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Ahmadinejad to Run for President of Iran

By VOA News

Iran's former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday stunned the country by unexpectedly filing to run in the May presidential election, contradicting a recommendation from the supreme leader to stay out of the race.

Ahmadinejad's decision could upend an election many believed would be won by moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who negotiated the nuclear deal with world powers. Though Rouhani has yet to formally register, many viewed him as a shoe-in following Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's recommendation in September for Ahmadinejad to stand down and conservatives' inability to coalesce around a single candidate.

Ahmadinejad's firebrand style could prove appealing for hard-liners seeking a tough-talking candidate who can stand up to President Donald Trump. His candidacy also could expose the fissures inside Iranian politics that linger since his contested 2009 re-election, which brought massive unrest.

Ahmadinejad previously served two four-year terms from 2005 to 2013. Under Iranian law, he became eligible to run again after four years out of office, but he remains a polarizing figure, even among fellow hard-liners.

His disputed 2009 re-election sparked massive protests and a sweeping crackdown in which thousands of people were detained and dozens were killed. Internationally, Ahmadinejad is more known for repeatedly questioning the scale of the Holocaust, predicting Israel's demise and expanding Iran's contested nuclear program.

Ahmadinejad described comments by the supreme leader suggesting he not run as "just advice'' in a news conference shortly after submitting his registration. There was no immediate reaction from the supreme leader's office.

The May 19 election is seen by many in Iran as a referendum on the 2015 nuclear agreement and other efforts to improve the country's sanctions-hobbled economy. Under the nuclear deal, Iran agreed to curb its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

Since the deal, Iran has signed multi-billion-dollar contracts with airplane manufacturers Boeing Co. and Airbus. The benefits have yet to trickle down to the average Iranian, however, fueling some discontent.


Israel Slams Le Pen's Denial of French Complicity in Fate of Jews

By Israel Hayom

The Israeli government has issued a furious response to French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen's remarks on Sunday in which she denied France's responsibility for a mass arrest of Jews in Paris during World War II.

"This declaration is contrary to historical truth, as expressed in the statements of successive French presidents who recognized France's responsibility for the fate of the French Jews who perished in the Holocaust," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued Monday, the eve of Passover.

"This recognition underpins the annual events marking the anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from France and the study of the Holocaust in the education system, both of which are important elements in the battle against anti-Semitism, which unfortunately is once again raising its head," the statement said.

Some 13,000 Jews were deported by French police on July 16 and 17, 1942, many of whom were first detained under harsh conditions at the Velodrome d'Hiver indoor cycling stadium. In all, about 75,000 Jews were sent to Nazi concentration camps from France during World War II. Only 2,500 survived.

Le Pen's comments, which appeared at odds with years of efforts to make her once-pariah National Front more palatable to mainstream voters, also drew fire in France. "I think France isn't responsible for the Vel d'Hiv," Le Pen said on Sunday, referring to the Nazi-ordered roundup by French police in Velodrome d'Hiver. "I think that, in general, if there are people responsible, it is those who were in power at the time. It is not France," she said in an interview with media groups Le Figaro, RTL and LCI.

While her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who led the National Front until he passed the baton to his daughter in 2011, reveled in minimizing the Holocaust, Marine Le Pen has sought to purge the party of anti-Semitism and even expelled her father from it because of his comments.

By reopening a debate about the state's role under the Nazi occupation, she touched a raw nerve. In a sign of how sensitive her comments have become, "Vel d'Hiv" was the top trending topic on Twitter in France on Monday, the first official day of election campaigning.

"This brings back the old demons of the far Right," Jerome Fourquet, a pollster with the French Institute of Public Opinion, said. "This could cost her in terms of voting intentions at a time when the gap between candidates is tightening."

Opinion polls have for months seen Le Pen securing a top-two spot in the April 23 first round but latest surveys show a tightening of support for the four leading candidates.

Late Sunday, Le Pen issued a statement saying she considered the French state was in exile in London during the occupation and that her stance "in no way exonerates the effective and personal responsibility of the French people who took part in the horrible Vel d'Hiv roundup and in all the atrocities committed during this period."


British PM: Remembering the Holocaust is Vital to Fighting Hate

By Israel Hayom

British Prime Minister Theresa May is committing to fighting anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom, May said in a statement published on Sunday ahead of the Passover holiday, which began on Monday evening.

"The history of the Jewish people and the horrors of the Holocaust highlight what happens when freedom is lost and anti-Semitism is allowed to flourish," the message read.

May stressed that the memory of the Holocaust must not be allowed to fade. "In remembering the Holocaust, we will also reaffirm our national commitment to fighting hated and prejudice in all its forms in the world today."


The prime minister went on to thank her country's Jewish community for its "enormous contribution" to the U.K. and underscored that she would defend the Jewish community's rights to practice their faith "without fear."

May's Passover message garnered a hostile response from some of her followers on Twitter. "You're in their pocket sort your life out May," one user replied. Other followers chimed in to bash Israeli policy.


Politico Article on Chabad-Trump Connection Misleads Readers

By JTA

A recent Politico article detailed a web of connections between President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and a vast network of Chabad-Lubavitch benefactors and their associates.

The Politico article, published Sunday under the simultaneously blithe and misleading headline, "The Happy-Go-Lucky Jewish Group That Connects Trump and Putin," adds that the Russian Chabad-supporting oligarchs and their associates have worked with Trump, and charts more of their connections to Chabad. The article also sketches out personal links between the oligarchs and Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner - who also support Chabad.

It's clear from the article that Chabad is a common thread between Putin allies and the Trump family and its business partners — in the sense that support for Catholic charities is a common thread among politicians attending the Al Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner. But the article never actually shows what Chabad has to do with any of the ties between Trump and Russia.

Did Chabad influence any of the business deals or relationships between Putin's oligarchs, their friends and Trump? The article never reports any influence. Did Trump meet any of his Russian business partners through Chabad? Not according to the article. Did Chabad play a role in Kushner's success shepherding Trump's presidential campaign? If it did, the article doesn't say so.

Despite the article's info-dump on ties between Trump, Putin and Chabad benefactors, Chabad's connection to the story emerges as nothing more than incidental. Although the article shows that Trump and Putin allies support Chabad, it does not prove that Chabad has any meaningful role — let alone an "outsize importance" — in the Trump-Russia affair.

Yes, Trump attended a brit at Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson's graveside — a brit arranged by oligarch Lev Leviev, a Chabad supporter. Yes, Jared and Ivanka now attend a Chabad synagogue. Yes, Jason Greenblatt met with Berel Lazar, the Chabad chief rabbi of Russia and a Putin ally.

However, Trump's brit appearance was a result of his deal-making with Russian oligarchs — not the cause of it. And Kushner's Chabad support far predates his connection with the Trump clan, going back at least through his college days. The Lazar meeting is important to the Trump-Russia affair, but only to the extent that Lazar is a Putin ally, not because he's a Chabad rabbi.

The article attempts to buttress its case by spuriously calling Chabad "Trump's kind of Jews," betraying a lack of knowledge regarding Chabad, its goals and how it operates. The article's description of Chabad is misinformed, inaccurate and vague. Most glaringly, the article never quotes any representative of Chabad, or any experts on Chabad, all of whom are easily accessible.

Instead, it bases its claims on quotes from the following people: Mort Klein, the head of the U.S.-based Zionist Organization of America; Ronn Torossian, a Jewish PR guy with ties to Israel's right; and Shmuley Boteach, the celebrity rabbi who used to belong to Chabad, broke with the movement decades ago and has since built up his public profile through TV shows and books. It's not clear what makes any one of them an expert on Chabad or its ethos.

Here are a few of the article's biggest errors on Chabad: It says Chabad "lacks in numbers" and has a "small size." The movement's core number of hasidim might be relatively small, but in fact, its thousands of emissaries (and the supporters they attract) comprise one of the most widespread Jewish organizations in the world, one that has challenged and at times conflicted with older local Jewish communities across the globe. The fact that it's hard to tally Chabad's following speaks to its loose organizational structure, not its lack of supporters.

The article also repeatedly suggests that Chabad is some kind of third way between full-on Orthodox Judaism and lack of observance. This is incorrect. First of all, Chabad is an Orthodox Jewish movement led by Orthodox Jewish married couples, and it promotes Orthodox observance.

Chabad boasts large communities in North America and Israel. It is one facet of the sprawling Orthodox Jewish world, not a separate category. True, as Boteach suggests, many of the Jews who take part in Chabad religious services and activities like camp and Hebrew school are not themselves Orthodox. But the fact that the movement is open to Jews across the religious spectrum doesn't mean it isn't itself Orthodox.

The article then suggests, without evidence, that this "third way" is somehow Trumpian. It quotes Torossian saying, somewhat inexplicably, that "Chabad is a place that tough, strong Jews feel comfortable [in]" — but never explains why that would make Chabadniks "Trump's kind of Jews."

In fact, Chabad's intended emphasis on welcoming all Jews doesn't really convey toughness and strength. It conveys friendliness and openness. If there is one thing that Trump and Chabad have in common, it is a knack for effective branding. But Trump enterprises are very much a one-man show; Chabad emissaries, or shluchim, must build their own bases of support in whatever communities they are dispatched to, with little support from the main Chabad institutions in Brooklyn and New Jersey.

And even if Chabad represents a third way, Trump's overarching message isn't exactly one of compromise and non-judgmental acceptance.

So yes, it's valuable to know that a web of Trump and Putin associates also bankroll Chabad centers. But it's a step too far to suggest that Chabad has played a meaningful role in the Trump-Russia affair, or that there is a causal relationship between Chabad supporters and the global political or business worlds they can be found in, or to claim that the movement itself is Judaism's answer to Trumpism.


Sephardic Chief Rabbi OKs Cigarettes

By JTA
Israel's Sephardi chief rabbi has ruled that it is permitted to smoke cigarettes that are not certified as kosher for Passover during the holiday.

Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said in a satellite television broadcast that cigarettes do not need to be certified as leaven-free for Passover, though some cigarettes manufactured in Israel or abroad are certified as kosher for Passover.

He appeared to be responding to questions about whether American cigarettes need to be certified as kosher, according to The Jerusalem Post. Rabbi Yosef seemed to base part of his ruling on the fact that leaven is not forbidden if a dog will not eat it.

"If you put a cigarette in front of a dog, who is always hungry – he will eat anything. But put a cigarette in front him, will he smoke it? He won't touch it," the rabbi said in the Hebrew-language broadcast. Rabbi Yosef did indicate that it is better not to even start smoking, but added that if a person is already addicted, he doesn't need certification.

A recent study found that the Israeli army has a major smoking issue: Nearly 40% of Israelis are smokers by the time they finish their compulsory army service. About 37% of Israeli soldiers are smokers when they are discharged, compared to 26% of new recruits, the study found - a 42% increase over the course of service.

Israel has anti-smoking laws and smoking is forbidden in many public areas, but the laws are not always enforced. In practice, if a given municipality chooses not to enforce the laws, it is up to the private citizen to call the police - and often, by the time the police arrive, the smoker has already left the area.



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