This Week in Review: What The Europeans Are Saying

Sephardic Jews in Turkey ‘subject to hostility,’ Spanish minister says

Hürriyet Daily News, Turkey reports: Sephardic Jews are living under threat in Turkey and many will seek Spanish passports due to new legislation that grants returners dual citizenship, Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón has said. Most of the demands for Spanish passports since the new law passed have come from Turkey and Venezuela, Gallardon told the New York Times on March 19. It is estimated that only 24,000 Sephardic Jews remain in Turkey, mostly concentrated in Istanbul. Historically, they have spoken the now-endangered Ladino language, a Judeo-Spanish dialect that is mostly a derivation of Castellan with a few Turkish intonations.

NATO chief: Crimea invasion could be just the beginning

EUobserver reports: NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has warned Crimea could be the beginning of a wider military campaign, amid Russia’s veiled threats against EU and NATO member Estonia. He told the Brookings Institute, a think tank in Washington, on Wednesday (19 March): “I see Crimea as an element in a greater pattern, in a more long-term Russian, or at least [Russian leader Vladimir] Putin, strategy. So of course our major concern now is whether he will go beyond Crimea.” He added: “This crisis is not just about Ukraine. We see what could be called ‘21st century revisionism’: Attempts to turn back the clock; to draw new dividing lines on the map; to monopolise markets; shuffle populations.” He urged NATO members to increase defence spending.

Austria. SPÖ Youth Leader Lied Over Hitler Salute

Austrian Times reports: The leader of the Social Democrat’s (SPÖ) youth wing in Graz has been convicted of lying and libel after he took a photo of dancing supporters at a far right Freedom party rally which he claimed showed them making a Hitler salute. A court in Graz convicted Sebastian Pay of releasing a photo knowing that it would give the wrong impression, and it gave him a six-month suspended sentence and ordered him to pay a 1,400 Euro fine. The picture was widely republished in Austrian media in advance of the recent general election as a sign that the party had a growing number of neo-Nazi supporters, despite the fact that the freedom party (FPÖ) a day later had managed to provide a video showing that the man and the others around him had been dancing to the music and not making Hitler salutes. The video however only received significant coverage after the election by which point, according to the freedom party, the damage had been done. At the 0.25 second mark on the You Tube video published here the dancing man can clearly be seen.

Troops Of 12 Countries To Hold An Exercise in Bulgaria

Sophia News Agency reports: Land troops of 12 countries will take part in the international military exercise at the Novo Selo range in Bulgaria. Saber Guardian, the largest exercise for this year, starts on Friday and will include 700 troops from Bulgaria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, USA, Belgium, Turkey and Ukraine, according to Bulgaria’s Defence Ministry. The main goal is improving regional strategic partnership and NATO compatibility in international operations for dealing with humanitarian crises, peacekeeping and humanitarian aid.

Russian jets buzz Norwegian coast

Norway’s News in English reports: As Norwegian politicians try to balance their indignation and concerns over Russia’s territorial takeover in Crimea with their desire to remain good neighbours, Russian fighter jets continue to fly up and down along Norway’s own territorial border off the north west coast. The regular flights seem aimed at asserting Russia’s growing military presence in the important and resource-rich Arctic, while Norwegian leaders seem intent on avoiding provocation.

Transdniestria may become part of Russia

Pravda reports:  The Supreme Council of the unrecognized republic of Transdniestria appealed to the State Duma of Russia to provide for the possibility of entering the region in Russia in the Russian legislation. After the events in the Crimean Republic the country is under siege. Ukraine imposed restrictions on travel for Russians in Transnistria through its territory. The border was closed for cargo as well. The information was confirmed by Deputy Prime Minister of the Transnistrian Moldovan Republic for International Cooperation, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Nina Shtanski. “Russian citizens are not allowed in Transnistria and are not let out. Transnistria is home to nearly 200,000 Russian citizens, and not all of them can travel and leave the country through Moldova. This means that people are locked on both sides,” said Nina Shtanski… Meanwhile, Vyacheslav Tobuh, the chairman of the Republican movement of Transdniestria “Recognition,” member of the Supreme Council of the TMR, believes that Russia has a legal basis to accept Transdniestria to the Federation. Since there is a declaration of independence, the only thing that needs to be done is recognition of that status, as it was done in Crimea.

Jewish and Muslim women finding common ground

The Jewish Chronicle, UK reports: Addressing 130 Jewish and Muslim women at the Foreign Office, Faith and Communities Minister Baroness Warsi said the religions had more in common than circumcision, ritual slaughter and good food. “Jewish and Muslim women feel that the men run all the organisations in their communities,” she said. “Despite the fact that leg-work goes in from women, when it comes to representation and engagement with government, 99 per cent of the people around the table are men.”  Baroness Warsi hoped that faith-based lobby groups would approach politicians with “women representing these communities”. An interfaith mentoring scheme for women would help break down barriers, she added. “For Jewish women to be mentoring young Muslim girls and successful Muslim women to be mentoring young Jewish girls — that relationship [would] create openness that allows you to have difficult conversations. “When men in the Jewish and Muslim communities get together, they talk about two things — circumcision and shechita. Women would like to talk about leadership so that, in years to come, we could stand back and say we have genuine relationships.”

 Yad Vashem marks 70 years since the destruction of Hungarian Jewry

European Jewish Press reports: Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial and Institute in Jerusalem, hosted Wednesday a march of remembrance with dozens of Holocaust survivors to mark 70 years since the beginning of the mass murder of Hungarian Jewry during the Holocaust.After the march a memorial ceremony took place in the Hall of Remembrance followed by lectures in the Yad Vashem Auditorium and aa symposium commemorating 70 years of the Nazi occupation of Hungary. On April 3, Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research will hold a special symposium focusing on Jewish Hungarians during the Holocaust. The symposium will consist of two sessions: the first one launching the new publication, Conscripted Slaves: Hungarian Jewish Forced Laborers on the Eastern Front during the Second World War, and the second focusing on special aspects of the Holocaust concerning Hungarian Jewry.

Accuracy and impartiality issues in BBC report on Abbas White House visit

BBC Watch, UK reports:BBC Media Watch, UK reports: On March 17th a report appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East and US & Canada pages under the title “Obama tells Palestinian leader to take risks for peace“. The messaging in that headline was repeated in the article’s opening lines. “US President Barack Obama has told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas he must take ‘risks’ for peace. Mr Obama told reporters at the White House that the search for a two-state solution remained elusive but he hoped to see progress in the coming weeks.” But did Obama in fact tell Abbas that ‘he’ specifically – as claimed by the BBC – ‘must’ take ‘risks for peace’? Not according to the transcript released by the White House which shows that Obama’s remarks were actually much less explicit and referred to a general need by all sides to ‘take some tough political decisions and risks’ rather than being a demand or an instruction directed towards Abbas in person.

France’s Interior Minister calls for resistance against antisemitism

European Jewish Congress reports: French Interior Minister Manuel Valls told a gathering in Paris in memory of the victims of the terrorist attack on the Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012. Speaking at the gathering organized by the CRIF representative organization of French Jews, an EJC affiliate, Valls said, “We have to resist, resist, resist against this antisemitism. Valls said that antisemitism came from the Far Right but “also feeds off anti-Zionism. It is nourished in our popular neighbourhoods on the ambiguities regarding the State of Israel. We must resist, resist, resist this antisemitism.”

Harriet Sherwood reports on latest target of anti-Zionist witch-hunt: Israeli architects 

CiF Watch, UK reports: As Harriet Sherwood’s days as the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent wind down, she’s evidently decided to use her remaining time doing what she does best: legitimizing the most marginal and hypocritical efforts to demonize and delegitimize Israeli Jews. Her latest report focuses on efforts – by some ‘sophisticated’ Brits – to isolate the latest international ‘misfortune’: Israeli architects.

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The Week in Review. What Others Are Saying

THE NETHERLANDS: Turkish-Dutch man in hiding after criticizing antisemites

Lokum.nl, The Netherlands reports: Mehmet Şahin of Arnhem, who last week openly distanced himself from antisemitic statements by Turkish-Dutch youth on an NTR program, has gone into hiding.  NTR is the independent Dutch public service broadcaster specialising in information, education and culture.  The youth said that “Hitler had done a good job” and that the murder of women and babies was good because they were Jews. After Şahin criticized the youth, he received death threats from individuals in his neighborhood. He was accused of being Jewish and an agent of the Mossad. Residents in his neighbourhood also signed a petition to force him to relocate. By order of the mayor of Arnhem, Pauline Krikke, Şahin and his family were found temporary alternative accommodation.

FRANCE: Nazi symbols used against Jews in two incidents in Paris

The Times of Israel reports: French police are investigating two incidents in Paris in which Nazi symbols were used. On Thursday, swastikas were painted on the door of a Paris office of the Union of Jewish French Students. Earlier this week, police arrested a man who performed a Nazi salute in front of the Paris rabbinate. The swastikas on the offices of the UEJF at Paris’ Université Panthéon-Assas “prove that universities are also affected by the rise in anti-Semitic incidents in France,” the union’s president, Jonathan Hayoun, said in a statement.

ARAB & MUSLIM POLL: Iran unpopular in Arab and Muslim World.  Majorities say Iran intends to build a nuclear weapon

The Wilson Center, USA reports:  Iran is now viewed unfavorably in 14 out of 20 Arab and Muslim countries, according to a new poll by Zogby Research Services. The survey results show a growing antipathy towards Tehran, especially in Sunni countries. Majorities in all but four countries agreed that Iran is contributing to sectarian division in the Arab world. Only majorities in Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Yemen think “Iran is working to promote peace and stability in the region.” Tehran’s unfavorable ratings “appear to be driven by its policies in Iraq, Syria, the Arab Gulf region, in general, and by its nuclear program,” according to the report. “Syria is the nail in the coffin of Iran’s favorable rating in the region,” said Jim Zogby at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on March 5. In 2006, Zogby Research Services surveyed opinion on Iran’s nuclear intentions. The majorities in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates thought Iran’s program was for peaceful purposes. But public opinion has flipped. Majorities in those same countries now say Iran intends to build a nuclear weapon. Majorities in 14 countries support economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic. But no majority in any surveyed country supports a military strike on Iran’s program…

IRAN: Iran condemns US and Israel for being behind anti-Shia terrorist attacks in Pakistan

Press TV, Iran reports: In a Saturday statement, Chairman of the Assembly of Experts Ayatollah Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi Kani severely criticized the silence of international organizations over the massacre of Pakistani Shia Muslims. The senior cleric also called on religious scholars and students to gather to vociferate their resentment against such brutal acts of terrorism. In protest to the massacre of Pakistani Shias by foreign-backed terrorists, all seminaries in the cities of Tehran and Qom were closed on Saturday, with teachers and students taking to the streets to voice their protest to the silence of international organizations. They also chanted slogans in support of innocent Pakistani Shias while condemning US and Israel for being behind anti-Shia terrorist attacks in Pakistan. The protest came after a bombing in the Pakistani port city of Karachi on March 3 killed over 45 Shia Muslims and injured 150 others. Women and children were among those killed and injured. Shias make up 20 percent of the country’s 180-million-strong population.

GAZA CITY: Hamas brands Obama visit a ‘trap’

The Daily Star, Lebanon reports: The Hamas prime minister charged on Friday that an upcoming regional visit by US President Barack Obama was a “trap” aimed at undermining Palestinian reconciliation. “We are convinced that Obama’s visit will not produce the necessary breakthrough for our people,” Ismail Haniya said at a sermon during weekly Muslim prayers in the Gaza Strip’s Al-Omari mosque. And he urged rival Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who is due to meet Obama at his West Bank headquarters, not to be deluded by the visit or sacrifice efforts to seal Palestinian reconciliation. Palestinian Authority president Abbas should “not fall into the trap of Obama’s visit to the region and shut the door to reconciliation,” said Haniya. Obama’s visit “will focus on regional developments and will only address our cause in a way to undermine Palestinian national reconciliation efforts and to relaunch the absurd so-called negotiations” with Israel, he said.

EGYPT: Student union elections reveal Brotherhood’s weakening social base

Egypt Independent reports: The preliminary results of student union elections across Egyptian state universities reflect a sweeping success for students affiliated with opposition political groups as well as independents. The results, observers argue, could detrimentally affect the Muslim Brotherhood’s traditional power base that typically depends heavily on student unions and professional syndicates. Ongoing student union elections, conducted on five levels across 13 state universities, are witnessing an unexpected voter turnout, with remarkable participation from independent and previously apolitical students contesting seats at the faculties’ level. According to a report released by the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression, independent and non-Islamist politicized students won a sweeping vote in the universities of Cairo, Ain Shams, Benha, Tanta, Alexandria, Monufiya, Assiut and Minya.

IRAN: Iran’s Ahmadinejad criticised over Chavez remarks

Today’s Zaman, Turkey reports: Senior Iranian clerics have criticised President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for saying Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will be resurrected alongside Jesus Christ and the hidden imam who Shi’ite Muslims believe will rise up to bring world peace. Iran declared a day of national mourning on Wednesday after the death of Chavez, who shared the Islamic Republic’s loathing for what they both called US imperialism. Ahmadinejad was among at least two dozen leaders travelling to Venezuela to attend Chavez’s funeral on Friday. In a condolence letter posted on his personal website on Wednesday, Ahmadinejad said he was certain that Chavez “will return” along with Jesus Christ and Imam Mahdi, who devout Shi’ite Muslims believe went into hiding in the 10th century and will reappear one day to spread justice in the world. But Ahmadinejad’s comments angered some religious officials in Iran. “The terms Mr Ahmadinejad used to describe the Venezuelan president are not appropriate for us,” the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Ghorbanali Dorri Najafabadi, a cleric and a senior member of the Assembly of Experts, as saying.

EGYPT: Egypt’s police protest against Muslim Brotherhood

The Jordan Times reports: Thousands of low-ranking policemen on strike across Egypt on Thursday refused orders to work and protested what they claim is the politicisation of the force in favour of the president’s Muslim Brotherhood Party. The strike, in its fourth day, is a rare show of defiance by policemen against their superiors. It threatens to unravel a security force already weakened by two years of unrest following the ouster of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. For decades, Egypt’s police aggressively targeted the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups that were once outlawed. Policemen say they are now being forced to confront protesters angry with Mubarak’s successor, President Mohamed Morsi, and his Brotherhood supporters. They also are angry that they can be tried in military courts and complain that current laws do not protect them when they carry out their duties. The interior ministry said in a statement Thursday that it stands at equal distance from all parties, and that the ministry is being objective in its duties.

SYRIA: Surge in flow of militants from West

Khaleej Times, UAR reports: Increased use of English in videos by extremists and a rising flow of recruits from Europe to fight in Syria and on other battlegrounds is disturbing US officials who fear some could return to Europe or come to the United States to plot attacks. Only last week, a man who spoke English and Arabic and called himself Abu Ahmed Al Amriki (Arabic for ‘the American’) starred in a new video message posted on websites and produced by Al Shabaab, the militant group based in Somalia. Abu Ahmed, whose face was blurred and whose real identity is not known, called on Muslims to give up their comfortable lives in the West and head for the front lines, in places like Somalia, Mali and Afghanistan, to wage holy war…

SPAIN: Return of Sephardic Jews to Spain

European Weekly News, Spain reports: Before the infamous Spanish Inquisition of the 15th Century, some 300,000 Jews lived in Spain. It was one of the largest communities of Jews in the world. Today, there are about 40,000 or 50,000, but that number could be about to dramatically increase. In November, Spain’s justice minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon announced a plan to give descendants of Spain’s original Jewish community, known as Sephardic Jews, a fast-track to a Spanish passport and Spanish citizenship. Anyone who could prove their Spanish Jewish origins, he said, would be given Spanish nationality and the news has spread like wildfire among Sephardic Jews around the world. According to the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities, which processes the applications, there were about 6,000 enquiries in the first month alone. For decades, there has been a movement to allow Sephardic Jews to return, but it is unclear why the Spanish government has chosen to bring up the issue again now. In theory, inviting them back now could give a boost to Spain’s shrinking economy, it has also been suggested that Spain made the offer to appease Israel, after Madrid supported last year’s successful Palestinian bid for a seat at the United Nations. Whatever the motivation, some Muslim scholars are denouncing the offer as unfair. They point out that their ancestors were expelled from Spain during the Inquisition, but they are not being invited back.

BULGARIA: Bulgaria Admits Failure to Save 11,000 Jews in WWII

RIA Novosti, Russia reports: Bulgaria has expressed regret for the first time that it failed to prevent deportation of more than 11,000 Jews to Nazi Germany from regions under Bulgarian control during the Second World War. The Bulgarian Parliament unanimously adopted on Friday a declaration related to the 70th anniversary of the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews and in tribute to the victims of the Holocaust. “An objective evaluation of the historic events today could not ignore the fact of the 11, 343 Jews deported from North Greece and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which were at that time under German jurisdiction [although administered by Bulgarian authorities,” the declaration said. The Jews from Greek Thrace and Macedonia, who did not have Bulgarian citizenship, were sent to Nazi concentration camps in Poland. Only a few of them survived.

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