Tag Archives: Israel

Op-ed: Showing support for Israel

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com


I chose to be in Israel for the first week of the Congressional recess period because I believe it’s important to support Israel in the U.S.; and I also believe it’s critical to support Israel from Israel.

During my weeklong trip, what shocked me the most was the complete disconnect that the media and the rest of the world has when it comes to the reality that Israel endures. From the first day when I arrived at Ben Gurion Airport and there was an air raid in Tel Aviv, to my last day when Hamas launched rockets seconds after a cease-fire expired, it was painfully clear to me that Israel has to battle terrorists, and that the U.S. has to lead the battle against the double standard the world places on Israel.

In Congress, I have led that fight. Just a few weeks ago, the House unanimously passed a resolution I introduced with Republican Tom Cole that expressed support for the State of Israel’s responsibility to defend itself against unprovoked rocket attacks from Hamas. The resolution passed with more than 160 bipartisan cosponsors. Shortly thereafter, I led 106 of my colleagues in a bipartisan letter to the United Nations to condemn Hamas’ use of civilians as human shields, which is a direct violation of international law. My trip validated the importance of these steps.

On my second day in Israel, between 7:55 and 8:00 a.m., Hamas launched a barrage of 25 rockets before a 72-hour cease-fire took hold. Throughout the next three days, I detected a collective holding of breaths in Israel. It was a sigh of relief tempered by the reality that every cease-fire up to then had been rejected or violated by one side: Hamas.

The world seems to have forgotten that.

During briefings, I was reminded that Hamas embeds its weapons in homes, mosques and hospitals. Its military commanders remain underground while cowardly forcing civilians to act as their human shields. Naftali Bennett, Israel’s minister of economy, described it best: “One side uses its soldiers to protect civilians while the other side uses civilians to protect soldiers.”

The world seems to have forgotten that.

In a meeting with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, he wondered aloud how many lives would have been saved had Hamas agreed to a cease-fire that Israel supported in the first days of the conflict.

The world seems to have forgotten that.

I visited the Ziv medical center, 19 miles from the Syrian border. It admits Syrians for advanced medical treatment without asking whose side they are on. These civilians come to the border, receive initial care at an Israeli Army Field Hospital, and then are transported to Ziv. They receive free, state-of-the-art care, including prosthetics. They may have spent their entire lives hating Israel; now their lives are being saved by Israel.

The world seems to have forgotten that.

One evening I met with four major Israeli entrepreneurs on a panel discussion about Israeli innovation. One speaker paused when he heard a sound. “Is that an air raid?” he asked. Another panelist responded, “No, it was just the wind.” I remember putting my children to bed when they were young. When they heard something troubling I’d calm them by saying it was just the wind. Israel is an entire nation forced to question whether the wind is an air raid alerting them to yet another unprovoked missile.

The world seems to have forgotten that.

I saw this disconnect rather painfully. During my visit, I tweeted my observations. I received a tsunami of the most virulent and disgusting responses imaginable. I was called a child-killer and a supporter of genocide. I was accused of being a traitor to my country and advised to run for a seat in the Knesset. When I asked my critics why they were silent during the deaths of 165,000 civilians in that civil war but outraged at the current events in Gaza I was told I was filthy and inhumane.

Sometimes we take U.S. support for Israel for granted. But the conflict in Gaza has unmasked the giant bias of much of the media and the raw hatred that many in the world continue to have toward Israel as a Jewish state. Until the people of Israel can distinguish between the wind and an air raid warning, I will continue my leadership unabashedly and unequivocally.

Because there is much the world must never forget.



Op-ed: Solidarity and generosity within Jewish community

| oped@queenscourier.com


In early June three Israeli teenagers were abducted from Gush Etzion never to be seen alive again. Their brutal murders, the incessant rocket attacks by Hamas that followed and the discovery of the underground tunnels from Gaza into Israel have proved once again that terrorism is alive and well. Fortunately, the IDF says the “terror tunnels” have been destroyed and any pending attack on Israel via them in the near future has hopefully been mitigated. Sadly, 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians made the ultimate sacrifice during Operation Protective Edge in order to protect the democratic liberties Israelis and free people everywhere enjoy. It is unfortunate that as a result of the war many civilians in Gaza lost their lives.

June, July and early August have been extremely difficult for the land and people of Israel. Each day, four million men, women and children experienced some form of attack as over 3,200 rockets were fired at them from Gaza. Thankfully, Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket system worked well and brought down many of the missiles, saving many lives in the process.

These past months have nevertheless seen inspiring moments as the global Jewish community has come together like at no other time that I can remember. Jews have displayed wonderful solidarity and generosity for their Israeli brothers and sisters, serving to reinforce the bonds such unity can produce when we realize that what happens in Israel happens to all of us.

I could not be more proud of our donors who showed deep compassion and empathy for our extended Israeli family. We sent out emails, made phone calls, had phone-a-thons, held conference calls with Israeli leaders, took 50 Americans on a solidarity mission to Israel, including members of Jewish National Fund’s future leadership, and asked for monetary support — and JNF donors delivered on every count. Our emergency campaign raised over $4 million dollars and helped to make life safer, calmer and a little bit easier for those under attack.

During the crisis I was on the phone with our partners on the ground in Israel to determine what the needs were and how we could aid. And help we did: we delivered mobile bomb shelters to Israeli communities on the border with Gaza, like Halutza, so families could have a safe place to go when rockets struck; coordinated programs and events for children and families in shelters; kept the JNF Indoor Recreation Center in Sderot open 24/7 to accommodate the daily needs of 1,800 people who needed a safe place to relax and play; brought hundreds of people each day to the northern parts of Israel — the beautiful Galilee — and out of harm’s way; delivered packages to Israeli soldiers; and made sure that the health and well-being of individuals with special needs was well maintained.

What we do at JNF in time of war is very similar to what we do every day. We are not an emergency 911-agency. We have been and always will be the boots on the ground, the organization that builds a better future for the land and people of Israel. It is why we were able to respond to the crisis so quickly and effectively. We did not have to find the people who needed bomb shelters. We knew them. We did not have to find the children who needed respite. They are our children, our extended family. We were part of their lives yesterday and we will be there alongside them tomorrow.

We have a bold vision for Israel’s future and have taken on the challenge to make it a reality.

We take the impossible and make it possible. We are JNF, Your Voice in Israel.



FAA prohibits flights to Israel airport for 24 hours

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

Follow @liamlaguerre

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) told U.S. carriers on Tuesday not to fly to or from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, following a rocket strike that landed just one mile from the airport.

The prohibition, which applies to U.S. carriers and does not include foreign operators, ends at 12:15 p.m. on Wednesday.

United Airlines, US Airways and Delta reportedly suspended flights to Tel Aviv. Delta had a Tel Aviv-bound Boeing 747 from JFK carrying 290 people in the air Tuesday afternoon, but rerouted it to Paris.

The notice came at a time when airlines are more sensitive flying over troubled areas, after 298 people were killed when a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was downed over Ukraine last week.

Israelis have been fighting Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip since July 8, and the strike was the closest to the airport since the fighting began, according to the New York Daily News.

However, Israel’s Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said on Tuesday that the flight cancellations should be reversed, because it gave a victory to terrorism, according to published reports. A local leader agreed.

“I understand the safety concerns of the airlines,” said Rabbi Yossi Blesofsky of Chabad of Northeast Queens in Bayside.  “Essentially this is what the terrorists want. They want to isolate Israel and create disruptions to people’s normal lives.”

The FAA said it will continue to monitor the situation and will update the airlines with further instructions.



Op-ed: From a lifetime of war to a final search for peace

| oped@queenscourier.com


On Jan.11, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon passed away at the age of 85.

Although he could be a polarizing political figure and his policies have had many critics, I found Henry Kissinger’s remembrance of Sharon in the Jan.13 issue of The Washington Post to be an accurate and fair representation of Sharon’s legacy.

Kissinger described him as a fierce warrior. From a young age, Sharon was made famous by his talent for an unfortunate fact of Israeli life—war. He is credited for commanding the battle that turned the tide of the 1973 war, earning a reputation as a hawk.

But like many of his peers, Sharon came to understand that the best way for Israel to become a secure state was to work toward establishing a lasting peace.

In 2002, I was invited by the Israeli government to join Jewish legislators from around the world in Israel for the Sixth International Conference of Jewish Ministers and Members of Parliament. The conference included 55 legislators from 23 different countries and I was asked to serve on a panel on education.

We met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in his office on January 8, 2002. I took extensive notes during my week in Israel. Describing Sharon, I wrote:

“He is a jovial, grandfatherly general who spent 28 years in the army. Mr. Sharon spent about 45 minutes talking about the millions of people who came to Israel to build the country with a plow in one hand and a sword in the other. He told us that he grew up on a farm and is looking forward to spending more time riding his horses and that his only ambition is to bring security and peace to the people of Israel. As one who has seen the horror of war, he understands, more than many politicians, the importance of peace. He described his beloved nation as one consisting of people from 102 countries speaking 82 languages. I was thinking that Flushing is still more diverse.”

Several years later in 2005, Sharon presided over the withdrawal of Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip, an operation that was hailed by leaders worldwide as a remarkable act of diplomacy.

As I reflect on his life, I find myself admiring Sharon not only for his political and military prowess, but also for his unwavering dedication to serving his people. I mourn along with the people of Israel the passing of leader whose life and work shaped a nation, a region, and the world and hope that his great ambition for peace can soon be realized.

 Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, the first woman from Queens County elected to the State Senate and the first woman to Chair the Senate Committee on Higher Education, represents District 16.



Queens’ Morning Roundup

| ctumola@queenscourier.com


Wednesday: Clear. High of 41. Breezy. Winds from the West at 15 to 20 mph with gusts to 30 mph. Wednesday night: Partly cloudy with a chance of snow after midnight. Low of 32. Winds from the NW at 5 to 10 mph.

EVENT OF THE DAY: Venus & Mona at the Chain Theatre

Venus & Mona are twins. Two young, strong, hard-edged women that are trapped on the roof of their mother’s double-wide mobile home. Their mother is at death’s door but the sisters can’t help but continue to wage war on one another.  Meanwhile a demon circles the doublewide waiting for one of the combatants to slip and fall in his clutches. Part fantasy/part cruel reality and inspired by the writing of American mythologist Joseph Campbell; Venus and Mona asks questions about the war we wage with ourselves and each other, and when and if we ever figure out when it’s time to grow up.  Click here for more info or to submit an event of your own

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall asks city to spare senior and kids in budget cuts

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall is asking the city to restore millions of dollars in proposed budget cuts that will devastate programs serving children and seniors in the borough. Read more: New York Daily News

Bodegas fuming over Mike cig-display ban

Butt out, Mayor Bloomberg! The head of the 14,000-member Bodega Association of the United States vowed to launch a campaign to kill Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to ban the display of tobacco products in retail stores. Read more: New York Post

City closes Queens stables temporarily after six horses die over six months

A popular urban stable in Queens is being temporarily shuttered after city officials said an “alarming” number of horses died at the site, the Daily News has learned. Read more: New York Daily News

Lawmakers reach deal for NYPD inspector general

A newly proposed watchdog that would monitor the New York Police Department likely will set the stage for a showdown between city lawmakers, who have pushed for such oversight, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose administration says it is unnecessary. Read more: ABC New York/AP

‘Jeopardy!’ devotes entire category to Queens

If you live in a certain outer borough, you might have felt an extra sense of pride Tuesday night. Read more: CBS New York

‘Bowled’ over by $2M sale

A New York family scored a huge payday when this small bowl, which they bought at a garage sale for $3, turned out to be a 1,000-year old Chinese piece that sold for $2.2 million at Sotheby’s yesterday. The family bought the rare bowl at the secondhand sale in 2007, and kept it sitting on their mantle for years, the auction house said. Read more: New York Post

Barack Obama in Israel for first trip as president

President Barack Obama is opening his first trip to Israel since taking office. Read more: ABC New York/AP

Cease-fire announced in Gaza conflict

| brennison@queenscourier.com

A cease-fire agreement was reached in Gaza bringing the week-long battle to an end, Egypt’s foreign minister announced.  The truce will take effect at 2 p.m.

Mohammed Kamel Amr made the announcement at a press conference with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Cairo.  Clinton had traveled to the Middle East yesterday to with all involved parties.

More than 100 people have died with hundreds more injured during the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

Several city politicians have come out in support of Israel since the conflict flared up again recently.

“This cowardly attack on innocent civilians makes abundantly clear who the true aggressors in this conflict are,” Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said in a statement today. “The return of terrorist bombings to the streets of Tel Aviv is an assault on our values and our own security interests.”

Area elected officials also gathered with the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and the Consulate General of Israel in Manhattan yesterday in a show of support.

Op-Ed: It’s time we called a spade a spade

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

BaySide Chabod Dinner Dance 3/19/06


It is happening all over again.

Hamas-controlled Gaza has been showering Israel with rockets consistently for months without letup.

Israel finally responds with a surgical strike aimed at taking out a Hamas military leader, whose absence will hopefully stay the violence. Hamas responds by intensifying their attacks – this time aimed at population centers such as Tel Aviv, areas that had never experienced this kind of terror.

Rafael (Israel’s very own advanced defense systems company) created the “Iron Dome,” which allows Israel to intercept and destroy 90 percent of rockets launched at it. As we speak, Israel is responding with more surgical strikes attempting with all their power to cripple Hamas’ military capability to attack Israel. A ground invasion of Gaza is on the table, and Israel will decide which way to go.

I have always been a proponent of dialogue and discussion. I believe that people of good faith can come together and resolve even the most complicated issues. However, this is all predicated on the parties involved being honest and forthcoming with their intentions. The facts and realities must be clear to all. Only then, can there be any hope of a common understanding. As long as the facts and truths of what is happening are fuzzied, there is no hope of dealing with, and fixing the problem.

Unfortunately, there are those in the mainstream media who insist on portraying this conflict as the Israelis against the Palestinians. Israel is portrayed as a mighty nation with a mighty army, and the Palestinians are portrayed as mostly poor and innocent civilians who are being brutalized by Israel.

That is categorically a blatant lie and distortion of reality.

This is a conflict where on one side you have a sovereign nation that has gone way beyond the call in attempting any which way possible to secure some kind of peace in the Middle East. On the other side you have Hamas, a group classified by the U.S. and EU as being a terrorist organization. Their agenda is simple – to destroy Israel.

Hamas is the greatest enemy of the Palestinians because they refuse under any circumstances to consider peace with the Jewish State, thus allowing for a peaceful coexistence.

They heartlessly set up their rocket launchers right next to playgrounds and hospitals, knowing that the Israeli counter attack will hurt their own people. It is shocking beyond words how they are brutalizing the very people they claim to represent and defend!

Just imagine if G-d forbid Mexico started shooting rockets into California and Arizona. What would the U.S. do? How would we respond? After 9/11, we went half way around the world to punish those who attacked us. I think everyone knows exactly what the U.S. would do if attacked by their neighbor and it isn’t pretty.

It is crucial that the media and the world at large recognize the truth of this crisis. This is not about the Israelis and Palestinians. Israel has always been ready to sit and talk and try to work things out. This is about a dastardly and cowardly terrorist group bringing havoc to an already unstable area and denying its own people the chance of a lasting peace with their neighbor.

In the words of Colonel Richard Kemp a top British military commander, “The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) did more to safeguard civilians than any army in the history of warfare.”

Israel does everything within its power to focus only on military targets in Gaza.

I believe that once the reality of the situation becomes crystal clear to all observers, and once the world at large, recognizes who wants peace and who is obstructing peace, that will be the first step in procuring a lasting stability and hopefully peace in the region.

Rabbi Yossi Blesofsky is the director of the Chabad of Northeast Queens

Queens Morning Roundup

| brennison@queenscourier.com


Friday: Rain and possibly a thunderstorm before noon, then showers and possibly a thunderstorm, mainly after noon. Some of the storms could produce gusty winds and heavy rain. High near 74. Breezy, with a southeast wind 14 to 20 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New rainfall amounts between 1 and 2 inches possible. Friday night: Scattered showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 60. West wind 8 to 10 mph becoming northwest after midnight. Chance of precipitation is 40%.

EVENT of the DAY: Ella Fitzgerald

A musical that reflects on the life and songs of the legendary jazz/pop vocalist Ella Fitzgerald at Queens Theatre. Click here for more info or to submit an event of your own

Serial arsonist, who set 13 fires in Queens, arrested

A serial arsonist has been arrested and confessed to setting 13 fires in Flushing, including a three-alarm inferno that injured 19 firefighters and two civilians in August, fire officials said. Thien K. Dinh, 43, of the Bronx, was arraigned in Queens on September 15 and charged with starting a series of fires within a three-week span across Flushing and Murray Hill from August 20 to September 13, according to the district attorney’s office. Read more: Queens Courier

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls on world to block Iran’s nuclear ambitions

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invoked the Holocaust in an impassioned call Thursday for Iran to curtail its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Netanyahu, warning that Iran could produce a functional nuclear weapon by summer 2013, urged world leaders to impose strict limits on the program’s expansion. Read more: Daily News

Bronx teen admitted he shot mother in sleep, beat her with bat: court records

A cold-blooded Bronx teen admitted he shot his mother while she slept – then beat her with bat as she tried to rise, according to court records. Dee “Darwin” Jackson, 16, made the chilling admission to a police detective on Wednesday, just hours after the remains of his mom, Tihesha Savage, 34, were discovered in a dumpster across the street from the family’s home. Read more: NY Post

Garbage cans waste many parking spots on South Ozone Park streets

Some residents in South Ozone Park, Queens are using garbage cans to save parking in their neighborhood, and Department of Sanitation officials are now pledging to issue summonses if they see trash cans out on the street. Read more: NY1

World’s largest Ferris wheel coming to Staten Island

The Big Apple is getting another “biggest”: the world’s tallest Ferris wheel, part of an ambitious plan to draw New Yorkers and tourists alike to the city’s so-called “forgotten borough.” The 625-foot-tall, $230 million New York Wheel is to grace a spot in Staten Island overlooking the Statue of Liberty and the downtown Manhattan skyline, offering a singular view as it sweeps higher than other big wheels like the Singapore Flyer, the London Eye and a “High Roller” planned for Las Vegas. Read more: NBC NY

Congressmember Gary Ackerman won’t run for re-election

| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

US House of Reprenative Gary Ackerman

Following 15 terms in the House of Representatives, Congressmember Gary Ackerman has announced he will not run for re-election – providing an unanticipated conclusion to a 34-year political career.

Ackerman decided not to seek a 16th term despite the likelihood that his seat would be spared under the Congressional redistricting process. His announcement has reportedly baffled many of his Congressional colleagues, who assumed he would seek re-election with the primary-free backing of the Democratic Party virtually assured.

The 69-year-old Democrat, who was elected to Congress in 1983, currently represents the 5th District, which encompasses the North Shore of Queens and Long Island. His term of office will end on January 2, 2013.

“The residents of Queens and Long Island have honored me with their trust and support for the past 34 years, first as a New York State Senator, and for the past 15 terms as a member of Congress,” said Ackerman. “I’ve been truly privileged to have had the opportunity to fight for the beliefs of my neighbors in both the State Capital and in the halls of Congress. During my years in Congress, it has been my pleasure to address the needs of thousands of individual constituents and to influence domestic and global policy while serving on the Financial and Foreign Affairs Committees in the House. I am most thankful for the opportunity I’ve had to serve my country and my community.”

The congressmember went on to say he expects to continue to be aggressively and passionately involved with local and global issues related to his district. He most recently made headlines for arranging the release of Queens-native Ilan Grapel, who spent months in an Egyptian jail following allegations he was an Israeli spy.

Upon learning of his decision, Mayor Michael Bloomberg described Ackerman as a fearless global ambassador.

“When Gary Ackerman and I visited Israel at the start of Operation Cast Lead in January 2009, rocket alarms went off as we visited the police station in Sderot. As everyone scrambled into the bomb shelter, Gary was cool and collected, which is exactly how he went about business in Congress for more than three decades,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “The borough of Queens – and the people of Israel, Africa and so many other areas of the world – have rarely had a stronger ally in Congress, and our entire nation will miss Gary’s encyclopedic knowledge of foreign policy and so many other issues.”

Ackerman, who was first elected to public office in 1978 when he won a seat in the New York State Senate, is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and serves as the ranking member of its Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. He is also a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee.

Born in Brooklyn, Ackerman was raised in Flushing and is a graduate of Queens College.

Nations must work together to maintain peace

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

The recent story in the news regarding the possibility of Israel taking military action against Iran does not bode well for the international community.

If Israel chooses this course of action, it could have very dire consequences for the entire Middle East, and also the rest of the world.

While no one wants to see Iran become a nuclear armed nation, all non-military efforts need to be exerted to have Iran not build a nuclear arsenal. The United States, Russia, China, Great Britian and France need to work together, along with Israel, to diffuse this potentially dangerous situation. Israel certainly has a right to defend itself against possible attack, as do all nations.

We need to work together along with the United Nations to bring a nonmilitary resolution to this mounting crisis.


 John Amato

Fresh Meadows

Ilan Grapel arrives in Queens

| nkarimi@queenscourier.com

Ilan Grapel has arrived back in Queens, landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday, October 29 after months in an Egyptian jail following allegations he was an Israeli spy.

Grapel was released from jail on Thursday, October 27 and flown to Israel, where he was reunited with his mother Irene and Congressmember Gary Ackerman on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport. He then departed for the U.S. early Saturday morning.

He was released in exchange for 25 Egyptian prisoners, according to Ackerman’s office, after being accused of spying for Israel and spending more than four months behind bars in Egypt.

“Grapel’s attorney, Abbe Lowell really helped win the case along with Ackerman,” said Daniel Grapel, Ilan’s father.
Grapel, who holds joint U.S. and Israeli citizenship, was volunteering for a group aiding Sudanese refugees in Egypt, while staying at a youth hostel. According to reports, he was detained by police who saw him carrying a protest sign at a demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in June. Grapel was accused of being an officer of the Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence Service, despite records of entering the country with a legitimate passport.

Grapel graduated early from Johns Hopkins University, speaks fluent Arabic and Hebrew, served in Israel’s armed forces and had internships with Israel’s high court and in the Queens district office of Ackerman.

Queens’ Morning Roundup – 10/28/2011: Ilan Grapel released from Egyptian prison, arrives in Israel

| jlane@queenscourier.com

The Round Up

Ilan Grapel released from Egyptian prison, arrives in Israel

A smiling Queens man and Israeli citizen imprisoned for months in Egypt on unsubstantiated suspicions of spying embraced his tearful mother, Irene, who traveled to Israel from her New York home to meet her son on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion International Airport after his release. Read More: NBC News


8 year old groped in Queens

Police say they are looking for a man accused of groping an 8-year-old girl inside a New York City store. The girl was shopping with her mother at a Queens clothing store when she wandered off to a book display. Police say the man then passed by her several times and grabbed her buttocks. Read More: Wall Street Journal


Ex-TSA agents admit to stealing cash from JFK bag

Two former Transportation Security Administration officers based at John F. Kennedy Airport have admitted to stealing $40,000 in cash from a checked bag. 44-year-old Coumar Persad, of Queens, and 31-year-old Davon Webb, of the Bronx, pleaded guilty on Thursday to grand larceny, obstructing governmental administration and official misconduct. They each face six months in jail and five years’ probation at their Jan. 10 sentencing. Read More: Wall Street Journal

Aqueduct racino opens in Queens; Controversial gambling zone anticipates big crowd on first day

A ribbon-cutting celebrating the completion of the first phase of the controversial race track gaming mecca will be held at 11 a.m. – and the doors open to the public at 1p.m. Inside are 2,300 video slot machines – and 2,000 electronic table games like baccarat and roulette, which some critics say oversteps the state ban on full-fledged casinos. Read More: Daily News


Couple fears returning to the streets, but says landlord is trying to push them out of Corona apt.

A formerly homeless Queens couple may end up back in a shelter system they thought they had escaped – despite paying their rent on time even though their city housing subsidy expired. , 48, and Cynthia Sepulveda, 41, said their landlord CI House harassed them to move out of their studio at 38-01 112th St. in Corona. Their lease is up for renewal next month and the building is under renovations to become market-rate apartments after many of their fellow subsidy recipients moved out. Read More: Daily News

[UPDATE] Grapel arrives in Queens

| bdoda@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Nargas Karimi.

[UPDATE] Ilan Grapel has arrived back in Queens, landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday after months in an Egyptian jail following allegations he was an Israeli spy.


[UPDATE: Thursday, October 27] Ilan Grapel has arrived in Israel. Congressmember Ackerman, joined by Ilan’s mother Irene, met Grapel on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport. They will soon meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Details on his arrival back to New York will be announced as soon as they are confirmed.


[UPDATE] Congressmember Gary Ackerman has arrived in Israel to bring Ilan Grapel home. He is expected to be released tomorrow afternoon.

The date and time of their arrival in New York will be announced soon.

Ackerman, who had been assured by the highest levels in Israel that Grapel was not a spy, worked to secure his release by intervening with the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the Prime Minister of Israel and the U.S. State Department. The 27-year-old Grapel holds dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship.

The Prime Minister of Israel announced that Ilan Grapel, the Oakland Gardens native and law student arrested during the Egyptian uprisings in June, will be released in exchange for 25 Egyptian prisoners, according to Congressmember Gary Ackerman’s office.

Grapel, 27, had been a member of the Israeli military serving as a paratrooper and was injured in southern Lebanon in August 2006. After returning home, he attended Emory Law School in Georgia and traveled to Egypt as part of a project involving African refugees. Grapel arrived early in an effort to experience the country when he was arrested and accused of being an officer of the Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence Service, and inciting the firebombing of an Egyptian police station. He has been held for four months despite records of entering the country with a legitimate passport and posting pictures of himself on Facebook during the uprisings that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak.

“Ilan’s release is terrific news,” said Ackerman. “We cannot be more relieved and gratified that Ilan will finally be freed and that he will soon be reunited with his family.”

Grapel worked with Ackerman, the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, as in intern in the summer of 2002.

“Ilan is a wonderful young man who loves Egypt and the Egyptian culture. He’s a person deeply committed to the cause of humanity and bringing people together, and just found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Ackerman.

“I still reserve my emotional opinion because we have to wait until he actually crosses the line, before that nothing is 100 percent guaranteed until it actually happens,” said Daniel Grapel, Ilan’s father.

After negotiations, Grapel’s parents were able to meet with their son in Egypt for three hours just before Rosh Hashana.

“Physically he’s okay, but mentally it’s hard to say exactly,” said his father.

Reports say that Israel’s Security Cabinet unanimously approved the deal to exchange 25 prisoners for Grapel with the swap taking place on Thursday, October 27 under intense security. The prisoners are said to be non-militant offenders held on charges of illegally entering Israel in search of work, asylum or with contraband.

Egypt and Israel close to a deal for Queens resident

| bdoda@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Congressmember Gary Ackerman’s Office    Egyptian officials arrested Queens native Ilan Grapel in June and accused him of spying for the Israeli government.

An Oakland Gardens law student is close to a ticket home after being arrested on spy charges in Egypt during their uprisings this past summer.
As reported in The New York Times, Ilan Grapel, 27 – who has dual citizenship with the United States and Israel – would be exchanged for 80 Egyptians who had been arrested over the Israeli border on drug and other charges. The deal would be the second mass exchange after Israeli soldier, Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit, was swapped for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.
According to Congressmember Gary Ackerman, the timing of the proposed trade for Grapel is not contingent on the success of the Israeli-Palestinian exchange but “makes it conducive to try to move these things within the same general time frame.”
“I can tell you that he is not a spy,” said Ackerman, the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. “I’m doing everything I can on a daily basis to be sure he is being well treated and to convince the powers that be he is not a spy and to secure his release.”
Grapel had been a member of the Israeli military serving as a paratrooper and was injured in southern Lebanon in August 2006, according to reports. After returning home, he began attending Emory Law School in Georgia and travelled to Egypt as part of a project involving Sudanese refugees. He was arrested in June and accused of being an officer of the Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence Service, despite records of entering the country with a legitimate passport and posting pictures of himself on Facebook during the Egyptian uprisings that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak.
“We are grateful to the people that are holding him that he has not been mistreated,” said Ackerman, who once employed Grapel as an intern.
After being questioned whether or not Grapel’s family has had any contact with him, Ackerman took a long pause.
“I didn’t want to go this far. I was able to arrange for his parents to meet with him for what we thought was going to be an hour or so. It turned out to be three hours. We got them in and out of Cairo without notice [just before Rosh Hashana].”
While he would not say he was optimistic, Ackerman said he is “hopeful” that a deal will be made soon.

Queens’ Morning Roundup – 10/18/2011: Queens law student to be freed by Egypt

| jlane@queenscourier.com

The Round Up

1. Roosevelt Island eyed for new hi-tech Cornell & Stanford campus

Cornell and Stanford universities are looking for an area to create their new applied sciences and engineering campus. Officials for both Cornell and Stanford universities said they favored Roosevelt Island over the other two sites being considered for the new campus (Governors Island and Brooklyn Navy Yard). Read More: Daily News


2. Israeli citizen gets jail in NY tax case

Boris Michaelov, owner and operator of Lefferts Auto Sales in Elmhurst, will spend six months in jail for evading over $2 million in sales taxes. Michaelov agreed to make full restitution and pleaded guilty to first-degree attempted grand larceny. Read More: Wall Street Journal


3. Queens law student to be freed by Egypt

Ilan Grapel, an American law student from Queens who also has Israeli citizenship, was arrested in Egypt in June and charged with spying for Israel. Grapel was arrested in Egypt while working for a non-profit organization helping refugees. Egypt is holding Grapel until another prisoner exchange brokered between Hamas and Israel goes through. Read More: New York Times


4. Fire closes Lenny’s Pizzeria in Howard Beach

Flames engulfed a popular pizzeria in Howard Beach early Monday morning. Firefighters in Battalion 39 responded to the one-alarm fire at Lenny’s Pizzeria on 164-02 Cross Bay Boulevard before 8 a.m. on October 17. Fire officials reported damages throughout the store and to the front. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, no injuries have been reported. Read More: Queens Courier


5. Taste of Sunnyside 2 event starts today

The Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce and Sunnyside Shines Business Improvement District (BID) are joining forces to throw the 2nd Annual Taste of Sunnyside! This is the best way to sample all of the neighborhood restaurants at a minimal cost of $25 per person. Taste of Sunnyside 2 will be held at the Sunnyside Community Services ground floor Ballroom, 43-31 39th Street, just off Queens Boulevard. Read More: Taste of Sunnyside