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Latest News in Israel – 29th May

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World

Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

Netanyahu wants Trump to save Israeli Government Coalition, avoid new elections

In a brief speech to the press on Monday at the Knesset, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned against “unnecessary elections” and called for all parties to act responsibly. To bolster his argument, he noted that President Donald Trump himself had expressed his hopes that a coalition would be formed.

A strong U.S.-Israel relationship carries weight with the Israeli public and Netanyahu is hoping, also with Avigdor Liberman, the main holdout to forming a government. According to Maariv, Netanyahu wants members of the Trump administration to step in and pressure Liberman to join the coalition.

Liberman of the Israel Beiteinu party so far stubbornly refuses to do so. Though Netanyahu’s Likud party increased its power to 35 seats in parliament in the April 9 vote, it can’t muster a 61-seat majority without Lieberman’s party. Failure to form a government means the country would again go to elections, an unheard-of event in Israel.

However, Israeli officials told Maariv that Netanyahu thinks the Trump card may work with Liberman, who will be asked to join the government out of “national responsibility.”

On Monday, Trump tweeted his hopes “things will work out with Israel’s coalition formation and Bibi and I can continue to make the alliance between America and Israel stronger than ever. A lot more to do!”

The U.S. is interested in seeing Netanyahu form his government in order to move the Trump peace plan forward.

The Trump administration announced earlier this month that it will unveil the first phase of its long-awaited blueprint for Mideast peace in June at a conference in Bahrain. The administration was assuming that Netanyahu would have a stable coalition in place by then.

The Likud has assailed Liberman in recent days for undermining the people’s will for a right-wing government and accused him of acting out of personal spite for Netanyahu. The prime minister himself said Lieberman would be fully responsible for dragging the country to an “expensive, wasteful” election and his people have vowed to aggressively go after Lieberman’s core supporters in response.

But the mercurial Liberman seems to be holding his ground.

“The only motivation of Israel Beiteinu is to stand by our principles and our commitments,” he said in a Facebook post. “We are not looking to topple Netanyahu and are not looking for an alternative candidate, but we will not compromise.”

The crisis ostensibly revolves around Lieberman’s insistence that current legislation mandating that young ultra-Orthodox men be drafted into the military goes through the Knesset voting process without a single modification or alteration to the bill.

Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox parties consider conscription a taboo, fearing that military service will lead to immersion in secularism. Although exemptions have led to widespread resentment among non-religious Israelis, the haredi parties insist they stay in place.   (WIN) Staff and AP

Holding new elections would cost taxpayers NIS 475 million

If the Knesset calls a second election in 2019, it will cost the government NIS 475 million, a Finance Ministry official said Tuesday.

Speaking to the special legislative committee on the bill to dissolve the Knesset for a final vote, Bayan Wattad of the Finance Ministry’s Budgetary Department said: “The meaning of the bill… is a cost of at least NIS 475m., which requires a budgetary source that does not exist, and we are currently in a deficit.”

“The government must point to a budgetary source for this and it will only come from reducing government activity,” Wattad warned.

Meanwhile, Erez Tsur, chairman of the tech-industry umbrella group Israel Advanced Technology Industries, and director-general Karin Mayer Rubinstein, estimated that the day off of work for an election would cost the economy NIS 2 billion, calling it an “utter waste.”

“Holding additional elections would harm the stability of businesses in Israel and ease of doing business,” Tsur and Mayer Rubinstein said. “The international hi-tech world, which sees Israel as a global leader in the area, will see going to elections as one big farce.”

The special Knesset committee meeting took place the morning after the legislature passed the bill to dissolve itself in a first reading, to prepare the legislation for a final vote set to take place Wednesday night. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to bridge gaps between potential coalition partners Yisrael Beytenu and United Torah Judaism over haredi (ultra-Orthodox) enlistment in the IDF. Netanyahu prefers to call another election than to wait past the deadline to form a coalition, after which President Reuven Rivlin could present Blue and White leader Benny Gantz with the job.

Likud MK Miki Zohar, chairman of the special committee, announced that the election dates under consideration are August 27, September 3, September 10 or October 29. The bill that passed a vote overnight Monday set September 17 as Election Day.

“We’re in a strange and incomprehensible situation, but it’s out of our control,” Zohar lamented. “We’re doing whatever we can to stop the evil decree with no success so far, and it looks like elections are approaching.”

Much of the meeting focused on campaign finance, because parties have yet to pay back the Knesset-backed loans for the election that took place less than two months ago.

MKs asked that payments on their loans from the first 2019 election be delayed until after the second.

The law currently states that a party cannot take out a new loan if they have not paid the previous one.

Parties currently have a total of NIS 62.467m. in debt, with the Likud taking the most (NIS 36m.) and the United Arab List taking the least (NIS 1m.).

Knesset accountant Chaim Avidor warned that the risk to the Knesset from increasing the loans would reach NIS 201m.

MK Ofir Sofer of the Union of Right-Wing Parties suggested that the loan payments be spread over 72 months instead of 36.

Blue and White MK Zvi Hauser said: “If you give those who happened to already take 100% of the available loan [the chance to borrow more] you are giving them an advantage in this election and distorting the result.”    (Jerusalem Post) Lahav Harkov

Ahead of deadline, Liberman says he won’t cave to shocking, ‘powerful’ pressure

With a deadline for forming a new government fast approaching, Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman vowed Tuesday not to capitulate unless his demands are met, saying he would stand firm despite being subjected to unprecedented and “powerful” pressure.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to ink a deal with any of his prospective partners, and progress has stalled amid an impasse between Liberman’s secular Yisrael Beytenu and ultra-Orthodox parties on the question of a bill regulating the military draft among the ultra-Orthodox.

In a Facebook post shortly before midnight Tuesday — just 24 hours before the deadline to form a government — Liberman said that in all his years in Israeli politics he had never experienced such pressure.

“I thought I had seen it all, but I was shocked in the last two days from the power of the pressure, the paranoia and the speculation I have been exposed to almost every minute,” he wrote.

Liberman reiterated that he was not refusing to join the government out of some “vendetta” or seeking to bring down Netanyahu. He also said he was not against the ultra-Orthodox community but was fighting against the establishment of a theocracy in Israel.

Liberman has repeatedly said he backs Netanyahu for prime minister, but will only join the government if there is a commitment to pass, unaltered, a version of the bill that passed its first reading last July, during the previous Knesset. That version of the bill is opposed by ultra-Orthodox parties, which want to soften its terms. Netanyahu needs both Yisrael Beytenu and the Knesset’s ultra-Orthodox parties to form a majority government.

Liberman, who resigned as Defense Minister in the last government to protest its Gaza policy, also dismissed rumors he was holding out for a deal to be prime minister in a rotation deal with Netanyahu.

“I respect the wishes of the voters and with five seats received in the last elections I have no right and no intention of demanding a rotation for prime minister, and not acting prime minister, and not even deputy prime minister,” he said.

However, he vowed to respect the wishes of his largely secular supporters and also said his party would not be merging forces with the Likud, as Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party agreed to do earlier in the day. “As such the draft law is not caprice, not ego and not revenge, but a foundation-stone of our platform.”

Earlier in the day, Liberman accused the ruling Likud party of trying to clinch a last-minute deal dishonestly.

Amid the coalition stalemate, legislators overnight Monday moved one step closer to dissolving the 21st Knesset less than a month after it was sworn in, with MKs approving in its first reading a bill to disband the legislature.

Meanwhile, Likud lawmakers were told to be in the Knesset from noon Wednesday, in case the opposition withdrew its objections and they would be forced to vote early, Hebrew media reported.

While advancing the possibility of snap elections, Netanyahu has been working feverishly to reach a deal with his would-be coalition partners, and on Monday, his party offered a unspecified compromise on the draft law.

But Liberman blasted the Likud’s offer, saying the proposed compromise was dishonest.

He slammed Likud for praising the ultra-Orthodox parties for their “extraordinary flexibility” in accepting its compromise proposal. “This isn’t flexibility, this is dishonesty,” Liberman said in his post.

“The draft law is just one symptom of ultra-Orthodox extremism,” he added, noting the ultra-Orthodox monopoly over many religion and state issues in Israel.

As the political crisis has intensified in recent days, Likud has accused Liberman of operating out of personal spite against Netanyahu, and has launched a biting campaign against him. But Liberman has brushed off the accusations, maintaining that his refusal to join a Netanyahu-led government under the proposed terms was due to his aversion to religious coercion.

Netanyahu has until Wednesday night to secure a coalition, and has said that barring a deal, he will pass the bill to disband the Knesset — apparently to forestall the prospect of President Reuven Rivlin tasking someone else with forming a coalition. In the version that passed its first reading overnight Monday, the bill set a target date of September 17 for new elections.

It must pass second and third readings for new elections to be called. These readings are likely be held by Wednesday night if no coalition agreement is reached. The Likud-drafted motion could still be pulled at any time before the final vote if a compromise to the coalition crisis is found.

On Monday evening, as lawmakers prepared the dissolution bill, Netanyahu upped the pressure on Liberman, imploring him in a live TV address to put “the good of the nation above every other interest” in order to avert “expensive, wasteful” elections.

He said the dispute over the ultra-Orthodox draft bill was a matter of “cosmetics” and “semantics” that by no means justified calling new elections. “You don’t hold elections over cosmetics,” Netanyahu said from the Knesset.

Holding another election so soon after the previous national vote, on April 9, would be unprecedented in Israel, and there have been concerns over the cost and prolonged political paralysis that would result.  (the Times of Israel) Staff

Extradite Leifer and force Litzman to step down, says ZFA to Netanyahu

The Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) is calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ensure that Deputy Minister Ya’acov Litzman not be appointed to any public position until completion of an investigation into allegations that he interfered on behalf of at least 10 sex offenders, including one from Australia.

Netanyahu is in the last two days of deliberations before the deadline to form a government, which would include Litzman’s ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party.

ZFA President Jeremy Leibler met earlier this week with Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog to express the concerns of the Australian Jewish community regarding the ongoing delays in the extradition of Malka Leifer, an ultra-Orthodox alleged pedophile who was arrested in Israel in February 2018. Victorian police fought to bring Leifer back to Australia to face 74 charges of child sexual abuse.

In February of this year, the National Fraud Investigation Unit began investigating Litzman on suspicion of obstructing legal proceedings by working to obtain false papers in order to prevent Leifer’s extradition.

Specifically, Litzman is suspected of trying to obtain psychiatric medical evaluations that would prevent her extradition.

“These additional allegations, if proven true, are an insult to the survivors of sexual abuse and to Jewish communities around the world,” Leibler said in a statement, noting that the prospect of Litzman continuing on as a minister in the Israeli government while these allegations are being investigated “would place strain on the relationship between the State of Israel and the Australian Jewish community.”

The Australian Jewish community has also met with deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry for the Asia Pacific, Gilad Cohen, to communicate the Jewish community’s concerns, and has a meeting set with the director general of the Foreign Ministry, Yuval Rotem.

“The ZFA stands with the alleged victims of Malka Leifer,” said Leibler. “We will continue to advocate on their behalf until Malka Leifer faces justice in Australia.”  (Jerusalem Post) Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman

Australian terrorist planned to kill kippah-wearing Jewish students

Ihsas Khan, a terrorist who stabbed a man in Sydney’s south-west planned to kill the students in what he called a “revenge” attack for the way Palestinians are treated, The Australian Jewish News reported.

Khan took the witness stand during a sentencing hearing last week in which the local paper reported him as saying, “I was planning on using it on Jewish students in the university to kill them. Just people wearing the Jewish head gear, the kippah,”

“I was filled with hatred,” he said. “It was revenge for what was happening in Palestine.”

He also reportedly told the court during his trial that he wanted to be “a martyr.”

Khan was found guilty by a jury earlier this month of committing an act of terrorism against his neighbor, grandfather Wayne Greenhalgh, whom he attacked while Greenhalgh was in his driveway. Khan is facing life in jail.

After Khan was arrested and charged, police said they knew he had “strong extremist beliefs inspired by ISIS”.

Alex Ryvchin, co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry,  told The Australian News that the “deeply shocking” incident “shows us why communal security is of paramount importance, not only in preventing and responding to attacks, but in providing training to members of our community and teaching vigilance and self-defense.”

“It also demonstrates how public information serves to incite hatred and potentially lethal violence… This is why we are so determined to combat demonization of Israel,” he added.         (Jerusalem Post) Ilanit Chernick

Not the way New Zealand should treat its friends

Israel’s embassy has New Zealand has commented on how Wellington voted in support of a WHO Anti-Israel Resolution based on fake allegations.

The embassy issued a statement pointing out: “It was regrettable that New Zealand (unlike Canada, Australia, the United States and the UnitedKingdom) voted “Yes” at the World Health Assembly (WHA) last week on a resolution that falsely accused Israel for “health conditions in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan.”

This resolution was clearly designed for the sole purpose of singling out and attacking Israel and is in direct contradiction to the facts on the ground. (In fact, out of the 21 items on the agenda only this resolution targeted a single country, not even Syria or Yemen were addressed)

Politicization of the WHO harms its professional status and abuses its resources. Furthermore, falsely targeting Israel will not improve the health conditions of the Palestinian people. Make no mistake: Israel has not had a presence in the Gaza strip since 2005. The Palestinians in the Palestinian Authority are granted access to excellent medical service in the Middle East thanks to Israel. Palestinians in the Golan Heights

Benefit from Israel’s high-quality health system, not to mention the thousands of Syrian refugees that came to our border with the help of Israel in order to receive urgent medical assistance during the civil war in Syria

Supporting this absurd resolution made up of fake allegations is not the way that New Zealand should treat its friends. (JWire) Staff

Israel’s SodaStream hosts thousands for Ramadan feast

SodaStream is hosting nearly 3,000 Israelis and Palestinians for a Ramadan fast-ending meal at its factory in the southern Israel town of Rahat.

Bedouins and Jewish Israelis and some Palestinians attended the feast on Monday along with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

Friedman writes on Twitter that he had “the pure joy” to attend, and touts SodaStream as a paragon of peace: “Muslims, Druze, Christians and Jews working together, each making the other better, happier and more prosperous.”

SodaStream, manufacturer of fizzy drink-machines and other bubbly products, shut its West Bank factory in 2015 amid boycott calls and opened a new facility in the predominantly Bedouin town of Rahat. PepsiCo bought SodaStream last year for $3.2 billion. (Associated Press)

Wounded British and Israeli veterans to compete in sporting event

More than 100 disabled veterans from Israel and the United Kingdom will join forces next week in Israel not for battle but in a groundbreaking celebration of family and sports.

The Veteran Games, being held May 26-30 in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem at rehabilitation centers run by Beit Halochem, will see participants compete, try new sports, and learn about how their respective countries provide specialist care for those wounded in combat.

The games will include a three-day conference about PTSD among veterans chaired by Sir Simon Wessely, professor of psychological medicine at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, and a consultant adviser in psychiatry to the British Army, and by Prof. Zahava Solomon of Tel Aviv University.

“It is vitally important to look not just within our own country and its armed services, but also to look beyond,” Wessely said of the event. “Some important issues will be missed if we are solely inward-looking. It’s in that spirit of collaboration that we have brought together a diverse group of medical experts and commentators to discuss some of these issues here in Tel Aviv.”

He said that “connecting colleagues, friends and strangers can often have the most unexpected but perhaps the most interesting and rewarding outcomes.”

The event, the brainchild of Beit Halochem UK and the Israeli Embassy in London, will have participating veterans and their families fly to Israel on an El Al flight.

The Veteran Games, the first such event of its kind, is supported by leading rehabilitation and forces organizations including the Royal Marines Charity, RAF Benevolent Fund, Rock to Recovery, Veteran Scotland, Combat Stress, the Not Forgotten Association and the Association of Jewish ex-Service Men and Women (AJEX), The Wolfson Family Charitable Trust, and The Exilarch’s Foundation.

The games are funded by donations from the Patron Charitable Initiatives, the Pears Foundation, Rachel Charitable Trust, the Maurice Wohl Charitable Foundation and the Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust.

“Shared experiences for military veterans are a strong source of physical and mental healing, even more so across differing nationalities who are battling identical challenges,” said Jonathan Ball, chief executive of the Royal Marines Charity.

“However, the experiences and battles of their dependents are often forgotten. So we are delighted that the families of our Royal Marines will meet and share with others from Britain and Israel at these games, and will find that shared common burdens become lighter,” he added.

A number of the British competitors have won medals at the Prince Harry-founded Invictus Games. Participating will be former regimental sergeant-major of HM Royal Marines Matt Tomlinson, one of Britain’s most decorated commandos in recent times, who received numerous awards for bravery including the Military Cross.

“The transition to civvy street is hard enough but what you see on deployment can leave you with many intrusive thoughts that never go away. The many deaths of friends can take its toll on anyone’s mental health,” he said.

The Chelsea Foundation is also backing the event by providing football coaching for families attending and specialist workshops for Israeli sports teachers.

“It is a great privilege for us to support this initiative,” said Bruce Buck, Chelsea FC chairman. “At Chelsea FC, we have supported veterans in our local communities for many years, and have seen the healing power sports can have to overcome challenges and unite people. Our coaches will be meeting and working with veterans and their families throughout the week-long event, I trust that we will learn a lot from their ways of overcoming the many challenges they are facing every day.”

Spencer Gelding, chief executive of Beit Halochem UK, said that his organization is “extremely proud to be a founding partner of the inaugural Veteran Games and conference. The contribution of the armed services is immeasurable, and it is our ambition to help pave the way for best practice with regards to physical and mental rehabilitation of wounded veterans.

“We greatly look forward to welcoming the UK veterans, representatives of many of the leading UK veteran organizations and academics involved in the conference. We hope this pioneering initiative will be the start of a long-term relationship.  It will also be an opportunity to show the unique facilities that Beit Halochem offers to its 51,000 members and a chance to explore Israel’s rich culture and vibrant society.”  (Jerusalem Post) Anna Ahronheim

Coalition or repeat election: Verdict due by midnight Wednesday

PM: The more we prepare for an election, the less likely it is that there will be an election

by Gil Hoffman    The Jerusalem Post


The people of Israel and the world will only find out close to midnight’s deadline for building a coalition whether the country is headed to the formation of a new government or an unprecedented repeat election on September 17.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman said no meeting was set Tuesday with Yisrael Beytenu Avigdor Liberman, who holds the key to the coalition’s formation, and there was no progress toward reaching a compromise with Liberman, who the spokesman said “rejects every offer and continues stalling.”

Netanyahu continued preparing for an election on Tuesday. The Likud’s secretariat approved a deal to run with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s socioeconomic Kulanu Party. The prime minister’s former chief of staff Natan Eshel worked intensely to persuade Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, to let Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked also run with Likud.

“The more we prepare for an election, the less likely it is that there will be an election,” Netanyahu told the secretariat.

British Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund chairman Samuel Hayek, who has acted as a mediator between Netanyahu and Liberman, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday night that it was too soon to give up hope.

“I am realistically optimistic, and it’s not just wishful thinking,” he said.

Liberman said Tuesday that there is no compromise that interests him, and he continues to insist on passing the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) conscription bill as is.

“There is nothing new under the sun,” Liberman said.

Hayek, who is close to Liberman, said the Yisrael Beytenu leader thinks the bill is “critical for the future of our society and is already a compromise” on Liberman’s part.

“But reality in life dictates changes,” Hayek said. “That’s why good people are trying to reach compromises.”

United Torah Judaism MKs called Liberman irrational and said the main dispute is between him and Netanyahu, not with them.

But in what was seen as a positive step toward avoiding a repeat election, Liberman met with Degel Hatorah spiritual mentor Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky’s grandson, Yanky, and discussed possible solutions to the crisis.

Yanky Kanievsky is a political operative and a religious influencer who has been involved in many key recent political deals. He was credited with making the connection between Degel Hatorah and Yisrael Beytenu that led to the election of Moshe Lion as mayor of Jerusalem.

Shas and Union of Right-Wing Parties leaders are also trying to mediate between Netanyahu and Liberman. President Reuven Rivlin has decided to not intervene.

Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich, who is close to Rivlin, pleaded with him to preempt Netanyahu initiating elections and give someone else the right to form a government.

“Prevent governmental shock and chaos, the paralysis of all our systems and a massive waste of money,” she wrote Rivlin. “There is not a single MK who actually wants to go to elections now.”

Rivlin’s office responded that until Wednesday night at midnight, Netanyahu has the right to form a government.

“The president will give him the right to use the time given to him by law,” Rivlin’s office said. “He hopes we will not be stuck with another election. The Knesset is the sovereign and will bear the consequences of its decision in the future.”

The Old Scourge of Anti-Semitism Rises Anew in Europe – Editorial (New York Times)

  • For years, Europe maintained the comforting notion that it was earnestly confronting anti-Semitism after the horrors of the Holocaust. It now faces the alarming reality that anti-Semitism is sharply on the rise, often from the sadly familiar direction of the far right, but also from Islamists and the far left.
  • The worrisome trend was underscored by a report issued by the German government this month showing that anti-Semitic incidents in Germany had increased by almost 20 percent in 2018 from the previous year, to 1,799, with 69 classified as acts of violence.
  • Anti-Semitism is on the rise all across Europe, as well as in the United States. France reported an increase of 74 percent in anti-Semitic acts in a single year, with 541 incidents reported in 2018. In the United States, attacks on synagogues by white-supremacist gunmen have led the growing list of assaults on Jews. The Anti-Defamation League reported that these attacks more than doubled from 2017 to 2018, to 39, part of a total of 1,879 anti-Semitic incidents.
  • What is clear is that these strains of anti-Semitism – from the right, from the left and from radical Muslims – have morphed into a resurgence of a blight that should have been eradicated long ago, and that is causing serious anxiety among Europe’s Jews.
  • More than a third of Europe’s Jews said in a poll last year they had considered emigrating in the five years preceding the survey.
  • As appalling as these statistics should be to every European, they should also ring a loud alarm for every American leader of conscience. Speak up, now, when you glimpse evidence of anti-Semitism, particularly within your own ranks, or risk enabling the spread of this deadly virus.