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Latest News – 20 August

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World
compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

Jordan Parliament calls for expelling Israeli envoy

In yet another sign of mounting tensions, Jordanian members of parliament and blocs renewed their recommendation on Monday that the kingdom expel the Israeli ambassador in Amman to protest Israeli “violations” against the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem.

The recommendation was made by the Palestine Committee of Jordan’s House of Representatives and other parliamentary blocs during an emergency session attended by Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi.

The members called for closing the Israeli Embassy in Amman, cancelling the Israel-Jordan peace treaty and summoning the US ambassador to Jordan to protest US support for Israel. In addition, they called for recalling the Jordanian ambassador to Israel.

The parliament endorsed the recommendations and said it rejects any attempt to divide the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in time and space between Muslim and Jewish worshipers. The parliament also stressed the importance of maintaining Jordan’s historical custodianship over Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, and urged the government to recall the Jordanian ambassador to Israel and halt “all forms of normalization” with Israel.

Safadi told parliament that Jordan’s “unwavering position” remains that “Jerusalem is a redline.” He said that the “protection of Islamic and Christian holy sites in occupied Jerusalem is a responsibility” of Jordan in its capacity as custodian of holy sites in the city.

Jordan, he said, “will do its utmost to protect the holy sites and face the futile Israeli actions targeting them. We condemn the Israeli occupation authorities’ provocative practices and ongoing violation of international law, as well as their attempts change the historical and legal situation in occupied Jerusalem and its holy sites.”

Safadi warned that Israel’s actions will “aggravate the conflict, increase tensions and lead to an explosion, thus threatening international peace and security.” He also pointed out that on Sunday, Jordan summoned the Israeli ambassador in Amman and asked him to convey a message to the Israeli government demanding an immediate cessation of Israeli “violations” and “attempts to change the historical and legal situation” at the holy site in Jerusalem.

Atef Tarawneh, speaker of Jordan’s House of Representatives, called on the government to relay a message to Israel that “peace is threatened in light of its continued aggression against Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque.”

On Sunday, Jordan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Israeli Ambassador in Amman and asked him to convey a message to the Israeli government that it “must immediately cease all violations and attempts aimed at changing the historical and legal situation in the holy compound,” the Jordanian news agency Petra said.

“Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Zaid Lozi told the Israeli ambassador that the recent remarks by Israeli Public Security Minister [Gilad Erdan] over changing the status quo in the al-Aqsa Mosque are condemned and rejected. Lozi made it clear that the 144-dunam al-Aqsa Mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif is a place of worship and prayer for Muslims only,” it said.

Last week, Erdan said that he believes the status quo at the Temple Mount should be changed to allow Jewish worshippers to pray at the site. “I think there is an injustice in the status quo there that has been in place since 1967, and we need to act to change it so that Jews in the future can pray on the Temple Mount,” he said in a radio interview.

In response, Mahmoud Habbash – Mahmoud Abbas’s religious affairs adviser – expressed outrage over Erdan’s “racist and disgusting” remarks. Habbash warned that the Palestinians “will never allow the sanctity of al-Aqsa Mosque to be harmed” and will resist any attempt to change the status quo at the holy site. (Jerusalem Post)

Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar share “Holocaust Contest” prize winner cartoon

After being barred from entering Israel, both U.S. Rep Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and U.S. Rep Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) continue to speak out against both President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Their speaking out now includes the two posting cartoons by Brazilian-Lebanese cartoonist Carlos Latuff, who participated in Iran’s annual Holocaust cartoon contest in 2006.

In the cartoon, which the two have put on their Instagram stories, both Trump and Netanyahu are seen silencing the two by putting their hands on the congresswomen’s mouths. The post by Tlaib included the statement: “The more they try to silence us, our voices rise. The more they try to weaken us, the stronger we become. The more they try to discredit us, the truth prevails.”

When talking about his controversial work, the artist has often compared Israel to the Nazi regime. On the subject of using the Holocaust as criticism of Israel he said: “Of course Israel isn’t building gas chambers in the West Bank, but surely we can find some similarities between the treatment given to Palestinians by the [Israel Defense Forces] and the Jews under Nazi rule,” according to Fox News.

“My cartoons have no focus on the Jews or on Judaism. My focus is Israel as a political entity,” he continued, though he did not specify why exactly it was necessary to use such motifs in his works. “It happens to be Israeli Jews that are the oppressors of Palestinians.”

This post comes after the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance changed the definition of “antisemitism” to include “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”

The cartoons come after Omar introduced a resolution endorsing the use of boycotts, specifically referencing to their past use against Nazi Germany. (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu in Ukraine: No more Babi Yars

Standing at Babi Yar, but with Iran obviously on his mind, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared it is Israel’s “constant duty to stand against murderous ideologies in order to ensure that there will never be another Babi Yar.”

Netanyahu’s comments came at a memorial ceremony on Monday at the site, where some 34,000 Jews were murdered by the Nazis and Ukrainian collaborators in September 1941.

“For humanity, Babi Yar is a warning sign,” he said. “For Jews, it is an eternal imperative – we will always defend ourselves, by ourselves, against any enemy.”

Netanyahu, who arrived in Ukraine on Sunday for a two-day visit – the first by an Israeli prime minister in 20 years – said that it was hard to believe that “this beautiful forest saw the horror that happened here. The forest was silent, but so too was the world.”

The prime minister, accompanied at the ceremony by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, noted that the horrible brutality in the forest did not take place on another planet.

“It took place just minutes from the bustling center of Kiev,” he said. “The massacre at Babi Yar by the Nazis and their collaborators paved the way for the murder of a million and a half Ukrainian Jews. It also preceded the final solution.”

Netanyahu praised Zelensky and the Ukrainian government for preserving the memory of the Holocaust, and for its continued efforts against antisemitism. He contrasted the state of the Jews then – when it was a people who wandered from place to place, only to be slaughtered – to the situation of the State of Israel today.

“From a helpless people that was slaughtered, we have become a strong and proud state,” he said.

Zelensky referenced Israel’s strength when, after meeting Netanyahu earlier in the day in the Presidential Palace, said his country has “something to learn from Israel, especially in security and defense, and we will of course be doing that.”

The Ukrainian president, who is Jewish and was voted into office in April, thanked Jerusalem for supporting its “sovereignty and territorial integrity” in its conflict with Russia in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

Netanyahu, during his comments after the meeting, said that Kiev agreed to open a hi-tech and investment office in Jerusalem, and that Israel would also open a similar bureau in Kiev.

In opening an official office in Jerusalem, Ukraine is following the example of the Czech Republic and Australia, which have opened offices in Jerusalem, but kept their embassies in Tel Aviv.

While there is significant support in Ukraine’s parliament to move the embassy from Tel Aviv, this is considered highly unlikely because of the European Union’s fierce opposition to the move, and Ukraine’s need for European support and assistance in dealing with Moscow.

Netanyahu is in Kiev for a two-day trip that political opponents charge is little more than a photo opportunity before the September 17 election in an attempt to siphon Russian-speaking voters away from Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu Party.

Netanyahu made a point of mentioning during his comments that Zelensky said he would advance in parliament the ratification of a pension agreement, which would provide Ukrainian government pensions to some 8,000 Ukrainian seniors in Israel who immigrated after the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

While Ukraine has agreed in principle to pay these pensions, the issue remains entangled in bureaucracy and has not yet been ratified by the Ukrainian parliament – partly because of funding issues.

Netanyahu’s state visit began Monday morning with a visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and a monument to the Holodomor – the famine in the Soviet Ukraine in 1932-1933 during which millions starved to death. Zelensky, during his statement, asked Netanyahu to recognize the Holodomor as a genocide.

Some Holocaust scholars in Israel, such as Efraim Zuroff of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, have come out against such recognition, saying the Holodomor was the result of Joseph Stalin’s forced collectivization but was not aimed directly at Ukrainians. Others, however, disagree, saying that Stalin aimed to snuff out Ukrainian national aspirations.

Netanyahu’s official trip got off to a clumsy start when his wife, Sara, who was unfamiliar with the “korovai” ceremony, was caught on camera dropping a piece of bread that her husband handed to her after he was ceremoniously given the morsel by women in traditional dress who greeted them when they landed at Boryspil International Airport in Kiev.

Some in the Israeli media highlighted the incident and reported that the prime minister’s wife had thrown the bread to the ground. This was then picked up by some in the Ukrainian media as a sign of disrespect.

Netanyahu dismissed this as “complete nonsense” and told reporters that he raised the issue with the head of the Ukrainian president’s office, whom he quoted as saying, “it was clear that there was no intention of Mrs. Netanyahu to show disrespect to Ukraine.”

And Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine, Joel Lion, addressed the issue in a tweet: “Just talked with the Head of the President’s Office, Andreii Bohdan, he told me that the whole bread incident was clearly unintentional and unimportant, and certainly not media-worthy.” (Jerusalem Post)

Footage appears to show Hezbollah adopting Gaza arson tactics against Israel

A fire that raged along Israel’s border with Lebanon Friday appears to be the work of Hezbollah terrorists who have adopted arson techniques that Palestinians in Gaza have used repeatedly to attack Israel, according to footage aired Sunday by Channel 12.

In the footage, Hezbollah operatives can be seen setting fires near the border. Strong winds quickly fanned the flames and caused the fire to cross the boundary and spread toward an IDF base and the community of Margaliot.

In the footage, UN peacekeepers can be seen patrolling near the fires, but making no attempt to stop the Hezbollah men from lighting them.

The fires caused several landmines placed along the border to explode. Local firefighters took several hours to put out the fire, in an effort that was hampered by the inability to use firefighting aircraft due to the proximity to the hostile border.

“Everyone knows the Lebanese side is responsible for these provocations,” local official Yoram Mahluf told Channel 12. “They are testing us.”

The news report said officials believe that Hezbollah would continue to set fires along the border in order to try and keep the IDF distracted and also to clear brush that Israeli special forces could use for cover.

The tactic appears to be in imitation of Palestinian terrorists in Gaza who have been sending thousands of arson balloons into Israel with devastating effect.

The tactic of launching balloons carrying explosive and arson devices from Gaza into Israel emerged last year as part of a series of protests and riots along the Strip’s border, known collectively as the March of Return. The simple and cheap method of attack by Palestinians proved effective against the far more powerful Israel Defense Forces.

From April to June 2018, Israeli firefighters extinguished 1,954 fires started by arson attacks in the fields, forests and grasslands around the Gaza Strip. They fought 383 blazes over the same period in 2019.

In addition, throughout 2018, approximately 34,000 dunams — 8,400 acres — of Israeli land were burned in arson attacks, according to statistics from the Fire and Rescue Services, Jewish National Fund and Nature and Parks Authority.

As of June, 1,400 dunams — 345 acres — of land were damaged by incendiary devices from the Strip in 2019. (the Times of Israel)

Immigration to Israel up by nearly 30% thanks to Russian speakers

Immigration by Jews and their relatives to Israel rose by nearly 30 percent in the first half of 2019 over the corresponding period last year.

The 29 percent jump to 16,005 arrivals owed largely to movement by Russian speakers from countries facing financial problems, nationalism and crackdowns on civil liberties.

Immigrants from countries that were part of the former Soviet Union or were under its influence that have not yet joined the European Union accounted for two thirds of the 12,366 immigrants in the first half of 2018. They comprised 74 percent of the figures for this year.

The vast majority of Russian-speaking immigrants came from Russia, where aliyah rose by 72 percent to 7,884 arrivals this year, and Ukraine, which saw a 9 percent rise to 3,007 immigrants.

Aliyah from the United States remained without major changes with 910 arrivals in the first half of 2018 and 843 in the months January to June of 2019. (Jerusalem Post)

Will Israel launch a military ground operation in Gaza?

The question many are asking: Does Israel have the ability to do so, and if so, why hasn’t it taken that course of action?

by Israel Kasnett JNS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under attack for his perceived inaction on the Gaza front with some saying that he is more concerned with election polling calculations. Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip again attacked Israel, this time firing three rockets into the southern city of Sderot over the weekend, with two of them being intercepted by the Iron Dome air-defense system.

Some Israelis are calling for a military ground invasion into Gaza to damage, or even eradicate, Hamas. The question many are asking: Does Israel have the ability to do so, and if so, why hasn’t it taken that course of action?

According to Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, the government is certainly capable of conducting a large-scale operation. “The issue is not capabilities, but political will,” he told JNS.

“The political calculations are complicated,” he added. “It is possible to argue that a demonstration of determination can be helpful to Netanyahu in the elections.”

But does Netanyahu have the political will? According to what he told the media ahead of his flight to Kiev this week—the first in 20 years for an Israeli prime minister—it would seem he does. He said, “If it is required, we will embark on a large campaign with considerations to the elections—with elections or without elections.”

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman was among those who voiced their frustration with the prime minister. “He is an excellent presenter but a weak leader who lacks leadership and is incapable of making decisions in times of crisis,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Blue and White chairman and former Israel Defense Forces’ Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said “the deterrence hasn’t been eroded, it’s been erased.”

Former Education Minister and now Yamina Party member Naftali Bennett called for more drastic action. He said, “We need to move on to a policy of persistent attacks, chasing after the terror leaders. They have to start fearing for their lives.”

Inbar seems to disagree with Bennett. He said Netanyahu “is not trigger-happy, which is commendable.”

Inbar also said that going for a victory over Hamas “is naive.”

“We should remember that we cannot eradicate a well-rooted Hamas,” he said. Israel should “debilitate Hamas’s military capabilities,” he insisted, but admitted that the terror group would rebuild as soon as Israel leaves.

“It is a long, repetitive struggle,” said Inbar. He believes that Israel’s ability to conduct a war of attrition “shows our strength.”

‘The more Machiavellian explanation’

Yoram Schweitzer, a researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and head of its program on terrorism and low-intensity conflict, told JNS that Israel’s current policy is that of containment. “Israel is capable of harming Hamas in a much more harsh way. There is no question,” he said.

However, he emphasized that “we are trying to work with mediators to try and calm the situation, and not allow it to get out of hand. … Hamas understands Israel’s limitations and is provoking Israel accordingly.”

Schweitzer offered that the shorter explanation for Israel’s decision to adopt a containment strategy “is Israel’s reluctance to enter at this stage into a more comprehensive conflict.”

“The broader perspective,” he said, “may be that Israel wishes to maintain the conflict with Hamas on a low level, but uses it in order to prevent any Hamas/Palestinian Authority cooperation or any resumption of peace talks with the P.A.”

Schweitzer believes that Netanyahu is trying “to hold the rope on both sides.” He said the prime minister doesn’t want to allow for resumption of talks with the current P.A. government and would like to prevent Hamas from doing too much harm. “That is the more Machiavellian explanation,” he quipped.

A question often asked by experts and the Israeli public alike is whether or not Israel should maintain the status quo.

According to Schweitzer, an Israeli ground operation has “all kinds of components.”

He said that “Israel would like to conduct the first operation in order to harm the Hamas leadership in a way that would be effective. This requires a much more aggressive and surprising attack.”

Schweitzer thinks that the basic question if Israel does indeed launch a ground operation is whether it can achieve its military goals in Gaza without having to spend more than a short time there.

“This is not an easy dilemma,” he acknowledged. “The solution is not optimal, but this is a dilemma that any government would have.”

Still, the question lingers: Will Israel launch a ground operation in Gaza? According to Inbar, “It is inevitable.

Nuanced Realism: Israel and the Tlaib/Omar Visit – Gerald M. Steinberg

I argued for allowing Tlaib and Omar into Israel, despite the media circus and bad PR that they would manufacture, because we should not bar members of the U.S. Congress, and because this would probably be worse on the propaganda front. In my view, the risks of refusing entry to Members of Congress were still greater than the risks posed by their political theater.

Yet much of American punditry unleashed a flood of condemnations of the Israeli move entirely devoid of nuance. The portrayal of Netanyahu as merely following Trump’s lead (or demand) are simplistic in the extreme, involving one-dimensional stick figures in a reality that is far more complex.

I realize that nuanced argument and political realism are in short supply in the era of ideological polarization and zero-sum politics (we have truth; everyone else is evil). But I will continue to hope that eventually, nuanced realism will return to favor, particularly on Israel.

The writer is Professor of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University and president of NGO Monitor.