First Read For March 13


Were Jews threatened in ancient Persia? No, says Iranian official

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif on Purim this week accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “fake history” for saying that Iran sought the annihilation of the Jews, just as had ancient Persia in the Megillah’s story of Queen Esther and Haman.

“To sell bigoted lies against a nation which has saved Jews 3 times, Netanyahu resorting to fake history & falsifying Torah. Force of habit,” the tweet read. The day before, during a pre-Purim visit to an Israeli synagogue, Netanyahu had told children that Iran seeks to kill the Jews just as the Persians did, JTA reported.

In response, Zarif wrote: “Once again, Benjamin Netanyahu not only distorts the realities of today, but also distorts the past — including Jewish scripture. It is truly regrettable that bigotry gets to the point of making allegations against an entire nation which has saved the Jews three times in its history.

“The Book of Esther tells of how Xerxes I saved Jews from a plot hatched by Haman the Agagite, which is marked on this very day,” he wrote, referring to the Persian king known in the Purim story as Ahasuerus.

One Israeli’s second thoughts on Trump

President Trump’s conversation over the weekend with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in which Trump expressed support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian peace impasse, “should have upset the entire Israeli right,” writes Haaretz correspondent Chemi Shalev.

“A U.S. president who states his commitment to a ‘comprehensive agreement that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’ and who emphasizes ‘his personal belief that peace is possible and that the time has come to make a deal’ is one who spells trouble for Jewish settlers and their champions,” according to Shalev. “From a messiah elected by divine miracle to deliver Israel from the injustices perpetrated by his predecessor, Trump could turn out to be the Israeli right wing’s worst nightmare.

“As someone who views himself as the greatest dealmaker in the universe, he didn’t hide his ambition to close ‘the most difficult deal of all.’

“From the moment he was elected, Trump has been making an effort to patch up his rocky relations with Riyadh [the capital of Saudi Arabia] and other Gulf countries, who preferred to see Hillary Clinton as president,” Shalev writes.

Travel ban keeps Sudan-born British Jew from entering U.S.

A Sudanese-born British Jew said last week he was “utterly devastated” after being barred from flying to the attend a wedding under the Trump administration’s so-called “Muslim” travel ban, according to the London Jewish Chronicle.

Robert Cohen, 68, who was born in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan – one of six majority-Muslim lands whose citizens may not enter this country now—has held a British passport for nearly 45 years, since moving to England in 1973.

He intended to fly to Los Angeles for a friend’s wedding, but his application came back “unauthorized” because he had confirmed that his birthplace was Sudan.

Killer of seven Israeli children honored in Jordan

Ahmed Daqamseh, a Jordanian soldier responsible for the 1997 killing of seven Israeli schoolgirls, was released from jail Saturday night after serving a 20-year sentence, and returned home to a hero’s welcome, the Washington Post reports.

The terrorist act had drawn attention after King Hussein traveled to Israel to apologize to the victims’ families.

Supporters of Daqamseh, whom the Jordan military court deemed mentally unstable at the time, hailed his release and called him a hero. Hundreds of relatives and supporters reportedly greeted Daqamseh at his family home in the northern village of Ibdir, 60 miles north of Amman.

Israeli baseball team drops first game

After a 4-0 start in the World Baseball Classic, the underdog Israeli team lost its first game – big time, 12-2 to the Netherlands on Monday in Tokyo.

The loss came a day after the Israeli players heard the Scroll of Esther read in their dugout on Purim by Jordy Alter, vice president of the Israel Association of Baseball, before a victory against Cuba.

If Israel wins its game on Wednesday against Japan, it still is likely to advance to the semi-finals.

Vandalism at Seattle synagogue

One of Seattle’s largest synagogues spent Saturday cleaning up Holocaust denial graffiti in what leaders called the first time the congregation has been the subject of such blatant anti-Semitic attacks, according to NBC News. The message “Holocaust is fake history!” with the letter “S” replaced by a dollar sign follows a series of attacks and bomb scares at Jewish community centers and cemeteries across the country.

Rabbi Daniel Weiner, of Temple De Hirsch Sinai, said, “We were shocked that this had reached our own community and that such things, such stereotypes had become frequent. But we are also adamant to not give in to the intolerance and growing climate of hate in Seattle and our nation, and will resist.”

Police have increased their patrols and the case has now moved to the Seattle Police Department’s bias crimes unit.

Weiner said a neighbor of the temple saw the vandalism and immediately rushed to put up a “Love Wins” sign written on a bed sheet to obscure the graffiti.

Israel exports natural gas to Jordan

The Israeli firm Delek Drilling – the part of the country’s Delek Group that is developing Israel’s offshore gas fields – has started exporting natural gas to Jordan in what are Israel’s first gas exports ever, the website reports. 

In early 2014, Delek  signed an agreement to export natural gas from the Tamar project in the Mediterranean to consumers in Jordan; two Jordanian companies, Arab Potash Company and Jordan Bromine Company, signed deals to buy Israeli gas that would serve them in their plants on the eastern bank of the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea.

Switzerland launches Holocaust remembrance app

A new app to teach youth about the Holocaust will be a centerpiece of Switzerland’s chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, JTA reports. Switzerland last week took over the rotating chairmanship of the 31-member inter-governmental group from Romania.

The app, “Fliehen vor dem Holocaust” (Escaping the Holocaust) allows users to learn about the fate of four individuals using multimedia tools. Educators must take on “the challenge of virtual reality” so youth will grasp that “we are speaking about people,” not merely about numbers, said Benno Bättig, secretary-general of Switzerland’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.