Posts Tagged ‘Jewish state’

Despair Is From the Devil

March 31, 2018


Despite all the trouble, never before in history has the Jewish state flourished the way it does today, nor has it been as secure as it is now

.Soldiers at the Passover Seder in Ashkelon
Soldiers at the Passover Seder in AshkelonRay Scally

The main headline in Yedioth Ahronoth last Tuesday was: “The country is in grave condition.” This frightening diagnosis summarizes the opinion of six former Mossad heads: Zvi Zamir, Nahum Admoni, Efraim Halevy, Shabtai Shavit, Dani Yatom and Tamir Pardo.

According to Zamir, “the country is sick”; Pardo believes “we’re getting lost”; Shavit says that “as intelligence people, our most important ability is forecasting the future.” And the future – according to the prophetic abilities of these six observers of the House of Israel – is gloomy and depressing. Yatom, for example, envisions “the end of the Jewish state.”

The sickness of corruption, my dear and honorable Zamir, is indeed a major malady, but it is curable. It is now being treated by quite good doctors – the police, the prosecution, the media and public opinion. Thanks to the healthy foundations of society – like you, for example – we always take courage and manage to remove from our midst (most of) what is contaminated and loathsome.

I dare say that even the sins in absorbing the immigrants from the lands of the East are to no small extent exaggerated. Dr. Zvi Zameret, who spent most of his adult life in outlying towns, proved a decade ago that the immigrants supposedly “dumped” from trucks in the desert in 1951, in Yeruham for example, were from Romania and Hungary. The first immigrants from Morocco arrived there only in 1955.

I of course share your pain and worry over corruption, especially in government, and share Admoni’s anguish – and, I believe, that of most people in Israel – over the rift in the nation. But his statement that this rift “is greater than at any other time” does not stand the test of history. I recommend that Admoni and you look at the newspapers (and books) from the time of the Altalena, the Wadi Salib and Yosseleh Shumacher affairs, the dark days of mutual incitement in the Oslo period. Most of these events, and many others, were harsh and difficult – quite incomparable to what is happening these days, and most of them happened when the government was from the other political camp. Then, for some reason, the moral and societal condition was not described as “grave.” In retrospect – justifiably not. The fact is that we overcame. Together.

Yes, despite all the trouble, never before in history has the Jewish state flourished the way it does today, nor has it been as secure as it is now. It is within my people, all of its far-flung parts, that I dwell. Moreover, during the week you described Israel’s situation as “grave,” the Bank of Israel published its annual report. “The economy of Israel is at its peak,” it stated.

Like many in Israel, you too are holding your breath in the face of what is about to happen (it’s the government’s fault of course) on Friday on the Gazan border. Remember, please, the various petitions and other acts of persuasion in which you stated (including some of you who were then “in uniform”) that disengagement would put an end to bombardments from the Gazan border, and the area would become Singapore. Yes, your joining forces with a corrupt prime minister to uproot Jews from their communities is incontrovertible proof of shortsightedness. The hell in which the Gaza Strip’s Arab citizens and the Jewish inhabitants of the communities near the border with Gaza have been living for the past 13 years is, largely, the outcome of your ability – then and now – to “predict the future.”

Not only haste, but also despair, gentleman, with such great credit to your name (truly!), is from the devil. A happy – and encouraging – holiday to you and the whole House of Israel.


Israel’s Self-Inflicted Wounds

March 19, 2018


New mobile homes being installed in Amichai in February. Credit  Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As the state of Israel approaches its 70th anniversary, I am filled with pride as I watch the vulnerable Jewish state of my childhood evolve into the strong and prosperous nation it is today.

As president of the World Jewish Congress, I believe that Israel is central to every Jew’s identity, and I feel it is my second home. Yet today I fear for the future of the nation I love.

True, the Israeli Army is stronger than any other army in the Middle East. And yes, Israel’s economic prowess is world renowned: In China, India and Silicon Valley, Israel’s technology, innovation and entrepreneurship are venerated.

But the Jewish democratic state faces two grave threats that I believe could endanger its very existence.

The first threat is the possible demise of the two-state solution. I am conservative and a Republican, and I have supported the Likud party since the 1980s. But the reality is that 13 million people live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. And almost half of them are Palestinian.

If current trends continue, Israel will face a stark choice: Grant Palestinians full rights and cease being a Jewish state or rescind their rights and cease being a democracy.

To avoid these unacceptable outcomes, the only path forward is the two-state solution.

President Trump and his team are wholly committed to Middle East peace. Arab states such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are now closer to Israel than they have ever been, and contrary to news media reports, senior Palestinian leaders are, they have personally told me, ready to begin direct negotiations immediately.

But some Israelis and Palestinians are pushing initiatives that threaten to derail this opportunity.

Palestinian incitement and intransigence are destructive. But so, too, are annexation plans, pushed by those on the right, and extensive Jewish settlement-building beyond the separation line. Over the last few years, settlements in the West Bank on land that in any deal is likely to become part of a Palestinian state, have continued to grow and expand. Such blinkered Israeli policies are creating an irreversible one-state reality.

The second, two-prong threat is Israel’s capitulation to religious extremists and the growing disaffection of the Jewish diaspora. Most Jews outside of Israel are not accepted in the eyes of the Israeli ultra-Orthodox, who control ritual life and holy places in the state. Seven million of the eight million Jews living in America, Europe, South America, Africa and Australia are Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or secular. Many of them have come to feel, particularly over the last few years, that the nation that they have supported politically, financially and spiritually is turning its back on them.

By submitting to the pressures exerted by a minority in Israel, the Jewish state is alienating a large segment of the Jewish people. The crisis is especially pronounced among the younger generation, which is predominantly secular. An increasing number of Jewish millennials — particularly in the United States — are distancing themselves from Israel because its policies contradict their values. The results are unsurprising: assimilation, alienation and a severe erosion of the global Jewish community’s affinity for the Jewish homeland.

Over the last decade I have visited Jewish communities in over 40 countries. Members in every one of them expressed to me their concern and anxiety about Israel’s future and its relationship to diaspora Jewry.

Many non-Orthodox Jews, myself included, feel that the spread of state-enforced religiosity in Israel is turning a modern, liberal nation into a semi-theocratic one. A vast majority of Jews around the world do not accept the exclusion of women in certain religious practices, strict conversion laws or the ban of egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall. They are bewildered by the impression that Israel is abandoning the humanistic vision of Theodor Herzl and taking on a character that does not suit its own core values or the spirit of the 21st century.

The leadership of the Jewish world always honors the choices made by the Israeli voter and acts in concert with Israel’s democratically elected government. I’m also keenly aware that Israelis are on the front lines, making sacrifices and risking their own lives every day so that Jews worldwide will survive and thrive. I count myself forever in their debt.

But sometimes loyalty requires a friend to speak out and express an inconvenient truth. And the truth is that the specter of a one-state solution and the growing rift between Israel and the diaspora are endangering the future of the country I love so dearly.

We are at a crossroads. The choices that Israel makes in the coming years will determine the destiny of our one and only Jewish state — and the continued unity of our cherished people.

We must change course. We must push for a two-state solution and find common ground among ourselves so that we can ensure the success of our beloved nation.

Justice Minister: Israel Must Keep Jewish Majority Even at the Expense of Human Rights

February 13, 2018

Minister Ayelet Shaked addressed the proposed nation-state law, contending that Israel as a Jewish state must administer equal civil but not national rights

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in the Knesset, December 27, 2017.
Justice Minister Shaked in the Knesset last month, calling for death penalty for terrorists.Olivier Fitoussi

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said Monday that if not for the fence erected some years ago on the Egyptian border, “We would be seeing here a kind of creeping conquest from Africa.” The fence effectively stopped asylum-seekers from Sudan and Eritrea from entering the country.

In a speech to the Congress on Judaism and Democracy, Shaked also said, “I think that ‘Judaizing the Galilee’ is not an offensive term. We used to talk like that. In recent years we’ve stopped talking like that. I think it’s legitimate without violating the full rights of the Arab residents of Israel.

The justice minister made the remarks in a wide-ranging speech on the controversy over the Jewish nation-state bill.

She further said, “There is place to maintain a Jewish majority even at the price of violation of rights.” She added, however, that maintaining a Jewish majority in Israel and acting democratically “must be parallel and one must not outweigh the other.”

Regarding the nation-state bill, Shaked said, “I was disturbed at both the position of the state and the reasoning of the justices. The state did not defend the law for national demographic reasons, it claimed only security reasons.” Shaked told the conference that “the state should say that there is place to maintain the Jewish majority even if it violates rights.”

Shaked said she believed Judaism and democracy are values that can coexist. “From a constitutional point of view there is an advantage to democracy and it must be balanced and the Supreme Court should be given another constitutional tool that will also give power to Judaism.”

The purpose of the nation-state bill, she said, was to prevent rulings interpreting the Entry to Israel Law, or a ruling like the one in the Ka’adan case in 2000 that banned discrimination against an Arab family who wanted to move to a small Jewish community that sought to bar them.

“In our laws there are universal values, rights, already enshrined in a very serious way. But the national and the Jewish values are not enshrined. Over the past 20 years, there has been more of a focus on rulings over universal values and less over the Jewish character of the state. This tool [the nation state bill] is a tool that we want to give the court for the future,” said the justice minister.

In response to a question from the interviewer, TV journalist Dana Weiss, on whether the court could not consider the Jewish character of the state without a nation-state law, she said: “It can, but it’s as if you’d say that without the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty the court won’t care about dignity and human rights. It’s different when you have a constitutional tool.”

Shaked: Court could take ‘equality’ very far

On the coalition’s intent to keep the word “equality” out of the nation-state bill, Shaked said: “Israel is a Jewish state. It isn’t a state of all its nations. That is, equal rights to all citizens but not equal national rights.” Shaked said the word “equality” was very general and the court could take it “very far,” adding, “There are places where the character of the State of Israel as a Jewish state must be maintained and this sometimes comes at the expense of equality.”

Shaked said the nation-state bill did not deal with the issue of who is a Jew. “Everyone has his own Judaism. In the nation-state bill, when it talks about a Jew, it means the nationality.” Shaked then referred to the Ka’adan ruling and said that if such a case were to come up again or “the argument over whether it’s all right for a Jewish community to, by definition, be only Jewish, I want the answer to be ‘yes, it’s all right.’”

The question of the legality of the Family Unification Law, which prevents the unification of families where one of the couple is Palestinian and one is Arab Israeli, was twice decided at the time by the Supreme Court by one vote, with six justices supporting it and five dissenting. The justices gave precedence to security considerations over the importance of the right to maintain a family, in a case that split the Supreme Court.

In Shaked’s speeches, she often quotes the words of the late Justice Mishael Chesin, who was in the majority opinion that approved the law, in which he said Israel needed to awaken from the dream that it was a utopian state.

Israelis seek compensation after Saudi chess snub

December 26, 2017


© AFP/File | The Israel Chess Federation has accused Saudi Arabia of misleading World Chess Federation (FIDE) to enable hosting the tournament

JERUSALEM (AFP) – The Israel Chess Federation said Tuesday it is seeking compensation from the organisers of a tournament in Saudi Arabia, after the Gulf state refused to issue visas for its players.The King Salman World Rapid and Blitz Championships is the first international chess competition held in Saudi Arabia, perceived as a display of the conservative kingdom’s growing openness to the West.

The regulations of the organisers, the World Chess Federation (FIDE), stipulate that no player should be refused the opportunity to participate, but players from three states — Iran, Qatar, and Israel, had initially not received visas.

On Monday, FIDE announced it had “secured visas for Qatar and Iran,” with officials from the world chess body failing to reach an agreement with the Saudis to allow the Israelis to enter the kingdom for the games.

A Saudi official said Tuesday the kingdom was “maintaining its policy” on Israel.

Riyadh “has historically not had diplomatic ties with a specific country,” spokeswoman for the Saudi embassy in the US Fatimah Baeshen wrote on Twitter, without naming Israel.

The Israel Chess Federation accused Saudi Arabia of misleading FIDE to enable hosting the tournament, which begins on Tuesday.

“All their previous statements were to the contrary,” spokesman Lior Aizenberg said.

Aizenberg said the Israelis were seeking financial compensation from FIDE for the seven players who “were professionally and financially damaged” by the saga.

In addition, they wanted assurances that FIDE would never repeat such conduct, and “every country hosting an international event will commit to hosting Israeli chess players, even if it’s an Arab state.”

Finally, the Israel Chess Federation was demanding FIDE competitions set to take place in Saudi over the next two years “be immediately cancelled,” Aizenberg said in a statement.

FIDE did not respond to requests for comment.

Israel and Saudi Arabia have no official relations.

The presence of Israelis in Saudi Arabia would have been highly unusual, and comes as officials from the Jewish state increasingly hint at covert ties with the Sunni-ruled kingdom.

Israel and Saudi Arabia share a common fear of Iran’s attempts to increase its influence in the region.

Israeli athletes often face difficulties when competing around the Middle East due to hostility toward their country.



Why Saudi Arabia and Iran are bitter rivals

November 18, 2017
  • 18 November 2017
Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (L) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (L) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. REUTERS/EPA

Saudi Arabia and Iran are at loggerheads. They have long been rivals, but it’s all recently got a lot more tense. Here’s why.

How come Saudi Arabia and Iran don’t get along?

Saudi Arabia and Iran – two powerful neighbours – are locked in a fierce struggle for regional dominance.

The decades-old feud between them is exacerbated by religious differences. They each follow one of the two main sects in Islam – Iran is largely Shia Muslim, while Saudi Arabia sees itself as the leading Sunni Muslim power.

Map showing Sunni distribution in Middle East

This religious schism is reflected in the wider map of the Middle East, where other countries have Sunni or Shia majorities, some of whom look towards Iran or Saudi Arabia for support or guidance.

Historically Saudi Arabia, a monarchy and home to the birthplace of Islam, saw itself as the leader of the Muslim world. However this was challenged in 1979 by the Islamic revolution in Iran which created a new type of state in the region – a kind of theocracy – that had an explicit goal of exporting this model beyond its own borders.

Map showing Shia distribution in Middle East

In the past 15 years in particular, the differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been sharpened by a series of events.

The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq overthrew Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Arab who had been a major Iranian adversary. This removed a crucial military counter-weight to Iranian influence in Iraq, which has been rising since then.


Fast-forward to 2011 and uprisings across the Arab world caused political instability throughout the region. Iran and Saudi Arabia exploited these upheavals to expand their influence, notably in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, further heightening mutual suspicions.

Iran’s critics say it is intent on establishing itself or its proxies across the region, and achieve control of a land corridor stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean.

How have things suddenly got worse?

The strategic rivalry is heating up because Iran is in many ways winning the regional struggle.

In Syria, Iranian (and Russian) support for President Bashar al-Assad has largely routed rebel group groups backed by Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is trying desperately to contain rising Iranian influence and the militaristic adventurism of the kingdom’s young and impulsive Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – the country’s de facto ruler – is exacerbating regional tensions.

Five things about Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

He is waging a war against rebels in Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbour, Yemen, in part to stem perceived Iranian influence there, but after nearly three years this is proving a costly gamble.

Meanwhile in Lebanon, many observers believe the Saudis put pressure on the prime minister to resign in order to destabilise a country where Iran’s ally, Shia militia group Hezbollah, leads a politically powerful bloc and controls a huge, heavily armed fighting force.

There are also external forces at play. Saudi Arabia has been emboldened by support from the Trump administration while Israel, which sees Iran as a mortal threat, is in a sense “backing” the Saudi effort to contain Iran.

Abdul Fattah al-Sisi (left), Salman bin Adbulaziz (centre) and Donald Trump put their hands on an illuminated globe, Riyadh (21/05/17)

The Jewish state is fearful of the encroachment of pro-Iranian fighters in Syria ever closer to its border. EPA photo

Israel and Saudi Arabia were the two countries most resolutely opposed to the 2015 international agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear programme, insisting that it did not go far enough to roll back any chance of Iran obtaining the bomb.

Who are their regional allies?

Broadly speaking the strategic map of the Middle East reflects the Shia-Sunni divide.

Map showing who supports whom

In the pro-Saudi camp are the other major Sunni actors in the Gulf – the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain, as well as Egypt and Jordan.

In the Iranian camp is Syria’s government, which has been strongly backed by Iran, and where pro-Iranian Shia militia groups, including the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, have played a prominent role in fighting predominantly Sunni rebel groups.

The Shia-dominated Iraqi government is also a close ally of Iran, though paradoxically it also retains a close relationship with Washington on whom it has depended for help in the struggle against so-called Islamic State.

How is the Saudi-Iranian rivalry being played out?

This is in many ways a regional equivalent of the Cold War, which pitted the US against the Soviet Union in a tense military standoff for many years.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are not directly fighting but they are engaged in a variety of proxy wars around the region.

Syria is an obvious example while in Yemen Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of supplying ballistic missiles fired at Saudi territory by the Shia Houthi rebel movement – an incident which heightened the war of words between the two countries.

Houthi rebels in Sanaa (file photo)
Yemen is one of a number of battlegrounds fuelling Iranian-Saudi tensions. Reuters photo

But having become bogged down in Yemen and essentially defeated in Syria, Saudi Arabia seems to have its eye on Lebanon as the next proxy battlefield.

Lebanon risks being tipped into Syria-like chaos but few analysts see Saudi interests prevailing there.

Conflict in Lebanon could so easily draw in Israel in opposition to Hezbollah and this could lead to a third Israel-Lebanon war far more devastating than any of the previous encounters.

Some cynics wonder if the Saudi crown prince’s game plan is to trigger a war between Israel and Hezbollah and deliver a heavy blow to the group this way!

Are we heading towards a direct war between Saudi Arabia and Iran?

So far Tehran and Riyadh have fought via proxies. Neither is really geared up for a direct war with the other but one successful rocket attack on the Saudi capital from Yemen could upset the apple cart.

Will Saudi Arabia go to war with Iran?

One obvious area where they could come into direct conflict is in the waters of the Gulf, where they face each other across a maritime border.

But here too fighting could risk a much broader conflict. For the US and other Western powers, freedom of navigation in the Gulf is essential and any conflict that sought to block the waterway – vital for international shipping and oil transportation – could easily draw in US naval and air forces.

Graphic showing military balance between Saudi Arabia and Iran

For a long time the US and its allies have seen Iran as a destabilising force in the Middle East. The Saudi leadership increasingly sees Iran as an existential threat and the crown prince seems willing to take whatever action he sees necessary, wherever he deems it necessary, to confront Tehran’s rising influence.

The danger is that Saudi Arabia’s new activism is fast making it a further source of volatility in the region.

Killing of the Innocents — Many have lost sight of “moral obligations”

October 5, 2017

By Charles Gardner

Israel Today

As the earth is ravaged by an unprecedented series of natural disasters, accompanied with threats of war and terror, world leaders have been presented with a heavenly vision.

In challenging the “fake history” of those who deny Jewish links with Israel’s holiest sites, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu has sounded a clarion call for the United Nations to acknowledge the divine authority of the world’s greatest book – the Bible.

Three times he referenced the Bible in a powerful speech to the UN in which he claimed that Israel’s right to exist and prosper as a nation rooted in God’s Word.

Referring to July’s declaration of Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs as a Palestinian World Heritage site, he said you won’t read the true facts of its history in the latest UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) report.

“But you can read about it in a somewhat weightier publication – it’s called the Bible,” he mocked, adding that it was “a great read”, that he read it every week, and that they could purchase it from Amazon.

How refreshing that at least one nation’s leader takes his stand on the Bible, though it is entirely appropriate as Bibi leads the people who gave it to us! As well as a sacred book written by divine authority, it is also an historical record which validates Israel’s claim to the Promised Land they now occupy.

But in making such a divine claim for the territory, Bibi must also seek to apply the Law – that is, the Lord’s teaching on ethical matters – to his domain.

He is right in saying that the words of the prophet Isaiah – that God called Israel to be a light to the nations – is being fulfilled as the tiny Jewish state becomes a rising power. But their call “to bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49.6) must mean more than hi-tech innovation and being good neighbours through their search-and-rescue teams sent to disaster areas and medics tending to wounded Syrians on their northern border, though we praise God for all that.

Israel is nevertheless rife with immorality – and I am thinking particularly about abortion, a killing of innocents that echoes previous turning points in Israel’s (and the world’s) history at the time of Moses and of Jesus. I appreciate that its practice in modern Israel is less prevalent than in most parts of the West, but some 650,000 children have nevertheless been denied life in a country that gave God’s law to the world, including the commandment ‘Thou shall not kill’.

In the UK, shockingly, nine million babies have been murdered in the 50 years since the passing of the Abortion Act, originally designed to prevent backstreet abortions and meant to apply only where a mother’s life was threatened. Now it is virtually a case of abortion on demand as further calls are made for relaxing the law. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists president Lesley Regan believes terminations should be the same as any other medical procedure, requiring consent from only one doctor, just as if they were having a bunion removed. But the fact that 650 doctors have signed a petition against it is very encouraging.

Paradoxically, the killing of innocents has accompanied the greatest rescues mankind has witnessed. Moses survived the edict of the Egyptian Pharaoh calling for the slaughter of all Hebrew babies to lead his people out of slavery to the Promised Land. Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah, survived King Herod’s massacre of infants – ironically by fleeing with his family to Egypt in response to God’s warning – to bring salvation to the world through his sacrificial death on a Roman cross outside Jerusalem.

Moses also received the Law of God; now Jesus writes the Law on our hearts (Ezekiel 36.26, Jeremiah 31.33). Moses was hidden among the bulrushes of the Nile and became the saviour of his people; Jesus was raised in the backwaters of Nazareth but became the Saviour of the world as he brought true freedom to all who would trust in his redeeming blood (John 8.36).

My colleague, Clifford Denton, tells me of a conference held in Israel in 1996 at which Messianic leaders gathered to discuss the Jewish roots of Christianity. “Unknown to me until afterwards,” he said, “it turned out that the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) was voting on an abortion law at the very same time that we were discussing Torah (the Law of Moses). In fact the Knesset was struck by lightning at that very time.”

With innocents around the world being butchered as never before, the Messiah is about to be revealed to the nations. Jesus indicated that his coming again would be as in the days of Noah (Luke 17.26) when the world was full of violence (Genesis 6.13). Terrorism stalks the planet as unbelievable cruelty mars even supposedly enlightened societies while nuclear holocausts have become a distinct possibility, with both North Korea and Iran making ominous noises. And all this while nations reel under the ferocious effects of earthquakes and hurricanes – also spoken of as signs of the Messiah’s imminent return (Luke 21.25-28), especially when they follow in rapid succession and increasing severity, as on a woman with labour pains. (Matthew 24.8)

Of the three major Jewish feasts, Jesus has fulfilled both Passover and Shavuot (Pentecost). Many Bible commentators believe he will soon fulfill the Feast of Tabernacles (shortly to be celebrated throughout the Jewish world) when he returns to reign from Jerusalem. The One who protects his people, and provides for them, as he did in the wilderness so long ago, will finally bring in the harvest of those who believe in him as he comes to ‘tabernacle’ (or live/make his dwelling) among us. (See John 1.14)

The day is coming – very soon, it seems – when the killing of the innocents will give way to the glorious return of the Son of Man “coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21.27) to avenge every wrong as he passes judgment on a cruel world.

Israel – you are truly called to be a light to the nations, and indeed you have impressed so far with many marvellous inventions. But the brightest light is the fulfillment of the Law through Yeshua HaMashiach, who brings hope, not despair; and life, not death.

Netanyahu under fire after reneging on Western Wall deal

June 26, 2017


© AFP / by Mike Smith | Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men (L) and women (R) pray in different sections of the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on February 2, 2016

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israel’s shelving of a deal to allow mixed-gender prayers at the Western Wall echoed far beyond religion Monday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused of abandoning reform efforts for political gain.

Netanyahu’s cabinet voted Sunday to back out of the hard-won deal, provoking a flood of criticism and warnings it could damage Israel’s relationship with the United States’ influential Jewish community.

That followed pressure from ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties who are part of Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition and follow a strict interpretation of religious rules.

Such parties have often played a kingmaker role in Israeli politics and have opposed years of efforts by more liberal Jews to win equal rights for women at the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism.

Women and men currently pray in separate areas at the site in Jerusalem’s Old City, where religious affairs are overseen by Israel’s ultra-Orthodox establishment.

A compromise reached more than a year ago would have created a third space near the wall, open to both women and men.

Sunday’s cabinet vote froze the deal — effectively cancelling it — despite the government having earlier endorsed it.

In a sign of the tensions the decision provoked, the Jewish Agency, a quasi-governmental organisation that helped mediate the deal, heavily criticised the move and cancelled an event with Netanyahu scheduled for Monday evening in response.

Yair Lapid, an opposition figure and leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, said the decision meant Israel was “the only democracy in the world without equality for Jews.”

“Did Prime Minister Netanyahu and his ministers decide to cancel the framework because they thought it was the right thing for the people of Israel?” Lapid said on his Facebook page.

“Of course not. They did it because the only thing which motivates them is political pressure.”

Netanyahu had not publicly commented on the decision.

His coalition, seen as the most right-wing in Israel’s history, holds 66 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, or parliament.

Ultra-Orthodox parties control 13 of the coalition’s seats. Some 10 percent of Israel’s population are considered ultra-Orthodox.

– ‘One Western Wall’ –

The Western Wall, located in Jerusalem’s Old City, is venerated by Jews as a remnant of a wall supporting the Second Temple complex, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

It is the holiest site where Jews are allowed to pray.

Israel’s cabinet initially approved the mixed prayer plan in January 2016 after careful negotiations.

It was however never implemented, as ultra-Orthodox parties, under pressure from their supporters, moved to block it.

A case being examined by Israel’s top court has put pressure on ultra-Orthodox parties to move to have the deal revoked.

The supreme court is expected to rule soon on a petition filed by more liberal religious movements to force the government to implement the agreement and create the mixed prayer space.

Sunday’s move to back out of the deal prompted anger among Jewish movements in the United States, home to more than five million Jews, most of whom are not Orthodox.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to say ‘no’ to his previous ‘yes’ is an unconscionable insult to the majority of world Jewry,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the US-based Union for Reform Judaism, said in a statement.

It is a sensitive issue for Israel, which relies on the United States as its most important ally, providing it with strong diplomatic support and more than $3 billion (2.7 billion euros) per year in defence aid.

Many Israelis see support from Jewish communities in the United States and worldwide as essential.

“We cannot let narrow-minded politicking threaten the unity of the Jewish people,” Yohanan Plesner, president of the respected Israel Democracy Institute think tank, said in a statement.

“If we expect Jews abroad to support the state of Israel, we must also ensure their religious equality. Israel’s national security is at stake.”

But for Israel’s ultra-Orthodox establishment, changes such as mixed prayer betray Jewish tradition.

“There was and shall remain one Western Wall to one people,” Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party told army radio.

“I won’t accept attempts to impose a different Jewish law or Torah.”

by Mike Smith

Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner meets with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to help broker Middle East peace

June 22, 2017

Mr Kushner holds separate talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

By Alexandra Wilts Washington DC
The Independent


White House senior adviser Jared Kushner AP

Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top White House adviser, has met Israeli and Palestinian leaders with the aim of helping revive a US effort for a peace deal.

A former real estate developer with little experience in international diplomacy, Mr Kushner met the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before travelling to Ramallah, located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, for a late-night meeting with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Jared Kushner with Mahmoud Abbas (Photo: Getty Images)

Mr Netanyahu warmly greeted Mr Kushner with a smile and hug. “This is an opportunity to pursue our common goals of security, prosperity and peace,” Mr Netanyahu said. “The President sends his best regards and it’s an honour to be here with you,” Mr Kushner replied.

Mr Kushner’s trip follows the President’s visit to the region last month, when Mr Trump also had discussions with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Appearing at a press conference with Mr Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Mr Trump declared that the Palestinians are “ready to reach for peace”.

Mr Kushner played a key part in planning Mr Trump’s stops in Israel, Saudi Arabia and Rome during the President’s tour abroad. The 36-year-old also appears to be taking on a more public role in his father-in-law’s administration, giving his first public remarks as a White House adviser this week.

The President has tasked Mr Kushner with the ambitious goal of laying the groundwork for what he calls the “ultimate deal,” but significant obstacles remain

This month marked the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Mideast war — a seminal event in which Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians claim these territories for their future independent state. Mr Netanyahu opposes a return to the 1967 lines and also rejects any division of Jerusalem. The eastern part of the city, which the Palestinians claim as their capital, is home to sensitive Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites.

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The White House appeared to play down expectations for a breakthrough ahead of the visit, saying that “forging a historic peace agreement will take time” and that Mr Kushner and envoy envoy Jason Greenblatt will likely make “many visits” to the region.

For now, the United States is expected to pressure each side to make goodwill gestures in hopes of improving the overall climate.

Mr Greenblatt landed in Israel on Monday for preliminary talks in both Jerusalem and Ramallah, and will also remain for follow-up discussions after Mr Kushner has left.

“Part of it is to figure out how to make incremental change that results in a lasting peace,” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said on Monday. “Part of this is really to utilise the trust that has been built up, and not have these negotiations out in public. But I think that they had a very successful visit when the President was over there, and they’re going to continue to build on that.”

For more than 20 years, the US has pushed for a “two-state solution”, meaning an independent Palestinian state living side-by-side and at peace with Israel.

But during a February meeting with Mr Netanyahu in Washington DC, Mr Trump declared that he was not fixed on two states saying, “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like”.

Discussions over a peace deal will mean putting pressure on Israel to restrain its construction of settlements on occupied lands sought by the Palestinians. It also could mean working with Israel to take new steps to help improve the struggling Palestinian economy, such as easing restrictions to allow more development of West Bank lands.

However, hours before Mr Kushner’s arrival in Israel for his 20-hour vist, Mr Netanyahu announced the beginning of construction on a new Jewish settlement in the West Bank, despite the White House’s position that “further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace”. In the past, the Palestinians have called for a stop to settlement building before any peace negotiations can occur.

“This is the way Mr Netanyahu is meeting Trump’s envoys,” said Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian official told Reuters. “The real question here is will the administration of Trump tell Israel that it is enough and they have to stop immediately all settlement activities, or they will accept this Israeli provocation?”

Mr Netanyahu had vowed to compensate the residents of Amona with a new settlement, after their previous illegally built outpost was dismantled in February under orders from the Supreme Court.

As for the Palestinians, they are under pressure to halt what Israel sees as incitement to violence in their official media, speeches and social media.

Israel has also demanded that the Palestinians stop making welfare payments to families of militants who are either imprisoned or were killed while committing attacks on Israelis. Israel says the so-called “Martyrs’ Fund” provides an incentive for Palestinian violence.

After arriving early on Wednesday Mr Kushner paid a condolence visit to the grieving family of a young female Israeli police officer who was killed by Palestinian attackers last weekend in Jerusalem. Mr Kushner said Mr Trump asked him to personally convey the condolences of the American people.

Reuters contributed to this report 

Can a Corrupt, Dysfunctional, Anti-Semitic Palestinaian Authority Leadership Be a Partner?

May 7, 2017
MAY 7, 2017 17:28


Speaking at the JPost annual summit, Energy and Water Resources Minister Yuval Steinitz laid out two conditions that should be met before Israeli-Palestinian peace talks resume.

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Yuval Steinitz at the JPost Annual Conference 2017 . (photo credit:SIVAN FARAG)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political ally, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz called Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas “anti-Semitic” in an address at Sunday’s Jerusalem Post Conference in New York.

Steinitz said Trump’s upcoming visit to Jerusalem was a golden opportunity to strengthen the alliance of Israel and the US. But he warned Trump against relying on Abbas.

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Donald Trump welcomes Mahmoud Abbas to White House in Washington , May 3, 2017. (photo credit:REUTERS)

“An anti-Semitic leader is no partner for peace,” Steinitz said. “We always hope to achieve peace and security with our neighbors. But I question whether Abbas can be trusted as a partner to achieve peace and security. Can a corrupt, dysfunctional, anti-Semitic Palestinian Authority become a partner to achieve peace?”

Abbas must terminate anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiment in the Palestinian Authority’s education system, Steinitz stressed.

As the situation stands today, Steinitz continued, Palestinian children are taught that Jews are “horrible creatures” and “should be gotten rid of.”

Steinitz laid out two conditions that should be met before Israeli-Palestinian peace talks resume.  Firstly, that the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiment in the PA education system be terminated, and secondly that Gaza must be demilitarized.

“We got a commitment in Oslo that Gaza would be totally demilitarized,” Steinitz said. “If he is incapable of demilitarizing Gaza, how can we trust him as a partner? It’s a necessary condition to moving the diplomatic process forward. We are always ready to promote peace and negotiate it and give it a try, but I am not optimistic if those conditions are not met.”

During his speech, the minister also turned to Israeli achievements in natural resources, saying for the first time in history, Israel will export natural gas to Western Europe.

Western Europe was dependent on Arab natural gas supply in the past, he said, noting that the move was important for Israel economically and strategically.


Middle East: Before Netanyahu talks, Steinmeier vows to back Israel

May 7, 2017

On his first trip to Israel as Germany’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier has expressed his country’s “unfathomable guilt.” He had visited Israel during his three years as foreign minister.

Bundespräsident Steinmeier in Israel (picture-alliance/dpa/B. von Jutrczenka)

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier paid a solemn visit to Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial on Sunday.”We Germans have burdened ourselves with unfathomable guilt,” Steinmeier said on Sunday, adding that commemorating the Holocaust served as a reminder of his country’s “pain, sadness and shame.” “As part of taking responsibility for what happened, we stand firmly alongside Israel and are working together for our common future.”

Earlier on Sunday, Steinmeier met the writer David Grossman in Jerusalem. The author, whose son died in Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon’s Hezbollah, has emerged as a frequent critic of Israel’s settlement policy.

Steinmeier, who had a beer with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Saturday, planned to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sunday and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at his Ramallah headquarters in the occupied West Bank on Monday.

The Netanyahu-Gabriel affair

The former foreign minister has his work cut out for him after a diplomatic dispute between Germany and Israel escalated in April. Last month, Netanyahu called off an April 25 meeting with Steinmeier’s replacement as foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, after the German foreign minister refused to cancel talks with groups critical of Israel’s government. Gabriel met members of Breaking the Silence, an Israeli veterans group that highlights military abuses in the Palestinian territories, and B’Tselem, which works on a number of rights issues and strongly opposes the expansion of settlements.

Netanyahu’s right-wing government has complained that such groups unfairly tarnish Israel’s image and provide support to the country’s critics. Steinmeier has not scheduled meetings with either group.

After the snub, Gabriel told journalists in Jerusalem that he regretted the prime minister’s decision. However, Gabriel added, he did not think that the events would necessarily have a negative impact on relations between the Germany and Israel.

Such disputes regularly arise between visiting officials and Israel’s government. In February, Israel reprimanded Belgium’s ambassador after Prime Minister Charles Michel met members of both B’Tselem and Breaking The Silence during a visit.

About 700,000 people live on more than 100 legally dubious Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Golan Heights. In December, the UN Security Council urged Israel to cease its expansion of settlements, which could reduce the amount of land that Palestinians can claim for their eventual state. German officials have repeatedly criticized Israeli settlements.

In a 2015 visit to the Gaza Strip as foreign minister, Steinmeier described living conditions as “catastrophic” a year after a Israeli military assault on the Palestinian territory left about 1,500 civilians dead and thousands more wounded and destroyed much of the local infrastructure.