First Read For June 22
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News RoundupThe headlines American Jews are talking about today.

First Read For June 22

Otto Warmbier hid his Jewish roots; Jared Kushner returns empty-handed from Israel; Barak sees Israel on road to apartheid; Jewish Australian magnate knighted. More …

Otto Warmbier confessing to stealing a political poster in North Korea, Feb. 29, 2016. (Screenshot from YouTube)
Otto Warmbier confessing to stealing a political poster in North Korea, Feb. 29, 2016. (Screenshot from YouTube)

College student tortured to death in North Korea hod his Jewish background   

Otto Warmbier, the American college students who died in Cincinnati this week, a week after he was released from his captivity in North Korea, was Jewish, but hid his Jewish roots while in prison, the Times of Israel reports. He previously was thought to be a philosemitic Christian who inexplicably had taken part in a Birthright trip to Israel.

Warmbier’s family was advised to keep his Jewish background and identity concealed while officials tried to negotiate his release, according to the paper, because the North Korean justification for his imprisonment centered on a dubious claim that Warmbier had stolen a propaganda poster in a Pyongyang hotel lobby on orders from the Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio.

Mickey Bergman, who worked on negotiations for Warmbier’s release, said, “The family chose, rightfully so, not to share that information while he was in captivity… because they didn’t want to embarrass [North Korea] by explaining that he actually was Jewish” and thus would not have been affiliated with the church.

Warmbier was visiting the reclusive Asian nation on a New Year’s student tour in January 2016. He was arrested just before departing Pyongyang International Airport. Earlier in his trip, he was briefly detained for taking down a sign on a staff-only floor at the Yanggakdo International Hotel, where he was staying.

A photo taken on July 17, 2016 shows the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang, where US student Otto Warmbier was alleged to have removed a political poster from staff quarters. The tour agency that took US student Otto Warmbier to Pyongyang said June 20, 2017 it would stop taking Americans to the Stalinist state after the 22-year-old died following 18 months in North Korean detention. Getty Images

Jared Kushner returns to U.S from Israel. – No resumption of peace talks

Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior aide tasked with handling Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, returned from Israel yesterday with no announcement of resumed peace talks, JTA reports. Arriving at an Israeli-Palestinian peace will “take time,” Kushner and Jonathan Greenblatt, the president’s special envoy, declared.

The pair met with top Israeli and Palestinian officials. Their cautious tone “appeared to defer to Netanyahu’s preference to go slow in advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace,” according to Haaretz.

In this handout photo provided by the Israel Government Press Office (GPO), Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Jared Kushner on June 21, 2017 in Jerusalem, Israel. JTA

Barak: Israel on ‘slippery slope’ to apartheid

While Israel’s current situation is “not yet apartheid,” the country is on a “slippery slope” heading in that direction, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said yesterday in an interview on German television, according to Haaretz. “Israel faces a choice. If we keep controlling the whole area from the Mediterranean to the river Jordan where some 13 million people are living—eight million Israelis, five million Palestinians … if only one entity reigned over this whole area, named Israel,” Barak said, “it would become inevitably—that’s the key word, inevitably—either non—Jewish or non-democratic.”

Passaic shul wins zoning appeal – if it cleans up contaminated site

Plans for a synagogue in Passaic, N.J., have won unanimous approval from the city’s zoning board under the condition that the developers clean up the contaminated site before construction begins, the northjersey.com reports.

Congregation Emek Yehoshua’s initial bid to build a synagogue, banquet hall, senior center and talmudic school with dormitories on Brook Avenue was tabled until a study of the grounds was conducted and a remediation plan was submitted.  The state Department of Environmental Protection declared the site contaminated a month later,.

In January, a report from Reach Associates Inc., an environmental consulting firm hired by the applicants, stated that, while the contamination levels are below DEP levels for “contact soil remediation standards,” they do exceed “impact to ground water standards.” The land was the site of a long-shuttered engraving business.

Australian Holocaust survivor-magnte is knighted

Frank Lowy, a Holocaust survivor who fought in Israel’s War of Independence and went on to become a billionaire shopping magnate in Australia, was knighted in the United Kingdom as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honors, JTA reports.

Lowy is chairman of the Westfield Corp., a global shopping center company he co-founded in 1960, as well as a philanthropist. A Slovakia native, he settled in Australia in 1952 after evading the Nazis in Budapest and fighting in Israel’s 1948 war for independence.

Two other Jewish philanthropists — Len Blavatnik, a Jewish billionaire listed as Britain’s second-richest person, and British businessman Trevor Pears, who with his two brothers established the Pears Foundation — also received knighthoods.

Rally demands truth about fate of Yemenite children

Several hundred people took part in a rally Tuesday night in Jerusalem to demonstrate against “the ongoing obscurity” of the fate of an unknown number of young Yemenite Jewish children who mysteriously disappeared seven decades ago,  the Jerusalem Post reports.The rally centered around the Yemenite Children Affair, the claim that Yemenite children were systematically abducted and taken for adoption by European Jewish families without the biological family’s consent in the state’s early days.

“There were three investigative committees and they were all a joke,” one demonstrator, standing in the middle of the blocked King George St., proclaimed. 

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