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Russia labels Moscow’s former chief rabbi a ‘foreign agent’

(JTA) — Russia has labeled Pinchas Goldschmidt, the former chief rabbi of Moscow, a “foreign agent” a year after he left the country and refused to pledge his support for the war in Ukraine.

The designation cannot be contested in court and bars those assigned it from participating in many aspects of public life in Russia. The Russian government expanded the definition last year amid a crackdown on dissent following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and it has threatened to apply the label to the Jewish Agency for Israel, which helps Russian Jews emigrate.

In Goldschmidt’s case, the label is likely symbolic, as he has acknowledged that he will not return to Russia after openly criticizing the war and, from abroad, warning Russian Jews to flee.

On Saturday, in response to the foreign agent designation, he reiterated that call, saying as he has before that Russia is on the verge of an antisemitic campaign.

“Russia has changed its face,” he said in a statement that reiterated comments he first made in December. “I call on the Jewish community to leave the country, before it is too late.”

Many Russian Jews have left the country since the beginning of the war in February 2022, with tens of thousands emigrating to Israel. Goldschmidt, who had been Moscow’s chief rabbi since 1993, was among them, leaving Russia just weeks into the war in March 2022. He later acknowledged that he had done so after facing pressure to support the war.

“I resigned because to continue as chief rabbi of Moscow would be a problem for the community because of the repressive measures taken against dissidents,” he told the Guardian in December.

He added that throughout Russian history, “whenever the political system was in danger you saw the government trying to redirect the anger and discontent of the masses towards the Jewish community.”

“We’re seeing rising antisemitism while Russia is going back to a new kind of Soviet Union,” he said, “and step by step the Iron Curtain is coming down again. This is why I believe the best option for Russian Jews is to leave.”

Jews were not allowed to practice their religion and were restricted from leaving the country while living under the Soviet regime.

Now living in Israel, Goldschmidt continues to serve as the head of the Conference of European Rabbis, a title he has had since 2011. He is not affiliated with the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement, whose leading rabbis in Russia have had a much closer relationship with President Vladimir Putin.

But while Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar and his top spokesperson Boruch Gorin have remained in the country, Chabad leaders have expressed concerns about the war. In September, a gathering of dozens of Russian Chabad rabbis released a statement reading: “We pray that no more blood be spilled, and call upon people of good conscience everywhere to help aid those in need, including refugees, and end the suffering.”

A Russian official soon after described the Chabad movement as a “neo-pagan cult” striving for “global domination” in an op-ed that he later apologized for.

The post Russia labels Moscow’s former chief rabbi a ‘foreign agent’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Amid Increased Pressure, Hamas Leadership Reportedly Mulls Leaving Qatar

Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani makes statements to the media with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Doha, Qatar, Oct. 13, 2023. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/Pool via REUTERS

i24 NewsThe political leadership mulls moving its base of operations out of Qatar, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday. It is understood the Gulf state is increasingly pressurizing the terror chiefs to accept a hostage-for-truce deal with Israel.

The report quoted an unnamed Middle Eastern official as saying the Hamas politburo chiefs were mulling a move to Oman.

“The talks have already stalled again with barely any signs or prospects for them to resume any time soon, and distrust is rising between Hamas and the negotiators,” the source was quoted as saying.

“The possibility of the talks being upended entirely is very real,” another Arab official told WSJ.

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Abbas Threatens Ties with U.S. After UN Membership Bid Veto

PA President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a meeting in Ramallah, in the West Bank August 18, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman/Pool

i24 NewsIn a recent interview with the official WAFA news agency, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a stern warning, indicating that the Palestinian Authority (PA) would reassess its bilateral relations with the United States following Washington’s veto of a Palestinian request for full United Nations membership.

While Abbas has made similar threats in the past without following through, his latest remarks underscore growing frustration within the Palestinian leadership over perceived U.S. support for Israel and the ongoing conflict in the region.

In the interview, conducted in Arabic and later translated, Abbas criticized the US for its stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He accused the Biden administration of siding with the occupation and failing to uphold international law. Abbas emphasized that while the world supports Palestinian rights, the US continues to provide unwavering support to Israel, including military aid that “contributes to the suffering of Palestinians.”

Abbas’s remarks reflect a deepening rift between the Palestinian leadership and the US, particularly over issues such as Israel’s annexation policies and the status of Jerusalem.

He lamented the US’s abandonment of its promises and commitments, particularly regarding the two-state solution and achieving peace in the region.

The PA leader also highlighted the significance of Jerusalem, emphasizing its status as a red line that cannot be crossed. While underscoring the city’s Islamic and Christian sanctities, Abbas did not acknowledge Judaism’s historical ties to Jerusalem.

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US House to Vote on Long-Awaited $95 Billion Ukraine, Israel Aid Package

US Speaker of the House Mike Johnson stands in the House of Representatives ahead of US President Joe Biden’s third State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in the US Capitol in Washington, DC, March 7, 2024. Photo: Shawn Thew/Pool via REUTERS

The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday is set to vote on, and expected to pass, a $95 billion legislative package providing security assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, over bitter objections from party hardliners.

More than two months have passed since the Democratic-majority Senate passed a similar measure and U.S. leaders from Democratic President Joe Biden to top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell have been urging embattled House Speaker Mike Johnson to bring it up for a vote.

Johnson this week chose to ignore ouster threats by hardline members of his fractious 218-213 majority and push forward the measure that includes some $60.84 billion for Ukraine as it struggles to fight off a two-year Russian invasion.

The unusual four-bill package also includes funds for Israel, security assistance for Taiwan and allies in the Indo-Pacific and a measure that includes sanctions, a threat to ban the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok and the potential transfer of seized Russian assets to Ukraine.

“The world is watching what the Congress does,” the White House said in a statement on Friday. “Passing this legislation would send a powerful message about the strength of American leadership at a pivotal moment. The Administration urges both chambers of the Congress to quickly send this supplemental funding package to the President’s desk.”

A bipartisan 316-94 House majority on Friday voted to advance the bill to a vote, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told senators to be ready to work over the weekend if it passes the House as expected.

“It’s not the perfect legislation, it’s not the legislation that we would write if Republicans were in charge of both the House, the Senate, and the White House,” Johnson told reporters on Friday. “This is the best possible product that we can get under these circumstances to take care of these really important obligations.”

Some hardline Republicans have voiced strong opposition to further Ukraine aid, with some arguing the U.S. can ill afford it given its rising $34 trillion national debt. They have repeatedly raised the threat of ousting Johnson, who became speaker in October after his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, was ousted by party hardliners.

Representative Bob Good, chair of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, told reporters on Friday that the bills represent a “slide down into the abyss of greater fiscal crisis and America-last policies that reflect Biden and Schumer and (House Democratic leader Hakeem) Jeffries, and don’t reflect the American people.”

But Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who carries huge influence in the party, on April 12 voiced support for Johnson and in a Thursday social media post said Ukraine’s survival is important for the U.S.

The bills provide $60.84 billion to address the conflict in Ukraine, including $23 billion to replenish U.S. weapons, stocks and facilities; $26 billion for Israel, including $9.1 billion for humanitarian needs, and $8.12 billion for the Indo-Pacific.

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