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Latest News in Israel – 5th January

IDF soldier who killed subdued terrorist in Hebron convicted of manslaughter

Sgt. Elor Azaria, who shot an immobilized terrorist last March during a security incident in Hebron, was found guilty by a military court on Wednesday of manslaughter and of conduct unbecoming. Defense attorneys Eyal Besserglick and Ilan Katz immediately said they would appeal the verdict.

Azaria’s trial has been one of the most polarizing affairs Israel has seen in recent years. The facts of the case were never disputed, both because the incident was caught on tape, and because of Azaria’s own admission that he shot the unconscious terrorist. As a result, the trial hinged on the question of whether Azaria’s account of the circumstances leading up to the shooting — that he felt he and the other soldiers on the scene were in immediate danger — was true or false.

Judge Col. Maya Heller, presiding over the tumultuous proceedings, stated in her ruling that the evidence presented to the court supported a manslaughter conviction “beyond any doubt.”

In a ruling that refuted the defense’s arguments one by one, Heller said Azaria’s version of the events, which changed several times during the trial, was convoluted and lacked credibility, and that none of his accounts could be supported by the forensic evidence, which she described as having “completely debunked” the defense’s argument that the terrorist was dead prior to the shooting.

“There is no dispute over the fact that Azaria shot the terrorist and he understands that he took a life,” she said, adding that the evidence supported “a direct causal link between the defendant’s act and the terrorist’s death.”

The defense, she noted, further failed to prove its argument that the troops at the scene were in any danger that would require extreme action.

“This was not a justified shooting. … The fact that a terrorist, who had sought to harm soldiers, was the one lying on the ground does not justify disproportionate action. Therefore, Azaria’s shooting was in violation of the rules of engagement,” she said.

In her summation of the verdict, Heller said: “The evidence indicates that the defendant’s version of the events, as given to the Military Police does not coincide with the details he himself has provided the court. His version of the events does not coincide with the rules of engagement or the professional assessments of his commanders.

“The reason for the shooting did not stem from any sense of danger the defendant might have felt, but in the explanation he gave his commanders — that the terrorist deserves to die for having stabbing his friend. … There was no justification for the shooting, let alone for a fatal a shot to the [terrorist’s] head.

“IDF soldiers are expected to follow the letter of the rules of engagement. Shooting to kill based on nothing but a suspicion is wrong.”

Military Prosecutor Nadav Weismann welcomed the verdict, saying: “This was a unanimous conviction. The court ruled this was an unjustified shooting. This is not a happy day for us. We would have preferred this incident had never taken place. But this is an important, unequivocal ruling that speaks for itself.”

Defense attorney Katz denounced the verdict.

“This was a brutal ruling that dismissed every argument made by the defense,” he said. “We respect the military court. We’ll have to study the verdict and we’ll criticize it in the right forum. We asked for the sentencing hearing to be scheduled sooner rather than later, so as not to lose time on the appeal.”

The sentencing hearing is expected to be held in February.

The six-month trial saw 21 witnesses testify for the prosecution and 31 witnesses testify for the defense. Throughout the case, defense officials expressed concern that an acquittal would rattle military norms to their core and significantly undermine the authority of top IDF commanders. Equal concerns were expressed over a conviction, as some of Azaria’s supporters among the public, who have been touting his actions as those of a “hero,” vowed a guilty verdict would have “serious repercussions.”

Some 300 police and military police forces were deployed around the military court at the IDF’s headquarters in Tel Aviv Wednesday, as hundreds of protesters rallied outside in support of the soldier and his family.

A riot broke out after the verdict was rendered: Around 250 protesters began chanting slogans against Heller, the Likud party, and the government. Police had to physically separate protesters from members of the media after a number of protesters attacked journalists. A number of protesters attempted to lie down on the road and block traffic, but were removed by police.

Outside the courtroom, supporters of Azaria held an impromptu demonstration condemning the court and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, who had repeatedly criticized Azaria’s actions since the March incident. After it became clear that Azaria would be convicted, they began chanting, “Gadi, Gadi, watch out; Rabin wants a friend,” referring to the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995.

Four protesters were arrested.

‘Respect the court’

After the verdict, politicians from across the spectrum urged restraint and called on the family’s supporters to respect the rule of law. More than one MK called for an immediate pardon for Azaria.

“This is a tough verdict but it must be accepted; we are all duty-bound to honor the ruling and show restraint,” Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said.

He said that while he personally “didn’t like” the verdict, Azaria’s supporters had to “stop lashing out against the IDF chief of staff, because we must keep the military above the political fray.”

Lieberman said Azaria and his family would receive help from the IDF “in every way possible.”

Zionist Union MK Shelly Yachimovich surprised some by saying a pardon should be an option for Azaria.

“The court acted professionally and with courage in making its verdict according to the law and the evidence, and the attacks against it are chilling and call into question the authority of the government and rule of law,” she said.

“In light of this, the moral standards that IDF officers reviewed after the terrible act take on a greater importance. However, the court is a sterile area in which the evidence is discussed, while Israeli society is a volatile, raging arena and Azaria is being made to shoulder the troubles of the societal rift. Therefore, when the legal proceedings are over and his sentence is pronounced, the possibility of a pardon should be considered.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett responded to Azaria’s conviction by saying the soldier should be “given an immediate pardon. Now. Today. A soldier who killed a terrorist who tried to slaughter [another] soldier was handcuffed and convicted like the lowest of murderers.

“We need to tell the truth: the [legal] process was tainted from the start. The severe remarks from the top of the political echelon before the Military Police investigation could be conducted, the soldier’s absence from the operational investigation, and other things caused irreparable damage to Elor Azaria.”

‘Not a confused boy’

Eizenkot on Tuesday expressed his faith in the military justice system as a whole and his support of the judges hearing the case.

“The [military] court is completely independent and I have no influence on it whatsoever,” Eizenkot said at a conference hosted by the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. “They [the judges] seek to serve justice, according to legal norms, and they are unfazed by me or by public opinion.”

While Eizenkot did not speak of the Azaria case directly, he touched on the controversy it sparked.

“An 18-year-old who enlists in the military is not ‘our boy.’ He’s not a captive baby. He is a combat soldier, who is asked to risk his life to carry out the missions at hand. The confusion reflected in public discourse, conflating 18-year-old men and women who join the IDF with confused 18-year-olds … undermines our demands of IDF soldiers,” he said, alluding to public criticism against the decision to press criminal charges against Azaria.

“If we want to maintain a military that meets its missions we have to be clear. We can love, care and be concerned for our soldiers — I’m the first to demand and encourage that — but there has to be a clear line. Eighteen-year-olds who join the IDF are required to put their lives on the line to defend the public. Things happen, and when they do, we make a clear distinction between the command axis and the investigative and legal axis.

“There is a heated public debate, online as well, and I’m very aware of it. But it has no practical impact. The chain of command is determined to fulfill its role and meet its objectives, with the understanding that we are officers in an organization that is not elected by the public, nor does the IDF hold public opinion polls. I’m not a public official — I was named by the government. I don’t run polls to see where I stand [with the public], nor does any other commander.”

Eizenkot, as well as then-Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and other current and former high-ranking defense officials, had publicly denounced the shooting.

The Azaria familiy criticized Eizenkot. A spokesman for the family denounced the chief of staff’s “blatant attempt to interfere” with the trial.

Besserglick and Katz issued a statement Tuesday saying, “The chief of staff’s comments on the eve of the verdict, which more than hint of the case, are part of the same orchestrated choir intended solely to influence the court on eve of its ruling. This is unthinkable and it has no place in a just system. The very fact that the chief of staff says he has no influence over the court is significant, because that should be obvious — not another inappropriate comment ahead of the verdict.”  (Israel Hayom)

Israel PM slams Paris conference as ‘futile’

Israel’s premier Tuesday denounced the international Middle East conference in Paris on January 15 as “futile”, saying he feared decisions taken there could spark a new UN resolution against Israel.

The Paris-organised conference to be attended by some 70 countries — but not by Israeli or Palestinian representatives — is being held to reiterate international support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“This is a futile conference, but there are signs that there will be attempts to use decisions that are taken to vote a new UN resolution against Israel,” Benjamin Netanyahu said.

The prime minister, who also holds the foreign affairs portfolio, was speaking to an annual meeting of Israeli ambassadors to European countries.

“That’s why the main political effort we are currently working on is to avoid a vote for a new resolution at the UN Security Council,” he said in televised remarks.

On December 23, the Security Council for the first time since 1979 condemned Israeli settlement of occupied Palestinian territory when the United States did not use its veto and abstained in the vote.

Netanyahu rejected the resolution at the time as a “shameful blow against Israel”.

He also claimed that outgoing US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry were behind it.

More than 400,000 Israelis live in the West Bank in settlements that the international community considers to be illegal and a major obstacle to peace. (AFP)

Two Border police hit by Palestinian motorcyclists near Jenin in possible attack

Two border police officers and two Palestinians were wounded when a motorcycle carrying the Palestinians hit the officers on Tuesday.

According to a police report four motorcycles were approaching a checkpoint manned by the Border Police. The police signaled the vehicles to stop, however, three motorcycles allegedly broke through and one of the motorcycles, carrying two passengers, hit two border police.

It is still unclear as to whether the four riders had planned on ramming the checkpoint, however the two injured Palestinians have been detained and police are investigated the possibility of a ramming attack. The other individuals involved were not caught.

The officers – a man and a woman both around 20-years-old – were lightly to moderately wounded in the incident, while the two Palestinians on the motorcycle that collided with the police officers are in moderate to serious condition.

An MDA helicopter evacuated the wounded officers to the Haemek Medical Center in Afula and the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. The two Palestinians, also in their 20s, were evacuated to the Haemek Medical center.  (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu: 2nd UN resolution possible before Obama leaves; bars media from speech to top diplomats

There are currently efforts underway to bring another resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian issue to the UN Security Council before US President Barack Obama leaves office on January 20, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday.

The prime minister, speaking to a year-end meeting of Israel’s ambassadors and chiefs of missions in Europe, said that while the planned Mideast summit in Paris on January 15 is “empty,” there “are signs that they will try to turn the decisions made there into another resolution in the Security Council, and that is already [something that is] not empty.”

And these signs, he said, “are not a few.”

“[The major effort] we are engaged in now is to prevent another UN resolution, and also to prevent a Quartet decision. We are investing a great deal of diplomatic efforts in this, and this also has to be your main efforts in the coming days, “ he said. “This will not take much time, but it will occupy us in the next two weeks, and we need to succeed.”

Netanyahu has for months made clear his opposition to the Paris meeting, saying that Israel will not take part. The concern now in Jerusalem is not only that such a move will give encouragement to the Palestinians to stay away from negotiations, thinking they can get the world to impose a solution on Israel, but that the event will be used to force through resolutions and “establish facts” by the international community before President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

The prime minister made the remarks in a brief statement before holding the meeting behind closed-doors, in a move which disappointed the assembled media.

On a day like Tuesday, less than 24-hours after the police questioned Netanyahu, and with the conference fast approaching, the e-mail reporters received from the Prime Minister’s Office at 2.33 p.m. was tantalizing.

“Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the conference of Israel ambassadors and heads of missions in Europe in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem,” the message read. “The event is open for media coverage.”

Only part of it was, all of about 90 seconds.

With all the country’s major television and radio stations on hand, along with a smattering of print journalists, for the event that was called for 8.15 p.m. – right smack in the middle of the country’s major news programs – the expectation was of a significant speech to the ambassadors that would address the diplomatic moves afoot, or the police investigation, or both.

After saying that the Paris summit is an empty gesture, but that there were signs of attempts to have what is decided there brought to the UN Security Council for another resolution before US President Barack Obama leaves office, Netanyahu asked the media to leave the hall so he could speak to the envoys in private.

Dutifully, and amid angry grumbles of wildly unmet expectations, the media filed out.

Earlier, Netanyahu had reacted publicly to his investigation by the police on Monday with a tweet saying that “long years of daily persecution against me and my family turned out yesterday to be nothing.”

There is allegedly a second, more serious case against Netanyahu, the details of which remain unknown. Channel 2 has 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.

Police will question the prime minister for a second time on Friday.  (Jerusalem Post)

Hamas’s Fatah and the No-State Solution

by Khaled Abu Toameh              The Gatestone Institute


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared that 2017 will be the “year of international recognition of the State of Palestine.”

The melee in Gaza exposes as the lie that it is Abbas’s repeated claim of a unified Fatah able to lead the Palestinians towards statehood. Incredibly, Abbas seeks global recognition of a Palestinian state at a time when the flames in his own backyard are set to engulf him and his questionable regime.

More bad news from the poll: if presidential elections were to be held today, Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the terrorist group Hamas, would beat Abbas by 49% to 45%.

Palestinians are now openly talking about two different Fatah factions. After Abbas’s decision to strip the legislators of their parliamentary immunity, six Fatah PLC members participated in a Hamas-sponsored meeting of the PLC in the Gaza Strip. This was the first time since 2007 that such a move had been made.

Fatah leaders in the Gaza Strip, unlike their colleagues in the West Bank, are de facto recognizing the Hamas rule over the Gaza Strip. This is wonderful news for Hamas, whose leader, Ismail Haniyeh is likely to defeat Abbas in a presidential election.

The Fatah gunmen who marched in the Gaza Strip courtesy of Hamas are not supporters of Abbas. Instead, they represent the “other face” of Fatah — the one that does not believe in any peace process with Israel and shares Hamas’s ambition of destroying Israel.

During a celebration in Ramallah marking the 52nd anniversary of the founding of his Fatah faction, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas declared that 2017 will be the “year of international recognition of the State of Palestine.” Hailing the recent anti-settlement UN Security Council resolution 2334, Abbas said he was prepared to work with the new administration of Donald Trump “to achieve peace in the region.”

But while Abbas and his lieutenants were celebrating in Ramallah, at least 11 Palestinians were wounded in a scuffle that erupted between rival Fatah factions in the Gaza Strip. According to sources in the Gaza Strip, the fight broke out between Abbas loyalists and supporters of estranged Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan. The confrontation, which was the most violent between the two sides in many years, is yet another sign of increasing schism in Fatah. Moreover, it is an indication of how Abbas’s control over his own faction is slipping through his hands. Hamas policemen who were at the scene did not interfere to break up the fight between the warring Fatah activists.

The melee in Gaza exposes as the lie that is Abbas’s repeated claim of a unified Fatah, able to lead the Palestinians towards statehood. Incredibly, Abbas seeks global recognition of a Palestinian state at a time when the flames in his own backyard are set to engulf him and his questionable regime.

Abbas says he wants to work with the Trump Administration to achieve peace in the Middle East, yet he cannot even achieve peace in his very own faction.

Abbas’s speech coincided with a new public opinion poll that showed that 64% of Palestinians want him to step down. The poll, conducted by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, also showed that two-thirds of Palestinians do not believe that the current Fatah leadership can achieve their aspirations.

The poll’s findings show that the percentage of Palestinians who want Abbas to resign has risen over the past three months from 61% to 64%. More bad news from the poll: if presidential elections were to be held today, Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the terrorist group Hamas, would beat Abbas by 49% to 45%.

The results of the poll should not come as a surprise to those who have been monitoring Palestinian affairs for the past few years. Judging from the sentiments on the Palestinian street, there is good reason to believe that the 81-year-old Abbas, who is now in his 12th year of his four-year term in office, has long ago lost much of his credibility among his people. The real surprise is that only 64% of Palestinians want to see him gone.

Many Palestinians hold Abbas personally responsible for the continued and rapid deterioration in the Palestinian arena. They see his incompetent and failed leadership as the main reason behind the 2007 violent Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. As soon as Hamas started shooting, Abbas’s fragile, corrupt and strife-ridden Palestinian Authority security forces collapsed. Critics of Abbas say that lack of leadership and decision-making on his part facilitated the Hamas seizure of the Gaza Strip.

Yet over the years, it has become evident that Abbas has not only lost the Gaza Strip and its two million inhabitants to Hamas, but that he is also losing control over his own Fatah faction there. Abbas has managed to alienate many Fatah leaders and activists in the Gaza Strip (most of whom are not necessarily affiliated with his arch-rival, Dahlan) to a point where Palestinians are now openly talking about two different Fatah factions.

Instead of devoting his energies to freeing the Gaza Strip from the iron grip of Hamas, Abbas has spent the past few years waging war against anyone in Fatah who dares to challenge his policies or criticize him. In this regard, he has resorted to a number of punitive measures that have further escalated tensions among Fatah cadres.

These measures include cutting off salaries and pensions to Fatah employees whose loyalty to Abbas is in question or who are suspected of being affiliated with Dahlan. As far as Abbas is concerned, affiliation with Hamas is less of a crime than being affiliated with Dahlan or any of his rivals in Fatah. Another measure that Abbas has taken to punish his rivals in Fatah: stripping them of their parliamentary immunity. The latest victims of this punishment: Mohamed Dahlan, Nasser Juma’ah, Shami Al-Shami, Najat Abu Baker and Jamal Al-Tirawi. Abbas took the decision without seeking the approval of the Palestinian parliament, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), or any other judicial or decision-making institution. His detractors point out that the removal of the parliamentary immunity is in violation of the Palestinian Basic Law, because the PLC is the only party authorized to take such a decision.

When Fatah legislators protested against Abbas’s arbitrary measure by holding a sit-in strike inside the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Ramallah, Abbas ordered his security forces to raid the compound and evict them by force. “This is a grave violation of the legislators’ rights and it is completely unjustified,” said a spokeswoman for Fatah in the Gaza Strip.

“It is also an indication of the repressive measures taken by the Palestinian Authority security forces. The legislators were holding a peaceful protest inside the offices of the Red Cross after President Abbas’s decision to remove their parliamentary immunity. We hold the president, the prime minister and the security forces responsible for the violations against human rights and public freedoms. We also condemn the silence of the Red Cross towards this despicable assault against the legislators inside the (Red Cross) offices.”

Abbas’s crackdown on his Fatah critics has driven them into the open arms of Hamas. After Abbas’s decision to strip the legislators of their parliamentary immunity, six Fatah PLC members participated in a Hamas-sponsored meeting of the PLC in the Gaza Strip. This was the first time since 2007 that such a move had been made.

The PLC has been effectively paralyzed since the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. However, this has not prevented Hamas from continuing to convene sessions of the parliament in the Gaza Strip during the past few years. Until recently, Fatah legislators have boycotted these meetings because they do not recognize Hamas’s rule over the Gaza Strip. Abbas’s punitive and vengeful measures, however, have pushed Fatah legislators to change this status quo. This means that Fatah leaders in the Gaza Strip, unlike their colleagues in the West Bank, are de facto recognizing the Hamas rule over the Gaza Strip. This is wonderful news for Hamas, whose leader, Ismail Haniyeh (according to the latest poll) is likely to defeat Abbas in a presidential election.

Emboldened by the growing divisions in Fatah, Hamas leaders are also beginning to flirt with disgruntled Abbas critics who have been hurt by Abbas’s measures. For the first time in many years, the Hamas government permitted thousands of Fatah gunmen to hold a military parade in the Gaza Strip this week, marking the faction’s 52nd anniversary.

The Fatah gunmen who marched in the Gaza Strip courtesy of Hamas are not supporters of Abbas, the overall commander of Fatah. Instead, they represent the “other face” of Fatah — the one that does not believe in any peace process with Israel and shares Hamas’s ambition of destroying Israel. The message that the Gaza Strip branch of Fatah wished to send to Abbas: Unlike you and your West Bank Fatah, we will not give up the “armed struggle” against Israel. “This parade sends a message to Abbas that Fatah has not relinquished the armed struggle,” explained Palestinian political scientist Ibrahim Abrash.

Meanwhile, Abbas appears to be living on a different planet. His ego prevents him from grasping the news that the polls reveal: most of his people are done with him. He refuses to wake up to the truth that his Fatah faction is falling into pieces, his erstwhile loyalists getting into bed with Hamas. He asks the world to recognize a Palestinian state when his own private residence in the Gaza Strip is forbidden to him. Indeed, it seems that the Palestinians are moving toward a “no-state solution” — a Gaza Strip run by Hamas and dissident Fatah members and a West Bank controlled by another Fatah that is still loyal to Abbas, largely because he is paying them salaries.

Abbas maintains that he is eager to work with the Trump Administration to achieve peace in the region. But will he have the courage to tell the new US administration some uncomfortable truths — namely that he has become a political liability to the majority of his people, and that the Palestinians have never been as divided as they are at this moment? In short, will Abbas dare to share the truth of the splintered Fatah’s no-state solution?

Kerry makes Israel a scapegoat for his failed peace effort

by   Brigitte Dwyer           The Australian


The final days of the Obama administration have revealed the extent of the humiliating and astonishing victory of Donald Trump. As the president-elect crudely reminded the world on New Year’s Eve, these vanquished politicians “lost so badly they just don’t know what to do”.

In an effort to mitigate the damage and cast the blame elsewhere, outgoing political figures are searching for scapegoats. The finger has been pointed first at the West’s modern enemy, the Russians, and next at its more ancient one, the Jewish people.

In one of its final acts, the Obama government rebuked the Israeli government by refusing to block a UN motion condemning settlements in the West Bank. This marked a striking change in stance towards its longstanding ally. It was backed up by a hostile speech by outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry, clearly blaming Israel for continuing hostilities and warning its leaders that “it can be Jewish or it can be democratic” but not both.

Kerry spoke of his disappointment at being unable to facilitate a peace agreement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead of recognising any failure on his own behalf, he laid the blame entirely at the feet of the Israeli government. In burdening Israel with his own disappointment, Kerry unwittingly exhibited one of the West’s most ingrained habits of understanding human life and history: anti-Judaism.

David Nirenberg outlines this millennia-old mode of thought in his 2013 book Anti-Judaism: The History of a Way of Thinking. Anti-Jewish sentiment, he argues, is a persistent and deeply ingrained mode of thought in Western tradition. Anti-Jewish arguments have been used in successive historical periods as a satisfying explanation for the failures and evils of the human world. Like the scapegoat of the primitive world, the Jewish people are easy victims who are somehow responsible for the unsatisfactory nature of existence. They are burdened with the responsibility for failures, from the inability of a nation to achieve its potential to the failure of an individual to realise his desires.

Anti-Judaism survives, Nirenberg writes, because failure and disappointment are constant themes in human history. We are forever frustrated by our inability “to achieve the proper human relation between law and love, thing and person, letter and spirit”.

And from the time of the ancient Egyptians who resented their Hebrew neighbours until the present day, we’ve been tempted to call the failure to achieve that ideal “Judaism”.

Kerry’s speech shows the hallmarks of this tendency, in the stubborn refusal to reflect on his own ideas about Israel. Instead of offering an alternative critique or attempting to address the sheer complexity of the conflict, the Secretary of State prosecutes the case against the Jewish state. He demonstrates just how powerful anti-Judaism can be as a theoretical framework that makes sense of an unbearably complicated and incomprehensible world.

With some notable exceptions, including the clear and robust support of this newspaper, much of the mainstream media has joined with the UN to criticise the actions of the Israeli government. The reception of the global mainstream media to Kerry’s speech has been overwhelmingly favourable. It is almost impossible to find any rational arguments supporting the continued existence of the disputed Jewish settlements. Any support is regarded as ipso facto evidence of an extreme right-wing, ultra-religious and belligerent stance.

Rational arguments for the settlements exist, as the Jewish Journal’s David Suissa powerfully argued on this page on Monday. The widespread failure to even consider these arguments is evidence of our collective failure to produce a critique of anti-Jewish sentiment. At the very least, the settlements can be seen as an acknowledgment of the failure of the peace process, and a way of ­deferring the inexorable trajectory towards conflict.

Recognising anti-Judaism does not mean denying Palestinian suffering or ignoring Palestinian victims. But it does mean acknowledging some hard truths, including the fact dedication to “the victim” is often a facade that allows us to denigrate others. As philosopher Rene Girard says, “The victims most interesting to us are always those who allow us to condemn our neighbours.”

Kerry’s perplexity and irritability at being unable to impose his dream underscores the naive idealism of the West.

Blind to the sufferings of the rest of the world and fed on a diet of romantic optimism about human nature, the West sometimes pretends to prosecute on behalf of the victim, but in reality perpetuates the oldest and most ingrained of our prejudices.

The Obama government’s refusal to block the UN vote indicates that the tide of opinion is turning against Israel. As a nation it is increasingly criticised as aggressive, suspicious and closed. Our modern world, so deeply hostile to religion, mocks its religious traditions and accuses it of persecution in the name of God. The existence of Israel is seen as a blight on the modern, secular, liberal fight against all oppression and persecution, and on behalf of all victims.

In Australia, popular support is growing for Kerry’s dictum that there can be no such thing as a Jewish democratic state. Anti-Jewish sentiment is summed up in this comment from an Australian website: “There is no place in a harmonious and peaceful world for such rogue arrogance, destabilisation and inevitable, reckless provocation.” Once again, the Jewish people are being told the world has no place for them.

The 11th-hour blame-shifting by the Obama administration lays the groundwork for renewed anti-Judaism. Kerry wants to be remembered for his tireless advo­cacy for peace and tolerance. Instead, his legacy is likely to be an escalation in hatred and renewed, legitimised violence. The only barrier to a new period of persecution will be “the small minority that dares to oppose”.

Without that small minority, we can expect an intensifying, contagious and increasingly unified cry to deny the state of Israel.

A Trump-Bibi love fest needs management

by Gil Troy    The  Jerusalem Post


The temptation to attend is understandable. Who wouldn’t want to highlight Trump’s warmth after eight years of Obama’s frostiness, while enjoying some ego-stroking from adoring. The New York Post reported this week that President- elect Donald Trump has invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to attend his inauguration. Netanyahu should politely, respectfully, decline. Even though the Prime Minister’s Office has denied receiving an invitation, thinking through why Netanyahu should say no if invited can clarify Israel’s strategy for the Age of Trump.

The temptation to attend is understandable. Who wouldn’t want to highlight Trump’s warmth after eight years of Obama’s frostiness, while enjoying some ego-stroking from adoring, self-satisfied Trump supporters abroad, especially after hours of police interrogations at home? Still, the inauguration is a domestic event, which ambassadors usually attend. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is staying home. British Prime Minister Theresa May is staying home. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is certainly staying home (and no doubt dreading the first meeting between Canada’s “prime hipster” and America’s “chief huckster”).

Netanyahu should too.

Beyond protocol, as the Jewish people’s leader, Israel’s prime minister should respect American Jewish sensibilities. More than two-thirds of American Jews didn’t just oppose Trump but loathe him. An Israeli-American Trumpian love fest after eight years of Obama’s brittleness will be hard enough to take.

Netanyahu should ease into the relationship, wary of having the lingering anger about Trump’s demagogic, often bigoted campaign transferred to him – and Israel.

Hit pieces are already accumulating blasting “Liberal Zionism in the age of Trump,” falsely accusing Zionists of justifying right-wing pro-Trump antisemitism because Trump is pro-Israel. Tone counts, while the Talmud teaches that intoxication leads to sin. Just as President Barack Obama’s settlement obsession caused a snippiness toward Israel that trumped his gestures of support, if Netanyahu is too giddy about the new regime, if he expands settlements aggressively, he, too, could stumble. The America-Israel friendship is rock-solid yet often rocky. Building up any president too much when things are going well risks exaggerating his power over Israel when tensions arise.

Beyond all the distracting theatrics, Israel needs substantive bipartisan support from the US, which even under Obama remained Israel’s strongest friend.

A brouhaha over Netanyahu’s overstepping by attending the inauguration will alienate Democrats and liberal Jews. Rather than sacrifice credibility for an inaugural playdate or another illegal outpost, Netanyahu and Trump should concentrate on reframing the issue of Israel’s sovereign right to determine its own capital city.

Both should reject the status quo. Place the burden of proof on those disrespecting Israel’s right to choose its own capital not those demanding a move to Jerusalem. As America’s Jerusalem Act of 1995 proclaims: “Each sovereign nation, under international law and custom, may designate its own capital” and the “United States maintains its embassy in the functioning capital of every country except” Israel’s.

If Germany can pick its capital city and essentially decide where the American embassy should be, and England can pick its capital city and essentially decide where the American embassy should be, why can’t Israel pick its capital city? Moving the embassy to Jerusalem is just undoing an unprecedented insult to the Jewish state. If he makes the move, President Trump would be fulfilling a promise the Democratic dove George McGovern made in 1972. McGovern’s Democratic Party platform promised to “Recognize and support the established status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” and proclaimed: “As a symbol of this stand, the US Embassy should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

Most other presidents and nominees since echoed that vow – mandated by Congress in 1995’s Jerusalem Embassy Act. Trump will also enjoy defying Palestinian threats and threats of riots in Muslim cities – real presidents don’t succumb to bullying.

Having framed the argument more effectively, both should think carefully before actually making the move – and here lies the essential lesson Trump must learn and Netanyahu often forgets. It is easy to lash out, as Netanyahu did after the UN Resolution, recalling ambassadors to Senegal and New Zealand, blocking the Ukrainian prime minister’s visit and antagonizing other diplomats. But what did his tantrum accomplish? The Independent sneered that Netanyahu reacted “to an international community deemed intent on isolating Israel,” by isolating Israel voluntarily. Trump also often reacts impulsively, tweeting madly at 3 a.m.

Restraint is an art, especially after you’ve established the power to act. Just like we don’t consume double fudge chocolate cakes daily even if we can afford them, leaders don’t make every move they could make either. Mature statesmen wield power cautiously, strategically, more like Jedi knights using the Force rather than drunken gunslingers shooting up the Wild West. If Obama failed because he never learned how to deploy America’s Force and retires looking wimpy, both Netanyahu and Trump risk unleashing the Force willy-nilly – especially, if they start playing off each other.

Even a principled move like undoing the insult of ignoring Israel’s choice of a capital city should be used carefully, deployed for maximal effect, at the right time, depending on the dynamics with the Palestinians and the rest of the world. Palestinian politics demonstrates how useless symbolic victories can be – they still lack the state they claim to desire and are no closer to destroying the Jewish state they hate.

If I were Netanyahu, I would mollify liberal American Jews by leading immediately on a different important Jerusalem issue – restoring the Western Wall compromise to respect egalitarian Jews.

Trump and Netanyahu must carefully weigh America’s goals, Israel’s goals – strategizing about how these two great democracies, working together thoughtfully after eight years of misfires, can maximize both.

Showing our support for Israel

Editorial from   The Australian


The leading Israeli newspaper, The Jerusalem Post, is right. Australia’s support for Israel should never be taken for granted. But, as shown by the Turnbull government’s refusal to go along with most of the rest of the world over the UN resolution on Jewish settlements, Australia has emerged as one of Israel’s true friends. It is therefore imperative that bilateral relations are boosted to reflect this.

We are no longer a Security Council member. But had we been, as Foreign Minister Julie Bishop made clear, we would not have supported a resolution that declared settlements to be “a flagrant violation of international law” and dealt a blow to peace talks. In a break with decades of bipartisan support at the UN, the Obama administration abandoned its previously set-in-stone defence of the Jewish state and abstained, refusing to use its veto to block the resolution, which passed 14-0. Even countries such as Britain, France and Japan voted for it. So did New Zealand.

Malcolm Turnbull and Ms Bishop deserve credit for making Australia’s voice heard above the clamour surrounding the controversy. Prejudging it and declaring settlements illegal only stymies efforts to negotiate a peace in which the settlements would be a major issue. That is what the council members short-sightedly have done by fostering the Palestinians’ delusion that they can achieve statehood unilaterally through the UN rather than negotiating with Israel.

In light of Australia’s sensible refusal to go along with the herd, The Jerusalem Post has suggested our countries foster closer ties, beginning with a proposed visit next month by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr Netanyahu should seize the opportunity. There is much to build on in our relationship, and Donald Trump’s election adds momentum to the prospects.

Mr Trump has expressed outrage over the UN resolution and declared support for Jewish settlements. He has appointed David Friedman as ambassador to Israel, who is determined to fly in the face of Palestinian outrage and controversially relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Tony Abbott has made a similar suggestion, saying Australia should follow suit. Wisely, Ms Bishop has responded cautiously, emphasising there are no plans to do so.

Mr Abbott also has argued Canberra should cut its $40 million-a-year aid program to the Palestinian Authority while it keeps paying pensions to terrorists and their families. Amid charges surrounding the alleged diversion of Australian money for World Vision in the Palestinian territories, the closest possible supervision of all funds is imperative.

It is to the credit of successive Coalition and Labor governments that the bilateral relationship is strong. Despite significant pro-Palestinian sentiment in some quarters, and the best efforts of former foreign minister Bob Carr to unhinge the relationship, Mr Netanyahu can be assured of a warm welcome. That was always going to be the case. It should be even more so following Australia’s principled stand on the egregious UN resolution.

Israel, as Mr Turnbull emphasises, is the Middle East’s only democracy. It is, importantly, the only place where Christians are free to worship unhindered. At a critical time of increasing global hostility towards it, Israel deserves our steadfast support.