News Digest — 3/3/22

Israeli Leader Speaks With Both Zelensky And Putin

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke with both Russian President Vladmir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky separately on Wednesday (2nd).

Bennett first spoke with Zelensky, where they talked about “Russian aggression,” the Ukrainian leader said on Twitter.

According to the Kremlin, Bennett initiated the call with Putin, with the Russian leader telling the Israeli leader that Moscow’s security interests were among the key conditions for settling the conflict.

Putin reportedly outlined Russia’s demands in its negotiations with Ukraine to end the war, including a guarantee that Ukraine will never join NATO.

While Israel has expressed support for Ukraine and provided humanitarian aid to the country, it has been nuanced in its approach to the conflict with muted criticism of Russia,

Israel is especially concerned with maintaining its freedom of action in Syria against Iranian targets, where Russia has military forces.

Nevertheless, Israel did vote to approve the UN General Assembly resolution on Wednesday (2) to reprimand Russia for invading Ukraine.



UN General Assembly In Historic Vote Assails Russia Over Ukraine Invasion

The United Nations General Assembly On Wednesday (2nd) overwhelmingly voted to reprimand Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and demanded that Moscow stop fighting and withdraw its military forces, in action that aims to diplomatically isolate Russia at the world body.

The resolution, supported by 141 of the assembly’s 193 members, ended a rare emergency session called by the UN Security Council as Ukrainian forces battled on in the Port of Kherson in the face of airstrikes and a devastating bombardment that forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee.

The text of the resolution “deplores” Russia’s “aggression against Ukraine.”  The last time the Security Council convened an emergency session of the General Assembly was in 1982, according to the UN’s website.

Thirty-five members including China abstained and five countries including Russia, Syria and Belarus voted against the resolution.  While General Assembly resolutions are non-binding, they carry political weight.

Notwithstanding its deep security cooperation with Moscow, Israel also joined the motion to condemn Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Russia has destroyed critical infrastructure, including drinking water and gas for millions of people and appeared to be preparing to increase the brutality of its campaign against Ukraine, US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in a speech to the General Assembly.

“This is an extraordinary moment,” Thomas-Greenfield said.  “Now, at more than any other point in recent history, the United Nations is being challenged,” she said and made a plea: “Vote yes if you believe UN member states – including your own – have a right to sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Vote yes if you believe Russia should be held to account for its actions.”

After nearly a week, Russia has yet to achieve its aim of overthrowing Ukraine’s government, but has faced an unprecedented backlash from the West, whose sanctions have knocked Russia’s financial system while giant multinational countries have pulled investments out of Russia.  

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia denied that Moscow was targeting civilians and warned that the adoption of this resolution “might spur further escalations.”



Chabad Assists Palestinian Doctor Fleeing War In Ukraine

A Palestinian doctor living in Ukraine was forced to flee with his family after clashes with Russian troops broke out in his city, and the man received assistance from a Chabad Jewish community during his journey.

The doctor, identified as Yaaqoub, lived with his family in Irpin – a northern suburb near Ukraine’s capital Kyiv – when Russian tanks began to breach the city,

“There were several battles in Irpin, and during this whole time we were home and scared to try getting out.  We kept going back and forth to the shelters, but sometimes we had to stay home.”

The family decided to leave the city after receiving word from the family of Yaaqoub’s wife of a safer area in the country – evacuating their home, they departed for the destination.

“It was an adventure because we really did not know what to expect or encounter in this journey.  I had my wife and kids in the car and we drove all the way here amidst gunshot sounds.  I tried not to drive too fast,” the doctor said, adding that they crossed five military checkpoints on their way.

He said he was welcomed by Ukraine’s Chabad community along the way, explaining that “They sheltered us and helped us and welcomed us in a very generous manner: we had food and drink and they offered to provide utilities.”

“This wave of solidarity is very visible during wartime.  There is no difference, all residents are treated the same.  Whether they are Arabs or not, Ukrainians  from all regions are sticking together,” the man told i24NEWS.

People are unified in this situation because they need each other‘s help to survive.”



‘Significant Upgrade In Relations’: German Chancellor Visits Jerusalem

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrived in Israel on Tuesday (1st) for his first visit to the Jewish state since entering office.

He said he would be forced to shorten his visit due to the crisis in Europe generated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

He began his trip  on Wednesday (2nd) with a visit to Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem together with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Later, in a joint press conference, Bennett announced that the two countries have “agreed on the creation of new strategic cooperation.  This will be in the format of a bi-annual dialogue on security and diplomatic matters.  I think that this is a significant upgrade in our relations.”

Touching on the “very fateful and sensitive time” and the crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Bennett asserted that “our obligation as leaders is to do our utmost to stop the bloodshed, and to bring what is going on from the battlefield to the negotiating table as quick as possible – it is still not too late.”

“To my regret, we in Israel have experience with wars.  Their price is great, as we have already seen.  Unfortunately, it could get much worse.”

“The State of Israel stands alongside the people of Ukraine.  We have sent considerable humanitarian assistance, and we are determined to continue and even do more,” he said.

Turning to the talks between the West and Iran on a renewed nuclear deal, Bennett said, “We are also charged with the responsibility of making sure that Iran will have neither nuclear weapons nor the possibility of attaining them – not on our watch – not ever.” 

“We are closely monitoring the talks in Vienna including the possibility that an agreement will be signed that allows Iran to install centrifuges on a broad scale within a few years.  This is unacceptable to us,” Bennett stated.  “Israel will know how to defend itself and ensure both its security and its future,” he added

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid also met with Scholz.

“The fact that the chancellor came “in such chaotic times is proof of the fact that even in a very unstable world, which has become more unstable in the last few days, the friendship between our peoples and between our countries is stable and firm, and the commitment you [Scholz] and your government bring to this friendship is heartwarming to us all,” Lapid said.

Scholz was also welcomed later at the Knesset where he met with Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy.



French Jews Attacked, Detained For Singing Israeli Anthem On Temple Mount

A group of French-speaking Jews were harassed and intimidated Tuesday (1st) by both Israeli police and Muslim officials for singing Israel’s national anthem on the Temple Mount, said the Beyadenu NGO, which fights for Israeli sovereignty over the site.

Participating in a tour organized by the ‘Israel is Forever Foundation,’ the group sang Hatikvah (The Hope) and within minutes, a Waqf official and an Arab-Israeli policeman physically assaulted them in order to force them to stop, they said.

The Waqf official, Samer Abu Qweider, was later arrested by police for punching one of the Jewish pilgrims in the face.

The group said they were detained without explanation for an extended period of time at the site’s exit by the Israeli police.

Eventually, the group contacted Beyadenu, which sent legal assistance.

Lawyers from Beyadenu, who work with the support of The Lawfare Project, a civil rights organization which “defends the civil and human rights of the Jewish people,” convinced police to allow the group to leave.

 The group plans to file a complaint to the police internal ethics department about the behavior of the Arab-Israeli policeman, who they said unnecessarily pushed and shoved members of the group.

“Singing Hatikvah, the song of hope, on the Temple Mount, is a natural thing,” said Tom Nissani, CEO of Beyadenu.

“There is no reasonable scenario that should result in violence from police and Arabs.  This is a serious case.  Our legal team will work and handle it accordingly.”

Activists for Jewish prayer rights on the Temple Mount have long complained that Muslim visitors are permitted to act in any way they wish on the compound, yet Jewish visitors are forbidden from praying, singing, touching the ground, and other acts that could be considered “provocative.”

Critics say that the focus on controlling Jewish visitors at the holiest site in Judaism, weakens Israel’s sovereignty over the Temple Mount and effectively justifies Muslim rioting and intimidation tactics.  It places the onus on Jews not to provoke rather than prioritizing punishment for violent behavior.



Israeli-Arab Speaks At Irish Parliament, Defending Israel

Israeli-Arab Yoseph Haddad spoke Thursday, February 24th at the Irish Parliament, making him the first pro-Israel speaker to address the parliament in at least 15 years, according to a press release by Jackie Goodall, executive director of the Ireland Israel Alliance.

In light of the recent report by Amnesty International labeling Israel as an apartheid state, the Ireland Israel Alliance invited Yoseph Haddad and Israeli journalist Emily Schrader to speak at the parliament before the body reaches its decision on Israel.

“I was happy to come to the Irish Parliament and share my point of view as an Israeli Arab citizen, to present facts and figures that refute the Amnesty report, and to reflect the Israeli reality,” Yoseph said in his speech to the Parliament.  “I have received many responses from MPs who have thanked me for opening their eyes – this proves that the purpose of my visit there has been achieved.”

“While Amnesty stokes the flames of hatred against Israel, it is us Israelis, both Arabs and Jews, who pay the price on the ground,” he added.

Emily Schrader, who accompanied Haddad in his visit to Ireland’s capital of Dublin, said at the parliament, “As an Israeli, I was shocked by the hostility and lack of information about Israel in the Irish Parliament.  For  years they haven’t welcomed a speaker who supports Israel so it was really historic that the speaker of the parliament hosted Yoseph for this event.”

“For me, the most exciting thing was that members of the anti-Israel Sinn Fein [Irish political party] not only attended Yoseph’s address, but asked questions and had a discussion.  By the end of the event, they were unable to defend their accusations against Israel.”

“We are pleased that the Inter-Parliamentary Friends Groups are now formally up-and -running, and that Israel has friends in the Irish parliament who are prepared to speak out in defense of Israel now, and we need to encourage their voices.”  Goodall added “We would also point out that it is not anti-Semitic to criticize Israel.  It is perfectly legitimate to criticize any government and policy, but we will continue to call out instances where there is a disproportionate focus against the nation-state of the Jewish people.”