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Latest News in Israel – 9th May

IDF strikes multiple Hamas targets in response to earlier mortar fire

The Israel Air Force struck two Hamas military targets in the southern part of the Gaza Strip overnight Saturday in response to an earlier incident in which a projectile emanating from the coastal enclave was fired into Israeli territory.

Tensions on the Gaza border have escalated over the past week with the IDF’s second discovery of a Hamas terror tunnel stretching from the Strip into Israel in the last month. Hamas has fired a number of mortar shells at troops carrying out operational activities on the border, prompting IDF reprisals with tank fire and air strikes.

Just after midnight on early Saturday morning a mortar was fired toward an uninhabited part of the Eshkol Regional Council in the South, setting off a siren. No injuries or damage were reported.

The previous mortar attacks during the current escalation had fallen near troops close to the border fence, failing to set off alarms in border communities, although Hamas has warned that this will be the next step if Israel does not stop its work to combat the organization’s attack tunnels. The tunnels were a key Hamas asset during the 2014 conflict with Israel, used by the organization to carry out a number of cross-border attacks.

The IDF said said Saturday that  it holds Hamas solely responsible for all aggression originating from Gaza. “The IDF will not tolerate terrorists opening fire onto Israeli territory and will continue to act severely against any attempt to disturb the peace of [its] communities.”

On Friday morning, the Israeli Air Force struck multiple targets in the Gaza Strip in response to mortar attacks on troops carrying out operational activities on the border.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a meeting of his security cabinet on Friday to discuss the Gaza border escalation.          (Jerusalem Post)

Israel vows to press on with anti-tunnel operations amid Gaza tensions

Israeli officials said Saturday they would continue operations to uncover and destroy cross-border attack tunnels in the Gaza Strip over the coming weeks, even as Israel and Hamas sought to calm tensions along the frontier.

But officials told Channel 10 news that Hamas’s tunnel infrastructure was far from the robust network the group possessed before the 2014 Gaza war, and included a small number of tunnels only.

Despite the ongoing efforts to destroy the underground threat, Israeli officials stressed that they did not believe there was a substantial danger of renewed conflict on the Gaza border. While Hamas has intermittently exchanged fire with Israeli troops as they worked to destroy tunnels inside Gaza territory, especially in the past week, the group has conveyed to Israel through Egypt that it does not seek escalation.

Security officials noted that two rockets fired from the Palestinian enclave early Saturday morning were not thought to have been launched by Hamas, but by a smaller terror group seeking to destabilize the region. Hamas, they said, was not seeking to widen the conflict to attacks on civilians, and was limiting its fire to troops operating inside Gaza.

Channel 10 reported that Israeli farmers who had been barred from fields within a kilometer from the Strip, for fear of Gazan sniper fire, would be allowed to return on Sunday

And as residents of Israeli communities near the border demanded increased security and army presence on their perimeters, the army has insisted that regular troop deployment along the border is enough to guarantee civilians’ safety.

On Friday Hamas Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh said his group was not seeking war with Israel but would not tolerate Israeli troops entering the Palestinian territory.

“We are not calling for a new war, but we will not under any circumstance accept these incursions,” he said in a prayer sermon in the Gaza Strip. Haniyeh said that Israeli forces had intruded “150 to 199 meters (165 to 220 yards) on the pretext of searching for tunnels.”

We sent multiple messages that the resistance will not allow the Israeli occupation army to impose new rules within the borders of the Gaza Strip,” Haniyeh said.

Israeli fighter jets struck Hamas targets in the southern Gaza Strip early Saturday, following the rocket attack. It was Israel’s fifth series of airstrikes since Wednesday, when tensions spiraled over IDF efforts to locate attack tunnels dug by Hamas from Gaza into Israeli territory.

One of the two rockets fired from Gaza landed in an open area of the Eshkol regional council overnight Friday-Saturday. The second fell close to the border fence, Army Radio said. There were no injuries or damage reported in either strike. Air raid sirens sounded across the region as the rockets were fired.

Hamas security sources said the IAF raid hit two brickworks in the southern city of Khan Younis, causing damage but no casualties. But witnesses said two missiles hit a base of Hamas’s military wing east of the city, causing significant damage.

The IAF also carried out raids on Hamas targets in the Strip on Friday, following mortar fire directed at IDF soldiers earlier in the day, in tit-for-tat exchanges of fire between Hamas and Israel. There were no immediate reports of injuries. Mortar shells were fired from Gaza at troops on Friday morning, causing no injuries in what the army said was the 12th incident in three days. The soldiers were operating near the southern edge of the coastal enclave, according to the IDF. The Israeli jets subsequently targeted a Hamas site in southern Gaza, the army said.

Palestinian media reports on Friday afternoon said Israel and Hamas reached a truce agreement, brokered by Egypt, which would go into effect immediately. But the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Major General Yoav (Poly) Mordechai, stressed that despite reports, no such agreement had been reached.

“The army intends to maintain its activities against Hamas as it continues to breach Israeli sovereignty and build tunnels,” he said.

Friday was the fourth day in a row in which IDF troops on the border came under mortar fire, as troops worked to unearth cross-border underground passages from the Gaza Strip. No troops have thus far been injured in the attacks, although some engineering vehicles have been damaged, according to the army.

On Thursday, a Palestinian woman was killed when Israeli tank shells hit her home east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, according to the southern city’s Nasser Hospital. The woman was identified by the hospital as Zeina al-Amour, 54.

Palestinian media also reported that a number of people were injured in a series of Israeli airstrikes in the area of Rafah on Thursday, also in the southern Gaza Strip. The IAF confirmed its aircraft hit four military posts belonging to Hamas, the de facto rulers of the Palestinian enclave, Thursday afternoon.

Also Thursday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon warned Hamas that Israel would not tolerate any attempts to disrupt the lives of its citizens.

“Terrorist elements in the Gaza Strip need to know that if they try to disrupt our lives, they will be delivered a severe blow,” he said at a service to mark the end of Holocaust Remembrance Day. “We will not tolerate a return to a routine of shooting and attempts to harm our civilians and soldiers. We will take firm action with an iron fist, as we have in the past few days, against the terrorist organizations in the Strip, led by Hamas, which is responsible for the shooting and incidents in Gaza.”

Earlier in the day, the IDF revealed that it had discovered another Hamas attack tunnel burrowing into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip. It was the second such tunnel discovered in a month. The second tunnel, which is slated to be destroyed in the coming days, is 28 meters (90 feet) deep and was located just a few kilometers from the location of another tunnel discovered and destroyed last month, the army said.

Despite the increased tension along the border with Gaza in recent weeks, the years since the 2014 conflict, known as Operation Protective Edge, have been the quietest in over a decade, in terms of rocket fire and attacks coming from the coastal enclave.                      (The Times of Israel)

Defense Ministry: Israel’s war and terror casualty toll now at 23,447

Days ahead of Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers, the Defense Ministry released updated figures on the number of war and terrorism casualties, which currently stands at 23,447.

The casualty count includes all those who fell since 1860. Sixty eight new casualties were added to the figure since the previous Remembrance Day. Additionally, fifty nine disabled IDF veterans died as a result of their condition.

Today, there are 9,442 bereaved parents, 4,917 widows, and 1,948 orphans, according to the ministry’s figures.

The ministry expects some 1.5 million people to visit military cemeteries during Remembrance Day next week.

On Tuesday, a nationwide siren will ring out at 8 pm, marking the start of Remembrance Day. A two-minute siren will sound off on Wednesday at 11:00 am, marking the start of state memorial ceremonies across the country.                 (Jerusalem Post)

Comptroller report leak on 2014 war rattles leadership

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and other top officials were put on the defensive over the weekend after a state comptroller’s report on political failures during the 2014 Gaza war was leaked.

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira on Friday called for Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to investigate who leaked the secret report, which is expected to be made public in the near future, but was provided to Netanyahu, Ya’alon and IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot in February.

By late Thursday, the sides had already preemptively made arguments designed to shape the public’s view of what will be a hard-hitting and controversial report by Shapira, in a term in which he has mostly walked carefully around controversial political issues.

Reports from Channel 2 and Haaretz were framing the report as worse than the Winograd Report after the 2006 Lebanon War, which led to resignations by then-defense minister Amir Peretz and then-IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz.

Other anonymous sources are attacking the report as “not serious,” and not from a serious comptroller.

The comptroller and a wide range of political officials have hit back at Netanyahu and Ya’alon for attacking the leaked report.

According to the leaked report, the comptroller first slams Netanyahu, Ya’alon and former IDF chief-of-staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Benny Gantz for failing to warn the security cabinet about intelligence they had from the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) about the possibility of war with Hamas prior to the start of Operation Protective Edge.

The leaked report says that the trio passed on the Shin Bet’s warnings only once the country was already in the midst of the conflict.

Next, the report attacks the trio for failing to hold serious security cabinet meetings about the Hamas tunnel threat, holding only one meeting on the issue, in March 2014, four months before the start of the war.

Even once the war started, Shapira allegedly says that Netanyahu, Ya’alon and Gantz reportedly kept most of the key decisions and details to themselves to a problematic extent.

At the same time, the report is said to slam some of the security cabinet members as not sufficiently educating themselves regarding war issues in order to properly fulfill their duties.

Shapira reportedly also blasts the three top war policy- makers over mistakes which led to extending the war unnecessarily, with terrible results for how hard the country got hit during the operation.

He said this occurred because of a communications disconnect between top military commanders and political officials from commanders in the field.

For example, Gantz claimed after the first Hamas tunnel attack that there would not be another such event, when in fact Hamas attacked from tunnels four more times.

These are all highly sensitive points for Netanyahu, whose claim to fame politically is being Mr. Security, not being questioned for poor security preparation and for unnecessarily exposing the homefront to attack. Netanyahu has also recently claimed finding Hamas attack tunnels as a victory under his watch by investing in new tunnel-detection technology.

Sources close to Netanyahu responded to the reports of what will be in the draft by saying there is “no resemblance” between the leaks and what is in the actual comptroller’s report.

Moreover, the sources said, this draft will also certainly be changed before the final report is written, following answers that will be provided by the Prime Minister’s Office.

The sources said that without getting into the content of the report, the comptroller does point out that Netanyahu defined the tunnels as a central threat long before Operation Protective Edge, and directed the defense establishment to deal with them.

According to the sources, the draft was leaked and its content distorted by people with vested interests, including “irresponsible politicians who were cabinet members, who know the truth and prefer to falsify it to make political points.”

“Operation Protective Edge was managed responsibly and with good judgment, and it delivered Hamas the most difficult blow it has ever received,” the sources said. “The period since Operation Protective Edge was the quietest for the communities near the Gaza Strip since 2000.”

Responding to their attacks, comptroller spokesman Shlomo Raz on Friday emphasized three points. First he called into question the objectivity of those attacking the report, since they are so far emanating from political officials whom the report is critical of.

Second, he said that all criticisms in the report of war policy-making are based on unimpeachable and objective data and documentary evidence, inviting the report’s attackers to try to rebut its arguments instead of making mere ad hominem attacks.

Third, he said the attorney-general should investigate who illegally leaked the report and what their motivations were, saying it had not been leaked from his office.

In reaction to the leak, Gantz said on Friday that the operation was carried out “in a reasoned and responsible manner. There’s no need to drag it into the headlines. I’m disappointed that the draft report reached the media before the relevant parties.”

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman said that Netanyahu and Ya’alon represent “leadership that avoids responsibility, that is incapable of making the required decisions, and is unable to ensure the security of Israel’s citizens.

“What is no less serious [than Netanyahu and Ya’alon’s conduct in 2014] is that just as before Operation Protective Edge, Israel today also merely responds to Hamas’s actions and threats and takes no real initiative to change the situation at its foundation and remove the ongoing threat from Gaza, which is becoming more powerful, for the residents of Israel,” added Liberman, who served as Netanyahu’s foreign minister during the war.

Former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar also called the Gaza operation “a failure for Israel” in a tweet on Friday.

“The way to fix the mistakes is not to avoid criticism. One must learn from mistakes and failures. Denying reality is not the right way,” he wrote.

MK Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid), who was an observer in the security cabinet during Protective Edge, condemned the leak, which he said came from an attempt to score political points.

The politicians “forgot the report’s true purpose, which is a professional and values-based discussion to draw conclusions and accept criticism about the operation. Only in this way can we learn the appropriate lessons, fix the shortcomings and improve what needs to be improved to protect Israel’s security.”

Meretz began gathering the 40 signatures necessary to hold an emergency Knesset meeting during the Knesset recess, in order to discuss the draft report. The debate is expected to take place this week.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) responded to the report that “then, just as now, the cabinet of talk dealt with slogans against Hamas instead of stopping and striking Hamas.

“It turns out that not everyone who shouts is really scary,” he added.

“Instead of defeating the comptroller, who is a very serious man, they should work on defeating Hamas.”

Knesset State Control Committee chairwoman Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid) expressed disappointment that the highly classified report was leaked, saying that “even when the state comptroller is dealing with human lives and decision-making processes, the political level acts on narrow political interests.

“Instead of responding to the claims, the Prime Minister’s Office and politicians from the government are choosing to delegitimize the State Comptroller’s Office,” she added. “In a civilized democracy, criticism is necessary and preventing it causes serious harm to Israeli democracy.”

Elharar also pointed out that MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) warned in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the situation before and during Protective Edge, and that the panel began working on a report following the operation, but was forced to stop when the Knesset was dispersed ahead of the 2015 election.         (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu upbraids top general for ‘outrageous’ Shoah comparison

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday rejected an IDF general’s controversial remarks comparing Israel to pre-war Nazi Germany on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan ignited a firestorm of criticism after telling an audience during a Holocaust memorial ceremony Wednesday night that he saw trends in Israel today that are similar to those in Europe prior to the Holocaust, warning against growing callousness and indifference toward those outside of mainstream Israeli society. “If there is something that frightens me in the memory of the Holocaust, it is identifying horrifying processes that occurred in Europe…70, 80 and 90 years ago and finding evidence of their existence here in our midst, today, in 2016,” he said.

Netanyahu called the comments “outrageous” at Sunday’s cabinet meeting and said they “create contempt for the Holocaust.

Golan’s remarks, Netanyahu said, “are fundamentally baseless. They didn’t need to be said at any time and certainly not at the time they were said. They do injustice to Israeli society and create contempt for the Holocaust. The deputy chief of staff is a highly decorated officers but his statements on this matter were completely erroneous and unacceptable to me.”

At the meeting, Culture Minister Miri Regev railed at Golan, saying “It’s unacceptable that a deputy chief of staff would be part of the delegitimization of Israel. He crossed every line and he must resign his post.”

Before the weekend, the prime minister also reportedly upbraided Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon for Golan’s comments, which earlier drew criticism from other government officials both for their timing and content.

“If there is something that frightens me in the memory of the Holocaust, it is identifying horrifying processes that occurred in Europe…70, 80 and 90 years ago and finding evidence of their existence here in our midst, today, in 2016,” Golan said at the Wednesday night event.

Golan on Thursday walked back his statements amid public outcry, saying his address was not meant to compare the actions of Israel or the IDF to those of the Nazis.

“It is an absurd and baseless comparison and I had no intention whatsoever of drawing any sort of parallel or to criticize the national leadership,” Golan said in a statement communicated by the IDF Spokesperson’s unit.Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday said Netanyahu welcomed Golan’s retraction, according to a Channel 2 report.

“With all due respect to the deputy chief of staff, the prime minister believes he erred in his remarks, and so it’s good that he explained them,” PMO sources said.

According to Channel 2, IDF officials insisted Golan’s clarification had nothing to do with Netanyahu’s reprimand to Ya’alon, and said the army would have issued a statement on Golan’s remarks regardless.

In sharp contrast to Netanyahu, Ya’alon dismissed the widespread criticism of Golan, saying he had “full confidence” in the “valued and accomplished” deputy chief of staff.

“These attacks on him are intentional, distorted interpretations of something he said yesterday, and are part of a wider, alarming campaign to cause political damage to the IDF and its officers,” Ya’alon said in a statement on Thursday.

“We cannot afford to let that happen,” he added. “The job of every IDF commander, especially a senior commander, is not just to lead soldiers into battle, but also obligates him to lead the way in establishing values.”

The strained conversation between Ya’alon and Netanayhu was reported as an indication of deteriorating relationship between the two.

Earlier Thursday, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked sharply criticized Golan as “confused” and showing “contempt for the Holocaust,” while opposition leader Isaac Herzog praised Golan for exhibiting “morality and responsibility.”

While his critique of Israeli society was likely aimed at support for Jewish extremist actions, Golan specifically touched upon the issue of moral flaws within the army, saying the strength of the IDF was its ability to thoroughly investigate and punish wrongdoers “and take responsibility for the good and the bad,” without justifying their actions or attempting to cover them up.

“We believe truly in the justness of our path, but not everything we do is just,” he said.              (The Times of Israel)

U.S. Takes Tougher Tone on Israeli Settlements in New Report

The United States will endorse a tougher tone with Israel in an upcoming international report that takes Israel to task over settlements, demolitions and property seizures on land the Palestinians claim for a future state, diplomats told The Associated Press.

The U.S. and its fellow Mideast mediators also will chastise Palestinian leaders for failing to rein in anti-Israeli violence. But the diplomats involved in drafting the document said its primary focus will be a surge of construction in Jewish housing in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The U.S. approval of the harsh language marks a subtle shift. Washington has traditionally tempered statements by the so-called “Quartet” of mediators with careful diplomatic language, but the diplomats said the U.S. in this case will align itself closer to the positions of the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, who emphasize Israel’s role in the Mideast impasse.

The report’s release is sure to infuriate Israel, where officials are already bracing for expected criticism. And on the other side, although the mediators will endorse some long-standing Palestinian complaints, the Palestinians are likely to complain the report does not go far enough.

Diplomats acknowledge the report, which could come out in late May or June, will be largely symbolic, requiring no action. It could be unveiled at the UN and possibly sent to the Security Council for an endorsement, according to the diplomats, who included three U.S. officials. They all demanded anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the unfinished work publicly.

The diplomats said the report is intended to highlight obstacles to a two-state peace agreement – the stated goal of both Israeli and Palestinian leaders – and offer recommendations for restarting negotiations in a process that is stalled.

The Palestinians don’t want talks as long as settlement construction continues; the Israelis say they’re open to negotiations, but have shown little interest in making any meaningful concessions.

One diplomat said the report would be “balanced” because it would criticize the Palestinians for incitement and violence against Israeli citizens. Near-daily attacks in recent months by Palestinians, mostly stabbings, have killed 28 Israelis and two Americans. Some 193 Palestinians have been killed. Israel says most of these were attackers and the rest died in clashes with Israeli forces.

But the diplomat added that those involved in writing the report understand the focus on Israel will be its most contentious aspect.

Another diplomat said Israel will be put “on notice” that its appropriation of land isn’t going unnoticed.

The document won’t look only at east Jerusalem activity and West Bank settlement construction, but also at a “problematic trend” of legalizing smaller so-called outposts, the officials said. In addition, it will criticize Israel for a growing backlog of housing block approvals.

In 1972, there were just over 10,000 Israeli settlers, with 1,500 living in the West Bank and the rest in east Jerusalem. Two decades later, by the time of the Oslo peace accords, there were 231,200 Israelis living in the territories. That number rose to 365,000 by 2000, when the second Palestinian uprising began, and 474,000 by the time Benjamin Netanyahu became Israel’s prime minister again in 2008.

The settlements are now home to more than 570,000 Israelis, according to the Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now – 370,000 in the West Bank and 200,000 in east Jerusalem. Settlements range from small wildcat outposts on West Bank hilltops to developed towns with shopping malls, schools and suburban homes.

Some 2.2 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, with another 300,000 in east Jerusalem. Israel captured both territories after the 1967 war.

The Quartet, which is supposed to guide the two parties to peace, has been largely irrelevant for the past several years. It was created in 2002 at a low point in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship and in the years since has held sporadic meetings. Most have ended with bland statements condemning violence, criticizing settlements and calling for both sides to improve security and the atmosphere for peace talks.

The new report will repeat those calls, but the diplomats said they hoped the new criticism of Israel, in particular, would jolt the parties into action.

The Palestinians recently put off their push for a new UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity, in part because of the coming report, the diplomats said. And with anti-Israel sentiment growing in Europe, France may delay a planned May 30 meeting of foreign ministers on the situation.

The French also are talking about hosting a Mideast peace conference this summer. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to discuss the French initiative with Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault while on a trip to Paris next week.                  (Ha’aretz)

Gaza Sewage Poisons Coastline, Threatens Israel

Each day, millions of gallons of raw sewage pour into Gaza’s Mediterranean beachfront, turning miles of once-scenic coastline into a stagnant dead zone. The sewage has damaged Gaza’s limited fresh water supplies, decimated fishing zones, and is now floating northward and affecting Israel as well. “Gaza beaches are completely polluted and unsuitable for swimming and entertainment, especially in the summer,” said Ahmed Yaqoubi of the Palestinian Water Authority.

Steen Jorgensen, country director for the World Bank in the West Bank and Gaza, said his office built a $73 million sewage treatment plant nine years ago. The facility, meant to treat 1/5 of Gaza’s sewage, would be operational if it had a reliable power supply.

Disagreements between Hamas and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority over fuel taxes have left Gaza’s power plant functioning at reduced capacity. Israel says it supplies 125 to 140 megawatts of power a day to Gaza. “The decision of distributing the electricity falls under the responsibility of the Palestinians,” said COGAT, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian affairs.

Israel Water Authority spokeswoman Ilana Keren said an Israeli desalination plant near Ashkelon, 10 km. north of Gaza, was shut in January and February “because of the quality of the raw water.” Most of the waste is consumed by algae, but a buildup of algae can block filters at the desalination plant, Israel’s Environment Ministry said, adding that a recent check of the water quality off Ashkelon found the beaches suitable for bathing.           (ABC US News)

Sympathy for Palestinians over Israel up sharply among younger Americans

Democrats are more than four times as likely as Republicans to say they sympathize more with the Palestinians than with Israel, according to a survey published Thursday, and sympathy for the Palestinians among Americans overall is growing.

Sympathy for the Palestinians is up most sharply among the youngest American adults, growing threefold over the last decade, the new survey by the Pew Research Center shows. Some 27 percent of millennials say they are more sympathetic to the Palestinians than Israel; in 2006 the figure was 9 percent. The share of those favoring Israel has held steady at about 43 percent.

On Israel, the survey also shows one of the widest-ever gaps between the two main political parties.

While self-identified Democrats are more likely to favor Israel over the Palestinians (43 percent to 29 percent), they are far less sympathetic toward Israel than either Republicans or Independents. Among self-identified Republicans, 75 percent say they sympathize more with Israel compared to 7 percent sympathizing more for the Palestinians. Among Independents, the sympathies are 52 percent with Israel and 19 percent with the Palestinians.

The new data is part of a telephone survey of more than 4,000 American adults between April 4 and 24 in which Pew surveyors asked respondents a range of questions about how they view the US role in the world.

Among Americans overall, 54 percent say they sympathize more with Israel and 19 percent sympathize more with the Palestinians, with 13 percent saying with neither side and 3 percent with both. Compared to a similar survey conducted in July 2014, sympathy for Israel held steady while sympathy for the Palestinians jumped by one-third, to 19 percent today from 14 percent in the earlier survey.

Among liberal Democrats, the least pro-Israel grouping, more respondents say they are sympathetic toward the Palestinians than toward Israel: 40 percent vs. 33 percent. While the pro-Israel figure has held steady, the pro-Palestinian figure is the largest it has been in 15 years, suggesting that sympathy for the Palestinians is growing among these Americans who previously did not favor one side over the other.

Self-identified conservative Democrats and moderate Democrats favor Israel by a margin of 53 percent for Israel to 19 percent for the Palestinians.

Supporters of Hillary Clinton are more likely to favor Israel over the Palestinians (47 percent to 27 percent), while backers of Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent of Vermont, are more likely to favor the Palestinians (39 percent to 33 percent for Israel).

On the Republican side, conservative Republicans favor Israel somewhat more than moderate and liberal Republicans do (79 percent vs. 65 percent).

The survey shows older Americans overwhelmingly favoring Israel over the Palestinians by a 4-to-1 margin, and Gen-Xers sympathizing with Israel more by roughly a 3-to-1 margin.

There is more optimism among Americans that a two-state solution can be achieved by the Israelis and Palestinians than skepticism that it cannot: 50 percent compared to 42 percent. On this, Americans younger than 30 are more optimistic (60 percent believe in the two-state solution) than Americans over 65 (49 percent say it’s impossible). About 61 percent of Democrats say they believe a Palestinian state can coexist peacefully beside Israel, compared to 38 percent of Republicans.

Overall, Americans are more convinced now than they were in August 2014, in the wake of the last Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, that a two-state solution is possible.

On other issues in the survey, 57 percent of respondents say they want America to deal with its own problems and let other countries sort out their problems on their own, while 37 percent say America should help other countries. Respondents identified ISIS as the top global threat facing America, followed by cyber attacks from other countries, the rapid spread of infectious diseases and refugees from the Middle East.

The largest partisan gap on the threat matrix was on the issue of climate change: 77 percent of Democrats identified it as a leading global threat compared to 26 percent of Republicans.

There is a sharp partisan divide on the question of how best to defeat global terrorism: 70 percent of Republicans say overwhelming military force is the best approach, while 65 percent of Democrats say that just creates more hatred and terrorism.                                (The Times of Israel)

The Holocaust without Jews

Attempts to universalize the specific suffering of Jews in the Shoah go hand in hand with efforts to de-legitimize the Jewish state

By James Kirchick               Tablet Magazine

http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/201420/the-holocaust-without-jews

On Thursday, Israel will mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom HaShoah. As has been the custom for over six decades, a 2-minute air raid siren will be blared across the entire country and citizens from all walks of life will interrupt their daily routines for a moment of solemn reflection. Jan. 27 of this year also marked the decade anniversary of the United Nations-designated International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which member states are encouraged to commemorate. Though an Israeli initiative, International Holocaust Remembrance Day has gradually been subjected to the universalizing prescriptions of those who would water down the particularly Jewish aspect of the Nazi extermination of the Jews.

The evolution of two different days of Holocaust commemoration and the ways they increasingly run counter to each other are symptomatic of the seizure of Jewish history and suffering for ulterior purposes. This victim displacement appropriates the most traumatic experience in Jewish history, pointedly erases the specificity of the events supposedly being commemorated, and then harshly chides Jews for inserting their own particularistic concerns into the discussion. At a certain point, these phenomena become a continuation of a specific form of oppression and erasure rather an antidote to “hatred.”

Imagine a remembrance of slavery that did not acknowledge the suffering of African-Americans­or a commemoration of the AIDS epidemic omitting the experiences of gay men. Such acts of dissociation would be inconceivable, the subjects of rightful denunciations and outraged protests. Yet in recent years, that is precisely what has been going on with regard to the Holocaust and its chief victims, the Jews. Last month, Britain’s National Union of Students (NUS)­which claims to represent some 7 million students across 600 campuses­debated whether it should even commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day. That this was a subject for argument is absurd enough; the actual proceedings were scandalous. “Of course there shouldn’t be anti-Semitism,” said a student speaking against the measure, offering the sort of throat-clearing assertion from which anti-Semitism almost inevitably follows. “But it’s not about one set of people.”

The fracas took place against a backdrop of resurgent anti-Semitism in British higher education and politics. Earlier this year, a co-chairman of Oxford University’s Labor Party club quit after claiming that a large number of its members “have some kind of problem with Jews.” Meanwhile, at the same convention where it debated the propriety of commemorating the Holocaust, the NUS elected as its president a young woman named Malia Bouattia, who had previously opposed a declaration condemning ISIS, railed against the “Zionist-led media,” and advocated in favor of violent Palestinian “resistance” against Israel. Responding to critics in the pages of the Guardian, Bouattia began by noting that she is “the first black woman” and “the first Muslim” to be elected president of the NUS; the unspoken purpose of sharing these biographical details is that it is therefore impossible for her to be a bigot.

While the NUS measure endorsing Holocaust commemoration eventually passed, Darta Kaleja, a student at Chester University, no doubt spoke for many of her student comrades when she complained, to loud applause, that she wasn’t against commemorating the Holocaust per se but rather “prioritizing some lives over others. In my five years of UK education not once were the genocides of Tibet, Rwanda, or Zanzibar taught to me and my peers.” This is as logically fallacious as it is morally obscene; in no way does Holocaust remembrance obviate educational efforts about other slaughters. (On the contrary, the homepage of Britain’s Holocaust Memorial Day Trust includes links to informational resources on the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur.) One might expect Kaleja to be of Muslim or Arab extraction given the widespread resentment in those communities toward the memorialization of Jewish suffering. She is apparently from Latvia, however, where the locals did an especially thorough job of wiping out their Jewish neighbors without much prompting from the Germans.

The vociferous endorsement of Kaleja’s sentiments by a roomful of left-wing students demonstrates the confluence of three distinct types of Holocaust minimization: the Eastern European nationalist attempt to “ obfuscate” the extermination of 6 million Jews by relativizing it as just one of many “genocides” committed during World War II, the traditional Arab-Muslim denial or diminishment of the Holocaust as a grossly exaggerated event that pales in comparison to Israeli crimes, and a new progressive narrative that expunges Jewish suffering in its account of an amorphous, context-free misdeed­no worse, and holding no more meaning, than any other episode of mass murder­inflicted upon some generalized notion of “humanity.” With respect to the latter, some go so far as to label the Holocaust an instance of “ white on white crime” that, because its victims did not hail from the “global South,” is undeserving of recognition.

Sometimes, the speaking of a Holocaust without Jews can be innocuous, the result of a muddle-headed utopianism that desperately avoids singling out any one group’s suffering as having been worse than any other’s. When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau omittedany mention of Jews or anti-Semitism in his first commemorative statement for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it was not due to any conscious bigotry on his part but a sort of purblind, mushy progressivism. Still, it is distressing that the sort of Holocaust revisionism that was always the sole province of the far right and Arab nationalists­simultaneously denying the Shoah while hijacking it to bully Jews as “the new Nazis”­is, in newfangled form, becoming a badge of progressive virtue.

To understand the perverse logic of the Holocaust without Jews, one must work backward from the political end goal of those pushing it: the de-legitimzation of the Jewish State. For if the Holocaust isn’t about Jews, then Jews have no claim on their history, or reason to fear anti-Semitism, or the need for a state. The complaint used to be that Jews abused the Holocaust as a shakedown. Now, the Holocaust­at least as much as it was as a crime targeting the Jews above all others­doesn’t exist at all.

Labeling Muslims “the new Jews” of Europe when anti-Semitic crimes are at a postwar high­and almost entirely the doing of Muslims­is a particularly egregious form of this confiscation of Jewish history and inversion of reality. (In many schools across Europe, teachers report that they have difficulty teaching the Holocaust for fear of reprisals by Muslim students.) So too are the sanctimonious reprimands by soi-disant arbiters of good taste like the Atlantic’s Jim Fallows, who scoldJews for invoking the Holocaust to contextualize contemporary anti-Semitic incitement. This most recent Holocaust Memorial Day, just a day after Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khameini posted a video on the Internet questioning whether the Holocaust even happened, the leading Scottish Nationalist Party politician Alex Salmond used a commemorative event at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg to scold not the Iranians but Israeli Knesset Member Michael Oren, who had criticized European governments for hosting the Iranian president on his whirlwind tour across the continent. There was a “time and place for international politics,” Salmond intoned. “Someone had to say what a lot of people who attended the service were thinking.” Well, bully for him, then.

 

In this era of hypersensitivity about “cultural appropriation” (which, taken to its extreme, has seen college campuses erupt in protest over yoga classes and the serving of bad Asian food in dining halls), it’s noteworthy how often the greatest crime in human history is casually manipulated by those who purport to be concerned with “oppression.” But to the mandarins of the progressive left, the Holocaust’s meaning is always and necessarily to be found in its “universalism.” According to this historical interpretation, the evil of the Nazis can be located in their abandonment of the European cosmopolitan tradition and descent into bestial particularism and nationalism­the very qualities that Israel, foremost among the nations, is charged with embodying today. This sleight of hand has the miraculous effect of clouding the causes of the Holocaust so that anti-Semitism is relegated to a background role, if it is mentioned at all. Harping on the fact of six million dead Jews, then, becomes weirdly tribal, even Nazi-like; asserting Jewish peoplehood is too close to asserting Aryan-ness, the disastrous results of which Europeans have been expiating for the past seven decades. It doesn’t matter that there is no Israeli Auschwitz, or anything even approaching it; the particularism and nationalism of Israel is enough to imply everything that has followed or at least could follow. Israel is the carrier of the European disease that wise Europeans have transcended through their enormous, Christ-like suffering, and formation of the European Union.

Last November in Sweden, the organizers of a Kristallnachtcommemoration chose not to invite Jews lest the universal lessons of the Holocaust be marred by the official participation of the people who were its primary victims. Yet the left-wing activists who organized the rally had no problem with Palestinian flags or posters equating the Star of David to a swastika, both of which make annual appearances at an event ostensibly called to remember the genocide of Jewish people.

Erasing Jews from the history of the Holocaust makes the likening of them to Nazis more palatable. In the upcoming documentary film Let My People Go, Marcel Ophuls promises to expose modern-day Israel like he did Vichy France in his classic, The Sorrow and the Pity, telling similarly “unpleasant truths.” Ophuls teamed up with Eyal Sivan, an Israeli filmmaker self-exiled in Paris who speaks of anti-Zionist Jews as a righteous minority akin to anti-Apartheid Afrikaners or members of the French resistance. To capture the full enormity of the Jewish State’s depravity, the two traveled to Germany to meet with what Robert Mackey, the blogger then of the New York Times, called “young Israeli dissidents” who fled the Jewish State, in the words of Sivan, “seeking refuge from Israel’s politics in Berlin.”

For the dwindling true-believers in a post-national Europe, it is hard to imagine a story that could be more satisfying than Jews fleeing their Nazi-like nation-state for the utopia of Berlin, whose residents have learned the lessons of their past as the stiff-necked Jews manifestly have not. For anyone not quite so enamored of the EU, it is hard to imagine a story that is at once so magnificently self-flattering, and which lets Europeans off the hook so completely for their repulsive historical crimes­while further enabling the deeply ingrained anti-Semitism that made those crimes so deadly.

Today’s progressive narrative of the Holocaust without Jews is not altogether different from the last, great leftist attempt to deny the truth of the Shoah. After WWII, the Soviet Union and its puppet communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe solemnized the Nazis’ victims as “anti-fascists,” lumping in together the 6 million Jews who were, by dint of their birth, singled out for execution, alongside the communists and socialists who were targeted because of their political disposition. Emphasizing the specifically anti-Semitic nature of the Holocaust, communists worried, would work against their political purposes as the populations over which they ruled were quite anti-Semitic themselves­and had by and large looked away, or even eagerly participated, as their Jewish neighbors were carried off to the gas chambers. Ever amoral, the communists utilized anti-Semitism in much the same way Muslim regimes have exploited Jew-hatred to mobilize discontented populations; from the 1952 “Doctors’ Plot” to the infamous Slansky Trial that same year to Poland’s 1967-1968 Jewish purge, communist authorities raised the phantom menace of nefarious Jewish power, usually under the guise of “anti-Zionism.” In his 1971 study Anti-Semitism Without Jews, Hungarian-born Austrian writer Paul Lendvai detailed the cynical ways that communist governments incited their people against imaginary Jewish threats in lands almost entirely depleted of their Jewish populations­and how those conspiratorial hysterias spoke to a deeper societal sickness having little to do with Jews. “The very fact that what we are witnessing is essentially an anti-Semitism without Jews is an all the more alarming symptom of moral pollution and political disintegration,” he wrote. “The fewer Jews there are, the more the fight against racial hatred becomes primarily, almost exclusively in the interest of non-Jews.”

If anti-Semitism without Jews is a marker of “moral pollution and political disintegration,” then so too is the Holocaust without Jews an indicator of ethical rot. The lessons of the Holocaust are indeed universal, and Jews­contrary to the anti-Semitic stereotype of a selfish people hungry for the world’s pity­have been at the forefront of applying its lessons to latter-day manifestations of bigotry, intolerance, and genocide. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, for instance, has an entire center devoted to the prevention of genocide, and practically no commemoration of the Holocaust­be it a book, a film, or a religious service­lacks mention of contemporary struggles against injustice.

Yet the Holocaust’s universal meanings are not inconsistent with an appreciation of its singularity, both in terms of process (the first and only time a modern state carried out an industrial-scale, mechanized mass-mass murder with the aim of exterminating an entire people) and victims (primarily, but not exclusively, Jews). Indeed, these unique aspects of the Holocaust complement one other in distinguishing the event from any other crime against humanity. Without independently acknowledging both the universality and the historicity of the Holocaust, we will fail to understand what happened, and to whom­and how to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again, to anyone.

In Whose Name Does Hamas Dig?

by  Jonathan S. Tobin               Commentary Magazine

https://www.commentarymagazine.com/foreign-policy/middle-east/israel/whose-name-hamas-dig/

In the last year, Israel’s foes and critics have redoubled their efforts to pressure it to end the “occupation.” Most observers assume that to mean that Israel should withdraw from the West Bank and/or much of Jerusalem. But do these people actually care what would happen if Israel did just that? The current standoff on the border between southern Israel and Gaza gives us a pretty good idea of the answer to the question.

The independent Palestinian state in-all-but-name run by Hamas terrorists that exists in Gaza has lobbed thousands of rockets at Israeli towns and cities and has dug tunnels in order to facilitate cross-border kidnapping and murder raids. The discovery of yet another such elaborate tunnel by the Israel Defense Forces and the skirmishing with Hamas as it seeks to prevent the army from destroying that and other such facilities illustrates what the government of Gaza does with the aid that is funneled into the strip ostensibly to help the poor and rebuild homes destroyed in the last war. That raises the question for those activists determined to help isolate Israel or to disassociate Americans and Jews from its measures of self-defense, why the silence about Gaza terror? In whose name does Hamas dig?

Few of those who seem most outraged by the presence of Jews in these places where Jewish history began seem to think they have any sort of obligation to also pressure the Palestinians to make peace with Israel in exchange for such a gesture. Of course, given the continued Palestinian refusal to negotiate with Israel or to indicate that any sort of gesture from the Netanyahu government would incline them to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn, such calls would not be heeded.

But those who are most vocal about about the occupation — a term that most Palestinians, including their supposedly moderate leader Mahmoud Abbas, thinks refers to all of Israel, including the lands under its control before June 1967 — seem to be curiously silent about what happened when Israel did end their presence in part of the territories. The occupation of Gaza ended in 2005 when then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pulled out every Israeli soldier, settler, and settlement from the strip. Sharon was no peacenik but by that point he agreed with the notion that Israel needed to separate from the Palestinians.

Yet the withdrawal from Gaza — the exact thing that Israel’s critics have said they wanted — led to two interesting developments.

One was that rather than being transformed into an incubator for peace and economic development, Gaza became a large terrorist base. Hamas seized control of the strip in 2007 in a bloody coup in which the Fatah Party that runs the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank was deposed. Hamas’s platform calls not merely for the destruction of Israel but also for the eviction of its Jewish population. To that end, it used the absence of the IDF to create a vast terror infrastructure in order to facilitate the launching of rockets as well as underground networks to give shelter to terrorists (though not civilians) and their armaments. In recent years they began to dig tunnels, which played a not insignificant role in the last round of fighting with Israel.

The other curious result of Israel’s Gaza withdrawal was that it had absolutely no impact on the Jewish state’s critics. The overwhelming majority of Israelis see the Gaza experiment as proof that, in the absence of evidence that Palestinians want a peace that will end the conflict for all time, a similar withdrawal in the larger and more strategic West Bank would be insane. Yet that thought never seems to occur to those who bewail the occupation and believe its end would solve the problems of the Middle East, if not the world. If ending the occupation of Gaza led to more terror and bloodshed for the Israelis then those who support the BDS — boycott, divest, sanction — movement against the Jewish state or even those Jews who jabber about Netanyahu and the IDF not acting “in their name” haven’t anything to say about it.

Of course, some of them claim that in spite of the withdrawal Gaza is still occupied. They point to the partial blockade of the strip as “proof” that it is just one big Israeli prison. They claim Israel is perpetrating a humanitarian disaster even though shipments of food and medicine have streamed steadily into Gaza even on days when Hamas is shooting rockets. They seem to believe the borders of Israel and Egypt — which also seeks to isolate the terrorist-run government of Gaza — should be open to attack and that Hamas should be free to import arms and military material without restraint.

But even if we dismiss these assertions as ludicrous, it still bears asking the anti-occupation activists what they think the proper response to a government that uses cement sent to Gaza to build homes and terror tunnels should be? If Hamas sees Tel Aviv as being every bit as much of a Jewish “settlement” that needs to be dismantled the same way the communities that were left behind in Gaza in 2005 were taken apart, why doesn’t that impact their views about Israel’s need to surrender more territory? At the very least, should it not incline some of those demanding more withdrawals to speak out against Hamas terrorism and to call for international action to stop the digging of tunnels or the accumulation of more munitions and material — funded in part by Iran — that will enable another bloody and pointless war?

But no, we hear no such calls from Jewish Voices for Peace or If Not Now (which came into existence as a reaction against Israel’s effort to silence missile fire from Gaza and to eliminate terror tunnels) or from pro-BDS groups that care only about promoting an economic war on Israel.

That silence is significant because, like the rest of those aiding the anti-Zionist cause, this refusal to speak up about the nature of the Hamas government or its policies, bespeaks a clear bias against the one Jewish state on the planet and the hypocritical nature of their calls for ending occupation.

Opposition to settlements or antagonism to the Netanyahu government is one thing. But if you aren’t willing to state clearly that you support the right of Israel to exist and to defend itself inside some borders or to oppose the launching of rockets and the digging of terror tunnels, then what these anti-occupation activists are really telling us is that they agree with Hamas about the definition of occupation. That would mean they can’t deny that it is in their name that Hamas digs and plots the murder of Jews.

If so, then they should stop pretending to be acting in the name of human rights and state openly that their only real goal is to eliminate Israel. Doing so would expose them as unabashed anti-Semites, but at least it would be honest.

Israel and Hamas are one misdirected shell away from war

The IDF and Hamas are wrestling in a small area near the border fence, insisting they don’t want all-out conflict but coming dangerously close to it

By Avi Issacharoff                The Times of Israel

http://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-and-hamas-are-one-misdirected-shell-away-from-war/

Reports on Thursday evening that Janaa al Amor, a 49-year-old Palestinian woman, had been killed by Israeli artillery fire east of Khan Younis in the northern Gaza Strip illustrates how easily violence on the border between Israel and Gaza can escalate.

For now, it must be said, both sides seem interested in containing the violence. Even though IDF forces have been operating just beyond the Gaza fence, hunting on both sides of the border for Hamas’s attack tunnels, Hamas has been firing at the troops rather than launching rockets toward populated areas.

Nor has Hamas used its remaining tunnels — two of which have been found in the last month — or other means to attack Israeli targets.

For now, the two sides wrestle within this small perimeter, an area of 150-200 meters (165-656 feet) from the border fence where Israeli forces are operating under fire from Hamas members. On Thursday afternoon, Palestinian sources claimed that IDF troops were active in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip and in Rafah at its south, inside Palestinian territory.

But this scuffle does not look like it’s going to end anytime soon and it is not clear how long it will be limited to the small perimeter area, before potentially spilling into Israel on one side and deep into the Gaza Strip on the other.

On Friday, Palestinian and Egyptian sources told The Times of Israel that IDF troops had withdrawn from the Strip.

Still, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Major General Yoav (Poly) Mordechai, stressed that the IDF would continue its tunnel-detection operations. “The army intends to maintain its activities against Hamas as it continues to breach Israeli sovereignty and build tunnels,” he said.

It is true that both Israel and Hamas have no interest in a mutual grand show of force, and both sides are attempting to prevent a descent to war. The many statements by senior Hamas officials regarding efforts to reach a ceasefire with Egyptian and Qatari mediation show this well. But the tide may turn as incidents on the ground develop.

Hamas has already announced it will not hold its fire so long as Israeli forces are active inside the Gaza Strip. So far, mortar fire has not caused any injuries, but if, unfortunately, a group of IDF soldiers is hit, the Israeli response is likely to be harsh. The same formula is relevant to the Palestinian side. And the Israeli activity against the terror tunnels, including beyond the border fence, is not expected to end soon.

Israeli bombardments in Gazan territory are limited but if future Israeli sorties cause more casualties, Hamas may not limit its fire to the borderline perimeter. The temptation to launch projectiles deep into Israel will be immense.

What about an attack by Hamas through one of the not-yet undiscovered tunnels?

Such an attack would be tantamount to a declaration of war against Israel, and it is doubtful that this course of action has a lot of support among the political leaders of Hamas.

But the military wing, headed by Muhammed Deif and other extremists like Yahya Sinwar, is already singing different tunes regarding a terror attack that would cause a large number of Israeli casualties. These terrorist leaders argue that Hamas erred by not going on the offensive on the eve of 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s war with Hamas, and they don’t want it to make the same “mistake” again.

According to the radical voices in Hamas, the group should begin with an opening strike that can be used to paint a picture of victory when the violence subsides. Only thus, they claim, will Hamas be able to say that it won.

These operatives say that returning to the Gazan routine, where the borders with Egypt and Israel are closed, means a protracted death sentence for Hamas as Gaza’s rulers. This is why they support carrying out a massive, lethal terror attack against an Israeli target — before the tunnels are exposed and the opportunity lost.

But even if they do not win that argument, it would only take one “strategic shell” that mistakenly hits a group of soldiers, or Israeli civilians, or Palestinian civilians, to send us speeding down the road to all-out war.

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau at March of the Living, 2016, Auschwitz