Globe Briefs September 23

Globe Briefs September 23

British gov’t minister warns municipal councils considering Israel boycott

A British Cabinet minister threatened to take investment decisions away from municipal councils if they choose to boycott Israel.

The office of Sajid Javid, Britain’s secretary for communities, issued the warning this week in a statement following a similar warning he made earlier in the week at a meeting with Jewish religious leaders at the Chief Rabbi’s Conference, The Jewish News of London reported on Sept. 14.

Amid growing recognition that unions are urging a boycott of Israel, the government has issued new guidance aimed at preventing local authorities deciding against purchases from companies or countries on ideological grounds.

Any council found flouting the new rules “could face action, including the possibility of having power over these investment decisions taken away, with central government stepping in instead,” Javid’s office said.

During the meeting with Jewish leaders, the minister, who was business secretary under former Prime Minister David Cameron, said: “Wildcat boycotts and sanctions have no place in these crucial [investment] decisions, and I will not hesitate to act if any council decides to introduce restrictions that are not in line with U.K. foreign and defense policy.”

In February, the government announced that municipal councils, public bodies and student unions must refrain from boycotting Israeli goods — a move that Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said was “an attack on local democracy.”

Unions have long supported a boycott of Israel. The largest, UNISON, first voted to do in June 2007. Since then, several councils have voted to boycott, including two in Wales, four in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland, but legal challenges have reversed many of the decisions.

Companies to have been targeted include security contractor G4S, technology giant Hewlett Packard and Eden Springs, which provides water coolers and coffee machines.

Portuguese city unveils 16th-century Torah used by crypto-Jews

A small city in northeast Portugal unveiled for the first time a 400-year-old Torah scroll that a local contractor had found 10 years ago at a demolition site and kept wrapped up in linen.

The ancient scroll, written on parchment, was put on display in Covilha City Hall on Sept. 16, Portugal’s Diario de Noticias reported. Measuring 98 feet in length and 2 feet in width, the Torah scroll is believed to have been used in secret during the Portuguese Inquisition by crypto-Jews, or so-called New Christians.

The scroll, which is in excellent condition even after centuries of storage in less than ideal conditions, will be taken for preservative storage at the end of the month, the paper reported.

It was discovered during a demolition carried out in 2006, according to the daily. A local contractor, who was not named, was intrigued by the scroll and took it from the site. He kept it rolled up in a bed sheet at his home until earlier this year, when he mentioned it to archaeologists working on a different project, who offered to help him figure out what the object was.

Portugal once had a Jewish population of hundreds of thousands before 1536, when the country initiated its version of the Inquisition — a campaign of persecution led by the Catholic Church and local rulers against non-Christians, who fled the Iberian peninsula en masse or stayed after converting to Christianity under duress.

Whereas many of the Jews who fled tried to take certain religious artifacts with them, including Torah scrolls, others hid them before leaving in the hope of retrieving them one day. Others still converted but kept using the artifacts to practice their faith secretly. In some parts of Portugal, this meant risking dispossession, torture and even death. But in other areas, and especially where converted Jews had a major role in trade, local authorities and the church turned a blind eye to Jewish worship, which survived for decades before eventually dying out.

Carlos Madaleno, the coordinator of municipal museums in Covilha, told Diario de Noticias that the old Jewish quarters of the city was no longer in existence when the scroll was used. He said it was likely the possession of forced converts to Christianity who kept the scroll in secret.

“This Torah was found adjacent to a church that was frequented by New Christians, and was built in the 16th century,” he said.

In the town of Trancoso near Covilha, the stone walls of many houses feature well-preserved incisions made after the Portuguese Inquisition. The marks include Hebrew letters that when read inversely spell “Horror” or flattened door frame panels marking the absence of a mezuzah.

N.Y. City Council approves anti-BDS resolution

The New York City Council approved a nonbinding resolution to condemn the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

The resolution, which passed on Sept. 14 in a 40-4 vote with six abstentions, condemns “all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and the global movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction the people of Israel.”

At a hearing the week before on the resolution, dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters were ejected from City Hall.

Council members who voted against the resolution or abstained cited First Amendment rights, the Jewish Insider reported.

Some council members who voted for the resolution also expressed opposition to Israel’s settlement activity.

In June, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order against BDS hours before the start of New York City’s annual Celebrate Israel Parade. The order requires state agencies to divest themselves of companies and organizations aligned with the BDS movement.