Hurricane relief program removes ‘no Israel boycott’ pledge
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IS operatives accused of planning attack on Indian synagogue

Indian anti-terror officials say suspects carried out reconnaissance on the Magen Abraham synagogue in Gujarat on Sept. 12, were planning either an explosion or shooting

The Magen Abraham Synagogue in Ahmedabad, India. (Wikipedia/Emmanuel Dyan/CC BY)
The Magen Abraham Synagogue in Ahmedabad, India. (Wikipedia/Emmanuel Dyan/CC BY)

The Times of Israel is liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.

Catalan leader warns Spain takeover unconstitutional, will escalate crisis

BARCELONA, Spain — Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont warns Thursday that the crisis over his drive for independence will escalate if Spain follows through on its vow to suspend the region’s autonomy.

The government “will create an even more serious, extraordinary situation by seizing Catalonia’s political autonomy,” he writes in a letter to the Spanish senate.

The senate is poised to approve measures on Friday to take away Catalonia’s powers.

Puigdemont says that would be an “affront” to Spain’s constitution.

In the senate, the central government is preparing to invoke the never-before-used Article 155 of the constitution which allows it to intervene in Catalonia. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government plans to use this article to strip Puigdemont and the rest of his executive of their political powers. It also plans to take control of Catalonia’s regional police force, public broadcaster and parliament.

— AFP

Amnesty’s Turkey chief denies terror charge

ANKARA, Turkey — The head of Amnesty International in Turkey rejects allegations of links to the Muslim cleric blamed by Ankara for last year’s failed coup as his trial opened on Thursday.

Taner Kilic was detained in June over claims he was a member of the group led by US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen who is accused of ordering the attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The hearing comes a day after Kilic also went on trial in another case along with 10 rights activists including Amnesty’s Turkey director Idil Eser who were detained at a workshop run by the rights group on an island off Istanbul.

While Kilic is voluntary chairman of Amnesty’s board of directors handling administrative affairs, Eser is in charge of day-to-day business including Amnesty Turkey’s campaigns for human rights.

Eser and seven others were freed for the duration of their trial after the first hearing in Istanbul on Wednesday on charges of “aiding” an armed terror group. They are accused of links to outlawed groups including Gulen’s organization as well as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984 and the far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C).

— AFP

Lithuania boosts air defense to plug gap in NATO’s eastern flank with Russia

WARSAW, Poland — Lithuania on Thursday signs a deal to buy Norwegian anti-aircraft missile systems to plug an air defense gap on NATO’s eastern flank, amid concerns over Russia.

The NASAMS medium-range air defense systems developed by Norway’s Kongsberg will be the first such shield in the Baltic states and will cost 110 million euros ($130 million).

“There is no secret that we have had gaps in air defense until now. This is a new page in this area,” Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis tells reporters.

He says the system will be fully operational within three years.

Lithuania and fellow Baltic states Latvia and Estonia boosted their defense after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula and the incursion of pro-Russian forces into eastern Ukraine.

— AFP

Police seize firearms, cocaine in Rahat raid

Three people are arrested in the southern Bedouin town of Rahat after police find in their possession an automatic weapon, a handgun, ammunition and two kilograms of pure cocaine.

The three are remanded for seven days.

Firearms and drugs seized in a police raid in the southern Bedouin town of Rahat on October 26, 2017. (Israel Police)

New screenings begin on US-bound flights

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — New security screenings for all passengers on US-bound flights begin on Thursday, with airlines worldwide questioning flyers about their trip and their luggage, in the latest Trump administration decision affecting global travel.

However, confusion still remains about the new regulations, which come at the end of a 120-day period following the United States lifting a ban on laptops in airplane cabins affecting 10 Mideast cities. The new regulations cover all 2,100 flights from around the world that enter the US on any given day.

Some airlines say they had received permission to delay implementing the new rules until January.

At Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel, long-haul carrier Emirates begins questioning passengers about their luggage, liquids they are carrying, and where they are coming from. Passengers also had to have their carry-on bags searched, along with their electronics.

— AP

Ultra-Orthodox UTJ threatens to torpedo ‘Greater Jerusalem’ bill — report

The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party reportedly is threatening to torpedo the “Greater Jerusalem” bill, fearing that expanding the city’s borders will dilute the political influence of its ultra-Orthodox community.

Heath Minister Yaakov Litzman and MK Moshe Gafni tell Israel Radio that they will oppose the legislation, slated to be voted on by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday.

The proposed bill calls for expanding the Jerusalem municipal boundaries to include four major settlements and a settlement bloc in the West Bank that are home to over 100,000 Israelis all told.

Another painting from Gurlitt collection had been looted by Nazis

Researchers in Germany identify another painting in the “Gurlitt Collection” as having been stolen by the Nazis.

The work by 19th-century French painter Thomas Couture had belonged to the Jewish politician Georges Mandel, and was identified due to a tiny hole in the canvas. Restitution to his heirs is in the works.

The “Portrait of a Sitting Young Woman” is one of some 1,400 works that German tax investigators found in 2012, stashed away in the Munich and Salzburg homes of Cornelius Gurlitt, who died two years later. He had inherited the collection from his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, a collector who the Nazis hired to buy art for its museums or to sell for profit.

The vast collection includes works by such famous artists as Picasso, Dürer, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Beckmann and Matisse. So far, a total of six works from the estate are suspected to have been looted by the Nazis. Last February, a drawing by Adolph von Menzel was returned to the descendants of Elsa Cohen, who had been forced to sell it under duress in 1938.

— JTA

Cypriot national guardsmen in Israel for joint training with IDF

The head of the Cypriot military visited Israel on Wednesday to oversee a joint exercise between his soldiers and members of the IDF’s elite Egoz unit, the army says.

Members of the Cyprus National Guard arrived in Israel on Sunday for the two-week exercise, according to the IDF.

“The exercise focuses on urban warfare and tactical planning,” the army says in a statement.

On Wednesday, Lt. Gen. Llias Leontaris, chief of General Staff of the National Guard of the Republic of Cyprus, visited the Cypriot and Israeli troops at the army’s Tzeelim training base, which houses a world-renowned urban combat center that is meant to simulate an Arab town.

Over the course of the two-week exercise, the Cypriot and Israeli soldiers will travel to other IDF training facilities as well, the army says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Virginia brothers arrested for anti-Semitic assault on man wearing Star of David

Two brothers from the Appalachian Trail town of Damascus, Virginia are arrested after they are captured on video yelling anti-Semitic comments at a man wearing a Star of David.

The incident occurred Monday outside of Hey Joe’s, a restaurant owned by the father of the suspects, Joseph Killian, 33, and Henry Killian II, 35, the Bristol Herald-Courier reports.

Craig Johnston, who reportedly was hiking the trail, filmed the encounter and posted it to social media.

The town’s mayor, Jack McCrady, said in a Facebook post that while Johnston, whom he called the “not so innocent victim,” did not press charges against the brothers, the town did based on the video. “Nothing can justify the hideous statements by those involved. This does not represent Damascus or our citizens,” he wrote in the post. The mayor said the restaurant is due to close at the end of the month.

The men were charged with disorderly conduct and assault, and have not been given bail. Joseph Killian also was charged with assault and battery, for appearing to strike Johnston or his phone during the filmed encounter.

In the video, the brothers tell Johnston that he “should be in a f*ckin’ Jewish oven and die like your ancestors.” They also call him “Jewish scum” and tell him he is not welcome in the restaurant. They also threaten to “come and find you later.”

— JTA

Police arrest 5 in fresh ultra-Orthodox anti-draft protests

Police arrest five ultra-Orthodox demonstrators in Jerusalem for blocking roads during a protest against military conscription.

During the demonstration, which was organized by the anti-Zionist Orthodox Council of Jerusalem, hundreds of protesters block traffic at the city’s Shabbat Square, a key intersection leading to several ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in the capital.

A number of protesters hold up signs reading, “we would rather die than be drafted.”

The demonstrators also temporarily blocked the nearby light rail and Haim Bar-Lev Boulevard, a major thoroughfare in the city.

Police said officers dispersed the protesters.

Esther Hayut sworn in as Israel’s new chief justice

Esther Hayut is sworn in as chief justice of Israel’s Supreme Court, replacing now-former chief justice Miriam Naor.

In a ceremony at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, the country’s leaders are gathered for the swearing-in, including President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, State Attorney Shai Nitzan and Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich.

Netanyahu: Tension between government and court is ‘essence of democracy’

At the swearing-in ceremony of new Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a defense of the tense debate over the court’s powers and role in Israel’s democracy.

“Israel’s judicial system is renowned around the world for the quality of its judges, its independence, and the fact that it represents the supreme values of millennia, which have again found fertile ground in Israel’s democracy,” Netanyahu says.

He cautions against believing that the tensions between lawmakers and the court in recent years are a sign of a weakening of Israel’s democracy.

“There is a natural and healthy tension between the branches of government,” he says, noting clashes between courts and governments in Germany, the US, Britain and elsewhere. “This debate over where the boundary passes between the branches [of government] is not the end of democracy, it is the essence of democracy.”

And, he adds, “these boundaries must change with the times. But what doesn’t change is the need for a strong, independent and honest court.”

Who is Esther Hayut, Israel’s new chief justice?

A few biographical facts about Israel’s new Supreme Court chief justice, Esther Hayut:

Hayut is 63. Her husband David Hayut is an attorney. They have two boys.

Hayut is also the daughter of Holocaust survivors, who was born in a ma’abara, or transit camp for immigrants, in Herzliya.

She served as a singer in an IDF troupe.

She has been a judge for 27 years, and now begins a six-year term — until her mandatory retirement at age 70 — as only the third-ever woman to serve as Israel’s chief justice.

27 fire engines, 10 planes battling forest blaze outside Jerusalem

Large numbers of firefighters are battling a blaze at the Sataf forest area near Jerusalem.

Fully 27 engines and 10 planes are taking part in the effort.

Officials say there is no immediate danger to surrounding towns.

Abu Dhabi breaks judo rules, won’t fly Israeli flag for bronze winner Gili Cohen

Israeli judoka Gili Cohen takes bronze at the Judo Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi.

The successful showing highlights the discriminatory conditions placed on the Israeli team by the judo federation of the host country.

In an apparent bid to prevent them competing, Abu Dhabi barred the Israeli team from wearing Israeli symbols, said it would not play Israel’s anthem and refused to fly its flag.

The medal winners at the women’s under-52 kilogram competition at the Judo Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi, October 26, 2017. Israel’s Gili Cohen, second from right, took bronze, but is listed by the competition’s organizers under the International Judo Federation because of the host country’s ban on broadcasting Israeli symbols at the event. (YouTube screen capture)

A letter from the International Judo Federation to the president of the UAE Judo Federation sent earlier this week demanded that “all delegations, including the Israeli delegation, shall be treated absolutely equally in all aspects, without any exception.” It highlighted the body’s core ideals that “every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind.”

But with Cohen’s win, Abu Dhabi upheld its ban, flying the IJF flag in place of the Israeli.

The national flags of medal winners at the 2017 Judo Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi, with the Israeli flag replaced by the flag of the International Judo Federation (second from right) due to the United Arab Emirates Judo Federation’s ban on Israeli symbols at the event. Israel’s Gili Cohen took bronze at the competition, which took place on October 26, 2017. The other flags, from left to right, are of Brazil, Belgium and Romania. (YouTube screen capture)

Judoka Tal Flicker wins gold at Abu Dhabi, hosts refuse to play Israeli anthem

Israeli judoka Tal Flicker wins gold in the under-66 kilo class at the Judo Grand Slam championship in Abu Dhabi.

As with bronze-medalist Gili Cohen earlier today, Abu Dhabi officials banned the playing of Israel’s national anthem or flying of Israel’s flag, leading the announcer at the award ceremony for Flicker to turn to a sarcastic tone when he announced the “playing of the national anthem” — a pause — “of the International Judo Federation.”

Israeli gold-medalist judoka Tal Flicker singing the Israeli national anthem despite local officials’ refusal to play it at the Judo Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi, where local judo authorities banned all Israeli symbols, October 26, 2017. (YouTube screen capture)

Despite the federation’s song playing, judoka Flicker visibly mouthed the words of Israel’s anthem, Hatikvah.

Israeli gold-medalist judoka Tal Flicker at the award ceremony at the Judo Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi, where local judo authorities banned all Israeli symbols, October 26, 2017. (YouTube screen capture)

House approves bill to sanction Iran for ballistic missiles

WASHINGTON — The Republican-led House overwhelmingly approves bipartisan legislation that would slap new sanctions on Iran for its pursuit of long-range ballistic missiles without derailing the 2015 international nuclear accord that US President Donald Trump has threatened to unravel.

Reps. Ed Royce and Eliot Engel sponsored the bill, which requires the Trump administration to identify for sanctions the companies and individuals inside and outside of Iran that are the main suppliers of Tehran’s ballistic missile programs.

Lawmakers voted 423-2 to pass the measure.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., left, speaks with the committee’s ranking member Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. during a hearing on Iran before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Royce, a California Republican, is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Engel, who is from New York, is the panel’s top Democrat. Both opposed the nuclear agreement when it was forged two years ago, but neither lawmaker is in favor of ditching the deal now.

Lawmakers are aiming to hold Iran accountable for what they say is reckless, destabilizing behavior while they debate how to meet Trump’s new demands for fixing what he and other Republicans argue are serious flaws with the nuclear agreement.

The vote on the Iran sanctions bill comes a day after the House passed bipartisan bills to block the flow of illicit money to Iran-backed Hezbollah and to sanction the group for using civilians as human shields. Lawmakers consider Hezbollah to be Tehran’s leading terrorist proxy.

— AP

NATO chief says allies concerned about Russian phone jamming

BRUSSELS, Belgium — NATO allies are raising concerns about what they call Russia’s use of a kind of electronic warfare during military exercises last month that jammed some phone networks, alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says.

“At least two allies have reported about that,” Stoltenberg tells reporters after chairing talks in Brussels between ambassadors from NATO and Russia. He says it highlights the need for Russia to be more transparent with war games “to make sure there are no miscalculations, misunderstandings, because these kinds of activities can have serious effects.”

Phone services in Latvia, Norway and Sweden’s Oeland islands were reported to have been shut down for a few hours during the Sept. 14-20 Zapad exercises that Russia held with Belarus. The jamming is suspected to have been launched by a Russian communications ship from the Baltic Sea.

Norway’s intelligence chief, Morten Haga Lunde, said in Wednesday’s edition of the Aftenposten newspaper that Russia had also used a kind of electronic attack that could have endangered civilian aircraft in the area.

“There were exercises in GPS jamming — in electronic warfare,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C), accompanied by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (L) and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov (R), watches the joint Zapad-2017 (West-2017) Russian military exercises with Belarus at the Luzhsky training ground in the Leningrad region on September 18, 2017. (AFP/Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev)

— AP

Ban Richard Spencer from Polish Independence Day event, Jewish group urges

WARSAW, Poland (JTA) — The American Jewish Committee’s Warsaw office urges Polish authorities to prevent white nationalist leader Richard Spencer from visiting Poland as part of the Independence Day celebration there.

Spencer was invited to a Nov. 10 meeting organized by the far-right National Social Congress, which posted a photo on its Facebook page with the message “All different all white.”

White nationalist Richard Spencer speaks during a press conference at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on October 19, 2017, in Gainesville, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP)

Spencer is president of the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist think tank, and was an organizer of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August in which a counterprotester was killed. He also was co-organizer of a conference on “white” Europe scheduled for October 2014 in Budapest, but Hungary’s interior minister canceled the meeting and Spencer was deported from Hungary after a few days of detention.

“Spencer’s views strike not only the Jewish community or other minority groups,” Agnieszka Markiewicz, director of the AJC Central European office, says in her call to Polish authorities, which was published in a Polish daily newspaper. “The hatred that Spencer and his followers proclaim is a threat to all who are close to the values of human rights and democracy. We call on the organizers to remove his name from the list of participants in the planned meeting, and the authorities to support this call.”

The meeting, under the title “Europe of the future,” is scheduled to take place the day before Polish Independence Day. The exact location of the event has yet to be announced; it is known only that it will take place in the center of Warsaw.

— JTA

UC Berkeley student editors apologize for anti-Dershowitz cartoon

The editors of the University of California, Berkeley, student newspaper apologize for “the pain and anger” caused by a cartoon that critics say contains anti-Semitic imagery.

The editor’s note is added to the cartoon on Wednesday, a week after it appeared in The Daily Californian. The cartoon remains on the newspaper’s website.

The note reads, in part: “The artist’s intent was to argue that the contents of civil liberties lawyer and professor emeritus at Harvard Law School Alan Dershowitz’s recent lecture at UC Berkeley were hypocritical. We regret that the artistic rendering distracted from the discussion the artist was trying to start.”

The cartoon, published a week ago, depicts a grinning Dershowitz with his head poking through a cardboard cutout bearing an Israeli flag and the silhouettes of happy children. The sign reads “The Liberal Case for Israel,” which was the topic of the Harvard Law School professor’s recent speech on the campus.

Behind the sign, Dershowitz’s foot crushes a man with a Palestinian flag and his hand cradles an Israeli soldier shooting an unarmed man soaking in a puddle of blood. In the online version, only the Palestinian flag, the soldier and the blood are in color.

A cartoon appearing in the UC Berkeley student paper in October 2017 depicting law scholar Alan Dershowitz as engaged in the murder of Palestinians. (Twitter screen capture via JTA)

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, in a letter to the editor calling the cartoon “offensive, appalling and deeply disappointing,” writes that “its anti-Semitic imagery connects directly to the centuries-old ‘blood libel’ that falsely accused Jews of engaging in ritual murder.”

Dershowitz spoke at the university on Oct. 11.

“The criticism we have received reaffirms for us a need for a more critical editing eye, and a stronger understanding of the violent history and contemporary manifestations of anti-Semitism,” writes Karim Doumar, the editor in chief. “We appreciate those who have reached out offering to help us better our understanding of these issues. We will be taking them up on the offer.”

— JTA

Pence’s Middle East Christians tour to include Israel stop

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Vice President Mike Pence will include Israel on a tour of the Middle East to check on the status of the region’s Christians.

“This president, you can know with confidence that America condemns persecution of any faith in any place at any time, and we will stand against it with all of the might of this great nation,” Pence said Wednesday in Washington, DC, at a conference of In Defense of Christians, a group that advocates for the protection of Christians in the Middle East.

“In fact, President Trump has directed me to go to the Middle East in late December. And I promise you one of the messages that I will bring on the president’s behalf to leaders across the region is that now is the time to bring an end to the persecution of Christians and all religious minorities.”

US Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Christians United for Israel conference in Washington, DC, July 7, 2017. (CUFI via JTA)

Israeli media say the tour would include meetings in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in the West Bank with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Those meetings appear geared more toward advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Pence and many other American conservatives see Israel as a safe haven for Christians.

— JTA

IS operatives accused of planning attack on Indian synagogue

Two men associated with the Islamic State are arrested in India for allegedly planning to attack a local synagogue.

The anti-terrorism squad in the western Indian state of Gujarat arrested the men, residents of the port city of Surat, on Wednesday. They are accused of planning to attack the synagogue in the Khadia area of Ahmedabad, the largest city in Gujarat.

The suspects did reconnaissance on the Magen Abraham synagogue on Sept. 12 and were planning either an explosion or shooting there, the Times of India reported. The men allegedly are IS operatives and reportedly had been in touch with an Indian IS handler based in Afghanistan.

The state anti-terrorism squad told the newspaper that the two men had been on their radar for some time and were taken into custody as they were preparing to carry out the attack. The men had planned to escape to Syria via Jamaica following the attack in order to join IS, anti-terrorism officials told the newspaper.

— JTA

Human smuggling raids carried out in 3 European countries

LONDON — Authorities in Britain, Belgium and Bulgaria arrest some 25 people in overnight raids targeting smugglers who allegedly helped people immigrate illegally.

The K Home Office said the operation involved suspects who allegedly transported migrants, most of them from Syria and Afghanistan, into Britain mainly from eastern Europe.

Investigators arrested 11 people in Britain on suspicion of assisting illegal immigration. Eight more were arrested in Belgium and seven in Bulgaria.

The migrants were often concealed in adapted vehicles. Belgian police said 110 smuggling vehicles were identified and nearly half intercepted. They said the investigation involved about 1,100 migrants.

“People smuggling is a cruel and dangerous trade in which often vulnerable individuals are treated as commodities,” Steve Dann, who directs the British agency that investigates immigration offenses tied to financial gain, said. “Many are passed into the hands of other crime gangs who would seek to exploit them for modern slavery purposes.”

— AP

Spanish police cordon off avenue in Madrid to inspect abandoned car

MADRID — Spanish police cordon off a section of Madrid’s Gran Via central shopping avenue and are inspecting a car abandoned there.

A National Police spokeswoman says officers are using sniffer dogs to inspect the car.

She says the car has not been reported stolen and that officers are looking for the driver who apparently abandoned the vehicle with its lights on and keys in the ignition.

The car was reported shortly after 7 p.m. (1700 GMT) when the Gran Via is normally packed with people.

— AP

Hurricane relief program removes ‘no Israel boycott’ pledge

DICKINSON, Texas — A Houston suburb removes a requirement from a hurricane repair grant program that homeowners must agree to not boycott Israel as a condition for receiving money.

The Galveston County Daily News reports that the Dickinson City Council on Tuesday voted to remove the requirement from the application of the city’s Hurricane Harvey repair grant program.

Dickinson had initially included the boycott requirement to comply with a new state law that prohibits Texas agencies from contracting with companies that boycott Israel.

City management assistant Bryan Milward says businesses in Dickinson will still have to refrain from boycotting Israel in order to get relief funding, because the city interpreted that as a requirement of the new state law.

The American Civil Liberties Union has called the boycott requirement unconstitutional.

— AP

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Hurricane relief program removes ‘no Israel boycott’ pledge

DICKINSON, Texas — A Houston suburb removes a requirement from a hurricane repair grant program that homeowners must agree to not boycott Israel as a condition for receiving money.

The Galveston County Daily News reports that the Dickinson City Council on Tuesday voted to remove the requirement from the application of the city’s Hurricane Harvey repair grant program.

Dickinson had initially included the boycott requirement to comply with a new state law that prohibits Texas agencies from contracting with companies that boycott Israel.

City management assistant Bryan Milward says businesses in Dickinson will still have to refrain from boycotting Israel in order to get relief funding, because the city interpreted that as a requirement of the new state law.

The American Civil Liberties Union has called the boycott requirement unconstitutional.

— AP