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Latest Israel News – 11th May

Two former Aussie Prime Ministers to be honored

Israel’s academic institutions are certainly evenhanded where Australians are concerned.

Two former Australian Prime Ministers, one who headed the Labor Party and the other who headed the Liberal Party, will next week be conferred with honorary doctorates by two universities.

Former Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the 27th prime minister of Australia and the first woman to be elected to that position, will be among the recipients of honorary doctorates to be conferred by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev on Tuesday, May 16.

Gillard was sworn in on June 24, 2010, and served in that office until June 2013. As prime minister and in her previous role as deputy prime minister, Gillard was central to the successful management of Australia’s economy, the 12th-largest economy in the world, during the global financial crisis and as Australia positioned itself to seize the benefits of Asia’s rise.

Gillard developed Australia’s guiding policy paper, Australia in the Asian Century, and delivered nation-changing policies, including reforming Australia’s education at every level, from early childhood to university education, creating an emissions trading scheme, improving the provision and sustainability of healthcare, aged care and dental care, initiating the nation’s first-ever national scheme to care for people with disabilities and restructuring the telecommunications sector, as well as advancing a national broadband network.

Gillard visited Israel before and after her term as prime minister. Although known to be a good friend of Israel, Gillard, during her term as prime minister, called for Israel to freeze construction in the disputed territories.

Former Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott will receive his honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University on Thursday, May 18, which makes life somewhat easier for Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma. He would have had a real problem if both honorary doctorates were to be conferred on the same date.

Abbott, the 28th and immediate past Prime Minister of Australia, served from September 2013 to September 2015.

Coincidentally, Tel University is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, and Abbott will be celebrating his 60th birthday in November, the month in which current Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will still be in Israel following the 100th anniversary commemoration on October 31 of the Battle of Beersheba. Never before have three Australian prime ministers visited Israel in the same year.

During his tenure, Abbott introduced legislation to stop illegal maritime immigration.

He also announced a Royal Commission to inquire into trade union governance and corruption and also set into motion the repeal of 10,000 red tape regulations. On his watch, free trade agreements were signed with Japan, South Korea and China, thereby adding to Australia’s attraction as a bridge to Asia.

Abbott, who is still a member of Parliament, has long supported indigenous affairs and continues to do so. Beyond his parliamentary activities, he is a volunteer fireman and a volunteer surf club lifesaver. He also participates in an annual 1,000-km. bike ride that raises funds for breast cancer awareness.  (Jerusalem Post)

PM: Nation-state bill ensures equality for all Israelis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the controversial nation-state bill on Monday, saying “there is no contradiction whatsoever between this proposed legislation and the principle of equal rights to all Israeli citizens.”

Speaking at the Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu said the bill, officially titled “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People,” is the “ultimate response to those who want to negate the long-standing ties between the nation of Israel and its land,” and called on “all Zionist parties” to support it.

The bill “will set in stone the fact that the State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people in our ancestral homeland and enshrine our flag and our anthem in our law books, as well as Jerusalem’s status as our eternal capital,” he said.

Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman MK Avi Dichter (Likud), who introduced the bill in its current draft, said he plans to present it for its preliminary Knesset reading on Wednesday.

“A lot of disinformation has been spread in the media over this bill,” he said. “One example is the allegation that it would compromise the status of Arabic [as one of the official languages in Israel], but the draft approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation says that while Hebrew is the language of the state, Arabic also has a special status and its speakers will have access to linguistically appropriate state services. Anyone reading the text of the bill can see that neither Arabic nor Arabic speakers will be hurt from these provisions. The opposite is true.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman echoed Dichter and said Monday that the “nation-state bill is great.”

President Reuven Rivlin said Monday that the “Declaration of Independence is one of the most important things we have; it must not be belittled by legislation that could compromise its essence.”

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader MK Isaac Herzog said that “in an exemplary society, one does not blatantly breach the delicate balance between having a Jewish and democratic state.”  (Israel Hayom)

Trump ‘still reviewing’ embassy move to Jerusalem – White House

US President Donald Trump has yet to decide if he will move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the White House said on Wednesday.

“The president has not made a decision yet and is still reviewing that,” Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters at the daily press briefing.

Sanders was asked about a report on the Hebrew-language news site NRG that implied Israeli sources were notified Trump had decided against moving the embassy and would sign a waiver in June blocking implementation of a longstanding Congressional mandate ordering the relocation.

Every president since the 1995 law has exercised their right to sign that waiver — including Barack Obama and his predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — every six months.

Since rumors of the president’s upcoming visit to the region surfaced, speculation has grown that Trump may announce the embassy move in the Jewish state.

Trump’s trip, which was officially announced last week, comes just before Jerusalem Day, when Israel will celebrate 50 years since capturing the city’s eastern neighborhoods and holy sites in the Six Day War.

He will be in Israel May 22-23, after stopping in Saudi Arabia and before he goes on to the Vatican. He will also travel to Brussels and Sicily for NATO and G7 summits on the final leg of his first foreign trip.

Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) publicly mused two weeks ago that Trump would use his visit to announce the relocation of the US Embassy.

“What better time could there be to announce the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem than when you are over here celebrating with our Israeli friends this very important 50th anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem?” he said.

Over the course of his campaign, Trump repeatedly promised he would move the embassy, but since assuming office, he has seemingly stepped away from that pledge.

Sanders, the White House spokeswoman, was also asked if warnings from Arab leaders against relocating the embassy were influencing Trump.

“I’m not going to get into the decision-making process,” she said. “All I can tell you is that he’s still reviewing it and as soon as we have a decision, I know we’ll be happy to report back to you guys.”

A conversation between Trump and King Abdullah II of Jordan during the National Prayer Breakfast last February, in which Abdullah warned the new president that such a move could instigate unrest in the region, was reportedly a reason Trump decided to delay taking action on the embassy’s status.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan also recently gave a speech saying it would be “extremely wrong” for Trump to move the embassy.

Israel’s Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who’s on an official trip to Washington, said Wednesday that she would push for the administration to keep its campaign pledge to move the embassy during meetings the following day with US Attorney General Jeff Sessions and senators. (the Times of Israel)

Abbas said to agree to summit with Netanyahu and Trump

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has reportedly agreed to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under the auspices of US President Donald Trump in an attempt to restart peace talks during the American president’s visit to Israel later this month.

On Wednesday, an unnamed Palestinian Authority official confirmed to Channel 2 an earlier report in the Arabic Al-Hayat daily that Trump is expected to announce a trilateral summit with the two leaders during his visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority on May 22-23.

According to a Channel 10 report, Abbas agreed to the proposed meeting in order to send the message that he is willing to immediately resume negotiations without preconditions and that the only thing preventing renewed peace talks is Netanyahu.

On Tuesday, Abbas told reporters during a meeting with German President Frank Walter-Steinmeier that he was ready to meet Netanyahu as part of Trump’s efforts to restart the long-dormant talks.

Both Netanyahu and Abbas have voiced support for Trump’s interest in reviving the peace process, although the two have also sought to cast blame on each other for the past lack of progress.

According to Hebrew media reports on Wednesday, Saudi Arabian King Salman invited Abbas to a summit of Muslim heads of state in Saudi Arabia later this month that Trump will attend a day before arriving in Israel.

Trump and Abbas may also meet during the US president’s expected visit to Bethlehem on May 23.

Tuesday’s Al-Hayat report quoted Palestinian officials as saying that a joint US-Palestinian committee had begun laying the groundwork for Abbas and Trump’s second meeting, after he hosted Abbas at the White House on April 3.

The officials said they expect Trump to call for direct talks between the Israel and the PA over the course of nine months to a year.

The US president, who has referred to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement as “the ultimate deal,” said last week, when hosting Abbas, that he would be willing to play whatever role was needed to strike an accord.

As he hosted Abbas in Washington, Trump confidently predicted that a peace agreement was within grasp, brushing aside the complexities of a decades-old conflict that has bedeviled successive US leaders.  (the Times of Israel)

Trump’s Israel visit said to include stops at Masada, Western Wall

President Donald Trump’s two-day-visit to Israel in March will reportedly include stops at Masada and the Western Wall as well as meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Trump will arrive in Israel on May 22, when he will visit the Western Wall and meet with President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Channel 2 reported. That day may also include a “possible visit” to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial.

On March 23, Trump will speak at Masada, the Roman-era fortress in the Negev Desert, and meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to Channel 2.

Last week Trump announced that he would visit Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Vatican on his first overseas trip as president.

In a briefing for reporters after the announcement, a senior aide to Trump said the thrust of the tour, which will precede a previously announced visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels, is to unite the world’s nations and the three faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — against terrorism.

The agenda was deliberately set “to bring about all the different countries, all the different religions, in the fight against terrorism,” said the aide.  (Jerusalem Post)

In jab at Turkey, Rivlin says Jerusalem has Jewish majority since Ottoman rule

President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday rebuked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his diatribe on the “Judaization” of Jerusalem, noting that the city has had a Jewish majority for over 150 years, including under Ottoman rule.

On Monday evening, Erdogan in a speech called Israel “racist and discriminatory” said he would not allow the Knesset to outlaw the muezzin’s call to prayer (a reference to a bill that would muffle the prayer call at certain hours), and urged Muslims to visit the flashpoint Temple Mount en masse in solidarity with the Palestinians. “Each day that Jerusalem is under occupation is an insult to us,” he also said, at the opening ceremony of the International Forum on al-Quds Waqf in Istanbul.

Later on Monday, Erdogan discussed ways to halt the so-called “Judaization” of Jerusalem with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. At a meeting in Istanbul the Turkish leader “confirmed the necessity of unifying efforts to protect Jerusalem against attempts of Judaization,” according to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency.

“We have heard voices which attack Israel for building Jewish life in Jerusalem,” the president said in response on Tuesday.

“I must tell these people, for the last 150 years there has been a Jewish majority in Jerusalem. Even under the Ottoman Empire there was a Jewish majority in Jerusalem,” said Rivlin, whose family has lived in Jerusalem since 1809.

Modern Turkey is the successor of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled the Holy Land from the late 15th century until 1917.

“Under Israeli sovereignty we continue to build Jerusalem the eternal capital of the Jewish people,” Rivlin added, during a meeting with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in Jerusalem. “There is no doubt, Jerusalem is a microcosm, of our ability to live together. And we will continue to ensure freedom of religion for all faiths.”

At the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Ministry director-general Yuval Rotem earlier on Tuesday telephoned Turkish Ambassador Kemal Okem for a “clarification conversation,” the ministry said, in the first major confrontation since the two countries re-established ties last year.

Rotem’s message echoed a statement the ministry had published on Monday evening, the ministry said.

“Those who systematically violate human rights in their own country should not preach to the only true democracy in the region,” Monday’s statement read. “Israel consistently protects total freedom of worship for Jews, Muslims and Christians — and will continue to do so despite the baseless slander launched against it.”

Erdogan’s comments elicited a host of angry responses from Israeli politicians.

His words have no basis in reality, said Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. “Unfortunately, his statements on Jerusalem and the Temple Mount kindles a fire that hurts the security of Jerusalem residents and visitors,” he said. As opposed to other parts of the Middle East, Israel safeguards the right to worship and free access to the holy places to all religions, he added.

“Erdogan’s grave words of incitement will not change the fact that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people, and the capital of Israel,” Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely tweeted. The Temple Mount will remain open to all religions but “under Israeli sovereignty,” she added.

“It is surprising that Erdogan, who leads a state that occupied Jerusalem for 400 years, wants to preach to us about how to manage our city,” said Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

“Unlike during the Turkish occupation, Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty is a flourishing, open and free city that allows freedom of religion and worship for all. In recent years, record numbers of Muslims have visited the Temple Mount and held prayers, exercising their absolute freedom of religion under Israeli sovereignty.”

The Jewish people’s connection to Jerusalem is 3,000 years old, Barkat said, adding that Jewish roots can be seen “in every corner of the city.”

Added Barkat: “As we celebrate 50 years of reunited Jerusalem, I invite Erdogan to visit our city and to be amazed by the situation on the ground — a situation that has changed only for the better since the Turks ruled here.”  (the Times of Israel)

After Accusing Israel of War Crimes, Medical Journal Devotes Entire Issue to Israeli Health Care

One of the world’s leading medical journals, the Lancet, has devoted its entire latest issue to the Israeli healthcare system.

The issue, titled “Health in Israel,” was published Monday. It contains 10 English-language articles written by Israeli doctors and researchers, plus summaries of them in both Hebrew and Arabic.

Prof. Richard Horton, the journal’s editor in chief, termed the edition the most comprehensive independent survey of Israel’s health system ever published anywhere. He was speaking in Tel Aviv at the annual conference of the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research.

The idea for issue emerged under inauspicious circumstances. In July 2014, at the height of that summer’s war between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip, the Lancet published an “Open Letter to the People of Gaza,” signed by doctors from several countries. In this letter, they accused Israel of committing massacres and war crimes in Gaza and then lying to justify its conduct.

The letter ignited a storm of protest, both from Israel’s medical community and overseas, and Horton came under heavy fire. As he said on Monday, he was accused of anti-Semitism, his picture was posted together with that of Nazis in uniform, his wife was verbally attacked and his daughter was told by classmates that her father was an anti-Semite. It was, he said, a very difficult time both personally and professionally.

As this storm was raging Prof. Rafael Beyar ,CEO and Director General at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, invited Horton to come to Israel and see for himself. And in August 2014, Horton duly arrived on his first ever visit to Israel. Until then, he said, he had only passed through on his way to the Palestinian Authority. But the visit changed his relationship with Israel’s medical community, and since then, he has been back several times.

Lancet

The issue’s opening article, coauthored by Horton and Prof. Karl Skorecki, Director, Medical & Research Development, discusses various problems in Israel’s health system, including the privatization of medical services, gender inequality, health gaps between different regions of the country and different population groups, a critical shortage of medical professionals and hospital beds, and a failure to adapt to the needs of a growing, aging population. It also discussed the enormous health gaps between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, adding that medical cooperation with the PA is limited and does not provide an answer to Palestinian aspirations for an independent health system.

The issue also makes various recommendations for improving the health system, including increasing government spending on health care, drafting and funding a long-term plan for preventive care, ending the drift from public to private health care, increasing the number of hospital beds, extending maternity leave from 14 weeks to six months and providing free contraceptives as part of the national health insurance program.

For anyone familiar with Israel’s health system, there is little new or surprising in the issue. But it does provide Israel’s healthcare system with impressive global exposure. Very few countries have had an entire issue of the Lancet devoted to them; among them are Japan, the United States, Mexico, India, France, Brazil and the Palestinian Authority. Researchers and doctors say that being featured in such an issue has an impact far beyond the realm of medicine and academia.

The issue also highlights several achievements of Israel’s health system, including the steady rise in life expectancy. Since 1993, life expectancy has risen from 75.3 to 80 years for men and from 79.1 to 84 years for women. Consequently, Israel now ranks fourth in the world for life expectancy among men and 11th for life expectancy among women. Yet at the same time, life expectancy is much lower in certain subsets of the Israeli population, first and foremost the Arab community, and the gap has actually grown in recent years.

Another achievement is low infant mortality. Since 1993, infant mortality has dropped by over 50 percent, from 7.5 deaths per 1,000 births to just three, and today, Israel has the lowest infant mortality rate of all 35 countries in the OECD.

Yet at the same time, Israel has the highest child poverty rate in the OECD, with 35 percent of children living in poverty. Poverty is especially widespread in the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities, with 67 percent of ultra-Orthodox children and 63 percent of Arab children living in poverty, compared to just 15 percent of other Israeli children.

The issue also devoted an entire article to women’s health in Israel. It found that incidence of death due to strokes, heart disease and cervical cancer is lower for Israeli women than the OECD average. But incidence of breast cancer is higher, with 80 cases per 100,000 women, compared to an OECD average of 74. Israel also has the fifth-highest rate of death from breast cancer in the OECD, and its rate of sexual harassment and violence against women is 10 percent higher than in other OECD countries.  (Ha’aretz)

WJC President Ronald S. Lauder welcomes FIFA Council’s move to defer decision on Israel’s football association

World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder has commended the executive council of the international football association, FIFA, for deferring its decision on the standing of the Israeli Football Association.

The council made its announcement shortly after the chairman of the Monitoring Committee on Israel-Palestine, Tokyo Sexwale, presented his report and recommendations on the matter ahead of the FIFA Congress in Bahrain.

“On behalf of the World Jewish Congress, I commend the FIFA Council for recognising that the ongoing conflict between the Israeli and Palestinian football associations is a complicated matter deserving of more time and consideration, and for understanding that decisions of this nature must not be made rashly or prematurely.

“Politics, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, have no place in sport – these are issues meant for the negotiating table, not the football field. FIFA’s position as the most prominent regulatory body in the sporting world, one which bridges divides between countries and peoples, must be safeguarded. By keeping politics out of football, FIFA’s central role in the effort to promote respect among nations through sports will be secured.”

Lauder also praised Sexwale, with whom he spoke by telephone last week, for his thorough work in preparing his report and recommendations on the issue. “I deeply appreciate Mr. Sexwale’s commitment to finding a fair and equitable solution, and know that his recommendations on this issue follow careful and thorough considerations. I look forward to future cooperation with Mr. Sexwale and with FIFA, and am optimistic that in the near future, the international community will recognise that the spirit of sport must remain free of politics.”      (J Wire)

Nine challenges confronting Israel

By Isi Leibler                         The Jerusalem Post

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Candidly-Speaking-Nine-challenges-confronting-Israel-490247

We have never been so self-reliant or as powerful as we are today, and in as optimal a position to defend ourselves.

Not since the creation of the state has Israel found itself in such an advantageous position. While a genuine peace settlement with the Palestinians remains a distant mirage and the threat from Iran is ever present, Israel has emerged as a regional superpower, both militarily and economically. And now, finally, the United States seems willing to exert its muscle to neutralize the overtly biased behavior of the international community toward the Jewish state.

But we still face major challenges, which can be summarized as follows:

1) The relationship with the Trump administration must be cultivated by displaying patience and cooperating with his efforts to reach a peace settlement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. If, as is likely, Abbas continues to refuse to make any meaningful concessions, Trump will hopefully reach an understanding with us on settlement and building issues, enabling the formal annexation of the major settlement blocs and paving the way to implement his commitment to transfer the US embassy to Jerusalem.

2) The people must press for a broader government. There is no reason for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid to be in opposition when his policy is almost identical to that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He could also serve as an outstanding foreign minister.

A broader coalition would neutralize the arguments of those claiming that Netanyahu heads the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, and demonstrate that the government’s policies are endorsed by the clear majority of the nation. With a broad consensus of the electorate, the government would be in a position of strength and, even in the absence of a Palestinian state, would finally be able to determine future borders.

3) A successor to Netanyahu must be groomed. There is a consensus, certainly among those who admire Netanyahu but also even among those who loathe him that he is currently the leader most capable of successfully navigating the complex diplomatic challenges confronting us. Despite the domestic upheavals, history will grant him a respected reputation as a brilliant leader who held firm under enormous external pressures. But it is Netanyahu’s responsibility, no less than ours, to ensure that we now begin grooming a successor rather than leaving it to a crude political ballot to determine our future leader.

4) We must avoid an impending Kulturkampf over religious control and stringent interpretation of Halacha by the current state rabbinical instrumentalities. Much of the conflict results from the extortion imposed by the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) political leadership, which holds the balance of power in the government. There is already a discernible change: a substantial proportion of haredim who are working and some even volunteering to serve in haredi army units. The areas in urgent need of attention are conversion and marriage.

5) The government should introduce tougher legislation to prosecute those engaged in sedition, sabotaging the Jewish state and promoting our destruction. The Arab parties in particular must be countered. They are anti-Zionist and seek to poison relations between the State of Israel and the 20% of its population that is Arab.

At the same time, many Arab citizens are proud to consider themselves loyal Israelis and recognize that they enjoy far more freedom and rights than do the citizens of any Arab country, and higher living standards than most Arabs throughout the Middle East. But they are still socially and economically disadvantaged compared to Israeli Jews, and the government must do everything possible to close this gap.

6) We must create better conditions for Israelis living near or below the poverty line and eliminate bureaucratic obstacles to reducing land prices, enabling more Israelis to own homes.

7) Netanyahu’s policy of reaching out to other nations, which has already paid major dividends, must be consolidated.

The situation has been enormously strengthened by US President Donald Trump’s robust support for Israel, especially at the UN. The recent UNESCO resolution reflects significant defections by various European and non-Muslim states that have previously endorsed outrageous anti-Israel resolutions. Now many of these voted against or abstained.

Israel has established healthy diplomatic ties and strengthened relations with major powers such as India, China, Russia, Japan, the UK and other Asian, African and South American countries. Many of these countries still need to be encouraged to demonstrate their friendship openly, but dramatic progress has been achieved.

8) There is now a major opportunity to liaise with some of the pragmatic leaders in the Sunni Arab world, with countries like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states that are willing to covertly cooperate and ally themselves with Israel against the Iranian Shi’ites seeking to exert hegemony over the entire region.

The alliances with Egypt and Jordan are also immensely important.

However, we should be under no illusions. Antisemitism is so deeply ingrained in the religion and culture of these countries that we must not be tempted into regarding them as conventional allies. There is also a concern that Jordan’s King Abdullah will seek to appease the ferociously anti-Israeli refugees and Palestinians in his ranks. There is also the constant fear that either Abdullah or Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Sisi could be assassinated, which would create enormous turmoil in the region. We should maximize our cooperation with these Arab states as far as possible and seek friendship at a grass-roots level with the aim to initiate a process designed to overcome hatred.

9) Even though the IDF is admired throughout the world for its achievements, we must not become complacent. It is only our superior power that ultimately deters our enemies. Even at the cost of sacrificing other important economic plans, we must continue to ensure the formidable strength of the IDF and our military industries.

The barbarians at our gates headed by Iran, an insane Shi’ite Islamic theocracy, remain obsessed with our destruction and we could, at any time, face a confrontation by their surrogate Hezbollah or ally Hamas. To prevent massive Israeli casualties from rockets, we must be prepared to use all our might should we be forced into another conflict.

These are some of the major challenges currently confronting Israel. They may seem formidable, but when viewed in the context of what we have faced over the past 70 years, we have never been so self-reliant or as powerful as we are today, and in as optimal a position to defend ourselves.