Israel Sees PA War In 2016
Israel’s defense community envisions a war with the Palestinian Authority in 2016. Officials said the military and intelligence community assessed that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas might opt for a limited confrontation with Israel this year to prevent rising unrest in the West Bank.
They said the 80-year-old Abbas faced increasing pressure from within the ruling Fatah movement to resign after more than 10 years in office. “If you analyze all of Abu Mazen’s [Abbas] statements and conduct, it seems that he will be swept into confrontation with us in 2016 in the diplomatic and security realm,”
Defense Ministry political-military division chief Amos Gilad said. Abbas has repeatedly threatened to quit and disband the PA in protest of Israeli policies. But the officials said Abbas was losing his authority with younger members of Fatah, including officers in the PA security forces.
One scenario raised by the defense community was that Abbas could order PA security forces to suspend cooperation with Israel. Officials cited declining PA police cooperation in stopping violent protests against Israel. “There is the potential for that,” Gilad told Israel Defense magazine. “We are taking this possibility very seriously.” Israel has been battling a Palestinian campaign since September 2015 that included daily stabbing and shooting attacks.
Officials said the campaign was promoted by the Iranian-backed Hamas and Islamic Jihad after they failed in numerous suicide bomb attacks in the Jewish state. “The fact that we are succeeding lends salience to the attempted stabbing or car-ramming attacks,” Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Jan. 14. “We will also prevail over this phenomenon, I say, but this is a process that takes time. Statistically, we see a decline in this.” (Middle East Newsline)
Palestinian Authority hard-liners blast security cooperation with Israel
Palestinian factions on Wednesday strongly condemned Palestinian Authority security commander Majed Faraj for his talk about security coordination with Israel.
Faraj, in an interview Sunday with Defense News, revealed that the PA security forces have prevented some 200 terrorist attacks against Israel since October 2015. He also revealed that his forces have arrested about 100 Palestinians on suspicion of planning attacks against Israelis.
Faraj is the commander of the PA’s General Intelligence Force in the West Bank.
His remarks triggered a wave of denunciations from a number of Palestinian factions that are strongly opposed to security coordination with Israel.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that Faraj’s admission that the PA security forces have prevented 200 attacks against Israel “proves these security forces’ role in serving the security of the occupation and combating the Palestinian intifada.”
Abu Zuhri said that the PA security forces in the West Bank were acting contrary to the Palestinians’ national consensus.
“Protecting the security of the occupation has become part of the ideology of the Palestinian security forces,” the Hamas spokesman charged.
“Hamas calls for a national campaign to confront this national and moral decline of the Palestinian Authority’s security establishment. These practices won’t succeed in aborting the intifada or providing security for the occupation.”
Marwan Abu Ras, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, condemned Faraj’s remarks, saying the Palestinian leaders in the West Bank have done nothing for their people. Abu Ras pointed out the PA has failed to compensate the families of Palestinians killed during the current wave of terrorism against Israel.
He also took issue with the PA for failing to contribute to the reconstruction of houses destroyed by the IDF in recent weeks.
“Instead of boasting about its security coordination with the occupation, the Palestinian Authority leadership should have boasted about he sacrifices and steadfastness of the Palestinians,” the Hamas official said.
Another Hamas official, Ismail al-Ashqar, said that Faraj’s remarks show that there is no difference between the Palestinian and Israeli security forces. “These remarks are proof of the dangerous role the Palestinian Authority is playing in the West Bank,” al-Ashqar said. “This role poses a strategic threat to the presence of the Palestinians in the West Bank.”
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine accused the PA of working towards “burying the intifada.”
It said that Faraj’s comments did not come as a surprise because the Palestinian Authority has always been conducting security coordination with Israel.” “The Palestinian Authority’s role has always been to serve the security interests of the occupation,” the PFLP claimed.
Talal Abu Zarifeh, a senior official with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine denounced Faraj’s remarks as a “political scandal.”
Abu Zarifeh said that the remarks were in contrast to PLO and Fatah recommendations to halt security coordination with Israel. (Jerusalem Post)
Hamas leader: Jihad, not despair, behind Palestinian violence
Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh declared Tuesday that the motive driving the recent wave of Palestinian terrorism was the desire to wage an all-out war against Israel.
“This intifada is not the result of despair. This intifada is a jihad, a holy war fought by the Palestinian people against the Zionist occupation. Only a holy war will drive the occupier out of Palestine,” Haniyeh said in a rally held by supporters of the Islamist group.
Haniyeh’s statement contradicted a recent remark by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who said the recent surge in violence was the result of the Palestinians’ despair over the deadlocked peace process with Israel.
Abbas visited Bethlehem on Tuesday, where he met with the leaders of the local Christian community.
He refrained from condemning Sunday’s terrorist attack in the South Hebron Hills community of Otniel, saying only that “the Palestinian Authority opposes any harm brought to innocent civilians, regardless of religion, race, or gender. There is no justification for spilling the blood of the innocent.” (Israel Hayom)
British doctors seek to expel Israel from World Medical Association
The students exposed to boycotts against Israeli academia today will be the senators of the next generation, and here lies the long-term danger, Prof. Peretz Lavie, president of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and chairman of the Association of University Heads in Israel, said on Wednesday.
He spoke at a Knesset Science and Technology Committee discussion on boycotts of Israeli academic institutions and researchers.
“We have no complaints about the academic leadership in the world. Our problem is on campuses. Initially this was only on marginal campuses, very quickly it spread to leading campuses in the US,” he told the committee.
Lavie addressed an upcoming vote by the American Anthropological Association in which its 12,000 members will vote on whether to adopt a boycott and refrain from formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions.
“The American Anthropological Association wrote a report that we are apartheid universities,” he said. “We must reach all 12,000 members of the association. This is a symptom and if we do not act the fire will spread.”
Lavie urged the committee to establish “one address to coordinate this issue.”
Prof. Zvi Ziegler, professor emeritus at the Technion and recently appointed head of an Association of University Heads forum to counter academic boycotts, told the committee he is “very worried about the future.”
“There is a covert boycott among faculty members [abroad]. It is still below the surface because they think it is illegitimate. With our meager forces, we are unable to stop this erosion,” he said.
The Knesset panel also heard from Dr. Zeev Feldman, chairman of the Israeli Medical Association World Fellowship and president of the Israeli Neurosurgical Society, who revealed that the latest boycott call comes from a group of 71 British doctors.
Speaking following the Knesset discussion, Feldman said the doctors penned a letter last week to the World Medical Association seeking to expel the Israeli Medical Association, claiming that Israeli doctors carried out “medical torture” on Palestinian patients.
According to Feldman, this letter was just one effort in a consistent and organized campaign against Israeli institutions and scientists.
“We are in a struggle, everyone must understand that there is an organized struggle – a fight against academia, doctors, and other Israeli bodies,” he said.
“Our stance is that these accusations are lies, and we are engaged in a dialogue with the World Medical Association and we will bring forth the facts, and I hope that it will be enough to [persuade the association to] reject this request,” he said.
Asked what the result of such a boycott might be, Feldman said it would have a “domino effect and radiate to all other scientific associations.
“A boycott of the Israeli Medical Association would prevent Israelis from participating in medical conferences [and] publishing papers in journals, would halt funding of research and joint research endeavors, and prevent membership in other medical associations,” he explained.
While Feldman said the Israeli Medical Association has been successful in countering past calls for boycotts, he fears a time may come when those opposing Israel will succeed.
“If there will be many hammer hits, eventually the wall will give in,” he said.
At the end of the Knesset Science and Technology Committee discussion, MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism), the panel’s chairman, called on the government to establish a central body responsible for coordinating the efforts to counter boycotts of Israeli academic institutions and researchers.
“The boycott [campaign] harms the strength of the State of Israel. The government must allocate appropriate funds for the good of the struggle in this hour of national emergency,” he said. (Jerusalem Post)
Ashkenazi to be wooed by two parties
Yesh Atid and the Zionist Union would both welcome former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi to their ranks if he chooses to enter politics, senior officials in both parties said on Wednesday.
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, followed by Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, congratulated Ashkenazi on Twitter after the decision by Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to close the Harpaz Affair case.
“I welcome former chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Ronit, and his family, on the closing of the file and the weight that was removed from their shoulders,” Herzog tweeted.
Lapid wrote that Ashkenazi make a major contribution to strengthening Israel’s security.
“This is important news for his family, for the IDF, and the state,” Lapid wrote.
Both Herzog and Lapid have met with Ashkenazi in the past and urged him to join their parties.
Lapid reportedly offered him the second slot on Yesh Atid’s list.
“I think any party in Israel would gain from having him, as would Yesh Atid,” Lapid has said in a past interview.
Zionist Union officials said anyone who could help defeat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must join their party.
Sources close to Ashkenazi said he had not decided yet whether to enter politics and that he needs to rest after an investigation that lasted more than five years.
But Channel 10 reported that Ashkenazi’s associates had said in private conversations that now that the case has been closed, the former general may enter politics if he decides to do so.
A Likud official said the Center- Left had been waiting for a general to save them from their poor leadership for many years though past generals-turned-politicians had proven in the past that experience on the military battlefield does not necessarily guarantee success on the political battlefield. (Jerusalem Post)
Secret 1970 agreement between Swiss, PLO revealed
A secret deal between Switzerland and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) from 1970 has recently come to light.
The Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung reports that then-Foreign Minister Pierre Graber offered to support Palestinians diplomatically in exchange for assurances the PLO would not carry out terror attacks against Swiss targets.
The precise details of the agreement will remain classified until 2020, according to Switzerland’s statute of limitations. While the particulars are unclear, the mere existence of such an arrangement seems to run counter to the country’s vaunted neutral status – a status which it takes so seriously that Switzerland refused to join the United Nations until 2002.
The move was taken after Palestinian groups carried out three serious attacks on Swiss air travel within about a year and a half.
In February 1969, four members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) attacked an El Al flight shortly before it took off from Zurich airport. They mortally wounded a pilot before an undercover security agent managed to stop them. A year later, a Swissair flight from Zurich to Tel Aviv was bombed, killed everyone on board.
Finally, that September, PFLP terrorists hijacked a Swissair flight to New York and forced it to fly to Jordan. The Jewish passengers were held hostage until Switzerland agreed to release four captured terrorists.
According to the report, the meetings between Switzerland and an internationally-designated terror organization raised ire in Israel, as well as in the US, UK, and Germany.
Some details in the case are still being investigated. In particular, a Palestinians man named Sufian Kaddoumi was arrested in connection with the Swissair bombing, but the Attorney General chose not to prosecute him. He never explained why, though the presiding judge repeatedly spoke of a “cloak of silence” over the case.
The meeting between the Swiss government and the PLO was arranged by long-time Israel hater Jean Ziegler, who was a member of the Swiss parliament at the time. Within diplomatic channels, he has encouraged the International Criminal Court in the Hague to charge Israel with war crimes and referred to Gaza as a “concentration camp.”
He is now on the UN Human Rights Council’s Advisory Committee.
NZZ asked Ziegler about his role in the affair, to which he replied that he had acted “in good faith,” and that it was proper to assist terrorists in order to keep his own country safe. (Arutz Sheva)
IDF to continue its move ‘off the grid’ with solar light installations
The IDF is taking the next step in going “off the grid” with a project to install 550 high-intensity solar-powered security lights at army bases in central and southern Israel, the SolarPower company announced on Wednesday.
Though the lights might be viewed as a cost-saving measure for the cash-strapped military, as well as an eco-friendly move, their main advantage is actually their ability to illuminate areas around bases that are too remote to connect to the national power grid, according to Alon Tamari, co-CEO of SolarPower.
The lights are able to stand alone, as they do not require digging or wires that would be necessary to connect conventional devices to an electricity source, he added.
Established in 2003, Solar- Power is an alternative energy systems supplier based in the Sharon region community of Pardesiya.
Speaking on Wednesday, Tamari emphasized that the project is not about creating alternatives to conventional lighting.
Rather, the systems present “the only option” for lighting up spots around bases’ security fences – and some cases, entrance gates – that would otherwise stay in the dark, he explained.
Still, the smaller amount of installation work required results in savings, which Tamari said overshadows the eventual energy savings and eco-friendly benefits that will come about once the lights are up and running.
“Green is always nice, but at the end of the day, it’s a cost-effective solution,” he said.
Each individual light system consists of solar panels that store the sun’s energy and send it to power an LED lightbulb. They will also be equipped with a backup battery bank capable of providing four days of lighting. This may be unnecessary, however, since an average cloudy day still provides 50-60 percent of the solar energy of a sunny day, according to Tamari, and therefore enough energy to power the lights through the night.
Overall, the project will cost about NIS 6 million, with a pilot stage starting in about a month. All of the lights should be up and running in six to 10 months, Tamar said. (Jerusalem Post)
Poll: 43% of French Jews interested in aliya
More than 7,900 French Jews made aliya in 2015, up 10% from the previous year, when the western European nation became the leading source of immigrants here with 7,000 olim.
More than 40 percent of French Jews are interested in making aliya to Israel, according to a new poll released this week.
Pollsters at the Institut français d’opinion publique spoke with more than 700 self-declared Jews, asking them about their preferences regarding a range of issues.
Among the findings: 43% are thinking, or have thought about, immigration to the Jewish state.
Given France’s approximately 700,000 Jews, that means that around 200,000 people are mulling aliya.
The same percentage of respondents also reported having thought about moving to Great Britain, Canada and the United States, although it is quite possible that there is significant overlap between the two groups.
Additionally, 59% of those queried indicated that they know somebody who has emigrated from France.
Anti-Semitism and a worsening economy have driven many French Jews to seek their fortunes abroad, with significant communities forming in Montreal, London and other cities.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post last year, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky stated that around 50,000 French Jews asked for information about immigrating in 2014.
More than 7,900 French Jews made aliya in 2015, up 10% from the previous year, when the western European nation became the leading source of immigrants here with 7,000 olim, more than twice the number from 2013.
However, while French aliya has surged dramatically in recent years, barriers to integration for Francophone immigrants have remained an issue for many, with such topics as the non-compatibility of French and Israeli degrees considered a deal breaker for many.
Lawmakers gathered in the Knesset to discuss this issue earlier this month, with Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee chair MK Dr. Avraham Neguise calling for the removal of such obstacles.
According to the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency, “49% of French Jews investigated emigration in 2012,” Dr.
Dov Maimon, a Francophone researcher at the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Institute told the Post on Tuesday.
“The situation hasn’t improved since, as you know,” he added, calling the IFOP survey unsurprising.
“The difference between religious and non-religious is very strong on the subject of emigration,” he continued. “69% of religiously observant Jews want to come to Israel. Only 29% of non-observant Jews” have expressed such an intent.
“The motivations for aliya are now mainly economic or family,” with “Zionism or religious reasons” being expressed as a factor impelling emigration by only around 30% of those looking to move, he said.
While the results do tend to fit in with previous research on the topic, Maimon expressed some reservations about the survey, stating that Jewish women and the ultra-Orthodox were underrepresented, skewing the findings.
Despite this, he said that the findings do “indicate and confirm the high potential opportunity for Israel to get for the first time in Zionism history an aliya wave from a developed country. To channel this emigration wave to Israel, a strategy has to be implemented providing no-cost legal modifications to allow French olim to work in their profession in Israel with an attractive package of benefits.” (Jerusalem Post)
Israeli tennis star Dudi Sela scores huge upset at Australian Open
Israel’s Dudi Sela succeeded where Rafael Nadal failed when he subdued Spain’s Fernando Verdasco to reach the Australian Open third round on Thursday.
Sela, ranked No. 87 in the world, claimed a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory over Verdasco (45), who stunned the 14-times Grand Slam champion in a five-set epic in the first round.
The Spaniard looked fatigued from his exploits against Nadal while Sela, cheered on by a flag-waving contingent of fans, struggled with nerves near the end. He ultimately held on to advance to the third round in Melbourne for a second straight year and will be aiming to make it through to the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament for just the second time in his career and a first since Wimbledon 2009.
After being knocked out by Nadal in the round of 32 in 2015, Sela will like his chances much more this time around, with his next opponent on Saturday to be Andrey Kuznetsov (74) of Russia. Kuznetsov beat No. 30 seed Jeremy Chardy 6-4, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) on Thursday. Sela and Kuznetsov have met only once before, with the Israeli winning in five sets in the first round of the US Open in 2013.
“I’m very happy,” said Sela. “Many Jews and Israelis come to watch me and it is a great atmosphere for me and I don’t want to let them down.
I’m back in the third round and I’m looking forward to the next match and hopefully I can do better than last year.” Sela served for the match in the ninth game of the fourth set and was within two points of victory, only to squander the opportunity and allow Verdasco to force a tiebreak. However, the Israeli pulled out the win in the breaker, with Verdasco’s cause not being helped by consecutive double-faults that gifted Sela a 5-2 lead.
“It was very tough,” said Sela about failing to serve out the match.
“Too many things go through your mind. I was 5-3 up, serving at 30-15, had an easy shot and didn’t go for it and then he played well and then you are thinking you are going to lose the match. I had my tactics which was to use my slice and come into the net whenever there is a short ball and I kept going with that and I’m happy that in the end it worked.” Sela, who hit 27 winners to Verdasco’s 56 but 31 unforced errors to the Spaniard’s 63, added that his goal is to return to the top 50 this year and said he is expecting a difficult match against Kuznetsov.
“I played Kuznetsov in the US Open and it went to a fifth set and was a really long match. He is a very solid player and it will be a very tough match,” said Sela.
Verdasco, a former world No. 7, admitted he was unable to recover from the four-hour 41-minute marathon against Nadal.
“Playing against someone like Rafa, you have to be extra-focused, and it was a very long match,” Verdasco said. “At the end, physically, you really need to push yourself to the limit. It’s not easy to come back two days after and be the same, after almost five hours against him, the way he pushes you, the way you have to give everything you have to try to beat them. I tried today, but my legs weren’t working that well.” (Jerusalem Post)
A First Look: Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
The first look at the new Wonder Woman movie starring Israeli actress and fashion model Gal Gadot was unveiled in a short teaser
DC Comics chief creative officer Geoff Johns gave a hint about the format of the film explaining that movie goers will get a chance to learn about Wonder Woman’s back story.
When it comes to Wonder Woman, “People don’t know her origin like they know Superman’s origin or Batman’s origin,” said Johns. “What we want to do in the film is really tell people who she is, where she comes from, and why she does what she does.
“We are going to see her coming of age, the entire history, what’s her mission,” Gadot explained.
Gadot is best known in the US for her role of Gisele Harrabo in three Fast and Furious films, starring alongside Paul Walker, who was killed in a car crash in California. (Jerusalem Post)
Palestinians: Western Media’s Ignorance and Bias
by Khaled Abu Toameh The Gatestone Institute
Foreign journalists based in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have for years refused to report on the financial corruption and human rights violations that are rife under the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas regimes. Palestinian “suffering” and the “evil” of the Israeli “occupation” are the only admissible topics.
Another Ramallah-based colleague shared that a few years ago he received a request from a cub correspondent to help arrange an interview with Yasser Arafat. Except at that point, Arafat had been dead for several years. Fresh out of journalism school and unknowledgeable about the Middle East, the journalist was apparently considered by his editors a fine candidate for covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Western reporters would do well to remember that journalism in this region is not about being pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian. Rather, it is about being “pro” the truth, even when the truth runs straight up against what they would prefer to believe.
Two Western journalists recently asked to be accompanied to the Gaza Strip to interview Jewish settlers living there.
No, this is not the opening line of a joke. These journalists were in Israel at the end of 2015, and they were deadly serious.
Imagine their embarrassment when it was pointed out to them that Israel had completely pulled out of the Gaza Strip ten years ago.
You have to have some pity for them. These foreign colleagues were rookies who aimed to make an impression by traveling to a “dangerous” place such as the Gaza Strip to report on the “settlers” living there. Their request, however, did not take anyone, even my local colleagues, by surprise.
These “parachute journalists,” as they are occasionally called, are catapulted into the region without being briefed on the basic facts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sadly, correspondents such as these are more the rule than the exception. A particular clueless British reporter springs to mind:
When Israel assassinated Hamas’s founder and spiritual leader, Ahmed Yasmin, in 2004, a British newspaper dispatched its crime reporter to Jerusalem to cover the event. To this reporter, the region, as well as Hamas, were virgin territory. His editors had sent him to the Middle East, he said, because no one else was willing to go.
Well, our hero reported on the assassination of Ahmed Yassin from the bar of the American Colony Hotel. His byline claimed that he was in the Gaza Strip and had interviewed relatives of the slain leader of Hamas.
Sometimes one feels as if one is some sort of a lightning rod for these tales. Another Ramallah-based colleague shared that a few years ago he received a request from a cub correspondent to help arrange an interview with Yasser Arafat. Except at that point, Arafat had been dead for several years. Fresh out of journalism school and unknowledgeable about the Middle East, the journalist was apparently considered by his editors a fine candidate for covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In the three decades of covering this beat, journalists of this type have become quite familiar to me. They board a plane, read an article or two in the Times and feel ready to be experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Some of them have even assured me that before 1948 there was a Palestinian state here with East Jerusalem as its capital. Like the ill-informed young colleagues who wished to interview the nonexistent Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip of 2015, they were somewhat taken aback to learn that prior to 1967, the West Bank had been under the control of Jordan, while the Gaza Strip had been ruled by Egypt.
Is there some difference between an Arab citizen of Israel and a Palestinian from the West Bank or Gaza Strip? My foreign colleagues may well not be able to say. Does the Hamas charter really state that the Islamist movement seeks to replace Israel with an Islamic empire? If so, my international co-workers may not be able to tell you.
One memorable journalist, several years ago, asked to visit the “destroyed” city of Jenin, where “thousands of Palestinians had been massacred by Israel in 2002.” She was referring to the IDF operation in the Jenin refugee camp where nearly 60 Palestinians, many of them gunmen, and 23 IDF soldiers were killed in a battle.
Pity aside, this degree of incomprehension — and professional laziness — is difficult to imagine in the Internet age.
But when it comes to covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ignorance apparently is bliss. Misconceptions about what goes on here plague the international media. The binary good guy/bad guy designation tops the list. Someone has to be the good guy (the Palestinians are assigned that job) and someone has to be the bad guy (the Israelis get that one). And everything gets refracted through that prism.
Yet the problem is deeper still. Many Western journalists covering the Middle East do not feel the need to conceal their hatred for Israel and for Jews. But when it comes to the Palestinians, these journalists see no evil. Foreign journalists based in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have for years refused to report on the financial corruption and human rights violations that are rife under the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas regimes. They possibly fear being considered “Zionist agents” or “propagandists” for Israel.
Finally, there are the local journalists hired by Western reporters and media outlets to help the cover the conflict. These journalists may refuse to cooperate on any story that is deemed “anti-Palestinian.” Palestinian “suffering” and the “evil” of the Israeli “occupation” are the only admissible topics. Western journalists, for their part, are keen not to anger their Palestinian colleagues: they do not wish to be denied access to Palestinian sources.
Thus, the international media’s indifference in the face of the current wave of stabbings and car-rammings against Israelis should come as no surprise. One would be hard-pressed to find a Western journalist or a media organization referring to Palestinian assailants as “terrorists.” In fact, international headlines often show more sympathy toward Palestinian attackers who are killed in the line of aggression than toward the Israelis who were attacked in the first place.
Of course, the above tales hardly apply to all foreign journalists. Some correspondents from the US, Canada, Australia and Europe are both very knowledgeable and very fair. Unfortunately, however, these represent but a small group among mainstream media in the West.
Western reporters, especially those who are “parachuted” into the Middle East, would do well to remember that journalism in this region is not about being pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian. Rather, it is about being “pro” the truth, even when the truth runs straight up against what they would prefer to believe.
Every Single Frenchman Can Don a Kippah and It Still Won’t Help French Jews
by Robert Zaretsky The Forward
To be or not to be willing to wear a kippah in public?
That is the question the French Jewish community, with Hamlet-like intensity and introspection, has been debating over the last few weeks. Even France’s non-Jews are making their opinions known, most notably by donning kippot in symbolic gestures of “solidarity.” It is, inevitably, a debate that reveals as much about politics and personalities as it does about the real stakes for the future of French Jews.
On January 11, a young Jewish professor named Benjamin Ansellem was outside his place of work, the Institut Franco-Hébraïque in Marseille, when a youth wielding a butcher knife pounced on him. The Torah saved his life quite literally. Thrusting the holy book he was carrying over his head, Ansellem blocked the repeated blows until a passer-by intervened.
Caught by the police, the attacker, of Turkish-Kurdish origins, claimed he had acted in the name of Allah and the Islamic State group. All the assailant knew about his intended victim was that the young man was wearing a kippah and must be Jewish.
The third time was clearly the charm. Two earlier assaults on Jews in Marseilles one last October, when a rabbi, on his way to synagogue with his son, was knifed; the other last December, when yet another Jewish teacher was assailed by a knife-swinging youth failed to capture the government’s full attention. This time, though, the response was swift. Prime Minister Manuel Valls, “sickened” by the news, reaffirmed the government’s “resolution against those who attack the Republic,” while President François Hollande spoke forcefully about the “unspeakable” nature of the act.
Perhaps because it was unspeakable, other public figures sought other ways to declare their solidarity with French Jewry. The conservative Claude Goasguen, whose family roots are in the Catholic region of Brittany and ideological roots in the extreme right-wing movement Occident strode to the doors of the National Assembly with a kippah perched rakishly on his head. That it resembled less a kippah than a beret mattered less than the context: the National Assembly the high temple of French republicanism and secularism, frowns on the wearing of any religious sign. Relishing the provocation, Goasguen pointed out that “the kippah is not the burka.”
But the kippah has also proved, in its own way, no less controversial. While Parisian politicians were donning them, the Jews of Marseilles were told to abandon them. Such, at least, was the advice of Zvi Ammar, the head of the city’s 80,000 Jewish community. “While waiting for better days,” Ammar suggested it would be best that Jews “hide themselves a little bit” by not wearing the kippah in public. Ammar insisted that Jews, “identified and targeted” as such, now risked death by wearing the kippah in public. In a televised interview, Ammar emphasized his reluctance in taking such a step. Rather than seeing this move as a kind of capitulation, it was instead a measure “to save human lives.” He added, “Unfortunately, when one is confronted by an exceptional situation, exceptional decisions are called for.”
Ammar probably did not imagine just how controversial his exceptional advice would prove. A chorus of criticism immediately rose from Paris, where several leaders of the Jewish community lambasted Ammar’s counsel. The head of CRIF, Roger Cukierman, dismissed it as pure “defeatism,” while the country’s chief rabbi, Haim Korsia, urged French Jews to “never yield and continue to wear the kippah.” Tellingly, this chorus included many non-Jews: Hollande found it “insupportable” that Jews should feel pressured to “hide themselves because of their religious choices,” while his Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, asserted that “all French Jews should feel safe.” Should they, then, continue to wear their kippot in public? Taubira squared that particular circle with a confident “Bien entendu.”
Inevitably, even the world of soccer has been drawn into the affair. The day after the attack, Korsia appealed to the fans of Olympique de Marseille, the city’s soccer team, to show their solidarity with French Jews by wearing a kippah, cap, hat, even a scarf to their home match against Montpellier on Wednesday. Several fan clubs have encouraged their members to put something, anything on their heads; by game time, the blue and white of OM might well have become the new black for kippot.
While this loud explosion of support is laudable, it might also strike many local Jews as laughable. For nearly a millennium, Jews have lived in Marseilles. By and large, the community, a mosaic of immigrants from places as diverse as Corfu, Smyrna, Baghdad and Alexandria, enjoyed the kind of stability and security that Jews elsewhere in France mostly envied. That Jews and Muslims lived in close quarters in the city center so different from the segregated and suburban patterns in other cities no doubt helped make Marseilles exceptional. So exceptional, in fact, that the city was spared the weeks of chaos that afflicted Paris and other cities during the 2005 riots.
Only time will tell whether the rash of attacks of Muslims against Jews deepens into a chronic condition. But what is now clear is the growing gap between France’s political class and Marseilles’ Jews. The former’s exhortations to the latter to continue wearing their kippot smack of the patriotic hurrahs offered by generals in Paris to soldiers in the trenches during World War I.
Yet more egregious are the symbolic gestures offered by France’s national political and religious figures. Wearing a kippah in the National Assembly or a soccer stadium allows the participants to think well of themselves, but will have absolutely no impact on the everyday life, and fears, of Jews in Marseilles. In terms of physical security, the government has already done so much; as Ammar drily noted, one cannot assign a gendarme to each and every French Jew. But real security will come only with deep political and economic reforms that will begin to repair the nation’s dissolving social fabric.
But that would take time and, more important, money neither of which the Socialist government has. It thus turns to political symbolism on the cheap, as futile (though less harmful) as the its recent decision to claw back French citizenship from convicted terrorists who have dual nationality with another country.
Decidedly, the only thing rarer than the terrorist who will not pull the trigger because he fears losing citizenship to the country he despises, is one who will not unsheathe the blade because blue and white kippot have become this week’s fashion.