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Latest News in Israel – 7th March

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World

Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

Israel tells Hamas to rein in border violence or face major military action

Israel is reportedly warning Palestinian terror organization Hamas that it faces widespread military action if it does not rein in violence along the country’s border with the Gaza Strip, the neighboring coastal enclave that it rules.

The two sides are in the midst of indirect negotiations mediated by Egypt meant to consolidate a ceasefire arrangement after months of escalating tensions between the two sides, the London-based, Arabic-language newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported Wednesday.

According to Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper, Israel said that although the government is willing to amend the terms of the agreement in line with Hamas demands, if the terror group persists with the border violence, a wide-scale military operation in the Strip would be inevitable.

The Israeli warning comes amid an especially close elections campaign in Israel, which sees the issue of security take center stage as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempts to win reelection against a party headed by former military chief Benny Gantz, which appears to be ahead in the polls. Gantz’s Blue and White Party is also the political home of fellow former IDF heads Gabi Ashkenazi and Moshe Ya’alon.

The Egyptian delegation—made up of intelligence officials—has been mediating a possible ceasefire arrangement between Israel and Hamas for the past few months. The negotiations, however, have stalled due to the continuation of violent Palestinian “March of Return” protests along the Gaza border and the start of Israeli election campaigning. In an unusual move, however, the deputy head of Egyptian intelligence also joined the country’s delegation for the latest visit to the coastal enclave.

The London-based publication added that as a pre-condition for the further transfer of Qatari funds to the Gaza Strip, Israel is demanding that Hamas cease all violence along the border, including riots near the security fence and the launch of incendiary airborne devices that have decimated Israeli farmland near the border. (Ynet News)

Palestinians call for mass protests over closure of ‘Bab Al-Rahma’ (Golden Gate)

Palestinians said on Tuesday that they will step up their protests against Israel’s controversial decision to close the Golden Gate located on the eastern side of the Temple Mount.

The decision, they cautioned, will trigger widespread protests similar to those that erupted after Israel installed security cameras and metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount’s Gate of the Tribes in 2017.

The contested site, known as Bab al-Rahma in Arabic and Sha’ar Harachamim in Hebrew, will remain open and will undergo renovations in the near future, insisted Hatem Abdel Qader, a senior Fatah official and member of the Wakf Council, which controls and manages the Temple Mount.

Abdel Qader and other Wakf officials said they will not comply with an order issued by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Monday to keep the site closed unless the Wakf responds within a week to the state’s request to close the Golden Gate.

“Israeli courts do not have jurisdiction over Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Abdel Qader said after an emergency meeting of the Wakf Council. “We do not recognize the laws of ‘the occupation, and we will not succumb to threats by the Israeli police and authorities.”

He said that renovation work at the site will begin in the coming days to allow Muslim worshipers to pray there on a permanent basis.

Last month, Wakf officials and hundreds of Palestinians reopened the Golden Gate site in defiance of a court order issued in 2003 to keep it closed. The Palestinians claim that Israel is planning to turn the site into a synagogue. The move came shortly after Jordan announced its decision to expand the Wakf Council to include senior Palestinian Authority and Fatah officials.

Israeli security sources believe that the new PA and Fatah members of the Wakf Council are behind the decision to challenge Israel by reopening the Golden Gate.

A Wakf Council member warned that the court’s decision to close the site would have “dangerous repercussions.” The official said that the Palestinians and Jordan were working in “full coordination” with regard to the crisis surrounding the site.

The Golden Gate, he told The Jerusalem Post, “is an integral part of Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount). Israel has no right to stop Muslims from praying at the site. There are no differences between the Palestinians and Jordan.”

The official denied that the Wakf Council has decided to close the Temple Mount on Friday to protest against Israel’s decision to close the site.

“There is no reason for the closure of Haram al-Sharif on Friday,” he said. “Israel’s provocative measures will lead to an uprising in Jerusalem, similar to the one that erupted in 2017 and which forced the Israeli authorities to remove the security cameras and metal detectors.”

The Wakf Council called on Palestinians to converge on the Temple Mount in the coming days to protest Israel’s measures against some of its officials. In the past week, Jerusalem Police summoned several officials, including chairman of the Wakf Council Sheikh Abdel Azim Salhab and deputy director of the Wakf Department Sheikh Najeh Bkeirat, and handed them orders barring them from entering the Temple Mount in the next few days and weeks.

On Monday, the police also summoned Adnan Husseini, the Palestinian Authority Jerusalem affairs minister, and notified him of the decision to prevent him from entering the Temple Mount until next Sunday. Husseini said he refused to receive the order.

Earlier, the police summoned Abdel Qader for interrogation over his role in the Palestinian protests concerning Bab al-Rahma.

At least 50 Wakf guards and east Jerusalem Fatah activists have also been ordered by the police to stay away from the Temple Mount compound in the coming weeks and months.

On Tuesday morning, police officers prevented Palestinian activists from bringing carpets into the site – a move that has further intensified tensions and prompted Palestinians to call for stepping up protests against Israel’s attempt to shut Bab al-Rahma.

The PA governor of Jerusalem, Adnan Gheith, also called on Palestinians to converge on the Temple Mount to protest the Israeli measures. The decision to prevent Palestinian officials and activists from entering the site, he claimed, is part of an Israeli scheme to divide the Temple Mount between Muslims and Jews and “Judaize” Jerusalem.

A senior PA official in Ramallah claimed that Israel was seeking to “undermine” the authority of the Wakf Department to pave the way for establishing a section for Jewish prayers at the Temple Mount. “This is a very dangerous precedent,” the official told the Post.

Palestinian activists on Tuesday called for mass protests against Israel’s recent measures. An east Jerusalem group, called the Popular National Conference for Jerusalem, called on Palestinians to take to the streets to protest the closure of the Bab al-Rahma and the decision to ban several Wakf officials and Palestinian activists from entering the Temple Mount compound.

“We don’t need statements of condemnation,” the group said in a leaflet distributed in east Jerusalem. “We need practical steps on the ground to safeguard the religious, political and historical heritage of our capital from the guillotine of the occupation.”

Hamas and other Palestinian groups also called for mass protests in the coming days against Israel’s measures.

“Next Friday will be a new day in Jerusalem during which the Palestinians will prove to Israel that the holy sites are Arab, Islamic and Palestinian,” said Hamas official Hussam Badran. “There is no room for Israeli sovereignty over these sites.”  (Jerusalem Post)

THAAD Anti-Missile System Drill a ‘Testament to the Strength’ of the US-Israel Alliance, Netanyahu Says

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, visits the deployment area of a US THAAD anti-missile system

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited on Wednesday the deployment site of a THAAD anti-missile system that has been stationed in Israel by the US military as part of a joint exercise with the IDF.

Netanyahu — who was accompanied on the tour by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman — said, “I think this is a testament to the strength of the alliance between Israel and the United States. The coalition for a common defense, that is expressed not merely in intentions but in actual forces on the ground, I think is remarkable.”

Friedman stated, “I can’t think of a better example of the incredibly close and important cooperation between Israel and the United States. This is an outstanding example of how the American armed forces have made a commitment to Israel’s safety and security. They’ve done this in many other ways, but I can’t think of a better single example than we’re looking at right now.”

Earlier this week, the IDF said the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) drill was “part of US efforts to implement its operational concept and mission to assist in Israel’s aerial defense.”

“The deployment of this American system in Israel emphasizes the US’s commitment to the defense and security of Israel,” the IDF stated. “It‘s also an opportunity for the IDF to practice integrating advanced American air defense systems into the IAF Air Defense Array.”

“The IDF is grateful for this exercise and stands ready to protect Israel’s airspace and civilians against a variety of threats from near and far,” the Israeli military added. “This is a defensive deployment that is not related to any specific current event.”

A US European Command (EUCOM) statement said, “THAAD is the most advanced integrated air and missile defense system in the world, and this deployment readiness exercise demonstrates that US forces are agile and can respond quickly and unpredictably to any threat, anywhere, at any time.” (the Algemeiner)

UN rights chief laments Israeli ‘dismissal’ of Gaza report

The U.N. human rights chief has expressed disappointment with Israel over its “immediate dismissal” of a report about deadly violence by Israel security forces against protesters in Gaza last year.

The comments from Michelle Bachelet, a former Chilean president, came on Wednesday during her first annual address to the Human Rights Council since becoming the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in September.

Bachelet lamented that Israel responded to a report published Monday on the Gaza violence “without addressing any of the serious issues raised.”

The report commissioned by the council found Israeli soldiers intentionally fired on civilians and could have committed crimes against humanity in crackdowns that killed 189 people and left 6,000 hurt by sniper fire.

Bachelet made “gross inequalities” in the world a major theme in her speech.

Meanwhile, the publication of a U.N. database of companies with business ties to Israeli settlements has been delayed again.

The issue is highly sensitive as companies appearing in such a database could be targeted for boycotts or divestment aimed at stepping up pressure on Israel. Goods produced there include fruit, vegetables and wine.

Israel has assailed the database, whose creation was agreed by the U.N. Human Rights Council in March 2016, as a “blacklist.”

Bachelet said on Tuesday that despite progress made since launching the study, further work was needed due to the “novelty of the mandate and its legal, methodological and factual complexity.”

Her office aimed to finalize and issue the study “in coming months”, she said in a letter to the Human Rights Council.

The World Jewish Congress said its CEO, Robert Singer, had met Bachelet last month and urged the cancellation of the database.

The New York-headquartered group welcomed the delay to publication, saying in a statement the report should be put off for good as it would financially hurt thousands of employees, both Israeli and Palestinian, of targeted companies.  (Israel Hayom)

110 unpublished Einstein documents unveiled by Hebrew U

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Wednesday revealed a trove of 110 previously unpublished documents and letters written by Albert Einstein, ahead of the famed Jewish physicist’s 140th birthday which will be marked next week.

The newly unveiled handwritten documents were donated to the university’s archive by the Crown Goodman family, private collectors based in the United States. They include various work documents, a previously unpublished annex to a 1930 academic article on gravitation and electromagnetism, and a 1935 letter to his son, Hans Albert.

The letter was written while Hans Albert was living in Zurich, Switzerland, with his mother Mileva Maric and his mentally ill brother Eduard.

The letter begins with Albert Einstein apologizing for not answering a previous message because he was “so much in the claws of the mathematical devil that I don’t get around to any personal writing at all, because I am chasing after hopeless goals that my head is good for nothing of a contemplative nature.”

The letter included a passage that Hebrew University researchers believe to be denouncing psychoanalysis founder Sigmund Freud as a fraud. Eduard Einstein — referred to as “Tetel” in his father’s letters — “greatly admired” Freud, the researchers said, and could have been treated by him at the time.

Einstein said in the letter that he wouldn’t be willing to pay for “Tetel’s crazy house of treatment,” adding that “I am almost positive that the thing with the Viennese doctor is a simple swindle, and I am very surprised that no one in Zurich is preventing your mother from falling for it and so to ruin her financial position even further.”

In the same letter, written four years before the start of World War II, Einstein talks about his fear of war in Europe due to “German bandits.”

“I believe that even in Germany things are slowly starting to change,” he wrote. “Let’s just hope we won’t have a Europe war first. The German armament must be extremely dangerous; but the rest of Europe is now starting to finally take the thing seriously, especially the English. If they would have come down hard a year and a half ago, it would have been better and easier.” (the Times of Israel)

Chief Rabbinate admits using DNA tests to help determine Jewish status

Chief Rabbi David Lau has admitted for the first time that the Chief Rabbinate and the state Rabbinical Courts use DNA testing in certain circumstances to help determine whether a person is Jewish.

The admission is likely to generate outrage among mainstream religious-Zionist and Modern Orthodox groups, given that Jewish law does not recognize the validity of DNA testing to prove Jewishness.

Yisrael Beytenu Party leader Avigdor Liberman denounced Lau’s statement, saying the chief rabbi was admitting to institutional discrimination, and pointed out that those who are recommended to do a DNA test have little choice but to consent, if they want to be considered Jewish by the rabbinate to marry in the Jewish state.

Lau made his comments following remarks by Shas leader Arye Deri on Tuesday night, when he said at a political campaign rally that DNA testing was in use for the purposes of Jewish status determination, but then quickly denied that this was the case.

Lau’s comments appear to contradict Deri’s retraction.

ITIM, a religious services NGO, says it has seen approximately 20 cases in recent months where the rabbinical courts have requested DNA testing for individuals seeking to prove they are Jewish, mostly for the purposes of registering for marriage.

In a recent case dealt with by ITIM, an individual who was engaged to be married was required to undergo the Jewish clarification process carried out by the Rabbinical Courts and their Jewish status investigators, a very common process.

But immediate members of the individual’s nuclear family had previously received approval of their Jewish status through one of the state Rabbinical Courts.

Another Rabbinical Court dealing with the individual in question insisted that they take a DNA test to prove their Jewish status and without it would not approve their marriage registration request, ITIM said.

There are more than 400,000 Israeli citizens from the former Soviet Union who are not Jewish according to Jewish law. Additionally, the more than 700,000 Jewish citizens from the former Soviet Union routinely have their Jewish status challenged when seeking religious services through the Chief Rabbinate and the Rabbinical Courts.

In a statement to the press on Tuesday, Lau said that “in a small number of cases, it happens sometimes that someone claiming to be Jewish does not have the documentation to verify his claim, or alternatively there is a contradiction between his claims and what is discovered about him.

“In such an instance, the Rabbinical Court is likely, only to help the applicant, to offer to him to do a DNA test to back his claims,” the chief rabbi continued. “We would never force someone to do this though. And it should be emphasized that a DNA test is not used to determine Jewish status in accordance with Jewish law and only to assist in the clarification [process].”

ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber, who is Orthodox, rejected Lau’s claims that no one is “forced” to do a DNA test, pointing out that the only way for Jews to get married in Israel is through the Chief Rabbinate, and that should someone be asked to undergo a DNA test without which their Jewish status cannot be upheld, this was indeed a form of coercion.

According to Farber there are a small number of DNA tests that try to identify a “Jewish gene,” but he described their veracity as “somewhat specious.”

Lau also noted that in some cases, Rabbinical Court investigators suspect that an individual or the individual’s parents or grandparents were adopted, calling into question their Jewish status.

In such cases, the Rabbinical Courts also request DNA tests at times “to help prove” Jewish lineage.

Farber noted that at least some of the Rabbinical Court investigators have a policy of raising suspicion that someone may have been adopted if they were born more than five years after their parents married, a policy that would bring into question the Jewish status of large numbers of Jewish citizens of the State of Israel.

“The Chief Rabbinate and the Rabbinical Courts are using technology rather than Jewish law to determine Jewishness, and this is a slippery slope which will create different classes of Jews, something which Jewish law completely opposes,” said Farber. “Lau insists that people are falsifying their Jewish status, but would be well advised to deal responsibly with Jewish peoplehood instead of dismissing Jews who don’t look or act like he does.”

Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz, CEO of the Hashgacha Pratit organization, which runs an Orthodox marriage service outside of the Chief Rabbinate called Chuppot, denounced the use of DNA testing, describing it as racist.

“The Chief Rabbinate is dividing and fracturing Israeli society. Sending olim for DNA testing is another step in turning the ‘inquiry’ of Judaism into the prosecution of Judaism, and in the blurring of lines between halachic due diligence and what is experienced by couples as something embarrassing and insulting, akin to a criminal investigation,” said Leibowitz.

“The truth must be told – the Chief Rabbinate is trying to disguise separationism and racism with halachic arguments that are unreasonable and not required. The chief rabbis are invited to visit us at Chuppot in order to learn how to clarify the status of Judaism without disrespecting people.”

Liberman said that Lau’s statement amounted to an admission that the State of Israel discriminates against immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

“From the perspective of the rabbinic establishment, the Judaism of this great community, which all agree has made a great contribution to Israeli society, is automatically suspect,” said Liberman.

He also rejected Lau’s claim that the rabbinate does not force individuals to take DNA tests, “since in practice [the rabbinate] refuses to register as Jewish someone who does not ‘willingly’” consent to the test. (Jerusalem Post)

Israelis’ obsession with generals

The Blue and White Party includes a disproportionate amount of ex security officials and although Israel is not Latin America, the military still wields too much power in local politics. The electorate ought to be more wary of the enchantment of the uniform.

by Yaron London             Ynet News


In their speeches during the launch of their party, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid obeyed the rule put forward by Eugene McCarthy, the American senator who failed several times in his attempts to be elected president: “It is dangerous for a national candidate to say things that people might remember.”

Indeed, none of those speeches will be remembered, but the picture taken will surely be engraved in our memory: four strong men, three generals and one journalist, challenge the prime minister because of the friction he has caused among the population. How will the four heal a deeply divided public? They believe that their ability stems from their very personality. But it will not suffice to heal a sociological crisis that Netanyahu did not create, although he is good at exploiting it.

In addition to the three army commanders, 30 of the leading candidates on their list include a number of others who have served in senior positions in the security forces: generals, two police dep. inspectors and the deputy head of the Mossad. If so, no less than half of the leading candidates of the Blue and White Party are “security experts,” but do we need so many?

Of course we don’t. Military officers, as senior as they may be, are not necessarily security experts. They are experts in managing an organization that aims to defeat the enemy on the battlefield, but this ability is only one of the components that politicians are responsible for. The “amazing three” and their accompanying group of career security men and women have yet to prove that they possess the qualities required of national leaders. They have not even revealed their positions on critical issues and I would not be surprised if behind the facade there is merely a block of malleable clay.

What does their political success say about Israeli society? The intuitive association is of Latin America. Since their liberation from European rulers, generals and admirals have controlled most of the countries of the continent, and even when they did not openly rule, they have strongly influenced the government.

One of the reasons for this is the perception of the military as responsible for uniting a fragile nation. Ostensibly, the military is a neutral body from an ethnic and class perspective. The name of the party, Blue and White, is not coincidental: the national flag is the wedding canopy under which the leaders tie the knot with the nation’s citizens.

True, Israeli democracy, flawed as it may be, is not like the regimes of South America, and its military is not like their militaries. The elections are not a sham, the army obeys the political echelon, and a military coup is highly unlikely. The similarity is that the military establishment is much too important a player in the political system.

Generations of Finance Ministry officials will testify that the heads of the army have too much power in determining the size of the defense budget and the salaries of its members. It is reasonable to assume that a government, many of whose ministers were members of the defense establishment until recently, would tend to comply with the demands of their heirs in the command; although it is possible that their in-depth knowledge of the organization’s affairs will allow the new politicians to better scrutinize and reject excessive demands. I am inclined to the first assumption.

It is clear that the attractiveness of senior military personnel stems from the feeling that their long service in uniform proves their patriotism and that the fate of the country is more important to them than their own good. They lay in ambushes, languished in the mud, exposed their chests to the enemy’s bullets, and rarely saw their families while most of the population was at home. Their associates and subordinates were drawn from across the national spectrum and they therefore represent the overall Israeliness.

But people change quickly. Senior officers who move into the business world behave like businessmen, honest or crooks, and military personnel who move into the political world behave like politicians, with integrity or lack of integrity. The electorate is advised to be wary of the enchantment of the uniform.

Future conflicts will bring ‘widespread missile fire on Israel,’ cautions former IAF chief

Iran has hundreds of ballistic missiles in its arsenal, while its proxy, Hezbollah, has an estimated 130,000 projectiles.

by Yaacov Lappin          JNS


All of Israel’s future conflicts will see major enemy fire on the civilian home front, meaning that air defense is more crucial than ever, a former Israel Air Force chief has told JNS following the start of an Israeli-American joint exercise.

In recent days, the Israel Defense Forces and the U.S. military’s European Command (EUCOM) announced that for the first time, the United States has brought over its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to Israel.

The unprecedented move is part of a drill testing the ability of American forces to quickly arrive in Israel and help the IDF protect the country from incoming ballistic-missile attacks. The exercise could be seen as a signal to Iran and its proxies of Washington’s commitment to help Israel defend its air space in the event of a future war.

Iran has hundreds of ballistic missiles in its arsenal, while its proxy, Hezbollah, has an estimated 130,000 projectiles, including long-range rockets and missiles that can strike any point in Israel.

Maj. Gen. (ret.) Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, who commanded the IAF from 1996 to 2000, told JNS that “from here on out, in any combat scenario, whether it is local or regional, there will be widespread use of rockets and missiles [by the enemy]. Even if the IDF conducts a highly successful offensive strategy, this will not be sufficient to suitably protect the fighting forces, and it especially will not suitably protect the home front. Hence, there is no choice but to combine between offense and active defense at the same time.”

Ben-Eliyahu assessed that future significant wars would involve “the formation of coalitions between countries,” and that this required their militaries to practice working together on air defenses.

Mounting a joint defense requires close coordination and an ability to integrate several defensive systems, he explained.

“Therefore, it is not enough to hold joint drills as we have seen in the past, in which the coordination is limited to cooperation between planes in the air,” said Ben-Eliyahu.

One of the key goals of the exercise is to integrate THAAD with Israel’s own air-defense systems, including the Arrow 3 system that intercepts ballistic missiles in space, the Arrow 2 system for upper atmosphere interceptions, David’s Sling for a range of intermediate-range threats and the Iron Dome short to medium-range air-defense system.

This integration of systems should become a full combat doctrine, Ben-Eliyahu argued, allowing American air-defense units and Israel’s Air Defense Array to work together at all levels.

Ben-Eliyahu said that in light of the Trump administration’s recent policy of withdrawing armed forces from the Middle East, “it is comfortable for it to fill the vacuum by exhibiting a defensive, rather than offensive presence.”

Like Israel’s Arrow 3, The THAAD system can send its interceptors into space to collide with and destroy ballistic missiles. It can also hit them inside the atmosphere.

IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters this week that the purpose of the exercise is to drill the America’s “rapid deployment across the globe and to enhance cooperation between the IAF and U.S. air defense systems.”

He added that the “deployment emphasizes the U.S.’s commitment to the defense of Israel.”

Last month, the IDF and U.S. military’s EUCOM held the joint Juniper Falcon exercise, testing their ability to work together.

“We are working in cooperation with our U.S. counterparts to strengthen our ability to defend Israeli air space,” confirmed Conricus.

The latest drill is “an opportunity to practice the integration of advanced American air-defense systems into the IAF Air Defense Array. Needless to say, we are grateful for this exercise. The IDF stands ready to protect the air space against threats near and far,” he stated.

Conricus stressed that the exercise is defensive and was planned ahead of time. The United States flew in personnel and equipment from Texas and Italy to Israel, including more than 200 soldiers and officers. The full THAAD system, including its radar and launchers, arrived at an Israeli airbase in southern Israel before being transported on the ground for deployment to an undisclosed location in the south of the country.

Last year, the IDF and U.S. held the biannual Juniper Cobra ballistic-missile defense exercise, which simulated threats, but did not see the arrival of THAAD.

Conricus said past exercises did not include the kind of actual tactical cooperation between soldiers, airmen and marines that is currently taking place, affirming that “we are going to … ensure our readiness for the future.”