (“On the Move Texaco” owned by J&L Services of Florida Inc.) that she had frequented over the years.

On her most recent visit, a Palestinian employee of the gas station told her: “You guys are killers and your money is not welcome here.” While the employee was not on the corporate side of the company, this incident, nonetheless, is another call for alarm among the Jewish population.

Because of my concern about the statement, I called the Shell station and spoke to the store manager, Darrell Glover. He assured me that this was not normal and that this employee would be let go today.  He sends sincere apologies and assured me that this would never happen again.

Since the conflict between the Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas has been at an all-time high, incidents of anti-Semitism have become more frequent around the world: Synagogues in France and Germany have been firebombed by street mobs. Even in Los Angeles, a city with a sizable Jewish population, a peaceful pro-Israel rally last month became violent as pro-Hamas protesters attacked those marching in support of the Jewish state. In Britain, a rabbi was attacked near a Jewish boarding school. In Australia, teenagers shouted “Heil Hitler” and threated to slit the throats of Jewish schoolchildren. And even though it was never officially declared a hate crime, the recent murder of Rabbi Joseph Raskin in North Miami, whose only offense was walking to shul on Shabbos, raises serious concerns about the safety of Jews wherever they may be.

One Jewish organization has claimed that incidents of anti-Semitism have increased five-fold just over the last month. Globally, reports of hate crimes against Jews have been through the roof in ways not seen publicly in decades. One European leader has suggested: “These are the worst times since the Nazi era”; another has stated that we’re experiencing “a dramatic rise in Anti-Semitism.”

Passions continue to be enflamed by social media. The number of calls for peace, calm explorations of facts, and attempts to build bridges have been far outnumbered by the virulent rhetoric, distinct lack of facts, rush to propaganda, flippant accusations, and the burning of bridges.

Diaspora Jews need to know how much they affect the reputation of the State of Israel with their actions worldwide. But the State of Israel also needs to be cognizant of how deeply they affect the global sentiment toward the Jewish people. We are deeply interconnected and must take responsibility for one another’s security. Only anti-Semites are responsible for their own hate, but our collective Jewish behavior must be so morally stellar that we don’t give them any material to work with.

The Rabbis taught that since one will be inclined to act with more kindness toward one’s own that in order to follow the ways of peace one must treat all people equally, (Gittin 61a). As Jews, we must protect ourselves and be vigilant and proactive to combat anti-Semitism. But we must also model leadership whenever we see racism, sexism, and yes, even Islamaphobia in our mist.

It is difficult, to be sure, to rise above the baseless hate that is so often flung at us simply because of our ancient heritage. But our true strength, as Jews and as Americans, is that we don’t lower ourselves to the hate of our enemies. Our actions need to transcend the accusations of those who hate us.

It is true that businesses should have zero tolerance policies for hate crimes, but it’s just as true that each of us should have zero tolerance policies for hate speech on social media or in our social circles.

The smallest actions and simplest words can alienate and strike fear in populations. Let us play our part in ridding the world of this evil.

To read more articles by Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, visit his blog, Social Justice Rav

Menahem Golan, Veteran Israeli Film Producer, dies at 85


Menahem Golan, a pioneer of Israeli cinema who made a splash in Hollywood with B-movie action flicks in the 1980s, died on Aug. 8.  He was 85.

The producer and director was on an evening stroll with relatives when he collapsed not far from his home in Jaffa and died despite paramedics’ repeated attempts to revive him, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Just 2 1/2 months before his death, the frail Golan turned out at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival for the premiere of Hilla Medalia’s “The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films,” a documentary about the legendary, if lowbrow, company that Golan founded with his cousin, Yoram Globus, in 1980s Tinseltown.

“Golan barely made it to the podium to take a bow,” Ella Taylor wrote in the Journal of the producer’s July appearance at the Jerusalem International Film Festival. “Once there, the famously brash filmmaker wound his arm around Medalia and pronounced her “the best director in the world — after me.”

Born Menahem Globus to Polish immigrants in Tiberias in 1929, the colorful producer went on to serve as a fighter pilot in the 1948 Israel War of Independence, when he changed his surname to the Hebrew “Golan.”

After studying filmmaking at New York University, he cut his cinematic teeth working for American cult movie icon Roger Corman, whose quick-and-cheap mode of production influenced Golan’s own future sets.

Upon returning to the Jewish state in the early 1960s, Golan, along with Globus, helped put the fledgling Israeli film industry on the map with the comedy “Sallah Shabati” (1964), the first Israeli film to be nominated for an Academy Award (Taylor called the movie “buoyantly cheesy”). Oscar nods followed for “I Love You Rosa” (1972) and “Operation Thunderbolt” (1977), about the 1976 Israeli raid on Entebbe, which Golan also directed. A year later, another Golan and Globus film, “Lemon Popsicle,” became a global cult hit, reportedly helping spur the duo to try their luck in Hollywood.

They purchased the then-struggling Cannon Group, including Cannon Films, which became “synonymous with its cheap-but-brash style, leading to the pair being dubbed “the Go-Go boys,” according to The Guardian. A string of exploitation flicks followed — including “The Delta Force” and several of the “Death Wish” sequels — some featuring stars such as Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson. The Hollywood Reporter once dubbed Golan and Globus “nonpareil shlockmeisters.”

Cannon was more successful with its B-movies than it was with its attempt at art-house fare, including John Cassavetes’ “Love Streams” and Jean-Luc Godard’s “King Lear.” And, by the early 1990s, the company was failing, prompting Golan — who had a famous falling-out with Globus (eventually healed) — to move back to Israel, where he resumed making Israeli movies and directed theater.

In the aftermath of his death, not just one but two documentaries will recall the ups and downs of his career: “The Go-Go Boys” and “Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films.”

Golan is survived by his wife and three children. 

Sole Israeli national on downed Malaysian airliner was son of evangelical Christian


A few hours before he departed Amsterdam for Australia on July 17, Ithamar Avnon was praying for peace with his parents at their home in the Netherlands.

That evening, pro-Russian separatists shot down Avnon’s flight, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers and crew. Avnon, 26, was the sole Israeli national on board.

The son of a Dutchwoman and an Israeli who became an evangelical Christian, Avnon loved peace because of how well he and his family knew war.

His father, Dov, served for three years in the Israel Defense Forces before moving to the Netherlands in the 1970s. His older brother, Jonathan, was an Israeli paratrooper. Following his brother’s lead, Avnon voluntarily joined the paratroopers and fought with that unit in the 2009 Cast Lead operation in Gaza.

Friends and family say that Avnon, who was born in the Netherlands in 1988, was a fun-loving man with a penchant for buffoonery who was looking forward to completing his international business degree at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia.

“Ithamar liked horsing around, he wasn’t a stern guy,” his mother, Jeannet, told JTA. “I never thought Ithamar would join the army, but he was inspired to do it by his brother. Ithamar completed the training and got that red beret.”

One of his former commanders, Shlomi Biton, said Avnon — Ito, to his friends — was a forgetful soldier who would often lose pieces of gear, including that red beret, just moments after receiving it. Avnon got away with it because of how well-liked he was by his peers and commanders.

“I really loved Ithamar,” Biton wrote on a Facebook page in Avnon’s memory. “I wanted to be the one to give Ithamar the beret — and then another one after he lost the first one, which was typical.”

Dov Avnon moved to Holland after meeting Dutch Christians in Eilat in the 1970s. Even as an ex-Jewish Christian living in Holland, Dov Avnon and his wife raised their children with a love of the Jewish state.

After Avnon’s death, Dov wrote on Facebook: “I am happy that he grew up with the bible and the faith that Christ died for him on the cross.”

Avnon had been in the Netherlands to attend the wedding of his sister, Ruth, who learned of the flight’s demise on the radio.

“I knew immediately that it was my little brother’s flight and it felt as though I was sinking and the world around me was falling apart,” Ruth Avnon said.

In their home near Utrecht, Avnon’s parents were waiting last week for a Dutch forensics team to finish identifying the remains of the dead in the hope of recovering their son’s body.

Though the final remains found at the crash site arrived in Holland last week, the search is ongoing. Full identification of the victims could take months and it’s not yet clear whether all the bodies have been recovered. Dov has little hope of recovering his son’s remains, since he was sitting close to the engine.

“It’s a strange sort of mourning because we have no body,” Jeannet said. “I’m afraid that when and if a body is recovered, we would need to mourn all over again.”

Avnon had a knack for comedy and impersonations and had a face he would make by puckering his lips. “We called it the Berrie face,” Jeannet said.

His thespian skills also helped him at work, according to Nata Sapuga, Avnon’s former boss at a recycling company. During a business trip to India, Avnon got an upset stomach and had to run to the bathroom every few minutes while working at a business fair.

“He would tell visitors to his booth, ‘Excuse me, sir, but i just figured out that I need to exchange a few urgent words with my biggest buyer, who just passed by,’” Spuga recalled.

Holland lost 194 of its citizens on board MH17, prompting the government to declare a day of mourning — the first in a century. The national outpouring of grief has provided some consolation to Avnon’s parents.

“We are consoled by the feeling of a community, by the respect the Netherlands is showing to all victims,” Jeannet said. “It dulls the pain, as did the powerful speech of our foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, at the United Nations.”

In that speech, Timmermans condemned pro-Russian separatists for delaying access to the bodies and urged delegates to imagine they were parents of the victims “and then two or three days later see some thug steal their wedding ring from their remains.”

Western leaders also criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of supplying the separatists with the weapons used to bring down the plane and for failing to expedite the return of the bodies. Dov Avnon wrote Putin a scathing letter, accusing him of harboring “people who have lost all humanity.”

On Wednesday, Dov was at the ceremony in Eindhoven Airport, where the first bodies were returned. Organizers had placed a flag for every nation that lost civilians in the crash, including Israel.

“I know that flag is especially for Ithamar,” Dov Avnon said. “I am proud to be an Israeli and a Dutch citizen and grateful for this treatment.”

Israeli woman in N.Y. Times breast cancer photo speaks out


An unnamed Israeli woman pictured in a controversial photo on the front page of The New York Times last Wednesday spoke out in response to critics of the paper’s choice of images.

An image of the woman’s upper body — including an incision scar, a portion of her aureola and a Star of David tattoo — was featured as the lead photo in the paper that day to illustrate a story about breast cancer screening in Israel.

In describing her decision to remain anonymous, the woman wrote, “The cancer I fought this past year is a part of me, but it’s not who I am.” But the photo, which some critics called inappropriate, was “artistic,” she said, a depiction of her struggle with breast cancer.

Some readers took offense at what they said was a shocking and sensationalistic image, citing the partial nudity. And some were upset by the prominent display of the Star of David tattoo on her shoulder. (Under traditional Jewish law, tattoos are prohibited.)

But for this Israeli woman, whose family, she says, includes Holocaust survivors, the tattoo is an expression of her Jewish and Israeli pride.

“When I was 17, I went with my high school on a trip to the concentration camps in Poland,” she wrote. “It was a very emotional and difficult trip, and when I returned to Israel I was so proud that I am Jewish and Israeli that I wanted the whole world to know.”

After the New York Times photo, that desire is certainly closer to coming true.

Bar Refaeli comes on to Simon Cowell in ‘X Factor Israel’ promo


The Israeli version of “The X Factor” isn’t airing until after the high holidays, but this teaser is sure to get Israelis psyched for their very own edition of the American hit show.

The promo features host Bar Refaeli racing through the desert to an American-style diner, where she meets up with a digitally manipulated Simon Cowell.

The Israeli supermodel uses tarot cards to seductively introduce him to the four judges. There’s Ivri Lider, “the clever one,” Shiri Maimon, “the diamond,” Rami Fortis, “the crazy one,” and Moshe Peretz, “the prince.”

Then, just when you think Refaeli is going to kiss the British bad boy, she grabs his car keys and zooms off, “hence getting his approval to get behind the wheel of the car for his show’s debut in the Holy Land,” The Hollywood Reporter so insightfully noted.

It’s all very hot and heavy, uh, except for the gum smacking waitress.

Ban Ki-Moon in Jerusalem


The first feature I ever filed for JTA, way back in 2006, was about the cautious optimism greeting the announcement that a soft-spoken career diplomat would replace Kofi Annan at the United Nations.

At the time, no one outside the rarefied halls of the UN had ever heard of Ban Ki-moon, who had risen, quickly and inoffensively, through the ranks of the South Korean foreign ministry, becoming minister in 2004. The skinny on him then was that he was not someone who would court a high public profile or shake things up too much. He would not be nearly as prominent as Annan, whose profile owed as much to his almost regal refinement as to his marrying into diplomatic royalty.

So I was a bit surprised to see headlines late last week that Ban, in an appearance in Jerusalem, had acknowledged the UN was biased against Israel. The first report I came across had no direct quote from Ban on the subject, so I asked JTA’s Ben Sales to see if he could find the quote, which he did.

Here’s the report, from the Times of Israel:

“Unfortunately, because of the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, Israel’s been weighed down by criticism and suffered from bias — and sometimes even discrimination,” Ban told the group, YNet reported. He was responding to a student who claimed Israelis felt their country was discriminated against at the UN.

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Ban said, adding that Israel should be treated equal to all the other 192 member states.

The quote itself makes no mention of the UN, which gives Ban an escape hatch if anyone tries to make hay of this. But we can probably assume if he was responding to a question about Israel’s treatment at the UN, that’s what he meant. He also attributes the problem to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is of course debatable at best, though it’s probably safe to say that if the conflict were resolved, it would be harder for Israel’s critics to manipulate UN machinery to Israel’s detriment. He also uses that maddeningly anodyne formulation beloved by diplomats who have no intention of doing anything about a problem they call “unfortunate.”

Still, it’s something for the UN chief to suggest that an organization whose principal power is the perception that its actions represent the collective will of the nations of the world is not treating one of those nations fairly. Though in fairness, Kofi Annan said much the same thing in 2006, in the final months of his tenure. He also told the UN to its face — not a friendly audience in Israel.

Whether Ban can or will do anything about it is more than doubtful, it’s practically impossible. Israel’s treatment at the UN is almost entirely a function of the bureaucracy’s susceptibility to states who are intent on keeping the focus squarely on the Jewish state — and away from their own records.

Ban could draw attention to this habit, of course, though he’d probably be wise not to. He owes his job to those same states. But perhaps with just three years left in his ten-year tenure, and no more elections to win, his tongue is feeling a little looser.

Following extension to form government, Netanyahu calls for parties to unite


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Israeli political parties to “come together and unite our forces,” hours after being granted an extension to form a new government.

He used the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons to illustrate why the country's politicians must remain united.

Israeli President Shimon Peres on Saturday night gave Netanyahu a two-week extension, as permitted by law, to continue his efforts to form a coalition government.

Netanyahu reported to Peres that in discussions with potential coalition partners he has made “significant progress” on foreign affairs, economic issues and universal military or national service, but that he has been unable to form a government due to a “boycott” of the haredi Orthodox parties.

“There is a boycott of a sector of society in the State of Israel and that doesn't fit my view. I am doing everything within my power to unite the nation; I believe that we as Jews have suffered from boycotts. We know that Israel is boycotted in international forums; we are rightly outraged when goods from the settlers in Judea and Samaria are boycotted. More than anyone it is the settler population in Judea and Samaria who should understand this as they suffer from daily boycotts,” Netanyahu said Saturday night.

The Yesh Atid Party has said that it will refuse to sit in a government with the haredi Orthodox parties and the Jewish Home Party, widely supported by voters living in the settlements, has said it will only join the government if Yesh Atid does.

At the opening of Sunday's regular Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said he was briefed on major powers' talks with Iran on the nuclear issue, which he regards as an effort by Iran to stall for time as it continues to process uranium to make nuclear weapons.

“I must say that at this time our enemies are uniting in order to bring about not only atomic weapons that could be used against us, but other deadly weapons that are piling up around us. At a time when they are coming together and uniting their efforts, we must come together and unite our forces in order to repel these dangers,” Netanyahu said. “I regret that this is not happening. I will continue my efforts in the coming days to try and unite our forces and bring them together ahead of the major national and international tasks that we face. I hope that I will succeed, I will continue to try.”

Yesh Atid Party head Yair Lapid wrote on his Facebook page over the weekend that it would “not be a tragedy” if the haredi Orthodox parties did not sit in the new government. Also over the weekend, senior advisors to the prime minister told Israeli news outlets that the new government will have to freeze construction in Jewish settlements outside the large West Bank settlement blocs in order to appease the international community.

Missing Israeli found in North Hollywood


Syril Zimand, a 28-year-old Israeli thought to be missing by his father, turned up in North Hollywood on Jan. 20,  approximately 25 days after the father, Henri Zimand, a philanthropist and entrepreneur who lives in Israel and Monaco, told the Jewish Journal and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) that he had lost track of his son’s whereabouts and was concerned for his safety.  Henri Zimand did not file an official police report with the LAPD.

The search for Syril concluded on Sunday, Jan 20, after an acquaintance spotted him in a North Hollywood restaurant, according to Henri Zimand.

The acquaintance, Henri Ziman wrote in an email, “decided to go and eat a hamburger with his wife; as they ate suddenly he says to his wife…‘Is this not Syril at the other end of the restaurant?’”

The man approached Syril, Henri wrote, and told him “The whole world is looking for you.” The man then helped Syril to call his father and a cousin who is in L.A.

Henri said the acquaintance had learned that Syril was missing from the Jewish Journal.

Syril lives in Herzliya and has served in the Israeli army; he came to Los Angeles in early November to write and sell screenplays and checked into USA Hostels in Hollywood on Nov. 10. He stayed at the hostel until Nov. 24, the maximum amount of days allowed. Sometime after leaving the hotel, he called Henri to say that he was fine, but he did not inform his father of his whereabouts. That was the last time the two made contact until Jan. 20.

Henri wrote in a Jan. 18 Facebook post that Syril had been missing for more than 40 days.

Henri wrote to the LAPD on Dec. 27 to ask for help, but never filed an official missing-persons report with the Los Angeles police.

Asher Ben Artzi, former chief superintendant of the Israeli National Police, assisted with the search, and Henri also contacted the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles about his missing son. In addition, Henri used Facebook to spread the word, and Syril’s cousin, Ronit Machlouf, posted missing-person flyers around Los Angeles.

On his trip to Los Angeles, Syril was traveling with two passports, one Israeli and the other from Belgium; he had a six-month visa attached to his Belgium passport, along with $1,500. By late-December, a cell phone he had been using during the first couple of weeks of his stay was no longer in service. Making the search more difficult for Henri, Syril was traveling without a credit card.

Unexpected Israeli cuisine


I'm not sure what I expected. Hummus, certainly, but what else? Stuffed derma? Latkes? Matzah ball soup? As a native New Yorker with Ashkenazi roots, the foods I associated with being Jewish were the foods I associated with my grandparents. By extension, I suppose, I also associated these same foods with Israel, though those connections were more subconscious than explicit. 

Early last fall, I received a call. Israel’s Ministry of Tourism was organizing a small culinary trip, and it invited me to come along as a guest. I’d never been to Israel, and I suddenly had the opportunity, through my work as a food writer, to tour a country incredibly important to my religious and cultural heritage. I said yes. Six weeks later, I checked my preconceived notions of Israeli food along with my luggage and embarked on an unparalleled culinary journey. 

With me were Hugh Acheson, Ottawa native and current owner of three Georgia-based restaurants (as well as an author and television personality); Ben Ford, proprietor of popular Culver City gastropub Ford’s Filling Station and two new soon-to-open restaurants; Viet Pham, one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2011 and co-owner of the Salt Lake City restaurant Forage; and Maury Rubin, pastry chef, author and owner of six New York City bakery-cafes, including the flagship City Bakery in Union Square. Because I was traveling with four chefs, our itinerary was designed specifically to introduce us to Israel’s rising culinary stars and evolving cuisine, a cuisine steeped in the traditions of the Middle East but with notable European influences.  

It quickly became clear that today’s Israeli chefs take the region’s best-loved ingredients — the fresh fruits and vegetables, the tahini, the fish, the labne — and morph many of them into dishes with modern flair. In addition, the culinary phrases we Americans now bandy about so often are becoming a part of the Israeli food lexicon as well: “artisanal” oils, “farm-to-table” restaurants, “sustainable” aquaculture and viticulture practices, “foraged” herbs and plants. These efforts reflect both practices already in place (and, in some cases, in place for ages) as well as a concerted appeal to the sophisticated modern traveler.

Take foraging. We learned from Abbie Rosner, who has written widely about foodways in the Galilee (she has lived there since the 1980s), that Arabs have been foraging wild foods in that region since biblical times. This clearly touched a chord with chefs Ford and Pham, who forage regularly to procure produce, herbs and edible weeds for their respective restaurants. During our journey across Israel, they would constantly stop to pluck berries from branches or even gnaw on bits of the branches themselves, tasting as they went. Israel was a forager’s dreamland, and these old practices connected the country to two modern American chefs in a very special way.

Then there were the bakeries.


Croissants at the Port of Jaffa. Photo by Cheryl Sternman Rule

I personally loved our visits to Israeli bakeries, from tiny Ugata in Kibbutz Kinneret, to Dallal and Bakery 29 in Tel Aviv, to the most casual outdoor bakery cart in the Port of Jaffa, piled high with two-toned croissants. For Rubin, the baker in our group, these bakery visits were especially exciting. At Bakery 29, owner Netta Korin glowed visibly when Rubin introduced himself. A former investment banker at Lehman Brothers in New York, Korin (who was born in Israel but raised in the United States and Europe) was a devoted customer at Rubin’s City Bakery before she moved back to the country of her birth. In early 2011, she opened her small, quaint Tel Aviv bakeshop, specializing in cinnamon rolls and scones. Korin, remarkably, donates 100 percent of her profits to the IMPACT! scholarship program, which supports Israel Defense Forces soldiers who could not otherwise afford to pursue higher education. 

As for the restaurants, they spanned a wide spectrum. We enjoyed our first dinner high in the hills above Jerusalem at Rama’s Kitchen in Nataf. Run by Rama Ben Zvi (an Israeli Jew and former dancer with a doctorate from the Sorbonne), the rustic outdoor eatery gave us our first taste of Israeli-style communal dining, with each of us sweeping bits of pita through plates of pureed baked potato, garlic confit and olive oil; creamy labne; and chicken liver pate with roasted beets. Dishes of white balsamic aubergine (eggplant), rare filet mignon with green tahini sauce, and Jerusalem artichoke and sweet potato followed.  

We soon tasted the ebullient and colorful cuisine of Jerusalem chef Uri Navon at Machneyuda, his popular restaurant adjacent to the famous Mahane Yehuda Market; enjoyed a multicourse Lebanese- and Jordanian-inflected lunch at Ktze HaNachal restaurant in the Galilee; and experienced the handiwork of chef Moshe Segev, chef of El Al airlines, at his eponymous restaurant Segev in Herzliya. At one point, servers brought out a salad in a glass wine bottle that had been sawed in half and opened flat like a book; this was, by far, the strangest serving vessel I’ve ever seen.

Was every dish a home run, every meal worth raving about? Of course not. But many high-end chefs are pushing boundaries, taking risks and infusing old-fashioned dishes with modernist touches. Some succeed, and some fail — and to pretend otherwise, or to see the failures as disappointments — would be to miss the point entirely.

For me, the point is this: The cuisine of Israel is on the precipice of change, and much of it is not only fresh, but exciting. It’s like art, with hits and misses, highs and lows. Perhaps most telling was my favorite dish of the trip, at once both humble and almost absurdly transgressive in its simplicity. It was a whole head of charred cauliflower plopped, plateless, in the center of a paper-lined table at the cheeky Tel Aviv restaurant Abraxas North. Any country whose chefs have the chutzpah to serve diners a head of blackened cauliflower and expect them to pick off florets with their fingers is a country I’m glad I visited, and to which I hope soon to return.


Cheryl Sternman Rule is the author of “Ripe: A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables” (Running Press: 2012) and the voice behind 5 Second Rule, named best food blog of 2012 by the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Learn more at cherylsternmanrule.com.

Syria may hold uranium stash, Western and Israeli experts say


Western and Israeli security experts suspect Syria may have tonnes of unenriched uranium in storage and that any such stockpile could potentially be of interest to its ally Iran for use in Tehran's own disputed nuclear program.

They say natural uranium could have been acquired by the Arab state years ago to fuel a suspected nuclear reactor under construction that was bombed by Israel in 2007.

U.S. intelligence reports at the time said the site in Syria's desert Deir al-Zor region was a nascent, North Korean-designed reactor designed to produce plutonium for atomic arms.

Syria, ravaged by a war the United Nations says has killed 60,000 people, has denied accusations of a clandestine nuclear programme. Its envoy in Vienna, where the U.N. nuclear watchdog is based, was not available for comment on Friday.

“Someplace there has got to be an inventory of fuel for the reactor. It doesn't make sense to have a nuclear installation, a nuclear reactor, without any fuel,” proliferation expert Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment think tank said.

But, he added, “to my knowledge there hasn't been any substantiated accounts identifying where that material may be located.” It would likely have come from North Korea, he said.

Even if Syria did have such a stockpile, it would not be usable for nuclear weapons in its present form, a fact that makes it less of a pressing concern for the West than fears that government forces may use chemical arms against their foes.

The Financial Times newspaper said this week Syria may hold up to 50 tonnes of unenriched, or natural, uranium – material which can fuel atomic power plants and also provide the explosive core of nuclear bombs, but only if refined to a high degree.

Some government officials have raised concerns that Iran might try to seize it, the FT said, without identifying them.

Though such a quantity in theory could yield material for several atom bombs, it would first have to be enriched much further, from 0.7 percent of the fissile isotope in natural uranium to 90 percent, in a technically complicated process.

Iran, which denies Western accusations of atomic bomb ambitions, has said its mines can supply the raw uranium needed for its nuclear programme and that it has no shortage problems.

The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which for several years has been seeking access to the destroyed Deir al-Zor site as well as three other locations that may be linked to it, declined to comment on the FT report.

A recently retired Israeli security official said he believed Syria was keeping uranium at a site near Damascus, one of the places the IAEA wants to inspect, but he did not say what he based this on.

IRAN CONNECTION?

The former Israeli official said rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who now control a crescent of suburbs on the outskirts of the capital, may get hold of the stockpile and make its existence public.

“Then it would put paid to the Syrians' claims that they never had a reactor in the first place,” he said.

Another possibility was that Syria, “knowing the material is no longer secured, could ship it out to Iran, which is certainly in need of more uranium for its own nuclear plans,” the former Israeli official, who declined to be named, added.

But a veteran Israeli intelligence analyst who now works as a government adviser said the figure of 50 tonnes of uranium cited by the Financial Times was “not at all familiar to me”.

A Western diplomat said there had been speculation about possible uranium – perhaps in the form of natural uranium metal to fuel a reactor – in Syria because of the destroyed Deir al-Zor site but that he knew of no specific details.

“It is plausible. But as far as I know no one has ever had any idea where the material is,” he said, adding it would not be easy to ship large quantities to Iran without detection.

Syria says Deir al-Zor was a conventional military facility but the IAEA concluded in May 2011 that it was “very likely” to have been a reactor that should have been declared to its anti-proliferation inspectors.

If there is a stockpile of uranium in Syria, it would be of use for Iran as it faces a potential shortage, said Mark Fitzpatrick, a proliferation expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think-tank.

“Syria has been getting quite a bit of help from Iran. This would have been one means of repaying them,” he said. “There is evidence that Iran is looking around the world for uranium.”

Israel, which is widely believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, and Western powers accuse Iran of seeking to develop a capability to make atomic bombs.

The Islamic state says its programme to refine uranium is solely intended for peaceful energy and medical purposes.

Some Western analysts have said Iran may be close to exhausting its supply of raw uranium, known as “yellow cake”, although IAEA reports suggest it still has plenty of natural uranium gas to use for its enrichment work.

“If there is an undeclared inventory of 50 tonnes of uranium then, if I were Assad, I would want to spirit it out of there and the most likely place would be Iran,” Hibbs said.

Report: Justin Bieber sued for ‘assaulting’ Israeli bodyguard


The Israeli former bodyguard of teen idol Justin Bieber reportedly sued the pop star for assault.

Moshe Benabou, who lives in the United States, is seeking unspecified damages for assault and battery and more than $420,000 in unpaid overtime, the news site TMZ reported on Thursday.

According to Benabou — who claims he worked for the singer from March 2011 to October 2012 —  Bieber, 18, berated him and punched him in the chest multiple times during a disagreement about how to handle a member of Bieber's entourage. Benabou allegedly had attempted to keep the member of the entourage away from Bieber.

TMZ quoted sources “in Bieber’s camp” as saying that Benabou was “a disgruntled employee looking for money,” and calling the claim that Bieber struck Benabou “absurd.”

Benabou made a splash on the gossip website last February when he was filmed struggling with a photographer at Los Angeles airport. After a brief struggle, both men fell to the ground.

Syril Zimand, aspiring Israeli filmmaker, missing in Hollywood [UPDATE]


[UPDATE, Jan. 7:] According to Detective L. Saiza of the Los Angeles Police Department's missing-person unit, as of Jan. 7 Henri Zimand has not filed a missing-persons report with the LAPD about his son, Syril Zimand.  This despite the fact that Zimand has asked the LAPD, the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles and family living in Los Angeles to help find his son. 

[Jan. 3] In early November, Syril Zimand, 28 and an aspiring screenwriter, left Israel and came to Los Angeles with the goal of writing and selling his screenplays. He checked into a hostel in Hollywood on Nov. 10 and stayed there until Nov. 24.

Since that time, his whereabouts are unknown.

Henri Zimand, Syril’s father, said in a phone interview Thursday, Jan. 3, from Monaco, that he has been unsuccessfully trying to track down his son, who is not reachable by cell phone. Zimand said he has filed a report with law enforcement agencies as well as the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles, with no results.

“I’m a little bit surprised at the whole thing, because normally he would call, normally he would say, ‘Send me some money,’” said Zimand, a Monaco-based philanthropist who earned his fortunes in real estate and startup companies.

“But this time, he did not ask; he didn’t tell me he was moving from the hotel—the only thing I could hope for is he found somebody who is giving him lodging and food and he simply is not calling,” Zimand said. Zimand also said that they had not had any disagreements and he was unaware of anything that would cause his son not to call.

Zimand made available to The Journal emails from the Los Angeles Police Department and the California Department of Justice Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit saying they know nothing of Syril Zimand’s whereabouts.

An official at the Israeli Consulate also had no information. “We tried to locate him, but since the son never initiated contact with us, we didn't have any leads or information,” Danny Gadot, a spokesperson for consular affairs at the Consulate General of Israel Los Angeles said Thursday.

Zimand said he has hired a private detective who has checked homeless shelters and elsewhere, without success.

The last place Syril was seen was at USA Hostels in Hollywood, according to Zimand. Syril stayed at the hostel for 14 days, the maximum amount of days allowed for guests at the hostel. During his stay, he called his father—whom he’d been speaking with two or three times per week since arriving in Los Angeles on Nov. 8—and asked for money to pay for the hotel.

Sometime after Nov. 24, Zimand said, Syril called his father to say he’d received the money, $1,000, and that everything was fine. He did not tell his father that he was no longer staying at the hostel.  That was the last time the two made contact.

Zimand said he learned that Syril checked out of that hostel only when Henri Zimand’s sister visited the hotel during a trip to Los Angeles. She was told by the hostel that Syril was no longer staying there.

According to Henri, Syril has never gone missing prior to this incident.

Born in Monaco, Syril was raised and educated in Israel. He has traveled back-and-forth between Israel and Los Angeles several times over the past few years.

Syril, who lives in Herzliya and served in the Israeli army approximately 10 years ago, has been working toward a career in the film business. Two years ago, he studied briefly at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles, his father said.

On this trip, Syril was traveling with two passports, one Israeli and the other from Belgium, He had a six-month visa attached to his Belgium passport, along with $1500.

Zimand said an LAPD detective had suggested that Syril might be using his multiple passports to travel nationally or internationally, however  Zimand said he believes his son is still in Los Angeles.

“His only interest was to sell scripts and write scripts, so that he can only do in Los Angeles,” he said. “That was his main goal.”

In addition to reaching out to law enforcement, Henri Zimand has used Facebook to spread the word about his missing son, who is traveling without a credit card and does not have a bank account in Los Angeles. Zimand said he is also currently working with Interpol to procure phone records for a cell phone Syril purchased in Los Angeles, but which is no longer accepting calls.

Ronit Machlouf, a cousin of Syril, lives in the San Fernando Valley and on Thursday began posting missing-person flyers around Los Angeles. In a phone interview, Machlouf said she spoke to Syril by phone a couple of weeks ago. He told her he was looking for a place to stay and that he would come by for Shabbat dinner as soon as he was settled.

“But I didn’t hear from him. And then when I tried to call him, the phone was disconnected. It sounds like something is wrong… he’s coming from a wealthy family, and they are very generous, and that’s the way Syril is. …I’m afraid that people are taking advantage of him,” Machlouf said.

Machlouf said she has spoken with with a local friend of Syril’s, who told Machlouf that Syril had asked him if he could stay with him but who told Syril that he didn’t have anywhere for him to sleep. He told her he never heard further from Syril.

The family is asking that if anyone has information on Syril’s whereabouts to call the Los Angeles Police Department’s missing-person unit at (213) 996-1800 or (877) 527-3247.

Missing Person

Palestinian mob attacks Israeli troops in Jenin


Residents of the Jenin refugee camp attacked a unit of Israeli soldiers who entered the area to arrest a Palestinian wanted for involvement in terrorism.

Some 500 Palestinians on Thursday morning surrounded the troops and threw stones and Molotov cocktails, as well burned tires in the street, according to reports. The soldiers, who used crowd control methods such as tear gas to turn back the mob, had entered the area during daylight, which is rare.

The troops left Jenin without the wanted man, who was determined to be out of the area.

An elderly Palestinian woman reportedly was injured when she was bitten by a military dog, and a 23-year-old man was shot in the leg.

It was the second time in a week that local residents attacked soldiers operating in a Palestinian area.

Israeli missing in Los Angeles


[UPDATE: Syril Zimand, aspiring Israeli filmmaker, missing in Hollywood]

The son of an Israeli businessman and philanthropist is believed by his father to be missing in Los Angeles.

Henri Zimand posted on Facebook on Jan 2 that his son, Syril Zimand, 28, has not been heard from for “several weeks.”

Zimand has been reaching out to people and organizations in Los Angeles to help with the search.

“If anyone should come across my son Syril in Los Angeles please advise me urgently,” Zimand wrote online.

Zimand added that his son, in the midst of a six-month trip in Los Angeles, was last seen at USA Hostels in Hollywood, located at Hollywood Boulevard and Schrader Boulevard. It was unusual for Syril to go several weeks without contacting him, Zimand wrote on Facebook.

Brigit Nickol, director of operations at USA Hostels, Inc. confirmed that Syril Zimand was a guest at USA Hostels in Hollywood, having stayed there from Nov. 10-24, the maximum amount of days allowed for guests at the hostel.  Nickol did not have any additional information regarding Zimand’s whereabouts, she said.

Zimand’s father, a resident of Monaco, did not respond immediately on Wednesday to the Journal’s attempts to contact him.  Via social media, he has asked that anyone who has information about his son call the Los Angeles Police Department’s missing-person unit at (213) 996-1800 or (877) 527-3247. The Journal will be updating this story as more information becomes available.

missing

Jewish federations send $5 million to help Israelis in conflict zone


The Jewish Federations of North America committed $5 million for an Israeli terrorism relief fund to help Israeli victims of the conflict with Hamas in Israel's south.

The money from the federation umbrella organization will go toward trauma counseling, financial assistance, portable bomb shelters and the transport of children in the conflict zone out of harm’s way. The organization has set up a texting system to donate to the Fund for the Victims of Terror in Israel (text ISRAEL to 51818) and said that 100 percent of the money raised will go toward aid. The group is also working with its partner agenies in Israel, including the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Israel Trauma Coalition and World ORT to assist Israelis in the line of fire.

The $5 million includes $1 million from Chicago's Jewish United Fund; Chicagoans who want to donate can contribute at http://www.juf.org/relief_fund/itr.aspx.

“Once again, innocent civilians are the intended targets of terrorists bent on the destruction of Israel,” JUF President Steven Nasatir said in a statement. “And once again, as we have so often in the past, Chicago’s Jewish community is responding immediately to meet the many needs created by these attacks and to show the tremendous bond we have with our brethren.”

The announcements come as fighting between Israel and Hamas has intensified with Israel's lauch of Operation Pillar of Defense, meant to bring quell the rocket fire onto southern Israel and deal a significant blow to Hamas' rocket capabilities in the Gaza Strip.

Pogroms interrupted: The era of Jews fighting back


As I’ve been watching images of Hamas rockets falling on Israel, I’ve asked myself: If Hamas had the ability to murder thousands of Jews, wouldn’t they? And if Israel didn’t have a strong army, wouldn’t we surely witness another pogrom? 

Since the destruction of the Second Temple some 2,000 years ago, has there been a more physically abused people than the Jews?

How many Crusades and Inquisitions and pogroms have been recorded where Jews were virtually helpless to defend themselves?

Oh sure, we always managed to survive and pull through. We were strong with our values, our Torah, our culture and our wits in adapting to whatever limits were imposed on us.

But physically? We were always at the mercy of our landlords.

My ancestors in Morocco survived only because they knew their place. You never heard of a Moroccan Jew fighting for the same rights as Moroccan Arabs. Jews were the dhimmis, the second class citizens of the state. And still, there were stories of pogroms against Moroccan Jews.

The physical abuse of Jews reached its darkest and most murderous hour with the Holocaust.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, they say you have to reach your own bottom before you can turn things around. Well, the Holocaust was our absolute bottom.

Perhaps not coincidentally, within a few years we were blessed with our own sovereign state. What would happen now? Would our enemies still come after us?

Indeed they did, but this time, something weird happened.

The Jews fought back.

A ragtag band of Jews fought mano a mano against five invading Arab armies and won.

That miraculous victory saved Israel and signaled a new era in the story of the Jews.

The era of Jews Fighting Back.

We’ve been in that era now for 64 years, and the truth is, we’ve become pretty good at it.

This has shocked our enemies. After 2,000 years of seeing Jews cower so as not to get slaughtered, they've seen these weak Jews transformed into fighting warriors.

This doesn't seem very “Jewish.”

Even among Jews, this success has created a lot of handwringing and intellectual agony: What shall we do with all this power? Are we using it responsibly? Will it corrupt us?

I have to confess, I’ve had very little agony over this. The Jews’ ability to finally fight back has been a source of great satisfaction for me.

Of course, I’d be a lot happier if we were at peace and didn’t have to fight in the first place– if we weren’t surrounded by enemies trying to destroy us.

I wouldn’t have to shed tears when I’m alone in my car, thinking of Israel at war, or talk to my daughter in Herzliya about bomb shelters.

But if Israel is destined to live, at least in the near term, surrounded by enemies, what are we to make of this dark circumstance?

Is it possible that all this fighting might be serving an additional purpose, beyond the essential one of defending the country?

As I’ve been reflecting on all this, the thought occurred to me that maybe Israel is more than a country.

Maybe it’s also a statement.

An official statement that says to the world: The Jews will never go away.

This statement of strength after 2,000 years of weakness is so astonishing that it needed a singular, dramatic instrument to make the point.

And what better instrument than a strong country?

A country so powerful it has managed to thrive on so many levels despite being virtually under siege for 64 years.

So, that is my Jewish take on all this ugly fighting: Our enemies need to see, once and for all, that the Jews will never go away.

Maybe only then will there be peace.

The other night, at a Technion event at the home of Frank Lunz, our Consul General, David Siegel, said: “Our enemies have tried for thousands of years to destroy us, but they’ve always failed.”

The difference now is that we’re surviving on our own terms, not by cowering but by holding our heads high.

I’m sure some people will find this tone of defiance a little unseemly, not very nuanced.

But there’s no nuance in hatred. There’s no nuance in the desire to murder Jews. There never has been.

The statement that the Jews will never go away is a statement that must be made. We can thank Israel for making that statement in the most compelling way possible, even at the risk of upsetting a world not used to seeing Jews fight back.

At the Technion event, they played a video showing some of Israel’s global accomplishments, such as finding renewable energy, curing diseases and helping crippled people walk.

We can thank Israel for that statement, too: A world in which the Jews survive is not just good for the Jews, it’s also good for the world. 

Images as Operation Pillar of Defense Continues


Israeli tablets to purify water for Syrians


Citing humanitarian reasons, the Israeli Finance Ministry recently gave the green light for a subsidiary of Israel Chemicals – which is owned by the Israeli company but is based in Ireland – to sell water purification tablets for distribution in war-torn Syria, even though it is considered an enemy state.

With clean water availability at an all-time low in Syria, the United Nations international aid agency UNICEF has been working to rehabilitate the country’s water sources.

The organization turned to Medentech, Israel Chemicals’ Ireland-based subsidiary, with a request to buy its AquaTabs water purification tablets. But the law prohibiting Israeli companies from selling a product to a hostile state could have sunk the plan.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz was called to authorize the deal and did so, noting that the world’s best-selling water purification tablets would not be sold directly to Syria but rather to the UN agency.

Humanitarianism trumps politics

The Israeli law drafted in 1939 forbids Israeli companies from knowingly selling products that will benefit an enemy state. According to a report in Calcalist, the government must authorize all business agreements between Israel and enemy nations.

The Israeli business daily reported that while this is not the first time the government has okayed such a transaction, it is unusual.

But as Israel is known for its humanitarian efforts around the globe, obtaining special authorization and waiving the law for the water purification deal was more a formality than an anomaly.

The AquaTabs are effervescent tablets that kill micro-organisms in water to prevent cholera, typhoid, dysentery and other water-borne diseases. The chlorine pills are considered a better alternative to boiling water to remove contaminants.

“UNICEF is urgently scaling up its emergency response to reach hundreds of thousands of children with child protection, water, sanitation and hygiene, health and nutrition, and education initiatives,” according to a UNICEF statement.

According to the UN about 1.2 million Syrians have been internally displaced within the country, and hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring countries. The UN also estimates that there are another one million Syrians still living in their homes in need of humanitarian aid.

Israelis possibly targeted by bomb-makers in Cyprus


Cypriot authorities discovered a small amount of explosives that may have been intended for use against Israeli targets. 

A Cypriot tabloid, Alithia, reported on Thursday that agents of Cypriot security services had discovered 100 grams of explosives at the port in Limassol, which were intended to target cruise ships carrying Israelis. The explosives, according to the report, came in the form of a pink powder.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an expert on terrorism with ties to the Cypriot government told JTA that “unless there are other packages,” the small amount found could suggest the charge was meant to target one person in a car bomb or other small explosives devices.   

“The find may not be linked to Israelis at all, but a way for the police to send a message that they know about a pending hit,” the source said.

Last month, Israel asked security forces around the world, including in Cyprus and Greece, to increase protection for Israeli tourists ahead of the High Holy Days.

In July, Cypriot police arrested a Swedish passport-holder of Lebanese descent who was allegedly tracking the movement of Israeli tourists on the island.

Israel must stop squatting Bedouin, lawmaker says


Israel must find a way to halt the illegal squatting of Israeli Bedouin, in order to help the Bedouin and to assert Israel's claim to the land, lawmaker Yuli Edelstein told a special forum.

The non-profit research institute Regavim conducted two events last week focusing on the sharp rise of squatting and illegal settling of vast tracts of land in the country’s Negev region.

Edelstein, minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, was the keynote speaker for an emergency public forum, called “Which Way for the Negev?,” at Jerusalem’s Menachem Begin Heritage Center. Its panel of experts included Prof. Rafi Yisraeli and Dr. Seth Frantzman. The special presentation concentrated on spiraling illegal building by the Negev’s Bedouin inhabitants and challenges to Israeli rule of law as well as solutions to counter the mounting crisis.

“Regavim deals with very complicated issues of land rights, which have become increasingly urgent.  To reclaim the land and assert Israel’s sovereign control, the organization engages in ongoing research and legal action to succeed in this mission,” said Minister Edelstein. “We must break the merry-go-round cycle of lawful eviction of illegal settlements followed by the immediate return of illegal squatting if we truly care about ensuring Government plans for Israeli Bedouins, which will benefit the entire population of the Negev.”

The second part of the Regavim fact-finding event was a tour to the sites of illegal activities for over 150 participants in three full buses of English-speaking Israelis and tourists, each led by experts. One site visited was the village of Al-Zarnog which is built on private land and is currently the subject of a court case in which Regavim is assisting its legal landowners.

“Our intention is to conduct more of these events to educate the public about the true facts on the ground and to increase pressure on the government to effectively enforce Israel’s sovereignty in the country’s national lands, including the Negev,” said Briggs. “There has been much attention focused on settlements deemed ‘illegal’ in the West Bank, including forced evacuations. Far less in the public eye have been shocking illegal land grabs on this side of the Green Line, in the Negev.”

“Homeland,” based on Israeli series, wins best drama Emmy


The television drama “Homeland,” which is based on the Israeli series “Hatufim,” was named the year's best drama series at the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards.

“Homeland” also won Emmys for best actress – Claire Danes, and best actor – Damian Lewis, as well as for best writing. “Hatufim” creator, Israeli Gideon Raff, won the best writing award along with Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon. The cast of “Homeland” was in Israel in May to film parts of the second season.

The Emmy Awards were held Sunday night in Los Angeles.

Homeland's win prevented “Mad Men” from winning its fifth straight best drama Emmy.

“Modern Family” took the Emmy for best comedy series.

The list of nominees had included several Jewish stars.  Jewish filmmaker and actress Lena Dunham was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her role as Hannah Horvath on the HBO series “Girls.” The show also was nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series and was inspired by Dunham’s experiences as a Jewish young woman living in New York City.

Larry David, who is best known as one of the creators of the TV show “Seinfeld,” was nominated as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his role in the HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The show also was nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series.

Mayim Bialik was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress for her role as Amy Farrah Fowler on the CBS show “Big Bang Theory.” The show also was nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series.

Max Greenfield, an American actor known for his roles on “Veronica Mars,” “Ugly Betty” and “Modern Men,” was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his role as Schmidt in the Fox series “New Girl.”

Palestinians insulted by Mitt Romney’s comments


Just eight weeks before the American presidential elections, Palestinians are furious over comments by Republican candidate Mitt Romney. The private remarks were made in May to wealthy donors but released only now.

Palestinians are “committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel,” Romney said, adding that prospects for a two-state solution of an independent Palestinian state next to Israel were dim.

“You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this going to remain an unsolved problem, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that, ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.”

According to Mother Jones magazine, which posted the video clip of Romney’s comments on its website, the former Massachusetts governor made the remarks at a $50,000-per-plate fundraiser at Boca Raton, Florida. Boca Raton has a wealthy Jewish community, although it was not clear how many Jews were at the Romney fundraiser.

“It’s political illiteracy – has he even ever read a book about Palestine?” Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the president of the PASSIA think tank in east Jerusalem fumed to The Media Line. “On one level Palestinians are laughing at this, but on another level it will be very serious if this man has any say in our future.”

The comments come as the latest polls show a close race between Romney and President Obama. Although American Jews account for only two percent of the population, they represent significant voting blocs in important swing states like Florida. Polls show that more than two-thirds of Jews who plan to vote will cast their ballot for President Obama, although many believe he is not as supportive of Israel as were some of his predecessors.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, the putative seat of Palestinian government, Palestinians reacted angrily to Romney’s comments.

“He’s buying votes,” 27-year old Morad Al-Siory told The Media Line. “How can you judge Palestine if you haven’t seen both sides? I’m right here and I see it with my own eyes.”

Al-Siory said he had come to Ramallah to visit his family. His father, Mohammed, who owns a falafel stand, agreed with his son’s comments.

“How can you swim if you don’t get wet?” he asked. “I’d love to see American policy in the Middle East change.”

He also said, however, that he was frustrated with President Obama’s policy and that there was only a slight chance that he might do something different than Romney if re-elected.

“In the last four years he’s done nothing” Al-Siory said. “He fooled the Arabs and the Muslims with his speech in Cairo.”

He was referring to the speech that President Obama made in Egypt soon after taking office in which he called for “a new beginning” in relations between the US and the Arab world. It was seen at the time as an effort to reach out to the Arab world.

Palestinian officials also responded angrily to Romney’s comments.

“No one stands to gain more from peace with Israel than Palestinians and no one stands to lose more in the absence of peace than Palestinians,” chief negotiator Sa’ib Ariqat told the Reuters news agency. “Only those who want to maintain the Israeli occupation will claim the Palestinians are not interested in peace.”

But other Palestinian analysts said the statements had to be seen in context — as part of the election campaign, where Jewish donors and voters play an important role.

“Palestinians have learned through experience not to take statements made during election campaigns seriously,” Ghassan Al-Khatib, a professor of contemporary Arab studies at Bir Zeit University told The Media Line. “When you compare what we hear during the campaign and what presidents do in the future, you don’t see the connections.”

At the same time, Khatib said the statements further reinforced previous Palestinian attitudes toward the Republican candidate, who is perceived to have little foreign policy experience.

“This is not a surprise for the Palestinians,” Khatib said. “The impression is that Romney has been extraordinarily hostile and negative towards Palestinians all along.”

As protests rage over anti-Muslim movie, the cast claims it was misled by script


Protests over an anti-Muslim film continued outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, while in Yemen security guards fired at demonstrators who stormed the U.S. Embassy gates.

On Thursday in Yemen, the protesters tore down the American flag and burned it, according to reports. The protests in Cairo continued late Wednesday, a day after protesters climbed the embassy walls and tore down and tried to torch the American flag.

Security reportedly was increased at U.S. embassies and diplomatic missions around the globe in the aftermath of the violence allegedly incited by the film “Innocence of Muslims.”

The two-hour film, which attacks the Islamic prophet Muhammad, was seen as leading to the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other U.S. diplomats in a rocket attack on Tuesday at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. The protests were sparked by the translation into Arabic of a trailer for the movie.

In a statement sent to CNN, the 80 members of the cast and crew said they were “grossly misled” about the film, which they believed was a historical movie about life in the Arabian Desert.

“We are shocked by the drastic rewrites of the script and lies that were told to all involved,” the statement said according to CNN. “We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred.”

Anti-Muslim dialogue was dubbed in after the filming, an unnamed actress, who also said there was no Muhammad character in the script, told CNN.

The actress said she spoke to the director Wednesday and “He said he wrote the script because he wants the Muslims to quit killing,” CNN reported. The director reportedly told the Wall Street Journal that “Islam is a cancer.”

Media outlets, including JTA, had reported that a man calling himself Sam Bacile, who said he was the film's director and producer, claimed that he was an Israeli American real estate developer. But a consultant to the film, Steve Klein, a self-described militant Christian activist in Riverside, Calif., told the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg that the film's director is not Israeli and that the name is a pseudonym.

Bacile told the Associated Press that he went into hiding on Tuesday night, speaking to international media from an undisclosed location.

Klein told Goldberg that some 15 people were associated with the making of the film, all American citizens and most evangelicals.

Klein was called an “extremist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which said he is “Secretary and Founder” of Courageous Christians United, a group that protests outside of mosques and abortion clinics.

A high-ranking Israeli official in Los Angeles told JTA Wednesday that extensive inquiries among Hollywood insiders and members of the local Israeli community failed to turn up a single person who knew a Sam Bacile.

The Israeli government in Jerusalem could not turn up any citizenship records under that name, while California officials reported that no real estate license had ever been issued to a Sam Bacile.

Media bloggers and columnists are questioning why Bacile would claim that the $5 million film was paid for by “100 Jewish donors,” calling it a set-up. Blogger Edward Blackthorn (www.publici.com) raised some basic questions as to why $5 million was needed for a film described as “unprofessional” by the Hollywood Reporter, and expressed doubt that any producer could find 100 financial backers for such a dubious enterprise.

Director of anti-Muslim movie that sparked attacks on U.S. facilities not Israeli


The director of an anti-Islam film that helped sparked attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities is not Israeli as he claimed, a consultant to the film said.

The Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg reported that a Steve Klein, a consultant to the controversial film, “Innocence of Muslims,” and a self-described militant Christian activist in Riverside, Calif., said that the film's directo,r Sam Bacile, is not Israeli and that the name is a pseudonym.

Goldberg quoted Klein as saying: “I don't know that much about him. I met him, I spoke to him for an hour. He's not Israeli, no. I can tell you this for sure, the State of Israel is not involved.” Klein said: “His name is a pseudonym. All these Middle Eastern folks I work with have pseudonyms. I doubt he's Jewish. I would suspect this is a disinformation campaign.”

Meanwhile, a high-ranking Israeli official in Los Angeles told JTA Wednesday that after numerous inquiries, it appeared that no one in the Hollywood film industry or in the local Israeli community knew of a Sam Bacile, the supposed director-writer of the incendiary film “Innocence of Muslims.”

The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other American diplomats were killed at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and the U.S. embassy in Cairo was attacked Tuesday evening by angry protesters.

Amb. John Christopher Stevens and three unnamed diplomats were killed Tuesday night in a rocket attack on their car in Benghazi, the White House confirmed Wednesday morning. U.S. officials said that the armed attack on the consulate may have been pre-planned.

On Tuesday evening, Egyptian protesters climbed over the wall of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, pulled down an American flag and tried to set it alight.

The attacks follow the release online of an Arabic translation of the movie. Media reports said it was directed by Bacile, who described himself as a California real estate developer. The two-hour movie attacks the Islamic prophet Muhammad, making him out to be a fraud.

The film was screened one time at a movie theater in Hollywood, someone identifying himself as Bacile told the AP.

Bacile said went into hiding on Tuesday night, speaking to international media from an undisclosed location.

Klein told Goldberg that I there are some 15 people associated with the making of the film, all American citizens.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attack.

“The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation,” she said in a statement. “But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”

The Los Angeles chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Shura Council are scheduled to hold a news conference Wednesday to condemn the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and attacks on diplomatic facilities and persons in Libya and Egypt.

In Washington, CAIR’s national officials called on Muslims in the Middle East “to ignore the trashy anti-Islam film that resulted in the attacks.”