Thursday, February 27, 2020

Israel-Linked Computer Virus Used to Hack Hotels Hosting Iran Talks

( An Israel-linked computer virus was purportedly found on computers at three luxury European hotels that have hosted negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. According to the report in the Wall Street Journal, the Russian-based cyber-security firm Kaspersky Lab ZAO discovered the spyware virus after it had also been hacked itself. Kaspersky said that the spyware virus is an improved version of Duqu, a virus first identified in 2011 and is believed to be linked to Israeli intelligence gathering. While there remain many questions about how the virus can be used, researchers at Kaspersky said that it could have been used to “eavesdrop on conversations and steal electronic files by commandeering the hotel systems that connect to computers, phones, elevators and alarms, allowing them to turn them on and off at will to collect information,” the report said. US intelligence officials said that while the new virus “bore no overt links to Israel,” it borrowed heavily from the original Duqu virus and “could not have been created by anyone without access to the original Duqu source code.”

Birthright Names 500,000th Participant, Launches ‘Tel Aviv Urban Experience’

( The Taglit-Birthright Israel program, which takes Jews ages 18–26 on free 10-day trips to Israel, on Wednesday named its 500,000th participant.

During an event at Tel Aviv’s Wohl Amphitheater on Wednesday, Birthright’s founders, philanthropists Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman, met the milestone trip participant, 24-year-old Molly Dodd of New Jersey. Dodd presented the founders with framed letters from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from 1998, in which he gave his blessing for Birthright to begin.

“I am thrilled to discover Israel for the first time through Taglit-Birthright Israel, and excited to continue exploring my Jewish roots,” Dodd said. “I am deeply moved to be the 500,000th participant of the most successful organization in the Jewish world. I feel honored to meet its founders and be able to show my gratitude and respect for the incredible impact they have had over the years.”

The event was part of Birthright’s first Tel Aviv Urban Experience—three days of programming dedicated to showcasing the modern city of Tel Aviv’s role in shaping modern Israeli society, as well as the city’s global influence in the high-tech, fashion, culinary and music fields.

The visitors toured Tel Aviv landmarks, enjoying a culinary lecture with renowned chef Gil Hovav, a dance lesson on the central Rothschild Boulevard, a concert by popular band Hadag Nachash at the Tel Aviv port and a falafel tasting.

Birthright expects to bring 45,000 trip participants to visit Israel this year, which marks the program’s 15th anniversary.

US to Send 400 More Troops to Iraq

( A new group of advisors will bring total US troops in Iraq to 3,500 with goal of retaking Ramadi from ISIS.

The United States is expected to announce plans for the deployment of around 400 additional US trainers to help Iraqi forces in the fight against Islamic State, a US official said.

The plan would expand the 3,100-strong US contingent of trainers and advisers in Iraq and would mark an adjustment in strategy for President Barack Obama, who is facing mounting criticism for not being tougher in combating Islamic State.

US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed hope that even a modestly strengthened US presence could help Iraqi forces plan and carry out a counter-attack to retake Anbar’s capital, Ramadi, which insurgents seized last month.

However, Obama was expected to stick to his stance against sending US troops into combat or even close to the front lines, officials said. Obama said on Monday that the United States did not yet have a complete strategy for training Iraqi security forces to regain land lost to Islamic State fighters, who have seized a third of Iraq over the past year in a campaign marked by mass killings and beheadings.

The fall of Ramadi last month drew harsh US criticism of the weak Iraqi military performance and Washington has begun to speed up supplies of weapons to the government forces and examine ways to improve the training program.The expected troop announcement was unlikely to silence Obama’s critics, who say the modest contingent of US forces is far from enough to turn the tide of battle.

The US deployment would likely entail around 400 trainers, one US official said, adding an announcement was expected on Wednesday. Two other officials also confirmed an expected troop increase of hundreds of troops.

Spanish Parliament Approves Law Granting Citizenship to Sephardic Jews

( Spain’s Chamber of Deputies on Thursday approved a law aimed at granting citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jews who were expelled during the Spanish Inquisition.

On the floor of the parliament, Spanish Minister of Justice Rafael Catala and Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo both declared that the historic decision is “repairing a 500-year injustice,” El Pais reported.

According to the law, the applicants would first need to prove their Sephardic background through either their local Jewish community or a direct family link. Authorities may also accept applicants with a Sephardic surname or the ability to speak Ladino, the Spanish-Hebrew hybrid language. Next, the applicants would need to show a special connection to Spain such as speaking Spanish, in addition to taking a basic test about the country.

The law is scheduled to take effect in October. Sephardic Jewish descendants in countries such as Venezuela and Turkey, who have faced rising levels of anti-Semitism and persecution in recent years, are seen as among those who are likely to apply for Spanish citizenship.

In a statement, the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain (FCJE) said the law began a “new stage in the history of the relationship between Spain and the Jewish world; a new period of encounter, dialogue, and harmony.”

“Contrary to what one might think, the descendants of those expelled have not harbored feelings of hatred or resentment but rather the contrary, they cultivated a deep love for the land they were from and intense loyalty to tradition and language received of their elders,” FCJE added.

Bon Jovi Signs Contract to Perform in Israel

( The American rock band Bon Jovi signed a contract in Germany that officially commits it to perform in Israel on Oct. 3, the concert’s producers announced at a press conference. The move marks the latest defeat for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement activists seeking to convince musicians not to perform in the Jewish state.

Bon Jovi’s performance in Israel for the final show of its Asian concert tour is the result of an effort by Guy Besser and Shay Mor Yosef of BlueStone Productions, in cooperation with promoter Marcel Avram, according to Yedioth Ahronoth.

Additionally, though a final contract has not yet been signed, hip-hop artist Pharrell Williams—most recently known for his hit song “Happy”—is scheduled to perform at Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park in September.

Israel to Hold Annual Ceremony Honoring the Fallen of Operation Protective Edge

(Israel Hayom/Exclusive to Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Thursday adopted a recommendation from the Public Council for Commemorating Soldiers and decided to hold an official annual ceremony honoring the 67 IDF soldiers who were killed in Operation Protective Edge in Gaza last summer.

The defense minister made the decision on the basis of requests made by bereaved families of fallen soldiers. IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot supported the decision.

The first annual ceremony, scheduled for July 9, will be held at the military cemetery at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. Ya’alon and the entire top echelon of the IDF are expected to attend.

The ceremony will be classified as official, but will not be a state ceremony, as Operation Protective Edge has not been officially labeled a war—instead, an operation. Should the Defense Ministry change its classification, a state ceremony would be possible.

US Jews Feel More Warmly About Netanyahu Than Obama, Poll Finds

(Israel Hayom/Exclusive to American Jews feel more warm about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than US President Barack Obama, a new poll says.

In the poll, commissioned by the left-wing J Street lobby, respondents were asked to quantify their feelings about the two leaders on a scale of 1–100, “with 100 meaning a very warm, favorable feeling; 0 meaning a very cold, unfavorable feeling.” Netanyahu’s rating was 56 and Obama scored 49. Former secretary of state and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton got a 49 and Jeb Bush, the former Republican governor of Florida who is expected to launch a presidential bid, received a 28.

Jews feel closer to the Democratic Party—which received a rating of 49—than to the GOP, which got a 29, according to the poll.

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