News Digest — 10/22/19

Netanyahu Gives Up On Forming New Coalition

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ended his quest to form a coalition – a step that pushes the country into new political uncertainty.

Netanyahu fell short of securing a 61-seat parliamentary majority in last month’s national election.  But President Rivlin gave Netanyahu the first opportunity to form a government because he had more support (55 seats) than any other candidate.

Netanyahu had hoped to form a broad “unity” government with his chief rival, former military chief Benny Gantz.  But late Monday (21st), Netanyahu announced he came up short.

Rivlin says he will now give Gantz a chance to form a government, though Gantz does not appear to have enough support either.

If Gantz fails, Israel could hold its third election in less than one year.



In Rare Formal Visit, Israeli Official Attends Anti-Iran Conference in Bahrain

The head of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s counter-terrorism department participated in a two-day security conference in Manama, Bahrain on Monday (21st)

Dana Benvenisti-Gabay joined representatives from about 60 countries at the Working Group for the Maritime and Aviation Security Conference.  Co-hosted by Bahrain, the U.S. and Poland, the event was a follow-up to a U.S.-led summit in Warsaw in February, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the time, marked “a historic change.”

“There were 60 foreign ministers and envoys from countries there, including Arab countries with which we do not have relations, who sat together with Israel and took the stand that we set against Iran,” Netanyahu said upon his return home.

“Aviation and maritime security are at the top of the policy agenda in the region,” Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said at the opening of the Manama conference, which also focused on the Iranian threat.

In a tweet, Bahrain’s foreign ministry said that “the meeting is an occasion to exchange views on how to deal with the iranian menace and to guarantee freedom of navigation.”

“We all must take a collective stand… to take the necessary steps to protect our nation from rogue states, non-state actors and terrorist groups that conduct such attacks and seek to destabilize our globe,” he said.  “We must also continue our efforts to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction and associated technologies and delivery systems.”

“This meeting comes at a critical moment in history,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated in a letter to the conference participants.

At the February conference, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, speaking with Netanyahu on the side, hailed the event as the dawning of a “new era” and said that “pushing back” against Iran is key.  



Trump Says Some U.S. Troops Staying In Syria After Request From Israel and Jordan

U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday (21st) that a small number of U.S. troops will remain in Syria at the request of Israel and Jordan, with some positioned near the borders with Jordan and Israel and others employed to secure oil fields.

“The other region where we’ve been asked by Israel and Jordan to leave a small number of troops is a totally different section of Syria, near Jordan and close to Israel,” Trump said when asked whether he would leave soldiers in Syria.  “So we have a small group there, and we secured the oil. Other than that, there’s no reason for it, in our opinion.” 

Trump’s comments followed a U.S. pullout from northeastern Syria, leaving the Kurds, who fought against Islamic State, to face invading Turkish forces, alone.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting, Trump said the “small number” of U.S. troops staying behind were in an entirely different part of Syria.  He said another group still in Syria “secured the oil,” a reference to oil fields that the U.S. hopes to keep from falling into the hands of jihadist fighters.

“I always said if you’re going in, keep the oil,” Trump said, suggesting that the U.S. would “maybe get one of our big oil companies in… to do it properly.”

Israelis have been watching Trump’s decisions on Syria closely, concerned that their country could be abandoned by its most important ally. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also had tense relations with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a vocal supporter of the Palestinians.

Netanyahu has been careful not to be seen as criticizing Trump, but has warned “against the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds by Turkey and its proxies.”

Hosting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday (18th), Netanyahu thanked Pompeo and Trump for their “consistent support for Israel” and hailed the strength of U.S.-Israel ties.



Kibbutz Built By Kindertransport Survivors Makes Furniture For 6,000 Synagogues

Kibbutz Lavi, whose founder included children evacuated from Germany to the United Kingdom as part of the Kindertransport program before the Holocaust, has become the main provider worldwide of furniture for synagogues.

The community, in the lower Galilee, has exported its products to over 6,000 synagogues in 70 countries and has made furniture for most synagogues in Israel.

“I estimate that today close to a million people are sitting on our furniture,” said Micha Oberman, CEO of Lavi Furniture Industries, in an interview with Channel 13 broadcast on Sunday (20th).

The business started when the fledgling kibbutz turned to its own carpenters for help setting up its first synagogue in 1950.  It was during a period of austerity in Israel and the kibbutz could not afford to buy furniture. Soon after Lavi set up its synagogue, nearby communities began sending orders.

“The kibbutz invested everything it had and saved up everything possible so that it would have the capital it needed to establish the factory, even though it didn’t have much,” Oberman said.

Many of the founders of the kibbutz were smuggled from mainland Europe and lost their parents in World War II, arriving in Israel without family.

“In the group that founded the kibbutz, were two carpenters who dreamed that it would become a furniture factory – and it did,” said one of the kibbutz founding members, in the TV report.

Today the factory produces arks for Torah scrolls in different styles, including Ashkenazi and Sephardic.

Almost 80 years after a synagogue in the city of Jaslo, Poland was burned by the Nazis, the factory made a reproduction of its interior for a synagogue in Toronto, Canada, based on surviving photographs.

‘The goal,” Oberman said, “is a message that we, despite what happened in the past, need to pass on to the younger generation, that we need to know our history so we don’t go back to how it was.”  



Rain, Hail, And Thunderstorms

After a surprise bout of hail in the northern city of Safed, and rain and thunderstorms in the Galilee and Jordan Valley areas on Monday (21st), Israelis can expect winter to come in full force, a forecaster for the Israel Meteorological Service said.

Tuesday (22nd) will be partly cloudy, and there may be local rainfall across the country.  In some areas, the rain may be accompanied by thunderstorms. Streams in southern and eastern Israel may flood.  Temperatures will be slightly lower than the seasonal average.

Wednesday (23rd) will be wintry, with scattered rain across the country and a chance of hail in some areas.  There is a strong chance that streams in southern and eastern Israel may flood. There may be flooding in coastal cities as well.  Temperatures will drop two or three degrees to a lower than normal seasonal average.

Thursday (24th) will see local rainfall and isolated thunderstorms.

The rains will pick up again on Friday (25th), with scattered rainfall and thunderstorms from northern Israel to the northern Negev.  There is a strong chance of flooding in the southern and eastern streams, as well as in the Judean Desert, and there may be flooding in coastal cities as well as in the lowlands.

Rain is welcomed in Israel, as the country has suffered from drought for a number of years.  Recently during Sukkot-week, the Jewish nation experienced rain as well.