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Report: Trump Bluntly Asked Netanyahu Whether He Wants Peace

By Israel Hayom

President Donald Trump seemed to doubt Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's intentions when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when the two talked over the phone several months ago, Axios reported. According to the report, "Trump was pressing Bibi [Netanyahu's nickname] on the importance of striking a deal for Mideast peace," after the administration had come across reports that the latter was "planning to build additional settlements to please his conservative base in Israel." Trump was apparently displeased with the move because he believed it could anger the Palestinians and complicate his efforts to strike a historic deal, "so, in the course of a longer conversation that was mostly friendly and complimentary, he bluntly asked Bibi whether or not he genuinely wants peace." A senior White House official, who was asked to comment on Trump's disapproval and the alleged questioning of Netanyahu's sincerity, told Axios: "The president has an extremely close and candid relationship with the prime minister of Israel and appreciates his strong efforts to enhance the cause of peace in the face of numerous challenges." Press secretary Sarah Sanders also issued a statement, saying: "The president has great relationships with a number of foreign leaders but that doesn't mean he can't be aggressive when it comes to negotiating what's best for America."

Justice Minister Vows to Help Bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel

By Israel Hayom

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked vowed during a rare visit to Ethiopia to help Ethiopia's Jews immigrate to Israel as soon as possible. Speaking to a group gathered at a synagogue in Addis Ababa on Sunday, Shaked remarked that "These [Israeli] programs that will eventually reunite Ethiopian Jews with their families in Israel are not generally easy. But I will try everything within my power to work with relevant offices to make this happen in the shortest time possible." Shaked, on what is reported to be her first official visit to Africa, said she came to find out more about the situation among Ethiopia's estimated 8,000 remaining Jews. About 140,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel today. Although many of those remaining in Ethiopia are practicing Jews, Israel doesn't consider them Jewish, meaning they are not automatically eligible to immigrate under its Law of Return, which grants automatic citizenship to anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent. Instead of automatic citizenship, the government must actively approve their arrival. Ethiopian community members have been permitted to immigrate over the last two decades in limited bursts that have left hundreds of families torn apart. Members of the Ethiopian Jewish community who attended the meeting told Shaked that they wanted to make aliyah, as many of their family members had done years ago.

"We know aliyah for Jews … in other countries happened so swiftly that sometimes even their dogs were also included as they moved to Israel. Are we less important than these dogs?" asked Meles Sidisto, the community head of Ethiopia's Jews in Addis Ababa. In an emotional speech, Sidisto reiterated that members of Ethiopia's Jewish population were planning to stage a mass hunger strike unless Israel reunites them with their families soon. "We are unhappy here," he went on to say. "We have had enough here. If our situation is not resolved in a very short time, we will hold a momentous mass hunger strike that will help us present our voice to Israel and the world," he said. Tigabu Worku, one of the synagogue's most active members, read a letter to Shaked in which he complained that he has been separated from his family for years. "I have been torn from my younger sisters Leah and Sarah for 18 years," said Tigabu. "Eighteen years I have missed them. Eighteen years I have waited to see their faces that I no longer remember." Ethiopia's Falash Mura Jews are believed to be descendants of one of the Ten Lost Tribes of ancient Israel. Ethiopia's Jewish population resides mainly in the Amhara and Tigray provinces. Years ago, thousands of Falash Muras moved to Israel under the Law of Return and most of those who remain in Ethiopia have been separated for well over a decade from family members. The Israeli government declined to approve funding for the relocation of the Ethiopian community in its new budget but said a special ministerial committee would discuss the issue. A date for that meeting had not been announced.

Memoir of Jewish Boy Kidnapped by Inquisition Under Scrutiny

By Israel Hayom

It is an incident that has stained the Vatican for 160 years: the story of a 6-year-old Jewish boy taken from his family by papal police and brought to Rome to be raised Catholic after church authorities learned his housekeeper had secretly baptized him. Now the case has resurfaced, with new evidence suggesting that the memoirs he wrote as an adult were altered to take the edge off his anti-Semitic views and enhance details favorable to the Catholic Church. The AP has confirmed findings by Brown University historian David Kertzer indicating that Edgardo Mortara's memoirs were changed in ways big and small when they were translated from the original Spanish into Italian and published to great fanfare by Italy's Mondadori house in 2005. AP found the original Spanish text in a religious order's archive this week. The alterations do not significantly change the overall thrust of Mortara's oft-stated gratitude to the "saint" Pope Pius IX for having saved his soul by removing him from his Jewish family to raise him Catholic. But they do indicate that the tale – already subjected to over a century of revisions to suit various interests – has been recrafted again. Kertzer said the changes "were clearly made with certain narrative purposes, to craft a narrative that was more in line with what the conservatives in the church would like to present as what had happened in the story." Young Edgardo Mortara was taken by Inquisition police from his home in Bologna on June 24, 1858. The Mortara's 16-year-old Catholic housekeeper had had the boy secretly baptized when he fell ill as an infant, fearing for his soul if he were to die. Mortara survived, and when word reached church authorities that a baptized Catholic was living in a Jewish home, the Inquisition ordered his sequester under laws requiring Catholics to be raised as such. Pius took Mortara under his wing, and the boy eventually became a Catholic priest, taking Pio as his priestly name. He died in 1940 in Belgium. While such sequesters were not unheard of, the kidnapping became an international scandal and contributed to the anti-clerical sentiment sweeping across Europe. In Italy, the cause emboldened the liberalizing Risorgimiento forces that unified the country and brought about the collapse of the Papal States through which the pope had controlled a swath of central Italy. The 2017 publication of the English version of Mortara's memoir – which includes all the alterations contained in the Italian – has cast new light on the case, just as director Steven Spielberg is developing a film based on Kertzer's 1997 book "The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara," and at the same time as the case for Pius' sainthood is pressing ahead. In a recent article in The Atlantic magazine, Kertzer outlined several inconsistencies between the original Spanish version of Mortara's memoir and the Italian translation published by leading papal author Vittorio Messori in 2005 and titled "Me the Jewish Boy Kidnapped by Pius IX: The Unpublished Memoirs of the Protagonist of the 'Mortara Case.'" Kertzer and Messori have feuded for years about the Mortara affair, evidence of the controversy it still sparks even today, with some in the church defending Pius' actions on the grounds that he had no choice but to raise Mortara Catholic under divine law. The memoir, written in Spanish because Mortara was living in Spain at the time, is actually a contemporary, typed version of a handwritten one Mortara purportedly penned earlier. The location of the handwritten text is unknown. The typed Spanish version was found in the historic archives of the religious order Mortara joined, alongside his handwritten journals and shelf upon shelf of dusty tomes of centuries-old church documents. Among other things, AP found that anti-Semitic comments contained in the original Spanish had been removed from the Messori translation, including a reference to Mortara having "always professed an inexpressible horror" toward Jews. Messori insisted in a series of emails that he had worked from the original Spanish text and that a translator had faithfully translated it. He attributed any changes in the published version to editors at Mondadori, the Italian publishing house. "I think someone wanted to cut out the things that seemed too harsh for the Jews while it was being worked on at Mondadori," he said in an email. But he stressed: "The things that are being denounced by critics don't in any way touch Father Mortara's message of gratitude to the church and Pius IX." Calls and emails to Mondadori seeking comment were not returned.

The issue has greater significance given that the English translation of the memoirs published by Ignatius Press was based on Messori's Italian version, and therefore contains all the alterations. The editor of Ignatius Press, the Rev. Joseph Fessio, told AP that he would try to obtain a copy of the archived Spanish text and make the necessary changes. But he also said Ignatius had already tried in good faith to obtain the Spanish text from Mondadori. According to emails provided to AP, Mondadori told Ignatius there was no trace left of the Spanish text and to use its Italian. "I talked to Vittorio Messori and here is the complete story," read the Nov. 28, 2016, email from Mondadori's foreign rights manager to her counterpart at Ignatius. She wrote that Mortara himself had actually made a translation into Italian for the order's superior general. "So the text found by Messori is the original one, translated from Spanish into Italian by Father Mortara himself for his brothers; Father Mortara is the guarantee of its authenticity," the email said. However, as AP found, the Spanish text is readily available and there is no record in the archive that Mortara ever wrote an Italian version.

New Law Would Repeal All Rights of Non-Orthodox Converts

By the Jerusalem Post

Legislation being drawn up to address the conflict over Jewish conversion in Israel would totally negate the rights of all converts who converted outside of the state's auspices in Israel, including Reform and Masorti (Conservative) converts and those of independent Orthodox rabbinical courts. The law would, however, preserve the current situation in which Reform and Conservative converts who converted outside of Israel are recognized by the state and given the right of Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. The bill was formulated by former justice minister Moshe Nissim, following the June 2017 crisis that erupted when a bill advanced by the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) United Torah Judaism and Shas parties, which granted the Chief Rabbinate a total monopoly over conversion, was approved by the cabinet for passage to the Knesset. The bill was frozen due to fierce opposition by many Diaspora Jewish leaders and political opposition from Yisrael Beytenu. Nissim was appointed to draw up a compromise solution. The Jerusalem Post has learned that the draft bill would establish a new conversion authority under the auspices of the Prime Minister's Office, which would replace the current authority that was created by a government resolution and not by legislation. The Chief Rabbinate would be strongly involved in appointing the head of the conversion authority under the proposed bill, thereby precluding non-Orthodox conversions done in Israel from being recognized. Currently, an Israeli citizen or resident who converts through the Reform or Masorti movements is able to register as Jewish in the Population and Immigration Authority of the Interior Ministry. This right would be repealed under the terms of the new law. In addition, the right afforded by a 2016 High Court of Justice decision to citizenship of Orthodox converts who convert in Israel in independent, Orthodox rabbinical courts would also be repealed. The terms of the new law are likely to generate consternation from the progressive Jewish leadership in Israel, which has a petition before the High Court of Justice requesting the right to citizenship for non-Orthodox converts who convert in Israel. The haredi bill approved by the government last year is designed to preemptively circumvent a High Court decision in favor of this decision, and so legislation that was supposed to be a compromise but negates the rights in question will be highly controversial. Moderate national-religious elements which back independent, Orthodox conversions will also strongly oppose the bill.

Scottish Man Fined $1,100 for Teaching Dog to Do Nazi Salute

By JTA

The Scottish man who was found guilty of a hate crime for teaching his girlfriend's dog to do the Nazi salute was fined 800 pounds, or about $1,100. Mark Meechan, 30, who was convicted last month, taught the pug, named Buddha, to respond with the Nazi salute when prompted by statements such as "Heil Hitler" and "gas the Jews." Meechan posted videos of the dog performing the trick on YouTube. Meecham has said he will appeal his conviction, saying it sets a dangerous legal precedent against freedom of expression. The original video, posted in April 2016 on his YouTube channel, Count Dankula, was viewed more than 3 million times before it was removed for violating YouTube's policy on hate speech. Meechan said on the video that he trained the dog to annoy his girlfriend. He later posted a video in which he apologized for the original dog clips, saying it was a joke and that he has no such political leanings. In the sentencing Monday, Sheriff Derek O'Carroll rejected Meechan's explanation that the video was made as a private joke and pointed out that he had "not taken any steps to prevent the video being shared publicly… You deliberately chose the Holocaust as the theme of the video." Adding "I found it proved that the video you posted, using a public communications network, was grossly offensive and contained menacing, anti-Semitic and racist material." O'Carroll also said the right to freedom of expression was very important, but "in all modern democratic countries the law necessarily places some limits on that right."

Putin Eats Matzah Year Round, Says Russia's Chief Rabbi

By YnetNews

Russian President Vladimir Putin is particularly fond of matzah and eats the unleavened flatbread, which is part of the Jewish cuisine during Passover, all year round, according to Russia's Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, a close associate of the Russian leader. Lazar told reporters during the Limmud FSU festival, which is aimed at strengthening the Jewish identity of Russian-speaking Jews, that Putin eats matzah while drinking tea. "Putin said matzah is tasty, easy and healthy to eat. He eats the matzah I bring him," the rabbi said. Chief Rabbi Lazar emphasized Putin's evolvement in the Jewish community in Russia. "Putin knows which city has a synagogue and which city doesn't. The Jewish museum was inaugurated following his visit to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem where he was very moved. He even contributed one of his salaries to the Jewish museum project," Lazar elaborated.


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