News Digest — 12/10/21

In ‘Goodwill’ Gesture, Israel Returns 95 Smuggled Artifacts, Relics To Egypt

Israel on Thursday (9th) returned to Egypt dozens of artifacts and relics which had been smuggled into the country, during Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s diplomatic visit to Cairo.

The 95 relics seized in Israel were handed over by Lapid during a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry.  Israeli Antiquities Authorities director Eli Escozido presented Shoukry with the Egyptian relics that had been illegally brought into Israel.

“At the request of the Egyptian authorities and as a gesture of goodwill, the Israeli government and the Israel Antiquities Authority decided to return the items to the Egyptians,” Israel’s Foreign Minister stated.

In March 2013, an Israeli antique dealer was caught by local customs authorities at the Ben Gurion Airport as he attempted to smuggle four Egyptian antiquities into the country.  The antique dealer had purchased the items in England and tried to bring them into Israel without passing through customs.

Believing the items belonged to ancient Egyptian culture, the Israel Antiquities Authority updated the Egyptian authorities who confirmed they had been stolen.

In the same year, Egyptian authorities contacted their Israeli counterparts claiming that relics held in an antique store of a licensed merchant in Jerusalem were also stolen items from the country.  The Israel Antiquities Authority opened an investigation at their request, which led to the seizure of 91 archaeological items found in the store.

Among the seized items returned to Egypt are parts of inscriptions on stone in hieroglyphic writing, a fragment of a wooden sarcophagus, bearing the Egyptian script, papyrus inscriptions, dozens of figurines of Egyptian goddesses, and shabtis figurines usually placed in tombs as burial offerings.

Lapid said he had a “long and warm meeting” with Shoukry, in which the two discussed Israeli-Egyptian cooperation in the political, security, economic and civil fields.

During the one-day visit to Cairo, Lapid met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for talks about Iran’s efforts to attain a nuclear weapon and the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.

“Egypt is an especially important strategic partner for Israel, and I look forward to continuing the dialogue between us,” Lapid said.

The first Arab country to sign a peace agreement with Israel in 1979, Egypt has served as a key mediator between Israel and the Hamas terror group.

During the visit, Lapid also met the head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, General Abbas Kamel, to discuss the situation in the Gaza Strip and to deepen cooperation in preserving regional stability.



Report: Iran Helping Syria Develop Nuclear Reactor

Iran is helping finance and construct a nuclear reactor in Syria, Saudi daily Okaz reported a former Syrian parliamentarian as saying.

Mohammad Barmo, who is now a political dissident fighting to unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, also made the explosive accusation in the past.

Israel is widely believed to have bombed Syria’s fledgling Al-Kibar nuclear development site in the eastern Deir Ezzor district in 2007.

But according to numerous political enemies of al-Assad, the bombing didn’t completely put a damper on Syria’s plans to develop its nuclear program.

Despite refusing to publicly admit that the country has nuclear ambitions, Syria has consistently tried to advance its nuclear development program quietly, according to various international agencies.

Watchdog group, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, reports that Syria has “sought nuclear technical assistance from countries including China, Russia, Iran and North Korea” in the past.

The NTI notes that the International Atomic Energy Agency “concluded that the Al-Kibar facility, destroyed by Israel in 2007, was ‘very likely a nuclear reactor’  and should have been declared to the IAEA.”

Because of the chaos caused by the now-decade long Syrian civil war, international watchdog groups and nuclear inspectors have not had the opportunity to conduct investigations into possible nuclear sites within the country.

During this time, it’s possible that Syria could be discreetly moving to advance its nuclear program with less risk of international scrutiny.

German newspaper Spiegel Online reported in 2015 that Syria’s nuclear program was continuing in a secret underground facility near the southern border with Lebanon.

However, no corroborating evidence could be found to support the report, aside from statements from anonymous sources.

In May 2021, Russia announced that it deployed three nuclear-capable long-range bombers to its operational bases in Syria.



Number Of Israelis Visiting Temple Mount Skyrockets

In the three months since the beginning of the Hebrew year of 5782 in Tishrei (beginning of September) more Jews ascended the Temple Mount than throughout the entire Hebrew year six years ago. In all of the Hebrew year of 5776 (2015-2016), 12,148 Jews ascended the Temple Mount.  Since then, the number of Jews visiting their holiest site has been climbing, and from the beginning of the current Jewish year, 12,177 Jews have already ascended to pray on the Temple Mount.

“This is an amazing statistic that shows how much the return of Israel to the Temple Mount is intensifying,” Temple Mount activists stated Thursday (9th).

The Yera’e organization, which presented the data, has been following the Jewish presence on the Temple Mount for the past seven years.

Yochai Sar’el, one of the organization’s volunteers, noted the great change that took place in the visits to the Mount compared to 2016.

“The visits have become much more comfortable, with policemen greeting the visitors – the security is tight and Muslim harassers are removed from the complex.  On the Temple Mount itself, Shacharit and Mincha prayers and Torah lessons are held daily,” Sar’el said.

The organization believes that a new record number of visitors will be set this year and will probably soon surpass 40,000 worshipers a year, “an amount that has apparently not come to the Temple Mount since the destruction of the Temple” 2,000 years ago.

Jewish worshipers in the past had limited access to time and space during visits to the Temple Mount. However, in recent years, the trend of Jewish visits to Judaism’s holiest site is only increasing.



Report: Qatar Removes Some Anti-Semitic, Violent Material From School Textbooks

The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) released a report on changes made to Qatari school textbooks, which a previous review determined were rife with anti-Semitism and condoned violence.

The organization praised the removal of inflammatory material, including an 11th-grade Social Studies textbook that promoted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories such as the notion that Jews control global financial markets and are responsible for the rise of the Nazis.  Other passages that were removed referred to Jews as treacherous, hedonistic, immoral and elitist and claimed that they killed prophets.

IMPACT-se also noted that passages praising Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilians and glorifying jihad were removed as well.

But the organization expressed concern that a number of examples that had been designated as problematic in the earlier review were kept in the textbooks.  These include the idea that Jews were responsible for Germany’s defeat in World War I; criticism of non-Muslims; references to “Christianization” as a threat; and maps labeling the entirety of Israel as Palestine.

“Qatar’s textbooks have improved somewhat since our review of last years’ fall semester,” said IMPACT-se CEO Marcus Sheff.  “That report unearthed teaching material in Qatari textbooks that offered stiff competition to Iran and the Palestinian Authority in producing the most anti-Semitic and hate-filled textbooks in the Middle East.

“We are now seeing change – and recent improvements are to be commended – but there is quite a long way to go,” he said, adding that “IMPACT-se will continue to work for positive change to the Qatari curriculum.”



Philadelphia Official Accused Of Making Anti-Semitic Comments Resigns

A top official in Philadelphia’s city government resigned this week after making anti-Semitic remarks, including referring to the Holocaust movie Schindler’s List as “Jewish propaganda,” and creating a hostile environment for his staff, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Michael Rashid had served as director of commerce for the city of Philadelphia since November 2020. 

“Today [Sunday, 12th] I offered, and Mayor Kenney accepted, my resignation as Director of Commerce.  My continued service would be a distraction to the department, which is too important to the city and region,” Rashid said in a statement.  “I also have had the opportunity to speak with leaders of the Jewish community in Philadelphia and apologize for my previous comments which were inappropriate and insensitive.  I look forward to future engagement with the community going forward.”

Several Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Committee and the local Jewish Federation, had called on the mayor to fire Rashid after reports of his comments about Schindler’s List as well as his social media posts which were surfacing.  In one Facebook  post , he quoted Malcolm X calling Jewish neighborhoods “Jew Towns,” according to the Philly Voice.

“Kenny, earlier this week, stood with leaders of the Jewish community to condemn the rise of anti-Semitism.  If there is no room in our city for anti-Semitism, as the mayor said, then Mr. Rashid should be removed from office immediately,” Michael Balaban, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of greater Philadelphia, said in a statement, according to the Jewish Exponent.