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To make the case that the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter should die, prosecutors note that he’s a model prisoner

PITTSBURGH (JTA) — A courtroom debate over whether the man who killed 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue should get the death penalty hinged briefly this week over the question of how many federal prisoners are Jewish.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Robert Bowers, who was convicted on TK counts last month. Bowers’ attorneys have been arguing that the federal Bureau of Prisons would likely consign Bowers to ADX Florence, the notorious Colorado maximum security prison known as Supermax.

Two former Bureau of Prisons officials who now offer paid testimony, principally for defendants, painted a picture on Wednesday and Thursday of an austere and isolated existence at the facility, with minimal interactions with other prisoners or the outside world.

The prosecution argued that Bowers’ confinement at Supermax was not as inevitable as the defense contended, and that he could easily end up at a prison with greater allowances, and might even be eligible for more amenable conditions as he aged. Bowers is 51.

Janet Perdue, who worked for more than 30 years as an administrator in the federal prisons system, said Bowers was a likely candidate for the Supermax because he committed a hate crime that got massive national and international attention. The prison has housed the Boston Marathon and Atlanta Olympics bombers, a founder of al-Qaeda and, until his death last month, Ted Kaczynski, known as the Unabomber.

“Given that his crime is a hate crime he may become the target of other inmates, I think,” Perdue said about Bowers. “Inmates would not take so kindly to seeing him in an open population and may cause him harm.”

The risk was not just to Bowers’ life, she said, but to the safety of prison officials who would have to respond to an attack.

Nicole Vasquez Schmitt, a prosecutor for the federal government, responded with a line of questioning that implied that prosecutors believed Bowers would not be a major target because relatively few prisoners share a religious identity with his victims.

“What is the Jewish population within the BOP?” Vasquez Schmitt asked Perdue, referring to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

“I can’t speak to it exactly. I’d imagine it’s a fairly low number,” Perdue said.

“Would it surprise you to know it’s less than 3%?” the prosecutor said. No, Perdue said, it would not surprise her.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons does not share data about prisoners’ religious identities the way that it does about their race, ethnicity, gender and citizenship. Past estimates by groups working with Jewish prisoners, including the Chabad-affiliated Aleph Institute, have suggested that between 1% and 2% of federal prisoners are Jewish.

The Jewish population question was germane, prosecutors contended, because it undercut the defense contention that the rest of Bowers’ life would be austere in part because the nature of his crime would require his isolation, for his own safety, from other prisoners seeking to avenge his crime.

The judge in the case, Robert Colville, and lawyers for the defense and prosecution tentatively predicted after testimony was completed on Thursday that the final phase of the trial, to determine whether Bowers heads to death row, would wrap up with closing arguments early next week.

If a single juror rejects the death penalty, Colville must sentence Bowers to life without parole. The victims of the attack were Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger. They worshiped at three congregations housed in the building at the time: Tree of Life, Dor Hadash and New Light.

Seven of the nine families who lost members during the massacre want Bowers to be executed. Two families have not called for the death penalty, and some in the tight-knit Pittsburgh Jewish community, including some who knew the victims, have protested against the possible penalty. Under Jewish law, the death penalty is an option for some offenses but tradition holds that it was rarely if ever meted out.

To make their case, prosecutors have sought to cut away at the defense’s calculation that Bowers’ likeliest destination in that case is Supermax, arguing at one point that Bowers is so compliant at his current prison that he is unlikely to be sent to the Colorado prison.

Guards from Butler County prison, where he has been held since shortly after his arrest at the scene of the attack, testified earlier this week that Bowers as a model prisoner who asks other prisoners to quiet down at night and whose favorite TV show is MTV’s “Ridiculousness,” where panelists react to funny home and street videos. Guards call him “Uncle Bob,” they said.

Prosecutors also suggested that the conditions of Supermax might in fact be Bowers’ preference. Another defense prisons expert, Maureen Baird, described Supermax as an austere and unforgiving environment where Bowers likely would be on lockdown for 22 or 23 hours a day, would have contact during his free time with no more than seven other prisoners, and would be allowed no more than five phone calls a month.

“The defendant seems to like living by himself,” Vasquez Schmitt said.

She also countered the testimony by getting the experts to note allowances: Prisoners at Supermax create art that is auctioned off outside the prison (maximum price: $100); they are about to get tablets programmed with music, games and limited entertainment; and they can have a pet fish.

The arguments come at the tail end of a trial that has transfixed observers since its first day at the end of May. The final phase of the trial started with victim impact statements from the families of the slain and others. It then moved into mitigation, with the defense bringing witnesses to describe Bowers’ troubled and at times violent upbringing.

It has taken bizarre turns. This week, the judge rejected a request by the defense to exhume the body of Randall Bowers, Bowers’ father who died by suicide in 1979.

The defense made the request after the prosecution brought up the assessment of a defense psychologist that Randall Bowers may not have actually been his father. Randall Bowers was diagnosed as a schizophrenic, and the defense has argued that Robert Bowers inherited the disease.

This story is part of ongoing coverage of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial. Parts of the story are based on reporting by the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle and the Pittsburgh Union Progress in a collaboration supported by funding from the Pittsburgh Media Partnership.


The post To make the case that the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter should die, prosecutors note that he’s a model prisoner appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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European Parliament Denounces UNRWA Role in Inciting Violence and Antisemitism

A boy holds a placard as Palestinian Hamas supporters attend a rally against visits by Israelis to the Al-Aqsa mosque, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, May 26, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Antisemitic incitement and glorification of terrorism in Palestinian textbooks issued by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was a cause of Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, the European Parliament (EP) declared in a series of resolutions passed last week.

The resolutions mark the latest denouncement of the Palestinian education by the EP and some of the first to address strong evidence that over a dozen UNRWA staff aided Hamas’ raping and slaughtering of Israeli civilians. Together, they rued the possibility that European tax dollars were funneled into Hamas and called for a complete restructuring, as well as increased oversight, of the Palestinian education system to ensure that antisemitic themes are purged from curricula in the Palestinian territories so long as the institutions administering them receive European aid.

“Today the European Parliament condemned the problematic and hateful contents encouraging violence, spreading antisemitism and inciting hatred in Palestinian school textbooks,” German Member of European Parliament (MEP) Niclas Herbst  said in a statement praising the action. “The European Parliament reaffirmed in the context of despicable terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas on 7th October 2023 that education to hatred has direct and dramatic consequences on the security of Israelis, as well as the perspectives of a better future for young Palestinians. Therefore, the EP requests the Commission to closely scrutinize that no UNWRA funds are allocated to the use of such hateful materials.”

As The Algemeiner has previously reported, UNRWA textbooks are among the most antisemitic and inciting in the world. No discipline is untouched by the problem. From math to theology, to literature and science, their content promotes blistering hatred for Jews and Israel, indoctrinating students as young as six to commit their lives to “martyrdom” and inter-generational war. Compromise with Israelis is described as betraying Palestinian identity, suicide-bombings as intrinsic to it and a prerequisite for entry into heaven.

“In this bipartisan resolution, the European Parliament has rightly made the inevitable and tragic connection between the horrors of October 7 and the systematic indoctrination which has flourished for too long in Palestinian schools, the majority of which in Gaza are operated by UNRWA,” Marcus Sheff, chief executive officer of Israeli education watchdog Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (Impact-se), said in a press release on Thursday.

He added, “For years, we have warned that the textbooks taught to Palestinian children create the conditions for the barbarism we all witnessed. The EU Parliament is now saying, ‘Enough.’ We need a new Palestinian curriculum.”

Impact-se has been a leading critic of the role Palestinian curricula plays in stoking the embers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and fostering religious extremism. In March, the organization unveiled transcriptions of recordings confirming the roles of Yusef Zidan Sliman Al-Hawajri and Mamdouh Hussein Ahmad Al-Qek — both of whom were hired as educators by the organization — in Oct. 7, citing them as evidence that UNRWA has violated its mandate.

Its last report, published in March, revealed that textbooks issued by the Palestinian Authority teach girls that women are inferior to men and demands that they sacrifice their bodies and families for “jihad.”

“The characterization of women as inferior in Palestinian Authority textbooks reflects a broader and worrying narrative of bigotry in the curriculum, which is continuing to shape the outlook millions of Palestinian children,” Sheff said after the report was published. “Furthermore, it contradicts international treaties on gender equality that the PA itself has ratified. In particular, the emphasis on women’s participation in resistance activities as a warped form of gender equality sets a disturbing precedent.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post European Parliament Denounces UNRWA Role in Inciting Violence and Antisemitism first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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‘Does She Really Want to See America Die?’: Rashida Tlaib’s Refusal To Condemn ‘Death to America’ Chants Sparks Bipartisan Backlash

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) addresses attendees as she takes part in a protest calling for a ceasefire in Gaza outside the US Capitol, in Washington, DC, US, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Leah Millis

On Wednesday, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) refused to condemn anti-Israel protesters who chanted “death to America” and “death to Israel” during a rally in her district, sparking bipartisan backlash.

At an “Al-Quds Day” rally in Dearborn, Michigan protesters chanted “death to America” and “death to Israel.” A speaker at the event also quoted Malcom X saying “We live in one of the rottenest countries that has ever existed on this earth.”

The speaker continued, explaining that “The chant ‘death to Israel’ has become the most logical chant shouted across the world today.”

Another speaker proclaimed “Israel is ISIS, they are Nazis, they are fascists, they are racists.”

Michigan’s 12th congressional district, which Rep. Tlaib represents, includes Dearborn.

At International Al-Quds Day Rally in Dearborn, Michigan Protesters Chant “Death to America!”; Speakers at the Rally: America Is One of the “Rottenest Countries” on Earth; Israel Is ISIS, Nazis, a Cancer pic.twitter.com/B6hMlaKfi5

— MEMRI (@MEMRIReports) April 7, 2024

The initial incident sparked condemnation from both sides of the political aisle. The mayor of Dearborn, Abdullah H. Hammoud, wrote on Twitter/X that, at the rally, people chanted “statements that were unacceptable and contrary to the heart of this city.” 

“We reject all inflammatory and violent statements made at the gathering. Dearborn is a city of proud Americans; the hateful rhetoric heard on Friday does not reflect the opinion of the members of this community,” he continued.

White House spokesman Andrew Bates told The Daily Caller that “The White House condemns these abhorrent and Antisemitic remarks in the strongest terms. As [US] President [Joe] Biden has said, America is the greatest nation on Earth and a beacon to the world.”

Rep. Tlaib was approached by a Fox News reporter on Wednesday, who asked if she condemned the chants. She replied, saying she did not speak to Fox News and that the reporter was engaging in Islamophobic tropes in asking her the question — likely because she perceived the reporter as questioning the patriotism and loyalty of Muslim Americans to the US.

WATCH – Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-Gaza) refuses to condemn ‘Death to America!’ chants at a rally in her home district.pic.twitter.com/Ddn9lvnKOn

— The First (@TheFirstonTV) April 11, 2024

The Algemeiner reached out to Tlaib’s office for clarification of her statement, but it did not respond to a request for comment.

In a statement to The Algemeiner, Democratic Majority for Israel — a group that supports Israel from within the Democratic Party — said “Chanting ‘Death to America’ incites violence and is patently anti-American. All political leaders should be able to join the White House & Dearborn’s Mayor in denouncing this slogan.”

“Congresswoman Tlaib’s refusal to condemn those words is sadly telling,” DMFI added, asking “Does she really want to see America die?”

The Republican Jewish Coalition’s national political director, Sam Markstein, had harsh words for Tlaib, telling The Algemeiner, “It’s no surprise that Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib would refuse to condemn anti-America and anti-Israel chants.”

He described Rep. Tlaib as “a disgrace” who “should not be representing the people of Michigan’s 12th district in Congress.”

He argued, “House Democratic leadership has coddled and enabled her vicious antisemitism and anti-Israel rhetoric for years – it’s long past time for them to hold her accountable.”

The CEO of The Jewish Democratic Council of America, Halie Soifer, pushed back on The Algemeiner’s request for comment, saying: “with all due respect, do you ever cover what Donald Trump says about Jews or Israel? It’s antisemitic and incessant — nearly daily at this point.”

Earlier this week, former US President Donald Trump told reporters that Biden “doesn’t know if he is supporting the Palestinians but he knows one thing: he is not supporting Israel. He has abandoned Israel and any Jewish person that votes for a Democrat or votes for Biden should have their head examined.”

Trump: “Any Jewish person that votes for a Democrat or votes for Biden should have their head examined.” pic.twitter.com/yxNTpAJjoP

— Republican Voters Against Trump (@AccountableGOP) April 10, 2024

Trump’s comments come just a week after she would not give a direct answer when asked if he stands with Israel “100%,” raising questions about what his Middle East policy may look like in a potential second term. He also said a few days ago that American Jews who vote for Biden do “not love Israel” and “should be spoken to.”

The post ‘Does She Really Want to See America Die?’: Rashida Tlaib’s Refusal To Condemn ‘Death to America’ Chants Sparks Bipartisan Backlash first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Peel school board’s move to add ‘Nakba Remembrance Day’ to its calendar spurs objections from Jewish parents—and the Ontario education ministry

Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce is joining calls from Jewish parents and educators urging the Peel District School Board to reverse a decision to list Nakba Remembrance Day as an observance on the board’s calendar of significant days. Arabic for “catastrophe,” the Nakba refers to the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, also known in Israel as […]

The post Peel school board’s move to add ‘Nakba Remembrance Day’ to its calendar spurs objections from Jewish parents—and the Ontario education ministry appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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