News Digest — 2/25/20

Islamic Jihad Breaches Cease-Fire Hours After Announcing It

The Islamic Jihad terror group in the Gaza Strip announced a unilateral cease-fire that went into effect 11:30 p.m. on Monday (24th), calling for a halt after two days of intense fighting with Israel, just a week before the country’s national elections.

In a short statement, the Iranian proxy said it had completed its “retaliation” for the killing of three of its members.  But it vowed to respond to any further Israeli “aggression.”

But just hours after the announcement, at least two rockets were fired out of Gaza, raising the prospect of renewed fighting.

Previously Israeli aircraft pounded dozens of targets in the Gaza Strip, while Islamic Jihad militants bombarded southern Israel with at least 80 rockets before the cease-fire announcement Monday evening (24th).

Earlier on Monday (24th), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, locked in the final days of an election campaign, threatened Gaza’s Hamas rulers with a stepped-up operation if the rocket fire continued.

“I’m talking about a war,” he told Israel’s Army Radio station.  “I only go to war as a last option, but we have prepared something you can’t even imagine.”

In recent months, Israel has worked with UN and Egyptian mediators to cement an informal cease-fire with Hamas, the much larger Islamic terror group that has ruled Gaza for more than a decade.  

Up until Sunday (23rd), the Palestinian Islamic JIhad (PIJ), a smaller, weaker and more disorganized group than Hamas, has acted as a “spoiler” capable  of undermining any ceasefire efforts that Egypt has mediated between Hamas and Israel by firing rockets into Israel occasionally and sending incendiary balloons into Israel with explosives attached.  Israel has put up with it until now.  

Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are supported and funded by Iran.



UN Ambassador Danon Urges Security Council “Condemn Gaza Shooting’

The UN Security Council met on Monday (24th) to discuss the latest developments in the region and the escalation in Israel’s south.  The discussion opened with a review by UN Envoy to the Middle East Nikolai Mladenov.

“The situation is escalating as we speak.  The UN team is in contact with Egyptian officials on the ground.  We call for a cessation of rocket fire against a civilian population, which is in violation of international law,” Mladenov said.

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon turned to council members demanding that they respond to the escalation.  “Dozens of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel indicates a clear intention by terrorist entities in the Gaza Strip to escalate the situation.  Israel is acting with determination and responsibility to remove the threat to its citizens and will not hesitate to continue its defensive actions.”

“The international community should condemn the rocket fire from Gaza and act against warmongering terrorist organizations,” said the Israeli ambassador.



Pence, Pompeo, Friedman To Attend AIPAC

WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence will attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference next week and address the audience, the pro-Israel lobby announced on Monday night (24th).

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to attend, as well as US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, AIPAC announced.  The announcements come amid the public clash between the pro-Israel lobby and Sen. Bernie Sanders. The leading Democrat presidential hopeful tweeted on Saturday (22nd) that he would not attend AIPAC’s policy conference in Washington, claiming that the organization gives a platform “for leaders who express bigotry.”  The committee said they found his comments shameful. It is not clear from the announcement to which leaders the Democratic senator from Vermont was referring.  

The annual conference will take place on March 1-3 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in the US capital.

The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations released a statement on Monday (24th) without mentioning Sanders, advising its member organizations to attend the event.  “AIPAC brings together a bipartisan diversity of all sectors of society from across the political spectrum,” the statement read. “Boycotting this important opportunity for dialogue is irresponsible and counterproductive.”



Roads Flooded In Israel’s Southern Arava Region

Heavy rainfall, almost two inches, lasting for an unusual 12 hours, has caused flooding in the Arava region, closing roads, Israel Hayom reported. 

Israel’s Water Authority also announced that the Sea of Galilee rose another one and a half inches since Monday (24th), bringing the sea to within 37 inches of the upper red line, signaling that the lake is full.

Roads in the South are closed near the Arava Junction and between the Hatzeva, Sapir, Ketura and Menorah Junctions.  The Arava regional Council announced schools and preschools will remain closed Tuesday (25th) due to the weather.

Meanwhile, Eilat municipal workers are trying to clear the roads of water and debris, and the Nature Parks Authority has closed tourist sites in the Judean Desert, Israel Hayom reported, as southern and eastern streams are expected to flood.  

Tuesday (25th) will see intermittent rainfall in most areas of Israel, as well as isolated thunderstorms



In First, Saudi King Hosts Israeli Rabbi At Royal Palace

For the first time in modern history, a rabbi met with the King of Saudi Arabia last week.

King Salman hosted Jerusalem-based rabbi David Rosen in his royal palace in the Saudi capital, in a move indicative of the monarchy’s desire to further open itself up to the Western world.

Rosen was born in England but moved to Israel years ago and is a member of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s Commission for Interreligious Dialogue.  He spent two and a half days in the Saudi capital to attend the meeting of the King Abdullah International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, where he is a member of the board of directors.

The Vienna-based center, known as KAICIID, was established eight years ago by the previous Saudi King, Abdullah, but no Saudi monarch has ever invited board members to its palace in Riyadh.

“It was amazing.  The experience was really something special,” Rosen told The Times of Israel this week.  “And it was not just the meeting with the king.  The most exciting thing was meeting young people who are seeing the transformation that their country is undergoing.”

Last week’s meeting was in fact the first ever interfaith group hosted by King Salman, Rosen said.

“Just two years ago, the Saudi authorities “would not have contemplated inviting us, and primarily me as a rabbi.  This would have been too much for then,” Rosen said. “In this sense the reception at the royal palace was a revolutionary moment,” he added.

No kosher catering was provided for Rosen, who is a vegan, so he survived on pita, hummus, olives and dates,.  “I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so many dates in my life,” he joked.



Suspect Arrested For Spraying Swastikas On Nebraska Synagogue

A suspect accused of vandalizing a synagogue in Nebraska was arrested over the weekend, by the Lincoln Police Department (LPD), reported local news outlet KETV.

According to the report, Noah Miller, 21, is being charged with Felony Vandalism for spray-painting swastikas and racial epithets on the door and steps of the South Street Temple in Lincoln in January.

Investigators were given video surveillance footage of the vandalism by the Temple that showed an adult male spray-painting both the door and the steps of the Temple, as well as taking pictures of it with his cell phone.

In addition, investigators received numerous tips, interviewed potential suspects and served search warrants to track down Miller

The vandalism of the synagogue and Miller’s arrest follows a recent upsurge of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States over the past few years.

Last year the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released its annual census of U.S. anti-Semitic incidents.  It counted 1,879 anti-Semitic incidents – either harassment, vandalism or physical assault – in 2018. That is a 5% decrease from the 1,986  incidents reported in 2017, but the third highest total since ADL began tracking the data in the 1970s.

The 2017 number marked a 57% increase over 2016 and was the highest tally the ADL had encountered in more than two decades.