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Latest News in Israel – 24th January

Melbourne Jewish day schools: PM is ‘dissing us during visit next month’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is missing a golden opportunity to fire up thousands of Jewish students about Israel by turning down an invitation to speak to two large Jewish day schools in Melbourne next month, according to the principals of those two schools.

Following a story last week in the The Jerusalem Post about Netanyahu’s visit to Australia, where he will spend only one day in Melbourne, James Kennard, the principal of the city’s Mount Scopus College, told the Post there was “considerable disquiet” over his short visit to Melbourne.

Kennard and Jeremy Stowe-Lindner, the principal of Bialik College, issued a joint statement saying that it was with “profound dismay that, despite our requests, the prime minister of Israel is not addressing the youth of the Melbourne Jewish community in his only major function in Melbourne. One of our schools offered to make available space for 2,000 people – enough to address community members and many hundreds of young people, but this was declined in place of his addressing community leaders and a token smattering of young people in a synagogue near Melbourne’s financial district.”

Kennard and Stowe-Lindner asserted that at a time “when bolstering the next generation’s connection to Israel is so critical, we regard this as a sorely missed opportunity.”

According to the statement, “The offer for our students to watch the address from afar on YouTube, no more engaging than one of billions of clips available on the Internet, and of very small delegations from some of the schools, is unacceptable for a community which prides itself on its Zionism and strives to instill that spirit in the next generation.”

In a follow up email exchange with the Post, Kennard and Stowe-Lindner said they were “incredibly disappointed.”

“He may or may not realize just how tenuous is the connection of Australia’s next generation of Jews with Israel, given the strong and growing anti-Israel mood both domestically and internationally, but for him to pass over this wonderful opportunity to put Israel’s case to such a key part of the Jewish community implies to some that he’s not interested in sustaining that connection,” they said.

Although in the past prime ministers visiting cities with large Jewish populations would occasionally include visits to Jewish day schools, this is something that largely has fallen out of practice over the last two decades.

Instead, visiting prime ministers traveling to places like New York, London, Paris or Moscow will meet with Jewish organizational leaders, but not make an effort to go to schools. This has been criticized over the years as a missed opportunity, since such meetings in the past were seen as a powerful way to instill Jewish pride and pride in Israel on impressionable students.

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment.

Netanyahu is scheduled to make a much-anticipated visit to Australia in late February, the first visit there by a sitting Israeli prime minister.

After spending a day in Singapore, he is expected to arrive in Sydney on Tuesday, February 21, and fly back to Israel on Saturday night, February 25. He is scheduled to travel to Melbourne for one day, but not stay there overnight. (Jerusalem Post)                                             (Dissing is slang for being disrespectful   RW)

Trump invites Netanyahu to come to White House in February

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump held their first conversation Sunday evening which was characterized by Trump as “very nice.”

The conversation lasted less than 30-minutes.

Trump invited Netanyahu to come to Washington and meet him in February. According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the exact date of the meeting will be determined in the coming days.

The two leaders discussed the Iran nuclear agreement, the process with the Palestinians and other subjects.

Earlier in the day, at the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that there were many issues for him to discuss with the new president, including the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the situation in Syria, and the Iranian threat.

“I want to make clear that, as opposed to some reports that I read, stopping the Iranian threat – first and foremost, stopping the threat forgotten by the signing of the bad agreement with Iran — continues to be the supreme objective of the state of Israel,” he said.

Another topic that was expected to have been discussed between the two leaders was moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Just prior to the conversation, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the administration has begun deliberations over whether to move the embassy.

“We are the very beginning stages of even discussing this subject,” Spicer said in a statement.

But Trump, according to pool reporters covering him on Sunday, declined to comment when asked about his plans to move the embassy.

While some took the statement to mean that the move was not imminent, and that the Administration was just at the very beginning stages of deliberations, others – such as Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat –- saw the very announcement as “historic.”

“I congratulate President Trump on the White House’s historic announcement that discussions have begun on moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” he said in a statement.

“Trump is showing that he is a true friend of the State of Israel who fulfills his promises,” he said. “The announcement this evening sends a clear message to the entire world that the US recognizes Israel as the united capital of the State of Israel.”

Environmental Protection and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin also congratulated the Trump administration for “beginning to implement his campaign promise” on moving the embassy.

“United Jerusalem is the capital of Israel according to Israeli law, and Congress recognized this in special legislation,” he said. “The time has come to implement this in practice and move the embassy to Jerusalem.”

One adviser to US President Donald Trump, Kellyanne Conway, has said it is a top priority for the new administration, which took office just three days ago.

Netanyahu, at Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, said he greatly appreciated Trump’s “deep friendship” for Israel, as well as his “declared willingness to fight against radical Islamic terror with full force.”

Trump, in his inaugural address on Friday, starkly broke with the former administration’s aversion to use the term radical Islamic terror. “We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones – and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth,” he said.

The Prime Minister’s Office characterized the conversation as “very warm,” and said that Netanyahu expressed his desire to work together with Trump to promote “peace and security” in the region in a way in which “there will be no daylight between the United States and Israel.”

Trump invited Netanyahu to come to Washington in February, and a final date is to be determined in the coming days.  (Jerusalem Post)

In call with Netanyahu, Trump vows to ‘closely consult’ on tackling Iran threat, help Israel make peace

In his first phone conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday evening, new US President Donald Trump pledged close consultation in “addressing the threats posed by Iran,” unprecedented support for Israel’s security, and a determination to help Israel achieve peace with the Palestinians.

Trump also invited Netanyahu to the White House “in early February.”

The White House account of the call made no mention of plans by Trump to move the US embassy to Jerusalem; shortly earlier, Trump’s spokesman had said the administration was “at the beginning stages of even discussing” the controversial move.

The Trump-Netanyahu conversation marked what some Israeli officials hope will be the start of reset in ties with the US after years of strained relations with the Obama administration. The language used in the White House’s account of the conversation underlined the shift.

The two leaders discussed ways to “advance and strengthen the US-Israel special relationship” and to boost security and stability in the region, the White House said. Trump stressed “the importance the United States places on our close military, intelligence and security cooperation with Israel, which reflects the deep and abiding partnership between our countries.”

The two agreed to “closely consult on a range of regional issues, including addressing the threats posed by Iran,” the White House said. The pledge of close consultation, and the active reference to addressing the Iranian threat, contrasted sharply with President Barack Obama’s friction-filled dealings with Netanyahu on the Iran issue; the nuclear deal the last president negotiated with Iran in 2015 was bitterly attacked by the Israeli prime minister.

Trump also “affirmed his unprecedented commitment to Israel’s security” and stressed that he was making a priority of countering Islamic State and “other radical Islamic terrorist groups” — again, language highlighting the shift from Obama, who steered clear of references to Islamist terror.

Finally, the new president stressed that Israeli-Palestinian peace “can only be negotiated directly between the two parties, and that the United States will work closely with Israel to make progress towards that goal.” Here, too, the language was clearly intended to show a distinction from the previous administration, which on December 23, 2016 abstained in a UN Security Council Resolution that condemned Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal and branded East Jerusalem occupied territory. Obama’s failure to veto the resolution was castigated by Netanyahu as a shameful “ambush.”

According to Netanyahu’s office, the conversation with Trump was “very warm,” and the two leaders discussed the Iran deal, the peace process, and “other issues.”

“The prime minister expressed his desire to work closely with President Trump to forge a common vision to advance peace and security in the region, with no daylight between the United States and Israel,” the Israeli statement said.

A final date for Netanyahu’s visit will be set in the coming days, the statement said.

In Washington, Trump told reporters his phone conversation Sunday evening with Netanyahu “was very nice.”

Pressed by reporters after a swearing-in ceremony for his top aides, Trump refused to discuss the contents of the conversation between the two leaders, according to Reuters.

Earlier, Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting there was plenty for the two leaders to discuss.

“There are many issues between us, including the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the situation in Syria and the Iranian threat,” he said.

On Saturday night, Netanyahu released a video addressed to the Iranian people in which he vowed that aggression by Tehran would top his list of priorities during his first contacts with Trump.

“I plan to speak soon with President Trump about how to counter the threat of the Iranian regime, which calls for Israel’s destruction,” Netanyahu said in the video, speaking in English with Persian subtitles.

Netanyahu had also been expected to discuss Trump’s campaign pledge to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Less than an hour before the phone call, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer released a statement that the administration was “at the very beginning stages of even discussing” the embassy move.

Though the statement seemed to counter reports that the controversial move would be announced in the coming days, it was hailed by some in Israel as a sign that the US was on its way to full recognition of Jerusalem as the country’s capital.

Earlier in the day, Netanyahu convinced his cabinet to delay voting on a controversial bill to extend Israeli authority to the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim until after he had met with Trump. Netanyahu told his ministers that he didn’t want to blindside the US administration with any unilateral action.

At the swearing-in ceremony for his top advisers, Trump spoke briefly, but did not mention his conversation with Netanyahu minutes earlier. Instead, he spoke of his conversations with Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, in which he offered his condolences for the casualties of the severe weather there and offered help.

Trump also told those assembled that he would shortly be meeting with UK Prime Minister Theresa May, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. (the Times of Israel)

Netanyahu touts ties with Trump, warns against ‘shooting from the hip’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that his phone call with US President Donald Trump on Sunday night was “warm” and that it “reflected our deep ties.”

Speaking at the Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu said he congratulated Trump on his inauguration and acknowledged his “unconditional support for Israel.”

“President Trump believes that peace will be achieved through direct negotiations without any pre-conditions, does that sound familiar?” Netanyahu jested.

“He said that he has unwavering support for Israel’s security, does that sound familiar?” he repeated.

“And he also spoke with me about the danger posed by Iran, does that sound familiar?” Netanyahu said again.

The Premier also said they spoke about a wide range of issues during their phone call and told members of his party that “he invited me to meet him as soon as possible.”

(Donald Trump at AIPAC conference in March 2016: Will veto anti-Israel moves at UN, move US embassy to Jerusalem)

“I take this upcoming meeting as a very important step in building our trust, the trust between an Israeli Prime Minister and the American President.”

Netanyahu continued by saying that “we are at the start of a period of great opportunity for us,” and perhaps warning the right-wing members of his coalition, he said, “This is not the time to shoot from the hip, this is not the time for surprises, this is the time for diplomacy between friends that will strengthen our ties.”

“Therefore for the good of our country and the settlement enterprise I suggest everyone put aside all other considerations and let me lead the policy.”

“God willing,” Netanyahu said, “With cooler heads and patience we will lead our nation into a new era that will strengthen our security, our economy, our settlements and our diplomacy.” (Jerusalem Post)

White House: US in ‘beginning stages’ of talks to move US embassy to Jerusalem

The Trump administration has begun deliberations over whether to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on Sunday.

“We are the very beginning stages of even discussing this subject,” Spicer said in a statement.

One adviser to US President Donald Trump, Kellyanne Conway, has said it is a top priority for the new administration, which took office just three days ago.

Conway said that Middle East peace would be a topic of conversation in Trump’s first phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, taking place this hour.

Any decision to break with the status quo is likely to prompt protests from US allies in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt. Washington relies on those countries for help in fighting the Islamic State militant group, which the new US president has said is a priority.

The US Congress passed a law in 1995 describing Jerusalem as capital of Israel and saying it should not be divided, but successive Republican and Democratic presidents have used their foreign policy powers to maintain the US Embassy in Tel Aviv and to back negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on the status of Jerusalem.

In early December, then-President Barack Obama renewed the presidential waiver until the beginning of June. It is unclear whether Trump would be able to legally override that waiver and go ahead with relocation of the embassy.

US diplomats say that, despite the US legislation, Washington’s foreign policy is in practice broadly aligned with that of the United Nations and other major powers, which do not view Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and do not recognize Israel’s annexation of Arab East Jerusalem after its capture in the 1967 Middle East war.

Israel approved building permits on Sunday for hundreds of homes in three East Jerusalem settlements in expectation that Trump will row back on the previous administration’s criticism of such projects. (Jerusalem Post)

Trump advisor: ‘We look forward to new ties with Judea and Samaria’

The US administration desires to begin anew with Israel when it comes to settlements, an adviser to President Donald Trump told Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan when the two met briefly in Washington.

Dagan was one of three settler leaders who traveled to the US to attend Trump’s inauguration and to meet with senators, congressmen and members of the president’s team.

They all spoke of a new feeling of acceptance they felt in Washington.

In a short video created by the Samaria Regional Council, Dagan is shown meeting with Trump adviser George Papadopoulos.

The two can be seen sitting at a table, where Dagan is talking with him about the Jordan Valley.

In the next shot, Papadopoulos speaks to the camera with Dagan standing at his side. When he references the West Bank, he refers to it as Judea and Samaria, which is used by the Right in Israel.

“We had an excellent meeting with Yossi and we hope that the people of Judea and Samaria will have a great 2017. We are looking forward to ushering in a new relationship with all of Israel, including the historic Judea and Samaria,” Papadopoulos said.

Dagan’s spokeswoman, Esther Alush, said one of the politicians Dagan met with in Washington said that soon “we won’t have to call the settlements, ‘settlements.’” Dagan also met with Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who was on Trump’s shot list to become secretary of agriculture. Miller plans to bring a trade mission to Israel in March, which will include a visit to Samaria.

Dagan said the political and administration officials he met with were sympathetic to the settlement enterprise. From Washington, he called on Netanyahu to move forward with plan to annex Ma’aleh Adumim and to increase building in Judea and Samaria.

He warned that if Netanyahu did not take action, he would call for a meeting of the Likud central committee to discuss the matter.

Efrat Council head Oded Revivi, who is the chief foreign envoy for the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria, said he also held meetings while in Washington and felt the same level of support that Dagan expressed.

He cautioned, however, that Netanyahu was correct to wait until meeting with Trump to make any major moves.

“They are waiting to hear what Netanyahu wants,” said Revivi, who urged Netanyahu to come to his meeting with the Trump administration prepared to lay out his plan to move forward.  (Jerusalem Post)

Trump inauguration rabbi attacked with antisemitic hate speech

The Anti-Defamation League was “outraged and saddened by the antisemitism leveled at Rabbi Marvin Hier” after the blessing he delivered at the inauguration of US President Donald Trump on Friday.

Rabbi Marvin Hier is the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an organization dedicated to fighting antisemitism. He was the target of hundreds of antisemitic messages posted on social media during and following his recitation, including antisemitic caricatures of him and hate speech from white supremacists.

“For Jew-haters, it was a perfect storm,” Wiesenthal Center associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, noting that the IT staff working for his center alone had removed hundreds of antisemitic messages.

“Obviously a lot of people who don’t like Jews had a tough time seeing a Jew stand up proudly before the world,” Cooper said. “To have a Jew wearing a kippa on an international stage and a declared and well-known Zionist – from the far Left to the far Right, a lot of people were very angry.

“It’s the world we live in today in which social media allows anyone to make such verbal attacks… we can expect to see more of this, and not just against Jews,” he added.

Speaking on behalf of Hier, who was on a flight, Cooper highlighted that people of all origins, faiths and backgrounds approached Hier face-to-face to thank him and encourage him.

“There’s the real world and there’s the virtual world and overall it was quite a moment. It was a very special moment, a very proud moment,” he said. “I’m absolutely certain it’s the first time that Pirkei Avot [Ethics of the Fathers] was referred to at an inauguration.”

Hier was the first Orthodox rabbi to give a benediction at an American president’s inauguration and the first rabbi to do so since 1985, when Reform Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin gave a blessing at Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration.

Hier opened his speech by saying, “Eternal God, bless President Donald J. Trump and America, our great nation.

Guide us to remember the words of the Psalmist: ‘Who will dwell on your holy mountain, one who does what is right, and speaks the truth. Who knows that when you eat the labor of your hands you are praise worthy. That he who sews in tears, shall reap in joy. Because the freedoms we enjoy are not granted in perpetuity, but must be reclaimed by each generation.’”

He continued: “Bless all of our allies around the world who share our beliefs, ‘By the rivers of Babylon, we wept as we remember Zion… If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.’” (Psalm 137) His participation in the ceremony was questioned and opposed in a change.org petition posted by a Los Angeles businesswoman, Myra Stark. The petition read: “Hier is the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, named for the heroic Nazi-hunter, and the Museum of Tolerance – normalizing Trump with his participation will turn these organizations into a mockery and be a shame on the Jewish name forever. Apparently, Hier thinks it is acceptable to legitimize and collaborate with a political figure who the KKK is literally marching in the streets to celebrate.”

Hier told the Los Angeles radio station KPCC that the Inaugural Committee contacted him about his participation and that he said, “It would be my honor to do so.”              (Jerusalem Post)

See Rabbi Hier’s blessing:

Netanyahu promises unrestricted construction in East Jerusalem

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the high-level security cabinet Sunday he will soon announce expanded construction in the settlement blocs and ease all building restrictions in East Jerusalem.

The prime minister said he will remove any political obstacles from regional and local planning committees in order to ease construction in East Jerusalem, according to Hebrew media reports. He added that wide-scale building will soon be green-lighted in the settlement blocs as well.

The prime minister also told ministers that his “vision” is that all of the settlements in the West Bank will ultimately come under Israeli sovereignty in any accommodation, Channel 2 news reported.

Netanyahu’s declaration on Sunday convinced ministers from the settlement-backing Jewish Home party to postpone a cabinet vote on a bill to annex a West Bank settlement on the outskirts of Jerusalem for at least a month, according to the Haaretz newspaper.

The controversial bill, presented by Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, would extend Israeli sovereignty to Ma’ale Adumim.

Instead, the cabinet voted unanimously not to approve the proposed legislation until after an expected meeting between Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump next month.

Netanyahu told the ministers the Trump administration asked him to avoid any “surprise” unilateral measures, according to the Walla news website.

“I support Israeli sovereignty over Ma’ale Adumim,” the prime minister is quoted as saying. “There is no question about Ma’ale Adumim, and in any future accord it will be under Israeli sovereignty. But right now, at the request of the US administration, we were asked not to surprise them but to formulate a joint policy.”

Trump was set to speak with Netanyahu by phone at 8:30 p.m. Israel time on Sunday, the White House said.

Although the ministers decided not to present the bill to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, sources told the Ynet news site that they formulated a clear policy to the satisfaction of Bennett. Bennett has long proposed that Israel annex Area C (the parts of the West Bank under Israeli civilian and military control) and extend a type of semi-autonomy to Palestinians in the rest of the territory, arguing that the creation of a Palestinian state in that area poses a threat to Israel’s existence.

Netanyahu’s assurances came as the Jerusalem Municipality approved the construction of 566 new homes in East Jerusalem on Sunday, in a vote that had been pushed back from December in order to avoid angering the outgoing administration of former US president Barack Obama. The Palestinians condemned the decision as an explicit violation of a recent anti-settlement resolution at the United Nations.

While much of the international community considers these residential areas as settlements, Israel considers them neighborhoods of Jerusalem and argues that they will be part of Israel in any negotiated peace agreement.

The announcement of construction projects in East Jerusalem throughout Obama’s eight-year term repeatedly led to diplomatic scuffles between Washington and Jerusalem, most notably the announcement of the approval of over 1,000 homes in Ramat Shlomo in 2010 during a visit by then-vice president Joe Biden.

On Thursday, Bennett asserted the Trump administration would see a shift in Israel’s West Bank policies, including the annexation of Ma’ale Adumim, a city with some 40,000 residents.

But on Saturday, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, a close ally of Netanyahu, rejected suggestions that Israel may unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank, saying such a course of action would be “a disaster” for the country.

Israel has controlled the West Bank since capturing it in the 1967 Six Day War, but has never moved to annex any of the territory beyond extending sovereignty to East Jerusalem. It later applied Israeli law to the Golan Heights, captured from Syria.

Most experts see Israel’s policy of extending sovereignty, in moves widely unrecognized by the international community, as tantamount to annexation.

Trump has assured Israel that things will be different after he takes office, lamenting last month that the Jewish state was “being treated very, very unfairly” by the international community after the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2334, which took aim at Israeli construction in the West Bank and Jerusalem.      (Jerusalem Post)

Police inching toward indictment against Netanyahu

Police are increasingly moving toward recommending an indictment against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of breach of trust over expensive gifts he allegedly received from businessmen, Israeli television reported Sunday.

According to the reports, by both Channel 2 and Channel 10, investigators are considering an indictment in one of two corruption probes into the prime minister. Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing.

The relationship between Netanyahu, his wife, and billionaire Israeli film producer Arnon Milchan forms the core of a police investigation — known as “Case 1000” — into whether the Netanyahus received improper gifts worth hundreds of thousands of shekels.

A second investigation, known as “Case 2000,” is looking into suspicions Netanyahu negotiated with Israel’s top-selling newspaper publisher to push legislation to hamper a competitor, in return for more favorable coverage.

Quoting a senior state legal source, Channel 2 reported of the case involving Milchan that “what’s been exposed so far is only some of the material. There’s a lot more that the police have regarding gifts — how often they were made and how valuable they were.”

Earlier on Sunday, Israel Police chief Roni Alsheich said the probes were close to completion.

“We already know what conclusions we have reached in the investigation,” Alscheich told reporters, without elaborating. “I believe we will bring the material to the prosecutor for a decision in the next few weeks,” he said.

Sources close to Milchan on Sunday also responded to accusations by a lawmaker from Netanyahu’s Likud party who had accused the billionaire of leaking details of the gifts in order to bring down the prime minister.

“It is embarrassing and worrying to see a smear campaign that was opened this morning by emissaries acting on behalf of interested parties against a man who dedicated his life to fortify the security and prosperity of Israel, and used his extensive connections to strengthen discreet diplomatic ties with countries and leaders around the world,” unnamed Milchan associates told Israeli media.

“It is astounding to see how the emissaries act under instructions specifically against the person who, in recent years, with an open heart, and on an unprecedented scale, became the address for assistance to IDF fighters, to the security branches, and the Jewish and Zionist organizations around the world.”

“Mr. Milchan will act in every way to protect his name and the good name of his family and his faithful workers against those who wish him, his family, and his workers, unnecessary pain and suffering.”

In response, Netanyahu’s bureau denied attempts to besmirch Milchan. “There was no such thing. We don’t intend to respond to all the false accusations,” an official was quoted by Hebrew media as saying.

The official added that the Netanyahu and Milchan families enjoy “a deep friendship” and that the Netanyahus emphatically dissociated themselves from comments made against Milchan recently.

Until now, Milchan, a powerful Hollywood producer and former Israeli spy, has been portrayed as a close friend and benefactor of Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. But MK David Amsalem from Netanyahu’s Likud party charged early Sunday that the Hollywood mogul himself is the one behind behind the ongoing police investigation into the Netanyahus.

“Ask yourself why Milchan is even telling these stories,” Amsalem told Army Radio. “Milchan came to the police. Something is going on here.”

Milchan reportedly told Israeli police under questioning that the Netanyahus demanded the champagne and cigars that he has allegedly been supplying them, and that they were not, as they have claimed, merely gifts he gave out of generosity and friendship.

Amsalem charged that the ongoing leaks of material from the investigation were designed to turn the public against Netanyahu.

“There is a system,” he said. “To bring down the prime minister you need to create the public atmosphere. Every week something else comes out.”

Asked what Milchan was trying to do, Amsalem replied: “To bring down the prime minister.”

“First, we have to say something simple: If I buy a gift for someone, then I buy him a gift. No one is forcing him, a 75-year old billionaire, to do anything. Did Netanyahu come to him with a gun to his head? No one forced him,” Amsalem said, adding that it was not even clear that any of the reported events had actually transpired.

“Milchan could be lying,” he said.

According to a Friday report from Haaretz, Milchan’s testimony may be a turning point in the case.

While leaked reports of the police investigation have indicated that Milchan spent some NIS 400,000-600,000 ($100,000-150,000) on champagne and cigars for the Netanyahus over the best part of a decade, the prime minister and his wife have reportedly told police that the sums involved were far lower, and that the gifts were unremarkable since the Milchans are their best friends.

Netanyahu asked US Secretary of State John Kerry three times in 2014 to arrange a long-term visa to allow Milchan, an Israeli citizen, to live in the United States. The visa was granted.

Netanyahu has been questioned under caution by police over the case as well as over a second possible breach of trust affair, “Case 2000,” dealing with an alleged quid pro quo deal he hatched with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes that would see Mozes’s newspaper tamp down its negative coverage of the premier.

In exchange, Netanyahu would work to curtail the circulation of the free daily Israel Hayom, a Yedioth competitor.

According to a Channel 2 news report Sunday night, investigators are looking at possible fraud and breach of trust charges in the case, but it may hinge on the legal interpretations of the material involved. (the Times of Israel)

 Preventing the next terror attack from Israel’s prisons

There are about 6,200 security prisoners in eight of the Israel Prison Services’ detention facilities, and 70 percent of them are defined as having blood on their hands. In a joint interview, three intelligence officers serving in Israel’s most dangerous prisons discuss what it is like to be in the same room with eight murderers, how inmates are turned into informants and how MK Ghattas was caught allegedly smuggling cellphones into jail.

by Shosh Mula             Ynet News


The Ktziot Prison, Sunday, December 18. Only a few people, including the prison commander and intelligence officer, Deputy Commissioner Dudu Vaknin, were involved in the drama that was about to take place. Knesset Member Basel Ghattas of the Joint List arrived to visit security prisoners and allegedly smuggle cellphones to them. Everything was ready to document the act. Without suspecting a thing, Ghattas fell into the trap that was prepared for him by the security officials.

Following his arrest, the work of the Shin Bet and the Israel Prison Service’s security system received wide coverage. Not much was said about the secret work of the intelligence officers who locate and operate agents in the security prisons, those who work behind the scenes in the most sensitive position in some of the most dangerous places in Israel.

In order to understand how it really works, we brought together for the very first time three intelligence officers of security prisoners: The intelligence officer of the Gilboa Prison (600 security inmates), Chief Superintendent Nissim Finish; the intelligence officer of the Ktziot Prison (2,000 inmates), Deputy Commissioner Dudu Vaknin; and the intelligence officer of the Nafha Prison (750 inmates), Chief Superintendent Yossi Krispel.

The three spoke candidly about their work in the shadow of danger and their daily meetings with arch-murderers, the recruitment of agents in the prison and providing them with protection, the language and codes and the heavy responsibility to prevent and thwart attacks. “It’s an Israeli invention,” they told us. “This is a position that only exists in Israel, and people come here from all over the world for guidance.”

Deputy Commissioner Vaknin, how did you catch MK Ghattas?

“The entire activity was carried out following information obtained by the Shin Bet. Prisoner Walid Daka, who was convicted of murdering soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984, is a member of the Balad party central committee. It turned out that MK Ghattas had visited him three times: Once at the Hadarim Prison, a second visit at the Ramon Prison and a third one in Ktziot.

“We received information that he was planning to smuggle cellphones to Daka. Following the information, we carried out an operation with the Israeli Prison System’s intelligence division and the Dror Unit, which is the operational wing of the IPS. On the day of the visit, he came in, was asked “Do you have anything you are not allowed to bring in?” and replied, “No.” He passed through the metal detector and it didn’t make a sound.”

MK Ghattas. Caught with cellphones after the intelligence officer noticed that he was visiting the same prisoner for three times (Photo: Yair Sagi)

Why didn’t you search him?

“Because as far as we’re concerned, from the moment we asked him and he said he wasn’t carrying a thing, we are not allowed to search him, since he is a Knesset member and enjoys immunity. But the fact is that written material and 12 cellphones were found in the cells of the prisoners he visited.”

During the discussion to revoke MK Ghattas’ immunity, it turned out that the entire process of transferring the envelopes was documented on video, and that 16 SIM cards, two chargers and an earpiece were also found in the prisoners’ cells.

What did the written material contain?

“It’s sensitive intelligence information.”

Cellphone smuggling is not the only thing that is foiled in jail. There are about 6,200 security prisoners in eight of the IPS’s detention facilities: Gilboa, Megiddo, Damon, Ofer, Nafha, Ramon, Ktziot and Shikma. Seventy percent of them are defined as having “blood on their hands” – terrorists who were caught on their way to carry out suicide bombings, those who planned to carry out a major attack and changed their mind at the last minute, those who dispatched terrorists, those who planned and executed attacks, engineers responsible for preparing explosives and explosive devices, senior members of the Palestinian terror organizations, and more.

In the prison, these dangerous terrorists are constantly under the watchful eye of the intelligence officers, who receive a lot of information on the situation inside and outside the prison: Starting from escapes planned by inmates sentenced to long jail terms; through the preparation of improvised explosive devices, plans to attack wardens and staff members, revolts, hunger strikes and cellphone smuggling; to information on attacks executed outside, terrorists being dispatched, preparations of explosive charges, locations of weapon caches, plans to kidnap soldiers, etc.

Vaknin reveals, for example, how the Shin Bet learned of the identity of the person who drove the terrorists that carried out the deadly attack at Tel Aviv’s Sarona compound last June. “An inmate in the prison knew who the driver was. We transferred the information to the Shin Bet, and they caught 23-year-old Salim Mognam of Yatta, who was questioned, confessed and was arrested for driving the terrorists.”

The Sarona terror attack, last June. ‘An inmate knew the identity of the person who drove the terrorists. We transferred the information to the Shin Bet and they caught him’

  1. Soldier abduction plan

It was time for the daily walk at the Gilboa Prison, the most guarded security prison in Israel. When the inmates walked out of the ward and spotted Chief Superintendent Nissim Finish, the jail’s intelligence officer, standing there, they approached him and shook his hand. One of them slipped a note into his hand. Chief Superintendent Finish did not respond. The man was an informer of his, and he knew that any small movement or wrong response would place his source in danger. He kept smiling and shaking the hands of the rest of the security prisoners, until the last of them left.

What did the note contain?

“A detailed soldier abduction plan, including the name of the prisoner who planned the kidnapping, the names of the people involved in it, where it would take place and when. We handed the information over to the defense officials. They instructed us to separate the plan’s mastermind from the rest of the prisoners. The information was checked and verified. The entire terror infrastructure was caught. We managed to thwart a soldier’s abduction.”

What motive is the prisoners’ motive to plan a kidnapping?

“Their desire to be released. They want to get out of jail in a swap deal, like the one with (kidnapped soldier) Gilad Shalit. Our job is to try and thwart it.”

  1. Four phones under prisoner’s potbelly

The heavily built terrorist clumsily moved towards the visitors’ room at the Nafha Prison under the watchful eye of the prison’s intelligence officer, Chief Superintendent Yossi Krispel. “He is a security prisoner who was jailed for carrying out several attacks. That day, he was meeting with his lawyers before going up to the Parole Board,” Krispel says, adding that “we knew they were planning to smuggle a cellphone to him.”

And what happened?

“When he came out we conducted a thorough search on him, but couldn’t find a thing, although the metal detector beeped. We suspected that the prisoner had shoved the smuggled cellphone into his body. I threatened to make him sit in front of the wardens in the nude until it came out, and then he gave in. We are talking about a massive, fat prisoner. He lifted his huge potbelly, and it turned out that he had tied four cellphones connected with a thin thread under it. That’s how they were seized.”

If it were not for the preliminary information, the smuggling would have likely not been uncovered, but that is the essence of the intelligence officers’ work.

“The intelligence officer is the person who receives all the inmates upon their arrival at the prison,” says Deputy Commissioner Vaknin. “He reads the indictment against the prisoner and his security-related past and holds a meeting with him to get an initial impression. It means sensing him, smelling him, looking him straight in the eye. The basis for a good intelligence officer is his interpersonal interaction. If he doesn’t have that, he won’t be able to receive information or draw information.”

Deputy Commissioner Vaknin has been serving in the IPS for 20 years, 13 of them in the intelligence field. “I founded the intelligence system in Ktziot when it was handed over to us from the IDF in March 2006. There were 1,200 prisoners there and I had to start it all from scratch. Get the know the ground, the prisoners, the dominant figures. I started checking them out one by one in interviews and marking those who seemed like potential agents. When the new Ramon Prison was opened in December 2006 for security prisoners, I was appointed as its intelligence officer. I served for two years as the intelligence officer in charge of the two security prisoners’ wards in the Eshel Prison, and moved to Ktziot from there three years ago.”

Vaknin used to be the commander of Chief Superintendent Krispel, the intelligence officer of the Nafha Prison, who has been in the IPS for 14 years, five of them in the intelligence field.

“Part of my job is to locate potential for this position among the staff members,” Vaknin explains. “I check whether the person is of high caliber, thorough, sophisticated, accomplishes missions, how he questions prisoners, what kind of relationship does he have with them, how he deals with a brawl or incitement. I gave him a test without him knowing. I told him about a prisoner who was keeping a cellphone in his cell and asked him to collect open information about him: When he entered and left the cell, monitoring through cameras, conversations about him with prisoners – without exposing the information about him to anyone.”

“He said to me, ‘You my confidant in this matter,’ and a week later the prisoner was caught,” Krispel recounts. “The move from a security prisoners’ warden to intelligence was hard on me. After completing an officers’ course, I suddenly found myself in the security system, sitting with the most dangerous and tough prisoners in one-on-one talks, or being alone with them as they take a walk in the yard.”

Sounds scary.

“When the IDF arrests a terrorist, it backed by half the country,” says Finish. “I enter a ward of 120 convicted murderers, just like that, with nothing, or sit in a room with eight terrorists. I have a family and daughters and it’s a risk.

“I have been in the IPS for 19 years and three years in intelligence. I started out as a warden, a sergeant, an intelligence non-commissioned officer, and then I went to the officers’ course. I did a lot of training, including a basic intelligence course, learning Arabic, courses on the history of Islam and learning the Quran in Hebrew.”

Does that make it any less scary at least?

“I sit in front of the terrorist who carried out the murderous attack at the Park Hotel in Netanya, and I’m supposed to be all chummy with him and earn his trust. You learn not to expose your emotions in this story. You have to neutralize it.”

He is a murderer of Jews and you’re a Jew. Aren’t you afraid that he’ll try to hurt you?

“He wouldn’t dare. There is a profit and loss balance here.”

“The security prisoners know that the dominant figure in the jail is the intelligence officer,” says Vaknin. “They understand that if, God forbid, someone hurts him, it will result in severe punishment for everyone and aggravated living conditions. They can attack a regular warden, and that does happen.”

Intelligence officers have been attacked in the north in the past.

“A few intelligence officers were attacked by terrorists,” Krispel admits. “Two required medical care. One had a broken leg. That’s the risk in our job, and we are aware of it.”

“There are few incidents like that,” says Vaknin. “The security prisoners’ mentality is that if I come to visit one of them in the ward, I am considered his guest. He won’t let anyone hurt me.”

According to what criteria are they placed in the ward? And if they are so dangerous, why put them together?

“They are placed according to our interest. We read each prisoner’s file, his background, the area and organization he belongs to. I can put him with his guys or separate them. We of course take advantage of their political or interorganizational conflicts.”

How many of them are really ideological prisoners?

“Ninety-eight percent of them are in jail on an ideological background and only 2 percent are criminals,” says Vaknin. “They are prisoners with a high intelligence level. They live as a collective. They have a strict organizational system, with position holders who are elected every six months, an open and concealed leadership and strict discipline rules.”

“That’s when we talk about the old generation,” Krispel adds. “But in the Facebook generation, the lone-wolf terrorists who have been arrested in the past year are people who did not grow up in an organization and are not driven by an ideology, but by incitement on social media. We recently had a soldier’s murderer, who was a lone-wolf terrorist who failed to integrate into an organization. It’s a generation influenced by the media.

“A prisoner affiliated with the Islamic State, who stabbed a policeman at Jerusalem’s Old City, explained to me that one of the things that made him carry out the attacks were the videos he saw on social media. He traveled to Turkey and from there to Syria, and after fighting with ISIS for eight month, he returned to Israel to start a terrorist cell here. In order to give his soldier a personal example, he went to carry out an attack.”

  1. Every prisoner has a price

The top security prisoner who visited Finish’s office at the Gilboa Prison was in personal distress. He asked to make things easier for a person who was very important to him.

“In a security prison, the most important person to the prison warden is the intelligence officer, and the security inmates are aware of that,” Finish explains why he was approached. “My motto is that every prisoner in the jail has a price. I promised him to look into it.”


“To check if it would be worthwhile exploiting his sensitive situation to recruit him as an agent and what benefit we could gain from him. I checked with all the relevant elements whether it would be worthwhile for the state to accept his request. We are talking about quite a difficult prisoner, with a high status, with ties inside and outside the prison.”

What did you get in return?

“He revealed hiding places of cell phones in the ward, told me about smuggling and concealing methods, provided information about position holders within the prison, who were also relevant to our security elements. We helped him with that person and recruited him too.”

What motive do other prisoners have to become agents?

“It’s difficult,” says Krispel, “but it’s possible, because every person has something that will make him talk. Even if it’s the most dangerous and cruel murderer or a leader who obtained power, status and ability.”

“There is a strong emotional, personal and social motive,” adds Finish. “An inmate moves from prison to prison, without knowing what is going on with his parents and loved ones. He is in a sensitive state. He is not allowed to call or receive visits. He is sentenced for long terms and he misses his family.”

“For a phone call, contact with the family, financial help, buying at the canteen – he may talk,” says Krispel.

How do you know who has sensitive information?

“You start by reading his file, the unconcealed details,” Vaknin explains. “Then you monitor his lifestyle. If he is a religious person – does he pray five times devoutly? He has to be one hundred percent assimilated among the prisoners, to have access to the organization members and to the senior management.”

How long does it take to recruit and train an informer?

“It took me a year to work on recruiting such a dominant guy. At first, he didn’t realize that I was recruiting him. I picked him because he was dominant in the organization he belonged to and was connected to the entire leadership, inside and outside the jail, through family visits, lawyers and MKs. It was worthwhile making the effort to recruit him. When he feels committed to me, I ask him, ‘Do this and that,’ and then he starts realizing that he is basically my source.”

How do you know that the information is reliable and where do you transfer it?

“Every piece of information is transferred for examination by the the security elements. We have full cooperation.”

How does the prisoner transfer you the information?

“Everything that goes on in the prison passes through the intelligence,” says Finish. “Starting from the daily routine, the walks in the yard, going out to the court, to the clinic. If he is a good source, he will already find the way to get to me.”

And how do you protect him?

“We operate sources. We work with people whose life really has to be protected in the prison. If the prisoner is in court, I will talk to him there, and no one will see me. If I have to dress up or arrive in civilian clothes, I’ll do it. There are a thousand ways to be careful and watch him, because my source must not be uncovered.”

Has is happened that a source was exposed?

“Yes, it happens,” Vaknin replies. “A decade ago, there was an inmate who was suspected of collaboration. They tortured him with a hot plate, burned him. And there have also been cases in which prisoners were murdered.”

  1. Cellular technicians in the prison

Those permitted to visit security prisoners include their lawyers and Knesset members.

“The IPS is aware of the fact that the lawyers serve as a pipe for transferring information in and out. The Palestinian Authority pays a lawyer NIS 500 for each visit. If he sees four or five prisoners a day, it reaches NIS 2,000 and more. They are not searched, but they pass through a metal detector. The finger-sized telephones, which are specially manufactured in the territories, don’t beep. All their parts are removed and only the brain is left.”

“There are inmates in the prison who are expert cellular technicians, who work 24 hours a day,” Krispel adds.

Smuggling cellphones into the prison is the biggest problem. Vaknin says he once received information about a large number of phones smuggled into the prison through the vegetable boxes that arrive at the kitchen. A search revealed 50 cellphones in the parsley packs.

“The bottom line is that we are talking about a lot of money, hundreds of thousands of shekels,” says Krispel. “Every such phone costs a prisoner NIS 30,000 to NIS 50,000. The money is transferred to families from the organization they belong to.”

How does it work?

Vaknin explains that “a prisoner who knows criminal illegal aliens who are in jail for murder relay a message to them through visiting relatives them that he is willing to pay hundreds of thousands of shekels if they smuggle him a phone. That inmate will try to smuggle it through criminal organizations. He will make NIS 200,000 on four devices within two seconds.”

And how did they plan to pass it on to the prisoner?

“A prisoner is allowed to have physical contact with a baby. He takes it from the baby, wraps it up in a condom and shoves it into his body. An unemployed person outside is given NIS 10,000 to throw stones at a roadblock. He will arrive at the prison and make sure that the cellphone passes through a certain point. It is hidden in tin cans, in shoes, in prostheses, in packs of dates, in canteen products and even in a credit card.”

What was the most surprising smuggling?

“In a prayer chain. At the Nafha Prison there was information about an inmate who sat in the same cell with three people considered heavy prisoners. One was a chemical engineer with extensive ties outside. They created notes the size of a pistachio nut, where all the information that had to get out was coded: How to produce explosive devices from certain substances, who holds weapons and where are they hidden. On the day of the release, the chain was found with 33 beads. We broke the first bead and found a note containing all the information.”

How did they prepare it?

“They melted the plastic bead with a lighter, inserted the note written in very small, encoded writing, and coated the bead again. If it were not for the early information, we wouldn’t have caught it.”

  1. Prevention, flops and codes

The intelligence officers’ nightmare is prisoners escaping from the prison.

“I received information two years ago,” Finish says, “that there was a tunnel in the cell of two Islamic Jihad prisoners. We found a narrow tunnel that they had dug with a teaspoon. They managed to break the leg of a bed, pulled out the toiler bolt in the bathroom and put the leg back, and no one noticed. There have been similar attempts in recent years. We brought a combat engineering unit and they found a tunnel. They are construction people. The land in the Beit She’an area is agricultural and it’s not hard to dig in it. They dug through the bathroom and the shower, and the uncovered tunnel was almost 3 meters long. Their plan was to reach the wall and escape from there.”

Have wardens ever crossed to the other side?

“That has happened, unfortunately, but sometimes their attempts to get someone to change sides work in our favor. A year and a half ago, for example, they turned to a jailor, an 18-year-old soldier in compulsory service. They said to him, ‘What’s your salary? You can make 50,000 shekels in a second.’ They wanted him to smuggle them a phone from the outside. The soldier immediately reported it to me and we operated him as an agent.”

Do they have a language and codes?

“They don’t talk as much as they pass codes through notes and conduct.”

“If everyone wears sneakers on a given day, it’s a red light that there is a lot of tension. It can happen before a brawl, a plan to attack a warden, disturbances and riots. That’s how we realize there is a bombastic event we should prepare for.”

“If they order salt, milk, apricots or honey from the canteen, it means that they are about to launch a hunger strike,” Krispel adds. “They swallow the salt and it protects their stomach during the strike. If a prisoner gains weight, it means that he is about to start a hunger strike.”

“If they change the daily routine, for example five people taking a walk in the yard instead of 30 or 40, it means that there is something going on in the ward,” says Vaknin. “It’s either something internal, or an organization of something serious.”

How do they convey messages?

“Most of the things are done in encoded writing.”

“They call it ‘flavors.’ It’s a message from their management to prepare for a hunger strike and for a protest move,” says Krispel. “They must get everyone on it, and it’s done through inmates going to the clinic, at the canteen, etc. They take the first word, for example, and then every tenth word, and make a sentence out of it.”

What would be considered your greatest achievement?

“The main goal of every intelligence officer is to prevent a security prisoner’s escape,” says Finish. “That’s the biggest achievement as far as I am concerned.”

“And preventing terror attacks is as important,” Vaknin adds.

“We also prevent the smuggling of sperm from the prison,” says Krispel. “Prisoners sentenced to life want to continue the dynasty, and they smuggle sperm outside in snacks, waffles, bagels. An ice container waits outside, and the sperm is passed on.”

Do you also have flops, missed opportunities?

“In the intelligence field, we always put together a puzzle in order to prevent an event or damage to the state’s security,” Vaknin replies. “There have been cases we missed out on by not continuing to collect information.”

“On the other hand,” Krispel adds, “do you know how many things we’ve thwarted? We’re not looking for a pat on the back.”