News Digest — 10/7/20

Earning Praise, White House Works With Italy To Ensure Supply Of Sukkot Citrons

Jewish community leaders have praised the Trump administration for its international efforts to ensure those who observe the Sukkot holiday have full access to the Four Species necessary according to Jewish tradition.

According to Fox News, international travel restrictions imposed over the global coronavirus pandemic sparked concern among leading rabbis in the US that they could not travel to Italy to retrieve the citron, one of four plants the Jewish people are bound to use in a special ceremony on each day of the Sukkot festival.

The citron, which is grown in Italy, must be harvested under strict rabbinic guidance to be eligible for use in the festival.

Jewish community leaders contacted White House adviser Avi Berkowitz, who serves as the special representative for international negotiations, over the predicament.  According to the report, Berkowitz immediately reached out to the US embassies in Italy and Israel, which confirmed that unless something was done, over 100,000 observant Jews would be unable to fulfill their religious obligation.

“We are extremely grateful to the Trump administration for immediately responding to our request for assistance after we learned that Etrog (citron) importers would not be able to enter Italy due to reciprocal COVID travel restrictions,” Rabbi David Niederman, President of United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and Northern Brooklyn, told Fox News in a statement.

The Trump administration acted at once when learning of the issue and reached out to the Italian Embassy to ensure that Etrogs for the Sukkot holiday could be secured this year, as in years past,” Niederman continued.

“These efforts directly enabled American Jews to utilize the famed and beautiful Italian Esrogim (Etrogs) that have been used by Jews for centuries.”

Aryeh Lightstone, a senior adviser to US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, told the media outlet that he has been receiving calls from Jewish religious leaders, as well as Evangelical ones, who wish to thank the Trump administration “for saving their Sukkot.”

“This summer many of them called with grave concerns that Sukkot would be another casualty of COVID-19 as they wouldn’t be able to access the famed Italian citrons this year.  I knew if anyone could accomplish this, it would be Avi Berkowitz at the White House, Lightstone said.

The festival of Sukkot began at sundown last Friday (2nd) and will end at sundown this Friday (9th).



UAE, Israel Ministers In Historic First Meeting At Holocaust Memorial

The foreign ministers of Israel and the United Arab Emirates visited the Holocaust Memorial in central Berlin during their “historic” first meeting in the German capital on Tuesday (6th).

Israel’s Gabi Ashkenazi and his UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan bumped elbows in line with measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus, as they met face-to-face for the first time after their countries, once longtime foes, signed a US-brokered deal in mid-September to normalize relations.

Accompanied by their host, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, the pair walked through the somber monument, a vast undulating labyrinth of more than 2,700 grey concrete blocks spread over an area equivalent to three football fields.

It commemorates the slaughter of six million Jews by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime.

During the visit, the German Foreign Minister told the UAE Foreign Minister that Israeli Minister Ashkenazi is a second-generation Holocaust survivor.

The Emirati minister was surprised to hear that and asked to hear more.  Minister Ashkenazi spoke about his roots and his father, who survived the labor camp in Bulgaria in 1944 and his immigration to Israel.

The visit by Sheikh Abdullah to the Holocaust Memorial is a highly symbolic step, marking a shift in attitudes in the Arab world towards Israel and Jews.

Political conflicts have led to fierce tensions between Islam and Judaism, and Holocaust denial is rampant in many Arab countries.

Maas called it “a great honor that the Israeli and Emirati foreign ministers picked Berlin as the site for their historic first meeting.”

He called the agreement between Israel and the UAE the “first good news in the Middle East for a long time — and a chance for new movement in the dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.”



Saudi Official Blasts PA For Condemning UAE, Bahrain Deals

Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief and ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, on Monday (5th) condemned the leadership of the Palestinian Authority for criticizing the decision of some Gulf states to normalize ties with Israel.

Speaking in an interview with Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television and quoted by Reuters, the prince labeled the PA’s criticism a “transgression” and “reprehensible discourse.”

“The Palestinian cause and its advocates have been failures, while the Israeli advocates have proven to be successful.  That sums up the event of the last 70 or 75 years,” he was quoted as having said.

“There is something that successive Palestinian leadership historically share in common: they always bet on the losing side, and that comes at a price.” he added.

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain both recently signed historic deals to normalize relations with Israel.

The Palestinian Authority condemned both deals, describing them as “a stab in the back of the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people.”

Prince Bandar noted the decades-long support of successive Saudi kings to the Palestinian cause and said the Palestinian people should remember that the kingdom was always there to offer help and advice.

“This low-level of discourse is not what we expect from officials who seek to gain global support for their cause,” he said, according to Reuters.

While Saudi Arabia has yet to reach any normalization agreement with Israel, recent reports indicated that the kingdom was working behind the scenes and urged the UAE and Bahrain to reach their respective deals with the Jewish state.



Anti-Semitic Graffiti Painted On Jewish Cemetery Fence In Greece, Germany

Anti-Semitic graffiti was discovered on the fences of Jewish cemeteries in Greece and Germany.

The appearance of anti-Semitic slogans and a Nazi symbol on a stone fence in Nikaia, a southwestern suburb of Athens, was reported to police on Monday (5th), the umbrella group of Greek Jewish Communities said.  The graffiti included the phrase “Juden raus,” German for “Jews get out,” and the symbol of the elite SS Nazi force.

Athens Mayor Costas Bakogiannis sent out a team to remove the slogans.  In a statement Monday (5th), the Central Board of Jewish Committees in Greece called them “shameful slogans.”

Separately, RIAS, the watchdog on anti-Semitism in Germany, documented a swastika painted on the wall of a Jewish cemetery on Heer Street in western Berlin on September 27.  The same Berlin cemetery was vandalized in 1998 when unidentified perpetrators smashed the headstone of Heinz Galinski, a longtime leader of the city’s Jewish community.



YouTube Removes Farrakhan’s Nation Of Islam Channel

YouTube has removed the video channel of the Nation of Islam, the organization led by Louis Farrakhan.

YouTube said it removed the channel on October 2, citing its policies against hate speech, according to the Jewish Journal.

“We have strict policies prohibiting hate speech on YouTube, and terminate any channel that repeatedly or egregiously violates those policies,” said the statement.  YouTube said it has removed 25,000 channels for hate speech.

Some individual accounts of Nation of Islam members are still up, with tens of thousands of followers.

Farrakhan is a longtime, vehement anti-Semite who has held rallies against “wicked Jews,” praised Adolf Hitler, condemned the “synagogue of Satan,” likened Jews to termites and accused them of controlling the US government.  He also has a history of homophobia.  This past summer, a string of celebrities defended or praised Farrakhan and echoed his anti-Semitic rhetoric.

A July 4 speech in which Farrakhan called Jews the “enemy of God” has been viewed more than a million times, according to the Anti-Defamation League.  That month, the ADL called Farrakhan the “most popular anti-Semite in America.”

YouTube has also removed white supremacists from its platform this year, including Richard Spencer and David Duke.