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Latest News in Israel – 6th June 2016

Israel: Paris summit was a ‘missed opportunity,’ distances peace

Israel on Friday blasted an international summit in Paris aimed at reviving the stalled Middle East peace process as a “missed opportunity.” It said international leaders’ willingness to yield to the demands of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas only served to make his position more obdurate and extreme.

“The conference in Paris was a missed opportunity,” the Foreign Ministry said Friday, shortly after the half-day summit of officials from 28 countries ended with a call for an international peace conference by the end of the year and a reaffirmation of the two-state solution as the sole means to resolve the conflict.

“Instead of urging Abu Mazen [Abbas] to respond to calls from the prime minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] to start direct negotiations immediately and without preconditions, the international community responded to Abu Mazen’s demands and allowed him to keep avoiding direct bilateral negotiations without preconditions. It will go down in history that the conference in Paris simply resulted in hardened Palestinian positions and distances peace,” the ministry said.

Neither Israel nor the Palestinians were invited to the summit.

The Palestinian leadership, by contrast, hailed the summit as a “significant step” on the path to peace. “The Paris meeting is a very significant step and its message is clear: If Israel is allowed to continue its colonization and apartheid policies in occupied Palestine, the future will be for more extremism and bloodshed rather than for coexistence and peace,” PLO secretary general Saeb Erekat said in a statement. “We negotiated bilaterally with Israel, the occupying power, for over two decades, but they continue to violate all the agreements that we had signed. In fact the number of illegal Israeli settlers in Occupied Palestine has grown from nearly 200,000 to over 600,000 during the past 20 years of bilateral talks.”

Israel consistently opposed the Paris summit, and has called instead for direct talks between Netanyahu and Abbas.

Israel’s Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said what was happening in Paris was “surreal,” since it was entirely unrealistic to believe that anything said or done there could change things for the better on the ground. The only way to solve the conflict was via direct talks, but Abbas “has been boycotting Israel for the past seven years,” said Erdan Friday, and has decided to spend “the remainder of his days trying to damage Israel internationally.”

The director general of the Foreign Ministry, Dore Gold, said Thursday that France’s push to restart talks, which began with the Friday meeting in the French capital, was doomed to failure.

“The only way to get a stable regional arrangement that will allow us to create real peace in the Middle East is if the parties of the region come to understandings between them,” Gold said.

“We believe the Arab states would give backing to direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” he added. “Therefore we prefer a Middle Eastern process and not a process that somebody is trying to create in Paris.”

Gold compared the French peace push to a 1916 British-French effort to carve up the Middle East following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The effort by British diplomat Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot of France “was at the apex of the era of colonialism in our area,” Gold said. “Their effort failed as we see today in the deserts of Iraq and Syria.”     (the Times of Israel)

Paris summit ends with vague call for international conference by year’s end

A one-day Israeli-Palestinian peace summit in Paris — to which the Israelis and Palestinians were not invited — concluded Friday with a warning that violence and settlement activity are imperiling a two-state solution, and a call for an international conference on the issue before the end of the year.

“We must act, urgently, to preserve the two-state solution, revive it before it is too late,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said after the meeting.

The closing communique did not set a firm timetable for further efforts, however. And while France portrayed Friday’s meeting as a first step by the international community to weigh different options, the Americans have been chilly towards the talks, although Secretary of State John Kerry attended, and Israel has flatly opposed to French efforts, calling instead on the Palestinians to enter direct peace talks without conditions.

The closing communique was less harsh toward Israel than members of the Arab League had sought, and its general emphasis on the two-state solution represented a compromise in which the United States and the European Union tempered an effort by the Arab League to make a statement that was more critical of Israel’s policies, Western diplomats told Haaretz.

“We have chosen to extend a hand to the Israelis and the Palestinians. We hope that they accept it,” Ayrault said. He warned that a solution which would see Israelis and Palestinians living side by side was “getting further away each day.”

Israel quickly dismissed the gathering as a “missed opportunity,” claiming its participants had caved to Palestinian demands. The Palestinians, by contrast, welcomed what they called a “significant step” against Israel’s “apartheid policies in occupied Palestine.”

In their closing communique, the more than two dozen participating nations reaffirmed that “a negotiated two-state solution is the only way to achieve an enduring peace, with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.” They expressed alarm that “actions on the ground, in particular continued acts of violence and ongoing settlement activity, are dangerously imperiling the prospects for a two-state solution.”

Calling for an end to the “Israeli occupation that begin in 1967,” the participants said they had “discussed possible ways in which the international community could help advance the prospects for peace, including by providing meaningful incentives” and “highlighted the potential for regional peace and security as envisioned by the Arab Peace Initiative.”

EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini stressed that the aim of the summit was not to impose terms, but rather to create conditions in which substantive negotiations could resume. “The policy of settlement expansion and demolitions, violence, and incitement tells us very clearly that the perspective that Oslo opened up is seriously at risk of fading away,” she told reporters.

The closing communique also highlighted the key role of the Quartet and key regional stakeholders. “They welcomed the interested countries’ offer to contribute to this effort. They also welcomed France’s offer to coordinate it, and the prospect of convening before the end of the year an international conference.”

The foreign ministers of the United States, European nations, and several Arab states were among those attending the meeting. No Israeli or Palestinian officials were invited.

French President Francois Hollande kicked off the summit by calling on both sides to make the “courageous choice” to advance peace. “This initiative has only one goal, peace in Middle East. It was desirable and became necessary,” Hollande said at the opening session of the conference. “We can’t take the place of the parties,” he said, acknowledging the absence of both Israeli and Palestinian officials. “We can only make sure that peace will be solid, lasting and internationally safeguarded.”

Ahead of the summit, an internal document sent by the French Foreign Ministry to participating nations had anticipated that “ministers will agree on the principle that a clear timetable will need to be established for the negotiations when they restart, and that some interim review might be necessary to gauge the seriousness of the process.”

The head of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Dore Gold, said Thursday that the French initiative was “doomed to failure.”

Israel has been adamant in its utter rejection of the French initiative, arguing that only bilateral talks can lead to progress. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he seeks a two-state solution, with a demilitarized Palestine that recognize Israel as the Jewish state.

Netanyahu’s office on Friday doubled down on its criticism of the summit, asserting that it was bound to fail. “We need direct negotiations, and for that we don’t need to go as far as Paris,” an official from the Prime Minister’s Office told Army Radio just a few hours before the conference kicked off.

Israel’s Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said what was happening in Paris was “surreal,” since it was entirely unrealistic to believe that anything said or done there could change things for the better on the ground. The only way to solve the conflict was via direct talks, but Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “has been boycotting Israel for the past seven years,” said Erdan, and has decided to spend “the remainder of his days trying to damage Israel internationally.”

“The way to peace does not go through international conferences that seek to impose agreements, make the Palestinians’ demands more extreme and thereby make peace more remote,” Netanyahu said Wednesday. “The way to peace is via direct negotiations without preconditions between the sides. This is how peace was achieved in the past with Egypt and Jordan and this is what needs to be with the Palestinians.”

If the countries gathering in Paris really wanted to promote peace, they should urge Abbas to enter direct bilateral talks with Israel, Netanyahu added. “This is the way to peace — there is no other.”

Kerry “looks forward to being a participant” in the conference, State Department spokesperson John Kirby had said Wednesday. America’s top diplomat is “not going to turn up his nose at any good ideas that could get us closer to seeing a two-state solution in place.

Kerry remains keenly interested in the Middle East peace process and will “talk to anybody that might be able to come up with viable alternatives and solutions to get us there,” Kirby added. “Ultimately, though, it’s going to take leadership there on all sides to take the kinds of affirmative steps that are necessary to ease the tensions and to get us closer to a two-state solution. It has to start there.”               (The Times of Israel)

Netanyahu reportedly agrees to Arab peace push, wants it to supplant France’s

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly consented to regional efforts for Israeli-Palestinian peace, which he wants to supplant the French-led international push that just launched.

Citing a Channel 2 TV report, The Times of Israel reported that Netanyahu “said yes” Thursday to a new Egyptian-Saudi Arabia endeavor for regional progress toward peace.

Netanyahu spoke by phone with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday, shortly before the Paris peace summit, and the conversation was a reason the summit’s concluding statement was vague and set no date for a follow-up meeting, according to the report.

Netanyahu also called France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault soon after the summit ended, and advised France and its allies to press Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to restart direct talks with Israel, the report said. Pushing a new international process now could threaten the success of the Arab effort already underway, he reportedly said.

Netanyahu has for weeks been saying that the Paris summit is the wrong approach and that direct talks are the only effective strategy for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Dore Gold, director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry told The Times of Israel earlier this week that by improving ties with Arab states, Israel hopes to push the Palestinian peace process ahead.

“The conventional wisdom for the last few decades has been that a solution to the Palestinian issues will result in improved ties between Israel and the Arab world,” he said. “But there is a serious basis for thinking that, actually, the sequence is exactly the opposite — that by improving ties with the Arab states, we set the stage for a future breakthrough with the Palestinians.”

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister used Friday’s summit in Paris as a platform for promoting the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. The Saudi minister said the initiative “does not need changing or adjusting, it is on the table as is.”

While Netanyahu has voiced support for parts of the initiative, he has emphasized that it would merely be a starting point and that Israel would not agree to all of its terms.

The Arab Peace Initiative calls for Israel to withdraw from all territories gained in the 1967 Six Day War and to reach a mutually agreed upon resolution to the Palestinian refugee problem. In exchange, the Arab world would normalize ties with Israel.               (JTA)

Jerusalem marks 49th anniversary of historic reunification

Jerusalem is celebrating 49 years since its reunification under Israeli sovereignty with a number of ceremonies and events going into Sunday evening.

The official state ceremony for Jerusalem Day will take place at the Ammunition Hill memorial site. Six torches will be lit in memory of those killed in the battle for Jerusalem. Those lighting the torches will be representatives of bereaved families and of the brigades that fought in the battle. Speakers at the ceremony will include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev said of Jerusalem Day: “Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, is marking 49 years since its reunification. This is the day that we commemorate those who fell in battle to liberate it and give thanks to the heroes who reunited the city.

“We have kept guard along your walls, City of David, and we are still keeping guard. The war for your security is not yet over. We will continue to defend and safeguard you. You will always be our Jerusalem of gold.”

Also on Sunday evening, there will be a ceremony at Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, with several ministers and Knesset members in attendance.

Between the Jerusalem Day ceremonies and the memorial for the Prophet Samuel, which began Saturday night and will continue until Monday, there will be a number of road closures in the Jerusalem area.

The main Jerusalem Day event that has raised concern of potential clashes is the annual flag parade, in which thousand of people, mainly youth, march with Israel flags through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. The parade ends at the Western Wall plaza, where the participants dance. In past years, there have been conflicts between the marchers and local residents, including vandalism and violence.

This year, because the Muslim holiday of Ramadan begins early this week, police made arrangements with the organizers of the flag parade to minimize the possibility of clashes on Sunday. The parade was scheduled for an hour earlier than usual so that beginning from 6:30 p.m., marchers will not be able to pass through Damascus Gate or the Dung Gate, rather only through Jaffa Gate. This is meant to allow the Muslim worshippers to easily make their way to the Temple Mount for evening prayers ahead of Ramadan.

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Municipality released statistics about the city ahead of Jerusalem Day. According to the data published, after a decade-long drop, the last seven years have seen a rise in the number of children enrolled in Zionist schooling. The number of students enrolled in state and state-religious schools in the capital has risen from 58,607 in 2009 to 64,518 in 2016.

Since 2009, there has been a steady increase of 36% in the number of children enrolled in kindergartens among the Zionist community, from 8,656 to 11,821 in 2016.

Over the last two years, the number of startup companies in Jerusalem has doubled, from 250 to 500. At the same time, the city’s negative net migration is the lowest it has been in the last six years.

“Despite the difficult year that the city has had, Jerusalem and its residents have proven what true strength is and what a Jerusalemite is,” said Barkat. “We are back to the routine and to growth, and in the coming years, we will implement the ‘Jerusalem 2020’ plan, which will develop the city’s potential and position it alongside the leading cities around the world. Happy Jerusalem Day.”                                     (Israel Hayom)

Politicians from across the world call for united Jerusalem

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein received an email Saturday night in which parliamentarians from around the world reaffirmed their support for Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s undivided capital, in a letter sent in honor of Jerusalem Day.

The letter was sent by the chairmen of Israel Allies Caucuses in 20 countries on five continents, as well as by two US senators known for their strong support of Israel, Republicans Mark Kirk of Illinois and Ted Cruz of Texas.

“From our capitals to yours, we, the chairmen, members and supporters of Israel Allies Caucuses in the US Congress and in parliaments around the world, congratulate all inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Jewish people and the nation of Israel on the 49th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel,” the signatories wrote.

“Jerusalem Day serves as an important reminder that only under Israeli control has the rights of all ethnic and religious groups to enjoy the city’s religious and cultural sites been preserved. Three thousand years of the Jewish people’s connection to Jerusalem, and the Israeli government’s track record of allowing freedom of worship for all religions in Jerusalem, compels us to affirm the importance of Israel’s sovereignty and legal rights to its historic capital.”

The signatories wrote that they join with peace-loving people around the world over in wishing Israel peace and prosperity.

Jordanna McMillan, Israel Allies Foundation director of outreach and communications, said the letter was initiated due to recent international effort to force Israel to make territorial concessions in Jerusalem.

“When world leaders pressure the State of Israel to divide its historic capital, our network of international legislators stand with a united Jerusalem,” McMillan said.

“The signatories of the Jerusalem Day letter represent and give voice to millions of people across the world, men and women of faith, those who believe in democracy, freedom of religion, human rights, justice and equality under the law – values that are shared by the Jewish state. On this Jerusalem Day, we wanted to remind the leadership and citizens of Israel that Israel’s allies are standing boldly by their side in the halls of power worldwide, remembering and celebrating an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

The signatories included the co-chairmen of the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus, Republicans Trent Franks of Arizona and Doug Lamborn of Colorado, and Democrat Brad Sherman of California. There were also signatories from the European Union Parliament, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Italy, Finland, Switzerland, Latvia, Slovakia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Uruguay, Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina, Panama, Colombia, Chile and the Dominican Republic.             (Jerusalem Post)

Terrorist reveals: Hamas planning to fight next war underground

Israeli security forces arrested a Hamas terrorist involved in tunnel digging who crossed the border into Israel, it has been cleared for publication.

The 17-year-old member of Hamas’s military wing was captured upon entering Israeli territory, in a joint operation involving IDF, Shin Bet and Israel Police forces in May of this year.

Under interrogation it was revealed that the terrorist was a member of Hamas’s Brigade in Beit Lahiya, in northern Gaza, and was involved in terror tunnel-digging activities.

The terrorist revealed a wealth of information about Hamas’s activities in northern Gaza, including its tunnel digging activities, recruitment methods, training drills and preparations for operations against Israeli forces in northern Gaza.

Among other details, he outlined Hamas’s elaborate communications system within the tunnels, and the existence of a number of tunnels reserved for use by Hamas’s elite commando forces, known as the “Nahba” – both during any future battle with the IDF inside Gaza, as well as in order to infiltrate into Israeli territory.

His testimony also corroborated that of Hamas terrorists previously detained by Israel, such as Hamas’s extensive efforts to build an interconnected tunnel network throughout the entire Gaza Strip – complete with rest and recreation areas – which would enable terrorists to conduct a war against Israel based entirely underground.

The entrance/exit points of the tunnels were mostly located in heavily-populated civilian areas or close to civilian infrastructure, including schools and mosques, in order to use Gaza’s civilian population as human shields.

The IDF has recently unearthed a number of Hamas terror tunnels into Israel, in part due to intelligence provided by a number of Gaza based terrorists who were captured and interrogated by security services.

Last month the capture of another young terrorist from northern Gaza was announced, as was that of a veteran operative from Hamas’s military wing, who revealed the existence of a sophisticated underground infrastructure in Gaza complete with recreational rooms and even showers.                 (Arutz Sheva)

Liberman approves steps to ease conditions for Palestinians ahead of Ramadan

Freshly appointed Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman approved a series of steps to ease conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza,ahead of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.

According to a statement released on Friday by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the measures are in line with “Israeli civil policy striving to improve the quality of life for Palestinians in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip, including maintaining freedom of religion,” a COGAT spokeswoman said.

Palestinians in the West Bank will be able to coordinate visits with relatives in Israel during Ramadan, as well entry into the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for Friday prayers. They will also be able to travel overseas through Ben Gurion International Airport, and visit the Gaza Strip to visit immediate relatives.

Border “crossings will be open for prayers, as the activity hours of the crossings will be prolonged,” the COGAT spokeswoman added.

COGAT will enable Gazans to visit relatives in Israel and the West Bank. They will be authorized to pray at the Temple Mount, and attend a number of Ramadan religious events, the statement said.

Gazans living abroad will also be able to visit their families in the Strip.

Mordechai “has updated officials of the Palestinian Authority and the international community on these steps for the holiday,” the statement added.

All of the steps were first recommended by IDF Chief of Staff, Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.     (Jerusalem Post)

Israel won’t extradite suspected sex offender to Australia

A Jerusalem court has ruled that a former Australian school principal accused of more than 70 counts of sexual assault was mentally unfit to face extradition and could be freed from house arrest, officials said on Friday.

For nearly three years, Australia has been pushing Israel to extradite Malka Leifer, who fled Australia in 2008, with what Australian authorities believe was the assistance of the insular Adass Jewish community, after accusations against her surfaced.

Leifer, who has Israeli citizenship, is the former principal of the Adass Israel School, an ultra-orthodox Jewish girls’ school in Melbourne. She is wanted by police in the surrounding Australian state of Victoria on charges of indecent assault and rape involving girls at the school.

Thursday’s court decision angered former students who say they were abused by her and could raise diplomatic tensions between Australia and Israel.

Copies of the court ruling were not immediately available and spokespeople from the Ministry of Justice did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Australia’s ambassador to Israel said he would pursue efforts to have Leifer extradited to face justice.

“We retain a strong interest in seeing Ms. Leifer extradited. She is wanted to face prosecution in Australia for criminal conduct relating to 74 separate sexual assault offenses,” Dave Sharma told Reuters.

“We are working closely with Israeli authorities regarding the next steps in the extradition proceedings. And we will remain patient and determined in pursuing justice in this case.”

Leifer’s lawyer in Israel, Yehuda Fried, said the court in Jerusalem had 72 hours to decide whether she would be released from house arrest.

“My client is a very sick woman,” he told Reuters, adding that she had been examined under court order at a public hospital and that a commission headed by the chief district psychiatrist determined she was unfit to stand trial.

“According to Israeli law, in this situation she cannot be prosecuted, and therefore her extradition proceedings were halted,” he said.

Since 2013, an Australian commission on tackling child sexual abuse has shed light on offenses and cover-ups, including within ultra-orthodox Jewish communities in Sydney and Melbourne, triggering the resignations of some senior figures.                         (Ynet News)

BDS fail: Investments in Israel hit record high

Efforts by the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement to isolate Israel economically have failed spectacularly, with foreign investments in Israeli assets reaching an all-time peak of $285 billion last year, according to a new Bloomberg report.

The report notes that nine Israeli companies with ties to the economy in Judea and Samaria — those most heavily targeted by boycott efforts — have shown the stake of non-Israeli shareholders to have increased steadily in recent years.

Despite the buzz surrounding the BDS movement, with artists canceling concerts and a major Dutch pension fund blacklisting five Israeli banks, the Bloomberg report points out that “Israeli startups raised $3.76 billion last year from non-Israeli investors, the highest annual amount in a decade, according to data collected by IVC Research Center.”

Meanwhile, BDS activists, including the movement’s co-founder, Omar Barghouti, continue to insist that the campaign is taking flight.             (Israel Hayom)

Israel can sigh relief at parve Paris communique

by Herb Keinon    The Jerusalem Post

http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Israel-can-sigh-relief-at-parve-Paris-communique-455822

Israel dodged a bullet on Friday when the much ballyhooed French Middle east summit concluded with a communique that did little more than pledge allegiance to a two-state solution.

Oh the fretting that went on before the event: That the conclusions would include a firm deadline for the talks between Israel and the Palestinians, that it would place all the onus of responsibility on Israel, that it would set new parameters for peacemaking.

And in the end – thanks largely to US efforts – the communique said the participants reaffirmed “their support for a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Not exactly revolutionary stuff, that.

Also not revolutionary nor ground-breaking was the participants’ reaffirmation that “a negotiated two-state solution is the only way to achieve an enduring peace, with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”

Yes, the communique mentioned the prospect of an international peace conference, and there is concern in Jerusalem that while Israel is working on efforts to kick-start the diplomatic process under a regional umbrella, the French and their friends are rolling out alternative plans. But still, the fears that the communique would put into motion an effort that would result in the international community imposing a solution on Israel never materialized.

The communique also showed something else: Israeli-US ties remain strong, even amid continuous reports that President Barack Obama will use his last months in office to advance parameters of an agreement that may not be to Israel’s liking.

The communique that emerged Friday would not have been as neutral and bland as it was without US efforts to water down the language, and Israel was in close coordination with Washington over the last few weeks on this matter.

The Obama administration has not hidden its displeasure over the years with Israel’s policies regarding the diplomatic process. But it also understands – though this is less frequently stated or reported – that Israel is not solely responsible for the stalemate, and that the Palestinians also bear much of the responsibility.

This came out clearly in the communique. While a French explanatory note on Thursday reflected Paris’s thinking, that the two-state solution was under threat primarily because of the settlements, Friday’s communique added another reason: “continued acts of violence.”

For weeks Israel had come out very strongly against the Paris meeting, concerned it would be the beginning of an international effort to gang up and force a solution on Israel.

For exactly that same reason, the Palestinians embraced the summit. After the communique, they had little reason to rejoice.

Israel’s silent revolutions

by Dov Lipman       The Times of Israel’s Blogs

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/israels-silent-revolutions/

News headlines tend to focus on the extremists on both sides of any issue since they are the ones who make the noise.  However, without much fanfare, moderates in Israel are making real and positive changes to our country.

The ultra-Orthodox (“Haredi”) leadership in Israel has always shunned army and national service for their 18-year-olds, claiming that it endangers the spirituality of their youth.  As a result, these young men remain outsiders in Israeli society, significantly impacting  their prospects for employment.  But one institution, the ultra-Orthodox “hesder” yeshiva Beit Midrash Derech Chaim, seeks to provide these young men with the opportunity and sense of fulfillment that comes with serving — while at the same time shattering the myth that serving the state damages the soul.

The success of this yeshiva, in which the students combine high-level Torah study with IDF service, is quite remarkable.  Let’s start with enrollment. The original army projection foresaw 30 students enrolled by the three-year mark which we are now reaching.  But surprise — there are now 56 students enrolled! Forty-two are in the first two years of the program, during which the boys study religious texts by day and receive computer training at night. Fourteen students are in active IDF service — nine in the Intelligence Corps, and five in combat in the ultra-Orthodox unit of the elite Golani battalion.

The fact that the institution crossed the 40-student mark and passed other criteria — including two years of solvency and audited financial records — enabled Beit Midrash Derech Chaim to obtain Education Ministry approval and receive government funding.

The second-year students recently took the exam for entrance into the cyber unit and 15 out of 16 students passed, with two cracking the top 50 among 4,000 students who took the exam. This is a testimony to the quality of the school’s cyber training program, and the high caliber of the students.

Last week, representatives of three IDF units visited the yeshiva. Both the infantry and communications branches are opening cyber sections, and want the students of this specific program to come to their units.  This competition will allow graduates of the yeshiva to optimize their service in the IDF, and gain the valuable experience they’ll need to become productive citizens.

I was honored to be the Knesset member who pushed Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon to sign his approval for this first-ever Haredi “hesder” yeshiva. The incredible, visionary rabbis who set this program in motion are driving significant change, which has the potential to transform the ultra-Orthodox community for the better, which by extension will also improve all of Israeli society.

Over time, as this Haredi institution produces young men who are talmudic scholars, fervently religious, accomplished and dedicated soldiers, and successful in their careers, more and more young men from this community will join this and other similar programs. The potential is nothing short of a revolution, and based on the success outlined above, that revolution is already on its way. Another moderate group showing tremendous progress comes from the Israeli Arab sector of society. Here, too, extremist leaders have always railed against Arabs who dare take part in serving the state, and this pressure has stunted their integration into Israeli society, similarly preventing the advancement of this population.

But change is in the air.

In the past, Israeli Arabs wanting to explore the option of national service had to hold quiet and private meetings under immense security. But, this past week, hundreds of Israeli Arab boys and girls participated in a public event in Acre where they learned about national service options. Participants listened to fellow Israeli Arabs tell their stories of national service and how it enhanced their lives despite the pressures against doing so from extremist groups.

Muhamad, 22, told the attendees how he completed national service as a firefighter, and decided to turn this into a career. “I believe that everyone in the state must contribute his part,” he told the audience, adding that the people in his village no longer look at him in a negative manner.

A young woman named Firooz told how she volunteered at the courthouse in Tiberias. She explained that she wanted a better future for herself, and taking part in national service gave her more opportunities because it improved her Hebrew, and the fact that she served the country opened doors for her within Israeli society.

Rana told the audience that her service assisting the elderly taught her to be more tolerant towards Israeli society.

Nehila Yosef, a principal in an elementary school in an Arab village, explained that five years ago two Arab girls wanted to do national service at her school, and there was significant opposition to the idea.  Today, she said, that opposition no longer exists.

Ruti Levi, manager of national service volunteers at a hospital in Nahariya, reported that Israeli Arabs rarely volunteered in the past, but that now there are 80 Israeli Arabs doing national service in the hospital.

As more and more Israeli Arabs do national service, and demonstrate to the rest of the youth in their society that doing so enhances their lives and provides them with opportunities for a better future, it will become mainstream.  This, in turn, will do wonders toward improving the relationship between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

Yes, extremists will continue making noise and making headlines. But it is the moderates throughout Israeli society who are driving silent revolutions, which will help heal societal wounds in the starkest of ways as we work towards further improving Israeli society

Lovable Bernie whacks Israel

By Charles Krauthammer             The Washington Post

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/lovable-bernie-whacks-israel/2016/06/02/28fe3334-28e3-11e6-b989-4e5479715b54_story.html

Part of Bernie Sanders’ charm is that for all of his arm-waving jeremiads, he appears unthreatening. He’s the weird old uncle in the attic, Larry David’s crazy Bernie. It’s almost a matter of style. Who can be afraid of a candidate so irascible, grumpy, old-fashioned and unfashionable?

After all, he’s not going to win the nomination, so what harm can he do? A major address at the party convention? A say in the vice presidential selection? And who reads party platforms anyway?

Well, platforms may not immediately affect a particular campaign. But they do express, quite literally, the party line, a written record of its ideological trajectory.

Which is why two of Sanders’ appointments to the 15-member platform committee are so stunning. Professor Cornel West not only has called the Israeli prime minister a war criminal but openly supports the BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions), the most important attempt in the world to ostracize and delegitimize Israel.

West is joined on the committee by the longtime pro-Palestinian activist James Zogby. Together, reported the New York Times, they “vowed to upend what they see as the party’s lopsided support of Israel.”

This seems a gratuitous provocation. Sanders hardly made Israel central to his campaign. He did call Israel’s response in the 2014 Gaza war “disproportionate” and said “we cannot continue to be one-sided.” But now Sanders seeks to permanently alter — i.e., weaken — the relationship between the Democratic Party and Israel, which has been close and supportive since Harry Truman recognized the world’s only Jewish state when it declared independence in May 1948.

West doesn’t even pretend, as do some left-wing “peace” groups, to be opposing Israeli policy in order to save it from itself. He makes the simpler case that occupation is unconscionable oppression and that until Israel abandons it, Israel deserves to be treated like apartheid South Africa  — anathematized, cut off, made to bleed morally and economically. The Sanders appointees wish to bend the Democratic platform to encourage such diminishment unless Israel redeems itself by liberating Palestine.

This is an unusual argument for a Democratic platform committee, largely because it is logically and morally perverse. Israel did in fact follow such high-minded advice in 2005: It terminated its occupation and evacuated Gaza. That earned it (temporary) praise from the West. And from the Palestinians? Not peace, not reconciliation, not normal relations but a decade of unrelenting terrorism and war.

Israel is now being asked — pressured — to repeat that same disaster on the West Bank. That would bring the terror war, quite fatally, to the very heart of Israel — Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ben Gurion Airport. Israel is now excoriated for declining that invitation to national suicide.

It is ironic that the most successful Jewish presidential candidate ever should be pushing the anti-Israel case. But perhaps not surprising considering Sanders’ ideological roots. He is old left — not the post-1960s, countercultural New Left. Why, the man honeymooned in the Soviet Union — not such fashionably cool communist paradises as Sandinista Nicaragua where Bill de Blasio went to work for the cause or Castro’s Cuba where de Blasio honeymooned. (Do lefties all use the same wedding planner?)

For the old left, Israel was simply an outpost of Western imperialism, Middle East division. To this day, the leftist consensus, most powerful in Europe (which remains Sanders’ ideological lodestar), holds that Israeli perfidy demands purification by Western chastisement.

Chastisement there will be at the Democratic platform committee. To be sure, Sanders didn’t create the Democrats’ drift away from Israel. It was already visible at the 2012 convention with the loud resistance to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But Sanders is consciously abetting it.

The millennials who worship him and pack his rallies haven’t lived through — and don’t know — the history of Israel’s half-century of peace offers. They don’t know of the multiple times Israel has offered to divide the land with an independent Palestinian state and been rebuffed.

Sanders hasn’t lifted a finger to tell them. The lovable old guy with the big crowds and no chance at the nomination is hardly taken seriously (except by Hillary Clinton, whose inability to put him away reveals daily her profound political weakness). But when he makes platform appointees that show he does take certain things quite seriously, like undermining the U.S.-Israeli relationship, you might want to reconsider your equanimity about the magical mystery tour. It looks like Woodstock, but there is steel inside the psychedelic glove.

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