News Digest — 3/28/23

Israeli President Herzog Meets With Netanyahu, Lapid And Gantz, Calls To Start Immediate Negotiations

On Monday evening (27th), President Isaac Herzog spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and opposition figures Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz, urging them to begin an “immediate process of negotiation” to arrive at a “broad consensus” for the judicial reform.

Herzog called on each side to form negotiation teams to begin talks.

“Stopping the legislation is the right move.  This is the time to begin a sincere, serious, and responsible dialogue that will lower the flames,” Herzog said.

“For the sake of our unity and for the sake of our children’s future, we must start talking, here and now.  The President’s Residence, the People’s Home, is a space for dialogue and the establishment of consensus that is as broad as possible, that will usher Israel out of this state of crisis,” he said.

National Unity leader Gantz told Netanyahu he welcomed the prime minister’s decision to delay the reform.

Gantz called on the prime minister to reconsider his decision to fire Defense Minister Yoav Gallant after the latter called to halt the judicial reform.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid responded to Netanyahu’s announcement by expressing hope that negotiations would end with establishing a formal constitution, but expressed doubt at Netanyahu’s authenticity.

“If the legislation really does stop, really and totally, we are ready to start genuine dialogue at the President’s Residence,” Lapid said.

We need to sit together and write the Israeli constitution based on the values of the Declaration of Independence.  We need to let the president determine a process for the dialogue and trust him to be an impartial mediator.



Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Announced Freeze Of Judicial Reforms

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered an address to the nation Monday evening (27th) on the government’s planned judicial reforms.

“There is an extreme minority that is ready to tear our country into parts.  It tends towards violence  It ignites fires.  It threatens to harm elected officials.  It talks about civil war.  And it calls for insubordination, which is a terrible crime,” Netanyahu said.

“The State of Israel cannot exist without the IDF, and the IDF cannot exist with insubordination.  Insubordination by one side will bring about insubordination on the other side.  Insubordination is the end of our state.  Therefore I demand that our security forces and the IDF’s commanders oppose the phenomenon of insubordination.  Not to contain it, not to understand it.  To stop it,” he said.

“For three months I have called for dialogue.  I also said I would leave no stone unturned in order to reach a solution.  Because I remember, we remember, that we are not facing enemies: we are facing our brothers.  I say here and now, we must not have a civil war.”

“We are now on a path towards a very dangerous collision in Israeli society which jeopardizes the basic unity between us, and such a crisis obligates all of us to act responsibly.”    

“Out of national responsibility, out of a desire to prevent a rift in the nation, I have decided to postpone the second third reading of the law in this session of the Knesset in order to give time to try to reach a wide agreement on the legislation in the next session of the Knesset. This way we will bring about a reform that will restore the balance which has been lost, while maintaining and even strengthening human and individual rights,” he declared.

The prime minister said that a majority of his allies in the coalition support the move to freeze the legislation changing the composition of the judicial selection committee.  The Otzma Yehudit party had earlier announced that Netanyahu and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir had reached an agreement on the freezing of the legislation.

Netanyahu had reportedly planned to give a public address Monday morning (27th) announcing the freezing of the judicial reform legislation following the dismissal of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and the mass demonstrations which subsequently broke out across the country Sunday night (26th).  He decided to hold off on making a public statement until evening, after the Religious Zionist party issued a statement demanding the immediate passage of legislation altering the Judicial Selection Committee.



Airspace Opens After Ben-Gurion Airport Lifts Strike

Sixteen flights are scheduled to take off before midnight on Tuesday (28th) and another 16 are scheduled to take off between midnight and 1:40 am Wednesday (29th) according to a Monday evening (27th) announcement from Israel’s Airport Authority.

This came hours after an announcement saying there would be no flights leaving Ben-Gurion Airport until further notice as part of widespread strikes announced by the Workers’ Union on Monday morning (27th) in protest of the judicial reform.

The strikes were being held in protest of the judicial reform and the firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant after he called for the government to freeze the legislation of the judicial reform.  During the strike as for incoming flights, only those already in the sky were allowed to land.

Turkish Airlines and LOT Polish Airlines had announced Monday (27th) that due to the situation in Israel, their flights to Tel Aviv would not be taking off at all, according to a report from KAN news

Passengers continued the check-in process after the announcement without knowing if their flights would actually depart.  The flight board in the airport showed flights later on in the day intending on leaving, but it was uncertain.

At the time, members of the Workers’ Union had said that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would stop the judicial reform legislation, flights would return to normal  functioning as usual.

The strikes were also held in universities, hospitals and other sectors.



Shin Bet: Islamic Jihad Terrorist Behind Shooting Attack Arrested

The Shin Bet announced Monday (27th) that a member of the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization who was behind the shooting at an Israeli driver last week has been arrested.

Bahaa Yousef, 27, is accused of carrying out the shooting at Adam Square in the Binyamin Region on Thursday morning (23rd).  An Israeli vehicle was damaged but no one was injured in the attack.

Yousef was arrested Sunday (26th) and the gun he allegedly used in the attack was seized.

According to the IDF, Yousef was planning to carry out additional shooting attacks.

There have been numerous shooting attacks in Judea and Samaria in the last month.  On February 26, two Israeli brothers were murdered in a shooting attack in the village of Huwara.  Three other Israelis have been wounded in two additional shootings in Huwara since then.  On February 28, US-Israeli citizen Elan Ganeles was murdered while driving to a friend’s wedding.

Last week during a joint IDF and Shin Bet counterterrorism activity, the forces apprehended a terrorist squad from the town of Beit Ummar, who carried out a shooting attack toward the community of Kamei Tzur on January 22,

In less than a week after the shooting, IDF and Shin Bet forces apprehended three 20-year-old operatives from the town of Beit Ummar and transferred them for questioning.



Israel And United Arab Emirates Pave Way For Free-Trade Pact To Take Effect

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and United Arab Emirates Ambassador to Israel Mohamed Al Haja signed a customs deal on Sunday (26th) that paves the way for the countries’ free-trade agreement to enter into force.

“The taking effect of the free-trade agreement is important news for the Israeli economy, for the strengthening of ties with the UAE and is further testament to the importance of the Abraham Accords,” said Cohen in reference to the Trump administration-brokered agreements that normalized Jerusalem’s relations with four Arab nations.

The May 2022 free-trade agreement was the fastest-ever negotiated in Israel’s history, signed in Dubai some 18 months after the countries established diplomatic relations.  The agreement removes tariffs on 98% of goods traded, ranging from food to jewelry to medical equipment.  Other benefits include protection of intellectual property and, new to free-trade agreements, a promise to find ways for small and medium-sized businesses to profit from “commercial opportunities granted by the agreement.”

Last year, bilateral trade reached more than $2.5 billion (not including software and services), making the UAE Israel’s 16th largest trading partner.

“The historic agreement signed with the UAE continues to bear fruit for the benefit of the people of both countries,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who attended Sunday’s (26th) signing ceremony.

“I am certain that we will be able to expand the circle of peace between Israel and additional countries in our region,” he added.

Netanyahu said last month that he was actively counting on Saudi Arabia to join in the Abraham Accords, as that would constitute a “quantum leap” towards regional peace.

Israel is also currently working to expand the accords to four additional nations – Mauritania, Somalia, Niger, and Indonesia.



Israel In The Eyes Of New Immigrants – Nitzi Yakov

Even when Israel is embroiled in intense disputes, new immigrants continue to arrive.  A Young New Immigrants Fair for those interested in studying at Bar-Ilan University saw many attendees from Russia and Ukraine, as well as immigrants from Turkey, Ethiopia, and Peru.

Shelly Shuver, 20, who immigrated from Paris, said, “In France the situation has become less safe, and not just for Jews.  There have been many attacks, so as a Jew, and generally as a human being, I personally prefer the country and the security here….Nothing will make me leave because I have no other place to go.”

George Zaves, 18, from Belarus, said, “The security situation in Israel doesn’t worry me at all….Those of us coming from Russia, with all the tensions there, the war with Ukraine, the economic pressure, not to mention the violation of freedom of expression and violent repression – I fear nothing….You in Israel simply don’t know how to appreciate the freedom you have, the ability to express an opinion freely without someone handcuffing, arresting, or severely punishing you for it.  In Russia, you can only dream of a free democracy like you have in Israel.”

Tefra Gethon, who immigrated from Ethiopia said, “The State of Israel is known for its democracy and the ability of every person to express their opinions freely, unlike in Ethiopia.” Bayilan Worku, 25, also from Ethiopia, said, “many people in the world admire the State of Israel and its democracy.  This is precisely the reason that more and more young people, including immigrants from all over the world, choose to live here and start a family here, to raise children in peace.  Israel is a good place to live”