News Digest — 10/6/21

Herzog Thanks Ukrainian President For Fighting Anti-Semitism

Israeli President Isaac Herzog landed in Kiev on Tuesday (5th) to attend a ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the Babi Yar Massacre, one of the largest mass murders during the Holocaust.  This is his first visit to Ukraine as president, and is at the invitation of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

President Herzog discussed the history of Ukrainian Jewry, saying that “Some of the greatest Jewish figures were born and raised here – religious and spiritual leaders, statesmen, Zionist thinkers and notable cultural heroes.”

However, Herzog said, the Jewish people also had a “difficult and painful history” in Ukraine, having been subjected to rioting and pogroms in earlier centuries, as well as the infamous Nazi Massacre on September 29-30, 1941, when the Nazis executed 33,000 Jews in the Babi Yar ravine near Kiev.

Herzog thanked Zelensky for making legislation opposing anti-Semitism a priority and said he hoped the bill would pass soon.

In addition, Herzog noted that Ukraine had elected not to participate in the recent 20th anniversary event to commemorate the 2001 Durban Conference.  Ukraine was one of over 30 nations that agreed to Israel’s request to skip the event.

Earlier, Herzog laid a wreath at the grave of the Unknown Soldier and at a memorial to the victims of the Great Famine.



Hamas, Egypt Make Reported Progress On Gaza Ceasefire

Egypt and Hamas have made progress on strengthening the Israel-Gaza ceasefire according to a Turkish media report.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu News Agency reported that “progress” was made in “understandings to stabilize the truce in Gaza, speed up the pace of reconstruction there, and efforts to ease the siege.”

In Cairo, Egyptian intelligence officials trying to mediate a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Gaza hosted Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and Gaza strongman Yahya Sinwar.

The Times of Israel quoted one Hamas official saying, “These meetings are often just talk.  But obligations are later borne out if each side does what it has pledged to do.”

Hamas wants to rebuild Gaza after the 11-day conflict in May.  It also seeks a return to the status quo that existed before May – particularly opening border crossings and a wider transfer of goods to the Strip.

Israel insists that any ceasefire include a prisoner swap.  Hamas is holding two Israelis, and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, from the 2014 war between Hamas and Israel. 

Until now, Hamas has ruled out a prisoner swap.  It wasn’t clear if the reported progress reflected a Hamas shift on an exchange of prisoners.

Both Israel and Egypt have also maintained a blockade of Gaza for years to prevent weapons-smuggling by Hamas and Islamic Jihad into the Gaza Strip.



IDF Chief Vows Israel Will Further Target Iran, Including Its Nuclear Program

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi vowed on Tuesday (5th) to continue military operations to counter Iran’s military capabilities, including its nuclear program.

“Operations to destroy Iranian capabilities will continue, in any arena and at any time, and the operational plans against Iran’s nuclear program will continue to be developed and improved,” Kochavi said during a ceremony for new Military Intelligence Chief Aharon Haliva.

Maj. Gen Tamir Hayman, the outgoing intelligence chief, said that the Islamic Republic was currently stable but predicted it would eventually fall.

“Although it is an unjust totalitarian regime, which oppresses its citizens and will end up falling, it is stable for now,” he said.

“History has taught us what becomes of such dark regimes,” Hayman added.

Talks between Iran and world powers over limiting Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief have been idle since June.  But Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Monday (4th) that Iran foresees talks with world powers aimed at reviving its nuclear deal by early November.

Earlier this month, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a report that Iran had quadrupled its stockpile of 60-percent enriched uranium since May.  It also said the verification and monitoring activities have been “seriously undermined” since February, after Iran refused to let inspectors access IAEA monitoring equipment.

Israel has repeatedly warned that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.  Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly opposed the 2015 deal, which he said would pave the way to an Iranian nuclear arsenal, and publicly urged US President Joe Biden to steer clear of attempts to reenter the deal.

Iran has repeatedly  accused Israel of sabotaging its nuclear sites and killing a number of its scientists.

On Saturday (2nd), Iran urged the United Nations Atomic Agency to clearly condemn a “sabotage” attack on a nuclear facility west of Tehran that it has accused Israel of carrying out.

On Sunday (3rd), Iran’s atomic energy chief Mohammad Eslami said that the UN watchdog and Western powers had failed to condemn the “terrorist act” that “severely damaged” the site.

“This latest act of sabotage by the occupation regime in Jerusalem against our country’s nuclear program was the terrorist act on the TESA complex in Karaj,” Eslami told the official IRNA News Agency in a report.



Anti-Semitic Graffiti Found At Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi Death Camp

Anti-Semitic graffiti has been discovered on the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau II Nazi death camp, the Memorial and Museum running the site said on Tuesday (5th), condemning the act as “outrageous.”

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and Memorial preserves the Auschwitz death camp set up on Polish soil by Nazi Germany during World War II.  More than 1.1 million people, most of them Jews, perished in gas chambers at the camp or from starvation, cold and disease.

“The graffiti included statements in English and German, as well as two references to often-used Old Testament sayings frequently used by anti-Semites,” the Memorial said in a statement published on Twitter.

“An offense against the Memorial site – is above all – an outrageous attack on the symbol of one of the greatest tragedies in human history and an extremely painful blow to the memory of all the victims of the German Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau camp,” the memorial site added.

Police are analyzing and compiling documentation as well as reviewing video footage of the incident, after which the memorial said it would remove the markings.

It added that the security measures at the site were being expanded but that fully enclosing the memorial site would not be possible for some time.

“We are deeply saddened and strongly condemn the attack on Auschwitz, a site where over one million Jews were murdered,” said Yad Vashem chairman Danny Dayan in response to the incident.  “The vandalism of the barracks precisely in this place, through anti-Semitic inscriptions and symbols of Holocaust denial, constitutes an injury to the memory of the victims, the survivors and any person with a conscience.”

“The event is another painful reminder that more must be done to promote the memory of the Holocaust and to educate the public and the younger generation regarding the dangers of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial,” added Dayan.

International March of the Living condemned the act of vandalism: “This blatant act of hatred in the world’s largest site of mass murder – where over 1 million Jews were murdered – is a grim reminder of the urgent need for Holocaust education and for the continuance of educational trips for young people of all religions and backgrounds to Auschwitz-Birkenau.”

“In the spring of 2022, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, if COVID-19 guidelines permit, International March of the Living hopes to bring thousands of young people from around the world to the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they will march against racism and intolerance and for peace and mutual understanding.  Our mission has never been more urgent,” the organization added.



German Jews Shocked By Israeli Singer’s Treatment At Hotel

A leading Jewish group in Germany said Tuesday (5th) it was shocked by a German-Israeli singer’s report of being turned away from a hotel in the eastern German city of Leipzig because he was wearing a Star of David pendant.

Singer Gil Ofarim, who lives in Germany, shared a video on Instagram Tuesday (5th) showing him in front of the Westin Hotel in Leipzig saying a hotel employee asked him to put away his necklace in order to check into the hotel.

The head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, responded on Twitter, saying “The anti-Semitic hostility against Gil Ofarim is appalling.”

“One hopes that the Westin will take consequences regarding their staff,” Schuster tweeted.  “I also hope that in the future we will encounter solidarity when we get attacked.”

The Westin Leipzig told the Associated Press in an email that it was “concerned and alarmed by the intolerable accusations by Mr. Ofarim.”

In his Instagram video, Ofarim said he was standing in line to register at the hotel and noticed that people standing behind him received service ahead of him.

“I was standing there with my necklace on, and one person after the next was pulled out from behind me,” Ofarim said.

He said that eventually when he got to the front of the line and asked why everybody else was getting preferential treatment, a hotel employee told him that he too, could check in if he put away his Star of David necklace.

Ofarim, who was close to tears when he talked about his experience on Instagram, did not say what happened next but added: Really?  Germany in 2021?”

The Westin Hotel manager Andreas Hacmeister wrote in a statement that the hotel employee in question was put on leave until the hotel investigates the entire incident.