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Here’s why the arrest of a Chinese tech mogul matters for Iran and Israel

(JTA) Canadian authorities, acting on a request from the United States, arrested a major Chinese tech mogul in Vancouver between flights on 1 December.





The arrest of Meng Wanzhou has already rattled US-China, China-Canada, and US-Canada relations. China has demanded that the United States and Canada release Meng, the Chief Financial Officer of tech giant Huawei, saying her arrest constitutes a human-rights violation. Canada’s government, already locked in trade tensions with the Trump administration, does not want to upend ties with China, another major trading partner.

Simmering beneath the barbs traded on all sides is another issue fraught with disagreement across the globe: confronting Iran. The crux of the US warrant for Meng’s arrest is that she lied about whether her company was doing business with that country.

What are the charges?

According to the Vancouver Star, Meng is alleged to have committed fraud in 2013 by telling HSBC, the multinational banking giant, that her company was not doing business with Iran. In fact, there is evidence that SkyCom, a tech company doing business with Iran, was then a subsidiary of Huawei. HSBC would have sought the assurance in order to be in compliance with multiple US laws sanctioning parties that do business with Iran.

Is this about Trump’s Iran policy?

In the particulars, no. Meng is charged with fraud, not with sanctions busting.

“It’s not a sanctions case, it’s a bank-fraud case, and bank fraud has nothing to do with trade,” said Jeff Moon, who was assistant US Trade Representative for China affairs in the Obama administration and is now a consultant on China.

There is also evidence that Meng, whose father founded Huawei, knew this was coming. Huawei executives reportedly have avoided traveling through the US to avoid arrest.

The overarching geopolitical tension governing this case is about China and spying, and predates the Trump administration. US officials for years have suspected Huawei of allowing China to use technology it sells to other states to spy. The United States will not allow Huawei to join in bids to set up next-generation 5G mobile networks on its territory, and is pressuring Canada to do the same.

Additionally, criminal cases pursued by the justice department are mostly free of other policy considerations.

Does this case tell us anything about Iran policy?

Probably yes: The justice department pursues cases according to its own priorities, but nonetheless checks in with other agencies through the National Security Council. John Bolton, the national security adviser who is known for his hyper-hawkish Iran stance, gave the arrest a green light (Bolton has acknowledged having advance knowledge). That means he would not have been displeased with the message the arrest sent to China or Iran.

“People look at it through different lenses,” Moon said. “Justice is looking at it through enforcement; Bolton is looking at it through a hawkish lens.”

One message it is sending is that Trump is serious about dealing with Iran. Richard Nephew, who was Principal Deputy Co-ordinator for sanctions policy during the Obama administration, said the high-level arrest was almost without precedent. Pundits have likened it to China arresting a relative of Microsoft’s Bill Gates or Apple’s Tim Cook.

“This is a fairly significant change and escalation in how we enforce our primary sanctions,” said Nephew, who supports the Iran sanctions relief for nuclear rollback deal he helped negotiate and that Trump scrapped just months ago.

Mark Dubowitz, the Director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which opposed the Iran deal, agreed.

“It’s no surprise to me we’re seeing actions not only against a behemoth, but particularly one from China,” said Dubowitz, who has advised the administration on Iran policy. “The administration has said repeatedly in enforcing Iran sanctions against both allies and adversaries, no company will be immune, no matter how big or influential. Think of the Chinese role in massive sanctions busting over the years.”

Nephew, now a scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, likened the approach to “broken windows” policing: hit sanctions busters for every transgression. Obama, he said, would have been more cautious, preferring to talk China down from major oil purchases from Iran instead of going after every violation.

Wait, isn’t Trump playing nice with China?

The very day Meng was arrested, Trump struck a deal with China, meeting in Buenos Aires with Xi Jinping, the Chinese President. Trumped walked back a pledge to increase tariffs on Chinese products; Xi said China would buy more from the United States.

Nephew said that may be typical of an administration that two years on, still can’t shoot straight, with competing interests one-upping one another.

“What I find surprising is why Bolton would allow the president to be in a room with his Chinese counterpart”, and not let him know  the arrest was pending.

Dubowitz said the arrest and the deal in Argentina were complementary: Trump opened the door to a deal with tough talk on tariffs, and he was taking the same tough line on sanctions busting.

“What Trump has signalled is that he will use all instruments of American international power against the Islamic Republic,” he said.

What is Israel’s role in this?

To watch, warily, said Assaf Orion, an Israeli defence strategist and retired general, who is now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The Netanyahu government fully backs Trump’s tough Iran policy, but is also negotiating friendly trade ties with China. (Israel appears to be aware of Huawei’s global reputation as a security and espionage risk, yet the company has a 4% share of Israel’s cellular phone market.)

“On Iran, Israel certainly has a direct interest,” Orion said. “China is a trade partner, but the US is a strategic ally.”

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Shabbos Project

Shabbos Project in 1 500 cities



The Shabbos Project is once again happening this weekend in more than 1 500 cities and 100 countries around the world.

Following last year’s pivot to home-based Shabbos experiences and Zoom challah bakes – necessitated by the pandemic – this year, the Shabbos Project is close to returning to pre-COVID-19 levels of involvement.

In South Africa, events centre on the Big Shabbos Walk, with shuls arranging a whole host of Shabbos afternoon programmes, many of them outdoors to take advantage of the weather, which also makes it safer from a COVID-19 point of view.

All across the world, things are back in full swing.

Among the new initiatives: a student from Cornell University in New York is leading a campaign among fellow students to switch off their phones for Shabbos. International youth movement EnerJew is co-ordinating the “Gift Shabbos” campaign in which Jewish teenagers in 20 cities in the former Soviet Union will bake challah and deliver it along with greeting cards and candles to elder community members. And Olami France is co-ordinating a full Shabbos experience for students on college campuses in Toulouse, Aix-en-Provence, and Paris, and for French-speaking students in Jerusalem, Madrid, and Porto.

The Global Jewish Pen Pal Program is organising a challah bake for its community of Jewish pen pals of all ages living around the world. Beit Issie Shapiro, Israel’s pioneering leader and innovator in the field of disabilities, has launched an accessible Shabbos-themed digital platform to help children around the world learn about Shabbos in an engaging and exciting way.

And Zehud, which provides online Jewish education to children in isolated Jewish communities across Europe, is hosting a Zoom challah bake for families from all 57 regions where it’s active.

In Prague, Czech Republic, a community Shabbaton will include Shabbos dinner at a local kosher restaurant, a children’s prayer workshop, and a havdalah concert at the Lauder Jewish day school. Cali, Colombia has an all-week programme, including a flower workshop for women, cocktail class for men, and a Thursday night pizza bake, followed by a central Shabbaton for the community. And in Birmingham in the United Kingdom, four very different organisations – Aish UK, Chabad, Jsoc, and the University of Birmingham Chaplaincy – are joining forces for a special student challah bake.

In Israel, where the Shabbos Project has been a real unifying force in society, a group of women in Kochav Yair have organised a street kiddush for the entire yishuv for people of all levels of observance to get to know each other better. In Eilat, open-invitation Shabbos dinners are happening at four central locations across the city. In Karnei Shomron, members of the religious Bnei Akiva and secular Tzofim youth groups have joined forces to arrange a Shabbos gala dinner for soldiers from the local battalion. And, the residents of Raanana will be providing hot, homemade Shabbos meals to Magen David Adom first responders. Finally, a group of Israel-based influencers on Instagram, from diverse backgrounds and varying levels of observance, are publishing a series of posts to bring awareness of the Shabbos Project to a younger audience.

Meanwhile, a woman in Park Potomac in the United States is going door to door in her neighbourhood, inviting anyone with a mezuzah for Shabbos. Organisers of a challah bake in Lisbon, Portugal are using the proceeds to distribute Shabbos meals to Jewish families in need. And in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, four families new to the Shabbos experience are hosting Shabbos dinner – they’ve invited all their neighbours and have received a special Shabbos kit to assist them with the preparations.

Other highlights include a glow-in-the-dark challah bake in Toronto, Canada; Guatemala reopening its shul for special Shabbos services after a two-year hiatus; a Shabbos dinner run by and for university students in Nice, France; and a Shabbaton for high school learners in Montevideo, Uruguay.

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Libya’s destroyed Jewish graveyards being rebuilt online



(JTA) During a visit to his native Libya in 2002, David Gerbi saw something that he says still haunts him almost 20 years later.

“I was horrified to see children playing atop the ruins of the Tripoli Jewish cemetery, scampering about debris littered with human remains,” Gerbi, who left Libya many years ago for Italy, told the Behdrei Haredim news site in Israel last week.

The experience turned Gerbi into an advocate for what are known as heritage sites in his old community. But over the years, his efforts to preserve or restore communal Jewish sites in war-torn Libya, where no Jews remain, came to naught.

So Gerbi began to consider alternatives. And now, the psychologist who lives in Rome has announced a new effort to set up a virtual cemetery to replace each of the physical Jewish ones that have been devastated in his country of birth.

“Especially in Tripoli and Benghazi, the Jewish cemeteries were obliterated,” he told the news site. “So I decided to make a virtual cemetery for our loved ones buried in Libya.”

The virtual cemeteries will have sections for prominent rabbis and commemorative pages for victims of the Holocaust – hundreds of Libyan Jews died in concentration camps operated by Nazi-allied Italy – as well as other pages recalling the victims of three waves of pogroms, in 1945, 1948, and 1967, he said.

Users of the website will be able to light memorial candles virtually and dedicate Kaddish mourning prayers through the website interface. “It will be a way to remember the dead of a community gone extinct,” Gerbi said.

The initiative is a collaboration with ANU – The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, which seeks to document the experiences of Jews around the globe and over time. Together, they’re asking people with information about Jews buried in Libya to reach out.

Their effort is in line with other initiatives that aim to rebuild extinct Jewish communities online because their former homes are so inhospitable to restoration efforts, such as Diarna, a massive website that allows users to explore the cities in North Africa and the Middle East where Jews used to live.

Gerbi’s effort is narrower, focusing exclusively on the cemeteries of Libya, where, during World War II, 40 000 Jews lived in communities with a centuries-long history.

The Holocaust and the antisemitic policies of the independent Libyan government that followed, as well as hostility toward Jews by the local population, drove all of them out. By 2004, Libya didn’t have a single Jew residing in it, according to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum.

Gerbi’s family was part of that migration. They fled Libya in 1967 when he was 12 years old, making them among the last Jews to leave the country. By 1969, the country had only 100 Jews.

The decades that followed, under the iron-fisted rule of dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi, offered few opportunities for preservation. But the central government collapsed after he was overthrown and executed in 2011, and the last decade has been marked by intermittent fighting among clans and militias with competing claims to leadership.

While those conditions have been harsh for Libyans, Gerbi said he hopes the shake-up could eventually give rise to a government that would be willing to address the country’s Jewish history and possibly normalise relations with Israel, as other Arab nations in the region have done in the past year. But he knows that could take many years, and he has essentially given up hope of having officials facilitate physical restoration work in the near future, Gerbi told Behadrei Haredim.

The situation of those sites was poor even before Libya erupted into civil war, he said.

It’s been 19 years since his visit to Tripoli’s Jewish cemetery, but “the gruesome sights and chilling images I saw won’t let go of me”, he said. In 2007, Gerbi visited the site again, “and I was shocked to discover that even the debris had been cleared out. They built a highway on the ruins of the Jewish cemetery and high-rise buildings. There’s isn’t a shred left.”

In Benghazi, Gerbi saw a warehouse full of boxes with human remains stuffed into them haphazardly. They had been collected from another Jewish cemetery before it was destroyed, he said.

Old synagogues are also at risk, said Gerbi, a prominent member of the World Organisation of the Jews of Libya, which promotes the interests of people whose families have roots in Libya.

Earlier this year, he told Italian media that an abandoned and ancient synagogue in Tripoli is being turned into an Islamic religious centre without permission.

“The Sla Dar Bishi in Tripoli is in the hands of the local authorities [read: militias] since there is now no Jew living in Tripoli,” he told Moked, the Italian Jewish news site.

“It was decided to violate our property and our history,” he wrote. “The plan clearly is to take advantage of the chaos and our absence.”

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Accusations of antisemitism absurd, say Ben & Jerry’s founders



(JTA) In an interview that aired on HBO, both of the founders of the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream brand reiterated that they stood behind the company’s decision to stop selling their products in the West Bank.

But for Jerry Greenfield, being accused of antisemitism is “painful”. For Ben Cohen, it’s “absurd”.

“Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever are being characterised as boycotting Israel, which isn’t the case at all. It’s not boycotting Israel in any way,” Greenfield said in an interview with Axios that aired on its HBO show on 10 October.

The Jewish duo, who founded the company in 1978, are no longer its owners, but they remain the most recognisable public faces of the company. They had previously defended the West Bank decision in a New York Times op-ed shortly after the move took place in July, but the Axios interview gave them a chance to expound on the human side of the aftermath.

“It’s a very emotional issue for a lot of people and I totally understand it. It’s a painful issue for a lot of people,” Greenfield said.

They were also asked how it felt to be “wrapped up in accusations of antisemitism”.

“Totally fine,” Cohen said, laughing. “It’s absurd. What, I’m anti-Jewish? I’m a Jew! All my family is Jewish, my friends are Jewish.”

Ben & Jerry’s had long been engaged in social issues when it decided to pull its product from the West Bank after months of pressure from pro-Palestinian activists in the wake of Israel’s latest armed conflict with Gaza. The decision prompted calls to boycott Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company, Unilever, along with accusations of antisemitism from some pro-Israel activists. The state of Arizona divested nearly $200 million (R2.9 billion) from Unilever in September, and several other states have since reviewed their investments in the conglomerate.

Unilever has also said in public statements that it doesn’t believe Ben & Jerry’s is boycotting the state of Israel, and that it plans to keep selling within the borders Israel established after the Six-Day War in 1967. However, Israeli law outlaws business that boycotts the West Bank, so it remains to be seen whether the company will be allowed to follow through with its plan.

When asked why Ben & Jerry’s continued to sell its ice cream in states with policies that aren’t in line with Cohen and Greenfield’s values – such as Texas, where access to abortion is now limited, and Georgia, where voting rights have been curtailed. Cohen didn’t have an answer.

“I don’t know. I mean it’s an interesting question, I don’t know what that would accomplish, we’re working on those issues of voting rights and … I don’t know. I think you ask a really good question, and I think I’d have to sit down and think about it for a bit,” Cohen said.

Greenfield suggested that the answer had to do with international law.

“One thing that’s different is that what Israel is doing is considered illegal by international law, so I think that’s a consideration,” Greenfield said.

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