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Study: Polish Norms Helped Nazis Wipe Out Local Jewry

By Israel Hayom & JTA
Large parts of the Polish population during the Holocaust believed helping Jews went against their local norms, a new study from the Polish Academy of Sciences shows. The academy, a state-run institution, focused on a period beginning in 1942 that saw an intense effort on the part of the Nazi occupiers to wipe out Jewish ghettos across Poland. The study compares the fates of Jews who managed to escape the ghettos during that period and reveals that those who tried to seek shelter in urban areas were less likely to survive, compared to Jews who escaped to the country, who had a much better chance of staying alive. According to the scholars, this can be explained by the norms that were prevalent among Poles in urban areas. "Poles who chose to save Jews were essentially violating the unwritten norms of their community," the scholars wrote. The new publication comes amid renewed tension between Israel and Poland over the issue of Polish complicity in Nazi atrocities during the Holocaust. On Sunday, newly appointed acting Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz drew anger when he said that Poles "suckle anti-Semitism with their mothers' milk," resulting in a diplomatic crisis between the two countries. Katz was quoting a famous statement by former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. The acting minister made the accusation about a controversial Polish law that makes it a civil offense to accuse the Polish nation – rather than individual Poles - of complicity in the Holocaust. In Warsaw, several thousand people signed a petition condemning Polish authorities for not extending the tenure of the director of the country's foremost Jewish museum. Dariusz Stola's five-year contract at the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw ends this year. The museum, which opened in 2013, has seen more than 600,000 visitors annually and has won several awards. A government spokesman confirmed that the position has been opened to other candidates, and said Stola can reapply. The online petition on Avaaz, which on Wednesday had 4,500 signatures, suggests a political motive behind the decisions. "We witness a clearly political decision of not renewing" Stola's contract, it reads. The petition did not say why authorities would wish to terminate Stola, who has criticized a controversial law passed last year in Poland that makes it illegal to blame the Polish nation for Nazi crimes, Gazeta reported. Jaros?aw Sellin, a spokesman for the Polish Culture Ministry, which has some discretion over who runs the museum, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency there are "no political reasons" behind the decision to open the position to other candidates. He said the Culture Ministry, the municipality of Warsaw and the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland decided jointly to open the position to applicants. The association confirmed this in a statement Monday and said it believes Stola "is the best candidate for the coming term."

Trump's Anti-Semitism Envoy Assures US Jewish Leaders that President is Committed to Protecting Jews

By JTA

The State Department's new envoy on anti-Semitism addressed American Jewish leaders gathered for a conference and praised President Donald Trump for his commitment to fighting that bias. Elan Carr appeared to charm delegates of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who hosted the envoy Thursday toward the end of their annual four-day trip here. But a number of leaders remained skeptical of Trump and his commitment to battling anti-Semitism, despite the vigorous applause Carr received when he spoke of the administration's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and declared that anti-Zionism is a form of contemporary anti-Semitism. Trump remains divisive in the wider Jewish community, earning praise for his support of Israel and opprobrium for rhetoric that his critics say has stoked racism. Carr, 50, a Hebrew-speaking former Los Angeles prosecutor who served with the U.S. Army in Iraq, was named as the special envoy for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism earlier this month. The post, which was held by Ira Forman under President Barack Obama, had sat empty for the first two years of the Trump presidency despite protests from lawmakers and Jewish groups. "My office was created by law and designed to protect the Jewish people throughout the world. Think about that," Carr said Thursday. "The world's greatest power is focused, by law and design, on protecting the Jews. It's something not to be taken for granted." Carr declared that the president "could not be more passionate about the issue" of fighting anti-Semitism and had "spent considerable time speaking about anti-Semitism in his State of the Union address." In the Feb. 5 address, Trump referred to anti-Semitism as a "vile poison" and a "venomous creed," and introduced survivors of the October shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Carr, who was in Israel to meet with government officials and members of civil society, also praised Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, saying that Pompeo "couldn't be more determined" to wipe out the "disease" of Jew hatred. "Pompeo speaks about this at every opportunity and is passionate about it," Carr said. "It's the business of this administration and of the United States to fight anti-Semitism." Carr was adamant that the White House would "not ignore any part of the ideological spectrum" and would go after anti-Semitism "regardless of the ideological clothing in which it dresses itself," from ultranationalism on the right to left-wing anti-Zionism. Some Jewish groups belonging to the Presidents Conference, an umbrella representing a range of political ideologies, have been concerned that a Department of Homeland Security program on countering violent extremism was shifted during the Trump administration to focus solely on Muslim extremism and not white nationalism. Among the threats, Carr cited were traditional forms of anti-Semitism such as "statements of government officials who call us internationalist outsiders who subvert society" and attacks by those who say that Jewish advocacy for immigrants is a threat to America. The gunman charged in the Pittsburgh shooting was reported to have railed against Jewish support for immigrants' rights. "Anti-Semitism is a human sickness and rots to the core every society that embraces it,"

Speaking of the Bible: Locust Swarms imminent in Egypt, Saudi Arabia

By the Jerusalem Post

The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that an infestation of desert locusts in Sudan and Eritrea is rapidly spreading along both sides of the Red Sea towards Egypt and Saudi Arabia. According to an agency press release, heavy rains triggered two generations of breeding since October, leading to a substantial increase in the locust population. "The next three months will be critical in bringing the locust situation under control before the summer breeding starts," FAO's Senior Locust Forecasting Officer Keith Cressman said. Earlier this year, the insects evoked biblical times when they showed up at holy sites in Mecca, covering some areas in darkness and sparking a thunderstorm of hail and fire on social media. "These locusts are normally present in low numbers in the desert and don't cause a big problem. But following a large rainfall they can quickly multiply, eventually forming hopper bands or swarms of adults, composed of billions of individual locusts," Cressman told The Media Line. According to the FAO, locust swarms can extend several hundred square miles outwards, containing roughly 40-80 million adult locusts in each square mile. What makes these insects so dangerous is their threat to food security, says Cressman. "A desert locust adult can consume its own weight (roughly 2 grams) in food in a day. The added difficulty is they're normally in the desert, so they're eating the vegetation there. "Once they get into rain-fed crops on the edge of the desert, grown by poor farmers, they're eating an entire livelihood, and then they move into the country and affect national food supplies," he emphasized. Therefore, a swarm of about 40 million locusts eats the same amount of food in one day as about 35,000 average people. A swarm reaching the size of Paris would eat the same quantity of food in 24 hours as half the population of France, according to the FAO. "When a locust swarm lands, it can cause crop losses of 80-100%," Dr. Arianna Cease, Director of the Global Locust Initiative at Arizona State University, told The Media Line. "This is particularly devastating for subsistence farmers who depend on their crops to feed their families." The current situation has been designated an outbreak, the lowest level of the three classifications for locust invasions—the second being an upsurge and the most severe a plague. "Once they are adults and can fly, locusts become much more difficult to track, manage, and stop from flying into agricultural areas and subsequently decreasing food security," Cease added. "When locust populations build up, they group together and can travel long distances (60-250 miles daily). This turns them into a continental-level challenge, meaning many countries need to work together to manage outbreaks." According to Cressman, each country has a national locust center, and the main strategy adopted to combat them is prevention—consisting of regular monitoring, early warning mechanism and forecasting. The FAO Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in the Central Region (CRC), composed of 16 member countries, is convening a meeting in Jordan over the next few days to review the current situation and coordinate efforts to protect crops from "the world's most dangerous migratory pest."

Meet the Sea Squirt, Sucking up Plastic Particles from the Sea

By Reuters and Israel Hayom

A rubbery sea creature with an irritating habit of clinging to ships and invading beaches could help measure plastic pollution as it can filter tiny particles from the ocean and store them in its soft tissue. Israeli researchers have found that ascidians – round, palm-sized animals also known as sea squirts – can thrive in dirty industrial areas and pristine waters alike, allowing them to detect and analyze waste and its impact in various regions. A staggering amount of plastic flows into the ocean each year. The United Nations says it is as if a garbage truck full of plastic was dumped into the water every minute, a rate some estimates show could lead to oceans carrying more plastic than fish in 30 years. But the long-term impact of the waste, particularly tiny pieces called microplastic, is still not fully understood. "[Sea squirts] just sit in one place all their life and filter the water, like a pump," said Gal Vered of Tel Aviv University, and who co-published the researchers' findings in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin. "They can really give us a picture of what the whole reef, the whole ecosystem felt during its life." As a bonus, sea squirts are related in evolutionary terms to human beings. So studying them and the plastic inside them could be more insightful than looking at creatures like fish or clams. "Although we don't look alike at all, we have similar systems," said Noa Shenkar, of Tel Aviv University's zoology department and museum of natural history. Plastic never disappears. Over time it breaks down into microplastics, ranging from the size of a grain of rice on down. They mix with tiny plastic beads found in products like cosmetics and cleaners that were flushed away. These are eaten by wildlife, filling their bellies, exposing them to chemical additives and, potentially, entering the food chain, said Vered. Vered searched piers and rocks in the Red Sea resort of Eilat, eventually finding a cluster of sea squirts on a brick. Back in her lab, a gentle push on one squirt's belly saw the creature let loose the eponymous squirt of water. Invisible to the naked eye are the microplastics, perhaps once part of a bag or bottle, and that were found at all the sites they tested along Israel's coasts.

Israeli Doctors Restore Vision with Revolutionary Membrane Transplant

By TPS

Israeli doctors at the Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa recently conducted a successful procedure through which they restored a woman's lost eyesight using a placenta. A young woman in her 20s recently came to Rambam Hospital after suffering significant chemical burns on the surface of her eye. The serious injury threatened her eyelids, the eyes, and her eyesight, putting her at risk for blindness. Dr. Shmuel Graffi, Chairperson of the Israeli Cornea Society and a senior doctor in Rambam's Department of Ophthalmology, treated the young woman and said that the chemicals were very dangerous and required a "creative solution." The chemicals were trapped between the woman's contact lens and her cornea and began to digest the corneal tissue while penetrating deeply into the eyeball. The materials also caused her immune system to develop an extreme reaction – the creation of scar tissue to protect the eye. This mechanism, if not treated during the critical time close to the moment of injury, may cause actual damage to the "transparent" front parts of the eye, the conjunctiva and cornea. Also, the surface area of the eye, which naturally produces moisture, may develop extreme dryness and considerable pain. Thinking of ways to treat this complicated injury, Rambam doctors came up with an unusual solution – coating the affected area of the eye with an amniotic membrane, the external layer of the placenta. This unconventional surgical procedure is performed in only a few centers in Israel. A unique process was used to preserve the amniotic membrane harvested from a donor following a Caesarean section. After ensuring the suitability of the membrane, the young woman underwent a complex, precise, and delicate procedure, during which the membrane was sewn under the woman's eyelids. The successful operation was followed by a short recovery period, during which her body successfully absorbed the implant and the young woman's vision was restored. "Reconstructive surgery using placental transplantation is a very special procedure for treating severe burns on the surface of the eye," explained Graffi, who led the surgery. "During pregnancy, the membrane prevents the fetus from being rejected from the womb and vice versa and allows them to coexist. In addition, the membrane contains important nutrients and helps the fetus to grow and develop. We actually `exploit' these properties during the implantation process, with the intention that the body will absorb the nutrients from the membrane that has been attached to the surface of the eye, allowing for recovery." The successful absorption of the implant, rehabilitation, and the creation of a healthier structure are expected. These stages will enable corneal transplantation or cataract surgery if needed.


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