+61 3 9272 5644

Credit: Getty Images

Latest News in Israel – 4th January

Friends, neighbors ‘in shock’ over deaths of 4 sisters, mother in suspected murder-suicide

Friends, acquaintances and neighbors of a mother suspected of murdering her four daughters on Sunday before killing herself in their Jerusalem apartment expressed their horror and disbelief at the tragedy, as police were working to determine the circumstances surrounding the deaths.

The gruesome discovery of the five bodies was made when rescuers responded to a fire that broke out in their fifth-story apartment in the capital, late Sunday afternoon.

Four fire-fighting teams responded to the call, entering the locked apartment through the balcony before discovering the lifeless body of 36-year-old mother. A quick scan of the apartment led the firefighters to a locked bedroom from which smoke was emanating and where the bodies of four children, ranging in age from early teenage years to infancy or possible toddlerhood. According to an initial probe, the children died of serious burns and smoke inhalation while the mother died of suffocation by hanging.

The bodies of the children were sent to the Abu Kabir forensic institute amid suspicions the mother may have strangled them to death before setting fire to the room.

The husband arrived at the scene about half an hour after the emergency services. A spokesperson for the United Hatzalah rescue organization said the father was being treated by a psychotrauma team. It was not clear where he was at the time of the fire.

There were conflicting reports on the ages of the children. According to Ynet, the eldest girl was 11 years old, followed by a nine-year-old, a four-year-old and an infant of 11 months. Other reports said there were two 12-year-old girls, a 7-year-old and a 2-year-old.

The names of the children and the parents, immigrants to Israel from France, were not released to the public.

A neighbor told Ynet that the “family had made aliyah from France 13 years ago, the children were born here. The mom always looked to be a strong, assertive woman.”

Another neighbor said he had seen the mother and daughters playing in an adjacent park the day before and everything seemed normal.

A friend of the family, who gave Ynet the first name Shmuel, said the family was “exceptional,” describing the mother a “brilliant, caring and warm.”

“They always looked to be a couple raising their children with a lot of love. The community here is in shock,” he said.

A former teacher of one of the daughters said the girls were “amazing pupils, they were happy, sociable girls.”

“They were good parents, a lovely family. I would never have thought that something like this could happen [to them]. It just shows that we have to be more alert. After all, this was a completely normal family that maybe had a few difficulties. It’s really unbelievable,” she said.

A friend of the father, said to be an optometrist, described a man who was hard-working and dedicated; he rejected any notion that the tragedy could have been related to financial difficulties.

“He didn’t have financial difficulties, I am sure of it. He worked hard and made a good living,” said Niv Philipsborn, adding that at times where he brought his daughters to work, “he looked like a doting father.”

“Those who know him are certain that whatever happened there had nothing to do with him, and it looks like he couldn’t prevent it,” he said.

Hebrew language media reported that the woman had been receiving psychiatric treatment, but there was no confirmation of the reports.

One unnamed person who works with immigrants from France said the couple were well-known in the French-Israeli community in Jerusalem.

“There is massive shock, people who are asking themselves, ‘how did we not see,’ ‘how did we not know.’ These are relevant questions. We need to ask to what extent welfare authorities were in the picture,” said the source, adding that perhaps the couple’s integration into Israeli society had an impact on the mother’s mental health.

“This [incident] will demand from us, the organizations who work with olim from France, a lot of attention,” he said.

In a statement, the Jerusalem municipality said the family was not known to social services and were never attended to by welfare workers.

The municipality noted that the mother had contacted her local social welfare center three months ago, asking for information about babysitting services.

Workers told the woman that the municipality does not provide babysitters, but, sensing that perhaps there was an underlying issue with the children, suggested that the mother come into the center to learn about services available to her. However, the woman did not come in and there was further contact from her, the city said in a statement.

Jerusalem firefighter Arik Abuluf described the scene when rescuers first arrived.

“We found her lying on the floor. The room that the children were in was completely burned and because it was close, the flames used up the oxygen.”

“It was the most difficult thing I have seen in all my years in the fire service,” he added.

Rescuers said the woman’s body was found on a balcony outside the apartment. Neighbors who saw her body hanging on the balcony called the emergency services and were advised by them to access the balcony and cut her down. They were not able to enter the locked apartment and waited until firefighters reached the scene and broke open the door.

Shalom Klein, a volunteer with the Zaka search and rescue organization, called the scene “shocking.”

“I arrived at the scene of the fire and the neighbors brought me to the apartment balcony. The mother was dead. Her four children were burned to death. ZAKA Jerusalem volunteers are dealing with the bodies and collecting the remains,” Klein said.   (the Times of Israel)

Police question Netanyahu in graft investigation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was questioned Monday night for more than three hours by police at his residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem over suspicions he received illegal gifts from two businessmen.

The head of the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit, Dep.- Ch. Koresh Barnur, arrived at the Prime Minister’s Residence early Sunday evening.

Police were with the prime minister for a little over three hours, before leaving his residence around 11 p.m., after the first of what is expected to be several interrogation sessions.

Police would not provide any further details.

Netanyahu – who has denied the allegations – is suspected of receiving improper gifts worth hundreds of thousands of shekels from Israeli and foreign businessmen, in a manner which breached his duty of trust as a public servant.

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit issued a statement after the completion of the questioning, confirming that the probe has become a full-fledged criminal investigation.

Mandelblit said Netanyahu has been accused of ethics breaches, and that his office gathered sufficient evidence to justify ordering a full criminal investigation.

Mandelblit’s office confirmed that it ordered a preliminary review in July of a variety of allegations. He noted that his office looked into and dismissed allegations in four areas: that Netanyahu ran an unreported, illegally financed shadow campaign in the 2009 general election; that Netanyahu rigged the Likud primary results in 2009; that he received gifts and benefits from wealthy people while overseas; and that he double-dipped in payments for flights overseas.

Mandelblit said many investigative activities were undertaken, including questioning dozens of interviews and obtaining a large volume of documents, including from foreign citizens. Mandelblit, State Attorney Shai Nitzan and top police officials met dozens of times to discuss ongoing developments.

Multiple sources said Netanyahu was confronted during the investigation with testimony from two businessmen he had alleged ties to.

According to Channel 2, Netanyahu did not know about all the suspicions investigators presented during his questioning.

Earlier on Monday, the prime minister continued to show confidence that the investigation into graft allegations against him would lead nowhere.

“I see the spirit of celebration in the television studios,” Netanyahu said at a Likud faction meeting. “Wait with the celebrations; don’t hurry.”

The prime minister then repeated what has become his catchphrase in relation to investigations – “There will be nothing because there is nothing” – and the Likud activists and MKs in the room applauded him.

At the opening of the meeting, Bitan said the whole party believes in Netanyahu and hopes he will remain prime minister for many more years.

Participants in the meeting applauded that comment as well.

On Monday morning, the Prime Minister’s Residence was closed off and a black partition was erected on the gate, to keep out the prying eyes of the media.

This follows reports that surfaced over the weekend regarding comments made by World Jewish Congress president and long-time Netanyahu ally Ronald Lauder, who told police that he did give Netanyahu and his son gifts, including expensive suits. The evidence provided by Lauder supposedly provided impetus to interrogate Netanyahu.

There is allegedly a second, more serious case against Netanyahu, the details of which remain unknown. Channel 2 alluded to the possibility of the more severe charge being related to an attempt to receive a bribe, though the charge is notoriously hard to prove because it means that no bribe was received.

Over the weekend, Netanyahu issued various responses denying all accusations and insinuating his accusers of trying to implicate him with the police, since they could not beat him at the ballot box. “Try to replace the prime minister at the ballot box, as is customary practice in a democracy,” the prime minister wrote on his Facebook page Saturday night.

On Monday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett showed his support for Netanyahu at a Bayit Yehudi faction meeting.

Asked if Netanyahu should resign as a result of the probe, Bennett said: “No… An investigation can end with nothing.”

“It is of great importance that governments in Israel are stable. I think governments should last four years, because it takes time to become effective, and this is a good, nationalist government,” Bennett added.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid expressed hope that the investigation would not find fault with Netanyahu, saying, “If two prime ministers in a row fall from office because of corruption, it will be very hard to rehabilitate the public’s trust in its leadership.”

Lapid also reiterated that the prime minister is considered innocent until proven guilty.

“We need to let the police do their work,” he said. “That said, for the good of the country and the people, it needs to be done quickly.

We can’t allow what happened around the investigation of [former prime minister Ehud] Olmert to be repeated. We can’t sink into months of investigations… Let’s finish this without dragging our feet.

“It can’t be that instead of sitting with the Mossad, Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency], IDF chief of staff and finance minister, the prime minister will spend his time with lawyers preparing for the investigation and then with the police while he is being questioned… The prime minister needs to be focused on other things, not on proving his innocence,” Lapid added.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said it is a difficult day for the country when its prime minister is under investigation.

“We are not happy for his misfortune,” Herzog stated. “This is a country with a rule of law, and we must respect law enforcement.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Australian FM: We won’t relocate embassy to Jerusalem

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said that Australia “does not have any plans to move the Australian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Monday.

Bishop’s comments came in response to a call from former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott to move the embassy to Israel’s declared capital as US President-elect Donald Trump has vowed he will do once in office.

Abbott caused controversy with a column he wrote in The Spectator Australia on 29 December in which he called for a cut to Australian funding to Palestinians in addition to his call to move the embassy to Jerusalem.

In the column, Abbott wrote that “Australia should cut our $40 million a year aid to the Palestinian Authority while it keeps paying pensions to terrorists and their families,” adding that Australia should demonstrate its “support for Israel” by mirroring Trump’s plan to “move its embassy to Jerusalem.” (Australian FM Julie Bishop in Israel)

Bishop rejected both of Abbott’s suggestions, defending Australian aid to the Palestinian Authority, which she said is stipulated on a “zero tolerance policy” for fraud and corruption.

Head of the Palestinian delegation in Australia, Izzat Abdulhadi, warned of possible sanctions  from Muslim countries if Australia were to take Abbott’s suggested measures. Abdulhadi said that relocating the embassy would “severely damage the prospects for a two-state solution to the conflict – the solution that is supported by Palestine, Australia, and the international community.”

He further stated that Jerusalem’s status is an important issue to Muslim countries and the relocation of the Australian embassy “would be met with widespread condemnation and potentially sanctions.”

“International law deems east Jerusalem as occupied Palestinian territories—a position that is held by the overwhelming majority of the international community,” Abdulhadi added.

Australia said last week that if it had been on the United Nations Security Council, Canberra would not have voted in favor of Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The decision, passed on December 23, was approved after the United States withheld its veto in the 15-member international chamber.

Bishop said after the vote that the current government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is “firmly committed to a two-state solution,” but indicated it would not have supported the UN move.

“Australia is not currently a member of the UN Security Council and therefore not eligible to vote on UNSC resolutions,” Bishop said. “In voting at the UN, the coalition government has consistently not supported one-sided resolutions targeting Israel.”

Turnnbull later condemned the resolution in a speech to the Central Synagogue in Sydney on Friday, according to the Australian Jewish News.

He described the resolution as “deeply unsettling for our community” and “one-sided” and vowed that “Australia stands with Israel. We support Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East… We support a peaceful resolution of the disputes between Israel and the Palestinians… we support a two-state solution just as the government of Israel does.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Bodies of Hamas terrorists won’t be returned, ministers decide

Israel will no longer give up the bodies of Hamas terrorists killed during attacks, but instead bury them, the high-level security cabinet decided on Sunday, launching a renewed effort to pressure the Palestinian group into returning two Israeli civilians and the remains of two soldiers.

Gaza-based Hamas is currently holding the remains of IDF soldiers Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul and Lt. Hadar Goldin, who the army says were killed in the 2014 Gaza war, and is also believed to be detaining Avraham Mengistu and Juma Ibrahim Abu Anima, two Israeli men who crossed into Gaza on their own accord.

The decision by the security cabinet followed the release on Saturday by the Palestinian group of video footage showing a mock birthday party for Shaul, believed by the army to have been killed in the 2014 Gaza war.

“The political-security cabinet discussed standing policy on treatment of the bodies of Hamas terrorists killed during terror attacks and decided that they will not be returned, but will be buried,” a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office read.

It did not elaborate on the burial plan, but said that the same meeting discussed ways of getting back the remains of soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war and obtaining the release of two Israeli civilians missing in Gaza and believed to be held by Hamas.

The statement said ministers adopted a “plan of action,” but gave no details.

Both votes were unanimous.

Following the decision, the parents of Goldin and Shaul expressed scant optimism and spoke by phone with Netanyahu’s military secretary Col. Eliezer Toledano and Israel’s chief hostage negotiator Lior Lotan.

“We won’t give a medal to those who decide to do too little too late. At face value, the action plan that the cabinet unanimously decided on deals with important matters that can lever pressure on Hamas. But the responsibility is on the prime minister to put the decision into action,” the Goldins said in a statement. “In addition, we expect that there will be a clear mechanism of stronger and more stringent steps against Hamas in all the actions which the government should now act on.”

Shaul’s family said in a statement that “we have already given up on the things the Israeli government says on the matter, and we are waiting for operative actions,” they said, according to Channel 10. “From our point of view, nothing has changed and we are waiting for the prime minister to take a leadership decision and bring home from war Oron Shaul.”

During the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, dubbed IDF Operation Protective Edge, the bodies of soldiers Shaul and Goldin were seized by the terrorist group, which still holds them, by all accounts.

Though Israel has determined that there is no doubt that Shaul and Goldin died before their bodies were taken, Hamas has never admitted that the soldiers are dead.

Over the weekend, Hamas published two videos aimed at increasing Israeli public pressure on its leaders to return the soldiers and that mocked the government’s failure to secure their remains more than two years after the conflict ended.

In November, the Israeli army’s human resources chief said there were no breakthroughs on the horizon in the effort to return the bodies of the two soldiers.

A month earlier, a Hamas official denied rejecting an Israeli offer to free 18 Palestinians and hand over 19 bodies seized during the 2014 war in Gaza in exchange for the bodies of the two IDF soldiers who were killed in the 50-day conflict.

The terror group also poured cold water on a reported Israeli proposal to hand over Mengistu and Anima in exchange for dozens of Gazans, who have been arrested after crossing into Israel illegally.

In the more than two years that Shaul and Goldin have been held in the Gaza Strip, the effort to return the bodies has remained a hot-button issue in Israeli society, with the soldiers’ families making repeated calls for the government to take a harsher stance against the terrorist group in Gaza.

Israel has often gone to great lengths to retrieve bodies of soldiers with unknown burial places, setting up a designated unit within the Manpower Directorate to find them and, in some cases, embarking on regular search missions.

For live soldiers, like Gilad Shalit who was captured by Hamas in 2006, and also for bodies of deceased fighters, Israel has often agreed to wildly lopsided exchanges with terrorist groups.

To secure the release of Shalit, for instance, Israel set free 1,027 terrorists from its prisons.

That policy is heavily debated on the Israeli street and in the upper echelons of the country’s security services. One side stresses the need for Israel to do everything within its power to bring back any soldier who falls into enemy hands, while the other argues that such a sentimental approach to individuals, and especially bodies, is ultimately a weakness, which can be and has been exploited by Israel’s enemies.

The Hamas terror group has long demanded Israel first release hundreds of Palestinians who were rearrested after they were freed in the 2011 Shalit deal before they would even enter into negotiations with Israel over a prisoner exchange.  (the Times of Israel)

Former intelligence chief: Syrian crisis is strengthening Israel’s enemies

Contrary to opinions from some other quarters, Israel’s military balance is the best it has ever been, said Maj. Gen. (ret) Amos Yadlin, the director of the Institute for National Security Studies when he presented the institute’s strategic assessment for 2016-2017 to President Reuven Rivlin on Monday.

Despite the civil war in Syria, the general instability of the region and the consolidation of terrorist organizations on Israel’s northern and southern borders, Israel’s military capabilities make the Israel Defense Forces the strongest, most modern and most technologically advanced military power in the Middle East, said Yadlin.

Even though Israel had a tough time with America over the past eight years, it nonetheless received strong military support, said Yadlin. While looking forward to fresh opportunities ahead with the new United States administration, he warned that it was possible that President-elect Donald Trump might decide to continue with Obama’s policies vis-à-vis the Middle East.

For that matter, America could well reach another agreement with Iran, he observed.

Commenting on the erosion of trust between Israel and the US, Yadlin urged that every effort be made to repair relations between the two countries.

He also spoke of Israel’s opportunities to forge new relationships in the region, primarily with the Saudis, who see Iranian hegemony as a threat to their security.

Although the nuclear agreement with Iran brought about positive short-term results and created a better situation than was the case before the agreement was reached, it poses a very serious long-range threat, said Yadlin.

Despite its atrocities, terrorism does not, in Yadlin’s perception, present an existential threat to Israel.

It bothered him that Israel has not done enough, in his opinion, to help resolve the Syrian crisis, which, he declared, is a long way from being over. The longer it continues, the stronger Iran and Hezbollah will become, he forecast. Looking at the wider aspects of the Syrian conflagration, Yadlin said that Israel must do more for her Syrian neighbors, and said that it was “a moral and democratic injustice,” if she doesn’t.

As for the unresolved conflict with the Palestinians, Yadlin proposed that Israel be more pro-active in the effort to reach a two-state solution, and, if possible, initiate and implement interim agreements along the way.

The actual survey that led to the assessment covers a much wider range of topics than Yadlin and his colleagues were able to discuss with the president, and is available in book form in Hebrew and English.

Rivlin commended INSS for its comprehensive coverage of issues so vital to Israel’s interests, and for making its publications available to the public so that they could be more knowledgeable about facts on the ground.

At the same time, he warned of the inherent risks in assessments, in that all assessments contain an element of uncertainty.

Even so, said Rivlin, the assessment is of extreme importance in its delving into matters vital to Israel’s national and international interests.  (Jerusalem Post)

East Jerusalem Christmas Tree Decorated With Photos of Palestinian ‘Martyrs’ Killed While Attempting to Murder Jews Attracts Enthusiastic Visitors, Including Greek Orthodox Archbishop

A Christmas tree in east Jerusalem decorated with photos of Arab “martyrs” killed while committing terrorist attacks against Jews has been attracting prominent Arab Muslims and Christians, Israel’s Channel 2 reported on Sunday.

According to the report, one such member of the Christian community was Theodosios, the Archbishop of Sebastia from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, who told passersby about the importance of the Palestinian people’s struggle for their land and holy sites.

The tree, declared Theodosios – known more commonly in the West as Atallah Hanna — constitutes a “Christmas message” from “the heart of Palestine” — that “we are one nation defending one issue…standing firm and remaining in the holy land.”

Sources in Lebanon told the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Arab that Hezbollah has rejected the Russia-Turkey-mediated ceasefire agreement for the Syrian civil war, the Hebrew…

Other people who stopped by to gaze at the tree — which resembles a similar evergreen erected last year on the campus of nearby Al-Quds University – were even more outspoken in their praise for terrorists, according to Channel 2. Some went as far as to laud those who died during the “Al-Quds Intifada,” a reference to the surge in Palestinian terrorism, which began in September 2015 and has been characterized by stabbings, car-rammings and other acts of violence against Israelis.

In a video obtained by Channel 2, Israeli Border Police are seen arriving at the tree late at night and removing pictures of the “martyrs” hanging from its branches.

Maor Tzemach, Chairman of the organization Lach Yerushalayim (“To Thee, Jerusalem”), which seeks to assert Jewish control over the capital, told the news outlet that removing the photos does not solve the greater issue of weakening Israeli sovereignty. He also railed against the archbishop – the second Palestinian in the history of the diocese to hold his position.

“This is not the first time that Atallah Hanna has taken a side in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and has incited against the state of Israel,” Tzemach said. “He collects money for the families of terrorists in Jerusalem and glorifies the terrorists themselves at every opportunity. It is sad to see a religious leader… taking part in incitement…, rather than serving as a source of unity and moderation. I call on the authorities to take legal action against him.”

Atallah Hanna has gained notoriety in Israel for years of subversive activism. Before being ordained Archbishop in 2005, he was arrested and interrogated on a number of occasions for being under “suspicion of relations with terrorist organizations” and “illegally entering” the “enemy countries” of Syria and Lebanon.

In his annual Christmas message ahead of the holiday — which he delivered from the courtyard of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “I’m proud of the fact that in Israel, this is the one place in the Middle East that the Christian community not only survives but thrives and it’s no accident. It’s because of our commitment to religious freedom; it’s because of our embrace of our heritage; it’s because of our embrace of our common future.”

ICEJ Executive Director Dr. Jürgen Bühler echoed Netanyahu’s words.

“This indeed is a season when both communities can celebrate the triumph of light over darkness. And this timely display of solidarity shows once more that Israel is a country where religious freedoms are not only safeguarded but even encouraged,” he said.   (the Algemeiner)

Venezuelan Jews are moving to Israel to escape deepening poverty

When Daniel Oritz moved to Israel from Venezuela , his first meal was a bowl of chicken soup. He took one spoonful and began to cry.

For him, the soup signified an escape from the poverty and deprivation he has experienced for more than two years.

“We were very hungry,” said Oritz, who moved in November. “There was no meat, no sugar, no pasta.”

Venezuela’s economic crisis is so severe that citizens must wait in lines for hours at grocery stores to buy basic staples, or pay exorbitant prices on the black market. Some have even died of basic illnesses because of a shortage of medical supplies.

Tens of thousands have left the country, including a growing number of Venezuelan Jews who have relocated to Israel.

[Venezuela’s crazy currency swap looks like alchemy, not economics]

The process is not easy because Israel and Venezuela do not have diplomatic ties. In 2009, following Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza, then-President Hugo Chávez expelled the Israeli ambassador and his staff from Caracas. He aligned himself with the Palestinians, recognizing their right to statehood later that year, and developed relations with Iran, Israel’s nemesis.

Official Israeli government figures show that 111 Venezuelan Jews made “aliyah,” the Hebrew term for immigration meaning “ascending,” to Israel in 2015, more than double the number who arrived in 2012.

And although final figures for 2016 are not in, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a charity that works to bring Jews from distressed places to Israel, said it had helped about 90 people immigrate.

Between 6,000 and 9,000 Jews remain in the country of 30 million.

Organizations working to help Jews leave Venezuela, including the Jewish Agency for Israel, said they prefer not to talk about the process because it could endanger those who remain.

“We work outside of the Jewish community and under the radar, gathering information by word-of-mouth about Jews who are interested in moving to Israel,” said an employee of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, speaking on the condition of anonymity because she shuttles between Israel and Venezuela on a regular basis.

She said that in the past, Venezuelan Jews opted to move to the United States or Panama but that those places are too expensive because the economic crisis has devalued their property and other assets.

“Israel is really the only option for them,” she said.

[Venezuelans are so desperate they are streaming over the border to buy food]

Jews moving to Israel are entitled to a basket of benefits offered by the state, including greatly subsidized health care, free schooling, and discounts on apartment rentals and other goods.

Anti-Semitism was widespread under Chávez and has continued since his death in 2013. Jewish groups estimate that about 20 percent of the 22,000 Jews who lived in the country when Chávez came to power have left.

Last year, the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League condemned a magazine for using anti-Semitic imagery on its cover that suggested the country’s economic problems were brought on by wealthy people of “Israelite origin.”

“For several years we have seen anti-Semitic accusations and themes appear in Venezuelan public discourse,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, chief executive of the ADL, responding to the magazine’s cover in August. “This shockingly graphic manifestation of anti-Semitic imagery on full display on Venezuelan newsstands is unacceptable and repulsive.”

Oritz, who grew up and emigrated from the city of San Cristobal, not far from the border with Colombia, said his family was victimized in a violent robbery just over a year ago. A band of armed men broke into his home, tied up the family and threatened to kill them if they fought back. They proceeded to take everything his family owned, including their car. Nothing was retrieved, and no one has been arrested for the crime.

It was a harrowing experience, he said, one that he thinks brought on his mother’s death a few months later. The attack pushed him to find a way out of the country and make his way to Israel.

Oritz had been to Israel — he immigrated in 2006, only to discover that his mother was sick, forcing him to return home. Over the years, he said, he yearned to move back. Now, the situation in Venezuela is so bad that he had no choice, he said.

Once he is set up, he will bring his father, sister and his girlfriend, and their 5-year-old daughter.

For Reisy Abramof, who also is Jewish and arrived in Israel on the same flight as Oritz, the political situation in Venezuela is surprising and alarming.

“It is very sad to see people queuing up for food and others dying in hospitals because there is no medicine,” said Abramof, who is from Venezuela’s third-largest city, Valencia.

Her family could afford to buy goods on the black market at inflated prices.

But Abramof, 29, who spent five years at college in the United States, said there is no future for young people in Venezuela.

“I feel hopeful in Israel; it’s a country filled with social innovation and opportunities,” she said. “I have already had a few job interviews, and now I need to learn the language.”  (the Washington Post)

Support from down under

Jerusalem Post Editorial


At a time when Israel is recovering from the shock of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, comments made by Australia’s government are encouraging. In a statement released on Thursday, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop voiced her disagreement with the resolution.

Australia is not currently a member of the Security Council and therefore is not eligible to vote, noted Bishop. However, “in voting at the UN, the coalition government has consistently not supported one-sided resolutions targeting Israel.”

One day later, at a Hanukka menorah-lighting ceremony at Sydney’s Central Synagogue, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that “Australia stands with Israel. We support Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East,” the Australian Jewish News reported.

Canberra’s support for Israel should not be taken for granted. Pro-Palestinian activists have lamented the fact that consecutive Australian governments have been out of step with public opinion. While a large proportion of Australians tend to be critical of Israel and its policies, Labor and in particular Liberal governments have been very supportive.

Consecutive public opinion polls have shown that Australians are divided over their support for Israel. A Roy Morgan Research poll from November 2011 found that Australians were just as sympathetic with Israelis as they were with Palestinians. Only 17% said they supported Jewish settlements while 63% opposed it.

And more than half of Australians supported the Palestinian push for recognition as a full member state of the UN.

A 2014 BBC World Service opinion poll found that 67% of Australians had a negative view of Israel’s influence and just 24% had a positive view.

Israeli-Aussie relations have known their ups and downs. Under the leadership of prime minister Gough Whitlam, Australia distanced itself from Israel during the Yom Kippur War.

Israeli Kangaroo

In 1997, during the opening of the Maccabiah Games, negligence resulted in the collapse of a bridge over the Yarkon River that led to the death of four Australian athletes and the injury of dozens more. The Games organizers and the State of Israel were slow to accept blame and provide compensation, which hurt relations with Australian Jewish communities and with the Australian government.

In 2010, Israel angered Kevin Rudd’s Labor government in Australia after reports emerged that Mossad agents forged Australian passports – along with passports from other countries – to orchestrate the targeted killing of Hamas operative Mahmoud Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel.

In 2013, after the suicide in prison of Australian-Israeli Ben Zygier, relations were once against strained.

Then-Australian foreign minister Bob Carr was embarrassed after he first denied and later admitted that Canberra knew about Zygier, reportedly a Mossad agent.

Labor governments under Rudd and Julia Gillard tended to join the international community in condemning Israel for its settlements, claiming they were a violation of international law.

In contrast, when Bishop was in Israel in early 2014 to attend the funeral of Ariel Sharon, she questioned whether the settlements are illegal. In one media interview she said that the international community should refrain from calling settlements illegal under international law, without waiting for their status to be determined in a deal with the Palestinians. Her main concern was that prejudging the settlements would stymie efforts to reach a negotiated arrangement with the Palestinians.

Australia has emerged as one of Israel’s few true friends, largely thanks to the leadership of Turnbull and Bishop. We should not take this friendship for granted. Australian public opinion, largely influenced by biased news media, tends to be more critical of Israel.

It is important that our leaders work to foster ties between the two countries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Australia, planned for February, is an important step in the right direction that sets right a longstanding oversight.

Amazingly, never before has a prime minister made the long trip to Canberra. The time has come for Israel to give greater recognition to Australia’s support.

We build, they bomb

by David Suissa                 The Australian


Listen to John Kerry’s speech on the comatose Middle East “peace process”, or follow the serial condemnations of Israel at the UN, including the latest Security Council resolution 2334, and you’d think that the biggest sin in the world is that Jews build too much. They build too many houses, too many schools, too many synagogues, too many hospitals, too many roads.

Think about that. The biggest problem with the Jews is not that they go on terror rampages that murder thousands of innocents, or that they jail poets, hang gays or stone women. No, it’s that they build too much. The reason this construction is considered such a sin, of course, is that it’s happening inside disputed areas which Israel captured in a defensive war in 1967, when its Arab neighbours did everything they could to throw the Jews into the sea.

One of those disputed areas is East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City and Judaism’s holiest active site, the Western Wall. From the time Israel was created in 1948 until 1967, East Jerusalem was administered by Jordan and became a decrepit and closed place where holy sites were routinely destroyed.

After its liberation by the Jews in 1967, Jerusalem flourished, becoming an open, international city where all religions were honoured.

But there was a problem. The UN, the anti-Israel haven that once declared “Zionism is racism”, decided these liberated areas were “occupied Palestinian territory” and that any Jewish construction in these areas, including at the Western Wall, was a “flagrant violation of international law”.

Never mind that from 1948 to 1967, when Jordan occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, not one soul called it “occupied territory”. Hardly anyone, in fact, ever talked about a Palestinian national cause. That cause only came to life, and that land only became “occupied”, after the Jews took it over in 1967.

You’d never know any of this from hearing US Secretary of State Kerry tell the world that these Jewish settlements are such a pernicious “threat” to peace because they’re taking up space for a Palestinian state. What he failed to mention, as most people do, is that there already is a Palestinian state — it’s called Gaza, and it’s run by religious anti-Semitic madmen sworn to destroy the Zionist state.

If you go by Kerry’s speech, this desire to destroy the Jewish state, not to mention the chronic Palestinian refusal to negotiate directly with Israel, are smaller obstacles to peace than having too many Jews building too many homes in too many wrong places.

Kerry also failed to mention that Palestinian Arabs rejected opportunities for statehood in 1937, 1939, 1947, 1979, 1993, 2000 and 2008, and, as historian Mitchell Bard writes, “settlement construction would have come to a halt if the Palestinians had taken advantage of any of these opportunities”. That was, perhaps, as inconvenient a truth as the fact that when Israel did evacuate all of its settlements from Gaza, it was rewarded not with peace but with 20,000 terror rockets.

In his zeal to blame Jewish settlers for making a two-state solution “impossible”, Kerry also glibly dismissed the possibility of Jews living in a Palestinian state. After all, if there are 1.8 million Palestinian Arabs living in a Jewish state, why can’t there be any Jews living in a Palestinian state?

In the event that Jewish settlers and the Israeli army were ever to abandon the West Bank, Kerry seems to have overlooked a complication, such as: Hamas and Islamic State swooping in and turning the West Bank into a mini-Syria and chopping off Palestinian heads left and right. I would call that a serious threat to peace.

In any case, you would think from listening to Kerry that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been on a wild settlement-building spree. In fact, as has been documented in detail based on data in Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, there has been “less settlement construction under Netanyahu than any other of his predecessors”. Moreover, three quarters of this growth in the settlements’ population has been in areas which every serious international peace proposal for decades has concluded will remain Israeli under any Israeli-Palestinian deal.

And where did 90 per cent of this growth in population come from? Not from Jews moving to the settlements but from natural growth — from women having babies. That’s not according to right-wing sources but from a study by prominent political scientist Shaul Arieli, a “veteran peace activist who is also a virulent opponent of Netanyahu and the settlements”.

The bottom line is this: you can push for a two-state solution without buying into the anti-Israel narrative that demonises Jewish settlers and turns them into the greatest impediment to Mideast peace. By being complicit in the criminalisation of Jewish settlers, while downplaying Palestinian rejectionism, President Barack Obama has empowered Israel’s enemies and followed the pathetic path of the UN, that hypocritical body where hostility to the Jewish state is a way of life.

In so criminalising Jewish settlements, Obama also did something else: he virtually killed the peace process, because, let’s face it, why would Palestinians negotiate with alleged land thieves?

In this upside down world, where thousands of buildings and innocent lives were just extinguished in Aleppo, wise men like Obama and Kerry would rather tell the world about the criminal ways of Jews who build too many homes. If that’s the worst sin of the Jews, I’ll take it.

‘Media’s obsession with Netanyahu undercuts democracy’

Esteemed legalist Alan Dershowitz: Israel should immunize Netanyahu from prosecution, defer any investigation until his term elapses • Left cannot defeat Netanyahu in the polls, so it is using these probes, the media to push him out of office, he says.

by Boaz Bismuth                       Israel Hayom


After telling Israel Hayom that U.S. President Barack Obama’s presidency would “end up in the dustbin of history,” esteemed legal scholar Professor Alan Dershowitz said that he believed many in the Israeli media were actively trying to undermine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as Israeli democracy as a whole.

Dershowitz criticized the various police investigations against Netanyahu as being ill-timed, adding the media’s focus on the prime minister’s private life was undermining proper government.

“I think this reflects a general problem around the world when democracy is being undercut by investigations and media attacks on properly elected officials. I think there are investigations that should be delayed until after the public official, the prime minister or president of a country, finish their term of office.

“The prime minister in this case has to work 24/7 particularly now, between now and the time when President Obama leaves office, to respond to the U.N. Security Council resolution, to the [Secretary of State John] Kerry speech, to try to prevent another Security Council resolution — the idea that the prime minister is now going to have to be questioned about what appears to be relatively trivial incidents, really undercuts democracy.”

Dershowitz stressed that any investigation should be postponed “until after he [Netanyahu] leave office, because the idea that he has to now take time from serving the people of Israel to prepare, work with lawyers, to spend hours with investigators, in what appears to be — from everything I can see — relatively trivial accusations; I mean, if they were serious accusations, the statute of limitations can be extended. Nobody is about the law, we all agree with that, but he can be held accountable after he leaves office. Not interfere with what’s going on while he’s in office. … I think it’s a mistake to be investigating the prime minister at this time. Let the investigation go forward, but the questioning should wait until he leaves office.”

Dershowitz attributed the media’s obsession with Netanyahu and his family to the fact that “they [the Left] can’t beat him through democratic means, so they’re trying to use these investigations and the media to push him out of office. That would really undercut democracy. He’s been elected by a proper method of election in Israel and he should be left to complete his term without interference. If there are issued they should be pursued after he leaves office.

“That’s the way it is in many countries around the world. In many countries around the world the chief executive has immunity from any prosecution except the most serious crimes, such as murder or treason, but for other events many countries immunize the chief executive until after he finished his term in office. It would be wrong to immunize anybody completely, but here we’re talking merely about a postponement and I took the same position when they were deposing Bill Clinton when he was president. It really interfered with his presidency and in the end it turned out to be much ado about nothing.”

Asked whether he thought this intervention means anything beyond what it appears to be, he said, “I know the attorney general of Israel, he is a very distinguished and decent man … and I think he is doing what he believes is the right thing under Israeli law, what I think is wrong is Israeli law — it has to change and defer these kinds of investigations until after the prime minister leaves office.”

As for the Yedioth Ahronoth-led media campaign to unseat Netanyahu, Dershowitz said that while “we all believe in freedom of the press and freedom of speech, but both Yedioth Ahronoth and other media seem to be obsessively focused on the prime minister, his wife, his sons, the dog — beyond anything I’ve ever seen in a democracy.

“I’ve never seen a situation where the media has been so obsessively focused on what appears to be the most trivial details — whether a prime minister’s wife helped care for her dying father, whether or not furniture should have been in one location or another location — these are the kind of things that would never happen in the U.S. In the U.S., the White House pays for everything, and in Israel there’s apparently a 200-page book about how you deal with costs in the prime minister’s house.

“I’ve been to the PM’s house … and I don’t think there’s a country in the world that has a cheaper prime minister’s residence than Israel. I mean, every governor in a poor American state … has a much more elaborate residence than what the State of Israel has for the prime minister. … You know, I’ve been at the prime minister’s house when it rained and they had to put a bucket [out] because it was raining into the house. The obsessive focus on every detail of the Netanyahu family’s life really does, I think, undercut democracy and undercut the rule of law. The rule of law should apply equally to everybody, but it shouldn’t obsessively focus on a properly elected official.”

But as the law in Israel is about everything, should Netanyahu be the exception to the rule? Dershowitz said he believed other investigations waged against different prime ministers should have been postponed until their terms had elapsed, as well.

“The attorney general has made it completely clear that the issues involved in this [Netanyahu’s] case are not such as those with [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert or with [former Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon, but these are much, much, much less serious allegations, and even serious allegations … in my view, should be deferred until after he leaves office. I don’t think the investigation should undercut democratically elected officials.

“Most importantly, Netanyahu is the only prime minister of Israel — there is no other prime minister at this point, and he is the one who is responsible for presenting Israel’s case not only in the media, but he has been on the phone every hour with officials from countries that who have the vote at the U.N.; he has to be pressing Israel’s position; he has to be defending Israel in every forum around the world and the idea that even a minute — a minute — is taken away from that important job to answer questions about whether or not a piece of furniture is in Caesarea or on Balfour Street [in Jerusalem], or whether or not other relatively minor issues are true or false, it seems to me like a complete undercutting of democracy,” Dershowitz said.