July 20, 2018

Israel passes Jewish state law, enshrining ‘national home of the Jewish people’

The Knesset overnight Wednesday-Thursday passed into law the contentious nation-state bill that for the first time enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” in its quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.

Lawmakers approved the bill in its second and third readings overnight, with 62 voting in favor, 55 opposed and two abstaining, after hours of heated debate in the Knesset chamber.

Similar to a constitution, the Basic Laws underpin Israel’s legal system and are more difficult to repeal than regular laws. The nation-state bill, proponents say, puts Jewish values and democratic values on equal footing. Critics, however, say the law effectively discriminates against Israel’s Arabs and other minority communities.

The law also declares that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, sets the Hebrew calendar as the official calendar of the state, and recognizes Independence Day, days of remembrance and Jewish holidays. One clause of the bill downgrades the Arabic language from official to “special” standing, but also cryptically stipulates that “this clause does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.” Read the full text of the law here.

Upon its passage, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the new law as “a pivotal moment in the annals of Zionism and the State of Israel.”

He said: “We enshrined in law the basic principle of our existence. Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, that respects the individual rights of all its citizens. This is our state — the Jewish state. In recent years there have been some who have attempted to put this in doubt, to undercut the core of our being. Today we made it law: This is our nation, language and flag.”

The most furious protests during the debate came from Arab lawmakers.

Joint (Arab) List MK Jamal Zahalka ripped a printed text of the bill to shreds from the podium.

“I declare with astonishment and sorrow the death of democracy… The funeral will take place today in the plenum,” his fellow party member Ahmad Tibi said in an Arabic statement.

Earlier on Wednesday night, Likud MK Amir Ohana, who chaired the committee that hammered out the bill, hailed the imminent passage of the law as a “defining moment in the history of the State of Israel, the one and only state of the Jewish people.”

He called the law “historic,” and said it received the most serious legislative treatment of all of Israel’s Basic Laws, having been debated and revised for over a year.

On Sunday, Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett reached an agreement to cut a controversial clause, which allowed the state to “authorize a community composed of people having the same faith and nationality to maintain the exclusive character of that community,” and replace it with a new clause celebrating “Jewish settlement” in Israel in general terms.

Lawmakers amended the bill accordingly just hours before the final authorization, removing the clause sanctioning housing discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or religion.

Some of the last-minute changes to the bill came after politicians, legal advisers and others warned that several of its clauses were discriminatory and could cast a dark shadow over Israel in the international arena.

President Reuven Rivlin, whose position is generally considered to be symbolic, expressed concerns about the now-amended clause in a rare intervention in Israeli politics last week. In a letter to lawmakers, Rivlin warned the legislation in its previous form “could harm the Jewish people worldwide and in Israel, and could even be used as a weapon by our enemies.”

Outgoing Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon had also raised opposition to the earlier text.

Judaism is already mentioned throughout the country’s laws and religious authorities control many aspects of life, including marriage. But the 11 existing Basic Laws deal mostly with state institutions like the Knesset, the courts, and the presidency, while Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty defines Israel’s democratic character.

First proposed in 2011 by Avi Dichter, then an opposition Knesset member with the centrist Kadima party and now a prominent Likud MK, the bill has seen numerous rewrites and parallel proposals.

Netanyahu enthusiastically threw his support behind the proposal, and had vowed for years that it would ultimately be passed into law.



Zuckerberg clarifies statements on treatment of fake news

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg clarifies his stance pertaining to Holocaust deniers after getting some blowback on social media.

Speaking with Recode’s Kara Swisher, Zuckerberg, who is Jewish, says in an interview published Wednesday that posts denying the Holocaust took place would not be removed automatically. Zuckerberg says he thinks that there are things “that different people get wrong,” and that he doesn’t think they are “intentionally” getting it wrong.

At this point, Swisher cuts in and said that in the case of Holocaust deniers, it may be intentionally wrong.

Zuckerberg responds by saying that “It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent.”

The portion of the interview was about hate speech and its potential impact in regions of strife led to an outcry online, and Zuckerberg followed with an email to Swisher attempting to expand on what he had said.

“I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that,” Zuckerberg write in an email, which was published by Recode.

The goal of Facebook is not to prevent someone from saying something untrue, he said, but to stop fake news from spreading across the social network.

If something is deemed to be fake, he said, it might remain on the site, but it would be pushed down in the news feed so fewer people would see it.



Syria rebels agree to surrender zone bordering Golan – monitor

Syrian rebels have agreed with Russia, which supports the government regime, to the negotiated surrender of a sensitive southwestern zone bordering the Israeli Golan Heights, a monitor said Thursday.

Quneitra is a thin, crescent-shaped province that lies along the buffer zone with the Israeli Golan Heights to the west.

Rebels have held most of the province and the buffer zone for years but would hand over their territory as part of the surrender deal, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“The deal provides for a ceasefire, the handover of heavy and medium weapons, and the return of government institutions to the area,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

Syrian police forces would take over current opposition territory in the buffer zone, he told AFP.

Those that refuse the terms of the agreement would be granted safe passage to opposition territory in northern Syria, he added.

A member of the rebel delegation to the talks confirmed to AFP that a deal had been reached for government forces to enter the buffer zone but said it was unclear when it would be implemented.

State news agency SANA said it had preliminary information on a deal for the army to return to its pre-2011 positions in the area, but did not provide more details.

The deal, according to the Observatory, does not include Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist-led alliance that holds territory straddling the provinces of Quneitra and neighboring Daraa.

Israel is reportedly in talks with Russia for arrangements in the border area to return to demarcation lines drawn up in 1974 following the Yom Kippur War the year before. Those arrangements include two separation lines with a no man’s land between them and a UN patrolled buffer zone.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he and US President Donald Trump agreed on securing Israel’s border with Syria in accordance with the 1974 plan deal when the two men met in Helsinki on Monday.

When terrorist forces are wiped out in south and west Syria, Putin said, “the situation on the Golan Heights must be restored to what it was after the 1974 agreement, which set out the terms for the disengagement of forces between Israel and Syria.”

Putin, speaking at a joint press conference with the US leader following their private meeting, said this would “restore quiet to the Golan Height, bring a more peaceful relationship between Syria and Israel, and also provide security to the state of Israel.”

Both the United States and Israel are also worried about Iran’s growing military presence in Syria, where it has provided crucial aid to Assad’s forces. Russia, another key backer of Assad, has reportedly agreed to remove Iranian troops from the border region but allow them to remain in other parts of Syria.

Israel has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran, or its Shiite proxies, to establish a permanent presence in postwar Syria that could threaten the Jewish state.

Russia has warned it was unrealistic to expect Iran to fully withdraw from the country, but there have been signs of an emerging compromise between Moscow and Jerusalem on the issue. Senior Israeli officials say Russia is working to prevent Iran from entrenching its military along Israel’s northern border with Syria, according to Hebrew media reports.



Orban: anti-semitism rising in western Europe, declining in eastern Europe

Anti-semitism in western Europe is on the rise, while it is declining in eastern Europe, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Thursday morning before meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem as part of his Israel trip.

Orban added that he is willing to work together with Israel in the struggle against antisemitism which, he said, includes harsh statements against Israel.

“I want to tell you that in Hungary there is no tolerance for antisemitism, and all Jews in Hungary are protected by the government,” he emphasized. “We are proud that in Hungary those who declare themselves Jews and live a Jewish lifestyle can feel secure.”

Orban also noted that that the Hungarian government has done a great deal to build Jewish culture in the country, including refurbishing synagogues, preserving cemeteries and investing in education.

Orban’s comments come against the background of accusations that his right wing, anti-immigrant policies, together with his sharp criticism of Hungarian-born Jewish financier George Soros, has opened the gates to antisemitism in Hungary.

The Hungarian PM was also blasted last year praising as an “exceptional statesman” Miklos Horthy, the Hungarian leader during World War II when 600,000 of the country’s 800,000 Jews were murdered by the Nazis – with the help of Hungarian accomplices – in the period between March 1944 to January 1945.

The Hungarian leader on Thursday lauded the “excellent” relations between Israel and Hungary which, he said, where due to the excellent personal relations he has with Netanyahu. Both countries, he explained, have “patriotic leaders,” and a “Hungarian patriot and a Jewish Israeli patriot can always find something in common.”

Orban elaborated that he and Netanyahu see the challenges facing the world in the 21st century in similar ways. “There is full agreement between us that security is the most important thing, and that each nation has the right to defend its citizens, and our obligation is to give our citizens a sense of security.”

Orban, who is staunchly opposed to the refugee influx into Europe, said that Europe is facing a dual crisis of refugees and terrorism, with terrorists taking advantage of the refugees entering into Europe. “We need to take steps against this phenomenon,” he expressed.

Netanyahu, in his remarks, said that he and Orban understand that the threat of radical Islam is “real” and can endanger “Europe, us and our Arab neighbors.”

Netanyahu also thanked Orban for his country’s support in international forums, something the Hungarian premier said will continue.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, meanwhile, slammed Netanyahu for not chastising Orban for his comments last year about Horthy, saying that Netanyahu – in hosting Orban – was harming Israel’s “national pride.”

Referring to the controversial declaration on the Holocaust Netanyahu agreed to with Poland earlier this month, Lapid said that after “surrendering to the Polish government and signing a shameless agreement that rewrites history and cleanses the Poles from murdering Jews in the Holocaust, Netanyahu is now continuing the same trend.”

According to Lapid, “Israel was established so Jews can stand tall in the world and not be afraid or be obsequious before antisemites. It is a disgrace that Netanyahu is bowing down before an eastern European leader who is busy deteriorating the democratic values in his country.”

Last year, when Netanyahu met with Orban in Budapest, Orban said that Hungary erred and sinned when it cooperated with the Nazis and did not protect its Jews during World War II.

“I told the prime minister that we are aware of the fact that we have quite a difficult chapter of history behind us. And I wanted to make it very clear to him that the government of Hungary, in a previous period, committed a mistake, even committed a sin when it did not protect the Jewish citizens of Hungary,” Orban said last year.

Every Hungarian government, he added, has the “obligation to protect and defend all of its citizens, regardless of their birth and origins. During World War II this was something – a requirement – that Hungary did not live up to, both morally or in other ways. And this is a sin because we decided back then, instead of protecting the Jewish community, to collaborate with the Nazis.”



Nikki Haley: UNHRC’s agenda 7 is ‘directed against Israel’s existence’

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s controversial Agenda Item 7 is designed to undermine Israel’s existence, United States Ambassador Nikki Haley told The Heritage Foundation in Washington on Wednesday.

She spoke about her country’s withdrawal from the council after it failed to sway the 47-member body to undergo serious reform measures to prevent human rights abusers from hijacking its agenda.

Haley said that the UNHRC’s continued biased treatment of Israel is symptomatic of the group’s overall problem and pledged that the US would continue to work from the outside to reform the human rights body.

Prior to leaving the council, the US had unsuccessfully tried to eliminate Agenda Item 7, which mandates that the UNHRC must debate alleged Israeli human rights abuses at each season.

“This is the permanent part of the Human Rights Council agenda that is devoted exclusively to Israel,” Haley told the Heritage Foundation

“No other country – not Iran, not Syria, not North Korea – has an agenda item devoted solely to it. Agenda Item 7 is not directed at anything Israel does. It is directed at the very existence of Israel. It is a blazing red siren signaling the Human Rights Council’s political corruption and moral bankruptcy,” she said.

Prior to leaving the council, the US met with more than 125 member states about reform measures, Haley said. “In the end, the United States couldn’t convince enough countries to stand up and declare that the Human Rights Council was no longer worthy of its name,” she said.

The “most obvious reason is that authoritarian regimes are happy with the status quo.” They seek council seats to protect their human rights efforts and those of their allies from scrutiny, she said.

Countries such as Russia, China, Cuba and Egypt “benefit from making a mockery of the Human Rights Council. So it’s no surprise that they openly resisted our efforts to reform it,” Haley said.

The US ambassador to the UN said that what was surprising was the pro-human rights countries and non-governmental groups that also refused to work with the US to reform the UNHRC, even as they acknowledged its flaws.

Those NGOs “came out publicly against our reforms telling other countries to vote against us. Groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch sided with Russia and China on a critical human rights issue,” Haley said.

They were afraid that countries who are known human rights abusers would push for retaliatory “hostile amendments” in the UN General Assembly, she said.

She charged that these NGOs also feared losing “institutional comforts” at the UN.

“They have big staffs and lots of relationships with the UN bureaucracy. Change is threatening to them,” Haley said.

Pro-human rights countries told the US privately that they too were “disgusted with countries like Cuba and Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and the Congo serving on the Council, as well as the constant attacks on Israel.”

“But after months of agreeing with us on all of the flaws of the Human Rights Council, they would not take a stand unless it was behind closed doors, and out of public view,” Haley said.

The US remains committed to fighting on behalf of human rights both globally and inside the UN, Haley said. “We just won’t do it inside a Council that consistently fails the cause of human rights.”

“Our withdrawal from the Human Rights Council does not mean that we give up our fight for reform. On the contrary, any country willing to work with us to reshape the Council need only ask,” she said. “Fixing the institutional flaws of the Human Rights Council was, is, and will remain one of the biggest priorities at the UN.”

She was particularly moved, she said, by the mothers and children she met in refugees camps in Ethiopia, Congo, Turkey and Jordan.

“As long as we have a voice, we must use it to advocate for these mothers and children. I will use my voice. Not just because I am a mother. Not just because I am an ambassador. But because I am an American. And America can no more abandon the cause of human rights than abandon itself,” Haley said.



Jewish Australian lawmaker’s office defaced with anti-Israel slogans

Vandals defaced the headquarters of a Jewish-Australian lawmaker with anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian slogans.

The glass doors of Michael Danby’s storefront headquarters in Melbourne on Saturday evening were plastered with stickers accusing the pro-Israel member of parliament of being “silent on apartheid” and “the mass murder of unarmed men, women [and] infants.” The group Justice for Palestine Brisbane posted a photo of the stickers along with the comment “now Federal Labor MP Michael Danby’s office gets plastered!”

It is unknown if the group was responsible for the damage.

“We deplore in the strongest terms this repugnant vandalism and anti-Semitic propaganda, which is a direct attack on Mr. Danby and on democracy, and which has absolutely no place in our nation,” Dvir Abramovich of the Australian Anti-Defamation Commission was quoted as saying by The Times of Israel. “The individuals who committed this cowardly act of hate have crossed the line. We call on leaders across the political spectrum to express their outrage at this vicious and obscene assault against an elected representative, and to say that such vile conduct is unacceptable in any circumstance.”

Danby came under criticism in October for using taxpayer money to pay for ads criticizing alleged anti-Israel bias by the state-owned Australian Broadcasting Corp. Danby justified the use of taxpayers’ money to make them aware of the government-funded ABC’s bias.

He said the leader of the Labor Party, Bill Shorten, made the point when the two met “that ads weren’t the most subtle way of communicating the message.”



The future of medicine is being formulated in Israel

Over the last week, national health services in the UK are trying to find solutions for prohibitive and largely ineffective medical treatments. These health services are under such great pressure to become more streamlined and effective that there have been recent demonstrations around the world to demand change in the way we access treatment and undergo medical procedures.

As in many other areas, the answer could come from Israel.

At the beginning of the 21st century, medicine is becoming more predictive, preventative and, above all, personalized. The saying “one size fits all,” was almost a mantra throughout the history of medicine, but is now falling into relative irrelevance and inappropriateness thanks to a burgeoning personalized medicine industry – and one of its epicenters is the State of Israel.

The terms ‘stratified,’ ‘personalized’ and ‘precision’ medicine all refer to the grouping of patients based on risk of disease or response to therapy, using diagnostic tests or techniques.

This approach provides an opportunity for patients and healthcare providers to benefit from more targeted and effective treatments, potentially delivering more healthcare gains and improved efficiency for the healthcare system, while offering industry an expanded market for specialized treatments and the opportunity to benefit from the incremental value delivered by more effective products.

Personalized medicine is essential to the development of methods for early, precise diagnosis of serious diseases and the development of effective and less toxic treatments based on the specific genetic profile of patients, with the understanding that this profile has a significant and specific impact on their response to treatments and medications.

Although the field of Personalized Medicine is still relatively young, it is growing at an unbelievable pace both in research, academia and in the pharmaceutical industry.