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In first comments on jailed reporter Evan Gershkovich, Vladimir Putin said Russia seeks a prisoner exchange

(JTA) — Vladimir Putin said Russia hopes to reach an agreement to free Evan Gershkovich, the American Jewish journalist it imprisoned in March.

“It is not that we have refused to return them,” Putin told reporters in a produced four-hour news conference on Thursday, referring to Gershkovich and United States Marine Paul Whelan, who has been held in a Russian prison since 2018. “We want to reach an agreement, and these agreements must be mutually acceptable and must suit both sides.”

The statement was the Russian president’s first public comment on Gershkovich, 32, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was arrested on espionage charges that he, the United States and the Journal all vehemently deny. He has been in prison without trial for nearly nine months, and in November, his detainment was extended until at least Jan. 30. At a hearing on Thursday, that extension was upheld.

Gershkovich is the American-born son of Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union, and his case has drawn interest and support from Jews and Jewish organizations worldwide who are pushing for his release. Over Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish Federations of North America organized a letter-writing campaign for the Jewish new year, and last Passover, many families left an empty seat at their seder tables for him in his honor.

Efforts toward his release have focused on a prisoner swap, and the State Department revealed on Dec. 5 that it had made an offer to Russia to trade prisoners for Gershkovich and Whelan, but that the deal was turned down. 

“In recent weeks, we made a new and significant proposal to secure Paul and Evan’s release,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters. “That proposal was rejected by Russia.”

At a holiday reception at the White House the following day, Biden said the American government is working daily to secure the release of Gershkovich, Whelan and Alsu Kurmasheva, a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist and dual Russian-U.S. citizen.

“We’ve made a number of offers so far and we’re not giving up, we’re not giving up until we get them all home,” Biden said.

Putin — who also vowed during the news conference to continue Russia’s war in Ukraine — said on Thursday that negotiations over a prisoner exchange are ongoing. 

“We have contacts with our American partners in this regard, and there is an ongoing dialogue,” he said.

“It is not easy,” Putin added. “I will not go into details, but in general it seems to me that we are speaking a language that we both understand. I hope that we will find a solution.”

Gershkovich has been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison since his arrest by the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, while on a reporting assignment in the city of Yekaterinburg. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in a penal colony.


The post In first comments on jailed reporter Evan Gershkovich, Vladimir Putin said Russia seeks a prisoner exchange appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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An anti-Israel blockade at McGill University’s Bronfman Building led in-person classes to be cancelled for a day

An ongoing blockade at McGill University’s Bronfman Building in downtown Montreal led classes on the premises to be cancelled on Thursday—but some of the scheduled ones were taught online instead. Protesters blocked both entrances to the building while holding up signs that accused the university administration of supporting genocide, which also involved drawing photos of […]

The post An anti-Israel blockade at McGill University’s Bronfman Building led in-person classes to be cancelled for a day appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Harvard Alumni File Lawsuit Claiming Campus Antisemitism ‘Devalues’ Their Diplomas

[Illustrative] Harvard University students displaying a pro-Palestinian sign at their May 2022 graduation ceremony. Photo: Reuters/Brian Snyder

A group of ten Harvard University alumni filed a lawsuit against the institution on Wednesday, accusing it of “devaluing” their degrees through permitting and fostering an environment of antisemitism, support for terrorism, and anti-Israel sentiment. 

Filed in a Massachusetts federal court, the alumni claims that Harvard has breached an implicit contract with its graduates, promising to maintain the institution’s prestige, which they allege has been compromised due to a toxic campus environment. This, they argue, has led potential employers and prestigious law firms to distance themselves from Harvard alumni.

“Harvard has directly caused the value and prestige of plaintiffs’ Harvard degrees to be diminished and made a mockery out of Harvard graduates in the employment world and beyond,” the lawsuit said. 

The lawsuit argues that the university’s administration has failed to combat campus anti-semitism, and has consistently overlooked assaults on Jewish students and calls by students and faculty for the annihilation of Israel. It highlighted, among other things, an open letter signed by more than thirty student organizations blaming Israel for the October 7 Hamas-led attack, and campus protests which included chants like “Long live the intifada!” and “There is only one solution: intifada revolution!” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine is Arab!”

The suit also points to then-Harvard president Claudine Gay’s testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, where she stated that calls for genocide against Jews would only violate bullying and harassment policies “depending on the context,” as indicative of the school’s tolerance of antisemitism.

The lawsuit is part of a growing dissatisfaction among graduates over what they perceive as rampant antisemitism on U.S. campuses, according to attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, president of legal aid group, Shurat HaDin, who is representing the alumni alongside New York-based lawyer, Robert Tolchin.

Darshan-Leitner criticized the colleges for becoming “hate centers” under the guise of academic freedom. 

The lawsuit, Darshan-Leitner said, reveals the “growing outrage and contempt that graduates all across the US are feeling over the wild antisemitism and hate speech being encouraged and explained away on the American campuses.” 

“This dangerous weaponization of higher education by radical faculty and students as well as the impotent administration response, all justified under the guise of academic freedom, has turned the colleges into hate centers which has greatly devalued their reputation and diplomas,” she said, adding that the suit could prompt similar actions from graduates of other institutions.

Tolchin accused the university of succumbing to “the flavor of the month, the lowest level of discourse.”

“Harvard’s seal proclaims “Light and Truth” in Latin and Hebrew–yes, Hebrew, the language spoken by the indigenous Israelites. Yet light and truth have been hard to find at Harvard. The darkness of antisemitism and the dishonesty, hate, and discrimination have cast a pall over Harvard so embarrassing that people do not wish to be associated with Harvard,” Tolchin said. 

Harvard has been accused of facilitating an educational environment that is unwelcoming to Israelis and Jews for years, with the lawsuit citing annual events such as “Israel Apartheid Week” and incidents targeting Jewish students and symbols on campus. 

Antisemitism expert Dara Horn, a Harvard alumnus who was asked to join Gay’s anti-Semitism advisory committee, authored a damning essay published this week in The Atlantic in which she detailed the Jew hatred on campus predating October 7. 

She noted that staff members “who grade Jewish students used university-issued class lists to share information about events organized by pro-Palestine groups;” In one instance, a professor continued teaching after rejecting the findings of an investigation by Harvard after he was found discriminating against several Israeli students. Last spring, a student was asked to leave because her identity as an Israeli was making her classmates “uncomfortable.”

She also pointed to courses themselves “premised on anti-Semitic lies”, pointing to one called “The Settler Colonial Determinants of Health”, and noted that lecturers invited to speak at the campus included some who peddled in blood libels that Israelis harvest Palestinians’ organs or that the IDF uses Palestinian children for weapons testing. 

“The mountain of proof at Harvard revealed a reality in which Jewish students’ access to their own university (classes, teachers, libraries, dining halls, public spaces, shared student experiences) was directly compromised,” Horn writes.  The alumni’s legal action comes alongside another lawsuit filed by six current Harvard students on January 10, claiming that the university has not done enough to combat antisemitism on campus which had become a “bastion of rampant anti-Jewish hatred and harassment.” It also comes a day after a professor at the university, Walter Johnson, resigned from two anti-Zionist campus groups after they posted antisemitic cartoons.

The post Harvard Alumni File Lawsuit Claiming Campus Antisemitism ‘Devalues’ Their Diplomas first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Israel Not Budging After Eurovision Disapproval of Song Commemorating October 7

Eden Alene, winner of the reality show “The Next Star to Eurovision,” during finals in Neve Ilan studio near Jerusalem on Feb. 4, 2020. Photo: Shlomi Cohen/Flash90.

Israeli Culture Minister Miki Zohar sent the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) a letter on Thursday urging them to approve Israel’s submission to the Eurovision song competition, after the EBU called it “too political.”

“As you know, the State of Israel is experiencing one of the most difficult and complex periods since its establishment. We lost our loved ones, and there are women, men and children who are still held captive by a terrorist organization,” Zohar said.

Israeli media reported that the broadcasting union would not approve the song, called “October Rain,” after a number of countries even issued threats to boycott the event if Israel participates. The EBU issued a statement saying “We are currently in the process of carefully examining the lyrics of the song – a process that is confidential between the EBU and the Public Broadcasting Corporation until a final decision is made. To all broadcasters, they have until March 11th to officially submit their songs. If a song does not meet the criteria for any reason, the corporation will be given the opportunity to submit a new song or new lyrics, according to the contest rules.”

“The song that Israel sent to the Eurovision Song Contest was chosen by a professional committee made up of well-known names in the local music and entertainment industry,” Zohar added. “It is a moving song, discussing renewal and revival from a very fragile reality of loss and destruction, and describes the current public mood in Israel these days. We see now most clearly because our lives – as one, united society – manage to overcome even the greatest suffering. This is not a political song.”

Despite the news that the song by Israeli singer Eden Golan would not be approved, The CEO of KAN, Israel’s national broadcasting service, and the body that approves the song, Golan Yokhpaz, said “We will not change the words or the song, even at the cost of Israel not participating in Eurovision this year.” Adding “The Israel Broadcasting Corporation (KAN) is in dialogue with the EBU regarding the song that will represent Israel at Eurovision.”

Zohar said later in a television interview “The songwriters, KAN, and the singer will have to make the decisions at the end of the day… I do think that Israel should participate in Eurovision because it is important for us at this time to be represented there, and to express ourselves throughout Europe.”

Speaking to the EBU, he said, “We trust that you will continue in your important task of keeping the competition free from any attempt at political manipulation.”

The post Israel Not Budging After Eurovision Disapproval of Song Commemorating October 7 first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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