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Latest Israel News – 22nd February

Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in historic visit to Australia

Benjamin Netanyahu has arrived in Sydney, marking the first time in history that a sitting Israeli Prime Minister has visited Australia.

Mr Netanyahu’s plane touched down at Sydney Airport just after 6.30am. The Israeli leader and his wife Sara’s delegation were greeted on the tarmac by local officials including Minister for International Development Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro, Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Martin Parkinson, and the Australian Ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma.

With several armed Israeli security personnel nearby, Mr Netanyahu spoke briefly to the media before heading to the CBD. He will be in Sydney for four days, and will hold formal talks with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull later this morning.

To coincide with the arrival of the Israeli leader, Mr Turnbull today launched a blistering broadside at the United Nations, accusing it of bias against Israel, noting the UN had adopted 20 resolutions critical of Israel between 2014 and 2015 when only one resolution was issued in response to the Syrian war.

“My government will not support one-sided resolutions criticising Israel of the kind recently adopted by the UN Security Council and we deplore the boycott campaigns designed to de-legitimise the Jewish state,” he wrote in an opinion piece published by The Australian today.

Mr Netanyahu will also meet Labor leader Bill Shorten this week. The Opposition Leader yesterday reaffirmed his support for s two-state solution.

Several other Labor luminaries, though, including ex-Prime Minister Bob Hawke, and former foreign ministers Bob Carr and Gareth Evans, have recently called for a change in ALP foreign policy to recognise a state of Palestine.             (the Australian)

Earlier report:

Netanyahu heads to Australia amid calls by former leaders to recognize ‘Palestine’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrapped up a 36-hour visit to Singapore on Tuesday that focused on economic and security issues, and headed to Sydney where he is expected to hear much more – at least from opposition politicians and the media – about the Palestinian issue.

While the visit to Singapore was decidedly low-profile — his meeting with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong only appeared on page nine of The Straits Times, Singapore’s main English newspaper — a number of anti-Netanyahu protests are expected during the prime minister’s stay in Australia. Singapore, according to diplomatic officials, did not want to overly highlight the visit so as not to antagonize neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia, Muslim-majority states not keen on Singapore’s close ties to Israel.

Netanyahu is scheduled to arrive in Sydney on Wednesday morning, and leave back for Israel on Sunday. This will be the first ever visit by an Israeli prime minister to Australia, considered one of Israel’s closest friends in the world. Though president Chaim Herzog visited in 1986 and Moshe Katzav in 2005, not even a foreign minister has visited since Yigal Allon in 1975.

The prime minister will have a full day of meetings soon after he arrives on Wednesday, including separate meetings with Governor-General Peter Cosgrove and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. He is also scheduled to hold a press conference with Turnbull, attend a luncheon with his Australian counterpart and Australian and Israeli businessmen, and take part in an event with Turnbull and members of the local Jewish community at the Great Synagogue in Sydney.

On Thursday he is scheduled to meet again with Turnbull and other government ministers, and then visit the Moriah College Jewish day school. The next day he will meet Opposition leader Bill Shorten from the Labor Party.

In recent days several elders of the Labor Party, including former prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Bob Hawke, called for Australia to recognize a Palestinian state.

Rudd, in an interview in the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday, said, “My deepest fear is we are drifting towards the disintegration and death of an independent Palestinian state. This would be a tragedy for both the Palestinian and Israeli people,” he said.

“For Israel, the isolation of Palestine and the removal of the prospect of both land and statehood may well lead to the re-radicalisation of the Palestinian people,” he added. “I deeply fear the possibility of a third Intifada. And so, the time has come for Australia to join countries like Sweden and the Holy See in formally recognizing the Palestinian state.”

His words appeared to be a response to comments US President Donald Trump made last week during his meeting in Washington with Netanyahu, during which he said he could live with any solution – two states or one state – that the sides would agree to.

“It is now critical for Israel’s closest friends and allies to send a clarion clear message to both Tel Aviv and Washington that the abandonment of a two-state solution is unacceptable,” Rudd said.

Rudd’s comments, as well as similar calls by other party leaders, were blasted by Michael Danby,  a Jewish MP from Melbourne.

In an interview with Sky News on Tuesday, Danby asked where the ex-Labor heads were “when the terrible things that are happening in Tibet are discussed? They never raise their heads. ‘They want to try and provoke the Israeli prime minister and upset relations between him and the Labor Party prior to Netanyahu’s visit.”

Danby called Rudd and Hawke “heroes” who were “beating up on Israel while not discussing China’s oppression of the Tibetans and Uyghurs.

“I don’t think we should hyperventilate about this issue,” he said. “There are more important issues of foreign policies.”  (Jerusalem Post)

Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to see tightening of security ties

Counter-terrorism and cyber-­security are set to dominate this week’s visit to Australia by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with speculation mounting of a significant expansion of ­national security co-operation.

Mr Netanyahu, who arrives in Sydney tomorrow, will meet ­Malcolm Turnbull, Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove, Bill Shorten and NSW Premier ­Gladys Berejiklian during a four-day visit — the first by a sitting ­Israeli prime minister.

The Israeli government said Mr Netanyahu would sign ­agreements facilitating greater co-operation in research and development as well as air services, however there is an expectation the visit will go well beyond that. It is understood counter-terrorism, cyber-security and nat­ional security will be key themes of talks.

Mr Netanyahu is to fly out on Saturday night or Sunday and is expected to stay only in Sydney.

Security planning has been tight and details of the Prime Minister’s itinerary are tightly held.

But it is believed his personal protection team has been granted permission to carry firearms, meaning it will work with the Australian Federal Police and the NSW Police Force in providing security. Such ­arrangements are not unusual, however in this case negotiations have been made slightly more difficult by the fact Israeli and Australian authorities do not often work together.

Mr Turnbull, whose Sydney electorate of Wentworth is home to a large Jewish community, said there was a deep relationship between Australia and Israel, dating back to Israel’s foundation in 1948.

“The Prime Minister’s visit is an opportunity to not only reflect on our shared past, but to invigorate and further deepen the relationship for the benefit of our people,’’ Mr Turnbull said in a statement. “We will discuss expanding co-operation in cyber-­security, innovation and science, agritech, energy and resources, and the environment.’’

Mr Shorten said he would press Mr Netanyahu on the vexed issue of Israeli settlements. “I will make it clear to Mr Netanyahu that where settlement-building is an obstacle to two-state solution, it should be stopped. Full stop,’’ the Opposition Leader said.   (the Australian)

Hebron soldier sentenced to 18 months in prison, amid calls for immediate pardon

Israeli soldier Elor Azaria, convicted on manslaughter charges for shooting and killing an incapacitated terrorist in Hebron last March, was sentenced Tuesday to 18 months in prison, minus the nine days the spent in custody over the course of the legal proceedings. He was also demoted from sergeant to private.

Around 100 protesters went to the military court in the IDF’s Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv in a show of support for the soldier.

Military Court Judge Maya Heller read out the ruling, saying: “The standard punishment for manslaughter is 20 years in prison, to teach us about the gravity that the legislature attributes to the crime of manslaughter. But in the State of Israel, punishment is individual. … The defendant was drafted to the IDF in July 2014 as an infantryman in the Kfir Brigade; he successfully passed a paramedics’ course. The defendant has no disciplinary past.”

Heller described Azaria’s family history and situation, saying he had had a difficult time adjusting to life as a combat soldier, but he had not received any help for his distress from the military. She also mentioned his father’s testimony that he had suffered a stroke during the trial and that Azaria’s mother had lost weight due to their distress over their son’s legal proceedings.

Heller noted that the prosecution felt that Azaria had “taken advantage of the power that he had been given,” but she also recognized the complicated situation he was in, having treated a friend who was victim to the terrorist’s attack.

She said the prosecution was seeking minimal punishment, arguing that it was Azaria’s first operational event, and that he had suffered “symptoms of post-trauma” since the incident.

“The actions of the defendant damaged a number of social values,” Heller said. “The main protected value is the sanctity of life. … The expression of the great status of this value can be learned from the punishment determined for the crime of manslaughter. The terrorist did not pose a danger at that time, and so this [shooting] also damaged the value of the purity of arms. … Straying from the orders for opening fire can damage the values of the IDF and its morals. Violating the duty to safeguard the purity of arms can harm the State of Israel and its security efforts.”

Heller noted that the judges had been divided in determining a fair punishment for Azaria. The majority felt he should serve 18 to 48 months in prison, and the minority felt 30 to 60 months in prison was more appropriate.

“We chose to take into consideration the significant period of time in which he [Azaria] remained in open custody [during which he was confined to his base],” Heller said.

“We further considered the fact that during this period his commanders did not visit him. It was expected that they would get in touch with him.

“This is a young man for whom this is his first run-in with the legal authorities. It is a one-time failure of the defendant. The defendant was caused damage beyond the damages of the legal proceedings. The defendant and his family were the targets of serious threats. The consequences of a criminal record for the defendant must also be considered.”

However, “we were unanimously convinced that there are no considerations that justify a departure from the range of fair punishment,” Heller said. “The defendant’s failure to take responsibility justifies the harsher punishment.”

Immediately after the sentence was announced, Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) tweeted: “The security of the citizens of Israel depends on an immediate pardon for Elor Azaria, who was sent to protect us. The process was tainted from the start. Elor must not go to prison, because we’ll all pay the price for it.”

Construction Minister Yoav Gallant (Kulanu), a major general in the reserves and former GOC of the IDF’s Southern Command, contacted Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot to request that Azaria’s sentence be commuted.

“The Azaria affair has taken a heavy price on the army and on Israeli society. Given the time he has served in jail and for the sake of healing the breach between the factions of the people, we must also demonstrate common sense and a certain amount of mercy. I call upon the defense minister and the chief of staff to grant a pardon, today,” Gallant said.

Likud MK Oren Hazan, who has been a vocal supporter of Azaria since the affair began, tweeted: “Every day the soldier Elor Azaria is in prison is a stain on the IDF and the legal system. Instead of behaving courageously and listening to the public, the court preferred to adopt the agenda of a defense minister who went rogue and abandoned his post [referring to former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon], particularly in the Azaria affair. It was game of pre-determined targets.”

MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) said that “the sentencing in the Azaria trial needs to mark an end to this painful affair. We need to say ‘enough’ to the politicians who tried to stir up cheap populism on the backs of Elor and his family, while threatening the values of the IDF and the ability of its commanders to lead it.”

At the same time, the former director of Peace Now, Yariv Oppenheimer, writing on Twitter, calling the sentence “embarrassingly lenient.”

“It’s even more embarrassing that the conduct of the politicians who are still demanding a pardon for someone who shot a terrorist in the head because he felt like it. A country thirsty for blood and lusting for revenge,” Oppenheimer wrote.

Before the sentencing, the prosecution had asked to have Azaria sentenced to between three and five years in prison, in addition to the period he spent in open custody during legal proceedings, and to have him demoted.

Explaining why the prosecution was seeking a relatively lenient punishment, Military Prosecutor Nadav Weismann said the crime had not been premeditated and Azaria was responding after the terrorist had stabbed a comrade of his. However, Weismann noted that 11 minutes passed between the attack and the shooting.

The prosecution also said the situation in Hebron is complicated, and that Azaria was apparently a well-behaved and exemplary soldier until the shooting.

Azaria’s lawyers had sought to have him avoid serving any time at all in prison.   (Israel Hayom)

Israeli-Arab with ISIS ties planned Tel Aviv bus attack

Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) along with the police announced on Monday the recent arrest of an Israeli-Arab citizen on suspicion of planning a terror attack in Israel as well as contacting the Islamic State terror group in Syria.

According to the Shin Bet, 35-year-old Enes Haj Yahia, a resident of Taybeh was arrested following intelligence that he was promoting terror activities inside Israel. The suspect was also accused of being in contact with Islamic State militants and distributing material and military knowledge about the preparation of explosives.

Yahia is reported to have sworn allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed “Caliph” or leader of the jihadist group, and is said to have considered joining the group in Syria.

A statement released by the security agency stated that Yahia planned instead to set up a terror cell to carry out attacks in Israel, and even tried to recruit others. According to the Shin Bet, Yahia was asked by the group to carry out a terror attack on a bus in Tel Aviv and harm IDF soldiers, but the plan was never carried out.

ISIS video threatens Israel in January 2016

During investigations, Yahia was found to be a member of several online groups in which Islamic State activists distributed information about the production and assembly of explosive belts, and how to incorporate hazardous substances, including sarin gas, into the devices.

During his arrest, images of military materials as well as a “detailed guide of jihadist fighters” used by terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State were seized by security forces.

Charges were filed against Yahya on Monday by the Central District Attorney.

The Shin Bet sees support for the Islamic State as a “serious security threat to Israel and therefore uses every means at its disposal to prevent threats and bring those involved in this activity to justice,” the agency’s statement read.

Israel has so far largely avoided an attack by the Islamic State group, although several Israelis-Arabs have been arrested on suspicion of links with ISIS and plans to carry out attacks inspired by the Sunni extremist group.

Israeli security officials have said two Palestinians who shot dead four Israelis at Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market last June and the Israeli-Arab who killed three people in a  2016 New Year’s Day shooting spree in Tel Aviv, had all been inspired by the jihadist group.

In September, five Israeli-Arabs were sentenced to jail by an Israeli court for terms from 30 months to six years for seeking to join ISIS in Syria.

According to the Shin Bet, around 50 Israeli citizens have traveled to Syria or neighboring Iraq to fight with rebel groups including the Islamic State. Several are reported to have been killed and less than a 10 are estimated to have returned to Israel, either by their own accord or after being caught by Turkish authorities while trying to cross the border, leading to their deportation back to Israel.  (Jerusalem Post)

Minister close to Netanyahu insists the PM still backs two-state solution

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still committed to the two-state solution, as outlined in a 2009 Bar Ilan University speech, in which he publicly declared his support for that framework as the way to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It did not change since then. It’s still [the] valid policy of the prime minister of Israel and therefore the government of Israel,” Hanegbi told visiting Jewish American leaders in the Knesset, referring to Netanyahu’s address. “The principles of the Bar Ilan speech became more relevant today than at the time they were given. The Middle East is not the Middle East of 2009.”

Debate over Netanyahu’s position on the two-state solution was ignited after US President Donald Trump appeared to withdraw the US’s previous sole commitment for the plan in comments he made during a press conference, held with Netanyahu last week, in which Trump said the US would look at any solution the Israelis and Palestinians agreed on.

“I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” Trump said at their joint White House press conference before the two men sat down for talks. Trump’s comments appeared to buck two decades of US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that was based on the two-state solution, although the president’s UN envoy Nikki Haley said the next day that US “absolutely” supports the two-state solution.

Hanegbi interpreted Trump’s comment saying he will back one state or two states, whatever the parties seek, as no indication that the president is withdrawing US support for the two-state formula. Rather, Trump was emphasizing that he is unlike his predecessor, former US president Barack Obama, and was saying “‘Hey guys, I’m not going to impose anything on you,’” Hanegbi argued. He pointed to Haley’s subsequent reaffirmation of US support for the two-state solution to underline the point.

The regional cooperation minister said the Palestinian peace deal must be similar to the peace accords with Jordan and Egypt — hammered out by the sides through direct talks.

The Egypt peace deal is now “becoming more and more relevant to both countries,” he noted. The Jordan peace accord is “working, functioning, and more relevant more and more by the day,” he later added.

Hanegbi said Israel wants to see the Palestinians “come down from the tree they climbed” and return to the negotiation table.

The minister said there are several principles that Israel will never compromise on: the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, no “right of return” for Palestinian refugees, and an Israeli security presence in the Jordan Valley. Netanyahu, in the US last week, stressed the imperative for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and for Israel to maintain overall security control throughout the West Bank, as integral elements of any accord.

Hanegbi — who also received the communications portfolio on Monday, after Netanyahu temporarily relinquished the portfolio — said a bi-national, Israeli-Palestinian state is “out of the question.”

“One state will never happen. No Israeli leader will allow Israel to become a potentially Arab state in the future,” he said. No Israeli leader will “shatter the Jewish dream, the Zionist dream… This is out of the question,” he added.

Hanegbi asserted the status quo can continue for decades to come, but Israel does not seek such an outcome.

The status quo is “a tragedy, but it’s not our tragedy. It’s a Palestinian tragedy,” the minister said.

“We can accept another 50 years of stalemate,” he continued, but added that “we don’t want it.”

Hanegbi also praised Trump’s stance on the Iran nuclear deal, remarking that “we do see this agreement as jeopardizing Israel’s existence” if implemented without any changes.

When the deal expires, there will be an “empire with vicious ambitions that the world recognizes its nuclear capabilities and allows it to produce and enrich uranium without limitations,” Hanegbi said. Iran will then have “100 nuclear bombs really in no time.”

Israel is happy Trump “shares this view,” Hanegnbi told the visiting Jewish leaders, and vowed that “this is a fight that we are not going to give up.”

His comments came after earlier Monday Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman rejected Trump’s implication during his press conference with Netanyahu last week that a single state would be a viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, should the two sides agree to it.

Liberman said that Israel cannot annex the Palestinians living in the West Bank if it wants to remain a Jewish state.

He went on to invoke his long-held two-state plan under which some Israeli Arab towns would become part of a future Palestinian state.  (the Times of Israel)

‘Netanyahu’s political fears thwarted a regional peace deal’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fear of the right-wing flank within his own Likud party thwarted the potential for a regional peace deal last year, opposition leader Isaac Herzog said on Monday.

Herzog spoke the morning after Haaretz revealed that a four-way secret summit had taken place in Aqaba in February 2016, between Netanyahu, former US secretary of state John Kerry, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Herzog was not at the summit. But the center- left politician was brought up to speed on events, because in order to move a potential regional process forward in 2016, Netanyahu needed to bring Herzog’s Zionist Union party into the coalition.

For the Arab countries involved in the process and the international community as well, the placement of Herzog in the government was seen a sign that Netanyahu was serious about concluding a peace deal, Herzog explained.

Talks to create a national-unity government peaked in May, recalled Herzog, as he briefed American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem for the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations’ leadership mission to Israel. He spoke to them about the fledgling diplomatic process that might have changed the country and the region’s history.

At the last moment, Netanyahu widened his government with the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, handing its leader Avigdor Liberman the post of defense minister, Herzog said.

The talks broke down, he said, because “Netanyahu fled. He turned his back.”

“At the end he opted to go with Liberman, caving into inner pressure from his coalition, especially from [Bayit Yehudi party head] Naftali Bennett and his allies in the Likud, [Ministers Yariv] Levin, [Ze’ev] Elkin and others. He simply reneged on the basic understandings which we had,” said Herzog.

“These understandings had they been fulfilled, would have prevented the catastrophe of the UN Security Council vote [against settlements].

[They] would have prevented disturbing processes when it comes to the well being of democracy, when it comes to the strengthening of some of the more extreme elements of our society,” he added.

“History will judge Netanyahu on that failure, unfortunately,” he said.

“I was willing to risk my own seat and my own political career,” the opposition leader said.

A senior diplomatic official defended Netanyahu stating there were numerous inaccuracies in the Haaretz report, which like Herzog, claimed Netanyahu was largely responsible for the regional initiative not moving forward.

Herzog said the understanding he had reached with Netanyahu gave him the power to veto settlement construction. At the same time, Herzog said, he would have been tasked with convincing the international community to accept the concept of the settlement blocs.

Now, one year later, the idea of a regional peace process has been revived, Herzog said.

But it is not possible to do it in one shot, it must be done in stages, he added, as he put forward his own philosophy with regard to a renewed peace process for a two-state solution, within a larger regional framework. It would also include a regional summit, he said.

To move forward, both Israel and the Palestinians must reiterate their support for a two-state solution, Herzog said. The Palestinians must halt terrorism and incitement for a period of anywhere from two years to a decade, he added.

In exchange, the Palestinians would be given special civil authority over sections of Area C of the West Bank, with the ability to build new neighborhoods adjacent to existing Palestinian cities.

It’s presumed that this means new Palestinian neighborhoods in Area C, which is under Israeli military and civil control.

Israel would be able to build in and maintain the major settlement blocs such as Ma’aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel, Herzog said.

They “would be part and parcel of the state of Israel,” he said. In exchange, building in the isolated settlements would be frozen, he said.

The Jordan River would be Israel’s security border, stated Herzog, and Israel would complete construction of the security barrier.

The Palestinians would have a demilitarized state, with the IDF maintaining its ability to operate there, Herzog said.

There would be international recognition of the 1947 partition that recognized two states for two peoples, he said.

Herzog further urged for acceptance of the main guidelines of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.

That plan speaks of an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines with minor land swaps as well as a just resolution for Palestinian refugees.

“I am not running away or giving up on our huge emotional, historical and religious connections to Judea and Samaria,” said Herzog, adding that this territory “is the cradle of our creation as a nation.”

But, he said, in order to maintain Israel as an ethnic Jewish state, the country must separate from the Palestinians.

Israeli democracy is at risk, precisely because this has not happened, he said.

The statement US President Donald Trump made at the White House last week that one state could also be an acceptable solution struck a chord of fear in his heart, Herzog said.

“When I heard at the White House the fact that an idea of a one-state solution was mentioned as a possibility and the prime minister maneuvered in a lawyer-like rhetoric just to avoid saying the two-state solution idea, I felt uneasy to say the least.

“I felt that every Israeli should wake up in the morning sweating from the nightmare of Bosnia and Syria,” said Herzog as he warned that their violent history could one day be played out in Israel.

It is important, he said, not to abandon the idea of a two-state resolution to the conflict.

Speaking to the group at the Knesset later in the day, Likud Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told the group that he supported a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as he tried to understand what Trump had meant when he said he would accept either a two-state or one-state solution.

“The president said what he said. I guess the logic was, ‘Hey guys, I am not going to impose anything agreement on you. I am not going to say, like [former US president Barack] Obama, not one brick over the 1967 borders,’” Hanegbi said.

Former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro tweeted on Monday that the Trump administration should approach regional peacemaking to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with their eyes open.

“Building on common interests of Israel and Sunni Arab states has obvious opportunities, obvious benefits; to Israel, to [the] region [and] to the US.”

When Kerry pushed for that option, “The Palestinians were the most unenthusiastic party, fearing they would be bypassed and pressured to accept terms they deemed unacceptable,” he said.

The problem, he said, is that “everyone has to give something, but no one wants to jump first and be left hanging.”   (Jerusalem Post)

US Jewish leaders call on government to take decisive action against antisemitic attacks

US Jewish leader Malcolm Hoenlein on Tuesday called for international mobilization against antisemitism, as other prominent groups called on the US authorities to take action following the latest in a series of anti-Jewish actions across the country.

The latest string of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers on Monday coupled with the desecration of tombstones at a Jewish cemetery in the St. Louis area, provoked a flood of angry and concerned statements.

Hoenlein, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, called for the establishment of a world conference on antisemitism, similar to the international gatherings convened in Brussels in 1970 and 1976 to address the plight of Soviet Jews.

Stating that statistics on antisemitism indicate that the situation for Jews in Europe is even worse than in the US, Hoenlein —who is currently in Israel for the organization’s annual conference–called on Jerusalem to play a key role in enlisting international heads of state and other prominent world leaders to the initiative.

“A successful mobilization against anti-Semitism will strengthen the fight against all forms of bigotry,” he said.

US President Donald Trump was among those Hoelein said should join the effort. Trump has been subject to considerable criticism over his response — or lack thereof– to the recent uptick in antisemitism across the country.

American Jewish Committee (AJC) CEO David Harris told The Jerusalem Post that he has found the new administration’s response to the phenomenon “disappointing, to say the least.”

“We’ve only just reached the stage today — thankfully, if belatedly — of hearing President Trump acknowledge the issue and call it by its rightful name — antisemitism,” he said. For the first time since his inauguration, Trump on Tuesday broadly condemned antisemitism in response to Monday’s events.

“For reasons that escape me, until now it’s been about generic words like “hatred” and “intolerance,” or about the president defending himself against non-existent charges that he’s an antisemite,” Harris remarked. “It’s elementary: to combat a problem you first have to define it, and the definition of this particular problem is antisemitism, pure and simple. Then you need a robust plan of action. Let’s hope it will be forthcoming — and soon.”

Harris added that the organization strives to focus the government’s attention to the growing danger. “They have the resources to assess, monitor, and address the challenges far better than any non-governmental institution possibly can,” he stressed.

Joining the chorus of voices, the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) urged the US Attorney General to establish a special taskforce to apprehend the culprit or culprits behind the four waves of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers in the past five weeks, as well as for Trump to outline his Administration’s plan to combat surging anti-Semitism.

“The multipronged threats of antisemitism today demand concerted action. We look to President Trump to take a leadership role in addressing the problem of antisemitism and hate in America head-on in a speech at a time and place of his choosing,” said Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, Dean and Founder and Associate Dean of SWC.

Anti Defamation League CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt too appealed to political leaders “at all levels to speak out against such threats directed against Jewish institutions, to make it clear that such actions are unacceptable, and to pledge that they will work with law enforcement officials to ensure that those responsible will be apprehended and punished to the full extent of the law.”

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder echoed this, calling for a “strong and decisive reaction by the authorities at all political levels to combat it.”

The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect had a harsher response to the remarks made by Trump on Tuesday: “Mr. President, your too little, too late acknowledgement of antisemitism today is not enough,” a the group said in a statement posted to social media.

“The President’s sudden acknowledgement is a Band-Aid on the cancer of Antisemitism that has infected his own Administration,” said Steven Goldstein, Executive Director of the Center, branding Trumps’s comment “a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting antisemitism, yet day after day have refused to apologize and correct the record.”

“Make no mistake: The antisemitism coming out of this Administration is the worst we have ever seen from any Administration,” he continued. “The White House repeatedly refused to mention Jews in its Holocaust remembrance, and had the audacity to take offense when the world pointed out the ramifications of Holocaust denial. And it was only yesterday, President’s Day, that Jewish Community Centers across the nation received bomb threats, and the President said absolutely nothing. When President Trump responds to antisemitism proactively and in real time, and without pleas and pressure, that’s when we’ll be able to say this President has turned a corner. This is not that moment.”

The US administration was not the only government taking flack. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also been called out for remaining silent in the face of the deteriorating situation in the US.

MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union) told the Post that this situation in which the government remains silent against these acts is horrific. “Although the government usually stands next to the Jewish communities in the Diaspora after antisemitic incidents, this time it is perplexed and hesitates in its reaction.”

Shai believes that the Netanyahu-led government is doing so in order maintain the developing ties between them and the new Trump administration. He claims that they prefer to avoid being critical toward them and making moves that could damage the newly established relations.

“And even so,” Shai adds, “there is no justification to the indifference they demonstrate. The Israeli government should look after the entire world Jewry, including the United States.”     (Jerusalem Post)

Two sides to a conflict, with no end in sight

by Greg Sheridan                              The Australian


The Golan Heights lookout, a salient of high land controlled by Israel and jutting out into one of the southern most parts of Syria, is an unnerving place. It offers a deceptive view of green fields and rolling hills, but you can hear how effective the Syrian ceasefire really is.

In half an hour, there is rarely more than a few seconds between explosions, whether from bombs, mortars, artillery, or even small arms. Ceasefire or no, there’s a lot of fighting even here in the south of Syria, where the conflict has not been as intense as in Syrian cities such as Aleppo.

At the border lookout, two or three UN soldiers in blue berets scan the Syrian plains below with binoculars. Their job is to monitor and report incidents.

When he arrives in Australia tomorrow, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will want to talk mostly about security. People say he is obsessed with security. Spending some time on Israel’s borders helps explain why.

From the Syrian border, with powerful field glasses, it is possible to make out villages controlled by forces broadly loyal to the relatively moderate Free Syrian Army. Not far away is a village loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Yet another village is affiliated with a group loyal to Islamic State, and another to a group affiliated with al-Qa’ida. There are also Druze villages not associated with any of these groups.

The conflict in southern Syria is ideological, it is at times sectarian, it is about foreign influence and foreign fighters, and yet it is intensely local as well, with traditional leaders of each individual village being the most important.

The complexity of this maze of political and military forces around Israel’s borders extends to many different parts of the country. On the Lebanese border, I enter another lookout, this time inside the Mizgav Am Kibbutz, which has a boundary fence, and a few metres beyond is the border fence between Israel and Lebanon. The kibbutz has its own lookout at its highest point. Directly below, barely a few hundred metres into Lebanese territory, is a yellow Hezbollah flag. Hezbollah is now believed to possess tens of thousands of sophisticated missiles that could hit any part of Israel. If there were another conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, it would be on a huge scale and very fierce.

Even on one of Israel’s most stable borders, with Egypt in the south, there is, in the Sinai, a big presence affiliated to Islamic State. And then in Gaza there is Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

So directly on Israel’s borders there are Islamic State, al-Qa’ida, Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hezbollah.

The Golan Heights is a strange place to drive around. There are extensive minefields with big signs telling people to keep out. About 20,000 Jewish Israelis live here engaged mostly in agricultural pursuits, and 20,000 Druze villagers as well. Incongruously, there is an abundance of gum trees.

In the northern town of Zefat is the Sieff Hospital, a normal government hospital where in a small ward I meet four Syrian patients who suffered explosive injuries in the war. I can’t get past the first bed, where I meet a young man who has lost an arm, and perhaps part of both legs as well.

He is part of a program that has seen about 2600 Syrian explosives victims treated in Israeli hospitals. It started when the Israelis came upon seven Syrians near the border who had been injured in an explosion. The Israelis had a choice: leave them to die or treat them.

This evolved into a field hospital and then a more straightforward process of the army bringing them to the regular hospitals that service northern Israel. The doctors do everything they can to save limbs and save lives.

Two sides of this conflict. No end in sight. No wonder Netanyahu will talk about security.

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley: We Will Never Repeat the Terrible Mistake of Resolution 2334 Condemning Israel (U.S. Mission to the UN)

Following UN Security Council consultations on the Middle East on Feb. 16, U.S. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said:

The Security Council is supposed to discuss how to maintain international peace and security. But at our meeting on the Middle East, the discussion was not about Hizbullah’s illegal build-up of rockets in Lebanon. It was not about the money and weapons Iran provides to terrorists. It was not about how we defeat ISIS. It was not about how we hold Bashar al-Assad accountable for the slaughter of hundreds and thousands of civilians. No, instead, the meeting focused on criticizing Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East….I understand that’s how the Council has operated, month after month, for decades.

I’m here to say the United States will not turn a blind eye to this anymore. I am here to underscore the ironclad support of the United States for Israel. I’m here to emphasize the United States is determined to stand up to the UN’s anti-Israel bias. We will never repeat the terrible mistake of Resolution 2334 and allow one-sided Security Council resolutions to condemn Israel. Instead, we will push for action on the real threats we face in the Middle East.

We stand for peace. We support a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is negotiated directly between the two parties….The outrageously biased resolutions from the Security Council and the General Assembly only make peace harder to attain.

Incredibly, the UN Department of Political Affairs has an entire division devoted to Palestinian affairs. Imagine that. There is no division devoted to illegal missile launches from North Korea. There is no division devoted to the world’s number one state-sponsor of terror, Iran. The prejudiced approach to Israeli-Palestinian issues does the peace process no favors. And it bears no relationship to the reality of the world around us.

Israel exists in a region where others call for its complete destruction and in a world where anti-Semitism is on the rise. These are threats that we should discuss at the United Nations.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Singaporean Jewish Community at the Maghain Aboth Synagogue


Israelis try Vegemite

What do Israelis think about Vegemite? Watch as our Australian friend Pnina puts Australia’s popular spread to the test in Jerusalem. .