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Consuls: Holocaust education vital amid rise of antisemitism

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Consuls: Holocaust education vital amid rise of antisemitism

Today marks 77 years since the liberation of the infamous concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau; we remember the horrors of the Holocaust. Israel and Germany are pledged never to forget. And so last week, on the 80th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference, we passed a joint resolution in the UN against Holocaust Denial. We stand united in our resolve to maintain effective remembrance policies and to promote Holocaust education. Moreover, we share the responsibility of educating about the causes, consequences and dynamics of hate crimes to strengthen young people’s resilience against ideologies of hatred.

As we are witnessing a concerning global rise of antisemitism, Holocaust denial, distortion and hateful discourses, this has never been more relevant.

Today we remember the victims and the survivors of the Holocaust. We will do everything to safeguard their memory to ensure “never again.” Germany and Israel know how closely antisemitism is linked with how the Holocaust is remembered. So it worries us that over the last 12 months, antisemitic incidents in New England have risen to historically high levels and ranged from physical assault to classroom incidents. According to the Anti-Defamation League, Massachusetts is sixth in the nation for the highest number of antisemitic incidents.

Forty Massachusetts municipalities have recorded at least one antisemitic incident including white supremacist propaganda, physical assault and vandalism of Jewish institutions ranging from K-12 schools to elderly care facilities. COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on society and, in some cases, even led to Jews being blamed and scapegoated for spreading the virus. Antisemitism was brought to life locally this past summer with the stabbing of Rabbi Shlomo Noginski by Khaled Awad on the steps of a Jewish school in Brighton. As public gatherings became less common, we saw an increase in antisemitic incidents of “Zoom bombing” by white supremacist hackers determined to disrupt school functions for Jewish students. These are only a few examples of antisemitism’s presence and modernization and assimilation into today’s society.

In 2016, the member countries of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance adopted a Working Definition of Antisemitism, which has been accepted and endorsed on both national and organizational levels, including the EU, the UN, Germany, the United States and Israel. During its IHRA Presidency, Germany initiated the Global Task Force against Holocaust Distortion. With the IHRA’s Working Definition of Holocaust denial and distortion, it developed resources like the #protectthefacts campaign, which support the fight against these phenomena.

As stated by Allan Bloom, “education is the movement from darkness to light.” Therefore, we welcome the recent Genocide Education Bill aptly signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker on Dec. 2 over Hanukkah — the Jewish holiday commemorating light and triumph over evil. This genocide education bill will see that children throughout the commonwealth are educated on the horrors of genocides throughout history. Holocaust education continues to be crucial, seeing as 63% of Gen Z individuals are shockingly unaware of the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

In Germany, Holocaust education is mandatory in secondary school education. It has been an essential component in its commitment to look honestly and critically at the darkest chapter of its history. Moreover, recently sworn into office, Germany’s new government has solidified Holocaust education as a cornerstone of its remembrance policies by including it in its coalition agreement.

In Israel, a project called eva.stories launched on Instagram to a global audience, bringing the Holocaust to life for the younger generation by filming and publishing Instagram stories based on the diary of Eva, a young girl who perished at Auschwitz. Her story and the Instagram account were used to enrich educational programming by teachers worldwide, and the project was commended by numerous world leaders.

On this day, when we remember the horrors of Auschwitz, we support ensuring that young individuals learn about the past to make certain history is not repeated. As Israel “Izzy” Arbeiter, a Holocaust survivor who recently passed away in Boston, stated, “We must bear witness to the young people. To tell them the truth. To tell them what happened. We must never forget, and we must never let them forget. They are the future of the world.”


Meron Reuben is consul general of Israel to New England; Nicole Menzenbach is consul general of Germany to New England.

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Ex-White House press secretary Jen Psaki hired by MSNBC

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Ex-White House press secretary Jen Psaki hired by MSNBC

By MARK KENNEDY

NEW YORK (AP) — Former White House press secretary Jen Psaki has officially landed at MSNBC, where she is expected to make appearances on the network’s cable and streaming programs as well as host a new original show.

The program, set to debut in the first quarter of 2023, will “bring together her unique perspective from behind the podium and her deep experience in the highest levels of government and presidential politics,” the network said in a statement Tuesday.

Psaki will also appear on NBC and during MSNBC’s primetime special election programming throughout the midterms and 2024 presidential election.

Psaki most recently served as White House spokesperson for the first 16 months of the Biden administration. She previously served as White House communications director under former President Barack Obama and as the spokeswoman for the Department of State.

“Her extensive experience in government and on the campaign trail and perspective as a White House and Washington insider is the type of analysis that sets MSNBC apart,” MSNBC President Rashida Jones said in a statement. “She’s a familiar face and trusted authority to MSNBC viewers, and we look forward to her insight during this consequential election season.”

At MSNBC, on-air personalities are mostly sympathetic to Biden and the Democrats. During Psaki’s White House tenure, Democrats saw her as a champion of their causes, while conservatives found her combative and standoffish.

MSNBC has also hired Symone Sanders, former chief spokeswoman for Vice President Kamala Harris. NBC News has taken pains to draw distinctions between its journalists and MSNBC, which has beefed up its opinion programming.

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Ukraine: 200 bodies found in basement in Mariupol’s ruins

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Ukraine: 200 bodies found in basement in Mariupol’s ruins

By ELENA BECATOROS, OLEKSANDR STASHEVSKYI and RICARDO MAZALAN

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Workers digging through the rubble of an apartment building in Mariupol found 200 bodies in the basement, Ukrainian authorities said Tuesday, as more horrors come to light in the ruined city that has seen some of the worst suffering of the 3-month-old war.

The bodies were decomposing and the stench hung over the neighborhood, said Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the mayor. He did not when they were discovered, but the sheer number of victims makes it one of the deadliest known attacks of the war.

Heavy fighting, meanwhile, continued in the Donbas, the eastern industrial region that Moscow’s forces are intent on seizing. Russian troops intensified their efforts to encircle and capture Sievierodonetsk and neighboring cities.

Mariupol was relentlessly pounded during a nearly three-month siege that ended last week after some 2,500 Ukrainian fighters abandoned a steel plant where they had made their stand. Russian forces already held the rest of the city, where an estimated 100,000 people remain out a prewar population of 450,000, many of them trapped during the siege with little food, water, heat or electricity.

At least 21,000 people were killed in the siege, according to Ukrainian authorities, who have accused Russia of trying to cover up the horrors by bringing in mobile cremation equipment and by burying the dead in mass graves.

During the assault on Mariupol, Russian airstrikes hit a maternity hospital and a theater where civilians were taking shelter. An Associated Press investigation found that close to 600 people died in the theater attack, double the figure estimated by Ukrainian authorities.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused the Russians of waging “total war” and seeking to inflict as much death and destruction as possible on his country.

“Indeed, there has not been such a war on the European continent for 77 years,” Zelensky said, referring to end of World War II.

Moscow-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces in the Donbas for eight years and hold large swaths of territory. Sievierodonetsk and neighboring cities are the only part of the Donbas’ Luhansk region still under Ukrainian government control.

Russian forces have achieved “some localized successes” despite strong Ukrainian resistance along dug-in positions, British military authorities said.

Moscow’s troops also took over the town of Svitlodarsk and raised the Russian flag there, Ukrainian media reported. Svitlodarsk is about 50 kilometers (31 miles) southeast of the strategically important city of Kramatorsk.

Two top Russian officials appeared to acknowledge that Moscow’s advance has been slower than expected, though they vowed the offensive would achieve its goals.

Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council. said the Russian government “is not chasing deadlines.” And Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told a meeting of a Russia-led security alliance of former Soviet states that Moscow is deliberately slowing down its offensive to allow residents of encircled cities to evacuate — though forces have repeatedly hit civilian targets.

As Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, recovers from weeks of weeks of relentless bombardment, residents formed long lines to receive rations of flour, pasta, sugar and others staples this week. Moscow’s forces withdrew from around Kharkiv earlier this month, pulling back toward the Russian border.

Galina Kolembed, the aid distribution center coordinator, said that more and more people are returning to the city. Kolembed said the center is providing food to over 1,000 people every day, a number that keeps growing.

“Many of them have small kids, and they spend their money on the kids, so they need some support with food,” she said.

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Becatoros reported from Kramatorsk, Ukraine. Associated Press journalists Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Danica Kirka in London and other AP staffers around the world contributed.

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Former South St. Paul basketball coach dies by suicide, two days before sentencing on federal fraud case

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Undated courtesy photo, circa January 2022, of Matthew McCollister, head boys basketball coach at South St. Paul High School. (Courtesy of South St. Paul Public Schools)

Former South St. Paul boys basketball coach Matthew McCollister died by suicide on Monday, two days before he was to be sentenced for fraud in federal court.

McCollister, 40, leaves behind his wife and three young children.

He pleaded guilty in January for his role in a scheme to defraud car insurance companies with false medical claims while working as a personal injury attorney.

Matthew McCollister (Courtesy of South St. Paul Public Schools)

Mendota Heights Police Chief Kelly McCarthy said officers were called around 3 p.m. Monday for a possible suicide in the 3600 block of Wesley Court and found McCollister dead in his home.

McCollister was charged in December in U.S. District Court with felony conspiracy to commit health care fraud from 2016 to 2017. He was charged by felony information, a process by which a defendant agrees to waive a grand jury indictment and instead plead guilty.

McCollister resigned from the team and his student support assistant job at South St. Paul High School on Jan. 12, the day the Pioneer Press first reported the accusations and just hours before he was scheduled to plead guilty at the federal courthouse in St. Paul. That hearing was postponed after his attorney fell ill.

McCollister entered his plea on Jan. 19. Sentencing guidelines called for 10 to 16 months in prison. McCollister remained free on his own recognizance pending his sentencing, which was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright.

“We ask that you give his family time and space to grieve,” his attorney, Ryan Pacyga, said in a statement Tuesday. “There will not be a sentencing hearing tomorrow. I have no further comments.”

McCollister had been South St. Paul High School’s head basketball coach since November 2019, and was credited with leading a turnaround of a once-struggling program. Prior to joining South St. Paul, McCollister had been a head coach at Breck, St. Croix Preparatory Academy and Brooklyn Center.

FRAUD SCHEME

McCollister was admitted to practice law in Minnesota in 2009. Starting around 2015, McCollister began his own law practice that focused primarily on pursuing personal injury claims on behalf of people who had been in car accidents.

About a year later, a chiropractor introduced McCollister to a confidential informant who was working with the Minnesota Commerce Fraud Bureau and posing as a “runner,” according to federal prosecutors. A runner is someone who gets paid to recruit people who supposedly were injured in car crashes and then receive chiropractic treatment paid for by auto insurance companies.

McCollister met with the runner at the Red Cow restaurant in St. Paul on March 1, 2016, and asked the individual to find people who supposedly were injured, prosecutors said. McCollister’s idea was to then have them go to chiropractors for care and that he would represent them in bringing claims against auto insurance companies for the purported injuries, according to the plea agreement. McCollister offered to pay the runner $300 or more for each person recruited.

Prosecutors allege McCollister then directed one of the two undercover patients to be “treated” by chiropractor Huy Nguyen, who is currently serving a prison sentence for his role in the conspiracy.

In December 2015, law enforcement executed a search warrant at Nguyen’s chiropractic clinic, Healthcare Chiropractic, in Brooklyn Park, where McCollister maintained an informal office and spent considerable time, according to U.S. Attorney David MacLaughlin.

“Huy Nguyen’s notoriousness could not have escaped Mr. McCollister’s attention,” MacLaughlin wrote in an April 26 memorandum that argued for a 16-month sentence for McCollister.

McCollister’s “brazen use of a known crooked chiropractor” continued throughout 2016 and into 2017, the memo read. On March 16, 2016, the undercover runner had lunch with McCollister, Nguyen and another now-convicted conspirator/MRI specialist named Quincy Chettupally at Fogo de Chao in downtown Minneapolis. The lunch was video recorded without McCollister’s knowledge and the conspirators openly discussed the scheme, according to prosecutors.

A grand jury in December 2016 indicted Nguyen in the conspiracy to which McCollister would later plead guilty. In August 2017, the grand jury added Chettupally to the conspiracy count.

Despite the indictments, McCollister sent two letters to Liberty Mutual Insurance, demanding a $25,000 bodily injury settlement for two separate bogus claims, prosecutors say.

DISBARRED

McCollister was the second Minnesota attorney charged and convicted through what was dubbed “Operation Back Cracker,” an effort by the state Commerce Fraud Bureau, the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office to combat personal injury protection fraud cases.

In November 2020, Minnetonka attorney William Sutor was sentenced to 16 months in prison after being convicted of the same offense as McCollister.

Pacyga, McCollister’s attorney, planned to argue for a five-month prison sentence followed by home confinement or community supervision.

McCollister “promptly accepted responsibility” by forgoing an indictment, Pacyga noted in his April 25 sentencing memorandum. “McCollister has lost not one, but two careers,” he added.

McCollister in February was disbarred by the Minnesota Supreme Court for professional misconduct unrelated to the federal charge. He had admitted to intentionally misappropriating more than $16,300 in client funds from his trust account between July 2020 and December 2020.

“Besides the father and husband that he has been and continues to be, he continues to work on himself with therapy and stays sober, even in the face of a federal criminal sentencing and the loss of both his law and coaching careers,” Pacyga wrote in his memo.

When McCollister left the team, South St. Paul was 14-0 and among the top-ranked teams in Class 3A. Assistant coach Darren Edwards took over as head coach and the team went on to win 14 straight games before falling to DeLaSalle 69-67 in the Section 3 final. It was South St. Paul’s second straight loss in the section final.

Prior to resigning, McCollister was a full-time student support assistant at the high school. In that role, he worked with student-support specialists who focus on student behavior.

To get help for thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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