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Latest News in Israel – 27th November

Under-fire deputy minister sorry for offending US Jews, but doesn’t retract

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely apologized on Thursday after she offended US Jews with claims that they struggle to understand the Middle East because they lead comfortable lives, don’t perform military service and don’t know what it’s like to live under attack. But she did not retract her remarks, and expressed similar sentiments even as she went on TV to say sorry.

“They are my brothers,” she said in an interview with Hadashot news (formerly Channel 2) on Thursday afternoon, amid reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was thinking of firing her for the remarks. “If someone was hurt by my words I’m very sorry.”

Several political analysts said Thursday evening they thought it unlikely that Hotovely, an MK from Netanyahu’s Likud, would be fired from her job as deputy to Netanyahu, who serves as his own foreign minister.

In another interview, with Channel 1, she said, “I apologize from the depths of my heart if someone was upset by my words.”

She said that she felt a strong, family connection to Jews in the Diaspora, and, as in all families, there are sometimes disagreements and arguments. But, she said her words came from her love for the Jewish communities who are outside Israel.

During an interview with i24 News on Wednesday, Hotovely had depicted US Jews as being removed from the sacrifices other Americans make, as well as the threats that govern life in Israel.

“The other issue is not understanding the complexity of the region,” she said. “People that never send their children to fight for their country — most of the Jews don’t have children serving as soldiers, going to the Marines, going to Afghanistan, or to Iraq. Most of them are having quite convenient lives. They don’t feel how it feels to be attacked by rockets, and I think part of it is to actually experience what Israel is dealing with on a daily basis.”

On Thursday she clarified what she meant.

“To all those Americans who are lone soldiers, or those who have grandparents who fought in World War II, I salute you all. That was not my intent,” she said. “When I was 18, I spent a year in Atlanta as part of my national service in the Jewish community. For the past 20 years the topic of the Jewish community in the US has concerned me and I truly feel that we are part of a family.”

However, she did not offer retract her fundamental message, which was that people who do not live in Israel, including many in the Jewish world, do not fully understand what Israel goes through.

In the wake of reports that Netanyahu was considering firing Hotovely from her position, she said that he had actually spoken to her not long before she gave the offending interview, and told her to be sensitive to world Jewry.

“He was right,” she said on Hadashot News on Thursday evening. “He told me how important the subject was to him and how sensitive it was to him as the leader of the Jewish people.”

However, she then said again that even though “Diaspora Jewry is dear to us all… it pains us that lots of people [in the wider Jewish nation] don’t understand that we [in Israel] are fighting a war of self-defense, not a war for territorial expansion or a war to harm other people.”

If she were to recalibrate her remarks now, she told Hadashot, she would say that “a very small country, surrounded by a hostile region, is not the same as a huge nation, that fights its wars far from its borders. Apparently the experience of daily living in America is different from that in Israel. That does not mean that brothers don’t need to talk within the family,” she said. “Expressing that message is far more important to me than being deputy foreign minister. I care about the Jewish people and our connection to the Diaspora.”

She also said that most of those criticizing her had not heard the full interview, which was 20 minutes long, and which she said was filled with her love for American Jewry.

Her comments drew wide-spread condemnation, including a rare public rebuke from Netanyahu who condemned Hotovely’s “offensive remarks regarding the American Jewish community.”

Avi Gabbay, leader of the opposition Zionist Union faction, also blasted Hotovely, while pointing out that rather than serve in the military, she did a stint of national service in the US. Hotovely’s comments were “shameful and embarrassing,” he said in a statement that referred to her sarcastically as “the great warrior, the moral sermonizer who spent her military service in Atlanta.

“While Netanyahu has already found the time to condemn her comments, make no mistake – she’s accurately expressing the policy of a government that has decided to sacrifice [Israel’s] relationship with US Jews for petty political gain,” Gabbay said.

Former prime minister Ehud Barak harshly attacked Hotovely in an English tweet, calling her “arrogant and ignorant,” and accusing her of hypocrisy because she too had never served in the IDF.    (the Times of Israel)

Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay vows to fix ‘harsh crisis’ between Israel and US Jews

Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay said he intends to solve what he termed a “harsh crisis” between Israel and US Jews if he is elected prime minister.

“My message will be that we will return to power and fix what this government did to harm the critical bond with American Jewry,” Gabbay said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post ahead of the newspaper’s December 6 Diplomatic Conference at the capital’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Gabbay said Israel cannot afford to disconnect from the American Jewish community, a comment he made before Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely made her disparaging comments about US Jews.

“I respect all streams, and they are all Jews in my eyes,” Gabbay said. “They are a tremendous asset for Israel and we can’t forget it.”

Gabbay on Thursday blamed Netanyahu for Hotovely’s comments, saying they were made because “his government decided to sacrifice its relations with US Jews for narrow politics.”

Since winning the July 4 Labor leadership race, Gabbay has gone through a crash course on US Jewry, meeting Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein, ADL head Jonathan Greenblatt, and AIPAC leaders Howard Kohr and Lillian Pinkus.

He is scheduled to leave on Monday for a week in New York and Washington, where he will meet with American Jewish leaders and address at the Saban Forum in the US capital.

Gabbay has also met with Union for Reform Judaism president Rabbi Rick Jacobs and with United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism CEO Rabbi Steven Wernick. Gabbay expressed respect for the religious streams, despite his never having prayed in a synagogue where men and women sit together.

“We’re in the midst of a massive, deep rift with US Jewry that was caused by the lack of leadership of Netanyahu,” Gabbay said. “Breaking the Western Wall deal is proof. A framework worked on for years and passed by the government was thrown away for political reasons alone.

I believe everyone has a right to express his Judaism as he sees fit, whether he is secular, Orthodox, Conservative or Reform.”

Gabbay – who has already been ruled out as a possible prime minister by the heads of Kulanu, Yisrael Beytenu, and Bayit Yehudi – said he would allow Shas and United Torah Judaism to join a government led by him only if they agreed to implementation of the Western Wall agreement.

“The Kotel compromise is correct and we must advance it,” he said. “We cannot let the harsh crisis continue. In coalition-building, there is what you give and do not give. We can insist that they agree to this to join the coalition.”

Gabbay said he would like to be one of those who explains Israel’s position for the international media in times of security crises, and that he was willing to perform that role from the opposition, as Netanyahu did.

“I am Israeli before I am a politician,” he said.  (Jerusalem Post)

UK to purchase Israeli Iron Dome defense system to defend Falklands

Britain is buying Israel’s Iron Dome short range missile defense system to protect the Falkland Islands according to reports in the UK media.

The system is produced by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. using software developed by Israeli startup mPrest.

A British Defense Ministry spokesman said, “Following an open competition we selected Rafael for a £78 million ($105 million) contract to provide the main computer system and boost our defense of the Falkland Islands.”

The system will be called the Sky Sabre system and the final decision to buy by the British came after France signed a deal to sell five Super Etendard combat jets to Argentina. The procurement from Rafael is part of a £280 million defense package for the Falklands announced by the British Ministry of defense in 2015.

Iron Dome demonstrated its ability to intercept short range missiles fired at Israel from Gaza and over the past decade it has shot down more than 1,200 such rockets.  (Jerusalem Post)

 Israeli leaders respond to deadly Sinai terror attack

Israeli leaders from across the political spectrum responded to Friday’s terror attack in Sinai that left at least 230 people dead.

Education Minister and Bayit Yehudi party leader Naftali Bennett sent his condolences to the Egyptian people. Bennett suggested a new world order is now being created in which “the distinction,” he said, ”is between terror supporters like Iran and ISIS and supporters of humanity.”

Bennett called for an international coalition to include Russia, Europe, the US, Israel as well as the Arab world, saying, “we have all been hurt by terror”.

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid also extended his condolences to Israel’s southern neighbor.

“Our condolences to the Egyptian people who suffered a horrific terror attack today. We must all stand together in the fight against this indescribable evil,” wrote Lapid on Twitter.

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon strongly condemned the attack.

“What a horrific and heartbreaking terror attack in Egypt. An attack on a mosque, a house of worship, is particularly despicable. We send our condolences to the families and wish a speedy recovery to those wounded,” Danon wrote on Twitter.

MK Oren Hazan [Likud] called on Israel to send immediate humanitarian aid to Egypt.

Using social media to address Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Hazan reminded him that “after the earthquake you offered humanitarian aid to Iran despite it being an enemy country and a terrorism exporter – it is therefore our moral duty to aid our neighbor [Egypt] with whom we have a peaceful relationship.”

Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog wrote in Arabic on his Twitter page expressing his condolences. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Egypt”, he wrote.

Former Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon claimed that “the axis of evil had struck a heavy blow today in Egypt” and stated that “together we can defeat it.” Ya’alon said that terrorism is a shared enemy for all people and states who favor peace and tolerance.

Zionist Union MK and former Minister of Defense Amir Peretz tweeted that the El-Arish attack is “a terrible human tragedy” and wished on behalf of the people of Israel “a quick recovery to those wounded and consolations to families of the hundreds of those killed.”

“This is the time for solidarity with the Cairo government and the people of Egypt. To increase [our] security cooperation and push back against those seeking to shake [our] regional stability,” said Peretz.

Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan expressed his deepest sympathies with the people of Egypt and called for a united front against radical Islamic terrorism.  (Jerusalem Post)

Hamas operative caught after crossing into Israel in September

A Hamas operative was caught crossing into Israel in September, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said on Thursday.

Ahmad Majdi Muhammad Abid, a 23-yearold resident of Shuja’iyya in Gaza City, told the Shin Bet and the Israel Police in his questioning that he joined Hamas in 2013.

During his membership in the organization, Abid was qualified as an anti-tank missile solider, and was also trained in the fields of combat engineering and sniping. Abid also told his interrogators that he took part in digging tunnels in his area of residence, and that he worked in Hamas’s border control forces.

Shin Bet said in a statement, “Valuable information about the Hamas tunnels apparatus was [gained] during [Abid’s] investigation – both about the tunnels that are for offensives against Israel, and about tunnels that are meant to fight the IDF within the borders of the Gaza Strip.”

An indictment against Abid, who is suspected for severe security-related offenses, was filed Thursday to the Beersheba District Court.

Last month, the IDF blew up a cross-border tunnel that was under construction and was stretching from the area of Khan Yunis to the area of Kissufim. 14 Islamic Jihad terrorists were killed during the operation.

Khaled al-Batash, a senior Islamic Jihad official, said then that the tunnels were “meant to bring about the release of Palestinian prisoners from the Israeli prisons,” essentially meaning that they were intended to be used for the abduction of Israeli soldiers to be used as future bargaining chips.  (Jerusalem Post)

Kuwaiti writer says Israel is a legitimate state, not an occupier

A Kuwaiti writer challenged the Arab states’ longstanding solidarity against Israel Sunday in interview with Kuwait’s Alrai TV channel, calling the Jewish state “independent and sovereign.”

“Like it or not, Israel is an independent and sovereign state,” Abdullah Al-Hadlaq said. “It exists, and it has a seat at the United Nations, and most peace-loving and democratic countries recognize it.”

The countries that don’t recognize Israel, Al-Hadlaq said, are “the countries of tyranny and oppression,” citing North Korea as an example.

The interview, translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, was posted on Facebook by both MEMRI and Alrai TV. Al-Hadlaq was assailed in Alrai TV’s comments section, but praised on MEMRI’s page, as viewers expressed shock and thanked the writer.

“Finally, an Arab thinker and writer who lives in the real world, recognizes the real world and believes in common sense,” wrote one commenter.

Al-Hadlaq expressed admiration for the Jewish state, its values and its institutions. Specifically, he cited the 2011 Gilad Schalit prisoner swap, in which Israel traded 1,027 Palestinian prisoners for one Israeli soldier, who had been held in captivity for five years in Gaza, as an example of the value Israel places on the lives of its people.

He pushed back at the narrative that Jews plundered Israel from the Palestinians, citing Quranic verses to back his case.

“When the State of Israel was established in 1948, there was no state called ‘Palestine,’” he said.

“There is no occupation,” he added. “There is a people returning to its promised land.”

The land of Israel was promised to the Jews by “Allah,” Al-Hadlaq said, even going as far as to implicate the Palestinians of doing the plundering themselves.

Al-Hadlaq also supports “annihilating” Hezbollah, he said.             (Jerusalem Post)

Watch the interview:

Israel vows to destroy Iranian positions within 40 km of Syrian border

Kuwati newspaper Al Jarida revealed on Sunday that an Israeli source disclosed a promise from Jerusalem to destroy all Iranian facilities within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of Israel’s Golan Heights.

The source, who remains unnamed, said that during Syrian President Bashar Assad’s surprise visit to Russia last week, Assad gave Russian Premier Vladimir Putin a message for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Damascus will agree to a demilitarized zone of up to 40 kilometers from the border in the Golan Heights as part of a comprehensive agreement between the two countries, but only if Israel does not work to remove Assad’s regime from power.

The report also claims that Putin then called Netanyahu to relay the message, and that the Israeli prime minister said he would be willing to accept the deal, but that Israel’s goal of eradicating Iran and Hezbollah from the country would remain.

According to the source, Jerusalem sees Assad as the last president of the Alawite community, indicating that a change of regime in Syria – at least towards a government less-linked to Iran – would be favorable for Israel. The Alawites are a minority Shi’ite community in Syria, and have long been supported by Iran, which seeks to extend its influence from the Gulf across the region to the Mediterranean.

The source also commented that after the defeat of the Islamic State, the conflict in Syria would become ”more difficult,” likely pointing towards a vacuum that would be left without the group. Russian, Syrian and Iranian-backed forces have been fighting tacitly against ISIS, while also seeking to knock out rebel groups that oppose the current regime. Russia’s stated interests have been in line with Iran’s in wanting to keep Assad in power.

Israel has participated mostly on the periphery of the war in Syria, responding to fire on the northern border and occasionally bombing positions, including a weapons depot and scientific research center that allegedly produces chemical weapons. Damascus and Jerusalem have exchanged heated remarks as well, with Netanyahu threatening to bomb Assad’s palace, and Syrian officials warning of ”dangerous repercussions” to Israeli strikes on Syrian targets.

Over the course of the war, Israel has operated several field hospitals near the Syrian border, where those injured from the war are treated and subsequently returned to Syria. Some of those who have been treated have been rebels fighting against the Assad regime, leading some to say that Israel is assisting the rebels to unseat Assad.  (Jerusalem Post)

Israel races to head off UN settlement ‘blacklist’

Weeks ahead of the expected completion of a UN database of companies that operate in Israel’s West Bank settlements, Israel and the Trump Administration are working feverishly to prevent its publication.

While Israel is usually quick to brush off UN criticism, officials say they are taking the so-called “blacklist” seriously, fearing its publication could have devastating consequences by driving companies away, deterring others from coming and prompting investors to dump shares of Israeli firms. Dozens of major Israeli companies, as well as multinationals that do business in Israel, are expected to appear on the list.

“We will do everything we can to ensure that this list does not see the light of day,” Israel’s UN ambassador, Danny Danon, told The Associated Press.

The UN’s top human rights body, the Human Rights Council, ordered the compilation of the database in March 2016, calling on UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein to “investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on Palestinians.”

Israeli officials say that about 100 local companies that operate in the West Bank and east Jerusalem have received warning letters that they will be on the list. In addition, some 50 international companies, mostly American and European, also have been warned.

The companies have not been publicly identified, but one official said they include Israeli banks, supermarkets, restaurant chains, bus lines and security firms, as well as international giants that provide equipment or services used to build or maintain settlements.

The only company to confirm receiving a warning letter has been Bezeq, Israel’s national telephone company. Bezeq’s chief executive, Stella Handler, posted a copy of the letter sent by Zeid’s office in September on her Facebook page. It accused Bezeq of using West Bank land for infrastructure, providing phone and Internet services to settlements and operating sales offices in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Handler angrily wrote that Bezeq provides service to all customers, regardless of race or where they live.

“The council’s bias against Israel is so extreme that it has lost all relevance in the world,” she wrote. “We will not cooperate with a move that is all in all anti-Israeli propaganda.”

But hours later, Handler removed the post, saying she had done so at the request of the government. The Israeli official confirmed the government has asked companies not to speak about the issue. Bezeq declined comment.

Israel has long accused the United Nations, and particularly the rights council, of being biased against it.

Israel is the only country that faces an examination of its rights record at each of the council’s three sessions each year. Some 70 resolutions, or about quarter of the council’s country-specific resolutions, have been aimed at Israel. That is nearly triple the number for the second-place country: Syria, where hundreds of thousands have been killed in a devastating six-year civil war.

Israeli leaders and many non-governmental groups also complain that some of the world’s worst violators of human rights, including Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Congo and Cuba, sit on the council.

Some Western diplomats have said the database could set a harmful precedent by blurring the line between business and human rights on issues that are better left to trade policy than the Geneva council.

Israel seems to have little leverage over the council. But its campaign has received a big boost from the United States. The Trump administration has taken a tough line against the UN, demanding reforms and in October, withdrawing from the cultural agency UNESCO because of alleged anti-Israel bias.

In a speech to the council last June, US Ambassador Nikki Haley railed against its makeup and demanded that Israel be removed as a permanent fixture on its agenda. She also hinted that the US could quit the council.

The upcoming release of the database could test that commitment. It has triggered a quiet, but high-stakes effort by Israel and the US to try to block its release.

“We just view that type of blacklist as counterproductive,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said recently.

Danon, the Israeli ambassador, accused the council of unfairly targeting Israel at a time of conflict throughout the world, saying it amounted to a “blacklist” of Jewish companies and those who do business with the Jewish state.

He also said it would turn the rights council into “the world’s biggest promoter of BDS,” an acronym for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement—a grassroots international boycott movement against Israel. Most of the companies linked to the blacklist are frequent targets of the BDS movement.

“What kind of message will this send?” Dannon said.

But Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian official, said the list is an “important step” moving from verbal condemnation to practical action against the settlements. He expressed hope that it would lead companies to stop doing business with the settlements and even lead to sanctions against those that continue.

The original resolution calling for the list stipulates only that the council’s high commissioner is requested “to transmit the data therein in the form of a report” to the council.

To that end, Israel and its allies have been encouraging the council to leave the list out and submit only a basic, broad-strokes report that doesn’t name names, according to several UN diplomats familiar with the discussions.

The pressure campaign has shown some signs of success. After an earlier delay, Zeid’s office said the release of the “report” has been pushed back again, from December to early next year.

For now, it does not appear that the list’s publication would be the direct trigger that leads the US to quit the council. Haley’s office said it is focused on implementing reforms on the council, though publication of the list could make US participation “less likely.”

Eugene Kontorovich, the director of international law at the Kohelet Policy Forum, a conservative think tank in Jerusalem, said he was “deeply skeptical” the report will not be published and said the Israeli government would be better off trying to discredit the report ahead of time. “I think it’s important for people to understand how bad this is,” he said.

The resolution, he warned, would cause “reputational harm” to companies and put “a cloud over business in Israel.” Although nonbinding, he said it could be used as a basis for future legal action. “The goal of this is to cause problems for Israel,” he said.  (Ynet News)

Public displays of antisemitism on rise in Australia , according to new report

Neo-Nazis in Australia are fuelling a rise in anti-Semitic abuse, with a national Jewish organisation reporting a nearly 10 per cent increase in public displays of anti-Jewish hatred.

Anti-Semitic material from self-declared Nazi groups has led to a 40 per cent surge in reported threats to Jewish people.

This includes material posted by the newly formed Antipodean Resistance group at universities, schools and shopping centres urging people to “Reject Jewish Poison” and “Legalise the ­Execution of Jews”.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry director Peter Wertheim said neo-Nazis posed a greater threat than most Australians realised. “Law enforcement agencies need to treat extremism from the far-right with the same level of seriousness with which they have been treating Islamist extremism,” he said.

“In many ways they are the Anglo-European equivalent to the foolish young Muslim men who have been recruited by ­Islamic State.”

Antipodean Resistance was formed last year in the wake of growing white supremacist movements in Europe and the US, most noted in August’s Charlottesville protests in Virginia which led to the death of a woman protesting against the neo-Nazis. Antipodean Resistance also produced Chinese-language posters threatening foreign students with deportation and linking gay marriage with pedophilia.

The biggest display of anti-Semitism reported by ECAJ ­was the Antipodean Resistance’s propaganda campaign targeting Melbourne University with hundreds of offensive posters. Anti-Semitic posters also went up near two Melbourne high schools, and a shopping centre in Cheltenham, 18km southeast of Melbourne’s CBD.

Australasian Union of Jewish Students chairwoman Isabella Polgar said university authorities had acted swiftly in taking down the posters but noticed there had been a rise in anti-­Semitic incidents on campus, ­including leaflets supporting Holocaust denial.

“The far-right deny the genocide of over six million Jews during the Holocaust and spread libels about Jews being globalists. Meanwhile the far-left abuse and target Jewish students’ right to self-determination,” she said.

Victoria Police investigated Antipodean Resistance after it put up posters near a secondary college at Sandringham in ­August and over anti-Semitic posters at Melbourne University last December. (the Australian)

After Shabbat works proceed, Health Minister Litzman quits the cabinet

Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and cabinet secretary Tzachi Braverman Sunday over Israel Railways work done on Shabbat.

Litzman told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office that he had no choice but to resign after Israel Railways continued to employ Jews on the Sabbath. He said he would remain in the coalition and he hopes his reforms in the Health Ministry continue.

“In all generations, the Shabbat has kept us, and it is the basis of the covenant between the Jewish people and God,” Litzman said.

“Unfortunately, Israel Railways has recently made Shabbat the national day of repair work, including unnecessary work done just to anger people. It has been done despite the coalition agreement and the status quo on matters of religion and state.”

In his resignation letter, Litzman lamented that he did not succeed in preventing the repairs from taking place on Shabbat, which he wrote were a red line for him.

In a video Litzman published, he said that as a minister, he cannot accept collective responsibility for the breaking of Shabbat. He said that as health minister he tried to help the entire population, regardless of their sector and affiliation, and had many accomplishments.

Litzman denied to speculate to reporters about how long his United Torah Judaism Party and Shas would stay in the coalition.

Shas leader Arye Deri boycotted Sunday’s cabinet meeting to protest his bill that would close stores in Tel Aviv on Shabbat not being on the agenda of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation.

Litzman became health minister in September 2015, after the Supreme Court said he could not run the ministry as a deputy minister.

Netanyahu told the cabinet that he was disappointed Litzman quit and that Shabbat would remain important to his government.

“I am sure we will find a wise solution to the problem,” he said. “We are working on it, and it is at hand.”

Labor and Welfare Minister Haim Katz denied accusations that he allowed railway work to take place on Shabbat in order to hurt Netanyahu politically.

Netanyahu told Likud ministers he would keep the Health portfolio. He asked them to not speak about what happened with Litzman in order to avoid inflaming tensions.

Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, who did not hear Netanyahu’s request, because she is in Egypt, said Litzman was one of the best health ministers Israel has had and that she hopes he returns to the cabinet table.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid called upon Netanyahu to immediately appoint a full-time health minister, calling it “a matter of life and death.” (Jerusalem Post)