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Latest News in Israel – 27th June

Diplomacy shifts to Rome for Kerry-Netanyahu powwow, Turkey detente

The center of Israeli political activity will shift westward to Rome Sunday, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US Secretary of State John Kerry, and Israeli officials attempt to finalize a long-sought deal with Turkey to reestablish warm ties.

Kerry left Washington on Saturday to meet Netanyahu, ahead of the publication of an international report expected to criticize Israeli settlement building.

Kerry was flying to Rome to meet the Israeli leader on Sunday and Monday. Some reports have suggested he will use the meeting to assess the possibility of reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

But US officials have been careful not to predict any breakthroughs and the meeting is likely to touch on the imminent release of a report by the Quartet, which is seeking to foster a “two-state” solution to the conflict.

Netanyahu is expected to fly to Rome following a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem Sunday morning, where he will reportedly make a last ditch effort to convince Kerry to soften the Quartet report’s findings on Israel.

This diplomatic group — the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia — is concerned that Palestinian violence and Israel’s building on in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is pushing the prospect of peace further away.

This week, ahead of Kerry’s trip, his spokesman John Kirby said the Quartet statement would “largely” reflect the Quartet’s previous statement in September last year.

That report cited Israel’s “ongoing settlement activity and the high rate of demolition of Palestinian structures” as “dangerously imperiling the viability” of a two-state deal.

Kirby said the Quartet’s report “will include recommendations that will help inform international discussions on the best way to advance a two-state solution.”

He added that Kerry and Netanyahu would also discuss other bilateral issues.

“There are plenty of issues coming up that merit Israel and the United States’s discussion,” he said.

Washington, the traditional mediator in Middle East peace efforts, has not taken the lead in recent months, concerned that the situation is not promising and that another round of failed talks would only further embitter both parties.

But France has launched a diplomatic initiative to build international pressure on both sides.

The United States gave the French move a cool reception, but Kerry attended its inaugural meeting in Paris and has called on both sides to take “affirmative steps” to calm tempers and preserve the possibility of peace.

Israel-Turkey agreement likely Sunday

Rome will also see Israeli and Turkish negotiators meeting Sunday to reach an agreement on normalizing relations after the two countries fell out six years ago, sources said.

Previously, the discussions had been expected to take place in Turkey.

If an agreement is reached, it would go before Israel’s security cabinet for approval on Wednesday, according to media reports and an Israeli official who requested anonymity.

Analysts say it is very likely that an agreement will be concluded on Sunday.

Once tight relations between Israel and key NATO member Turkey were significantly downgraded amid a series of spats, including an Israeli commando raid on a six-ship flotilla in May 2010 as it tried to run the blockade on Gaza, which sparked a melee that left 10 Turks dead.

Two of Turkey’s key conditions for normalization — an apology and compensation — have largely been met, leaving its third demand, that Israel lift its blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, as the main obstacle.

According to the Turkish daily Hurriyet, the two sides have reached a compromise whereby Turkey would send aid for Palestinians via the Israeli port of Ashdod rather than directly to Gaza.

The deal reportedly does not include the return of Israelis held in Gaza, including two soldier determined to have been killed in combat there. On Saturday, the families of the soldiers said they would stage a protest if the bodies were not returned as part of the deal.

According to Israeli news site Ynet, the agreement also includes a deal for a natural gas pipeline for Israel to supply Turkey with natural gas, resumed defense and intelligence cooperation and a Turkish commitment to drop legal action against Israeli officers over the flotilla affair.

Ankara would also agree to stop allowing terror group Hamas to direct attacks against Israel from Turkish soil, according to the report.              (the Times of Israel)

Missing IDF soldier’s family: Netanyahu failing a test by signing deal with Turkey

The family of Lt. Hadar Goldin, the IDF soldier killed during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza whose body was never returned, came out against a pending reconciliation deal with Turkey that does not include the return of their son’s remains.

“We view gravely the pending agreement between Israel and Turkey, which is the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and the state that serves as Hamas’s patron,” the family said in a statement on Saturday evening.

The announcement was released after the family of St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul, who like Goldin was killed in Gaza and not returned to his family for burial in Israel, said that it would raise a protest tent outside of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on Sunday.

“The agreement does not include the return of our sons, Hadar and Oron, to Israel, contrary to stated promises from the prime minister made over the last two years,” the Goldins’ statement added.

“As we understand it, by signing the agreement the prime minister will have failed the first meaningful test after Operation Protective Edge, and will grant a prize to Hamas for kidnapping Lt. Hadar Goldin and St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul,” the family charged.

“The time has come for Israel to be the one who sets the price for Hamas on kidnapping and holding soldiers, and not as we have gotten used to over the last 30 years – to pay heavy prices to our enemies.”

St.-Sgt. Shaul’s parents, Zahava and Herzl, told reporters Saturday that the purpose of the protest tent they plan to put up outside the Prime Minister’s Residence is to pressure cabinet ministers from signing any Israeli-Turkish agreement without a condition that Hamas return the bodies of Israeli soldiers in Gaza, as Turkey has diplomatic relations with Hamas.

“It is unfathomable that we give the Turks achievements and answer their demands while our children are still being held in Gaza.” Oron’s parents said.

The security cabinet is scheduled to meet on Wednesday to approve a rapprochement agreement with Turkey that is expected to be finalized on Sunday.

Earlier this week, the family of Avraham “Abera” Mengistu, who has been held in Gaza since 2014, also came out against the deal with Turkey.

The Prime Minister’s Office on Saturday responded to the criticism from the families, saying “Israel is constantly working, through open and secret channels, to bring back home the two IDF soldiers and two Israeli citizens being held in Gaza,” in reference to Goldin, Shaul, Mengistu and a Beduin citizen whose name has not been released.

“Israel will not cease these activities until the mission is accomplished,” the statement added.                 (Jerusalem Post)

Did Israel promise not to assassinate Hamas’s leader as part of Turkey deal?

The Prime Minister’s Office on Saturday denied that Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh would be given immunity from Israeli attempts on his life as part of the reconciliation deal with Turkey which the cabinet is expected to ratify next week.

The claim was seemingly made by coalition chairman David Bitan, who later said that his comments made at a cultural event in Beersheba on Saturday were misunderstood and taken out of context.

Discussing the pending deal with Turkey and what it means for Haniyeh, Biton stated: “What’s certain is that we can’t do anything to him anymore, he is secured. Not even the prime minister can give the order anymore.”

Biton’s comments prompted an angry denial from the Prime Minister’s Office: “MK David Bitan is not privy to the details of the agreement with Turkey. His comments are incorrect and detached from reality. The issue [of Haniyeh] was not discussed during the talks.”

The statement added that “Israel reserves the right to ensure its security in accordance with the circumstances.”

Biton released a statement following the prime minister’s denial, saying that, “My comments were misunderstood. First of all, I didn’t say that any promises were made regarding Haniyeh. Israel always reserves its right to take any necessary measures at its disposal, and I meant nothing to the contrary.”

The Likud MK added that “it was made clear to me unequivocally that such a thing was not at all included in the agreement.”                      (Jerusalem Post)

Ahead of expected rapprochement with Israel, Istanbul hosts Hamas leader

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan met with Khaled Meshaal, leader of Palestinian militant group Hamas, on Saturday in Istanbul, Turkish presidential sources said, shortly after Israel and Turkey said they were close to patching up five-year political rift.

A source from Erdoğan’s office said Meshaal “briefed Erdoğan on the latest developments in the region”, without giving further details. Islamist Hamas controls the Gaza strip.

Israeli officials said late on Thursday that a deal with Turkey was struck to normalize ties following high-level bilateral talks in Switzerland.

Turkish officials said a final agreement was yet to be sealed, but that given the progress it would not be too long.

Israel’s once-strong ties to Turkey soured in 2010 when Israeli commandoes killed 10 Turkish activists when storming the Mavi Marmara, a ship in a convoy seeking to break an Israeli naval blockade of the Palestinian territory of Gaza.

Turkey had demanded Israel apologize over the assault, pay compensation and lift the Gaza blockade. For Israel, limiting Hamas activity in Turkey has been key.

Under the preliminary deal between the two countries, Saleh al-Aruori, a senior leader in the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas who has been living in Turkey, would be barred from the country, the Israeli official had said.         (Ynet News)

2 injured in car-ramming attack in West Bank; suspect killed

The Israeli army on Friday said a Palestinian woman crashed her car into an Israeli vehicle in a likely car-ramming attack in the West Bank.

A soldier who was nearby shot the driver, killing her, the military said, describing the incident as an “apparent” terror attack.

An Israeli couple was hurt in the incident, which happened near the entrance to the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, at the Elias junction.

The two Israelis, who are in their 50s, were lightly injured, according to the Magen David Adom emergency service.

They were taken to Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center where they will stay through the weekend for observation, the hospital said.

The army said it was continuing to investigate the incident.

Since October, 33 Israelis and four others have been killed and hundreds more injured in the spate of attacks, though the violence had dramatically waned of late. Some 200 Palestinians have also been killed, some two-thirds of them while carrying out attacks and the rest in clashes with troops, Israeli officials say.               (the Times of Israel)

Israel sets up 24-hour situation room to monitor Brexit effects

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on Sunday said that the Finance Ministry had set up a 24-hour “situation room” to keep tabs on economic repercussions from the United Kingdom’s Thursday vote to break from the European Union.

“We have a strong and stable economy that is prepared to deal with any scenario and challenge,” Kahlon said, noting that he was coordinating closely with Bank of Israel Governor Karnite Flug and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom he met over the weekend to discuss the British exit, or Brexit.

The TA-100, representing the largest 100 companies trading on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, opened down roughly 3% Sunday, the first day of trading following the referendum.

Netanyahu also sought to calm markets. “There is no direct effect on Israel apart from the fact that we are part of the global economy,” he said at Sunday’s cabinet meeting.

“I can say one thing: The Israeli economy is strong. It has very considerable foreign currency reserves; therefore, to the extent that there is some effect, it is not expected to be strong, other than unrest in the global economy.”

A report from the Finance Ministry’s Chief Economist on Sunday estimated that the effect on Israel’s capital markets would be similar to the shocks of the 2012 euro crisis, which resulted in a 6.5% drop in Israeli capital market indexes.

While many of the repercussions for Israel will be indirect, the EU represents Israel’s largest regional trade partner. By country, the UK is its Israel’s second-largest export market (excluding diamonds), just behind the United States.

But the Finance Ministry analysis predicted that the overall effect on Israeli exports would amount to about 0.1%. It also noted that, in the long run, the decision could be an opportunity for Israel. Less competitive terms of trade between the UK and EU could create an opening for Israeli exporters to compete with British goods in the EU and European goods in the UK.

The British vote to leave the EU sent the British pound crashing and global stocks reeling, as it opened up a prolonged period of political and economic uncertainty.             (Jerusalem Post)

British Prime Minister David Cameron said he would step down, and would leave it to his successor to invoke Article 50 of the EU Lisbon Treaty, which sets off the process for its exit. Article 50 will kick off a two-year timeline for the UK to renegotiate its trade relationship with the EU, though negotiations are expected to take longer. It also must redefine the trade deals it has with all the countries that trade with it as an EU member state–including Israel.

The political repercussions could also see other EU states opt to leave, and renewed efforts by Scotland and Ireland to separate from the United Kingdom.    (Jerusalem Post)

 Abbas retracts charge that rabbis called for poisoning Palestinian water

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday morning retracted accusations he made days prior about Israeli rabbis calling for the poisoning of Palestinian wells.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization, which Abbas chairs, issued the retraction after the PA president made the unsubstantiated charge in an address Thursday to the European Parliament.

The comments prompted a harsh condemnation from Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accusing Abbas of propagating blood libel, referring to anti-Semitic allegations against Jews that arose in the Middle Ages.

The PLO’s statement Saturday said that Abbas “rejected all claims that accuse him and the Palestinian people of offending the Jewish religion.

“After it has become evident that the alleged statements by a rabbi on poisoning Palestinian wells, which were reported by various media outlets, are baseless, President Mahmoud Abbas has affirmed that he didn’t intend to do harm to Judaism or to offend Jewish people around the world,” the statement read.

The retraction also added that Abbas condemned all accusations against him of anti-Semitism.

Abbas’s remarks to the European Parliament did not appear on the official transcript issued by his office, suggesting he may have spoken off the cuff as he condemned Israeli actions against Palestinians amid stalled peace talks.

“Only a week ago, a number of rabbis in Israel announced, and made a clear announcement, demanding that their government poison the water to kill the Palestinians,” Abbas said, in what appeared to be an invocation of a widely debunked media report that recalled the medieval anti-Semitic libel.

“Isn’t that clear incitement to commit mass killings against the Palestinian people?”

The Israeli statement said that Abbas had “showed his true face in Brussels,” adding that “by refusing to meet with the Israeli president and with … Netanyahu for direct negotiations, and by spreading a blood libel in the European parliament, his claim that his hand is outstretched for peace is false.”

Abbas’s remarks were made as Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, made a parallel visit to Brussels. Rivlin’s office said Abbas had declined a European proposal that the two meet there. A spokesman for Abbas said any such meeting would require more preparation.

Abbas, who received a standing ovation from EU lawmakers after his speech, gave no source for his information — and there has been no evidence over the past week of any call by Israeli rabbis to poison Palestinian water.

Israel said in the statement that it “awaits the day when Abu Mazen (Abbas) will stop spreading lies and be involved in incitement. Until then, Israel will continue to protect itself from the Palestinian incitement which generates acts of terror.”                                           (Jerusalem Post)

Israel’s Unemployment Rate Hits All-Time Low of 4.8%

The unemployment rates in Israel has hit an all-time low, a new report by the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics said Thursday.

The Jewish state’s unemployment rate in May was 4.8 percent, compared to the previous all-time low of 4.9 percent in April and 5.3 percent in March. According to the data, since 2012, the number of unemployed Israelis has decreased by 31.4 percent, from 277,083 to 190,000.

The unemployment rate among Israelis ages 25-64 hit an all-time low of 4.1 percent in May, compared to 4.3 percent in April.                  (the Algemeiner)

Muslim privates swear allegiance to IDF

The swearing-in ceremony for the March 2016 cycle of Desert Reconnaissance Battalion soldiers was held on Thursday at the Memorial Monument to the Bedouin Warriors with the majority of the sworn-in soldiers being Muslim. Before their commanders and families, the soldiers, mostly Bedouins with some Muslim and Christian Arabs who volunteered to join the IDF, swore allegiance to the State of Israel and its defense.

The swearing-in ceremony took place three months after the beginning of the training course, eventually becoming full-fledged infantry soldiers.

One of the soldiers who took part in the ceremony was 20-year-old Private Suliman el-Magnun, a resident of the Al-Fura village in the Bedouin area of the Negev. El-Magnun enlisted following his two brothers and a cousin’s volunteering for the IDF as well. One of his brothers served in Golani and the other as a tracker. His cousin was in the Ordnance Corps.

Private Suliman[1]

Private Suliman el-Magnun holding the IDF Oath of Allegiance

“When we swore allegiance to the state, I did it with all my heart,” said the excited private. “I understood how important it was to give and do my part for the country in which I was born, that I live my life in, and that I’m proud of.”  (Ynet News)

After Brexit vote, Israeli Prof warns: ‘When the EU is sick, Israel will suffer’

Jerusalem will be losing a friend in the EU, and trade will be affected too, but Germany will be more influential

By Raphael Ahren                 The Times of Israel

http://www.timesofisrael.com/after-brexit-vote-israeli-prof-warns-when-the-eu-is-sick-israel-will-suffer/

Winston Churchill is said to have been the first statesman to call for a united Europe. In 1946, he revealed a recipe for a “free” and “happy” European continent — “to re-create the European family… and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom,” the victorious World War II prime minister said. “We must build a kind of United States of Europe.”

On Friday morning, Churchill’s dream, which until just a few years ago looked like it was becoming a reality, was smashed to pieces on the rocks of British public opinion, as 51.9 percent voted to leave the European Union, 43 years after the UK joined.

Churchill was a visionary of a united Europe, but he also recognized that making decisions based on what the majority of citizens feel can occasionally be problematic. “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time,” he said in a 1947 speech to the House of Commons.

The premise of Churchill’s quip can be debated, but let’s face it, the year 2016, which saw Republican primary voters in the US defying all expectations — and their own party leaders — by crowning an inexperienced populist as their presidential candidate, and in which the citizens of an island nation decided to turn their back on a united Europe against the better judgement of most economists and the prime minister they themselves elected merely 13 months ago, was not a good year for direct democracy.

What does the so-called Brexit mean for Israel?

Officials in Jerusalem remained silent on Friday, with the exception of Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. While not commenting on the UK’s vote to leave the EU, he expressed regret over Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to resign. (Cameron had been a strong, unheeded advocate of the “Remain” campaign.)

At this point it is unclear how exactly Britain’s exit from the EU will play out even in Europe. Far-right politicians in France and the Netherlands have called for similar referendums, and Scotland is widely expected to launch another attempt at independence, after a failed referendum in 2014.

Given this widespread uncertainty, it is hard to foresee precisely what implications Brexit will have for the Jewish state. But, said Professor Sharon Pardo, big changes are now unfolding, and they will have an impact on Israel.

“Above all, we should remember that the EU is Israel’s largest trade partner. Every obstacle in the European integration project will have financial implications that will immediately influence the Israeli economy,” said Pardo, the director of the Center for European Politics and Society at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

“When the EU is sick, Israel will suffer [too], it’s as simple as that,” he said.

On Friday, global stock markets crashed and in the short term, the Israeli economy will likely take a hit as well, Pardo predicted. “Israel is a member of the international community, and any major and drastic decision has implication on us as well.”

Diplomatically speaking, Israel is losing a friend in the union, but it is no catastrophe. London was not an ardent critic like Ireland or Sweden, but also not as friendly as Germany or the Czech Republic.

Within the union’s Foreign Affairs Council, “Israel is losing an open channel, one that is clearly influential at the EU leadership level,” Pardo said. “On other hand, Germany has good chances of taking the lead here and the fact that Germany is a close ally of Israel will clearly have implications. Germany is the responsible adult here.”

David Cameron, a Conservative, has been a staunch ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while the current head of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, is a harsh critic of Israel and has called Israel’s arch-foes Hamas and Hezbollah “our friends.” Several of his party members have resigned or been sacked amid an ongoing anti-Semitism controversy in the party.

If the results of Thursday’s referendum lead to new elections and help Labour come into power, UK-Israel relations can be expected to take a severe hit. But Corbyn is himself now also under pressure, as a backer of the failed Remain campaign.

On Friday morning, as much of the world was still reeling from the shock of what might have been the beginning of the end of a united Europe — which experts say is liable to cause a resurge in nationalism and racism — one Israeli group was gloating.

Regavim, a right-wing, pro-settlements “legal advocacy organization,” had campaigned for Brexit in order to punish the union for perceived anti-Israel policies.

“Regavim would like to thank all of our supporters who took a stand for the independence of Britain and Israel,” the group said in a statement issued minutes after the referendum’s results were announced. “The European Union should immediately stop its illegal building on Israeli land, stop funding anti-Israel NGOs and allowing European taxpayers’ money to bankroll Palestinian terrorists. Above all, it is time that the EU focus on its own problems and cease its unhealthy anti-Semitic obsession with Israel.”

This wish is as childish as it is unrealistic. Even after the UK formally leaves the union, which might take two or even three years, the 27 remaining member states are unlikely to change their positions vis-a-vis Israel and the Palestinian question.

Brexit will undeniably rock the EU, but the union has always managed to overcome crises and challenges, Pardo said. “Personally, I believe that the EU will emerge stronger than it was before,” he added.

Churchill would probably agree. “For myself I am an optimist — it does not seem to be much use to be anything else,” he once said.

From Alon Bar David, the Sydney Hineini Shaliach

As an Israeli Shaliach I’m always trying to bring you the beautiful side of Israel and of our people, but the story you’ll about to read, has nothing to be proud of.

In the 50’s, in the very early days of the newfound State, Israel faced massive waves of immigration. Jews from all corners of the world joined together to build their new home.

Upon arrival, the new immigrants were allocated in Ma’abara – temporary housing (e.g. metal cabins, tents).

During that period, Sephardi families, mainly Yemenites, made back then bizarre claims, that their children were abducted by the government.

The story went this way:

One of their children wasn’t feeling well, they took him to the hospital and were told to come back the next day. The following day when Mum came to visit, the doctors told tell her that her baby got sick during the night and passed away. The devastated and confused family demanded to see their baby and to have a proper funeral. The hospital told the family that their child had already been buried.

Amram Association managed to collect more than 1,000 testimonies of families who share the same concept of their child’s disappearance.

Years later and recruitment letters were sent to those kids who were supposed to be 18. The wound opened again and families were now sure that the story they were told was not true.

These claims came together with the hard feeling of discrimination of the Sephardi community by the government which was mostly Ashkenazi background.

In following the Yemenite community’s claims, the state opened 3 official committees (1967, 1986, and 1995) who were supposed to check their claims. Each committee criticised the other to determine what happened to those kids. Only in 1995, a committee by the Supreme Court was establish and in 2001 they published their report.

Ariel Sharon’s government in 2002 censored the protocols of the Supreme Court’s Committee  until the year 2071, which by then all of the children involved, who today would be around 60-70 years, would pass away by then.

This week was the unofficial remembrance day of those abducted Yemenite children.  Surprisingly, parties from the left to right agree that these protocols need to be open whilst these children (60-70 years today) are still alive.

This week Prime Minister, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu published a video on his Facebook, which he agreed that justice must be made and the truth must come out, painful as it will be.

We can only hope that those protocols will be published soon and this horrible open wound will slowly heal.

Cabinet resolves to get to bottom of Yemenite children affair

The long saga of the Yemenite children may be coming to a close.

At the cabinet meeting today (Sunday), the government adopted a resolution to appoint Minister without portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi to act in the name of the government in resolving the Yemenite children affair.

Allegations have been circling for many decades that in the early stage of the State of Israel many children of Yemenite families were taken from them and given to be raised by Ashkenazi families, with the parent then being told that their child had died. It is further alleged that this was done either for racist reasons–a belief that Yemenite parents are not fit to raise children–or anti-religious reasons–a desire by the state to make the children secular.

In 1995 a commission was appointed to investigate the matter, headed by then Supreme Court Justice Yehuda Cohen. After 7 years of work, it was concluded that there was not enough evidence to support the conclusion that these kidnappings did indeed occur. However, many documents were then classified and hidden from the public.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked led a push to bring these documents to light, so that the matter can finally be put to rest, and today the matter was brought up for discussion at the Cabinet meeting, where action was finally resolved upon.

Prime Minister Netanyahu called the matter “historic”, further saying that “I am committed to finding the truth about this, and Minister Hanegbi will present his findings to the government.”

The Prime Minister further noted during the deliberations that there were other children from non-Yemenite backgrounds whose fate remained mysterious, and would be investigated.

Minister Shaked was pleased with the result. “I’m happy my proposal bore fruit. I will give Minister Hanegbi all the help he needs. The truth must come to light.”  (Arutz Sheva)

Why do we consort with racist Holocaust-deniers?

by Paul Monk                The Australian

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/why-do-we-consort-with-racist-holocaust-deniers/news-story/4ceb1c96f896224fba582ea46fe0d32c

Since Barack Obama came to ­office in 2008 he has bent over backwards to mend fences with the theocratic regime in Iran.

He has pleaded mea culpa over the ­famous CIA intervention in Iran (with MI6) in 1953. He has sought co-operation to bring stability to the Middle East (with no success). He has struck a problematic nuclear deal with Iran. It is problematic because the regime in Tehran is constitutionally truculent and brutal.

Our own government, since Julie Bishop became Foreign Minister, also has taken a conciliatory approach to Iran. Given the many other distractions of international affairs and domestic politics, this policy has gone largely unnoticed. It’s time it was put under greater scrutiny.

That was driven home last month by a particularly nasty government-sponsored cartoon competition in Tehran to lampoon the Holocaust.

If you didn’t hear about this, you should sit up and pay a little attention. As veteran Middle East analysts Reuel Marc Gerecht and Ray Takeyh wrote in The Washington Post on May 27, vicious anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and virulent anti-Zionism are part of the Islamic regime’s DNA. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, godfather of the whole malevolent enterprise, detested the Jews racially and wanted to see Israel wiped off the map.

The regime in Tehran remains committed to these views and goals. It engages in anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist propaganda to burnish its pretensions as a leading power in the Muslim Middle East at a time when the Arab powers, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, see Iran as a dangerously ambitious state; and Turkey, under Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is seeking to stage a kind of neo-­Ottoman revival. The easing of economic sanctions seems unlikely to moderate Iran’s behaviour in this regard.

So, what was this cartoon competition and what makes it so disturbing? It was first held in Tehran in 2006, under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Cartoonists were invited to mock the Holocaust or the idea of the Holocaust, since leading figures in the regime have expressed scepticism as to whether it even occurred.

When called to account, regime spokespeople (well, spokesmen, since they are invariably male) tend to equivocate. But the cartoons don’t.

The first prize this year was awarded to a cartoon that showed what very much looks like the entrance to Auschwitz sitting on top of a cash register that has $6 million in it. It was drawn by a French cartoonist notorious for his anti-Semitic views.

It is worth juxtaposing this exercise and award with the global expressions of outrage by radical Muslims and their secular allies over cartoons lampooning Mohammed. It seems that one 7th-century man’s reactionary views must not be held up to ridicule but the murder of six million people is a subject for mockery.

That fact alone tells us a good deal about the regime in Tehran. Its smooth-tongued, US-educated Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, dances around the question of whether the Holocaust occurred or on what scale.

He denied, in a late April interview with The New Yorker, that the Iranian government sponsored the cartoon competition. That, not to put too fine a point on it, is a barefaced lie. The competi­tion is orchestrated by bodies ­ the Islamic Propaganda Organisation and the Owj Media and Arts Organisation ­ that report directly to supreme clerical leader Ali Khamenei and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Speaking to a US university audience recently, Zarif was asked did he or did he not acknowledge the historical reality of the Holocaust.

He said that during World War II atrocities were committed and a lot of Jews were among those killed; but he then insisted on adding that the real question is why the Palestinians have been made to suffer for this. “What did they have to do with the atrocities committed in Europe?” he asked.

There is an answer to that question with which nobody in his audience confronted him. The Palestinian Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and many of the Arab League leaders in the 1930s and 40s were openly pro-Nazi and the Grand Mufti called for the extermination of the Jews, not only in Europe but in Palestine.

Two-state solutions proposed by the Peel commission in 1937 and by the UN in 1947 were flatly rejected by these Arab leaders, even though accepted by the Zionist movement. The consequence was the war of 1948, which the Arabs resoundingly lost.

The unpleasant truth is that Iran officially and unrepentantly continues to peddle pernicious and genocidal propaganda. That is the moral character of the regime.

If we are to deal with it realistically, we cannot afford to blink at this fact. Our goal must be not to avert our eyes and tell ourselves that they don’t do things like this cartoon competition, or they don’t really mean it, but to seek by all means within our power (limited though they are) to hold them to account and push for change.

Early this year, David Cesarani’s Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-49 was published, offering a superb synthesis of the breakthrough new scholarship on the Holocaust that has been ­accomplished since the end of the Cold War.

It was published posthumously, as he died while it was in press. No one who wishes to speak responsibly on human rights and the Holocaust has any excuse for not reading it. Khamenei and Zarif ought to be required to do so.

On November 1, 2005, the UN General Assembly declared January 27 International Holocaust Remembrance Day because it agreed, as Cesarani remarked, that the Holocaust was the global benchmark for moral evil.

That is, therefore, the benchmark against which to judge the cartoons presented in Tehran last month.

That is the benchmark by which to judge the anti-Semitic rhetoric of Tehran.

And, when we seek to open channels of dialogue with Tehran, this is a matter we must bear in mind.

Julie Bishop, take note.

Postcard from Israel: Israel’s desert kibbutzim

Think it’s too hot and dry to get much done in the desert? Wait till you see the beautiful and delicious innovations of Israel’s southern kibbutzim.

Abundant agriculture, eco-design, woodworking, culinary arts, winemaking, dairy farming and metalworking are among the many vibrant pursuits happening in the desert kibbutzim of Israel.

Click on the video below to see the innovations kibbutz members are creating every day in southern kibbutzim such as Neot Semadar, Ketura and Lotan.          (Israel21C)