Abbas to increase outreach to U.S. Jews; Hamas confirms platform change; Celebrating Purim in NY Prisons


Abbas sees U.S. Jews ‘as a force for peace’

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas intends to increase outreach to the American Jewish community, the Jerusalem Post reports. The paper cited Husam Zomlot, the PA’s ambassador- at-large to the United States, following a meeting yesterday between Abbas, and 30 leaders of Reform Judaism, including Union of Reform Judaism president Rabbi Rick Jacobs at the the PA presidential headquarters in Ramallah.

“This will not be a one-time meeting,” Zomlot said. “The president sees the mainstream Jewish community in the United States as a force for peace that can help us advance the cause of the two-state solution and combat voices of extremism.”

Hamas confirms new ‘pragmatic’ position

Hamas, the political terrorist group that has ruled Gaza for a decade, is drafting a new platform that will present “a more pragmatic and cooperative face to the world,” defining its enemies in Israel as “occupiers” instead of Jews, the New York Times reports.

Taher el-Nounou, a Hamas spokesman, confirmed yesterday that the platform will accept the borders of land Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War as the basis for a Palestinian state, but that Hamas will not recognize Israel.

The platform, designed to alleviate Hamas’ international isolation, still requires the approval of the Hamas governing bodies, the Times reports.

Purim behind bars: Chabad brings holiday to Jewish inmates

Rabbis and rabbinical students from the Chabad-Lubavitch chasidic movement will observe Purim with Jewish prisoners behind the walls of more than 40 correctional facilities in New York State this weekend, reports. The holiday starts Saturday night. Some 4,017 inmates (3,981 men and six women) in the state identify as Jews, according to the New York State Corrections and Community Supervision’s “Under Custody Report.” 

The team of volunteer rabbis is led by Rabbi Kasriel Kastel of Brooklyn, N.Y., who has served as program director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization for 49 years. 

Swiss legislators defund anti-Semitic groups

Switzerland’s lower house of parliament has voted to halt public funding for organizations that promote racism, anti-Semitism and hate, JTA reports.

Submitted by Christian Imark of the right-wing populist Swiss People’s Party, the bill passed Wednesday by a vote of 111 to 78, with all center-right mainstream parties in support. Voting against the measure were the Social Democratic, Green and Green-Liberal parties.

The matter now goes to the Council of States, Switzerland’s upper house of parliament, which reportedly will consider the bill in May. in UK removes Holocaust-denial books

The British arm of the online bookselling firm has removed three titles from sale because they deny the Holocaust, the Times of Israel reports. The action follows requests from Yad Vashem and the England’s Board of Deputies umbrella organization.

The four titles are “Holocaust: The Greatest Lie Ever Told,” by Eleanor Wittakers; “The Hoax of the Twentieth Century: The Case Against the Presumed Extermination of European Jewry,” by Arthur R. Butz and “Did Six Million Really Die?” by Richard Harwood.

Anti-Semitic holiday invitation in Lithuania

The mayor of a Lithuanian city this week invited residents to a party in honor of a local holiday – and included anti-Semitic references on the invitation, Arutz Sheva reports. During the holiday in Naisiai, local residents “chase away” the winter, but Jewish residents of the town say the anti-Semitic undertones grow stronger every year, and include pictures of “stereotypical” Jews, similar to the ones from before World War II.

The leader of the Jewish community, Paina Kokliansy, harshly criticized the mayor and the city’s Culture Committee Head, who published on the invitation pictures of people “dressed up” as Jews.

One Lithuanian who moved to Israel said, “All of Europe has a holiday in which they chase away the winter. But in Lithuania there are also lots of characters – witches, Satan, gypsies, and Jews. They show all the stereotypes, in a very insulting and anti-Semitic fashion.

They used to say ‘Jews want to steal the holiday.’ It wasn’t always like this,” the former Lithuanian said. “I wouldn’t want to raise a child in Lithuania today, because I would not want to have to explain what’s happening there. Sentences like, ‘Let’s take a stick and beat the Jew’ are sentences you don’t hear here in Israel.”

Trump immigrant policy reminiscent of earlier anti-Jewish measures

The revised travel issued by the Trump administration reminds novelist Ellen Umansky of anti-immigrant policies that excluded Jews, Chinese and other minority groups from the United States in the 1930s, she writes in

“Our rejection of refugees is an inextricable part of the American story, and Trump’s ban hews to that narrative more than we’d prefer to recall,” she writes on the online news site. “One such black spot on our history mirrors the present moment particularly closely. In the late 1930s, the United States had a chance to save 20,000 Jewish children fleeing Nazi persecution, by means of a program that would have mirrored the British Kindertransport.

“Sen. Robert Wagner, Democrat of New York, and Rep. Edith Nourse Rogers, Republican of Massachusetts, jointly introduced a bill to admit 20,000 unaccompanied child refugees, 14 or younger, into the United States. The bill stipulated that the costs of caring for the children would be borne by the private sector and, crucially, that the refugees admitted would not count against the quotas limiting U.S. immigration,” she wrote. “But the opposition struck back with calls to, yes, put America first.”

Amid backlash, two Jewish museums open in Portugal

Two municipalities in Portugal opened museums about their Jewish heritage last week amid protests by residents of the capital Lisbon against the ongoing construction of a third and larger one.

In the northeastern city of Braganca, the municipality opened a two-story Sephardi Interpretive Center that focuses on the life of Jews under persecution in 15th and 16th centuries. And on Thursday, a smaller Jewish Memorial Center opened in the town of Vila Cova à Coelheira east of the northern city of Porto.

Separately, the Association for Heritage and Population in Alfama organized a news conference Wednesday to express its opposition to the ongoing construction of the four-story Jewish museum being built in the neighborhood.

The building, which will feature a facade with a large Star of David, “breaks with the neighborhood’s tradition,” a spokeswoman for the residents association was quoted by the Public newspaper as saying in an article about the opposition.