News Digest — 3/14/22

‘Moral Duty:’ Ukrainian Refugees With Family In Israel Allowed Entry

There will be no cap on the number of Ukrainian refugees with a relative in Israel who are permitted to enter the country, according to a new policy presented by Israel’s Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked on Sunday (13th).

The policy applies to individuals who do not qualify for Israel’s Law of Return, which allows the immigration of anyone with a Jewish grandparent.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Sunday (13th) said Israel has a moral duty to let in more Ukrainians and called for a more “generous” but “balanced” entry policy, following criticism that the country is limiting the influx of non-Jewish refugees.

“We will not close our doors and hearts to people who have lost their entire world,” Lapid said while visiting the Siret border crossing between Romania and Ukraine.

Israel announced last week that it will host 25,000 non-Jewish Ukrainians, some of whom already had entered the country before the Russian invasion.  The remaining 5,000 spots were reserved for Ukrainians “who arrived or will arrive following the outbreak of hostilities.”

The government is also bracing for the arrival of 100,000 new immigrants as a result of fighting between Russian and Ukraine forces, under the auspices of The Law of Return.

“Israel has nine million inhabitants, and our Jewish identity will not be harmed by a few thousand more refugees,” Lapid argued.  “On the contrary, our children will learn an important lesson about morality and responsibility.”

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett welcomed Shaked’s update on the country’s refugee policy.

“The mission of the State of Israel is to be a safe home for every Jew in need,” Bennett said.  However, this period requires us to reach out with a helping hand and be a refuge, even if temporary, for people who fled the war and have relatives here in Israel, who can be their support in this difficult time.”   

At the same time, Lapid clarified that Israel will not be able to absorb tens of thousands of non-Jewish refugees.

“We can and should be more generous about letting in more refugees, but we can’t let in refugees without restrictions,” Lapid said.  “The government’s job will be to find the balance.”

Early on Sunday, (13th) Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman urged the government to allow Ukrainians fleeing from the war whose lives are in danger to enter the country.

“As long as the fighting continues, we must accept those who are fleeing and whose lives are in danger,” Liberman told the Walla news site.

“When the fire stops, we can stop accepting refugees, but at the moment there is mortal danger, people are coming from all sorts of places where battles are taking place.”

“Women, old people, retirees come here, there is no fear that they will settle down to work,” he said.

Yair Lapid added, “We are going to take care of these refugees the way we would like our grandmother and our kids to be taken care of.”



Children’s Purim Parties Brought Forward By A Day As Snowy Weather Forecasted

Celebrations for the coming Purim festival were moved forward in towns and cities across Israel to avoid expected stormy weather, with children going to school in costumes on Monday (14th) instead of Tuesday (15th) as originally planned.

The annual Jewish holiday of Purim, which officially starts Wednesday night (16th) and continues into Thursday (17th) in most places, is marked by costume-themed celebrations.  Each year, Israeli schools set aside the day before for kids of all ages to arrive in costume, but with the snow predicted in many areas on Tuesday (15th), authorities made the decisions to move up the festivities rather than run the risk of having the weather ruin the fun.

Costume day was set for Monday (14th) in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Ashdod, among many other locations. 

“We won’t disappoint the children and we will celebrate with costumes and with merry-making,” said Mayor Moshe Lion on Sunday (13th) in a statement explaining why the capital decided to move up the celebrations.

The Jerusalem parents’ steering committee welcomed the decision, according to the Ynet news site.

The northern city of Safed already announced Friday (11th) that it was canceling a Purim procession scheduled for Tuesday (15th) due to the expected bad weather.



Report: Saudi Executions Prompt Iran To Cut Off Talks

Iran has decided to temporarily suspend its secret Baghdad-brokered talks aimed at defusing years-long tensions with regional rival Saudi Arabia, Iranian state-linked media reported Sunday (13th), a day after Saudi Arabia carried out its largest known mass execution in its modern history.

The Iranian news website Nournews, considered close to the country’s Supreme National Security Council, reported the government had unilaterally paused the talks with Saudi Arabia that have been ongoing in Baghdad over the past year aimed at restoring diplomatic ties.

Iraq’s foreign minister earlier had said the fifth round of talks between Saudi and Iranian representatives was due to resume on Wednesday (16th).

The report did not give a reason for Iran’s suspension, but it comes after Saudi Arabia put to death 81 people convicted of crimes ranging from killings to ties to terrorist groups, a group that activists believe included over 36 Shiites.

Iran, the largest Shiite Muslim Country in the world, and Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic relations in 2016 after Saudi Arabia executed prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.  Angry Iranians protesting the execution stormed two Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran, fueling years of animosity between the nations.

The Baghdad-mediated talks between the regional foes began quietly in Iraq’s capital last year as Saudi Arabia sought a way to end its disastrous war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, a conflict that has spawned one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters and brought rebel drones and missiles raining down on Saudi airports and oil facilities.

Iran-backed militias also have attacked Saudi targets and launched drones against the kingdom from Iraq.

The pause in diplomatic talks between the countries that have long competed for influence across the Middle East comes at a tense time for the region.  On Sunday, (13th) Iran claimed responsibility for a missile strike landing in the vicinity of the US Consulate in Iraq’s northern city of Erbil, describing the attack as retaliation for an Israeli strike in Syria that killed two members of its Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Talks to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers meanwhile broke off last week without an agreement, casting uncertainty over months of negotiations that had nearly reached a breakthrough.



Turkey To Return Israel’s Most Important Ancient Inscription

Turkey has agreed to return to Israel its most important ancient Hebrew inscription as a result of the recent warming of ties between the two countries, Times of Israel reported Friday (11th).

Israel has wanted the Siloam Inscription back for years, as it proves a biblical account of the building of a water tunnel in Jerusalem in King Hezekiah’s time, 2,700 years ago.  As described in both the Books of Kings and Chronicles, afraid of a siege on the City of David by the Assyrians, the king ordered that a tunnel be dug from the Pool of Siloam outside the city walls in order to bring the water source into the capital.

Written in paleo-Hebrew on the wall of approximately the midpoint of the tunnel, the inscription describes how the excavators working from both ends simultaneously, heard each other’s voices and cut through the last bit of rock between them so that the water could flow into Jerusalem.

The myriad of visitors who have walked through the tunnel at the City of David site just south of the Old City near the Western Wall have only seen a copy  of the inscription set into its original place.  The real stone has been displayed for years in the Istanbul Archeology Museum as part of a collection of relics discovered during the 400 year-year reign of the Ottoman Empire over much of the Middle East, including what is now the modern State of Israel.

Officials from both sides worked out the details of the transfer during Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s state visit to Ankara last Wednesday (9th), the first time an Israeli leader had come on an official visit since 2008.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been a vocal critic of Jerusalem for years, hosting top Hamas officials in his country involved in planning terror attacks in Israel, marked the occasion by saying, “This historic visit will be a turning point in relations between Turkey and Israel.  Strengthening relations with the State of Israel has great value for our country.”

According to an Israeli official quoted in the report, in exchange for the inscription, Israel will give Turkey a religiously important item from its history, probably an ancient candelabra from the Ottoman period.

The Istanbul Museum also has another ancient caption from Jerusalem, known as the Temple Warning Inscription.  Etched on the balustrade of the Second Temple, the tablet cautions pagan visitors not to proceed any further towards the Jewish holy site, on penalty of death.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Advisor Ahmad a-Dikh claimed Sunday (13th) that the Turkish Ministry of Religious Services has denied in a written letter the Israeli reports claiming Turkey agreed to return the inscription, Telegram channel Abu Ali Express  reported.

The channel also reported last week that opponents of Israel in the Arab world would have been uncomfortable watching Israel’s “diplomatic blitz,” referring not only to Herzog’s visit to Ankara but also Lapid’s meeting with King Abdullah in Jordan and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi’s visit to Bahrain.



Iranian Jews Acquired Tomb Of Queen Esther And Mordechai, Israel’s National Library Reveals

Ahead of the Purim holiday, Israel’s National Library has revealed the exchange of historical letters proving Iranian Jews purchased the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai in the Iranian city of Hamadan.  The purchase of the land in 1970 marked 2,500 years to Persian King Cyrus the Great’s edict allowing Babylonians to worship the god of their choice.  (Also in 538 BC, King Cyrus made a public declaration granting the Jews the right of return to Judah to rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem).

The letters reveal negotiations between Jewish representatives in the country and officials in Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s government toward the purchase of the land where, according to tradition, Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai, whose story is read in the Book of Esther on Purim, are buried.

There is no mention of their burial site in Jewish texts, making the issue of their tomb a matter of dispute.  According to several traditions dating back to the Middle Ages, the two Jewish figures are buried in Hamadan.

Initial evidence of the mausoleum’s ties to Esther and Mordechai was provided by medieval Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela in the 12th century, who estimated Hamadan to have had around 50,000 Jewish residents and described the tomb as being situated in front of the synagogue.

The extraordinary exchange of letters was preserved by the ORT organization, and maintained in the National Library’s Central Zionist Archives.

According to Dr. Samuel Thrope, the curator of the library’s Middle East and Islam Collection, “the letters are a testament to Iran’s last Shah having seen himself as Cyrus’ successor and having sought to portray that image to his country’s Jews.  The 2,500-year-old anniversary to the Edict of Cyrus was precisely the event the Shah had been looking for.”

According to the historical letters, the Iranian land was purchased on January 18, 1970, with the help of officials in Shah Reza Pahlavi’s government, after which ownership of the plot was transferred to the local Jewish community.

Dr. Thrope explained: “This story sheds a unique light on the Jewish community’s ties to authorities in Iran over the years and Cyrus’ special status, both among Jews and the Persian public.”

Purim begins this week on Wednesday (16th) at sundown and ends on Thursday evening the (17th).