The Chronicles

A Record of Times

Will the Fight for ISIS’ Capital of Raqqa in Syria be as Difficult as Mosul?

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

ICC Note:

Now that Mosul has fallen, the focus has moved to Raqqa in Syria. It was ISIS’ first city captured and is their capital. The loss of Raqqa would end ISIS’ claim to a territorial caliphate. Though Raqqa is an easier city to recapture than Mosul, the offensive is weaker. The Syrian Democratic Forces, comprised of Kurdish, Arab, Christian and Muslim fighters lack training, equipment, seasoning, and organizational capabilities. Though the fight ahead will be difficult, the Syrian Democratic Forces are a brave and hardy group.

07/21/2017 Iraq (ABC News) – Raqqa, the crucial battlefront in the war against ISIS after the brutal fight to retake Mosul, Iraq, is also ground zero for militants.

The Syrian city is the capital of ISIS’ so-called caliphate and holds a particular degree of significance to the terrorist group. That’s because it represents the first city the group seized during its rapid accumulation of ground in 2014.

Without control over Raqqa, ISIS will quite simply lose any pretense of being considered a state. Here’s a quick overview of the battle as it stands and what lies ahead in Raqqa after coalition forces claimed victory in Mosul this month:

Raqqa represents an easier city to retake than Mosul was because of its geography, civilian population and number of militants, though the U.S.-led coalition’s partners on the ground are weaker than they are in Mosul.

The soldiers, which are fewer in numbers than the force that retook Mosul, also lack the training, equipment, seasoning and organizational capabilities.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and other allied groups are composed of Kurdish and Arab, Christian and Muslim fighters, as well as a handful of foreign volunteers.



[Full Story]

Christians Do Not Want to Go Back Home to Mosul

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

ICC Note:

Mosul’s Christians face a difficult choice on whether or not to return to Mosul now that it has been liberated from ISIS. Many do not want to go back especially since they have rebuilt their lives in Kurdish territory. Going back to Mosul presents too many dangers. There is no security, no guarantee that their homes remain and they still feel betrayed by their Muslim neighbors.   

07/21/2017 Iraq (The Times of Israel) – The jihadists may have been ousted from their Iraqi hometown of Mosul but many Christians like Haitham Behnam refuse to go back and trade in the stability of their new lives. “There’s no security, no protection for Christians back there,” said the former resident of the largest city in northern Iraq.

“It’s better for us to stay here and keep our mouths shut,” said the man in his forties who resettled in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Arbil in 2014 after the Islamic State jihadist group seized control of Mosul.

“They came to see us in our shops. They told us: ‘We have nothing against you. If we’re bothering you, tell us.’ A week later, it was ‘Christians out!’” recalled Behnam, who used to deal in ready-to-wear clothing.

Under the brutal rule of IS, Mosul’s Christian community of around 35,000 was handed an ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay a special tax imposed on non-Muslims, or risk being executed unless they leave town.

Since the Iraqi authorities on July 10 announced their recapture of Mosul after a battle that raged for several months, tens of thousands of Christians who have rebuilt their lives in the past three years face a dilemma.

“We couldn’t go back even if we wanted to,” said Behnam, who fondly remembers “a paradise-like life” before Mosul fell under jihadist control.

His polo shirt and trousers are smeared with grease from his new life as a mechanic working in an Arbil suburb, a change he has had to undergo in order to put food on the table for his wife and two children.

[Full Story]

New Indonesian Bill Expands the Definition of Blasphemy

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

ICC Note:

Indonesia’s religious ministry is drafting a new bill that would expand the definition of blasphemy and allow harsher punishments for the crime of insulting religion. Indonesia is using this bill as a way to limit the rights of religious minorities in this mainly Muslim country. Indonesia was once a country that had a harmonious relationship with all its religious diversity. Now, sectarian violence has increased and this law would cement discrimination into Indonesia’s legal framework.

07/21/2017 Indonesia (Asian Correspondent) –INDONESIA’s Ministry of Religious Affairs is preparing revisions to the country’s so-called Religious Rights Protection Bill that would significantly expand the definition of blasphemy and allow harsher punishments for the crime of insulting religion.

A major change to the law would be a broadened classification of the offence of blasphemy – which is currently “showing hostility, abuse, or desecration” towards a faith, its scriptures or institutions – to seven different kinds of blasphemy with varying periods of imprisonment from six months to five years.

Releasing an unofficial translation, Human Rights Watch (HRW) claims that the Religious Rights bill will simply further jeopardise minority rights in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation. The group says parliament is expected to be presented the bill before the end of 2017.

“The misnamed religious rights bill is nothing less than a repackaging of highly toxic regulations against religious minorities in Indonesia,” said HRW’s Indonesia researcher Andreas Harsono on Friday.

Dr Ken Setiawan, an expert in socio-legal studies and human rights at the Asia Institute, University of Melbourne also expressed concern, telling Asian Correspondent that “it’s not about religious rights, it’s about the curtailing of them.”

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China Warns Communist Party Members “Be Firm Marxist Atheist” or Face Punishment

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

ICC Note:

In a new move to crackdown on religion, China has warned the approximately 85 million communist party members that they must “be firm Marxist atheists” or face punishment. China is concerned that foreign forces are using religion to infiltrate China and spread extremism. President Xi Jinping is trying to force the country’s ethnic and religious minorities to conform to Chinese tradition. He has persecuted Christians, destroying churches and arresting pastors, yet Christianity continues to grow. By 2030 it is expected to be the world’s most Christian nation.  

07/21/2017 China (The Gospel Herald) – China has launched a new crackdown on religion, warning the estimated 85 million Communist Party members they must “be firm Marxist atheists” or face punishment.


“Party members should not have religious beliefs, which is a red line for all members”, wrote Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, in the latest issue of the Party’s flagship magazine, Qiuishi Journal, according to China’s Global Times.

He added: “Party members should be firm Marxist atheists, obey party rules and stick to the party’s faith… They are not allowed to seek value and belief in religion.”

Wang explained that “foreign forces” are using religion “to infiltrate China” which is a threat to the country’s security.


“Some foreign forces have used religion to infiltrate China, and extremism and illegal religious activities are spreading in some places, which have threatened national security and social stability,” he said.

The UK Times says that while Wang’s comments are line with official Party rules, the country’s undefined threat of “punishment” seems “unduly severe for modern China” and appears to be part of “an increasingly draconian crackdown on religious freedom”.


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The Christian Fight for Churches in Egypt

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

By Amy Penn

07/21/2017 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Egypt has used church licenses as another form a persecution by denying Christians the ability to worship God as a community. Prior to 2016, old church licensing laws made it nearly impossible for Christians to legally build churches. Even the new law, passed in August 2016, allows Muslim hardliners to block church construction and continue long-standing discrimination against Christians. International Christian Concern (ICC) sat down with Christians from several villages to see how the law has changed their fight for a church.

Before the 2016 church licensing law, the governing church licensing act had elements dating back to the 1856 Ottoman Caliphate. Christians in Egypt could not legally build a church without the approval of the neighboring Muslim community and the president of Egypt. Eventually, the law extended to renovations as well. For instance, if you wanted to re-carpet the sanctuary, build an addition, or add a bathroom, you would need the Egyptian president’s approval.

The bureaucratic red tape made it nearly impossible to gain licensing so, as a result, many churches were built without proper licensing. For example, in the village of Dabous, Christians built a church in the early 2000s because of the “near-impossibility of obtaining [a] license.” Muslim hardliners even assigned guards to keep the people from having church there. So Dabous’ Christians searched for another way to worship together.

House churches were one alternative, but they were silenced too. In 2008, Christians gathered at Benjamin Ghattis’ home for a house mass for Lent. According to Nabil, a resident of Dabous, Ghattis was “arrested by police and only released when he signed a pledge not to use his house for any future worship.”

In 2009, 32 Christians were arrested for having a prayer meeting in a house. The charge: “Practicing Christian religious rites without license.” Since then, Muslim hardliners in Dabous have defeated all Christians’ attempts to build places of corporate worship.

In Saft Al-Kharsa, Muslim hardliners attacked the homes of four Christians in July 2016, who the hardliners suspected of trying to convert a house into a church. After the attack, a “reconciliation session” was held and the parties convened there determined that the house should be used as a residence with the top floor reserved for weddings and funerals, but not a church until the necessary permits were obtained. This meant that Christians in Saft Al-Khara could not have a church until the president approved their request.

Finally, in August 2016, the Egyptian parliament passed a new church licensing law. The 13 articles contain four main provisions dictating church licensing.

  1. The provincial governor has to approve the church license rather than the President.
  2. The church size must be proportional to the Christian population in the area.
  3. The church cannot be a security risk.
  4. Unlicensed churches built before passage of law and deemed structurally sound can gain licensure retroactively.

Lawyers and activists, however, recognize massive flaws in these provisions. Coptic activist, Amir Fakhry, told ICC that the first provision is problematic because “governors in rural areas and in Upper Egypt will be vulnerable to pressure from Muslim hardliners to oppose the construction of churches…individual governors can deny church permits based on any estimate of their own convenience.”

The second provision is based on faulty information – there is not official nor reliable data on Egypt’s Christian population. Magdy Hanna, a Christian lawyer, noted, “[This article] is considered a great restriction on the construction of churches, as there are no accurate statistics of the number of Christians in Egypt in general, so this article will deprive many Christians of having a church in their village or town.”

Third, Muslim hardliners can create a security risk by rioting around a church. If officials encounter a riot around a church, then they can deny a church a license because they consider the church as the reason for a riot.

Today, the law has been in effect for almost a year. Has it helped? Not for the villages we followed-up with. In Dabous, for example, the unlicensed church should have been declared structurally sound and retroactively licensed according to the new law. Nabil told ICC, “Even after the passage of the law for building churches in 2016…our village church has not yet been licensed.”

In Al-Kom al-Ahmar, a pastor received official approval to repair and renovate his church in May 2017, after the new law was passed. Hundreds of Muslim hardliners protested against it even after the frustrated pastor had “sought official permits for…[the] renovation of a three-story building [even going] to the Muslim villages last April to tell them about the decision…I did not find any objection.” Eventually, Muslim villagers, some members of Parliament, and security forces decided that the church could open, but could only be one-story and not have a cross.

In Saft Al-Kharsa, the bishop filed a church license request under the new church law in November 2016, but still has received no response. In the meantime, congregants continued to use a building as a church. However, in June 2017, congregants arrived to find that police had raided the church, thrown the church’s property into the street, and chained the door shut.

Outraged and exasperated, church leaders gathered in another reconciliation session with Muslims and the governor, demanding that the church be licensed under the new law. The governor refused, stating that the building was dilapidated and could not receive retroactive licensing. Plus, the governor surprised the clerics by declaring that the new church licensing law was not in effect because executive bylaws haven’t been issued.

Christian Family Denied Access to Son Accused of Blasphemy in Pakistan

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

ICC Note:

Since Shahzad Masih, a 16-year-old Christian boy, was accused and arrested under Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws, his family has been unable to gain access to him. Since his arrest last Friday, police have refused to acknowledge holding him and will not give the family access to their boy. Masih is accused of making derogatory remarks against the Islamic prophet Muhammad, a crime that is punishable by death in Pakistan. False accusations of blasphemy are common in Pakistan and are often motivated by score settling and religious hatred.  

07/21/2017 Pakistan (Asia News) – A 16-year-old Christian boy, Shahzad Masih, has been accused of blasphemy by a member of Tehreek-e-Tuhafaz, an Islamist extremist party, and was arrested by police in in Dinga, a city in Gujrat district, Punjab.

Since the boy’s arrest, his family has been unable to find him. Police have refused to acknowledge holding the boy, and will not give the family access to him.

Despite his young age, Shahzad worked as a sweeper at the Shahmim Riaz Hospital. The family says that last month the boy was involved in a disagreement over religious matters with Ishtiaq Qadri, his accuser, and had come out of it with the help of Dr. Tariq, one of the hospital’s physicians.

On 13 July, the radical Islamist again tried to provoke the young man, who allegedly insulted the prophet Mohammed.

The boy’s mother has rejected the accusation. “I have raised Shahzad as a devout Christian. I have never taught my son to hate people of other religions. This is why I’m sure the charges against him are false.”

Yesterday, after the 16-year-old’s arrest, his family was forced to flee the city of 80,000, home to about 150 Christians, after death threats were made at a nearby mosque. On social media, the young man’s picture began circulating with the word “laanat” (shame).

Speaking on behalf of the Islamist group, imam Gazi Saqib Shakeel said that “the judicial system should inflict the worst possible punishment on Shahzad Masih so that no one will dare commit blasphemy again ever.”

In Pakistan blasphemy is punished with the death penalty. Even suspicion alone can provoke violent reactions on the part of the Quran’s defenders.

[Full Story]

India’s New President Puts Religious Minorities at Further Risk

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

ICC Note:

The election of Ram Nath Kovind to India’s presidency puts religious minorities, including Christians, at further risk. Korind, the BJP-backed candidate, shares many of the hardline Hindu nationalist views of the current BJP-led government. For religious minorities, these Hindu nationalist views have led to a dramatic increase in attacks on minorities and their places of worship. Last year, ICC recorded over 360 attacks on Christians in India. With the presidency now in BJP hands, will more Hindu nationalist policies be passed into law? 

07/21/2017 India (Mission Network News) – India’s presidential election Tuesday was more just than a political contest — it was a battle for human rights. And unfortunately, religious minorities came out on the losing end.

Yesterday, Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind, the candidate selected by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was named India’s next president. Both Kovind and Modi are hardline Hindus and have created an environment of fear among religious minorities.

“Modi has been in power for some time now, and he is part of this Hindu Nationalist Party. It really has been promoting Hinduism as the national religion,” Open Doors’ Emily Fuentes says. “They’ve even stated outright that they’re hoping to make the country a fully Hindu country in the next several years. They are showing intolerance toward religious minorities, and it’s usually targeted toward both Muslims and Christians.”

Kovind is only the second Dalit president in India’s history — the lowest in the country’s caste system. Many view his election as a strategy by Modi to increase support from Dalits, who are widely viewed as “impure” and face continual persecution.

But according to the World Watch Monitor, in May, Modi’s government banned the sale of cattle for slaughter, which led to violence against Muslims and Dalits over rumors that they had sold, bought, or consumed beef. Cows are considered holy in India, but beef is cheap and popular among Christians, Muslims, and Dalits. India’s Supreme Court suspended the ban on July 13, however, saying that it violated the fundamental human right of people to choose their own food.

“Having both a president and a prime minister backing this agenda, pushing laws, encouraging those who might even have extreme views like the BJP party in general where they act out violently against Christians, some of these extremists, and Muslims — all this can just be strengthened and happen more frequently,” Fuentes says.

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Family Removes Roadside Cross Memorializing Mother Who Died in Crash Following Atheist Complaint

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

ICC Note: As previously reported, the Freedom From Religion Foundation recently contacted a mayor in Oregon regarding a roadside cross, honoring a mother who died in a crash, which they claimed was unconstitutional. While the state itself had not yet taken action, the family decided to remove the cross because they did not want the memorial “to become a point of contention.” Many members of the community are upset over this development, saying that the family should be allowed to grieve however they want.

By Heather Clark

07/21/2017 United States (Christian News Network) – The family of a woman who had been memorialized with a roadside cross in Salem, Oregon has removed the display following a complaint from a prominent professing atheist organization.

“They didn’t want their mother’s memorial to become a point of contention in the community, and thank everyone who supported them,” Kenny Larson, a spokesman for the city, told television station KATU on Tuesday. “They ask the media respect their privacy and have no further comment.”

As previously reported, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) recently sent a letter to the mayor of Salem to advise that it had received a complaint about the cross off Kuebler Boulevard. It said at the time that it did not know the origin of the display.

“It is blatantly unconstitutional for the City of Salem to display a patently religious symbol like a Christian cross on a public roadside,” attorney Rebecca Markert wrote. “The cross … unabashedly creates the perception of government endorsement of Christianity.”

After the city disclosed to reporters that the cross was actually a memorial to a mother who was killed in a car crash at the location at least a decade ago, and had been placed and maintained by her children, FFRF still found the display to be unconstitutional since it rests on public property.

Cheryl Kolbe, the Portland-area leader of FFRF, asserted that the intention of the cross placement does not matter.

“This is not the same as a very recent car accident where somebody put some flowers or whatever or even a cross on the side of the road a week or two,” she told KATU. “The cross dramatically conveys a message of governmental support for Christianity whatever the intention of the display may be.”

[Full Story]

Al-Shabaab Terrorists Kill Two More in Lamu County

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

ICC Note:

Al-Shabaab claimed the lives of two more people in Lamu County, Kenya. This comes less than a week after the President of Kenya laid plans to attack the terrorist group in Boni Forest, the area that the militants use as a hideout. Al-Shabaab has killed more than 25 people in the last month alone. The most attacked areas are on the border with Somalia. These areas hold many jobs for migrant workers from different parts of Kenya, which means that these attacks not only affect the local populace, but the country as a whole. We pray for the families of the deceased, that they would find peace and comfort.


07/21/2017 Kenya(TheStandard) – Gunmen believed to be Al-Shabaab militia raided a village in Kiunga, Lamu County and killed two people before escaping. Witnesses and police said the victims were shot dead at close range in the attack in Mararani area on Wednesday dawn. A combined team of security agents was sent to the area to pursue the killers. The victims were on foot in the area when they were attacked.

“A team of security agents was dispatched there to pursue the killers and they are yet to communicate,” said an officer operating there.

The incident came three days after President Kenyatta had ordered an operation on the militants. “We shall finish them. When we get them, we will not jail but bury them,” he said of the terrorists who have turned Boni Forest into a playground, attacking and killing locals before retreating there. Speaking in Mpeketoni, the president told those living in areas prone to the attacks to vacate and give way for ongoing operation there.

He also asked locals in Lamu County to cooperate with security officers and give information that will help get the attackers. The attacks have affected tourism, local economy and movement. A number of schools have also closed down because of the incidents. Given elections are scheduled for next month, it is still unclear if the locals will be able to vote.




[Full Story]

Evangelical Groups to Trump: Don’t Deport Iraqi Christians

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

A group of evangelical Christian organizations and others have sent a letter to the Trump administration in protest of the potential deportation of Iraqi Christians from the United States.

The post Evangelical Groups to Trump: Don’t Deport Iraqi Christians appeared first on Christian Persecution Information.

HIAS ‘glad’ Supreme Court upholds decision to add grandparents, grandchildren to family defintion

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Jewish resettlement agency HIAS praised a Supreme Court ruling for expanding the definition of family ties in the Trump administration’s travel ban, but lamented its upholding, for now, a ban on refugees.

The order Wednesday issued by the Supreme Court preserves a lower court’s temporary order to broaden the administration’s interpretation of “bona fide” family ties to include grandparents and grandchildren. People with such ties to U.S. residents are exempted from the Trump administration’s temporary ban on entry from six Muslim majority countries.

The Supreme Court also upheld the lower court’s decision to maintain the Trump administration’s ban on refugees who have been vetted by from U.S. resettlement agencies. That ban is still pending a resolution at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The court’s ruling could affect whether refugees with connections to agency groups like HIAS will be granted an invitation into the country. Of particular concern is the status of refugees from the Syrian civil war.

“We are glad that the Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s common sense interpretation of close family ties,” President and CEO of HIAS Mark Hetfield said. “We are, however, disappointed that, for the time being anyway, the relationship between a refugee and the resettlement agency that assured his or her case will not be enough for that otherwise approved refugee to enter the United States.”

“HIAS and our supporters in the American Jewish community fully expect this administration to comply with [the lower court’s] ruling,” Hetfield said, “but the fight for this country to uphold its founding values is ongoing.”

B’nai B’rith slams State Dept. for saying ‘lack of hope’ drives terrorism

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

WASHINGTON (JTA) — B’nai B’rith International faulted the Trump administration for adopting the “Palestinian narrative” in the State Department’s annual report on terrorism.

In the report released this week, the State Department listed as “continued drivers of violence” a “lack of hope in achieving Palestinian statehood, Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, the perception that the Israeli government was changing the status quo on the Haram Al Sharif/Temple Mount, and IDF tactics that the Palestinians considered overly aggressive.”

“It is astonishing that State is parroting the false Palestinian narrative,” B’nai B’rith said in its statement Thursday. “If it were not released by the State Department, it would be easy to mistake the inflammatory and accusatory language as coming directly from the Palestinians.”

While such an assessment would be uncontroversial coming from a think tank or even Israeli security officials, it is unusual in a State Department statement, particularly under President Donald Trump, who has been outspoken in condemning Palestinian incitement.

B’nai B’rith noted that Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley have repeatedly blamed terrorism on Palestinian incitement and payments by the Palestinian Authority to Palestinians who have carried attacks out on Israelis.

“Israel is not driving the violence committed by the Palestinians,” the statement said. “It’s Palestinian leadership — Fatah and Hamas — that incites violence against Israelis on a daily basis.”

The State Department report said that Palestinian leaders had addressed incitement.

“The PA has taken significant steps during President Abbas’ tenure (2005 to date) to ensure that official institutions in the West Bank under its control do not create or disseminate content that incites violence,” it said. “While some PA leaders have made provocative and inflammatory comments, the PA has made progress in reducing official rhetoric that could be considered incitement to violence.”

The report otherwise described Israel as a “committed counterterrorism partner” and detailed the threats that Israel continues to face, particularly from Iran-backed groups.

“Israeli security officials and politicians remained concerned about the terrorist threat posed to Israel from Hezbollah and Iran, highlighting that Iran, primarily through the efforts of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force, continued to fund and supply Hezbollah,” the Lebanon-based militia, the report said. “Israeli experts believed that Iran has transferred to Hezbollah advanced weapons systems such as anti-aircraft and anti-ship cruise missile systems, and was continuing to transfer long-range rockets into Lebanon.”

Why Jews from Libya are worried about the fate of the country’s Jewish artifacts

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

A hotel can be seen behind the abandoned Dar Bishi synagogue in Tripoli, Libya, Sept. 28, 2011. (Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Gina Waldman was forced to flee her native Libya in 1967 as anti-Jewish mobs took to the streets of Tripoli, burning down her father’s warehouse.

Waldman, like thousands of other Libyan Jews who left the country amid public and state-sponsored anti-Semitism in the 20th century, was forced to leave behind both personal belongings — she was only allowed to bring a single suitcase with her — and a rich cultural heritage that testified to over 2,000 years of Jewish presence in the North African country. Today no Jews remain in Libya.

That heritage — including synagogues, cemeteries and ritual objects — has long been under threat. But now an additional obstacle is coming from an unlikely place, said Waldman, president and co-founder of the group Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, or JIMENA.

The threat stems from a memorandum of understanding request by the Libyan government — currently under consideration by the State Department — that would prohibit artifacts dated 1911 and earlier, including Jewish ritual objects, from being brought into the United States from Libya.

That would mean that anyone attempting to bring in antique Torah scrolls, tombstones, books and other ritual objects would be stopped at the U.S. border, and the objects would be confiscated and sent back to Libya.

Waldman, who lives in San Francisco, called the measure “very, very offensive to the Jewish community.” She said the memorandum would block people from removing Jewish artifacts “when the very government itself has destroyed every single synagogue, every single [Jewish] cemetery.”

Waldman said she is not aware of anyone having attempted to take Jewish artifacts out of Libya, or of any plans to do so. But she worries that the memorandum would affect any future efforts to recover those materials.

The State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee convened this week to discuss and consider the request, which Libya submitted in June. It has not announced a decision. The State Department, replying to a JTA request for comment, said it could not respond before deadline.

Libya claims that the request is necessary for curbing black market sales of artifacts from the country.

“Libya’s patrimony is now under severe and continuing threat of pillage due to ongoing conflict and the rise of violent extremist groups,” according to a State Department summary of the request. (The original request is not available publicly.)

In addition to mentioning threats to Islamic and Berber materials, the summary specifically refers to Jewish sites being pillaged.

“Many of the old Jewish cemeteries and sites are being looted for antiquities to export where there is an active transit or ultimate market for these objects,” it says, later adding that some Jewish materials are sold in Israel.

Critics say the request is illegitimate and allows for Libya to claim ownership of various artifacts, including those that belong to its exiled Jewish community.

Kate Fitz Gibbon, a lawyer who served on the Cultural Property Advisory Committee in 2002-03, spoke harshly of the memorandum.

“I was terrifically offended at this idea that a Middle Eastern country that has forcibly expelled all of its Jewish population should have whatever is left,” she told JTA. “This is the opposite of Holocaust repatriation. This is telling the survivors that they should give what’s left back to the oppressors.”

Fitz Gibbon added that there was no proof in the State Department summary that Jewish artifacts were in fact being taken out of Libya.

On Wednesday, she spoke in opposition to the memorandum on behalf of the Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association at a public open session organized by the State Department.

In addition to sharing objections on behalf of Jewish critics, Fitz Gibbon also said that Libya was not capable of properly preserving artifacts. The country, which has been in disarray following the 2011 fighting that toppled dictator Moammar Ghadafi, is currently under the rule of a provisional government and violent clashes continue to break out.

“Libya, which has no museums — they have 24 museums, they are all closed — no tourism, has never done cultural exchange, and in this actual request said ‘we’re not going to do any cultural exchange because we don’t have the money or time of the ability,’ there is no question that Libya doesn’t even meet one of these criteria for an MOU,” Fitz Gibbon said.

Libya’s request is not unprecedented. The U.S. has similar agreements with 17 countries, including one reached recently with Egypt. Congress also has passed emergency laws restricting artifacts from Iraq and Syria from entering the country. Such laws draw on a 1970 UNESCO convention that allows for the placing of import and export restrictions in cases where a country’s patrimony is under threat of pillaging and its artifacts in danger of entering the black market.

A similar battle is playing out with an Iraqi Jewish archive uncovered by U.S. troops in 2003 in Baghdad. The artifacts were on tour in the U.S. in 2014 and were supposed to be returned to Iraq, but Jewish groups objected, saying they should be in the custody of the Iraqi Jewish community, which is living outside of the country after being driven out. The case of those artifacts remains unresolved.

Marc Lubin, a lawyer assisting Waldman’s group, said efforts to keep Jewish artifacts in Libya or Iraq do not guarantee the preservation of the objects.

“As was the case with the Iraqi Jewish artifacts, the Libyan MOU legitimizes Libya’s confiscation of the property of fleeing Jews by recognizing the Libyan government’s legal claim to that property,” Lubin told JTA in an email. “It gives a green light to future desecration by prohibiting the removal of sacred items from Libya for safe-keeping. It requires Libyan Jewry’s heritage remain in place as a target for fanatics, all in the name of preservation.”

Critics say Libyan-Jewish artifacts aren’t the only thing at stake. Granting the memorandum could set a precedent.

“JIMENA is fighting this MOU because it sets a precedent to all of the Muslim, mostly Arab countries who have desecrated and impounded all of our antiquities, all of our heritage,” Waldman said.

Fitz Gibbon echoed Waldman’s concerns.

“There was recently an MOU granted for Egypt, and the past pattern for MOUs has been that one nation, then two nations, then all nations within a specific region were covered,” Fitz Gibbon said.

Waldman said that JIMENA is not concerned with the artifacts’ monetary value but rather with establishing the fact that the objects belong to the exiled Jewish community.

“They’ve already taken private property, and now they are going after community property and our heritage,” she said. “It isn’t money value that we are fighting for, but it is the right to know we are the rightful owners — they are not.”

Three Israelis reportedly killed, one wounded in West Bank stabbing attack

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

Israeli forces patrolling in Bethlehem, in the West Bank, July 20, 2017. (Mamoun Wazwaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Three Israelis reportedly were killed and one wounded in a stabbing attack in a West Bank settlement north of Ramallah.

Two men and a woman reportedly died of their wounds, while a woman in her 60s was seriously injured in the attack in Halamish, according to The Times of Israel. Israeli media reports said the attacker was shot but survived.

Israel TV’s Channel 10 said the assailant, who entered the home of victims, was in his late teens and had posted on Facebook that he was upset by events at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, where Palestinians and Israeli security forces clashed this week over the Israeli government’s decision to keep in place indefinitely metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount.

Eli Bin, the head of Israel’s rescue service Magen David Adom, said an off-duty soldier next door heard screams, rushed to the home and shot the attacker through a window, according to ABC News. Bin said the attacker was wounded and evacuated to hospital.

On Friday, three Palestinians reportedly were killed in clashes between rioters and police in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Six Israeli police officers were injured in the rioting, touched off after Israel installed metal detectors at the Temple Mount in response to a July 14 terrorist shooting near the holy site that killed two Israeli police officers. The previous night, some 42 people were wounded in clashes between security forces and Palestinian protesters, who rioted during rallies against the introduction of the metal detectors, Army Radio reported.

The Temple Mount compound contains the Haram al Sharif area that is holy to Muslims.

Mahmoud Abbas freezes all contact with Israel over Temple Mount metal detectors

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

Mahmoud Abbas

Mahmoud Abbas speaking to the media in Berlin, April 19, 2016. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

(JTA) — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has announced that Palestinian leaders have frozen all contact with Israel over newly installed security measures at the Temple Mount.

Multiple outlets reported Abbas’ decision on Friday afternoon.

“We announce a freeze on all contacts with Israelis on all levels,” Abbas said Friday, according to The Times of Israel, “until it cancel the steps taken against our people in Al-Aqsa and in Jerusalem.”

It is not immediately clear if the freeze will temporarily end security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians.

Al-Jazeera reported that Abbas cut short a trip to China to deal with the crisis.

Metal detectors were installed at the entrance to the Temple Mount after three Arab-Israelis shot and killed two Israeli police officers at the holy site on July 14. Over the past week, at least three Palestinians have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes with Israeli police in eastern Jerusalem.

Sean Spicer resigns: The press secretary’s most memorable Jewish moments

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

Sean Spicer

White House press secretary Sean Spicer giving a briefing at the White House, Feb. 8, 2017. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)White Trum

(JTA) — Sean Spicer has resigned his post as White House press secretary, reportedly disappointed with the appointment of New York financier Anthony Scaramucci as communications director. According to some Jewish leaders, he should have quit three months ago.

Over six months as President Donald Trump’s mouthpiece, Spicer managed to get in two separate tiffs with Jewish leaders over the Holocaust, one which sparked calls for his job. For good measure, he also made controversial statements about Jerusalem and the rash of JCC bomb threats.

Here are four times Spicey mixed it up with the Jews, and a bonus from someone who played him on TV.

Spicer and the Holocaust, Episode I: Omission of the Jews

Spicer often had the unenviable task of doubling down on his boss’ more outlandish statements — for example, the visibly incorrect insistence that the inauguration crowd for Trump was larger than Barack Obama’s.

Days later, Spicer found himself on the defensive against nearly every major American Jewish group. On Jan. 27, Trump’s official statement marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day omitted any mention of Jews. Jewish groups — even those that supported Trump — slammed the statement. The Trump-friendly Zionist Organization of America expressed “chagrin and deep pain” at Trump “omitting any mention of anti-Semitism and the six million Jews.”

But the president’s deputies said the statement was “inclusive” of the Holocaust’s range of victims. Spicer in a media briefing called the critics “pathetic” and accused them of “nitpicking a statement.”

“To suggest that remembering the Holocaust and acknowledging all of the people — Jewish, gypsies, priests, disabled, gays and lesbians — I mean it is pathetic that people are picking on a statement,” he said.

Spicer and the Holocaust, Episode II: “Hitler, who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons”

The January Holocaust controversy might have been bad. But the one to come would be much worse.

Shortly after Trump ordered an attack on Syria in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack by Bashar Assad, Spicer wanted to accentuate Assad’s evil. So he compared the Syrian dictator to Adolf Hitler — in a way that made Hitler look good.

“We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II,” he said. “We had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”

Hitler did, of course, use chemical weapons on civilians, gassing millions of Jews with Zyklon B in concentration camps.

But when a reporter asked Spicer to clarify his words, he angered some critics even more, claiming that Hitler “was not using the gas on his own people,” then saying Nazis killed Jews in “Holocaust centers.”

The Jewish organizational wrath came swiftly. A range of groups criticized the statement, and the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, a vocal Trump critic, called for Spicer to resign — as did House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz tweeted that Spicer must “apologize or resign.”

Later that day, Spicer apologized on CNN.

“Frankly, I mistakenly made an inappropriate and insensitive reference to the Holocaust, for which frankly there is no comparison,” he told host Wolf Blitzer. “And for that I apologize. It was a mistake to do that.”

Spicer says Trump was right about the JCC bomb threats.

A couple of weeks before his second Holocaust gaffe, Spicer enjoyed a rare moment of validation. Following the arrest of an Israeli teen for the rash of bomb threats phoned into Jewish community centers this year, Spicer took an opportunity to note that his boss had been right all along.

Discussing the threats in February, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Trump told a meeting of states’ attorney generals that “sometimes it’s the reverse” and attacks are made “to make people – or to make others – look bad.”

The comments — if accurate — were a shock to Jews who had faulted Trump for hesitating to condemn the attacks. Two liberal Jewish groups blamed him for fostering a climate conducive to hate.

The Israeli teen’s arrest, Spicer said, proved Trump right. Spicer called on left-wing groups to be “held accountable.”

“We saw these threats coming into Jewish community centers, and there was an immediate jump to criticize folks on the right, and to denounce people on the right and ask them to condemn them, and it turns out that in fact it wasn’t someone on the right,” Spicer said at a media briefing. “The president from the get-go had said ‘I bet you it’s not someone [on the right]’ and he was right.”

Spicer definitely knows where the Western Wall is.

In May, Jewish groups criticized the Trump administration — this time from the right — for not affirming that the Western Wall is part of Israel. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster declined to say so, and a State Department staffer reportedly told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office that the site is “not your territory.” While Israel has annexed eastern Jerusalem, where the wall is located, the international community does not recognize Israel’s claims.

In what may have been an attempt at compromise, Spicer told reporters the site is “clearly in Jerusalem.” But no one was disputing that.

In the end, Spicer did not address the question of sovereignty, adding that the debate over Jerusalem has “had serious consideration” and “will be a topic that’s going to be discussed during the president’s trip between the parties that he meets with.”

The demurrals irked Jews who were hoping for a more hawkish Israel policy from the president, particularly in light of his repeated promises to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Live from New York, it’s Jewish Easter!

Spicer inspired one of the most talked-about comic creations of the early Trump era: Melissa McCarthy’s imitation of the press secretary on multiple episodes of “Saturday Night Live.” One of those skits may well enter the Jewish canon: Alluding to the mix-up over Hitler and the “Holocaust centers,” McCarthy’s version of Spicer, dressed as the Easter Bunny, uses toy vegetables to explain the story of Passover, or what he/she calls “Jewish Easter.”

The pharaoh is “a bad, bad hombre,” explains “Spicer,” using one of Trump’s catchphrases. “He’s doing some really bad stuff to the Jews. I mean, not even Hitler is –” (he catches himself, saying under his breath, “not going to go there again”). Then, manipulating the toys, he explains: “The Jews: These guys pass over, literally, these guys float above the pharaoh.”

As for “Holocaust centers,” the character makes one more effort to get it right: I clearly meant to say ‘concentration clubs.’ Let it drop.”

Shuttered Bronx synagogue becomes a dumping ground

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

Congregation Hope of Israel in the lower Grand Concourse neighborhood of the Bronx, New York, closed in 2006. (Flickr)

NEW YORK (JTA) — Neighbors of a shuttered synagogue in the Bronx want its apparent owners to clean up the trash that is accumulating on its property.

Congregation Hope of Israel on Walton Avenue in the lower Grand Concourse neighborhood — once the hub of a vibrant Jewish community in the New York City borough — closed in 2006. The local television station News 12 reported this week that garbage is piling up on the property and no one is taking responsibility.

New York City’s Department of Sanitation told residents it cannot clean up the trash because the property does not belong to the city, News 12 reported.

“It’s disrespectful for any community,” said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Riverdale, a Bronx neighborhood. “It shouldn’t be this way.”

News 12 traced the ownership of the property to a post office box in Hartsdale, New York, in suburban Westchester County, but were unable to contact the man associated with the address. The man is said to be a board member of the synagogue.

Hope of Israel was the last functioning synagogue in the neighborhood, just behind the Bronx County Courthouse, when it closed. Its last rabbi died in 2003, when the Orthodox synagogue was barely able to make a 10-man minyan for prayers. For years the congregation board was led by Abraham D. Levy, a retired justice of the state Supreme Court who died in 2001.

Senators Cardin and Portman write to ACLU to defend anti-BDS bill

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

Ben Cardin

Sen. Ben Cardin speaking during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Oct. 1, 2015. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — An anti-BDS bill with strong bipartisan backing would not infringe on First Amendment protections, its sponsors said in a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes the proposal.

“We cannot state this strongly enough: the bill does not ‘punish U.S. persons based solely on expressed political beliefs,’” says the letter sent Thursday by Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

The measure would expand existing law that bans boycotts imposed by foreign governments to include those imposed by international organizations.

It comes in response to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel, but also includes the boycott of settlement goods. It was prompted specifically by a decision by the U.N. Human Rights Council to compile a list of settlement goods and a European Union decision to label settlement goods as being imported from the settlements and not Israel.

“Nothing in the bill restricts constitutionally protected free speech or limits criticism of Israel and its policies,” the letter says. “Instead it is narrowly targeted at commercial activity and is based on current law that has been constitutionally upheld.”

Companies could still boycott Israel, the letter says, and not face repercussions. However, cooperating with an international organization’s boycott — for instance, providing information to the U.N. Human Rights Council on an American company’s dealings with an Israeli company that operates in the settlements — would incur penalties.

The ACLU, in a letter to senators urging them not to back the measure, said that “the bill would punish businesses and individuals based solely on their point of view. Such a penalty is in direct violation of the First Amendment.”

Sephardi heritage center honors Spanish politician who said Israel massacres children

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

(JTA) — A prominent Spanish organization that is dedicated to preserving the country’s Jewish heritage awarded a prize to a local politician who had accused Israel of “massacring” Palestinian children.

The Centro Sefarad-Israel, which was created with government funding in 2006 and based in Madrid, awarded its Crown of Esther prize on Thursday to Maite Pagazaurtundua, a Spanish lawmaker serving at the European Parliament, Europa Press reported. She received the award for her “defense of justice and freedom,” the report said.

In 2014, Pagazaurtundúa co-signed a letter with several other members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats — the parliamentary bloc to which Pagazaurtundúa’s Union of Progress and Democracy belongs — condemning Israel’s actions against Hamas in Gaza. It was addressed to Martin Schulz, then the president of the European Parliament.

“An immediate ceasefire is needed to put an end to the massacre and the suffering of the civilian population, many of them children,” the letter read.

The letter co-signed by Pagazaurtundúa, a Basque politician who is known in Spain for denouncing the terrorist activities of the ETA Basque nationalist militia, did not mention Hamas or Palestinian terrorism.

The Spanish Foreign Ministry and the Madrid municipality set up Centro Sefarad-Israel in the framework of efforts to restore sites connected with the Jewish Sephardi presence in Spain that ended in 1492 with the start of the Spanish Inquisition.

Spain and Portugal, which began implementing its own Inquisition in 1536, passed laws in 2013 granting citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jews. At least 4,500 people have received Spanish nationality, and hundreds more received the Portuguese one. Leaders from both countries said the laws affording nationality to Sephardim were meant to atone for the persecution.

On Tuesday, the SAPO broadcaster in Portugal reported that the French-Israel media mogul Patrick Drahi, who founded the international Israel-based news channel i24news, received the Portuguese nationality.

Municipalities in Portugal and Spain in recent years began investing in preserving their Jewish heritage sites and relevant treasures.

The town of Covilha in Portugal last year placed in City Hall a 400-year-old Torah scroll that had been discovered during renovations, and may have been concealed by Jews practicing Judaism in secret during the inquisition.

On Tuesday, the municipality said it would keep the scroll there indefinitely following the defeat in court of a claim of ownership of the scroll by a local businessman who said he bought the scroll from one of the construction workers who discovered the object, the Lusa news agency reported.

Separately, dozens of Portuguese historians gathered Monday at the southern Portuguese city of Faro for a symposium marking 530 years since the completion of the first book ever printed in Portugal, a Hebrew Bible. A copy of the Bible, known in Portugal as the Pentateuco, was completed in Faro on July 30, 1487, by the Jewish publisher Samuel Gacon.

The book is on display at an Oxford University library. It is believed to have been captured in battle and brought to England following a skirmish between British and Portuguese troops in 1596.

But a researcher speaking at the seminar, Rui Loureiro of the Manuel Teixeira Gomes Superior Institute, a prestigious university based in the town of Portimão near Faro, disputed this theory, the sul Informacao website reported. Citing a paucity of records of the book’s transfer, Loureiro argued the book was “taken by a Jewish person who emigrated” because of the Inquisition.

Three Italian brothers try to find the cave they lived in during the Holocaust

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

The Anati brothers, from left, Emmanuel, Andrea and Bubi. (Tamar Tal Anati)

(JTA) — Renting a house in the Italian countryside and eating loads of pasta is about as blissful a vacation as they come.

For the three Anati brothers, however, such a trip is a reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust.

Yet the brothers — Bubi, 77; Andrea, 85; and Emmanuel, 88 — did just that in 2013, precisely with the aim of reconnecting with their past.

The Anatis were raised in an upper-class family in Florence. In 1942, just before the deportations of Florentine Jews to Auschwitz began, the family escaped the city. They fled from village to village and eventually settled in a forest near Villa a Sesta, a town some 50 miles from Florence. With the help of locals, their father dug a cave — and the family lived underground, literally, for several months during the winter of 1944 until the end of the war.

The family then moved to Israel, where the brothers have lived ever since.

“Shalom Italia,” an hourlong documentary directed by Tamar Tal Anati (Bubi’s daughter-in-law) airing Monday night on the PBS series “Point of View,” follows the brothers’ return to Italy in an attempt to find the cave and seek some closure about those dark years. The affable trio treks through the forest, meets with members of a family that helped them survive and, since this is Italy, eats plenty of pasta along the way.

The true joy of this sweet film, however, is the authentic camaraderie of the brothers and their cultivated passion for Italian culture. Bubi, who worked for years at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, is the youngest and most earnest. He’s the guiding force behind the trip because locating the cave was something he had wanted to do for years.

Andrea, an oceanic physics researcher, is a whimsical goof — he frequently whistles, hums and introduces himself to strangers — in great physical shape for an octogenarian.

Emmanuel — his brothers affectionately call him “Meme” (pronounced “may-may”), and sometimes “Meme mio,” or “my Meme” — is an internationally renowned archaeologist. He is the most serious of the three and has no desire to relive his Holocaust memories, having long pushed them out of his mind. But Meme agrees to the trip to satisfy Bubi.

On screen, the brothers’ personalities don’t exactly clash — they do, however, lightly bump up against one another. They bicker over which room to eat dinner in, when to leave the rented house in the morning and which path to take to find the cave in the forest. But the banter is more endearing than whiny. One particularly humorous debate occurs over whether the brothers brought toy bows and arrows with them when they fled Florence — Andrea insists they did, Meme calls him ridiculous.

In spite of its charm, “Shalom Italia” does not glaze over the serious history underpinning the story. The film’s lighthearted tone goes hand in hand with the brothers’ ghosts from the war. They have interesting conversations about the nature of memory over mouthwatering meals, which include salami, mozzarella, tomatoes, prosciutto and pasta with pesto.

The brothers used local Italian food as fuel on their quest. (Tamar Tal Anati)

In one memorable scene, Andrea says he remembers their years on the run fondly — for him it was an adventurous time that brought together the entire family.

“We lived in the woods, played Robin Hood and collected mushrooms,” he says. “I had fun during the Holocaust.”

Meme ruffles at the remark, saying that while Andrea enjoyed his youth, he was forced to grow up quickly.

At another point, Bubi says he cannot eat or even get close to sardines. He realizes that he feels this way because the family ate sardines during the war.

Ultimately the film is a testament to how memories are filtered through our attitudes and experiences, even the desires of those around us.

“It was very interesting to see that when you confront someone else, your memory starts to change,” Tamar Tal Anati told JTA from her home in Tel Aviv. “[And] to see how memory reconstructs itself.”

Tal Anati had been married to Bubi’s son for years, but was not aware that her father-in-law and his brothers were Holocaust survivors. When Bubi told her about the planned trip to the Italian countryside — and she learned of the cave and the reason for the journey — she felt compelled to film it.

“I was fascinated by the fact that each one of them has a completely different memory of the same event,” she said. “And I was curious to see how they would deal with the physical and mental challenge of this journey.”

Tal Anati noted that for decades, the brothers did not even think of themselves as true Shoah survivors. But since the filming of “Shalom Italia,” which helped them reckon with the memories of that long-ago winter, they do now.

“Our character and the way we see life is the result of the memories we hold,” she said. “And once these memories change, we change.”

(“Shalom Italia” airs at 10 p.m. EST Monday, July 24, on PBS. It will also stream online at from July 24 through Aug. 26.)

UN chief condemns deaths of Arab rioters

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

Antonio Guterres on Friday condemns deaths of Palestinian Arabs during clashes in Jerusalem, calls for an investigation.

Hamas welcomes Samaria terrorist attack

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

Hamas says attack in Halamish was justified in wake of Israel’s action at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Halamish terrorist identified with Hamas

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

Before carrying out murderous attack in Halamish, terrorist wrote on Facebook: There’s no life after what you see at Al-Aqsa.

Bennett on BBC: Read my lips – Temple Mount is open

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

Jewish Home chairman explains why Israel must keep the magnetometers at the entrance to the Temple Mount.

Abbas freezes contacts with Israel

Posted on | July 22, 2017 | No Comments

PA chairman freezes contacts with Israel over its new security measures at the Temple Mount.

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