The Week in Review for Saturday, May 24, 2014

What They Are Saying.

A selection of eclectic news from around the world.

Saturday. Three people reported dead following a shooting inside and outside the Jewish Museum in Brussels

Flanders News, Belgium reports: The Belgian press agency Belga reported the spokesman of the fire service Pierre Meys saying that the shooting occurred shortly before 4pm in the Zavel (Sablon) district of Brussels. In addition to the three fatalities a fourth person is seriously injured. Twelve people were taken to hospital suffering from shock. The Francophone broadcaster RTBF reports that the shooting happened inside the Jewish Museum itself and that a youngster carrying a backpack was believed to have opened fire and then left the scene by car. Bystanders noted down the car number plate. Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders was in the area when the shooting occurred. He has used the microblogging site Twitter to express his shock at the killings “at the Jewish Museum”. He was approached by several people who had witnessed the shooting. Two bodies were reportedly found outside the building with a third body inside.

Berlin’s Holocaust memorial is falling apart

The Local, Germany reports: More than 80 percent of the 2,711 concrete blocks in Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe have been damaged. Dozens have been reinforced with steel and one is missing, the memorial’s foundation announced on Thursday.  Since its opening nine years ago, 44 of the 2,711 columns in the €27-million landmark have needed steel reinforcement, and the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that another 380 steel collars have been ordered to keep the landmark safe for visitors. The paper said that 2,200 of the 2,711 concrete stones were now damaged.  In 2010, two columns were lifted via crane and transported to the Aachen Institute for Building Research, where they were examined for the possible cause of decay, but one has still not been returned. According to the foundation, the missing column remains in Aachen where a material sample is being taken.

New pact restores Hamas to the Iranian fold with a $200m annual stipend and military aid, Israel reports: The Palestinian Hamas terrorist group has been restored to the Iranian fold and won the promise of an annual allowance of $200 million per year, military assistance and advanced weapons on a par with the hardware supplied to Jihad Islami. DEBKAfile’s sources report that this deal was secretly sealed in Doha on Thursday, May 22, at a meeting between Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and Hamas’s politburo head Khaled Mashaal. It culminated a month of intense Hamas-Tehran negotiations, which were conducted quietly in parallel with Hamas’s unity talks with the rival Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel, China announce $300 million research center

Israel 21c reports: Israel and China have announced a $300 million agreement to establish the XIN Research Center – a collaboration of unprecedented scope between Tel Aviv University and the elite Tsinghua University of Beijing. The new research project – sharing a base at the two institutions — will focus on nanotechnologies. “It’s an unprecedented agreement in size and scope,” Tel Aviv University President Joseph Klafter said at a press conference. The universities announced that they will exchange graduate students and faculty members. They also said their joint research may be expanded to raw materials, water treatment and environmental issues. “We have collaborations with many other universities around the world, but this is the first that is so in-depth and innovative” said Tsinghua President Chen Jining.

Amsterdam earmarks $1.18m as compensation for Holocaust victims

JTA reports: The City of Amsterdam earmarked $1.18 million from its budget to pay back fines it unjustly collected from Holocaust survivors. The allocation, which Mayor Eberhard van der Laan announced Thursday, is for fines that the city had imposed on hundreds of Jewish Holocaust survivors for properties they owned but for which they had failed to pay ground lease fees after the German army invaded the Netherlands in 1940, the Het Parool daily reported.  The reimbursement comes after the submission last month of a report by the Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, or NIOD, finding that the municipality unjustly collected more than $10 million from Holocaust survivors. “The NIOD report shows that the taxation of war victims was formalistic and inappropriate [not only] in hindsight but also at the time,” van der Laan said in a statement to the Dutch news agency Novum on Thursday. Nazi authorities began in 1942 the deportation and murder of 75 percent of the 140,000 Jews living in the Netherlands then. Many of the houses in question were used by Nazi occupation officers and local collaborators, Het Parool reported. The city pursued Holocaust survivors for missed payments as late as 1947 and imposed fines on them for missing payments, according to the daily, whose publication on the issue last year prompted the investigation.

Azrieli Foundation Gives $15 Million To Fragile X And Autism Research In Canada

Jewish Business News reports:  Together with Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Azrieli Foundation announced an increased funding commitment to the Azrieli Neurodevelopmental Research Program bringing its total investment in partnership with Brain Canada to $15 million. The Program supports Canadian neuroscientists conducting leading edge translational work that aims to change the landscape for families facing Fragile X syndrome and Autism. Fragile X, which affects 1 in 4,000 boys and 1 in 6,000 girls, is the most common inherited cause of intellectual disability and the most common known cause of autism. The goal of the Program is to develop new diagnostics and treatments for these disorders, to reduce their economic and social burdens on Canadians and to improve the quality of life for those affected and their families. “We know that Canada is home to some of the world’s foremost neuroscientists and that we have the potential to be a world leader in neurodevelopmental research,”said Dr. Naomi Azrieli, Chair and CEO of the Azrieli Foundation. “By providing scientists with significant financial support, we are providing the lifeblood of advanced research.”

Conservative daily stirs outrage over antisemitic headline after Turkey’s Soma disaster

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Hürriyet Daily News, Turkey, reports: The May 20 front page headline of ultra-conservative pro-government daily Yeni Akit, in which the owner of the Soma Coal Mine Company was criticized for having a Jewish son-in-law, has sparked outrage on social media, with many users denouncing “hate speech.” The daily, which has a long track record of antisemitic slurs, slammed Alp Gürkan for “giving his daughter to a Jew,” while also alleging that this was the main reason why the foreign media was “attacking Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.” Social-media reacted strongly over the appearance of the daily’s headline on May 20, urging the government to condemn such displays of antisemitism. 

Serious antisemitic aggression in Andorra

CRIF, France reports: The tiny principality of Andorra, situated in the Pyrenees between France and Spain with a Jewish population of about 100, seems to have sunk like other cities in Europe into the darkness of antisemitism. A Jewish boy of 21 years was savagely beaten by two young neo-Nazis thugs at the exit of a nightclub. Given the severity of his injuries, he was transferred by ambulance to a hospital in Barcelona, Spain, some 200 km away where it was established that he had received seven facial fractures requiring doctors to implant plates and titanium mesh. 

Hero who saved Jewish children before World War II will receive highest Czech honor in October

Prague Post reports: Sir Nicholas Winton, who saved hundreds of Czech Jewish kids on the eve of World War II, will not attend the ceremony of his decoration with the Order of the White Lion, the highest Czech state award, at Prague Castle due to health reasons, daily Lidové noviny (LN) quotes his daughter as saying. President Miloš Zeman is to bestow the order on Winton, a British, Oct. 28, the national holiday marking the anniversary of the birth of Czechoslovakia in 1918. Zeman informed Winton about his intention to award him in a recent letter of congratulations on his 105th birthday. He invited Winton to the ceremony. According to some historians and other personalities, there is no reason to wait for Oct. 28. They suggest that Zeman award Winton as quickly as possible.

Death penalty reinstated for children in the Maldives Islands

My TFI News, France reports: Since April 27, 2014, children over 10 years may be sentenced to the death penalty in the Maldives… This restoration of the death penalty in children has sparked outrage in the world, the Office of the United Nations Human Rights having expressed late April “deep concern”. For its part, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said Wednesday that the possibility of death sentence to a child of seven years “is a huge infringement of fundamental rights.”

Iranian court is asked to order the public flogging of award-winning actress Leila Hatami for greeting Cannes festival president with a kiss

The Daily Telegraph, UK reports: A red carpet peck on the cheek by Leila Hatami, the Iranian actress at the Cannes Film Festival has been reported to the country’s courts by activists who are seeking a public flogging as punishment for violating Islamic laws. Hizbullah Students, a group of university students with links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard yesterday filed a complaint with Iran’s judiciary for the prosecution of the film star who starred in the Oscar-winning, A Separation… According to the Guards-run Tasnim news website, the Hizbullah Students organisation called for Hatami to be flogged for “kissing a strange man”. The maximum sentence the offence can incur is 50 lashes. Iran’s Islamic rules stipulate that a man and a woman who are unrelated cannot embrace in public. Moreover a woman should not have her hair on display. The actress had a scarf around her neck but had not covered the crown of her head. “We, the undersigned, who are a group of student Muslim brothers and sisters, ask the cultural and media branch of the judiciary to prosecute Leyla Hatami for her sinful act of kissing a strange man in public, which according to article 638 of Islamic Criminal Justice carries a prison sentence,” the petition read.

No signs Syria is handing over remaining chemical weapons

Arab News, Saudi Arabia reports: Syria has made no progress in relinquishing a last batch of chemical weapons it says is inaccessible due to fighting, making it increasingly likely it will miss a final deadline to destroy its toxic stockpile, Britain said on Thursday. The British deputy representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) told delegates in The Hague that packaging material had arrived for the 100 metric tons of toxic chemicals… Assad government has missed several deadlines, most recently its own promise to hand over the remaining chemicals by April 27. It has also failed to destroy a dozen facilities that were part of the chemical weapons program.

Lebanon’s Maronite patriarch’s Jerusalem trip raises Hezbollah ire

Gulf News, UAE reports: An unprecedented visit by Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch to the Holy Land has angered the powerful Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah, a sworn enemy of the Israelis, technically still at war with Lebanon. Patriarch Beshara Rai’s planned visit is highly sensitive in a country where power is shared between Christians and Muslims, and where political divisions carved out during the 1975-1990 civil war have never quite healed. Though an erstwhile Christian political domination has faded, tiny Lebanon is the only country in the Arab world with a Christian president under a complex, informal power-sharing arrangement. Rai’s visit is the first by a Lebanese religious official to the Holy Land since the Israeli regime was established in Palestine in 1948, and is intended to fit in with Pope Francis’s three-day pilgrimage to Jordan and the Holy Land that begins on Saturday.

(Photo credits: Belgium – RBTF; Amsterdam-jewishvirtuallibrary; Turkey-cyprusupdates; Iran- Canal+)

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HUNGARY. The Monster is at the Door.

“Today, if you live in Hungary and you are Roma, Jewish or a member of the LGBT community, you have a problem.”


By Ronald Eissens.

A 1937 letter from Berlin I read a couple of years ago said: “The streets are clean, people have jobs. The café’s, restaurants and terraces are filled every day. The women are lovelier than ever. Yet, there is this strange undercurrent. All this marching and uniforms, it makes me uneasy. One hears things about beatings and about people being taken away, disappearing. Jews and others. We try not to talk about it, not to think about it. Yet it feels like a beast is awakening, ready to destroy.”

These lines came to mind while I was sitting on a terrace drinking coffee on a square just off Vaci Utca, the famous Budapest shopping street. Last week I was in Budapest as part of a group at the European Youth Centre that trained young people to counter online hate.

Photo credit: The Contrarion Hungarian

In Budapest the streets are clean and beautiful, everybody laughs and smiles, while the Hungarian Guard, a paramilitary outfit modelled on the SS, marches in the street and people are beaten up. Today, if you live in Hungary and you are Roma, Jewish or a member of the LGBT community, you have a problem. 

During recent years, waves of anti-Roma violence, antisemitic attacks, bumper-stickers with the text ‘Jew free car,’ homophobic attacks on the annual Gay pride parade, antisemitic defacement of synagogues and Jewish graves, all became ‘normal.’

In 2010, during a recent speech by the mayor of Budapest, right-wingers shouted slogans such as ‘send Jews to the concentration camps‘ and  ‘Jewish pigs!’

“Vilified for claiming Holocaust restitution”

In Hungary, antisemitism and hate against gypsies were always present, but they were swept under the carpet by communist governments. The new constitution however, does not protect the rights of Gays and Lesbians.  Roma live in fear and the Jewish community tries to endure the new pogrom-like atmosphere. Before World War II, there were half a million Jews living in Hungary. Now there are only 100,000 and they are under growing attack and vilified for claiming Holocaust restitution.

Márton Gyöngyösi, Hungarian parliament member for Jobbik (Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom), a Hungarian radical nationalist political party, has said: “It has become a fantastic business to jiggle around with the numbers of dead Jews.” Last month, another Jobbik MP, Zsolt Baráth, held a speech in parliament reviving an anti-Jewish blood libel from 1882.

During a briefing I attended by Hungarian NGOs and other experts, it became clear that the current situation is dire. Peter Molnar, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Media and Communication Studies at Central European University in Budapest, and a former Member of Parliament remarked, “Right now, if I have to make a hierarchy of the minorities under attack in Hungary, I would say first the Roma, then the Jews and then the LGBT community.”

In 2010, during the last Hungarian election, Jobbik became the 3rd party of the country, winning 17% of the vote. The coalition government that was formed after the election, does not have Jobbik in it – but the largest party, the nationalist conservative Fidesz relies on Jobbik support and openly tries to please and appease it. Jobbik itself denies being fascist or racist, but its leader, Gabor Vorna, says that Jobbik is not democrat.

In a smart back-stage, front-stage strategy Vorna has created the Hungarian Guard, who march the streets in Nazi uniforms and have been said to be responsible for most of the hate crime and attacks against Roma, Jews and LGBTs. On top of that, unaffiliated skinheads and neo-Nazis create even more trouble. During 2008 and 2009, a number of Molotov cocktail and gun attacks against the Roma community resulted in the death of six Roma. The killers were neo-Nazis.

“Jobbik loves extreme Islamists and especially Iran”

So, does Jobbik like anybody? Well, ‘normal’ Hungarians of course, who are, in a familiar sounding mythology, the descendants of a great and pure Central-Asian ‘Turkic’ race, which also includes the Persians. It may therefore come as no surprise that Jobbik loves extreme Islamists and especially Iran, feeling very comfortable with shared antisemitism and Holocaust denial.

This is not 1937, but it seems there are too many similarities including  a bad economic situation, high unemployment, the Euro-crisis, inflation of the Forint, the national currency as well as anti-democratic strong leaders about to take over.

Photo credit: Budapest Daily Photo

As the saying goes, ‘history repeats itself the second time as a farce.’ Well, for a start, there is very little farcical about repeating pogroms.

Hungary is not Germany in 1937 and Hungary is not the only European country suffering under an increase of populism, neo-Nazism and extremism. But, Hungary could well be a new flashpoint.

While I was having my coffee, I read on my Blackberry that the Budapest monument for Raoul Wallenberg had been desecrated. Hanging from the statue were pig legs covered in blood.

All of a sudden, the coffee didn’t taste so good.

In 2010, former Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai, in an unwitting allusion to the 1937 letter from Berlin said, the “monster is at the door, threatening to crush Hungarian democracy.”

I don’t like coincidences like that at all.

Ronald Eissens is General Director and CoFounder of the Dutch NGO Magenta Foundation, which focuses on international human rights and anti-racism. Along with Suzette Bronkhorst, he founded in the Netherlands the world’s first complaint bureau for combating hatred on the internet. He is also a Co-Founder of INACH, (International Network Against CyberHate).

Editor’s note:

Militant wing of Hungarian ultra-right party Jobbik

This past month, the Central-European Religious Freedom Institute reported:

“”Leaders of the Hungarian Catholic, Reformed and Lutheran churches have protested against antisemitic remarks made by a radical nationalist MP in an address to parliament.

 “It is our duty to protest against incitement of hatred,” the three church dignitaries said in a joint statement to be published in the May issue of Szombat, the monthly of the Federation to Maintain Jewish Culture in Hungary.

The document, sent to MTI on Wednesday, was signed by Cardinal Peter Erdo, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Gusztav Bolcskei, President of the General Synod of the Reformed Church, and Bishop Peter Gancs, President of the Lutheran Church.

In early April Zsolt Barath, a lawmaker of the radical nationalist Jobbik party, spoke in parliament in honour of a young girl and quoted allegations from the time of her death in 1882 that she had been killed by Jews in Tiszaeszlar, a village in NE Hungary. Barath said the judiciary at the time had sought to conceal this and the judge, “under outside pressure” had acquitted the accused. The Tiszaeszlar blood libel is a recurring synonym for antisemitism.

The government said Barath’s remarks were completely unacceptable and that it resolutely condemned all manifestations directed openly or obliquely against a social group or a minority in Hungary.

The opposition LMP and Socialist parties called on the lawmaker to resign.

The Central Prosecutor’s Office started an investigation triggered by an appeal by Slomo Koves, head of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation.””

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