* After consistently defending the Obama administration’s opposition to moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Obama’s former ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, who stepped down last month, now says he is sympathetic to the idea, even before a final Palestinian-Israeli peace deal is reached. (Donald Trump has pledged to move the American embassy to Israel’s capital.)
But Shapiro adds, in an article for Foreign Policy Magazine: “Done carefully, it could advance American national goals and interests. Done carelessly, it could cause them grave harm and lead to preventable tragedy.”
* Haaretz: “A controversial [visa and refugee] entry ban was signed minutes before the Jewish Sabbath, sparking speculation the problem could have been avoided had Trump’s son-in-law still been at the office… Jared Kushner observes the sabbath, and is unable to work, ride in a car, or use electronic devices from sundown on Friday through the fall of darkness on Saturday” … Kushner apparently opposed the nature of the executive order that temporarily stopped immigration from Libya, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Sudan, and halted U.S.-bound refugees in their tracks.
* Vanity Fair magazine: “A little more than a week into the Trump presidency, the timing of the Friday sunset seems to be growing increasingly important” due to the fact that Kushner who is “positioned as something of a mollifying presence upon his mercurial boss” is absent.
* Vanity Fair quotes “an insider source saying that the fact that all of this troublesome behavior played out when Kushner wasn’t around ‘was not a coincidence.’”
* The political news website Politico: Trump’s Jewish aide Boris Epshteyn accidentally wrote International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that omitted Jews.
* On Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters at the daily briefing, “The statement was written with the help of an individual who is both Jewish and the descendant of Holocaust survivors.” Asked if it was Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a leading adviser, Spicer refused to say. Politico names the person as Epshteyn, who formerly served as a communications aide for Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008.
* Jewish community in Texas town give Muslims key to their synagogue after town’s mosque burns down (in a possibly accidental blaze).
You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia
1. Trump’s Syrian ban is old news in Kuwait
2. “Kuwait bans entry to five nationalities” (Gulf News)
3. “Ex-US envoy voices support for ‘carefully’ moving embassy to Jerusalem” (Times of Israel / Foreign Policy magazine)
4. “Jewish people give Muslims key to their synagogue after town’s mosque burns down” (The Independent, London)
5. “At least 17 bomb threats called in to JCCs nationwide in third wave of harassment” (JTA news service)
6. “Report: Trump Jewish aide Boris Epshteyn wrote Holocaust statement that omitted Jews” (JTA / Politico)
7. “Is the U.S. in for Trouble Whenever Jared Kushner Observes the Jewish Shabbat?” (Haaretz / Vanity Fair)
TRUMP’S SYRIAN BAN IS OLD NEWS IN KUWAIT
[Note by Tom Gross]
All six articles below are from today or yesterday, apart from the first, which was published in Gulf News in 2011. It reports that Kuwait had decided to ban citizens of five Arab states “for security reasons”.
That ban remains in place today. Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians, Pakistanis and Afghans have not been able to enter Kuwait since 2011 and Kuwaiti authorities say that the ban would be lifted “only once the security situation improves” in those countries.
Of course, this should not be used as an excuse to justify Donald Trump’s sweeping executive order (as I explained in this article yesterday).
Meanwhile, Dubai security chief Dhahi Khalfan surprised some people by announcing that he backed Trump’s executive order. And UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan said the ban was “not Islamophobic”.
Kuwait is also one of 16 countries that bans Israeli Jews from visiting.
I attach six articles below.
KUWAIT BANS ENTRY TO FIVE NATIONALITIES
Kuwait bans visa issuance to five nationalities
Nationals from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan banned from entering Kuwait
By Habib Toumi, Bureau Chief
May 21, 2011
Manama: Kuwait has banned nationals from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan from entering the country, local media have reported.
The ban includes suspending all tourism, visit and trade visas as well as visas sponsored by spouses, immigration sources said, quoted by Kuwaiti media on Saturday.
They attributed the blanket visa ban to the “difficult security conditions in the five countries” and to “the remarkably increasing tendency of nationals from the five countries to apply for visas to bring in relatives who faced or could face arrest by the local authorities to Kuwait.”
The sources said the authorities insisted that no exception in the visa application would be tolerated, but added that the ban was temporarily and would be lifted after the security situation stabilised.
Last month, a social affairs and labour official denied reports that Kuwait was planning to impose a ban on issuing visas to nationals from the five countries.
OBAMA’S AMBASSADOR NOW VOICES SUPPORT FOR MOVING EMBASSY TO JERUSALEM
Ex-US envoy voices support for ‘carefully’ moving embassy to Jerusalem
Offering advice to new administration, Dan Shapiro professes his ‘love of Jerusalem’ and ‘sense of justice for Jewish claims to the city’
By Raphael Ahren
Times of Israel
February 1, 2017
After consistently defending the Obama administration’s opposition to moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro now appears sympathetic to the idea.
In an article offering advice to the new US administration, he argues that the embassy’s relocation could take place even before a final Palestinian-Israeli peace deal is reached.
The move might also have positive practical implications for American diplomats stationed in Israel, who would no longer need to travel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to meet government officials, he wrote.
“I supported all three presidents’ use of their national security waiver authority to delay the move in the interest of pursuing Middle East peace. But I have never believed that arguments for moving the embassy were groundless, or that it must await a final Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement,” Shapiro wrote in Foreign Policy Magazine (registration required).
“I’m influenced by my love of Jerusalem – an emotional attachment born of decades studying its history – and sense of justice for Jewish claims to the city that are far too often called into question. The presence of a US Embassy in parts of Jerusalem no one disputes are Israeli territory is one way of acknowledging the centuries of history that link the Jewish people to the city, the questioning of which is closely linked to the denial of Israel’s very legitimacy.”
The former ambassador, who continues to live in Israel so his children can finish school here, offers several pieces of advice on how US President Donald Trump could fulfill his campaign promise to move the embassy in a constructive manner that would not provoke too much protest from the Arab world.
“Done carefully, it could advance American national goals and interests. Done carelessly, it could cause them grave harm and lead to preventable tragedy,” he said.
So far, statements coming from the White House suggest it is not rushing to move the embassy but weighing the question carefully, the ex-diplomat pointed out, calling it “a welcome contrast to numerous off-the-cuff policy pronouncements, from China to Mexico to refugee and immigration policy.”
Earlier this week, Trump said in an interview that there is “a chance” that he’ll move the embassy, but acknowledged that there are “two sides” to this issue and that it is “not easy” to make a decision.
To safeguard a future peace deal based on the two-state solution, of which a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem is a central component, the US Embassy should be located in the western part of the city, Shapiro suggested in the Foreign Policy article. The administration should make it very clear that the move does not constitute an official recognition of Israel’s claim of sovereignty over the entire city, he argued.
Furthermore, the US needs to recommit itself to preserving the status quo of the holy sites to “assuage both Muslim sensitivities about the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) and Jewish sensitivities about the Western Wall,” Shapiro wrote.
Neither Israelis nor Palestinians will be happy about such pronouncements, he added, but they could “actually advance the prospects for a two-state solution by shattering self-defeating myths on both sides.”
Before publicly announcing the embassy’s move, the Trump administration should consult with other important stakeholders: the Palestinians, the Jordanians, the Saudis and the Egyptians, the former ambassador recommended.
Arab leaders are likely to protest the relocation and might even threaten some kind of “diplomatic retaliation,” Shapiro predicted, but they also wish to “get off on the right foot with the Trump administration, and several have common strategic interests with Israel.”
Informing the Arab world about the administration’s plan “shows respect” and could actually “dampen the blowback,” he argued.
Washington should avoid linking a possible embassy relocation to this June’s 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, during which Israel captured the eastern part of Jerusalem, Shapiro suggested. Such a connection would appear to endorse Israel’s subsequent annexation of this part of the city and thus “drag the United States into a historical argument that is not ours.”
Rejecting suggestions that the US could simply put up a sign at its Jerusalem Consulate that says “Embassy,” Shapiro said a new large and secure facility would have to be built in the capital to accommodate the mission’s 800 employees. New residences would have to be found for staffers asked to move to Jerusalem, and solutions found for those who don’t want to relocate.
Such a project – which would cost “hundreds of millions of dollars” – needs to be well planned and could take up to 10 years, Shapiro estimated.
In contemplating the embassy’s move to Jerusalem, the US should not be deterred by the prospect of violent protests, but at the same time “we also should not pretend that the risk of violence does not exist,” the former envoy urged.
“Terror and violence can never be justified, but any significant policy change should be accompanied by a professional assessment about the risks of violence and the ability to contain it. Lives may well be at stake if an embassy move is handled cavalierly, and it is simply denial to say otherwise.”
Since leaving the ambassador’s residence on January 20, Shapiro has not been shy about weighing in on matters regarding US-Israel relations. For instance, he questioned the motives of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s support for Trump’s plan to build a border wall with Mexico, which led to a diplomatic crisis with the Latin American country.
In 1995, when the US Congress passed legislation requiring the embassy’s move to Jerusalem, Shapiro worked as foreign policy aide to Democratic California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who was instrumental in getting the law’s sponsors to insert a provision allowing the president to waive the move. It is this particular stipulation that has prevented the embassy’s relocation for the last 22 years.
The waiver, last signed on December 1, 2016, by president Barack Obama, expires on June 1.
JEWISH PEOPLE GIVE MUSLIMS KEY TO THEIR SYNAGOGUE AFTER TOWN’S MOSQUE BURNS DOWN
Jewish people give Muslims key to their synagogue after town’s mosque burns down
Donations to rebuild the Islamic centre are adding up
By Jon Sharman
February 1, 2017
Jewish people in a small Texas city handed Muslim worshippers the keys to their synagogue after the town’s only mosque was destroyed in a fire.
The Victoria Islamic Centre burned down on Saturday and had previously been burgled – the cause is being investigated by federal officials.
But the town’s Muslim population will not be without a place to worship while their building is reconstructed, thanks to their Jewish neighbours.
Robert Loeb, the president of Temple Bnai Israel, told Forward: “Everyone knows everybody, I know several members of the mosque, and we felt for them. When a calamity like this happens, we have to stand together.
“We have probably 25 to 30 Jewish people in Victoria, and they probably have 100 Muslims. We got a lot of building for a small amount of Jews.”
One of the mosque’s founders, Shahid Hashmi, said: “Jewish community members walked into my home and gave me a key to the synagogue.”
The centre was built in 2000.
Donations and an online fundraising campaign have raised more than $900,000 (£717,000) for reconstruction.
The blaze was discovered at at about 2am on Saturday by a clerk at a convenience store, who called the fire department. It took around four hours to bring it under control and no injuries were reported.
The fire took place just hours after President Donald Trump announced he would ban citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US, and halted the country’s refugee program for 120 days.
Omar Rachid, who created the GoFundMe campaign, said: “Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the tremendous support we’ve received. The outpouring of love, kind words, hugs, helping hands and the financial contributions are examples of the true American spirit.”
AT LEAST 17 BOMB THREATS CALLED IN TO JCCS NATIONWIDE IN THIRD WAVE OF HARASSMENT
At least 17 bomb threats called in to JCCs nationwide in third wave of harassment
JTA news service
January 31, 2017
At least 17 Jewish community centers across the United States were targeted with bomb threats in the third wave of such mass disruption this month.
Paul Goldenberg, the director of Secure Community Network – an affiliate of the Jewish Federations of North America that advises Jewish groups and institutions on security – said the threats were called in late Tuesday morning. Some of the messages were live, he confirmed.
“[I]n the past we know that the numbers can grow exponentially,” he said, adding that perpetrators have been “leveraging technologies to make mass calls.”
Goldenberg confirmed that threats had been called into JCCs in Albany, New York; Syracuse, New York; West Orange, New Jersey; Milwaukee, San Diego and Salt Lake City.
The JCC in New Haven, Connecticut received a live call at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday threatening violence. The JCC is housed in several locations following a Dec. 5 fire, and evacuated about 100 people from those places following the call. After law enforcement determined that the threat was not credible, the evacuees returned. The New Haven JCC was also targeted in a wave of bomb threats about two weeks ago.
“We recognize that we live under a new set of circumstances that we have to be responsive to, and take every possible precaution to keep our people safe,” said New Haven JCC CEO Judy Diamondstein. “While we are disrupted, we refuse to be daunted by this.”
Diamondstein said the JCC has drilled safety protocols extensively in order to be prepared for a situation like this. Diamondstein had a previously scheduled meeting Wednesday afternoon with an FBI officer to sharpen procedures for dealing with an active shooter.
“We have been diligent in looking at our security for a while now,” she said.
Goldenberg said his organization was instructing the JCCs to be in touch with local police to determine if they should evacuate. The JCC MetroWest in West Orange, New Jersey announced an evacuation at 11:42 a.m.
“In light of the newest bomb threats, we must remain a resilient community, and we need to ensure that we are back at our JCCs as soon as local police advise the all-clear,” Goldenberg said.
He added: “Our Jewish community centers are focusing on security today more than ever before, and in spite of these continuous bomb threats I’m confident that our institutions are taking security seriously – and in many cases Jewish institutions are more secure than institutions frequented by the general public.”
On Jan. 18, some 30 Jewish institutions in at least 17 states received bomb threats. On Jan. 9, such threats were called into 16 JCCs across the Northwest and South, forcing the evacuation of hundreds.
TRUMP’S JEWISH AIDE BORIS EPSHTEYN WROTE HOLOCAUST STATEMENT THAT OMITTED JEWS
Report: Trump Jewish aide Boris Epshteyn wrote Holocaust statement that omitted Jews
January 31, 2017
The White House statement for International Holocaust Remembrance Day that has generated controversy for omitting Jews reportedly was written by a Jewish aide to President Donald Trump.
Boris Epshteyn, a special assistant to the president, crafted the statement, the political news website Politico reported Monday evening, citing an unnamed source “with knowledge of the situation.”
Epshteyn, a former Republican political strategist, immigrated to the United States from his native Moscow in 1993 at 11.
On Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters at the daily briefing, “The statement was written with the help of an individual who is both Jewish and the descendant of Holocaust survivors.” Asked if it was Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a leading adviser, Spicer refused to say.
Spicer also said that complaints, including from major U.S. Jewish groups, about the omission of Jews from the statement issued Friday were “pathetic” and “disappointing.”
“The president went out of his way to recognize the Holocaust and the suffering that went through it, and to make sure America never forgets the people that were affected by it and the loss of life,” Spicer said.
“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.
Since the United Nations launched the remembrance day in 2005, marking the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have noted in their statements that the principal aim of the Holocaust was the genocide of the Jews.
Jewish critics have said that omitting Jews from Holocaust commemoration statements, wittingly or not, plays into the agenda of groups that seek to diminish the Nazi genocide of the Jews.
Since the controversy erupted, Trump administration spokesmen, including his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, have doubled down on the argument that it is better not to single out Jews in order to be “inclusive.”
A New York-based investment banker and finance attorney, Epshteyn was a communications aide for Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008, focusing his efforts on the Arizona senator’s running mate, then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
IS THE U.S. IN FOR TROUBLE WHENEVER JARED KUSHNER OBSERVES THE JEWISH SHABBAT?
Is the U.S. in for Trouble Whenever Jared Kushner Observes the Jewish Shabbat?
A controversial entry ban was signed minutes before the Jewish Sabbath, sparking speculation the problem could have been avoided had Trump’s son-in-law still been at the office.
By Allison Kaplan Sommer
February 1, 2017
The good news is that more Americans are learning about Orthodox Jews and their laws of Sabbath observance than ever before.
The bad news is the reason. It appears to be a growing problem that the White House adviser most capable of moderating the behavior of U.S. President Donald Trump, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is off-duty for a day every week, restricted by the limitations of Shabbat - unable to work, ride in a car, or use electronic devices from sundown on Friday through the fall of darkness on Saturday.
Certainly no one can prove that if Kushner had not already left Trump’s side on Friday afternoon, the president wouldn’t have made the controversial chaos-inducing move of signing the executive order that temporarily stopped immigration from Libya, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Sudan, and halted U.S.-bound refugees in their tracks.
But it couldn’t help but be noticed: the signing took place at 4:42 pm - Shabbat began shortly afterwards, at 5:08. Kushner was already home when the deed was done, helping his wife Ivanka prepare for their Friday night Shabbat dinner where the guests of honor were members of the Trump cabinet. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told reporters on Tuesday he knew of plans to sign the immigration order on Thursday. But who knows how many other members of Trump’s entourage were aware.
It’s not the first time there has been a national conversation about Orthodox Jews at the highest levels of government. When Senator Joseph Lieberman was nominated as a candidate for Vice President, there was debate over whether his religious observance would prove a hindrance in emergency situations, both as vice president and in the eventuality that something happened to the president and he would have to become commander in chief.
While Lieberman, of course, was never tested, and Kushner is an adviser, not an office-holder, the conversation has been revived.
The timing of the executive order signing and the Sabbath was bantered about on a CNN roundtable after it was reported in Vanity Fair, which observed that “a little more than a week into the Trump presidency, the timing of the Friday sunset seems to be growing increasingly important” due to the fact that Kushner who is “positioned as something of a mollifying presence upon his mercurial boss” is absent.
In winter months, this means Kushner’s checkout time on Fridays is extremely early - in summer, Shabbat often begins hours later.
The previous week, immediately following his inauguration, Trump spent Friday and Saturday settling scores over reports that the size of his swearing-in crowd was smaller than Barack Obama, delivering a rambling off-message speech at the CIA, and ordered an uncomfortable-looking press secretary, Sean Spicer, in the White House briefing room to deliver “alternative facts” about inauguration attendance and lambaste the press for its coverage.
The Vanity Fair article quoted an insider source saying that the fact that all of this troublesome behavior played out when Kushner wasn’t around “was not a coincidence.”
So do we live in terror of Rosh Hashana, starting Wednesday night this year...meaning a 72 hour Jared-less cone?
It isn’t the first time that Trump has been observed going rogue while Ivanka and Jared were worshipping and spending time with their three children. During his presidential campaign, some of Trump’s most ill-advised Twitter forays were observed to have taken place on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.
Included on the list of toxic Shabbat social media gaffes was the infamous meme featuring Hillary Clinton on a pile of cash next to a six-pointed star, and Trump’s insensitive reaction to the Orlando nightclub killing, in which he tweeted: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.”
In a September profile of Ivanka in the Huffington Post, the future First Daughter was described as acting “like the parent with her inexhaustible patience for cleaning up messes, while Donald acts like a rebellious child constantly testing the limits of how far he can go.” The article quoted an unnamed friend of the couple as saying “some of Donald’s worst tweets of the campaign” took place on Jewish holidays when Ivanka and Jared were “off the grid.”
The friend proved prophetic when they said “It could be a big problem if the people who make our president not crazy aren’t available one day a week.”
At least on one occasion, Kushner seemed willing to bend religious rules to put out a political fire. In October, after the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape where the future president was caught bragging about groping and propositioning women, the press took note that Kushner, then a campaign adviser, “broke his usual Shabbat routine” and joined the huddle at Trump Tower to help the candidate’s team strategize their way through the crisis.
It’s not easy to be a high-profile Orthodox Jew in the media fishbowl. Tongues wagged when Jared and Ivanka broke Shabbat strictures when they travelled by car to participate in an Inaugural Ball and Saturday morning church service. The violation took place after they reportedly found an unnamed rabbi who deemed their secured travel excusable under the Jewish principle of “pikuach nefesh” - permission to violate Shabbat rules in order to save lives.
Hopefully, the anonymous rabbi will be close at hand the next time Trump is on the brink of doing something ill-advised with serious consequences late on Friday - and Jared or Ivanka need to be on hand to stop him.
Pikuach nefesh would surely apply - not only lives could be at stake, but the future of a country.