News Digest — 5/24/19

Massive Wildfires Sweep Israel Day After Palestinians Launch 11 Arson Balloons – Egypt Helps

Israeli firefighters battled brush fires along the Gaza boundary, as well as near the country’s main international airport and outside Jerusalem on Thursday (23rd).  A major Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway was also closed to traffic because of the fires.

A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed “incendiary balloons launched by Hamas” for fires near the Gaza Strip in southern Israel.

Gaza terrorists floated 11 incendiary balloons into Israel on Wednesday (22nd).

An Israeli police official told Hebrew media that a fire had almost completely destroyed the village of Mevo Modi’im – a community founded by the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

Israel and the region are currently gripped by a major heatwave, with temperatures around the country reaching from 100-108F.  The extreme heat is supposed to remain through the weekend, with temperatures in some areas hitting 48C (118F).

Netanyahu instructed the Foreign Ministry and Public Security Ministry to seek firefighting aircraft from abroad to help battle the blazes, a spokesman from the prime minister’s office said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Netanyahu on Friday (24th) thanked Egypt for sending two helicopters to back Israel’s firefighting efforts, and said that the PA and Russia were among those that offered to help Israel battle the spate of wildfires that forced thousands from their homes on Thursday (23rd).

As planes from Cyprus, Italy, Greece and Croatia make their way on Friday (24th) to help Israel fight the fires, Netanyahu said he is considering expanding Israel’s squadron of fire-fighting aircraft.

Firefighters are bracing Friday (24th) for fresh wildfires, with temperatures expected to soar to 48C (118F) in some places.

A massive forest fire in 2010 burned for four days on northern Israel’s Mount Carmel, claiming 44 lives and destroying around 12,000 acres, much of it woodland.



Pompeo: We Are Bolstering Israel’s Security And Fighting Anti-Semitism

Speaking at an Israeli Embassy reception in Washington on Wednesday (22nd) to mark that country’s 71st Independence Day, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “We’ve bolstered Israel’s security…by applying maximum pressure against the single greatest threat to stability and security  in the Middle East, and indeed, stability and security in Israel – the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

“We’ve pushed back hard too, against anti-Israel bias at the United Nations, and will continue to oppose it wherever it raises its ugly head.  We are unleashing a fight against anti-semitism, a growing problem across much of the world, including sadly right here in the United States.”

“These actions by this administration…are instinctive, they are reflective, and they are right.  And we do them because of that, because they are in the best interest of both of our peoples.”

At the same event, Israeli Ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer noted: “With each passing decade Israel is giving more and more support to America… With America in need of democratic allies that have powerful militaries, first-rate intelligence services, and advanced cyber capabilities, there are few, if any, security partners better than Israel.  And with America in need of democratic allies that can help it maintain its technological supremacy for decades to come, there are no technology partners better than Israel.”



One Year Later, The US Embassy Move Has Produced Lasting Gains – Evelyn Gordon

It is true that only Guatemala has followed America’s lead in moving its embassy to Jerusalem, but this misses the point and thereby obscures the real and lasting gains of the embassy move.  If it took America more than two decades to move its embassy despite a bipartisan consensus that was codified in legislation, it will clearly take time for countries that have only just started considering the issue to reach the point of being ready to actually make the move.

What the US decision did accomplish was to break the global taboo on thinking and talking about this idea.  Never again will recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital be an inconceivable option. In the space of just one year, in many countries, it has already become a hotly debated one.  And the more the idea is discussed, the more realistic the possibility becomes.

The embassy decision also slayed the myth that recognizing Jerusalem would spark massive violence in the Arab world.  The move sparked no violence anywhere except among Palestinians, and even that was short-lived. Consequently, no country contemplating such a move will be deterred by fear of a bloody reaction.



Trump Heights’ Residents Get Ready For Breaking Ground In New Settlement

Since US President Donald Trump signed a proclamation recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights there has been much buzz in Israel as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for the founding of a new settlement in the northern region.

The settlement which is still in its early stages – will house 97 families.  These past few weeks its popularity has grown and due to a large number of inquiries, the settlement has even created a hotline.

The new town will be built in what is now part of Bruchim, a town founded in 1991.  Today it is home to a couple dozen senior citizens, whose children have grown and moved elsewhere.

The official celebration honoring the decision by the Trump administration to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan will take place on June 12 in the Golan Heights.  Officials from the US administration will be in attendance, as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others, as they join in celebration, signifying the beginning of a tradition.

“Starting from this event and every year, June 10 will be marked regularly as the day when the Golan Heights was liberated, and the day when the US government recognized Israeli sovereignty,” said Batya Gottlieb, spokeswoman for the Golan Regional Council.



In Shadow Of Legendary Zubin Mehta, 30-Year-Old Maestro To Lead Israel Philharmonic

When Zubin Mehta joined the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 1969, Lahav Shani wasn’t even born yet.  Now, at the age of 30, the Israeli wunderkind is poised to succeed his mentor at the helm of the acclaimed symphony.

Stepping into the shoes of a beloved living legend would seem to be no easy task.  But Shani is embracing it, calling it an “honor” and promising to put his own distinctive touch and high expectations on an institution that is widely seen as a national treasure.

“What we are trying to convey to the audience is that the music you’re hearing now is incredible – it’s amazing,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.  “If I am not convinced as a musician that the music I’m performing is the best music there is, I cannot expect the audience to have the same feeling.”

Mehta, 83, is set to step down late this year after leading the orchestra for half a century and holding the title of “music director for life” since 1981.

A towering figure in the music world, the Indian maestro has conducted thousands of performances on five continents with the orchestra.

Shani said he “doesn’t even dare to compare” himself to Mehta, but said he counts him as one of his biggest influences and supporters.

Shani a gifted pianist who grew up in Tel Aviv as the son of a local conductor, performed as a soloist with the philharmonic under Mehta’s tutelage as a teenager and said he was encouraged by Mehta to pursue a conducting career.

After Mehta announced his plans to retire, orchestra musicians held a vote and overwhelmingly chose Shani – their friend and colleague – to be the next director.

Shani said being an Israeli, and his familiarity with the orchestra, have helped make the transition easier.