+61 3 9272 5644

Latest News in Israel – 12th August

Abbas rejected US call to meet with Netanyahu

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly turned down an American request that he meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a bid to jumpstart peace talks.

US Secretary of State John Kerry made the request of the Palestinian leader at their July meeting in Paris, the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds reported on Thursday.

Abbas refused the meeting, the newspaper said, according to a report by Channel 10 news, telling Kerry that he would only acquiesce after Netanyahu froze all settlement construction and released the last group of prisoners that were slated to be freed as a goodwill gesture in the 2014 peace talks.

In May, Netanyahu said he was willing “to meet President Abbas today in Jerusalem. If he’d like, in Ramallah. Right now. Today.” In April, Abbas told Israeli television Netanyahu is “the partner” for peace, and called on the Israeli premier to meet with him “at any time,” prompting Netanyahu to declare that his invitation stands.

Gershon Baskin, who has in the past acted as a conduit between the Netanyahu government and Palestinian officials, told JTA in May that Abbas offered three times to begin secret, direct negotiations with Netanyahu. Each time, Baskin said, Netanyahu refused. The Prime Minister’s Office subsequently denied the report, saying “Netanyahu continues to call on President Abbas to meet anytime, anywhere, without pre-conditions. Unfortunately, President Abbas has refused.”

In July, State Department spokesperson John Kirby said that the purpose of the July 30 meeting was “to talk about the prospects toward helping us create conditions for a two-state solution. There is a possibility that there could be additional bilateral meetings while in Paris… but the primary purpose is a meeting with President Abbas.”

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process collapsed two years ago, and progress currently appears unlikely before President Barack Obama’s final term ends in January.

In June, France convened a Paris meeting of world powers — without Israel or the Palestinians — to work toward organizing an international conference to reboot talks by the end of the year.

After June’s meeting, Kerry was lukewarm concerning the prospects of a conference. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the French initiative, which the Palestinians welcomed.

The Middle East diplomatic quartet — the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States — urged Israel to stop building settlements and Palestinians to cease incitement to violence in a July report that drew a frosty response from both sides.                   (the Times of Israel)

Hamas official: Prisoner exchange talks with Israel underway

The Hamas terrorist organization is negotiating a prisoner exchange with Israel that would see the release of two Israeli civilians and the remains of two Israel Defense Forces soldiers held in Gaza in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, an unnamed Hamas official said Wednesday.

During an interview with Israel Radio, the official said Hamas would only move forward with the talks after Israel releases hundreds of Palestinians who were rearrested after they were freed in a 2011 deal brokered with the Gaza-based group to secure the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

When asked if Hamas would provide a sign of life from the Israeli civilians, the official said that “everything comes at a price,” and the negotiations would take place out of the media spotlight.

Hamas is holding the remains of soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who were killed in the 2014 Gaza war, as well as 29-year-old Avraham Mengistu and Juma Ibrahim Abu Anima.

Israel has only negotiated directly with President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, not with the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip, which it considers a terror group, and any future prisoner exchange deal would likely have to be mediated by a third party.

The official also commented on State Comptroller Yosef Shapira’s upcoming report on Israel’s handling of the 2014 war, saying that political infighting in Israel over the state inquiry proves Israel’s 50-day military campaign was not much of a military victory.

He went on to say that Hamas is not currently seeking a fresh round of hostilities with Israel, but is preparing for all scenarios, especially after the May appointment of the “insane” Avigdor Liberman as Defense Minister.

Hamas’s network of attack and smuggling tunnels are the group’s weapons, he said, adding that the organization’s fighters dig cross-border tunnels just like Israel buys warplanes.

Earlier on Wednesday, Palestinian media reported that eight Gazans were injured when a tunnel collapsed near Gaza City, the latest in a series of cave-ins in recent months that have killed over a dozen Palestinians.

Their wounds were described by the Palestine News Network as light to moderate.

The collapse overnight Tuesday was the 15th such incident reported since the beginning of the year. At least 19 people, most of them reportedly members of Hamas’s armed factions, have been killed in the collapses. On July 19, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative was killed in the Strip in a tunnel collapse east of Khan Yunis.

It is not clear what is causing the collapse of many of the tunnels, which serve a variety of purposes, from smuggling goods and firearms from the Sinai Peninsula to carrying out terror attacks against Israeli towns near the Gaza border.

Israeli officials have warned that Hamas, which is sworn to the Jewish state’s destruction, has begun rebuilding its network of subterranean tunnels, some of which could extend into Israeli territory and be used for surprise attacks, as they were in 2014.

Since April, the IDF has discovered two tunnels leading into Israeli territory, and the Shin Bet says it has captured a number of Gazans who have given them extensive information on the tunnel system.

Israeli officials have linked many of the recent tunnel collapses to Hamas’s shortage of materials such as wood and cement, needed to strengthen walls of sand.

Reports in Hebrew-language media say that Hamas has been using fiberglass instead, a material that has proven too weak to support the weight of the sand.

An Israeli blockade designed to keep weapons and other military infrastructure from entering the Strip severely restricts the movement of people and goods into and out of the territory, and Egypt’s sole border with Gaza has also remained largely closed since 2013 over Egyptian claims that Hamas has supported the Muslim Brotherhood and an Islamist insurgency in the Sinai.    (the Times of Israel)

Israel is failing to plan for its future,’ former national security chief warns

Israel’s efforts at longterm planning are much weaker than those of other developed countries, former National Security Council chairman Prof. Uzi Arad told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Subcommittee on National Planning this week.

“We in Israel are frighteningly provincial,” he said.

“We don’t know the methods [for national planning], and we aren’t learning them.

Our universities lag behind in imparting these skills.

Compared to other advanced countries, Israel is completely weak in this area.”

According to Arad, there are many existing bodies to predict or forecast, but “national planning is nonexistent.

Long-term actions come from the state budget, instead of planning establishing the budget,” he lamented.

In the US and UK, Arad added, the National Security Council does long-term planning, but it is not one of its responsibilities by law in Israel.

Arad recommended that a long-term national planning unit be formed in the Prime Minister’s Office, so that it sees the overall system and not a specific ministry, and so it can be close to decision- makers.

“Only when the prime minister puts his whole weight behind an issue do things move in Israel,” he argued.

A National Education, Science and Technology Council should be formed, Arad suggested, in parallel to the existing National Security Council and National Economic Council. The planning unit would exist under the umbrella of the three councils and be made up of their representatives, who will work for several months each year on planning.

Arad explained that planning is not the same as predicting or intelligence work; planning is an attempt to affect the future towards a defined goal. Planning is creative, whereas working with intelligence is analysis must be done neutralizing emotion to present an accurate description of a situation.

“Planning is a synthesis, in which we take the elements and turn them into something else, what we want and not what we have. Intelligence and planning, because of the basic differences in logic, must be close to one another, but separate,” he added.

Arad also asked the subcommittee to write a report with findings and recommendations for the government.

Subcommittee for National Planning chairman Nachman Shai (Zionist Union) said the MKs would do so, calling it a critical issue.

“Israel understands the need for national planning, but does not have the necessary tools to do so, so it doesn’t succeed in the task,” Shai stated. “The political system is behind security, which manages to look to the future.”

Shai said MKs left the discussion sad, but with the information necessary to make recommendations that will improve the situation.   (Jerusalem Post)

IDF fights daily battle to hold on to career soldiers

Away from the battlefield the IDF wages an altogether different kind of campaign to prevent career soldiers and officers from quitting.

Low-ranking career soldiers often find being on call constantly for the first seven years of service almost more than they can endure. Making matters worse, until recently that duty earned them less than minimum wage.

Mid-ranking officers present a different challenge to longterm retention. The expertise the develop from advanced technology training provided by the military turns those officers into valuable recruitment targets for private enterprise.

A senior IDF officer familiar with the importance of retaining talented officers, spoke with The Jerusalem Post but asked not to be identified. The source said the army has taken steps to improve conditions for junior career soldiers and prevent brain drain, particularly among hi-tech programmers and engineers.

But with 4,000 permanent personnel leaving the military as part of efficiency reforms in the last three years, service members began to see their long-term career choice seem suddenly unstable.

Under the IDF’s multi-year Gideon Plan, one third of career personnel will remain until achieving the rank of lieutenant- colonel and retire after full service. A second third will leave halfway through service at the rank of major. The final third will leave after seven years of service.

“One out of 11 will complete their whole service,” the source said. “We want the best to reach the pension retirement stage.”

The IDF is also interested in improving conditions for those who will not reach the last stage of service. To that end, commanders can now award grants of NIS 5,000 to NIS 8,000 to outstanding career personnel.

Hundreds of grants may be awarded under the program, which began in March but is only now being implemented.

The grants were designed to improve conditions of junior service members who struggle to make ends meet. A recent IDF pay raise of 10 percent only brought salary levels up to minimum wage.

“At the age of 26 or 27, they will want to start a family, but salaries are low. We came along and said, let’s provide incentives, as much as we can,” the source said.

The grants are given for excellence and can be used for studies or personal expenses. “For the first time, commanders can provide a financial incentive to subordinates. A brigade commander can decide to award a subordinate for holding an excellent exercise,” the source said. “This creates a commitment, a willingness to be on call at any time,” the source said.

IDF commanders were initially confused by the program and expressed uncertainty about how to use it. Now, however, the financial prizes are making a difference to morale.

“This is a pilot. It looks like it’s successful, but it is still incomplete.

Next year, we could enlarge it,” the source said.

Meanwhile, technological officers aged 30 and up face the siren call of hi-tech companies, against whose incentives the IDF has “no chance” of matching.

On the other hand, the IDF provides personal challenges and an opportunity to serve one’s country, something no corporation can match.

“We have managed to stem the brain drain,” the source said. “We send outstanding officers to study for PhD and take cyber courses in leading institutions.”

“We bring the campus to them and they learn together.

Suddenly, they don’t want to rush to leave,” the source said.

“People are staying.”              (Jerusalem Post)

Haredim to surpass Arab population by 2050

A new study published this week suggests Israeli society is in the midst of a dramatic demographic shift, one which could radically alter Israeli politics, the Israeli economy, and the relationship between religion and state.

According to the 2016 annual survey of Israel’s haredi community, conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute and Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, Israel’s haredi population is likely to surge past the country’s Arab population by mid-century – and become the single largest religious group among Israeli Jews.

The shift is caused by a confluence of trends among Israel’s various population sectors.

Secular Jews, presently the largest group in Israel, have maintained a stable total fertility rate (TFR) – the number of children born per woman on average – just at the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman, a figure that is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

The birth rate among traditional Jews has increased marginally over the past decade, rising from 2.2 in 2005 to 2.6 in 2014. Among traditional-religious Jews the rate is slightly higher, rising from 2.6 in 2005 to 3.0 in 2014.

For non-haredi religious Jews, the TFR has remained stable at 4.2.

But with a TFR of 6.9, the haredi population’s growth rate is more than double the total Jewish TFR of 3.1 and even the Arab TFR of 3.3.

Given the significantly larger haredi TFR, the study projects the haredi population will surpass Israel’s Arab population (including eastern Jerusalem, but not Judea, Samaria, or Gaza) around 2050.

By that point, the haredi population is expected to more than triple from its current size of roughly one million to over three million.

The study also projects the Arab TFR will continue its decline from 3.6 in 2009 to 2.6 by 2040.

While haredim made up just 9.9% of the Israeli population in 2009, with 750,000 out of 7,552,100, by 2014 that figure had risen to 11.1%, with 910,500 haredim out of a total Israeli population of 8,183,400.

By 2024, the study predicts, haredim will make up 14% of the Israeli population, rising to 19% by 2039, and 27% by 2059. At that point haredim will be a whopping 35% of the total Jewish population, outnumbering the secular, traditional, traditional-religious, and religious sectors.

This despite projecting declines in the haredi TFR, which is expected to decline to less than 5 children on average per woman by mid-century – but still well above the projected TFR for non-haredi Jews (2.4) and Arabs (2.6).                       (Arutz Sheva)

Gaza man infiltrates Israel, evades capture for nearly a day

A Palestinian man who sneaked into Israel from the Gaza Strip evaded capture for nearly 24 hours before he was picked up by security forces on Wednesday morning, the army said.

On Tuesday afternoon, soldiers monitoring the closed-circuit cameras along the southern border with Gaza noticed the man cross into Israeli territory in the Eshkol region, an army spokesperson said.

“Forces located the unarmed suspect earlier today,” the spokesperson said on Wednesday afternoon.

Though troops were called to the area soon after the man crossed into Israel, they were unable to locate him. It was not immediately clear how he eluded them, the spokesperson said.

The man was found by Border Police officers over six miles (10 kilometers) inside Israeli territory, hiding near some greenhouses outside the town of Netivot, Channel 2 news reported.

In light of the infiltration, residents of nearby communities were told to remain in their homes on Tuesday night, as it was not known at the time whether the suspect was armed.

An unmanned aerial vehicle was also brought into the area to assist in the search, according to the television report.

Once the man was caught, he was handed over to the Shin Bet security service for an interrogation, which should help shed light on the incident, the army said.

While it is not uncommon for residents of the Gaza Strip to attempt to sneak into Israel, the amount of time it took for security forces to locate the man is unusual.

The Gaza border fence contains a bevy of sensors and cameras, along with a large number of soldiers who regularly patrol the area. Infiltrators are typically caught within hours, if not sooner.

The Gaza Division was to open an investigation into the incident.                (the Times of Israel)

Petty Arab apartheid, Olympic-style

by Gerald Steinberg     The Jerusalem Post


In the bad old days in South Africa, “petty apartheid” was the term used for the daily oppression and humiliation of blacks through separate public water fountains, bathrooms, buses, cafeterias and similar facilities. This strictly enforced separation was a sign of the black population being viewed as subhuman.

Since 1948, petty apartheid has also been a feature of the widespread Arab rejection of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. This practice is ongoing and is often taken for granted and ignored, as was the case of South Africa for many years.

For example, on Friday, just before the opening of the Rio Olympics, the bus provided by the International Olympic Committee picked up the 10-member Lebanese team and then went to pick up the Israeli team. The Lebanese blocked the Israelis from entering the bus, and according to media accounts team captain Salim al-Haj Nakoula “demanded that the door be closed on the Israeli team, but they ‘insisted on getting on.’” Haj Nakoula continued: “I then stood at the door of the bus to prevent the Israel team from entering and some of them tried to go in and pick a fight.”

The chronology was confirmed by the Israelis, who told the Olympic Committee officials that if the Lebanese could not stomach riding with Israelis, “They were welcome to take another bus.” After the brief standoff, however, and in order to avoid a violent confrontation, the Israeli team backed down and agreed to ride a different bus.

This is petty apartheid – practiced against Israel and Israelis on a daily basis, year in and year out, for 68 years, and still going strong. It is not a minor and childish “spat” as depicted in some media headlines (“Olympics spat as Lebanese stop Israelis joining them on bus,” Associated Press, The Washington Post) – but rather similar to the refusal to allow blacks in South Africa before 1994, or in the US before the civil rights movement, to sit with whites on buses or drink from the same water fountains.

Many Israelis have experienced this racism in one form or another.

I have been at academic conferences and diplomatic receptions around the world where Palestinian, Tunisian, Saudi and Iranian panelists, including government officials, have avoided shaking my hand or even acknowledging my standing as an Israeli Jew.

In cultural and sporting events, including previous Olympic Games, Arabs and Iranians have gone to great lengths to avoid being “contaminated” by Israelis, suddenly withdrawing from events, even when they would automatically lose as a result. In 2008, swimmers from Syria and the Islamic Republic of Iran took this route, and during the 2012 London Olympics, the Lebanese judo team went as far as refusing to practice in view of the Israelis, forcing organizers to erect a separation barrier (an Arab “apartheid wall”). In Rio, a Saudi judoka suddenly dropped out, apparently to avoid facing an Israeli.

The so-called international community, including the Olympic Committee, has, at most, reprimanded the boycotting teams and athletes, becoming a willing accomplice to anti-Israel apartheid.

In previous displays of this racism, no action was taken against the Syrian, Iranian and Lebanese teams and no penalties exacted to create a deterrent or express opposition.

In these frameworks, like the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, the 57 members of the Islamic bloc (formally known as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), including the wealthy oil producers, control the agendas and have veto power over the officials.

Similarly, the self-appointed guardians of human rights, including NGO superpowers such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, are silent when Israelis are the victims. Indeed, they are very active in promoting the apartheid inherent in the boycott movement, which is the current Western embodiment of the Arab League’s economic boycott of Israel. The anti-Israel campaigners in the democratic West who wrap themselves in the façade of human rights and opposition to racism are part and parcel of this apartheid.

In Lebanon, whose government and society is subject to intimidation by the Hezbollah terrorist organization, Minister of Youth and Sport Abdel Motaleb al-Hennawi praised Nakoula’s actions in Rio as “principled and patriotic.” Not surprisingly, Hezbollah noted that “the Israelis were sent away from the bus because normalization [with Israel] is not to be had in any form, and because the Lebanese identity [is that of] resistance. Be proud to be Lebanese.” As in the case of South Africa under the apartheid regime, contact with Israelis is treated as a form of impurity, and petty apartheid remains the norm.

Olympic News

Australian Jewish rower Jess Fox will continue to chase her dream of becoming an Olympic champion after finishing with a bronze medal in the women’s K1 canoe slalom final.               RW