Posts Tagged ‘ Europe ’

Family: UK teen who joined Islamic State has baby in Syria

February 17, 2019

LONDON (AP) — The family of a British teenager who ran away to join the Islamic State group and now wants to return to the U.K. said Sunday she has given birth to a baby boy. The family’s lawyer said 19-year-old Shamima Begum and the baby are in good health. In a recent interview with The Times newspaper, Begum said she had previously lost two babies to illness and malnutrition.

Begum was one of a group of schoolgirls from London’s Bethnal Green neighborhood who went to Syria to marry IS fighters in 2015 at a time when the group’s online recruitment program lured many impressionable young people to its self-proclaimed caliphate.

Speaking to Britain’s Sky News from Syria, where she has been living in a refugee camp, Begum said she didn’t know what she was getting into when she left and wants to bring her baby back to Britain with her.

“I think a lot of people should have sympathy towards me for everything I’ve been through,” she said in an interview broadcast Sunday. “I just was hoping that maybe for me, for the sake of me and my child, they let me come back, the young woman said. “Because I can’t live in this camp forever. It’s not really possible.”

“I don’t want to take care of my child in this camp because I’m afraid he might even die in this camp,” she said. Begum said she had been only a “housewife” during her time with IS militants. “I never did anything dangerous. I never made propaganda. I never encouraged people to come to Syria. So they’d only have proof I didn’t anything that is dangerous,” she said.

She added she had been “OK with” beheadings carried out by Islamic State adherents because she had heard it was allowed under Islamic law. News about Begum and her desire to go back to Britain have ignited a debate in the U.K. about how to deal with citizens who joined IS and want to leave Syria now that the extremist group is on the verge of collapse.

While it is unclear whether Begum committed any crimes, many have focused on her apparent lack of remorse. In the earlier interview with The Times, Begum said she did not regret her decision to join the extremists.

Her legal situation remains uncertain; she could face charges for supporting IS if she returns to Britain. Two days before the baby’s birth was announced, Begum’s relatives in Britain said they were “shocked” by her comments but thought she should be brought back and dealt with by the British justice system.

“The welfare of Shamima’s unborn baby is of paramount concern to our family, and we will do everything within our power to protect that baby, who is entirely blameless in these events,” the family had said.

The family said it is concerned about Begum’s mental health and characterizes her as having been groomed by Islamic State fighters.

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Israel-Central Europe summit canceled after Polish pullout

February 18, 2019

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland on Monday pulled out of a summit in Jerusalem, triggering the collapse of the entire meeting, after the acting Israeli foreign minister said that Poles “collaborated with the Nazis” and “sucked anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk.

The developments mark a new low in a bitter conflict between Poland and Israel over how to remember and characterize Polish actions toward Jews during the German occupation of Poland in World War II. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been due to meet with the leaders of four Central European nations known as the Visegrad group. With the Hungarian and Slovak prime ministers already in Israel and the Czech leader still planning to go, bilateral meetings were to go ahead instead.

Netanyahu had touted the meeting as an important step in his outreach to the countries of Central Europe, which have pro-Israeli governments that he is counting on to counter the criticism Israel typically faces in international forums.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki had already announced Sunday that he was pulling out of the meeting after a comment by Netanyahu last week about Polish cooperation with Nazis. Morawiecki cancelled Polish participation altogether after the comments made by Israel’s acting foreign minister, Israel Katz, which Morawiecki denounced as “racist” and “absolutely unacceptable.”

Poland’s Foreign Ministry also summoned the Israeli ambassador, Anna Azari, to demand a second set of clarifications in recent days. Katz made his remarks Sunday in an interview on Reshet 13 TV. “Poles collaborated with the Nazis, definitely. Collaborated with the Nazis. As (former Israeli Prime Minister) Yitzhak Shamir said — his father was murdered by Poles — he said that from his point of view they sucked anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk. You can’t sugarcoat this history,” he said.

Jewish leaders in Poland issued a statement saying that Shamir’s words were “unjust already when they were first said, in 1989, when Polish-Israeli relations were just beginning to be rebuilt, after the long night of communism.”

“They are even more unjust today, 30 years later, when so much has been done on both sides for a mutual understanding of our very difficult, but shared history,” the statement added. Poland was the first country invaded and occupied by Adolf Hitler’s regime and never had a collaborationist government. Members of Poland’s resistance and government-in-exile struggled to warn the world about the mass killing of Jews, and thousands of Poles risked their lives to help Jews.

However, Holocaust researchers have collected ample evidence of Polish villagers who murdered Jews fleeing the Nazis, or Polish blackmailers who preyed on helpless Jews for financial gain. The head of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris, noted that that Poland and Israel, while otherwise friends, have clashed over the “varying assessments of the magnitude of anti-Semitism in Poland, especially before and during World War II, and often competing historical narratives.”

He issued a statement acknowledging that “there are certainly pockets of anti-Semitism in Poland” but largely stressing the fact that Poles suffered and put up massive resistance to the Nazis during the war, also helping Jews. He also noted the Polish contributions in recent years to the renewal of Jewish life.

“As friends, we need to be able to manage our inevitable differences. That begins with choosing our words carefully — knowing when to speak, how to speak, and where to speak,” Harris said. “It means not allowing individual incidents to escalate out of control. And it means not ceding all the progress achieved to date to those who might wish to destroy it.”

Heller reported from Jerusalem. Karel Janicek in Prague contributed.

Israeli leaders’ Nazi remarks scuttle summit with Europeans

February 18, 2019

JERUSALEM (AP) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s off-hand comment in Warsaw about Poland and the Holocaust set in motion a diplomatic crisis that on Monday scuttled this week’s summit of central European leaders in Israel.

Poland’s abrupt decision to cancel its participation in the planned Visegrad conference in protest blew up the gathering, which Netanyahu has touted as a major milestone in his outreach to emerging democracies in eastern Europe and his broader goal of countering the criticism Israel typically faces in international forums.

The crisis was sparked last week when Netanyahu told reporters that “Poles cooperated with the Nazis.” The seemingly innocuous comment infuriated his Polish hosts, who reject suggestions that their country collaborated with Hitler.

Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, announced Sunday that he would be skipping this week’s Visegrad summit, a gathering with fellow prime ministers from Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz was supposed to replace him at Tuesday’s meeting in Jerusalem, the first time the gathering is being held outside of Europe.

But after Israel’s acting foreign minister reiterated the collaboration claims, Morawiecki cancelled Poland’s participation altogether, denouncing the comments as “racist.” As a result, the summit was called off and Netanyahu was planning to meet the other leaders independently.

Lost in the diplomatic uproar was that Netanyahu was actually defending his close alliance with Poland and other eastern European leaders when he made his comments. Historians and domestic critics have accused Netanyahu of cozying up too tightly to nationalistic leaders who have promoted a distorted image of the Holocaust and turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism associated with them.

Morawiecki himself last year equated Polish perpetrators of the Holocaust to supposed “Jewish perpetrators.” Netanyahu has recently hosted leaders of Lithuania, Ukraine and other countries who have engaged in selective World War II-era commemorations that play down their countries’ culpability while making heroes out of anti-Soviet nationalists involved in the mass killing of Jews.

In response to a question from The Associated Press during his two-day visit to Warsaw, Netanyahu said he raises the issue of historical revisionism with the various leaders. He rejected the notion he was a partner to diminishing anyone’s complicity in the genocide of Jews in World War II.

“I know the history. I don’t starch it and I don’t whitewash it. In Lithuania, in particular, there were some horrible things. No one is concealing that,” said Netanyahu, the son of a historian. “This whole idea that we diminish history — we don’t distort, and we don’t hide, and no one has any interest in that, on the contrary.”

In the same briefing with his travelling press corps, Netanyahu tried to deflect prominent criticism by Israeli historians of the deal he struck with Polish leaders over their country’s controversial Holocaust speech law, which criminalized blaming the Polish nation for crimes committed against Jews during World War II.

Israeli officials saw it as an attempt by Poland to suppress discussion of the well-documented killing of Jews by Poles during and after the wartime German occupation. “Poles collaborated with the Nazis and I don’t know anyone who was ever sued for such a statement,” Netanyahu told the reporters.

However, some media outlets reported him saying “THE Poles,” which set off an angry rebuke in Warsaw, including a summoning of the Israeli ambassador for clarifications. Netanyahu’s office said he was misquoted and blamed the misunderstanding on an editing error in an Israeli newspaper.

Netanyahu’s office then reiterated that he “spoke of Poles and not the Polish people or the country of Poland.” That only got him in hotter water at home for seemingly catering to the Polish obsession over his wording.

“The prime minister of the Jewish state is selling out the memory of the Holocaust for a dubious alliance with an anti-Semitic leader,” said Tamar Zandberg, leader of the opposition Meretz party. Nonetheless, the Polish government said it considered Netanyahu’s response insufficient and threatened to withdraw from the conference.

With emotions running high in Poland, Israel’s new acting foreign minister, Israel Katz, went on TV Sunday to reiterate that “Poles collaborated with the Nazis” — even mentioning Poles who “sucked anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk.”

That prompted Poland to withdraw completely. Following that announcement, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said the so-called V4 summit was cancelled altogether and bilateral meetings would be held instead.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon confirmed the summit was off, saying all four prime ministers had to be present for it to take place. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is already in Israel, is another leader who has trod into the sensitive terrain of World War II conduct.

Orban has lavished praise on Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s World War II-era ruler, who introduced anti-Semitic laws and collaborated with the Nazis. Orban also has backed a state-funded museum that experts say plays down the role of Hungarian collaborators and also used anti-Semitic imagery in a campaign against the liberal American-Hungarian billionaire George Soros.

When pressed by the AP, though, Netanyahu came to his ally’s defense. “His response was the most direct, saying ‘we are not willing to accept this,'” Netanyahu responded. “He (Orban) attacked Horthy at some point. They are going the furthest here.”

Netanyahu also addressed his warm welcome in January to President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine, whose parliament had just designated the birthday of Ukrainian wartime collaborator Stepan Bandera a national holiday.

Bandera’s forces fought alongside the Nazis and were implicated in the murder of thousands of Jews. The same day Poroshenko was visiting Israel, another memorial was being erected in Kiev for Symon Petliura, whose troops are linked to pogroms that killed as many as 50,000 Jews after World War I.

Netanyahu said he was not aware of that specifically but that he had some discussions with Poroshenko on the larger issue. “I spoke to him too. I speak to them all. It’s not that we can’t raise the issue. We raise it freely,” he insisted.

Still, he then quickly shifted attention toward the contemporary anti-Semitism from the “anarchist left” and Muslim communities. “I think the mass of anti-Semitism today in Europe is what is happening in western Europe,” Netanyahu said. “What is happening in Britain is astounding. This is the new phenomenon. There is the anti-Semitism of the right that hasn’t changed. That existed and still exists.”

Ireland passes BDS bill banning Israel settlement goods

January 25, 2019

Ireland has advanced a bill which will prevent the sale of goods from Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The lower house of the Irish parliament – the Dail – yesterday voted in favor of a bill which will ban the purchase of all goods and services from Israel’s West Bank settlements, which are considered illegal under international law. The bill was previously passed through the parliament’s upper house – the Seanad – before proceeding to the lower house and receiving a 78-45 majority in favor, Al Jazeera explained.

The bill – officially known as the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill – still needs to pass several more stages before being signed into Irish law, but it is expected to progress given its broad base of support from Irish opposition parties.

Once approved, the law would see fines of up to €250,000 ($284,000) or five years in jail be handed down for those found guilty of importing or selling any goods or services originating in the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem or West Bank settlements, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Though estimates put the value of settlement-made exports to Ireland at between only $580,000 and $1.1 million annually, the symbolic value of the bill and its potential to influence other European countries to follow suit has been hailed as a victory by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Mustafa Barghouti, the secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative party, said the bill is a “great victory for the BDS movement” and vowed that “we will seek to pass similar laws in a number of European countries in the near future”.

Irish politicians also welcomed the move, with Irish Senator Frances Black tweeting: “Ireland will always stand for international law + human rights, & we’re one step closer to making history. Onwards!” She added: “We have now united every opposition party behind this bill, because it is *not* a radical ask: we want to give effect to basic provisions of int [international] law & human rights.”

However Israel has reacted with anger at the bill, summoning the Irish Ambassador to Israel, Alison Kelly, to be reprimanded.

In a statement, the Prime Minister’s office said that “Israel is outraged over the legislation against it in the Dail which is indicative of hypocrisy and anti-Semitism”. It added: “Instead of Ireland condemning Syria for slaughtering hundreds of thousands of civilians, Turkey for the occupation of northern Cyprus and the terrorist organizations for murdering thousands of Israelis, it attacks Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. What a disgrace.”

Meanwhile Israel’s Foreign Ministry called the vote “an expression of pure hostility on the part of its initiators,” adding: “This is a clear expression of obsessive discrimination that should be rejected with disgust.”

Ireland has been a long-time supporter of the BDS movement. In October, Ireland’s national broadcaster RTÉ announced that it will not sanction any staff members who refuse to travel to Israel for the Eurovision Song Contest, due to be held in Tel Aviv in May. RTÉ’s decision came after the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) called for a boycott of the competition “due to Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people”.

Other Irish organisations have also expressed support for BDS, with the Dublin City Council voting in April to back the movement. In March, students at one of the country’s most prestigious universities – Trinity College Dublin – voted to support BDS, meaning the Students Union will support the movement and “comply with the principles of BDS in all union shops, trade, business and other union operations”.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190125-ireland-passes-bds-bill-banning-israel-settlement-goods/.

Italy’s far-right minister visits Israel, drawing criticism

December 12, 2018

JERUSALEM (AP) — One of Europe’s most divisive political figures, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, opened his visit to Israel Tuesday with warm words of support for his hosts, condemning Hezbollah as a “terrorist” organization and denouncing rising waves of anti-Semitism in Europe.

Salvini is in Israel for a two-day visit that has prompted criticism over his far-right policies and anti-migration views. He kicked off his trip with a tour of Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where the Israeli army has uncovered tunnels it says were built by Hezbollah for attacks. He told a gathering of journalists in Jerusalem on Tuesday that no country would tolerate enemy tunnels infiltrating its territory.

“I call terrorists what they are, which is terrorists,” he said. He said he was “very proud” of the Italian soldiers serving in UNFIL, the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, which is headed by an Italian general.

Salvini, best known for bashing the European Union and cracking down on African and Arab asylum-seekers, said his government “fights anti-Semitism in every way and every form wherever it is.” He blamed Europe’s resurgent anti-Semitism on “immigration from Islamic countries.”

The leader of Italy’s populist League party, Salvini exploded onto the scene just months ago, but already exerts outsized influence on Italy’s prime minister and dominates the political conversation. Opinion polls show him surging in popularity as he stokes anti-immigrant anxiety and positions himself at the forefront of the nationalist movements sweeping Europe. In recent months, Salvini has made international headlines by tightening criteria for humanitarian protection and refusing to allow rescue boats packed with African migrants to dock at Italy’s ports.

Salvini is set to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday and tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. Pro-refugee activists rejecting his tough stance on migrants are expected to protest at the memorial during his visit.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin turned down a meeting with Salvini, his office said, citing a full schedule and declining further comment. Opposition lawmakers have praised Rivlin’s decision, interpreting it as a rebuke of Salvini’s views.

Salvini brushed off the backlash Tuesday, saying, “I smile when I hear criticism from the left in Italy and in Israel,” and that whoever is bothered by his visit “will have to get over it.” Salvini’s remarks frequently drawn outrage from the Italian Jewish community. The president of Italy’s Union of Jewish Communities, Noemi Di Segni, criticized the minister’s move to abolish an anti-racism law last summer, expressing concern at the government’s “radicalization.” The Jewish Union has also slammed Salvini over his announcement that he would conduct a census of Roma in Italy, saying he was awakening memories of racial hatred and fascist tendencies during World War II.

Emmanuel Navon, senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, said Israel’s embrace of Salvini and “rebellious European governments” allows it to gain leverage over Western European powers, which have traditionally sympathized with the Palestinians, pressed for renewed peace talks and sought to block recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in the European Union.

“Israel needs to take advantage of this big divide in Europe right now,” Navon said. “People are uncomfortable with it, but this is in Israel’s national interest.” Netanyahu has recently welcomed a string of contentious nationalist leaders to Israel, including Hungary’s authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose past remarks have been interpreted as anti-Semitic, and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, widely accused of committing human rights abuses. Netanyahu has also promised to participate in the swearing-in ceremony of hard-right Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro.

Israeli PM wants Baltics to help change view of Israel

August 24, 2018

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting Friday with three Baltic prime ministers in his quest to counterbalance European criticism of Israel’s actions in the occupied Palestinian territories and to increase pressure on Iran.

Netanyahu will hold talks with Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, Estonia’s Juri Ratas and Maris Kucinskis of Latvia. He started the day by meeting Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite. A day earlier, he said that Israel was “often mistreated by the EU,” adding there were “many distortions.” Netanyahu, however, welcomed the decision by major international airlines to end their direct flights to Iran’s capital, Tehran, in September after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran and began restoring U.S. sanctions.

Skvernelis said in an interview with the Baltic News Service that after a meeting Thursday with Netanyahu, “I believe Lithuania really has a better understanding of Israel and that understanding could be spread among other EU countries. ”

“We need to better listen, hear them out and understand their position. We definitely lack a direct dialogue,” he said. “But we have to admit that today Israel is not only waging war and defending its independence, the lives of its people, but is also fighting in a wider context, if we speak about terrorism and potential expansion of IS fighters to Europe,” Skvernelis said.

Netanyahu arrived Thursday in Vilnius is on a four-day visit, the first to Lithuania by an Israeli prime minister.

Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this report.

UK Labor leader under fire over Palestinian wreath-laying

August 13, 2018

LONDON (AP) — British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is facing allegations of enabling anti-Semitism, acknowledged Monday that he was present at a wreath-laying to Palestinians allegedly linked to the murder of 11 Israelis at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

But the Labor Party leader said “I don’t think I was actually involved” in laying the wreath. The left-wing politician — a longtime critic of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians — has been facing mounting criticism since the Daily Mail published photos of Corbyn holding a wreath in a Tunis cemetery in 2014, near what the newspaper said were graves of Black September members. The Palestinian militant group carried out the kidnapping and massacre at the Munich games. Several members were later killed by Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.

Corbyn has previously said he was at the cemetery to commemorate the victims of a 1985 Israeli air attack on Palestinian Liberation Organization offices in Tunis. On Monday, he acknowledged a wreath had also been laid to “those that were killed in Paris in 1992.” PLO official Atef Bseiso, whom Israel has accused of helping to plan the Munich Olympic attack, was gunned down outside a Paris hotel that year.

“I was present when it was laid. I don’t think I was actually involved in it,” Corbyn told reporters. “I was there because I wanted to see a fitting memorial to everyone who has died in every terrorist incident everywhere because we have to end it.”

The statement is unlikely to quell criticism from Jewish groups and Labor members who say Corbyn has allowed anti-Semitism to spread in the party. “Being ‘present’ is the same as being involved. … Where is the apology?” tweeted Labor lawmaker Luciana Berger.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that “the laying of a wreath by Jeremy Corbyn on the graves of the terrorist who perpetrated the Munich massacre and his comparison of Israel to the Nazis deserves unequivocal condemnation from everyone — left, right and everything in between.”

Corbyn responded on Twitter that Netanyahu’s “claims about my actions and words are false.” The Labour Party said Corbyn “did not lay any wreath at the graves of those alleged to have been linked to the Black September organization or the 1972 Munich killings.”

Corbyn has been accused of failing to expel party members who express anti-Semitic views and has received personal criticism for past statements, including a 2010 speech in which he compared Israel’s blockade of Gaza to Nazi Germany’s sieges of Leningrad and Stalingrad during World War II.

The dispute recently boiled over after the party proposed adopting a definition of anti-Semitism that differed from the one approved by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Labour’s version omits some of the alliance’s language around criticism of Israel. The alliance’s definition says it is anti-Semitic to compare contemporary Israeli policies to the policies of the Nazis, a view Labour did not endorse.

Corbyn said Labour was consulting with Jewish groups on the party’s definition of anti-Semitism. He said it was important to ensure “you can discuss and debate the relations between Israel and Palestine, the future of the peace process and, yes, make criticisms of the actions of the Israeli government in the bombing of Gaza and other places.”

“But you can never make those criticisms using anti-Semitic language or anti-Semitic intentions, and that is what we are absolutely clear on,” Corbyn said.

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