Friday, December 16, 2011

Last-ditch operation to catch Nazi war criminals is launched

A last-ditch effort to bring Nazi war criminals to justice in Germany was launched in Berlin.

Operation Last Chance II, announced Wednesday, follows up on the search for the last remaining unpunished Nazis launched by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office in 2006, said Efraim Zuroff, Jerusalem-based chief Nazi hunter for the organization, at a news conference hosted by the German Bundestag.

A mobile hotline has been established in Germany (+49 1572 494-7407). A reward of up to 25,000 euro, about $32,500, will be offered in stages for those who provide information: 5,000 euro if the person is indicted, another 5,000 euro if the person is convicted, and 100 euro for every day the person sits in jail up to 150 days, Zuroff said.

There are known Nazis living out their years without facing justice, Zuroff said, adding that he was especially keen to see three Germans brought to justice: Klaas Carl Faber, who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1947 in Holland, and escaped jail in 1952 and fled to Germany, where as a German citizen he was protected from extradition; Soreren Kam, who was indicted in Denmark for the 1943 murder of a Danish anti-Nazi newspaper editor; and Gerhard Sommer, who was convicted in absentia in Italy of murder in the massacre of 560 civilians and has been under investigation since 2002. -- Toby Axelrod, JTA

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Dutch withdraw bill banning ritual slaughter

A bill to ban ritual slaughter was withdrawn by the Dutch Senate days before a scheduled vote.

Animal Rights Party leader Marianne Thieme withdrew the bill late Tuesday after a majority of senators expressed their objection to the ban on kosher slaughter, or shechitah. The measure had passed the lower house of the Dutch parliament in June.

The bill had required that animals be stunned before slaughter. Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter must be performed with the animal fully conscious. -- JTA

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Stieg Larsson’s other calling was as an anti-neo-Nazi crusader

Eva Gabrielsson, life partner of the late author Stieg Larsson.
Photo by Per Jarl
Stieg Larsson, the Swedish author of the international best-selling “Millennium” series, including “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” died in 2004 at age 50 of a heart attack, before the publication of his crime thrillers made him one of the most famous writers of the decade. They have sold tens of millions of copies worldwide, already spawned three Swedish films and, on Dec. 21, fans will no doubt be lining up for the opening of Hollywood’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” directed by David Fincher and starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, with a screenplay by the Oscar-winning “Schindler’s List” scribe Steven Zaillian. (The film opens in selected theaters on Dec. 20.)

But amid all this “Stieg industry,” as the late author’s life partner, Eva Gabrielsson, put it, a crucial element often has been overlooked: Just how much Larsson embedded in his novels a fundamental passion of his life — his crusade against neo-Nazism and violent far-right movements, which he viewed as anathema to Sweden and to all modern society. --  Naomi Pfefferman, Jewish Journal

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Opinion: Can Israel survive without the backing of American Jewry?

There’s an interesting conversation that’s been going on between Jeff Goldberg and Spencer Ackerman on whether Israel can or can’t survive without the support of American Jewry. Interesting - mainly because it has so very little basis in any reality. These two gifted writes engage in a serious conversation over a topic that doesn’t exist. -- Shmuel Rosner, Jewish Journal

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Amnesty says Saudi beheading for sorcery "shocking"

Rights group Amnesty International has described as "deeply shocking" Saudi Arabia's beheading of a woman convicted on charges of "sorcery and witchcraft," saying it underlined the urgent need to end executions in the kingdom.

Saudi national Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser was executed on Monday in the northern province of al-Jawf after being tried and convicted for practicing sorcery, the interior ministry said, without giving details of the charges. -- Isabel Coles; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Mark Heinrich, Reuters

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

U.S. formally ends war in Iraq

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta paid solemn tribute on Thursday to an “independent, free and sovereign Iraq” and declared the official end to the Iraq war, formally wrapping up the U.S. military’s 8 1/2-year mission in the country.

“After a lot of blood spilled by Iraqis and Americans, the mission of an Iraq that could govern and secure itself has become real,” Panetta said at a ceremony at Baghdad ‘s international airport. “To be sure, the cost was high – in blood and treasure for the United States, and for the Iraqi people. Those lives were not lost in vain. ”

The 1:15 p.m. ceremony (5:15 a.m. in Washington) effectively ended the war two weeks earlier than was necessary under the terms of the security agreement signed by the U.S. and Iraqi governments in 2008, which stipulated that the troops must be gone by Dec. 31.

But commanders decided there was no need to keep troops in Iraq through the Christmas holidays given that talks on maintaining a U.S. presence beyond the deadline had failed. The date of the final ceremony had been kept secret for weeks, so as not to give insurgents or militias an opportunity to stage attacks. -- Liz Sly and Craig Whitlock, Washington Post

To read more and to see accompanying video and slideshow, click here.

Disney’s World

Nearly 50 years after Walt Disney’s death, biographers and fans still debate if he was an anti-Semite. A better question might be why we still care.
Walt Disney
Tablet Magazine
Walt Disney was not a controversial figure during his lifetime. But after his death in 1966, historians began putting forth a variety of disquieting revelations about him: The animator and studio chief had testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, it turned out, and he may have been an FBI informant. He was allegedly interested in cryogenics. And he was reportedly prone to making anti-Semitic remarks. But subsequent biographers disagreed, sparking a long battle over Disney’s legacy.

Eric Molinsky worked in the animation industry, and has long wondered not only if the claims of Disney’s anti-Semitism are true but also why they remain a point of fascination and ridicule among cartoonists and others nearly a half-century after his death. For this week’s Vox Tablet, Molinsky, now a radio producer, spoke to an animation historian, a Disney-obsessed playwright, and a fairy-tale scholar in an effort to understand if Disney the man, or Disney’s world view, was truly bad for the Jews. --Tablet

To listen to the interviews, click here. [Running time: 10:37.]

Overnight Makeover for a Kosher First Kitchen

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, in suit, oversees a team,
including Tommy Kurpradit, second from left, the White House executive sous-chef,
in koshering the kitchen for a party. Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times
First, spritz the kitchen’s stainless steel counters with disinfectant. Scrub vigorously.

Next, wrap counters in tinfoil, tight, tight, tight.

Now stretch plastic wrap over the foil and seal with masking tape.

Then repeat for every surface that could possibly come into contact with food — yes, even the hanging pot rack.

And so began the fastidious frenzy to make the White House’s kitchen kosher last week, a nearly four-hour drill that started at 10 p.m. Wednesday. A deadline approached: a truckload of kosher food was due Thursday at 10 a.m.

The Obama administration’s holiday reception season was in full swing. Leftovers from a party earlier Wednesday evening had already been removed. -- Jan Hoffman, NY Times

To read more, click here.

In tiny Gibraltar, an outsized Jewish infrastructure

Members of Gibraltar's largely Sephardic,
largely Orthodox community pick up children
from the community's primary school,
which is seeing record enrollment.
Photo by Alex Weisler
Four synagogues, a mikvah, a kosher coffeehouse and separate boys and girls religious high schools.

Combined, they suggest a community far larger than just 750 Jews. But Gibraltar -- the tiny British overseas territory of 30,000 that sits at the foot of Spain and at the gateway to North Africa and the Mediterranean -- has spent centuries cultivating its individuality.

"We've got an infrastructure that could cope with a community of 2,000, and we've only got 700," said Mark Benady, a native Gibraltarian and vice president of the territory's Jewish community.

Gibraltar's largely Orthodox and Sephardic Jewish community has grown substantially in the past decade, increasing its rolls by 25 percent in just the last three years. The Jewish primary school now has a record 140 pupils and recently added a floor of modern classroom space with the help of government funding. Along the way, the community has become more religiously observant and, many say, more insular. -- Alex Weisler, JTA

To read more, click here.

Matisyahu Shaves Beard, Is No Longer Hasidic

Reggae star promises new ‘music of rebirth’

Self-portrait, post-shave.(@Matisyahu)
The famously observant Matisyahu (born Matthew Paul Miller) has shaved his beard and declared, both modestly and immodestly, “No more Hasidic reggae superstar.” -- Marc Tracy, Tablet

To read more, click here.

Reality TV chef goes kosher for Matisyahu

I had never heard of the reality TV cooking show "Chef Roble and Co." when a friend texted Sunday night and ordered me to turn on the Bravo channel. As my wife flipped through 400 cable channels trying to find Bravo for the first time, I quickly did a web search to figure out why my friend felt it was so urgent that I tune in.

What I found was Chef Roble Ali trying to prepare a meal for the Chasidic reggae singer Matisyahu and a few dozen of his guests before he left for several months on tour this summer. The episode was titled "Babysitter in the Kitchen," which referred to the mashgiach, or kosher supervisor, from the OK Kosher certification agency.

Chef Roble not only had to prepare strictly kosher meals for Matisyahu and his guests, but the menu also had to be Thai and vegan. And he had to please not only Matisyahu but his wife, Tahlia Miller, who doesn't appear to be as strictly vegan as her husband, and mother-in-law. -- Jason Miller, JTA

To read more and to see a short video featuring this segment, click here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Netanyahu, Peres deplore gender segregation

Israel's prime minister and president came out against efforts by some haredi Orthodox Jews to segregate women in public.

Civil liberties groups have complained about gender segregation in buses and public places frequented by haredim, and the shunning by some religious soldiers of female entertainment troupes in the conscript military.

Speaking Monday at a conference on human trafficking, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "The place of women in public spaces must be ensured and equal.

"The segregation of women clashes not just with the democratic principles that we know and cherish. It also clashes with Jewish tradition," he said.

At the same event, President Shimon Peres said that men should be free to avoid the company of women to whom they are not related, "But no man has the right to force a woman to sit in a place that he decides on." -- JTA

The Koshering of the White House

Photo by Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times
How far would you go to assure that your dinner guests could follow their dietary needs?

And when do you finally say, through gritted teeth: “Enough already! Would love you to join us, but maybe you should bring your own food. You’ll be much happier. And we’ll both be more relaxed.”

I’m not a vegan, but I’ve made vegan dishes for guests. Served nut-free Thanksgiving dinners because 2 guests among 25 have allergies. Cooked a dairy-free Sabbath dinner, using kosher chicken, for guests who keep kosher (my family does not). For a guest with celiac disease, I made a flourless chocolate cake, first buying a brand-new spring-form pan, then covering my counter with foil to avoid any possible contamination from a long-gone bagel.

But watching the distinctly non-Jewish White House kitchen turn itself upside down, wrap itself up, and scour, boil and disinfect itself for a one-time event was to witness a hosting effort of astonishing generosity and thoughtfulness. The point, of course, was so an unknown number of its 550 Hanukkah guests who keep kosher would believe they could eat according to their religious observance.

The courtesy started in 2005, at the request of Laura Bush. The Obamas have not only sustained the koshering of the White House kitchen for the Hanukkah party, but repeat it in May, for a reception during Jewish American Heritage month. -- Jan Hoffman, NY Times

To read more, click here.

Canada Announces Exit from Kyoto Climate Treaty

Canada said on Monday that it would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Under that accord, major industrialized nations agreed to meet targets for reducing emissions, but mandates were not imposed on developing countries like Brazil, China, India and South Africa. The United States never ratified the treaty.  -- Ian Austen, NY Times
To read more, click here.

Lowe's pulls advertising from TLC's 'All-American Muslim'

The Florida Family Association has been pushing advertisers to drop TLC's "All-American Muslim."
Lowe's has pulled its advertising from the reality TV show "All-American Muslim," which the retail store called a "lightning rod."

"All-American Muslim" is an eight-part series that follows five Muslim families living in Dearborn, Michigan.

"Lowe's has received a significant amount of communication on this program, from every perspective possible. Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lightning rod for many of those views. As a result we did pull our advertising on this program," the company said in a statement Saturday. -- CNN Wire

To read more, click here.

Israeli researchers develop substance that attacks antibiotic-resistant germs

Dr. Udi Qimron in his laboratory at Tel Aviv University.
Some 1,500 people died of antibiotic-resistant infections
in Israel in 2010.
Photo by Nir Kafri
Israeli researchers are laying the groundwork for a spray which they say will make it easier to get rid of the antibiotic-resistant germs that plague hospitals, here and around the world.

If used on a large scale, their method could change the nature of hospital-acquired infections "toward being more susceptible to antibiotics rather than more resistant," the researchers say in an article in this month's issue of Applied and Environment Microbiology, a journal published by the American Society for Microbiology.
 -- Dan Even, Haaretz

To read more, click here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Canadian MDs make a house call to Israel

The ViRobe developed by Prof. Moshe Shoham
is a one-millimeter robot
that can deliver chemotherapy directly to cancer cells.
A group of Canadian physicians recently got a first-hand glimpse of the medical breakthroughs coming out of Israeli universities, medical schools and startups.

Amir Amedi's "virtual cane" for the blind, Hossam Haick's NaNose for diagnosing disease from breath samples, Moshe Shoham's ViRobe robot that delivers cancer meds directly to tumors, Jacob Barak's device to prevent blood clots without drugs - these and many more inventions were explored during the Medical Breakthroughs Tour for Doctors organized by Keshet: The Center for Educational Tourism in Israel, sponsor of ISRAEL21c's Travel Channel.

"The theme of our tour is technological innovations, and we've seen ‘better' cars -- electric vehicles -- that in a way are a metaphor for the kind of innovation that Israel is doing in biotechnology," says Dr. John Mail, a family practitioner. -- Abigail Klein Leichman, Israel21c

To read more, click here.

Growth in Gaza's economy

The GDP in the Gaza Strip has increased more than 30% compared to last year, and the unemployment rate is the lowest recorded in the past 10 years.  

As a result of Israel's civil policy that distinguishes between the civilian population and the terror organization Hamas, the GDP in the Gaza Strip has increased more than 30% compared to last year, and the unemployment rate is the lowest recorded in the past 10 years.


During the first nine months of 2011, an average of 4,497 truckloads entered the Gaza Strip per month - an increase of 96% compared to 2010. -- Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) via Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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Israel Air Force deploys bird radar to reduce airborne collisions

Radar is the fulfillment of a 20-year-old recommendation, following the death of three pilots and the loss of 10 fighter jets in a series of accidents.
Migrating birds making their way through Israeli skies.
Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
The Israel Air Force recently placed a specially equipped radar on the northern border in the hopes of heading off collisions between jets and flocks of birds. While safety is the main concern, the radars will also provide bird watchers with gaggles of information.

Hundreds of millions of birds fly through Israeli skies every year, especially in the north, and the radar, a cooperation of the Air Force, Tel Aviv University and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel will be able to follow, study, and immediately report the nature and size of flocks approaching Israeli borders. -- Eli Ashkenazi,  Haaretz

To read more, click here.

Mysterious Jerusalem carvings leaves Israeli archaeologists baffled

Three 'V' shapes carved into ancient bedrock uncovered in City of David dig, a politically sensitive excavation conducted by Israeli government.
Marks carved in the bedrock over 2,800 years ago, are seen in an archeological excavation
in the city of David near Jerusalem's Old City, Dec. 1, 2011.
Photo by AP
Mysterious stone carvings made thousands of years ago and recently uncovered in an excavation underneath Jerusalem have archaeologists stumped.

Israeli diggers who uncovered a complex of rooms carved into the bedrock in the oldest section of the city recently found the markings: Three "V'' shapes cut next to each other into the limestone floor of one of the rooms, about 2 inches (5 centimeters) deep and 50 centimeters long. There were no finds to offer any clues pointing to the identity of who made them or what purpose they served.  -- Associated Press via Haaretz

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Desalination plant could make Israel water exporter

Israel's national water company signed a financing agreement to build a desalination plant, which officials said could allow drought-ridden Israel to export water to its neighbors upon completion in 2013. -- Ari Rabinovitch, Reuters

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Holiday of Holidays Festival celebrated in Haifa

The 18th Holiday of Holidays Festival multicultural event marks
Hannukah, Eid Al-Adha and Christmas in interfaith harmony.
It's a happening that brings tens of thousands of happy people to the streets of Haifa every December. Now in its 18th year, the Holiday of Holidays Festival is once again filling the Jewish-Arab mixed Wadi Nisnas neighborhood with good cheer, musical concerts, art exhibits, delicious bites and, most importantly, a feeling of togetherness.

It's actually a combination of holidays of the three main monotheistic religions: Hannukah, Eid Al-Adha and Christmas celebrated in interfaith harmony every Thursday through Saturday in December. "We honor everyone who lives here," says Asaf Ron, CEO of the Beit Hagefen Arab Jewish Center, which organizes the event. "The festival is very important for dialogue, community activity, neighborliness and tolerance." -- Sarah Carnvek, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

To read more, click here.

Opinion: The Ghosts of Boyfriends Past

Mari Carmen Aponte
New unnerving development in Congress: Some senators are claiming that a woman nominated to be ambassador to El Salvador can’t have the job because they don’t like a boyfriend she lived with almost 20 years ago.

These days, it’s hard enough to get kids to understand the possible future employment consequences of appearing naked on Facebook. If they hear about this one, they’ll give up entirely.

The debate involves Mari Carmen Aponte, who has been functioning as ambassador under a recess appointment by President Obama that runs out soon. The Democrats plan to make a last-ditch attempt to approve the nomination, but the Senate Republicans seem determined to block it. -- Gail Collins, NY Times

To read more, click here.

Klezmer Music’s Revival Still Going — 25 Years On

From left: Frank London, Matt Darriau, Lisa Gutkin, Lorin Sklamberg, Paul Morrissett.
Photo by Joshua Kessler
On Dec. 19, as part of their 25th anniversary tour, the Klezmatics will perform at Walt Disney Concert Hall for a Chanukah concert featuring both their well-known and new repertoire. On the program are songs by the legendary folksinger Woody Guthrie — or, as he’s known in klezmer circles, American-Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt’s son-in-law….

Klezmer — from which the band took its name — is the joyous, expressive music of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe, a sound inspired by Bessarabian Romania, as well as the Roma (Gypsies), and is often played at weddings and other celebrations. Originally purely instrumental, Klezmer is a type of music long admired by people of all faiths and performed in Enlightenment-era European churches centuries before becoming the soundtrack to Yiddish life. Its appeal comes from its unique mix of the seemingly conflicting emotions — comic, plaintive, happy, sad, mournful — while also being transcendental and spiritual. It’s an infectious idiom that, like Yiddish itself, is forever being pronounced dead or dying, or dismissed as an artifact of a disappearing Jewish life that, nonetheless, persists in growing and reinventing itself.

The Klezmatics got their start in 1986, when Frank London, who had been playing jazz and rock ’n’ roll, placed an ad in the Village Voice looking to start a Klezmer band. Among the respondents was Lorin Sklamberg, a Los Angeles-born, classically trained musician who had a day job at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. As Sklamberg recounted recently, he worked on the same floor where the sound archives were located. -- Tom Teicholz, Jewish Journal

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Muslim charity leaders lose appeal in Hamas case

Photo by: REUTERS/Mohamed Al Hams/Handout

US federal appeals court upholds convictions of Holy Land Foundation leaders for funneling money and supplies to Hamas. -- Reuters via Jerusalem Post

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Report: Ryan Braun, baseball MVP, tests positive for performance-enhancing drugs

Ryan Braun

Ryan Braun, the first Jewish baseball player in more than five decades to win a Most Valuable Player award, reportedly has tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

The Associated Press cited an unnamed source who said the case was under appeal to an arbitrator under Major League Baseball’s drug program.

Braun is disputing the results. According to USA Today, he dismissed the reports as "BS."
-- JTA

To read more, click here.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The many hats of Mayim Bialik

Mayim Bialik will be hosting a fundraiser
for Rabbis for Human Rights of North America
honoring clergy members who have stood out for their devotion to justice.
Photo by Denise Herrick Borchert
Mayim Bialik’s career has gone through several phases since she burst onto the pop culture radar as the lead of the 1990s NBC-TV series “Blossom.”

After the show wrapped, she earned her doctorate in neuroscience at UCLA while marrying and becoming the mother to two sons. Now she has returned to the small screen as a regular on the CBS series “The Big Bang Theory.”

If the task of transitioning from child star to working adult actor wasn’t time consuming enough, she also blogs regularly at the Jewish parenting site Kveller. -- Dvora Meyers, JTA

To read more, click here.

Palestine rep finds closed doors

Doors sometimes close when the ambassador for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) comes calling on Capitol Hill.

Maen Rashid Areikat, the PLO’s lone representative to the United States, says he fights an uphill battle to keep foreign aid flowing from the U.S. That means going toe to toe with one of the most effective lobbying forces in the nation’s capital: a collection of Jewish-American advocacy groups, led by the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC.

In an interview with The Hill, Areikat said he can’t always get an audience with lawmakers to discuss Palestinian issues. Some congressional offices won’t even let him through the door.

“This is really unfortunate. … You have to talk to a party that is very, very crucial,” Areikat said. “The Israelis are talking to us. Why wouldn’t these members of Congress talk to us?” -- Kevin Bogardus, The Hill

To read more, click here.

Journalism the Arab World Is Not Used to

Israel is one of the few places in the Middle East where Arab journalists can still practice some form of real journalism without having to worry about their safety.

Over the past few years, several Arab media outlets have popped up in Israel, offering a type of journalism that the Arab world is not used to.

In Israel, they know, government "thugs" do not break the hands of cartoonists and photographers who dare to criticize the government. Nor does Israel arrest a journalist who post on Facebook a comment criticizing the president.

In Israel, a journalist has never been forced to go into hiding for reporting a story that the government did not like. But in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian journalists continue to be targeted by both Fatah and Hamas.  -- Khaled Abu Toameh, Hudson Institute

To read more, click here.

Israel challenges U.N. on Palestinian refugees

Israel questioned the use of the U.N. aid agency created exclusively for Palestinian refugees.

Addressing the United Nations in Geneva, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon argued Thursday [December 8] against the two-tier system whereby Arabs displaced by the fighting in British Mandatory Palestine around the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, and their descendants, are tended to by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, while other refugees must look collectively to the U.N High Commissioner for Refugees.

Israel has long argued that UNRWA perpetuates the conflict with the Palestinians, who insist on a "right of return" for their refugees to land now in Israel, whereas UNHCR has often worked to resettle its wards.

"While the UNHCR has found durable solutions for tens of millions of refugees, the agency created specifically for the Palestinian context, UNRWA, has found durable solutions for no one," Ayalon said at the conference, according to a transcript circulated by his office.

"This has meant that a peaceful solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians remains further away. This is morally and politically unacceptable."

Israel says Palestinian refugees should resettle in a future Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or elsewhere. Israelis also have called on the international community to give consideration to the hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab countries who were dispossessed during the 1948 war and were mostly taken in by Israel. -- JTA

Beastie Boys to join Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame

The Beastie Boys are to be inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.

The pioneering hip-hop group made up of Mike D (Michael Diamond), MCA (Adam Yauch) and Ad-Rock (Adam Horowitz) will join a Hall of Fame class of 2012 that includes the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Guns N Roses, according to the New York Daily News.

The Beastie Boys, creators of hits such as “Fight for Your Right (To Party),” "No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” and “Sabotoage,” have released 12 albums that have sold more than 40 million copies worldwide.

The ceremony will be held in April at the Hall of Fame in Cleveland. -- JTA