July 23, 2018

Netanyahu cheers Jewish state law as a ‘pivotal moment’ in Zionist history

Reactions to the Knesset’s passage overnight Wednesday of the new Jewish State law were predictably divided along party lines, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailing it as “a pivotal moment in the annals of Zionism and the State of Israel.”

Lawmakers approved the law, which enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” in the country’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws, in its second and third readings, with 62 voting in favor, 55 opposed and two abstaining, after hours of heated debate in the Knesset chamber.

While the coalition feted the passage of the law, members of the opposition decried it as nationalistic, divisive and a threat to democracy.

“We enshrined in law the basic principle of our existence,” said Netanyahu. “Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, which 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 law’s main proponent over the past few years, former Shin Bet head Avi Dichter, said it was a response to anyone in Israel who believes Jewish presence is temporary — referencing Arab MK Jamal Zahalka’s past claim that Arabs will outlast Jews in the country.

“All you can be is an equal minority, not an equal nationality,” Dichter said.

Dichter asserted, “Contrary to the disinformation and fake news that have flooded [the conversation], the Basic Law does not hurt Israel’s minority cultures.” He also claimed it does not detract from the status of the Arabic language.

One clause in the law downgrades Arabic from an official language to one of “special” standing, though it also says that “this clause does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.”

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein was also celebratory, saying “history” had been made in the plenum, and calling the new legislation “one of the most important laws ever to be passed by the Knesset.”

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin condemned the opposition to the law by the Zionist Union faction, and particularly the Labor party, its chief component. “Tell us honestly, Labor members: Do you contest the Jewish people’s right to the Land of Israel? Is it not our nation state? Is its flag not acceptable to you? There has never been such a rejection by the Labor movement of Zionist values.”

Critics have said that the law is discriminatory to Israel’s Arab and other minority populations. and needlessly provokes those minorities by underlining a preferential attitude toward Judaism.

Zionist Union’s Shelly Yachimovich said, “Nobody believes it is nationality and the State of Israel that [the coalition is] interested in,” adding that the law encourages a “debased” form of nationalism “that hates the Other.”

MK Tzipi Livni said the law in its current form prioritizes politics over substance. “When I asked coalition MKs why they weren’t bringing forth a version of the law that a hundred MKs could unite around, they smiled at me cynically and said Netanyahu wants the law to create strife. ‘Otherwise how will people know he’s more patriotic than you? What will we get out of supporting it?’ That’s the method.”

Outgoing opposition chief Isaac Herzog, the new head of the Jewish Agency, was more ambivalent, but expressed concern.

“The question is whether the law will hurt or strengthen Israel,” he said. “History will be the judge. I very much hope the delicate balance between [Israel’s] Jewish and democratic aspects will not be upset.”

In the opposition Yesh Atid party, MK Elazar Stern said the law was an insult “to our Druze and Bedouin brothers who serve with us in the IDF and in the security services.”

A lone voice of dissent in Likud, MK Benny Begin said the legislation was not what he expected from his party, and warned that it could increase societal tensions and boost extreme nationalism.

Meretz party head Tamar Zandberg, too, lamented the “shameful night” and “debased and tainted law.”

The most withering criticism came from the Joint (Arab) List, which called the law “anti-democratic, colonialist, racist and with clear characteristics of apartheid.”

“The law has no mention of the word democracy or the word equality, and is wholly committed to brutish emphasis of ethnic supremacy, leaving no doubt that there are two types of citizenship — first-rate ones for Jews and second-rate ones for Arabs,” it said.

Joint List head Ayman Odeh said in a statement that Israel “has passed a law of Jewish supremacy and told us that [minorities] will always be second-class citizens… Netanyahu’s regime is digging a deep pit of fear, racism, and authoritarianism to divide us from each other. ”

He added, “We will not allow the majority to humiliate and destroy us,” and vowed to fight for “a future for all of us with democracy, equality, and justice.”

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.

On Sunday, Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett reached an agreement to cut a controversial clause that would have 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.

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.



US indicates readiness to work with Hamas if it ends terror; Hamas says no

The Trump administration indicated it was prepared to work with the Hamas terror group which controls the Gaza Strip if it first recognizes Israel’s right to exist and renounces violence.

US Middle East envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, together with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, wrote in an op-ed published in the Washington Post late Thursday that the US and other countries were prepared to offer humanitarian aid to the beleaguered Strip, but were stymied by Hamas’s commitment to fighting Israel.

On Friday Hamas rejected the offer, dismissing the US envoys as “spokesmen of the Israeli occupation.”

“International donors are conflicted: Should they try to help the people directly, at the certain risk of enriching terrorists, or withhold funding to Hamas and watch the people it is supposed to govern suffer?” the Americans wrote.

“There are engaged, interested parties with resources who are ready to get to work. Yet without real change accompanied by reliable security, progress is impossible,” they said in the opinion piece. “If Hamas demonstrates clear, peaceful intentions — not just by word but, more importantly, by deed — then all manner of new opportunities becomes possible.”

The offer apparently backtracks from previous US demands that the terror group allow the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank from Ramallah, to retake power in the Gaza Strip. Hamas captured the coastal enclave from the PA in a bloody coup in 2007.

The three gave clear guidelines of what Hamas must do in order to gain US support.

“Until governance changes or Hamas recognizes the state of Israel, abides by previous diplomatic agreements and renounces violence, there is no good option,” they wrote.

Israel has long set these three demands as conditions for openly dealing with Hamas.

Hamas quickly rejected the demands.

“Greenblatt and Kushner have adopted the Israeli position,” a spokesman for the terror group said. “Its ongoing attack against Hamas reflects the arrogance of the US administration which has turned the senior officials of the administration into no more than spokesmen for the Israeli occupation.”

Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on the Strip which they say is designed to prevent Hamas from importing weapons and other goods that could be used to build military equipment or cross-border tunnels. Gaza also faces shortages of electricity and drinkable water.

The US envoys laid down other demands to Hamas.

“Hamas must immediately cease provoking or coordinating attacks on Israelis and Egyptians, and on infrastructure projects sponsored by donor nations and organizations,” they wrote. “Hamas should focus its ingenuity on improving the Gazan economy.”

They also demanded that Hamas return the Israeli soldiers and citizens it holds to their families, and said that the group must hand over the control of border crossings to the Palestinian Authority.

These demands echoed those of Israel which has said the humanitarian situation will not improve until Hamas returns the bodies of two IDF soldiers and the two civilian captives it holds. It blames Hamas for the dire reality, charging the terror group with diverting millions in aid to purchase weapons, dig tunnels, manufacture rockets and train its military wing, instead of using it for the welfare of the people.

Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman argued that Hamas had destroyed the Gazan economy and misused donor funds to target Israel instead of improving the lives of the people who live in the Strip.

“Despite the billions of dollars invested for the benefit of Palestinians in Gaza over the past 70 years, 53 percent of the people there live below the poverty level , and the unemployment rate is a crippling 49%. The Palestinians of Gaza are stuck in a vicious cycle where corrupt and hateful leadership has provoked conflicts leading to reduced opportunities and the poverty and hopelessness that follow.”

In veiled criticism of the United Nations and the international community, Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman wrote: “The international community also bears some blame. More countries want to simply talk and condemn than are willing to confront reality, propose realistic solutions and write meaningful checks.”

The US has significantly cut its aid to the Palestinians in recent months.

The Trump administration has been working on a peace plan it says it hopes to present to the sides at a future date. The Palestinians have rejected the plan, and ceased cooperating with the US administration after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December and moved the American embassy there in May.



Netanyahu tells Putin: Israel will continue to act against Iran in Syria

Israel will continue to act against Iran in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday as Syrian rebels were due to evacuate the border area near Israel’s Golan Heights.

The two spoke by telephone four days after Putin’s meeting with US President Donald Trump in Moscow, in which both leaders spoke of the importance of Israel’s security. Trump later told Fox News that Putin was a fan of “Bibi.”

Netanyahu and Putin spoke of regional developments and the situation in Syria, according to the Prime MInister’s Office.

He said that, “Israel would continue to act against the establishment of an Iranian military presence in Syria,” Netanyahu said.

On Thursday Trump tweeted that he looked forward to his next meeting with Putin, “so that we can start implementing some of the many things discussed, including stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, trade, Ukraine, Middle East peace, North Korea and more. There are many answers, some easy and some hard, to these problems…but they can ALL be solved!”

President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are due to resume control of Syrian area of the Golan Heights.

“We are awaiting the start of the operation and God willing it will happen today,” Hammam Dbayat, the governor of al-Quneitra province, told Reuters, as buses prepared to transport out rebel fighters to the northwestern province of Idlib.

Reuters footage filmed from the Israeli side of the frontier showed men climbing into trucks piled high with belongings and leaving al-Qahtaniya village at the Golan frontier. It was not clear where they were headed.

Tens of thousands of people have been sheltering at the frontier since the government offensive began one month ago.

With the Russian-backed offensive closing in, rebels in Quneitra agreed on Thursday to either accept the return of state rule, or leave to Idlib province in the north, echoing terms imposed on defeated rebels elsewhere in Syria. Idlib’s population has been swollen by Syrians fleeing from Assad’s advances elsewhere.

The offensive has restored Syrian government control over a swathe of the southwest, strategically vital territory at the borders with Jordan and Israel.

It has been one of the swiftest military campaigns of the seven-year-long war. The United States, which once armed the southern rebels, told them not to expect its intervention as the offensive got underway. Many surrendered quickly.

While swathes of Syria remain outside his control, Assad’s advances over the past two years have brought him ever closer to snuffing out the armed rebellion that grew out of a civilian uprising against his rule in 2011.

It leaves the insurgency with one last big foothold – a chunk of territory in the northwest at the border with Turkey stretching from Idlib province to the city of Jarablus northeast of Aleppo. The deployment of the Turkish military in this area will complicate further gains for Assad.

Large areas of the northeast and east also remain outside Assad’s grasp. These areas are held by Kurdish-led militias, supported by 2,000 U.S. troops on the ground.

Dbayat said it remained unclear exactly how many fighters would leave Quneitra, but the government had so far prepared 45 buses. “We are ready to move the militants out of the area, and if it is completed, we will immediately provide the necessary services to residents, including electricity and water.”

State TV said 10 buses had entered a village in Quneitra on Thursday night for the evacuation of insurgents “who refuse to settle with the state” towards rebel territory in the north.

The offensive sparked the largest exodus of the war, uprooting more than 320,000 people mostly towards the southern borders. Both neighbors Israel and Jordan said they would not take in refugees.

Many people left the frontier with Jordan after government forces took the Nassib border crossing and rebels in Deraa province agreed a surrender deal last week.



Israel prevents entry of Dutch activist, citing BDS support

Israeli authorities have denied entry to Israel of a Dutch activist, in light of her participation in efforts to boycott Israel.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri announced the decision in a statement, saying it came in light of a recommendation from Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who is also charged with battling the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

A press release from Deri’s office said that the activist, Lydia de Leeuw, was refused entry, “among other reasons, because she advances boycotts and consistently takes part in activities against the state [of Israel].”

“I will exercise my authority and prevent entry to Israel by any person who seeks to harm the state,” Deri said.

“This woman acts consistently to boycott and harm Israel, and I therefore prevented her entry,” he added. “This will be the case in the future, as well, when it comes to boycott activists who try to enter Israel.”

“The rules have changed,” Erdan said in a statement. “Like any normal country, Israel will not stand by in the face of those who would harm it.”

“Those who promote a boycott of Israel and seek to harm its citizens are unwelcome here,” he said.

Erdan’s office said de Leeuw “gives frequent speeches” at BDS events and was active in BDS Netherlands.

Earlier this month, Israeli officials barred a Jewish pro-Palestinian activist from entering the country and deported her over her support for a boycott of the country.

The case shined a light on a relatively new law that allows the interior minister to deport or deny entry to supporters of the BDS movement.



Arabs set fire to Bat Ayin fields nearly burning Israel365 forest

On Wednesday afternoon residents of the Jewish communities of Bat Ayin and Gevaot were evacuated after Palestinians set fire to nearby fields. A number of houses were damaged by the fires and four people were treated for smoke inhalation. Four firefighting airplanes were called to help firemen.

Bat Ayin is a religious community in Gush Etzion, halfway between Jerusalem and Hebron, established in 1989. The name of the town means “pupil of the eye” and is from a verse in the Bible.

Bat Ayin has frequently been targeted by arson attacks and this attack is especially difficult coming at a time when incendiary kites and balloons sent from Gaza have burned thousands of acres in southern Israel.

Amnon Suckerberg was at home with his five children when smoke enveloped their house. He immediately called the police and security but they were delayed due to difficult access routes to the area. Suckerberg and his neighbors tried to extinguish the fire themselves but to no avail.

“It was terrifying,” Suckerberg told Breaking Israel News. “The Arabs set the fire in the forest and the wind spread so quickly in the dry bush we barely had time to get out of the house. The entire town had to leave until we were sure we were out of danger.”

A bitter tragedy was narrowly averted in this attack as the flames came very close to several hundred trees recently planted by Israel365 and its supporters.

Shlomo Vile, the PPC director for Israel365, is a resident Bat Ayin and also took part in planting the trees.

“If the wind had shifted just a tiny bit, that would have been the end of them,” Vile told Breaking Israel News.

Vile explained the importance of the trees to the community.

“The people of Bat Ayin have a powerful awareness of God’s presence protecting them and for most of their history did not have a fence,” Vile said. “When we came to Bat Ayin, there were no trees here. After this attack, we need to plant more trees. The Jewish response to loss has always been to plant and to build. We sift through the ashes and plant again. This will end. We will eventually win and planting trees is the way to show that, to show the truth that this land is really ours and will always be ours.”



Despite continued rocket bombardment in southern Israel, local youth emerge as leaders

Terrifying red alert sirens are again sounding in Israel’s southern region as Hamas terrorists launch hundreds of rockets at civilians. The city of Sderot, next to the Gaza border, is being hit particularly hard causing fear and trauma to those who live there.

Since 2001, terrorists from the Gaza strip, located half a mile from Sderot, have launched over 15,000 rockets at the small town. Following Israel’s 2014 Operation Protective Edge, which brought relative calm to the area, Sderot residents have struggled to rebuild their lives.

Three months ago, Hamas again began targeting Sderot when tens of thousands of Gaza residents violently rioted on Israel’s southern border. Hundreds of burning kites were flown into Israel causing enormous fires and mass destruction of agriculture. Explosive balloons were also used.

Due to its close proximity to Gaza, Sderot residents have between 7 and 15 seconds to run to a bomb shelter once they hear the red alert siren. Bus stops, as well as playgrounds, often double as bomb shelters, and many homes are also built with their own shelters underground. In fact, with over 5,000 bomb shelters throughout the city, Sderot has been nicknamed the “Bomb Shelter Capital of the World.” However, homes in lower socioeconomic areas often lack this life-saving protection.

As a result of the constant attacks, over 75 percent of Sderot’s 24,000 residents suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), 40 percent of whom are children. This psychological toll has lead to an alarming number of high school students dropping out of school and, combined with high poverty rates, being categorized as “at-risk.”

“Recognizing the enormous challenges Sderot’s at-risk youth face both economically and emotionally, the city’s Municipality turned to Meir Panim for assistance,” explained Danielle Rubin, Project Director of American Friends of Meir Panim to Breaking Israel News. “Our youth centers are built in renovated bomb shelters to give the children a sense of safety in an otherwise stressful environment.”

In order to strengthen the relationship between Sderot’s youth and Israel’s army, IDF soldiers are an integral part of the clubs. Soldiers attend programs twice each week and serve as mentors. They also run special programs and facilitate absorption into the army once the teens graduate high school. This mentorship component facilitates a positive transition to adult life in Israel.

Meir Panim is best-known for its Restaurant-Style Soup Kitchens and Meals-on-Wheels food delivery programs located throughout Israel. But it also views combating poverty in a holistic way through several other programs including after-school youth clubs and summer camps.

“Our goal for Sderot’s disadvantaged youth is to not only provide them with a safe-haven from rockets but also to empower them to overcome the debilitating effects of living under fire, and to help them become the future leaders of Israel,” continued Rubin. “We do this through providing positive mentors, tutoring and academic assistance, community service programs, and plenty of group and individual emotional support.”

Sderot residents are often asked why they do not move away from the line of fire. The reality is that the city’s population is predominantly made up of lower-socioeconomic families without the financial resources for relocation.

In the hopes that Sderot’s youth will be able to rise above their circumstances and be the future leaders of Israel, Meir Panim has initiated a leadership development program known as NOVA – “Youth for Building the Future.” NOVA attracts youth club participants who have exhibited the skills to become emerging leaders. The program has expanded rapidly from 10 to 17 teens, all of whom are actively engaged.

The goals of NOVA are social action, volunteer work, and contribution to the community. The group discusses important social issues like racism, absorption difficulties, army and national service, working rights of teenagers, education, Israel’s security, violence, and acceptance of others.

NOVA is credited with transitioning at-risk youth into empowered activists. For example, the teens initiated a meeting with the Sderot Municipality and the mayor’s office and gave their recommendations for improving the city. As a result of these meetings, the city approved the renovation of its skating park as well as the paving of bicycle paths.

Maintaining Meir Panim’s youth clubs, especially as southern Israel continues to face relentless rocket attacks, is urgently needed to provide a sense of normalcy during an emergency atmosphere.



American Jews lead kippah solidarity walk in heart of Berlin

BERLIN — American Jews joined local Muslims and Jews for a “kippah walk” through the heart of Berlin in a show of solidarity with Jews in the German capital.

Sunday’s march came against a backdrop of recent sensational anti-Semitic incidents in Germany; most of the perpetrators were of Muslim background. Muslim students were among those who joined the stroll through the city center, an official of the Jewish Federations of North America told JTA.

The walk was held during a five-day mission of JFNA, which brought some 150 participants from 34 Jewish federations in the United States to Berlin and Budapest.

Along with the Muslim students, the American visitors also were joined by Jewish German students, according to Brian Abrahams, a senior vice president at JFNA.

“Many mission participants never had the experience of wearing a kippah in public in America, and now here they were walking down the street in Berlin,” Abrahams said after the walk.

He said passers-by noticed the sea of kippahs approaching and there were no negative reactions.

In Berlin, mission participants met with local Jewish leaders who spoke about the diversity of the city’s Jewish community, which officially numbers about 10,000. Many are of Russian-speaking background.

Anecdotally, there may be as many as 20,000 more Jews in the capital who are unaffiliated, including up to 10,000 Israelis. In Germany, the number of affiliated Jews is about 100,000. Estimates say an equal number are unaffiliated.