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Latest News in Israel – 18th July

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World

Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

Brush fires burn homes, force families to flee before coming under control

Brush fires broke out throughout the country Wednesday afternoon amid a searing heatwave, damaging at least 15 homes in central Israel and necessitating the evacuation of dozens more.

Firefighting officials said the fires were under control by evening, their efforts helped by gentler winds and rising humidity.

Strong winds in the afternoon had helped the fires spread quickly, reaching a breakneck speed of four meters per second in some places, or roughly nine miles per hour. The winds also grounded firefighting planes and helicopters for part of the day.

The Magen David Adom rescue service said it treated seven people for smoke inhalation in fire-afflicted areas.

One fire, near the city of Or Yehuda, east of Tel Aviv, had reached the neighborhood of Ramat Pinkas, where the first row of homes was evacuated as a precaution and access to the area was barred, before the flames engulfed at least five buildings, according to Hebrew-language media. One resident, a 64-year-old man, required medical care after inhaling smoke.

In the West Bank settlement of Shavei Shomron, all residents were told to leave their homes due to a fire that later caused damage to some buildings as well as infrastructure and a commercial structure. Firefighters later said they had gained control of that fire.

All the homes were also evacuated in Aderet and Neve Michael, small communities near Beit Shemesh, due to a large blaze nearby.

Another big fire broke out near the Arab town of Barta’a in the Wadi Ara area, where many firefighters and firefighting planes were called in to help stem its spread. The nearby towns of Ar’ara and Katzir were evacuated, and four homes in Ar’ara burned down. Two women, aged 70 and 41, were lightly hurt after inhaling smoke.

Two men, aged 60 and 35, were lightly hurt after inhaling smoke from a fire near the Arab town of I’billin in the Lower Galilee. They were treated by Magen David Adom paramedics.

A street in Jerusalem’s Ir Ganim neighborhood was blocked to allow firefighters to battle a blaze in a nearby forest.

In the north, firefighters gained control over a fire that was blazing on a hill near Haifa’s Neve Sha’anan neighborhood.

Part of Haifa’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology was also evacuated as flames approached the hillside campus.

Other blazes were reported near Modiin, Petah Tikva, Kfar Saba and Ashdod.

Due to the rash of fires throughout the country, the Israel Fire and Rescue Services went on emergency footing in the afternoon, canceling all vacations and calling up all firefighters.

The office of Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said he was “closely following and receiving updates on the firefighters’ activity across the country.”

Some roads were blocked due to the fires. They included Route 40 between Nehalim and Be’erot Yitzhak, Route 42 between Ashdod Interchange and Gderot, and Route 57 between Bayt Lid in the West Bank and Kfar Yona.

The heat wave that struck Israel Wednesday sent temperatures soaring to near-record breaking heights.

The highest temperature was recorded on the southern shores of the Dead Sea, near the site of Biblical Sodom, where temperatures hit 49.9 degrees Celsius, or 122° Fahrenheit. That’s not far from the highest-ever temperature recorded in the country, 54°C (129°F) in June 1942 at Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi in the northern Jordan Valley.

In Tel Aviv, the heat reached 40°C (104°F) at 11 a.m., but humidity was mercifully low at 20 percent. While temperatures dropped to a more humane 33°C (91°F) in the afternoon, humidity soared to 75%, making it feel hotter than in the morning.

Temperatures in Jerusalem hit 38° Celsius (100° Fahrenheit), compared to about 28°C (82°F) on Monday. Haifa saw temperatures of 35°C (95°F), and Beersheba 42°C (108°F). (the Times of Israel) Staff

Mother of fallen IDF soldier leaves meeting with Netanyahu in tears

The mother of a fallen IDF soldier whose remains are held by Hamas in Gaza was left sobbing after a meeting with the prime minister, which she left just half an hour after it began.

Leah Goldin’s son Hadar died alongside five other IDF soldiers during Operation Protective Edge on July 20, 2014, and his body is believed to be held by the terror group in the enclave to this day. Israel this week officially marks five years since the seven-week-long war broke out.

“The whole purpose of the meeting was to silence the families shortly before the anniversary of Operation Protective Edge,” Goldin said after the meeting, which was held Tuesday evening between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the families of Israelis held captive in the Strip.

The family of another soldier who was killed alongside Goldin – Oron Shaul – was also at the meeting. The relatives of Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed – two mentally ill Israeli citizens captured by Hamas after voluntarily crossing into Gaza – were among the attendees as well.

At the onset of the meeting the prime minister apparently offered to fly the families to New York City in order to allow them to participate at a ceremonial event at the main U.N. Headquarters, raising awareness about Israeli MIAs and POWs.

The offer prompted Goldin to confront Netanyahu as to why nothing has been done by his government until this point. “I wonder why all of a sudden you remembered who we are, after five years during which you did nothing,” she said during the meeting. “We don’t need a trip to New York, we’ve already done all of this successfully ourselves.”

The Goldin family issued a statement after the event, suggesting Netanyahu’s offer was made as part of his attempt to silence the bereaved families during a time when the country is marking Protective Edge’s anniversary.

“We feel as though the prime minister was doing all he could to make it through the next two weeks, during which we will mark five years since the abduction of our son Hadar,” said the family. “Even after this meeting, it’s still unclear to us why Netanyahu is not making the return of our sons a condition for any rehabilitation of Gaza.”

“Prime Minister Netanyahu understands the pain of the families and will continue to do everything in his power to bring their sons home,” said The Prime Minister’s Office in response. (Ynet News) Raanan Ben Zur

Netanyahu Expresses Reservations About Possible West Bank-Gaza Passage

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed reservations about a $5 billion proposal for a highway and railway between the West Bank and Gaza as part of the Trump administration’s Mideast peace deal for Israel and the Palestinians, reported Axios and Israel’s Channel 13 on Tuesday, citing “sources briefed on the matter.”

The idea was proposed as part of the deal’s economic component, which was released last month during the economic summit in Bahrain.

Netanyahu and his aides were briefed about it two weeks before it was publicized, according to the Axios report.

The prime minister’s wariness about the passage is related to security matters, the sources told the outlet.

The report stated, according to the sources, “Israel gave US officials examples of how even today—with no transportation corridor and Israel in full control of Gaza’s borders—Hamas attempts to transfer operatives, messages and know-how from Gaza to the West Bank by exploiting entry permits granted for humanitarian reasons.”

US President Donald Trump’s Special Envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt told Axios that the hesitation from the Israeli side “surprised me” because the administration repeatedly assured that “Israel’s security is first and foremost” in the proposal.

Greenblatt added, “I am not aware of any official pushback from the Israeli government on this point for now,” in that such feedback came from Israeli private citizens, and that the West Bank-Gaza passage “can only be a part of a comprehensive deal if it is acceptable to Israel and all security issues can be thoroughly addressed.”  (the Algemeiner) JNS Staff

Barak charges Netanyahu behind Daily Mail ‘blood libel’ tying him to Epstein

Former prime minister Ehud Barak went on the offensive Wednesday evening, dismissing as a “blood libel” a British tabloid insinuating that he met women at alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein’s residence.

Speaking in front of hundreds of supporters at a campaign launch event in Tel Aviv for his new Israel Democratic Party, Barak asserted that the report in the Daily Mail was a result of the “poisoned atmosphere” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has fostered over the past two decades.

“Over the last 24 hours something has happened in Israel, something despicable. A terrible blood libel, a baseless lie,” charged Barak, who is attempting to make a comeback after nearly a decade out of politics.

Barak has threatened to sue the Daily Mail, which on Tuesday published an article claiming to show Barak entering Epstein’s home in 2016 at the same time young women may have been present and insinuating nefarious aims.

“For over 20 years, anyone who has stood against Netanyahu has been dragged through the mud and turned into a traitor,” Barak said, pointing the finger at the premier for “spreading lies.”

“Former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was incited against, with Netanyahu’s blessing, until his life was taken by three shots,” Barak continued. “Those shots are a consequence of the incitement and mudslinging that is spread against anyone today who stands against Netanyahu.”

He claimed that Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz had been the target of such attacks in the last election campaign “simply because he wanted to lead Israel to normalcy, and to ensure that Netanyahu does not hide behind his position of power and stand trial like any other citizen.”

“And now it’s my turn. It must stop. And it will stop,” Barak declared.

Barak said the attacks on him only made him “more determined” to push ahead with his political comeback with the goal of ousting Netanyahu.

Barak’s ties to Epstein, which go back over 15 years, have become an unexpected hot-button issue in the election campaign in Israel, after Epstein was arrested earlier this month.

Epstein faces federal charges of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls in the early 2000s. His indictment, unsealed last week, shows conspiracy and sex trafficking charges that could result in up to 45 years in prison if convicted. He has pleaded not guilty.

Barak, who entered a business deal with Epstein in 2015, years after the American financier served time for solicitation, called long-rumored allegations of sex trafficking by Epstein “abhorrent” and announced that he had officially cut off all business ties with him.

“I thought Epstein was a one-time stumble. When it turned out differently, I drew conclusions and cut off any contact with him,” Barak said.

Earlier Wednesday, Barak issued an ultimatum to the Daily Mail tabloid to remove the article insinuating that he had been present at one of Jeffrey Epstein’s homes when he was having women over. As of 10:00 p.m. the article remained on the newspaper’s website, three hours past the deadline.

The Likud party has attempted for weeks to capitalize on Barak’s ties to the disgraced financier, but the former prime minister said it was Netanyahu who was associating with unsavory characters like adviser Natan Eshel.

“The fact that under Netanyahu, a sex offender permanently removed from public service, continues to be his closest associate and coalition negotiator is a disgrace,” said Barak.

Eshel, the premier’s former chief-of-staff who admitted to surreptitiously placing a camera to film under the skirt of a female colleague, was a key player in coalition negotiations earlier this year.

He also took aim at Netanyahu over his relationship with Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who police are gearing up to recommend be indicted for illicitly using his position to provide his assistance to both alleged and convicted pedophiles.

And he called Netanyahu’s son Yair “a womanizer and an inciter.”

The younger Netanyahu made headlines last year when an embarrassing recording was leaked in which he can be heard making disparaging comments about women during a night out at Tel Aviv strip joints.

Yair Netanyahu responded to Barak on Twitter late Wednesday, calling him a failed prime minister, a drunk, and incorrectly asserting that Barak had admitted to bringing security personnel, paid for by the public, to Epstein’s island home.

In response, Likud said Barak was lying and urged him to clarify what he was doing at Epstein’s home and answer questions over millions he received from a foundation linked to Epstein in the early 2000s for “research.” (The Times of Israel) Jacob Magid and Raoul Wootliff

Netanyahu, paradigm shifter of Israeli politics, set to break another record

Poised to become country’s longest serving PM at week’s end, leader is described by both fans and critics as a master maneuverer who has shattered several conventional wisdoms

by Aron Heller    The Times of Israel


As Benjamin Netanyahu becomes Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, he is solidifying his place as the country’s greatest political survivor and the most dominant force in Israeli politics in his generation.

He has persevered through scandals, crises and conflicts, winning election after election even as the country grows more bitterly polarized. His supporters credit him with keeping Israel safe and prosperous, maintaining its Jewish character and boosting its standing internationally.

His opponents, with equally visceral emotion, claim he has dashed hopes for peace with the Palestinians, torn society apart with vicious attacks on minority Arabs and left-wing opponents, and infused politics with a culture of corruption.

But as the length of his 13-year rule is set to surpass that of Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion on July 20, all agree Netanyahu has left a permanent imprint on the country.

“He thinks that he is the right guy in the right place. That he is the one who will save Israel and lead Israel to a safe haven,” said Aviv Bushinsky, a former Netanyahu aide. Israelis think that “things are good, so why should we change a winning horse,” he added.

Just as he is about to cross a milestone, Netanyahu faces perhaps his greatest political challenge yet. After he failed to form a parliamentary majority following April elections, the country is holding a repeat vote on September 17. The following month, he faces a hearing with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who has recommended indicting Netanyahu on corruption charges. If formal charges are filed, Netanyahu could be forced to step aside.

In contrast to his predecessors, the 69-year-old hasn’t left his mark by winning a war or signing a peace accord. He has proudly resisted various peace initiatives and allowed West Bank settlements to flourish. The signature achievements most associated with him, such as combating Iran’s nuclear program, covertly striking weapons shipments to Israel’s enemies and building a border fence to stop the flow of African migrants, had begun taking shape before he assumed office.

“His rule has been characterized by conservatism and hesitancy,” said opposition lawmaker Tamar Zandberg of the left-wing Meretz party. “If he is going to be remembered for anything it’s going to be his idleness.”

Netanyahu has often said he would like to be remembered as the “protector of Israel.” But admirers and critics alike say that what sets him apart is his unparalleled political acumen, a ruthless drive to win at all costs and an uncanny ability to sell his shifting policies to the public.

“He so deeply believes in himself and what he is doing, and his marketing skills are so amazing that he can argue for one thing and then the opposite with the same conviction. It’s an art form,” said Bushinsky.

A gifted orator in both English and Hebrew, he was elected for a single term in the late 1990s on a platform of opposing the Oslo accords with the Palestinians. But once in office, he continued implementing them and even met with arch-enemy Yasser Arafat.

As finance minister in the early 2000s, he cut taxes and rolled back entitlements to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community — only to reverse course once he returned to power to secure their political backing. He wrote counter-terrorism books in which he preached that one must never negotiate under threat, but as prime minister he released more than 1,000 Palestinian terror convicts in exchange for a single captive Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in 2011.

Despite his tough talk, Netanyahu has shown relative moderation when it comes to using military force. Over the past year, he has resisted calls by hardline constituents to strike harder against jihadist groups in Gaza.

Even after so long in power, Netanyahu has maintained an outsider image, railing at perceived enemies in the media, judiciary and opposition. His tactics have mirrored those of his good friend, US President Donald Trump, as well as other right-wing populist leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro — both of whom he has welcomed to Israel.

The anti-establishment rhetoric, along with occasional incitement against the country’s Arab minority and the political left, has played well among his base of traditional, working-class voters.

The son of a historian — and a keen student of history himself — Netanyahu already holds the record for being Israel’s youngest elected prime minister and for serving the longest consecutive term.

Anshel Pfeffer, a columnist at the Haaretz daily and author of a Netanyahu biography, called the prime minister an “incredibly good political strategist” who has presided over a period of prosperity and relative quiet. Netanyahu often boasts of expanding ties with countries that once shunned Israel — including Arab states that share Israel’s enmity toward Iran — while rejecting demands for a Palestinian state.

“If you want one ideological legacy it’s that he has broken the paradigm that we need to end the occupation or else we will be isolated,” said Pfeffer. “He has proven that is not true.”

Palestinian Authority official Saeb Erekat said Netanyahu will be remembered as the one who “buried” the peace process and paved the way to a future apartheid state by deepening Israel’s control over the West Bank, which it captured in the 1967 Six Day War. “I think his legacy will be his success in making sure that any ray of hope to achieve peace based on two states along the 1967 border is blocked,” he said.

In confronting former US president Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran in a brazen 2015 speech to Congress, Netanyahu also debunked the conventional wisdom that an Israeli leader could not survive an open clash with an American president. Since Trump’s election in 2016, Netanyahu has enjoyed unprecedented backing, drawing frequent accusations of partisanship.

“The combination of a very difficult relationship with the Obama administration and the exaggerated embrace of Trump potentially create a rift in the quality of US-Israel relations,” noted Dan Shapiro, Obama’s former ambassador to Israel. “When the pendulum swings in the other direction that will also be part of his legacy.”