Synagogue attack sparks fear among Jews in Germany

By Joseph Nasr

BERLIN (Reuters) – As Jews left Yom Kippur prayers across Germany on Wednesday, they were jolted by word that an anti-Semitic gunman had attacked a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle hours before, killing two people.

The news heightened fears of more anti-Semitic violence in a nation still scarred by the Holocaust and witnessing the rise of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

“It’s very scary,” said Samuel Tsarfati, a 27-year-old stage director, as he left a Berlin synagogue with fellow French national Samuel Laufer.

The pair, who live and work in the German capital, had spent the holiest day in the Jewish calendar secluded in prayer and switched off their mobile phones for 25 hours of fasting.

Other members of Germany’s 200,000-strong Jewish community expressed similar alarm over the attack. After trying to blast into the Halle synogogue, a lone suspect killed a woman outside and a man in a nearby kebab shop.

“It’s not a coincidence it happened in east Germany. The far-right AfD is very strong there,” Tsarfati said. Leaders of the AfD, which made big gains in elections in two eastern states last month, condemned Wednesday’s attack in Halle.

Attacks on Jews rose by 20% last year and were mainly carried out by right-wing extremists. Even before the Halle shooting, a heavy police presence guarded the synagogue in the trendy suburb of Prenzlauer Berg where Tsarfati and Lauferis attended prayers.

Jews and German politicians have been particularly worried by comments by Bjoern Hoecke, the AfD leader of eastern Thuringia state, that the Holocaust memorial in Berlin is a “monument of shame” and that schools should highlight German suffering in World War Two.

“What happened today shows that the AfD should not be underestimated,” said Laufer. “AfD leaders like Hoecke don’t want to see that their words encourage some people to kill.”

Hoecke was among the AfD leaders to condemn the Halle attack.

The Halle gunman broadcast anti-Semitic comments before he opened fire. Several German media outlets said he acted alone although police have not confirmed this.

The far-right AfD entered the national parliament for the first time two years ago, riding a wave of anger at Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to welcome almost 1 million migrants. The party’s rise has alarmed Jewish leaders who condemn the party’s verbal attacks against Muslim migrants.

‘BLINDED BY HATRED’

Charlotte Knobloch, a Holocaust survivor and president of the Jewish Community in Munich, suggested that the AfD’s anti-immigrant rhetoric was contributing to an atmosphere of hate that encouraged political violence.

“This scary attack makes it clear how fast words can become acts of political extremism,” she said in a statement. “I’d be interested to know what that AfD has to say about such excesses, for which it had prepared the ground with its uncultured hate and incitement.”

At the gold-domed New Synagogue in Berlin’s city center about 200 people, including Muslim leaders, held a vigil, some carrying Israeli flags and others holding candles. Merkel visited the synagogue in the evening and took part in prayers.

Renate Keller, a 76-year-old attending the vigil with her husband, said the attack in Halle showed that Germany was not doing enough to fight anti-Semitism.

“It scares me that after the Holocaust some people have learned nothing from our history, which still weighs on us today,” she said. “People like the attacker have probably never met a Jew in their lives. They are just blinded by hatred.”

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, warned of the incendiary potential far-right politics.

“It shows that right-wing extremism is not only some kind of political development, but that it is highly dangerous and exactly the kind of danger that we have always warned against.”

mtpi

(Reporting by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

‘It’s not about the Benjamins,’ Netanyahu says of U.S. support for Israel

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands as Netanyahu departs the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “it’s not about the Benjamins” as he hit back on Tuesday against any suggestion that U.S. politicians are paid to support Israel.

A tweet in February by Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar, a freshman legislator from Minnesota, was widely seen as echoing an anti-Semitic slur that Jews influence governments through money.

“It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” Omar wrote, using a slang term for $100 bills. She subsequently apologized, saying she was grateful for “Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history” of anti-Semitic epithets.

Netanyahu, addressing a Washington convention of the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC, said via satellite from Tel Aviv: “Some people will just never get it. They’ll never understand why the vast majority of Americans – Jews and non-Jews alike – support Israel.”

He did not mention Omar by name.

“Take it from this Benjamin: it’s not about the Benjamins,” Netanyahu said. “The reason the people of America support Israel is not because they want our money, it’s because they share our values.”

Netanyahu had been due to address AIPAC in person, but he returned to Israel on Tuesday, two days ahead of schedule, after a rocket attack from Gaza wounded seven people in a village north of Tel Aviv.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Holocaust survivor meets with California teens involved in Nazi salute photos

Auschwitz survivor Eva Schloss, stepsister of Holocaust diarist Anne Frank, talks to the media at Newport Harbor High School after speaking with a group of students seen in viral online photos giving Nazi salutes over a swastika made of red cups that sparked outrage in Newport Beach, California, U.S., March 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Steve Gorman

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (Reuters) – An Auschwitz survivor and stepsister of Holocaust diarist Anne Frank met on Thursday with some of the California high school students who posed in social media photos giving Nazi salutes over a swastika made of red cups used in a drinking game.

The anti-Semitic images, one with the caption “master race” – a reference to the Nazi belief in ethnic purity – went viral after being posted to Snapchat on Saturday, fueling concerns about a recent surge in incidents of hate speech in public schools nationwide.

Eva Schloss, 89, a peace activist who has chronicled her Holocaust experiences in several books, visited privately for more than hour at Newport Harbor High School with about 10 of the teens involved, along with their parents, student leaders, faculty members and a local rabbi who helped organize the meeting.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Schloss said the students described the Nazi salute incident as “a joke,” and she was surprised when they professed not to have fully understood the meaning and consequences of their behavior.

“It did show that education, obviously, is still very, very inadequate,” said Schloss, a London resident who was in California this week on a U.S. speaking tour. She said the students expressed sincere remorse for what happened on Saturday.

“I was 16 when I came out of Auschwitz,” Schloss said she told the students. “I was their age when I realized my life was completely shattered.”

The photos were taken at a party attended by students from several high schools serving a cluster of predominantly white, largely affluent Orange County communities. The images included teens with arms raised in a Nazi salute and students crowded around the cups arranged in the shape of a swastika.

School officials said they have interviewed more than two dozen students and are weighing possible disciplinary action.

LIVES INTERTWINED

The early life of Schloss, a native Austrian, closely parallels that of her German-born stepsister, Anne Frank. Both families moved to Amsterdam to escape anti-Jewish Nazi persecution in their homelands.

The two girls lived near each other and were friends before Germany’s Dutch occupation, forcing both families into hiding. Frank’s personal journal about her family’s ordeal was posthumously published in 1947 as “The Diary of a Young Girl.”

Frank died at age 15 at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany in early 1945.

Like Frank’s family, Schloss was captured by the Nazis in 1944 in Amsterdam and was sent to Auschwitz, where her brother and father died. Schloss and her mother were liberated by the Soviet army, and her mother married Frank’s father, Otto, in 1953.

Newport Beach Rabbi Reuven Mintz, who helped organize the students’ meeting with Schloss, said the controversy should be a “wake-up call” to a rising tide of anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which tracks acts of racism, says the number of anti-Semitic incidents reported at U.S. public schools jumped 94 percent from 2016 to 2017, the latest year such figures are available.

One factor appears to be wide-scale human migration stirred by war, political upheaval and environmental degradation, which in turn has fed a global rise in xenophobia and discriminatory politics that is “becoming mainstreamed in much of the Western world,” said regional ADL director Peter Levi.

“High school kids are not immune from that,” he said.

Another factor, he said, is the spread of extremist ideology by way of social media and the Internet, “and everyone has access to that in his pockets.”

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Newport Beach, California; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; editing by Darren Schuettler and Lisa Shumaker)

Man charged with Pittsburgh synagogue massacre due in court

FILE PHOTO: Mourners react during a memorial service at the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Hall of the University of Pittsburgh, a day after 11 worshippers were shot dead at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

By Jessica Resnick-Ault

PITTSBURGH (Reuters) – The man charged with shooting 11 worshipers to death at a Pittsburgh synagogue, marking the deadliest ever attack on America’s Jewish community, was due to make his first court appearance on Monday before a federal judge.

Robert Bowers, 46, who has a history of posting anti-Semitic material online, has been charged with 29 criminal counts, including the violation of U.S. civil rights laws in what federal prosecutors say was a hate crime.

Several of the charges can be punishable by the death penalty.

Bowers is accused of storming into the Tree of Life temple in Squirrel Hill, the heart of Pittsburgh’s close-knit Jewish community, yelling “All Jews must die” as he opened fire on members of three congregations holding Sabbath prayer services there on Saturday morning.

In addition to the 11 mostly elderly worshipers who were killed, six people, including four police officers who confronted the gunman, were wounded before the suspect surrendered. Two of the surviving victims remained hospitalized in critical condition.

“The fact that this attack took place during a worship service makes it even more heinous,” U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said on Sunday at a news conference.

Bowers’ initial appearance before a judge was scheduled for Monday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, Brady said.

About 2,500 people attended an interfaith memorial service for the victims that was held late on Sunday on the University of Pittsburgh campus.

The dead included two brothers in their 50s, David and Cecil Rosenthal, a married couple in their 80s, Sylvan and Bernice Simon, and 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, the oldest of the victims.

Another was Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, a family physician who initially escaped the attack only to be killed when he returned to render aid to the wounded, according to a Wall Street Journal op-ed column by Pittsburgh carpet salesman Lou Weiss, who knew five of the victims personally.

The killings rocked the Squirrel Hill community, an enclave that encompasses several synagogues and Jewish religious schools, and sparked security alerts at places of worship across the country.

The massacre also took on political overtones as some complained that the confrontational, nationalistic rhetoric of U.S. President Donald Trump has encouraged right-wing extremists and fed a surge in activity by hate groups.

Trump, who branded Saturday’s shooting an act of pure evil and called on Americans to rise above hatred, was already facing similar criticism after pipe bombs were mailed last week to some of his most prominent political adversaries. The targets, mostly Democrats, included former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Cesar Sayoc, 56, a strip club DJ and part-time pizza delivery man whose van was pasted with pro-Trump images and slogans disparaging the political left, was arrested in the pipe bomb case on Friday and faced his first court appearance on Monday in Florida.

(Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Anti-Semitic acts spiked since Trump election win, watchdog says

DAY 33 / FEBRUARY 21: President Donald Trump delivered his first public condemnation of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States after a new spate of bomb threats to Jewish community centers and the vandalism of about 170 headstones in a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis (above). REUTERS/Tom Gannam

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Anti-Semitic incidents, from bomb threats and cemetery desecration to assaults and bullying, have surged in the United States since the election of President Donald Trump, and a “heightened political atmosphere” played a role in the rise, the Anti-Defamation League said on Monday.

A sharp increase in the harassment of American Jews, including double the incidents of bullying of schoolchildren and vandalism at non-denominational grade schools, was cited in the ADL’s “Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents.”

Overall, the number of acts targeting Jews and Jewish institutions rose 34 percent in 2016 to 1,266 in 2016 and jumped 86 percent in the first quarter of 2017, the ADL said.

“The 2016 presidential election and the heightened political atmosphere played a role in the increase,” the ADL concluded in its report.

White House spokesman Michael Short said Trump consistently called for an end to anti-Semitism, as recently as Sunday in a speech on Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“We must stamp out prejudice and anti-Semitism everywhere it is found,” Trump told the World Jewish Congress Plenary Assembly in New York.

Trump had been criticized for waiting until late February to deliver his first public condemnation of anti-Semitic incidents, previously speaking more generally about his hope of making the nation less “divided.”

He later called such incidents “horrible … and a very sad reminder” of the work needed to root out hate, prejudice and evil.

The majority of anti-Semitic incidents were not carried out by organized extremists and should be seen in the context of a general resurgence of U.S. white supremacist activity, said Oren Segal, director of the League’s Center on Extremism.

“Anti-Semitism is not the sole domain of any one group, and needs to be challenged wherever and whenever it arises,” Segal said in a statement.

Among 34 election-linked incidents cited by the ADL was graffiti posted in Denver in May 2016 that exhorted readers to “Kill the Jews, Vote Trump.”

The League also noted an incident from November when an assailant told a victim in St. Petersburg, Florida: “Trump is going to finish what Hitler started.”

Technology that makes it easier to conduct harassment anonymously contributed to the rising numbers, the ADL said.

Michael Ron David Kadar, an 18-year-old Israeli-American, has been charged with making dozens of bomb threats to Jewish community centers in the United States earlier this year.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Lisa Von Ahn)

Trump issues first public condemnation of anti-Semitic incidents

Alveda King (C), the niece of slain U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., praises U.S. President Donald Trump as he visits the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump delivered his first public condemnation of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States on Tuesday after a new spate of bomb threats to Jewish community centers around the country and vandalism in a Jewish cemetery.

Several of the centers were evacuated for a time on Monday after receiving the threats, the JCC Association of North America said, and another center was evacuated on Tuesday morning in San Diego, California, according to police.

Also, vandals toppled about 170 headstones at the Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, over the weekend.

“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” Trump told reporters.

He was speaking at the end of a tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, which Trump said showed “why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms.”

The comments marked a change for Trump, who had not explicitly and publicly condemned the threats against Jews when asked last week. Instead, he spoke more generally about his hopes of making the nation less “divided.”

The president reacted with anger at a news conference last week when a journalist from a Jewish magazine asked how his government planned to “take care” of a rise in threats.

Trump berated the reporter for asking a “very insulting” question, appearing to believe the reporter was accusing him of being anti-Semitic.

“Number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life,” the president said, adding that he was also the least racist person. Trump has often noted that one of his daughters is a convert to Judaism, he has Jewish grandchildren and he employs many Jews in his business.

Trump’s daughter Ivanka, a close adviser to her father who practices Orthodox Judaism, responded to the latest threats in a message on her Twitter account on Monday evening.

“America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance,” she said. “We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers.”

On Tuesday, Trump again declined to answer a question about what action he would take to address the threats to Jewish organizations. Sean Spicer, a White House spokesman, said later that Trump would respond through “deed and action” over the coming months and years.

‘BAND-AID’

Trump’s derogatory campaign rhetoric against Muslims and Mexican immigrants won enthusiastic backing from prominent white supremacists who embrace anti-Jewish, anti-black and anti-Muslim ideologies. It also drew greater media attention to fringe extremist groups.

Trump has disavowed their support. His chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is the former publisher of Breitbart, a news website popular among right-wing extremist groups.

The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect in New York, which has criticized the Trump administration repeatedly over anti-Semitism, said his comments were too little too late.

“The president’s sudden acknowledgement is a Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own administration,” Steven Goldstein, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

Spicer rejected the characterization.

“I wish that they had praised the president for his leadership in this area,” he told reporters when asked about Goldstein’s comment. “Hopefully as time goes by they’ll recognize his commitment to civil rights.”

Jewish groups criticized the White House for omitting any mention of Jews in its statement marking Holocaust Memorial Day last month. The White House said the omission was deliberate since the Nazis also killed people who were not Jews, if in smaller numbers. The stated goal of the Nazis was the extermination of Jews.

One day after speaking at a security summit in Munich, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence spent Sunday morning walking through the grounds of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany with a camp survivor.

Over the course of the U.S. Presidents Day holiday on Monday, bomb threats were sent to 11 Jewish community centers, including ones in the Houston, Chicago and Milwaukee areas, according to the JCC association. They were found to be hoaxes, as was another threat that forced the evacuation of a center in San Diego on Tuesday morning, according to police.

No arrests were made. The FBI has said it is investigating recent threats as “possible civil rights violations.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a prominent Muslim human rights group, has offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of anyone behind the threats, saying Muslims felt a duty to support any targeted minority group.

The incidents on Monday followed three waves of bomb threats so far this year. In all, at least 69 incidents at 54 Jewish community centers in 27 states and one Canadian province have been reported, according to the JCC association.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington, Tom Gannam in St. Louis and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Frances Kerry and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Wisconsin Sees Rise In Anti-Semitic Incidents

A new report from the Milwaukee Jewish Federation shows a significant increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Wisconsin in 2014.

The report shows 33 confirmed incidents of anti-Semitism in 2014 compared to 13 in the previous year.

“America is a great place to be Jewish. There is less anti-Semitism in this country than in many places across the globe,” Elana Kahn-Oren said.  “[However] hatred is hatred. And wherever it goes unchecked, it harms us all.”

The report gave examples of confirmed incidents:

  • At least nine swastikas were drawn, carved or painted at various places, including public streets, the driveway of a Jewish high school student’s home and in an elevator of a Jewish institution. Swastikas and a Star of David were carved at two golf greens, causing $5,000 in damage. Another included a reference to “1488,” a known white supremacist symbol.
  • A man entered a Jewish facility shouting “All Jews will (expletive) burn.”
  • At one business, a hairdresser told a potential client that she doesn’t cut “Jewish hair.” At another, an employee called his boss a “stingy Jew” when he refused to give him a raise.

Also a rally during the Hamas attacks on Israel this summer had protesters comparing Jews to Nazis and making anti-Semitic chants.

The group says despite the increase, it’s very likely the number of cases are under-reported as people do not want to deal with the hassle of police or the possibility of retribution for reporting the incident.