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Latest News in Israel – 15th January

Former president Peres suffers mild heart attack, ‘doing well’

Former president and prime minister Shimon Peres was admitted Thursday morning to the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer after complaining of chest pains. Doctors said he suffered a mild heart attack.

Ayelet Frish, Peres’s aide and spokeswoman, said the 92-year-old former statesman was taken to the hospital after he woke up “and felt pains in his chest.”

“The paramedic in his security detail determined an irregular heart beat,” she said in a statement.

After an EKG test and consultation with Rafi Walden, Peres’s personal doctor and son-in-law, an ambulance was called to take him to Tel Hashomer, Army Radio reported.

Walden told Army Radio that Peres had suffered a “mild heart attack.”

Once admitted, Peres underwent a cardiac angioplasty, an emergency but common procedure, after a narrowed coronary artery was found. The artery was successfully expanded during the procedure and Peres was “feeling well,” according to his office.

Peres is expected to stay in hospital for a “few days” and then return to normal activities, Walden said.

“His heart is strong,” said his son Chemi, noting that this father did not lose consciousness at any point. “He’s full of energy.”

His daughter, Zvia, complained that news of his hospitalization had been reported so rapidly and prominently, asserting that it should have been a private matter until the family was ready to publicize it.

Peres’s presidential successor, Reuven Rivlin, telephoned Peres in the hospital to wish him well. The conversation began with Peres politely asking Rivlin about his health, Army Radio reported.

Two weeks ago rumors flooded the Internet that Peres, who has remained active despite his age, had died. A spokesman quashed the claims, poking fun at the reports.

“Shimon Peres would like to clarify that he is alive and well,” a statement from his office said. “The only thing preoccupying him at this moment is his dinner.”

The rumors of Peres’s death spread in various WhatsApp groups, which frequently report false news.

Peres, now retired, had a 55-year political career, most recently as Israel’s president from 2007 to 2014. He served as prime minister twice — from 1984 to 1986 as part of a rotational government, and in 1995 after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. He spent most of his career in the Labor party.

He had been set to take part Thursday in the third annual Ladino festival, being held this week in Tel Aviv.                (The Times of Israel)

IDF officer stabbed and wounded near Nablus; assailant shot and killed

A suspected terrorist lightly wounded an Israeli officer on Thursday after stabbing him on the hand on the slopes of Mount Ebal near Nablus located in the West Bank.

The assailant was shot and killed following the incident.

According to Palestinian media accounts, the suspect was 36-year-old Mahmoud Abed al Jalil Yasin.

The incident began when the alleged assailant threw a Molotov cocktail at security forces stationed on the slopes, where he then pulled out a knife and attacked the officer.

The incident marks the second terrorist attack of the day.

Earlier on Thursday, a suspected terrorist was shot and killed by Israeli security forces after attempting to stab a soldier at the Beit Einoun junction located close to the Kiryat Arba settlement and the West Bank city of Hebron.

No Israelis were injured in the event.

The incident is the latest in a string of violent attacks against Israelis who have been the target of Palestinian violence over the last three months.         (Jerusalem Post)

Security forces shoot, kill suspected terrorist in thwarted knife attack in West Bank

A suspected terrorist was shot and killed by Israeli security forces Thursday morning after attempting to stab a soldier at the Beit Einoun junction located close to the Kiryat Arba settlement and the West Bank city of Hebron.

No Israelis were injured in the event.

The incident follows a deadly attack earlier in the week within the same area.

The IDF on Tuesday killed three Palestinian assailants in the West Bank, two in the area of the South Hebron Hills and one near Bethlehem.

In the afternoon, a car arrived at the Beit Einoun junction and stopped close to a group of soldiers touring the area, according to the IDF.

A Palestinian man got out of the car with a knife, an IDF spokesman said. Soldiers immediately shot the Palestinian and the driver of the vehicle, the IDF said, adding that the driver was still able to flee the scene.

The Beit Einoun junction is north east of the city of Hebron and near the villages of Al-Shayoukh and Sair.                   (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu declared Likud leader for seventh term

The Likud’s election committee formally decided Thursday to endorse a decision by the party’s internal court to cancel the uncontested February 23 leadership race and declare Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the winner.

The decision put an end to the legal dispute over the one-man Likud primary. The head of the committee, former Haifa District Court judge Menahem Neeman, said Netanyahu is the party’s candidate for prime minister in the next election and no additional leadership can be held before then.

Netanyahu won a seventh term as leader of Likud, which since the founding of the state has had only four leaders: Menachem Begin Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon, and Netanyahu. All of the party’s leaders served as prime minister. Begin won the most terms as Likud leader with nine.

While there is no indication that Netanyahu would choose to sit out a future Likud leadership race, two expected candidates in the post-Netanyahu era will give dueling speeches at an event in two weeks in Eilat. The main speaker at the “Likudiada” will be Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, who joined Likud last month, was added to the docket of speakers Thursday.

Ya’alon told Army Radio Thursday that he would not run for Likud leader as long as Netanyahu is a candidate.

Now that the Likud leadership race is over, Netanyahu is expected to make long-awaited appointments in the party as early as next week. The most likely scenario is that Tourism Minister Yariv Levin will be appointed economy minister and coalition chairman Tzachi Hanegbi tourism minister.

There will be a battle for coalition chairman between MKs David Bitan and Mickey Zohar. Bitan proved his right-wing credentials Thursday by visiting Hebron.

Hanegbi’s other post as head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is being sought by MKs Avi Dichter, Yoav Kisch and Anat Berko.              (Jerusalem Post)

Ex-Israeli diplomat suggested getting Israel booted from the UN

More details emerged Tuesday morning regarding a secret recording of a meeting between ex-diplomat Alon Liel and about five central activists in Breaking the Silence, a group that besmirches the IDF abroad. The meeting took place in the Tel Aviv offices of Breaking the Silence – which receives funding from the New Israel Fund, among other sources – on December 17, 2015, and was recorded by a “secret agent” from nationalist group Ad Kan.

According to Yifat Erlich of Yediot Aharonot, who saw the entire recording, Nadav Weiman, Breaking the Silence’s coordinator of activists, started the conversation by explaining that the group has been coming under fire for attacking Israel abroad, and describing a feeling that matters were spinning “out of control.”

He described Liel as “a good friend of the organization who has been accompanying us from the outset.”

Liel told the group that “international activity is critical.” One reason, he said, is that the Left has lost the battle for Israeli public opinion.

“I receive terrible ricochets from the Israeli public,” he continued. “I am threatened. All of my friends are threatened. I believe that only the international community can change public opinion, as happened in South Africa.”

One of the activists asked Liel if the group’s legitimacy does not depend on the Israeli public.

Liel replied: “What legitimacy do you have? You have a two percent legitimacy, you see. But what two percent? The most moral people, the brightest ones, who can see 20 years ahead, who are not brainwashed by the messianic right-wing propaganda. Only people who do not depend on anyone. I can guarantee you that [ex-Shabak head Yuval] Diskin and [MK Yaakov] Perry think the same way. [But Yesh Atid head] Yair Lapid has come out against you, so Perry knows that if he says a word, he will be booted from the Knesset list.”

Liel further explained that he can speak his mind freely because “I do not depend on anyone. The university in Tel Aviv will not say anything because many of the professors there share my opinions.”

‘They were traitors’

Liel, who was Israel’s ambassador to South Africa and Director of the Foreign Ministry, described how apartheid South Africa gradually lost its legitimacy and said that the Israeli context was “very similar.”

“You are our country’s hope,” he encouraged the activists. “It’s true that so many people think you are wrong, but I told you about the Jews who helped Nelson Mandela. There, their families did not speak to them. They were traitors to the whites, to the Jews, they were exiled, they were jailed. You have not yet begun to pay those prices.”

Liel then explained that the group needs to focus on the UN, because individual nations have a hard time fighting Israel: “Not even Britain, not France, not the United States, because of the consensus here, because of the determination and the willingness to pay a price. Bibi was willing to go to Congress and fight Obama, and nothing happened.”

However, he said, if the UN Security Council adopts a pro-Palestinian resolution and the US does not veto it, the matter could reach the General Assembly, which could then make Palestine a full member state. If this happens, he elucidated, Israel would be deemed as occupying a UN member state, and this “sets into motion an unavoidable process of beginning to suspend us from the UN. It is unavoidable. No UN member state in history was an occupier of another state that is a UN member. South Africa was booted from the UN; it was dismissed. No one could take part in Olympic games. You couldn’t travel anywhere in the world with a South African passport.”

‘I couldn’t leave my home for a whole week’

At this point, Weiman said: “If they do a sports boycott on Israel… God. Really, I say a sports boycott on Israel.”

Liel agreed and floated the idea that FIFA could boycott Israel, leaving Israeli soccer fans with league games like Betar Jerusalem versus Hapoel Tel Aviv. “Is that worth living for? For the brawls between Betar and Hapoel fans? Let me breathe a bit. Some Barcelona. You think it can’t happen? It can still happen.”

Liel informed the activists that a FIFA committee had just met with the PA prime minister in Jericho to discuss similar ideas. “Imagine FIFA saying, no problem, Israel, you have great soccer, but let Betar Ariel and Betar Givat Ze’ev play in the Palestinian League. That would be enough for us.”

Liel then boasted about his role in getting Brazil to refuse the appointment of Dani Dayan as ambassador. “We went to the Brazilian ambassador and told him, he may be a big shot internally, but outside he is the head of the settlers, don’t approve him. I couldn’t leave my home for a whole week,” he said. “Worse than what you are experiencing now. A week I couldn’t leave.”

Liel responded to Yediot Aharonot by saying that he is motivated only by a concern for the future of Israel. “There is no reason to record me secretly; my views are well known and I say them from every podium.”

Breaking the Silence said its activists were “happy and even proud” to meet with Liel, “as we meet with numerous people, with a variety of views, as part of the team’s process of development and learning.”                                         (Arutz Sheva)

Netanyahu on Swedish FM’s remarks: Outrageous, immoral, unjust and stupid

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom for comments she made this week in which she called for an investigation to determine if Israel was guilty of extrajudicial killings of Palestinians during the current wave of terrorism.

In his first public reaction to the controversial remarks, Netanyahu said they were, “outrageous, immoral, unjust, wrong and stupid.”

“People are defending themselves against assailants wielding knives who are about to stab them to death and they shoot the people – and that’s extrajudicial killings?” Netanyahu said.

During a Swedish parliamentary debate Wallstrom said, “It is vital that there is a thorough, credible investigation into these deaths in order to clarify and bring about possible accountability.”

Netanyahu said he didn’t know what the motivation was for the foreign minister’s remarks, stopping just short of repeating Energy and Water Minister Steinitz’s comment that Wallstrom’s remarks smacked of anti-Semitism.

The Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said Wallstrom’s comments indicate that “she does not understand what is happening in our region and is apparently not aware of the difficult situation facing Israeli citizens, and the continuous danger of murderous terrorism.”

The Foreign Ministry spokesman also said on Wednesday that Sweden will not have any role to play in the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process as a result of Wallstrom’s hostility toward Israel.

The statement came as the ministry announced that its deputy director-general for Western Europe, Aviv Shir-On, called in Swedish ambassador Carl Magnus Nesser to protest Wallstrom’s comments.

The decision to summons Nesser was made by Netanyahu, who directed Shir-On to protest not only the statements, but to register the government and the country’s anger at what they see as Sweden’s imbalance and hostile attitude toward Israel.   (Jerusalem Post)

Top Israeli Official Calls Swedish Foreign Minister an Antisemite

An Israeli minister called Sweden’s top diplomat an “antisemite,” after she once again attacked the Jewish state during a parliamentary session on Tuesday.

In an interview with Israel Radio on Wednesday morning, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources Minister Yuval Steinitz blasted Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström for demanding an investigation into Israeli “extrajudicial killings” of Palestinians during the current wave of violence.

Dozens of Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces — many of them in the middle of carrying out terrorist attacks against Israeli soldiers, police and civilians — since October, when tensions flared in Jerusalem and across the West Bank.

Steinitz, from the ruling Likud Party, said Wallström was an antisemite – “whether consciously or unconsciously” – because she singled out Israel for killing terrorists without trial while other countries, such as the US, Russia and France, do so without her demanding an investigation.

Steinitz also said Sweden was the “EU champion” for the number of citizens that have gone to fight for ISIS.

Israel Radio also reported on the harsh response to Wallström’s remarks from politicians across party lines.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, also of Likud, announced that her office would not review requests from Swedish ministers or deputy ministers to visit Israel. As far back as a year ago, according to Israel Radio, a message was conveyed to Wallström that if she came to the country, nobody would meet with her.

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni said it was unacceptable to compare terrorist attacks with the Israeli security response. Livni stressed however that Israel must maintain normal diplomatic relations with Sweden before adopting more extreme measures.

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman — who was Wallström’s counterpart in the previous government — went a step further than Steinitz, saying, “The only thing the Swedish foreign minister hasn’t done yet is actually join the Palestinian terrorists in stabbing Jews. Given how she’s behaved until now, one can only hope this won’t happen.”

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, of Labor, said that Wallström was giving a “tail wind” to terrorism and that comments like hers on Tuesday made the chances for separation between Israel and the Palestinians harder to achieve.            (the Algemeiner)

Call for French Jews to hide kippot sparks harsh debate

A senior communal figure in France has called on Jews to refrain from wearing kippot out of fear of anti-Semitic violence, sparking condemnations from within the community as well as from leading political figures.

French President François Hollande said it is “intolerable” for Jews to have to hide their kippot, AFP reported.

In an interview with Europe 1 radio on Tuesday evening, Zvi Ammar, president of the Consistoire religious association in Marseilles, advised the city’s Jews to temporarily refrain from wearing the Jewish headgear in order to forestall assaults such as Monday morning’s machete attack on a Jewish teacher outside a local synagogue.

“Given the gravity of the events, we must take exceptional decisions, and for me, life is more sacred than any other criteria,” Ammar said.

The decision, he continued, was “not [taken] to yield to terrorism or these barbarians, but only to preserve life, because there is nothing more sacred than human life.

In Jerusalem, Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett posted on Facebook: “In the State of Israel, no Jew will ever need to remove his kippa. Ever.”

Ammar’s comments ignited a firestorm in France, with media, politicians and community leaders weighing in.

“The chief rabbi of France and CRIF’s president, Roger Cukierman, said that wearing of a kippa is a personal choice, that no leader should tell the Jews whether to wear a kippa or not, and that issuing such an order would give a victory to ISIS terrorists,” Robert Ejnes, executive director of CRIF, the umbrella organization representing French Jewry, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

Writing on his website, Cukierman said it was “unhealthy that we made a collective recommendation,” calling it a “defeatist” and “clumsy initiative.”

Chief Rabbi of France Haim Korsia said that calling on Jews to remove their kippot was “not very dignified” and gives jihadists a victory

Such a decision is “tantamount to admitting that wearing a kippa is a provocation,” and such thinking will “require rabbis to shave off their beards tomorrow,” Korsia said. He called on Frenchmen to show solidarity by wearing head coverings to an upcoming soccer game in Marseilles.

The national headquarters of the Consistoire also declined to back Ammar, with president Joël Mergui launching a campaign titled “Hands off my kippa” on Tuesday evening.

“I can understand that in the context that is his, taken by emotion, he has proposed this emergency measure.

But he knows as I do that wearing a kippa or not will not solve the issue of terrorism,” Mergui told AFP.

According to Ejnes, the kippa flap is a “leading topic” in the French media, and “many French opinion leaders all expressed solidarity with the Jewish community and declared that Jews should not abandon their religious practices under pressure,” declaring it “contrary to the principles of French secularism which is supposed to guarantee freedom of religion to all citizens.”

Coming out of the weekly cabinet meeting at the Elysée presidential palace, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said, “The republic must protect its children…. Secularism is one of the republic’s principles – the possibility to believe or not to believe.

And if one chooses to believe – the possibility to practice one’s belief in religious venues or to wear religious signs. This is why for several months now I have ordered that thousands of security troops protect [Jewish] schools, mosques, synagogues, churches.”

The minister called for “unity and firmness.” Cazeneuve met with the Jewish teacher who was attacked. He will visit Marseilles in the coming days to meet with the Jewish community.

Those who spoke out against the call to hide kippot included Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Marseilles Mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin and Xavier Bertrand, regional president of the center-right Les Républicains party.

“It is surely not the advice that I personally would have given [not to wear kippot],” Vallaud-Belkacem said, adding that although Ammar obviously “intended to protect his people,” “this is not the message that should be expressed.”

Bertrand said, “Everybody understands why the president of the Jewish community in Marseilles made that decision; he is afraid, he fears for the Jews, he fears an attack…. But if we bow our heads, if the Jews of Marseilles give up on wearing the kippa, then France will not be France any more… tomorrow we will have the same question facing Muslims, facing Catholics.”

Not everyone was critical of Ammar’s call, however, with Yaakov Hagoel, the deputy chairman of the World Zionist Organization and its former director for combating anti-Semitism, telling the Post that such a policy is “okay if it’s temporary.”

“I think that at this point in time it’s not safe to go around as a Jew in the streets of Europe,” and sometimes removing a kippa is necessary if one “wants to return home,” he explained, calling it a “matter of security.”

Citing statistics indicating that 74 percent of victims of anti-Semitic aggression fail to file reports, Hagoel said that solutions will come only as a result of loud Jewish protests.

“If we don’t [protest], they will continue to hit us and kill us in the future,” he said.

French Jews often hide their kippot under baseball caps. In a 2013 study by the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights, a third of Jews polled said they refrained from wearing religious garb or Jewish symbols out of fear, and 23 percent avoided attending Jewish events or going to Jewish venues.

On Wednesday, French media reported that the assailant in Monday’s attack told investigators that he had been inspired by Islamic State and that he wanted to “die as a martyr,” after posting a photograph of himself holding his victim’s head on social media. The victim was lightly wounded.                           (Jerusalem Post)

‘Everyone with a kippa’ campaign launched to support French Jews

A new campaign calling on the public to wear a kippa in solidarity with French Jews flooded Twitter feeds with Photoshopped images of celebrities wearing kippot on Thursday .

The hashtag “#TousAvecUneKippa,” French for “everyone with a kippa,” gained popularity on Twitter after Zvi Ammar, president of the Consistoire religious association in Marseilles, advised the city’s Jews to temporarily refrain from wearing the Jewish headgear in order to forestall assaults such as Monday morning’s machete attack on a Jewish teacher outside a local synagogue.

These comments sparked condemnations from within the community as well as from leading political figures.

Users took to Twitter to call on everyone to wear a kippa as a sign of strength and support, using edited photos of well known figures wearing skullcaps to encourage participation.

Brad Pitt, David Beckham, Michael Jackson and Bono ware just some of the doctored celebrity photos used in posts specifying Friday at 10 a.m. as a time of global support against anti-Semitism.

On Wednesday, French President Francois Hollande expressed dismay that French Jews feel the need to “hide.”

“It is intolerable that in our country citizens should feel so upset and under assault because of their religious choice that they would conclude that they have to hide,” said Hollande.

French Jews often hide their kippot under baseball caps. In a 2013 study by the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights, a third of Jews polled said they refrained from wearing religious garb or Jewish symbols out of fear, and 23 percent avoided attending Jewish events or going to Jewish venues.

On Wednesday, French media reported that the assailant in Monday’s attack told investigators that he had been inspired by Islamic State and that he wanted to “die as a martyr,” after posting a photograph of himself holding his victim’s head on social media. The victim was lightly wounded.               (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu to Brazil: Settler leader only ambassador we’ll offer

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said if Brazil won’t approve former settler leader Dani Dayan as its ambassador, Israel won’t offer another diplomat.

Israel’s Channel 2 News reported Netanyahu’s comments Wednesday.

According to i24news, Israel not having an ambassador in Brazil would represent a “de facto downgrade in relations” between the two countries.

Netanyahu’s apparent decision to stand by Dayan comes a week after various reports that Israel would withdraw Dayan’s name and instead give him the Israeli consulate general position in Los Angeles or New York.

Earlier this week, a group of 40 retired Brazilian diplomats signed a statement against the appointment of Dayan, complaining that Israel had bypassed protocol because there was no prior communication with the Brazilian Foreign Ministry or any presentation of his credentials for an agreement.

Netanyahu tapped the former head of the settlers’ Yesha Council four months ago to serve as envoy to Latin America’s largest nation, but the Brazilian government remained silent on the choice to signal an official rejection of Dayan’s credentials because of his settler past.

A native of Argentina, Dayan, 59, currently lives in the West Bank settlement of Maale Shomron.      (The Times of Israel)

Aliyah from Western Europe highest ever

The Jewish Agency revealed on Thursday that the number of Jews who made Aliyah to Israel from Western Europe has reached an all-time high.

According to the figures, 9,880 Western European Jews immigrated to Israel in 2015 – the highest number ever recorded.

The agency believes these high numbers are an outcome of increased anti-Semitic attacks.

The vast majority of Western European Olim, nearly 8,000, came from France where a rise in anti-Semitism has reduced the Jewish population’s sense of security.

Just this week, a machete-wielding teen attacked a Jewish teacher in the town of Marseille, sparking a debate among France’s Jewish community over whether men and boys should stop wearing a kippah.

Moreover, the Jewish Agency revealed that the nearly 800 Jews who made Aliyah from the United Kingdom in 2015 rose by almost 25% compared to the previous year, making it the third highest Aliyah figure in a decade.

In response to the security threats, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said, “the record numbers of European Jews that feel that Europe is no longer their home should alarm European leaders and serve as a wake-up call for all who are concerned about the future of Europe.”

“At the same time,” added Sharansky, “the fact that Israel has become the number one destination for European Jews seeking to build a better future elsewhere is a tribute to the appeal of life in Israel and the values the Jewish state represents.”                   (Arutz Sheva)

World Sailing condemn Malaysia for barring Israelis

World Sailing said Malaysian authorities were guilty of forcing Israel’s windsurfers to withdraw from the 2015 Youth World Championships and added that they would impose sanctions in the future event of a breach of the “no discrimination” regulations at a regatta.

Possible sanctions include: non-selection as a future venue, denial of appointment of World Sailing race officials to future regattas in the country, and/or cancellation of membership of World Sailing.

Israel’s Yoav Omer and Noy Drihan did not have an opportunity to defend their titles at the championships in Langkawi, Malaysia earlier this month after the Israel Sailing Association (ISA) said that it will not be participating in the event due to the demands made by the organizers and the fact the surfers had yet to receive visas. The ISA claimed that it was told the surfers would not compete under the Israel flag and wouldn’t be allowed to use any symbol identifiable with Israel on their cloths or surfboards. The hosts also said that should an Israeli win a gold medal the Israeli national anthem would not be played.

World Sailing’s investigation which was reviewed by an extraordinary meeting of the executive committee in London on Friday confirmed the ISA’s claims, with the sport’s governing body saying on Wednesday that it “deeply regrets that two sailors from the Israel Yachting Association (IYA) were unable to compete at the 2015 Youth World Championships due to the conditions imposed by the Malaysian authorities.” However, World Sailing did say that the ISA’s conduct also contributed to the unfortunate outcome.

“The conditions required by the Malaysian authorities breached Article 7 of the World Sailing constitution,” the statement read. “The late starting of the process to enable Israeli sailors to participate, delays and poor communication by all parties during that process, and the late notification of the conditions, contributed to the outcome and made it impossible for World Sailing and IOC [International Olympic Committee] to resolve the incident before the championships.” In conclusion, World Sailing wrote that “all World Sailing championships involve an element of country representation, and at all these regattas, flags shall be displayed and winners’ anthems played.

They shall be displayed and played equally for all competitors.

Organizing Authorities who are not able to meet this requirement should not bid, and will not be selected, to host future World Sailing championships.” ISA chairman Gili Amir threatened last month to file a lawsuit against World Sailing and the host country.

“The Malaysians’ demands are unacceptable, and as we haven’t received the visas, we decided not to participate. We condemn the unsporting conduct of the organizing committee. We will not agree to be humiliated,” Amir said at the time.

Omer claimed the gold medal in the boys Under-19 competition in the previous championships in Gdynia, Poland last summer, while Drihan won the girls U17 and U19 events.                           (Jerusalem Post)

U.S. church puts five Israeli banks on investment blacklist

The pension fund for the United Methodist Church has blocked five Israeli banks from its investment portfolio in what it describes as a broad review meant to weed out companies that profit from abuse of human rights.

Senior officials in Israel’s Foreign Ministry said they are still examining the decision, but added that Israel will make quiet efforts to convince the leaders of the church to change or soften the measure ahead of the Methodist General Conference in May.

The fund, called the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, excluded Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank, and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank, according to the pension board’s website.

The Israeli bank stock the board sold off was worth a few million dollars in a fund with $20 billion in assets. The fund also sold holdings worth about $5,000 in the Israeli real estate and construction company Shikun & Binui, and barred the company from the pension group’s investment portfolio.

The pension board identified Israel and the Palestinian territories among more than a dozen “high risk” countries or regions with “a prolonged and systematic pattern of human rights abuses.” Other countries on the list include Saudi Arabia, the Central African Republic and North Korea.

The Methodist church has about 13 million members worldwide and is the largest mainline Protestant group in the United States.

The pension board had initiated the review in 2014 with a focus on protecting human rights and easing climate change. A total of 39 companies around the world were excluded from the fund’s investments over human rights concerns and nine more were blocked over worries about their alleged contribution to global warming. The fund remains invested in 18 Israeli companies, according to board spokeswoman Colette Nies.

The banks had been among several companies targeted by United Methodist Kairos Response, a coalition of church members who advocate for divestment from companies with business in the Israeli occupied territories.

“This is the first step toward an effort that helps send a clear message that we as a church are listening and that we are concerned about human rights violations,” Susanne Hoder, a leader of United Methodist Kairos Response, said Tuesday. “We hope it will also be encouraging to people in the Jewish community who are working for justice.”

A competing group, United Methodists for Constructive Peacemaking in Israel and Palestine, said in a statement that the pension board action should not be viewed as divestment from Israel, since the top Methodist legislative body rejected proposals in 2012 to divest from companies that produce equipment used by Israel in the territories. The same body, called General Conference, passed a resolution denouncing the Israeli occupation and expanding Jewish settlements in the territories.

The pension board’s decision came at a time when divestment is gaining momentum among liberal Protestants as a tool to pressure Israel over its policies toward Palestinians. Last year, the United Church of Christ voted to divest from companies with business in the Israeli-occupied territories. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) took a similar vote in 2014.            (Ha’aretz)

Attacks by ISIS-linked group on Gaza border place lengthy quiet at risk

by Yaacov Lappin           The Jerusalem Post

http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Analysis-Attacks-by-ISIS-linked-groups-on-Gaza-border-could-spark-new-Hamas-Israel-conflict-441398

As in recent rocket attacks from Gaza, Wednesday’s attempt by a terrorist cell to plant explosives on the Israeli border was likely the work of a small ISIS-affiliated jihadist group in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas’s strategy continues to be to keep its home turf of Gaza out of the line of fire, while rebuilding its rocket arsenal, tunnel networks and battalions of fighters, and avoiding Israel’s painful strikes.

Hamas is trying its best to activate terrorist cells away from the Strip, in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, efforts that have so far been unsuccessful due to the Shin Bet intelligence agency, which works around the clock to preempt mass casualty incidents.

However, the presence of the smaller Salafi-jihadist groups and their ongoing attempts to spark a new conflict in Gaza pose a challenge to the achievements of Operation Protective Edge in 2014, which resulted in the lengthiest period of calm in the South for a decade.

Each attack by Islamic State-affiliated groups risks sparking a wider incident, which could drag in Hamas and Islamic Jihad against their will, and result in an escalation with Israel.

The activities of the small Gaza factions cannot be divorced from the wider scope of Islamic State attacks in the region, particularly those in Sinai, where the Wilyat al-Sinai group has been busy attacking Egyptian security forces, smuggling weapons from Libya, and last year bringing down a Russian passenger jet over the peninsula.

Links exist between Islamic State followers in Sinai and in Gaza. Hamas cooperates with the jihadists in Sinai, while repressing their counterparts in Gaza, as it attempts to safeguard its rule and maintain access to weapons in the Sinai Peninsula.

The new attempt to plant bombs, while unlikely to lead to any immediate escalation, is a warning signal regarding the unpredictability of events in Gaza, where wild card incidents carried out by Salafi-jihadists can rapidly transform the wider security situation.

All’s quiet on the southern Gaza front — and that’s bad

While soldiers stationed near the north of the Strip face rocket fire and other attacks, in the south, Hamas keeps a lid on Salafists and prepares for next round of fighting

By Judah Ari Gross                  The  Times of Israel

http://www.timesofisrael.com/alls-quiet-on-the-southern-gaza-front-and-thats-bad/

While the northern portion of the Gaza Strip has seen intermittent rocket launches, regular violent demonstrations and, most recently, an attempted bombing attack against Israeli troops, the southern end of the coastal enclave has been quiet — deceptively quiet, a senior IDF official said recently.

In the southern Gaza Strip and across the border in Egypt lie two different but looming threats: Palestinian terror and the Islamic State.

Neither Hamas nor the Islamic State want to go to war with the IDF today, according to army estimates, but that is the direction both are heading for the future, the officer said.

Within the Gaza Strip, Hamas is working tirelessly to construct new tunnels, amass more materiel and train fighters for the next round of violence with Israel. In Sinai, the Islamic State-affiliated group Wilayat Sinaa is currently occupied with a bloody, daily war with Egyptian forces, but they have Israel in their sights.

The threat from Islamic State is not imminent — it’s not going to necessarily happen “tomorrow or next year,” the officer said — but the army believes that the terrorist groups will eventually move against Israel, if Egypt does not succeed in defeating them first.

In Gaza, the situation is more complicated. It is easy to consider the Gaza Strip as one unified body ruled by Hamas, but within the 365 square kilometers (141 sq. mi.) region, there are a variety of groups, each with its own aim and plans to achieve it.

Though Hamas may want to wait until it is adequately prepared before taking on the IDF, the more radical and often Iran-supported Salafist groups are chomping at the bit to renew hostilities with Israel.

Nearly every attack against Israel by these groups, however, results in an IDF counterstrike against Hamas, which Israel holds responsible for any violence emanating from the coastal enclave. Hamas, a sworn enemy of the Jewish state, is therefore left with the unusual task of preventing those groups from carrying out attacks against Israel.

Breaking up the boredom

In the northern and central Gaza Strip, across the border from Israel’s Sha’ar Hanegev communities, Palestinian terror groups run wild, firing rockets and planting IEDs along the border fence, as Israel saw on Wednesday morning.

But in the south, Hamas commanders maintain better discipline over the more extreme Salafist groups, keeping such attacks to a minimum.

That discipline in the south translates into fewer small-scale skirmishes with the IDF and fewer rockets launched against the Israeli communities nearby, notably Sufa and Holit, which enjoy more quiet than their neighbors in Sha’ar Hanegev.

But it also means that there are more preparations for future battles with the Jewish state, in the form of intelligence gathering and tunnel construction, the officer said.

A senior Hamas member, Rahman al-Mubashar, was killed late last month when a tunnel east of Khan Younis, in which he was working, collapsed, the terror group announced last month. Given the Palestinian city’s location near the frontier with Israel, the statement could have been a reference to a tunnel nearing or in Israeli territory.

The quiet in the southern end of Gaza is meant to “distract us and lull us to sleep,” the officer said, to trick the IDF into security lapses.

The soldiers serving at Israel’s westernmost point face multiple threats from both Gaza and Egypt, sitting at the meeting point of the three territories. But unlike their comrades guarding the northern Gaza border and Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Syria, who face regular threats, the troops stationed in southern Gaza have little to naturally keep them alert.

The IDF believes that it is being watched and being intentionally bored to distraction, forcing commanders in the field to keep their soldiers on their toes with frequent exercises.

In addition, Golani Brigade soldiers stationed along southern Gaza carry out patrols along the border in order to prevent terrorists from entering Israeli territory and carrying out attacks, the officer said.

“It’s all about defense, defense, defense,” he said.

This entails monitoring the border fence for IEDs or evidence that someone crossed the border illegally, and also working with intelligence and combat engineering to identify possible attempts to tunnel into Israel.

While infiltration into Israel has become less of a problem of late, the officer said, soldiers are still kept busy by smuggling attempts along the Egyptian border, as well as African migrants attempting to enter the country through the Sinai.

The smuggling itself “doesn’t really interest us,” the officer said, though it does reveal the lapses in Israeli security that could be exploited by terrorists.

The soldiers, some of whom served in Gaza during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, are also partially responsible for the security of the Kerem Shalom Crossing, through which hundreds of tractor trailers loaded with food and aid travel into Gaza almost every day.

The Defense Ministry handles the majority of the security at the crossing, inspecting trucks coming through for contraband and guarding the complex itself while it is in operation. But the IDF, as the group ultimately responsibility for the area, checks the complex each morning before the trucks begin rolling through, the officer said.

In recent years, the crossing has been shot at with guns and rocket fire, leading Israel to shut the border and earning the Palestinians international sympathy over the lack of goods flowing in, the officer said.

Besides the occasional small weapons fire, the crossing, which sits near the Egyptian border, also came under serious attack in August 2012, when a group of terrorists from Sinai rammed an armored car through the border fence with Egypt, after attacking an Egyptian army installation.

They made it approximately two kilometers (1.25 miles) into Israel and toward Kerem Shalom before Israeli aircraft destroyed the vehicle.

The officer says he won’t allow such an attack to happen again.

“If I think the road is under threat, I’ll just put a tank in that area so that they know they will be stopped,” he said.

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