News Digest — 12/1/20

Jewish Communities On High Alert Over Threat Of Retaliation From Iran

The assassination last week of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh generated a furious rhetorical response from the country’s leadership, with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani, both threatening revenge for the killing.

But although the threats were made primarily against Israel, or “the Zionists” as the Jewish state is known in Tehran, Jewish communities in the Diaspora are also paying close attention to the developments in the wake of Fakhrizadeh’s death.

Iran has been blamed in the past for attacks against Jewish targets and Israelis outside of Israel, including the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1993, the attack on the AMIA Jewish Community Center also in Buenos Aires in 1994, and the Burgas bombing in 2012 in Bulgaria.

Michael Masters, the national director and CEO of the Secure Community Network security organization for Jewish communities, said the organization has worked with federal law enforcement agencies over the last decade to track Iranian threats to Jewish communities in the US.

He noted that in recent months there has been an uptick in cybersecurity attacks in the US, often following incidents of conflict between America and Tehran, a phenomenon noted by the department of Homeland Security.

Masters said that such activity has included phishing scams, various fraud activities and efforts to obtain personal information on Jewish officials and organizations in the US.

But he said there have not been any specific, credible threats to Jewish communities or institutions from Iranian sources or its proxies following the killing of Fakhrizadeh.

Yonathan Arfi, vice president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, said incidents like Fakhrizadeh’s assassination are always considered a source of heightened risk for French Jews.

He noted that synagogues are open at limited capacity due to COVID-19 but schools are operating as normal, including Jewish schools, which have been targets in the past for terrorist attacks against the community.

Arfi said the French Jewish community depends mainly on state security services to provide protection for its institutions, and that the Jewish organizations work closely with them and the French Interior Ministry on information-sharing regarding security threats.

Like Masters though, Arfi said the French Jewish community is always on alert for security threats due to a history of terror attacks against it in the last decade.

“As Jews in the Diaspora we have a culture of vigilance, which is present in every aspect of Jewish life all year long,” he said.  “Jewish leaders always have to be vigilant on security, it is part of the constraints on Jewish life today.”

Similarly, Mark Gardner, CEO of the Community Security Trust of the UK Jewish community, said the organization has been on an elevated alert level due to recent events, including the terror attack in Austria earlier this month.

“Jewish organizations should already be on very high alert because of the recent Vienna attack and the continuing far-right terror threat, but Iranian state terrorism is always on our minds and these events will only increase that.”



First Israeli Elected To UN Rights Committee For The Disabled

Odelia Fitoussi on Monday (11/30) became the first Israeli elected to serve on the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Fitoussi, 43, is herself confined to a wheelchair, as she was born with muscular dystrophy.  An art therapist and strong advocate for others with disabilities, fighting especially for the hiring of more disabled teachers in Israel’s schools, she has pushed the government to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“I feel privileged to be a member of the CRPD, the place where Israel was a partner in creating a new language for people with disabilities, a language of rights, of pride in who you are, in our uniqueness as people with disabilities who enrich society with all the good we have built,” she said in reaction to her election to the four-year-term.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry and UN mission have been advocating for Fitoussi over the past year among their colleagues from around the world.  Her candidacy for one of the nine positions on the committee was supported by 109 countries getting her in on the first round of voting.

“It represents a true triumph of the human spirit,” said Israeli UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan, who even convinced some Arab countries to vote for Fitoussi.  “Israel’s extensive experience in the field of rights for people with disabilities will contribute greatly to the committee’s activities and will have a positive influence on the lives of many around the world.  I am sure that Odelia will be an excellent ambassador and achieve great things.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called to congratulate Fitoussi “for this important achievement,” saying that he appreciates “her ability and talents, which led to her election to a significant  and important position in the international arena.”

“All of Israel is proud of you,” he said as he wished her success in her new position.

Fitoussi’s main aim on the CRPD, she said, is to advance the concept that disabled people should live in, and be part of, the normative community without needing, “to spend a lot of money to have this simple right in life.”



Israel Freezes NIS 600 Million In PA Monies Over Terror Funding

The Security Cabinet decided on Sunday (11/29) to withhold tax transfers from Israel to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in order to offset salaries paid by Ramallah to terrorists or their families.

The Security Council’s decision is an implementation of a law that freezes Palestinian funds for transfer to the PA by the State of Israel.

The law aims to penalize the PA for its practice, dubbed “pay for slay,” of providing salaries to Arabs who commit acts of terrorism against Israelis.  The stipends are paid out in varying amounts in accordance with the crime and sentence; the more violent and lethal the attack, the higher the monthly stipend.

Security officials presented data to the effect that in 2019, the PA transferred NIS 600 million to terrorists imprisoned in Israel and their families, as well as to released prisoners.  Therefore, it was decided to freeze the same amount of funds from the tax revenues that Israel collects for the PA.

The cut will not be all at once but in the deployment of 12 months ahead, NIS 50 million every month.

This decision comes just days after the PA announced that it was renewing its coordination with Israel and that it would receive the tax funds Israel collects on its behalf, after refusing them for several months and bringing the PA to the brink of financial collapse,

The PA is expected to receive most of the money accumulated by Israel from March, minus NIS 50 million.

Since its creation in 1994, the PA has implemented a policy according to which it pays millions every year in monthly financial rewards to imprisoned, released, and wounded terrorists, and to the families of dead terrorists.

In 2018, Israel passed a law according to which at the end of each year, the Minister of Defense must submit a report to the Security Cabinet detailing the PA’s expenditure on terrorist salaries and allowances in the passing year. Once the Cabinet approves the report, the PA expenditure in the previous year is deducted in 12 equal parts from the taxes that Israel collects and transfers to the PA the following year.

The PA’s policy has been widely condemned, with Canada, the US, Australia, and Holland halting direct aid to the PA until the policy is abolished.  The PA has vowed to proceed with the policy it claims is a form of welfare.

However, the PA “continues to request and receive considerable amounts of foreign aid and continues to squander hundreds of millions on terrorist salaries every year, incentivizing and rewarding Palestinian terrorists,” Maurice Hirsch, Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) head of legal strategies, noted.

“While most of the world agrees that the PA practice of paying financial rewards to terrorists is despicable, the PA continues to waste ever growing amounts of donor aid to fund this policy,” he added, demanding that the European Union and other countries “make their aid conditional on the permanent abolishment of the policy.”



Slovenia Declares Hezbollah A Terrorist Organization

Slovenia became the sixth EU member state to outlaw Hezbollah in its entirety on Monday (11/30).

Ljubljana declared Hezbollah a “criminal and terrorist organization that represents a threat to peace and security,” Slovenia’s government news agency STA reported.  “The work of Hezbollah is intertwined with organized crime and terrorist or paramilitary activity on the global level,” it said

The government of Slovenia made the decision to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization after its working group on such restrictions submitted a report on the Lebanese Shi’a group’s activities.

The EU, of which Slovenia is a member, bans only the “military wing” of Hezbollah, allowing its “political wing” to operate in Europe, though the terrorist group does not divide itself in that way.  Nine countries have moved to fully ban Hezbollah in the past six months, including Estonia, Latvia, and Guatemala, in recent weeks.

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi welcomed Slovenia’s decision, saying “Hezbollah is a terrorist organization that first and foremost harms the citizens of Lebanon itself and holds them hostage in the service of Iranian interests.”

American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris said Slovenia’s decision reflects “a growing trend to shed any illusions and confront the stark reality that Hezbollah is one indivisible organization, and that organization is terrorist through and through.”

“Permitting Hezbollah’s ‘political wing’ to operate on European soil has allowed for recruitment, fundraising, and the poisonous spread of anti-Semitism, not to mention sending a European message of hesitation and indecisiveness,” Harris said.



Israel Medical Delegation Flying To Italy To Help Contain COVID-19 Spread

An Israeli delegation of 20 doctors and medical experts from the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan will fly to Italy on Tuesday (1st) in order to help contain the spread of coronavirus in the Piedmont District in the northern part of the country.  

The delegation was initiated by Israel’s Ambassador to Rome, Dror Eydar.     

In a letter dispatched to Chevy Levy, director-general of the Health Ministry, by Alon Ushpiz, director-general of the Foreign Ministry, Ushpiz explained that “the governor of the Piedmont District in northern Italy approached Israel’s Ambassador to Rome with an urgent request to provide the district with assistance in combating the spread of coronavirus, due to a dramatic increase in the number of new infections and the lack of doctors and medical equipment in the area.”

The letter indicated that Israel’s embassy in Italy then connected with Israeli and Italian health ministries, which coordinated the necessary operation and agreed on the required urgent needs of the Piedmont District.  The ministries also agreed on the departure of an Israeli delegation that will provide assistance to local Italian experts.

It was agreed that the Sheba Medical Center, Israel’s largest hospital, would be responsible for choosing the doctors most appropriate for the mission.  The delegation is being headed by Prof. Elhanan Bar On and will include some 20 doctors from different  fields of expertise.

Ushpiz noted in his letter that “Israel and Italy are allies that hold a deep connection and collaborate on many issues, so it’s only natural that Israel will seek to help Italy in a time of need,” adding that “we’re positive that Italy will cherish Israeli assistance in a time like this.”

According to N13, more than 166,000 people were diagnosed with coronavirus in the Piedmont District since the pandemic broke out, leading to the deaths of more than 4,100 patients.

Italy has been dealing with the second wave of the virus since November, with a peak of new daily infections diagnosed in the past 24 hours, causing the desperate country to ask for help.