News Digest — 6/17/21

Isaac Herzog To Become Israel’s 11th President July 7th

The presidential changing of the guard has been brought forward by two days.  Following repeated media reports that it would take place on July 9, it has now been officially announced that it will take place on July 7.

The installation of the 11th president of the State of Israel will differ somewhat from past ceremonies, in that following the swearing-in of President-elect Isaac Herzog at the Knesset, there will be a transition ceremony at the President’s Residence, where President Reuven Rivlin will formally and symbolically hand over the keys to Herzog.

This is the first time that a transition ceremony will be held at the President’s Residence.  It was certainly impossible in the case of Israel’s first two presidents, Chaim Weizmann and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, who each died in office.

Of the nation’s 11 presidents, Herzog is only the fourth to be born in Israel.  The others were Yitzhak Navon, Ezer Weizman and Rivlin.

Both Navon and Rivlin were born in Jerusalem – to multigenerational Jerusalem families.

Navon returned to politics, served as education minister, and only in his twilight years lived on the capital’s Jabotinsky Street, within easy walking distance of the President’s Residence – to which he was frequently invited, especially during the term of Shimon Peres.  Navon and Peres were not only good friends but lifelong disciples of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion.

Rivlin, who sold the apartment he had lived in for 40 years, will move to King David’s Court, which is a little further away but still within walking distance, especially for Rivlin who walks daily. 

Herzog, a former chairman of the Labor Party and opposition leader, will be 67 when he completes his term, and will still be young enough to follow Navon’s example and return to politics.

Herzog, judging by his political background and his accomplishments as chairman of the Jewish Agency, is likely to be a very active president, especially in the face of escalating anti-Semitism and the work of mending fences with Diaspora Jewry.



‘Yonatan Netanyahu Taught Us True Bravery’

A memorial service was held Wednesday (16th) at the graveside of Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, former PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s brother, who lost his life 45 years ago during Operation Entebbe, a successful counterterrorism hostage-rescue mission carried out by Israeli commandos at Entebbe Airport in Uganda on July 4, 1976.

The service was held on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem and was attended by family and friends, including Netanyahu, now the opposition leader, and his wife Sara, as well as President-elect Isaac Herzog and many Likud members.

Herzog, the main speaker at the event, described the late officer as the symbol of bravery in Israeli ethos.

“In the 45 years since Entebbe, Yoni has become engraved in our hearts and minds as a symbol of a soldier, a fighter, a commander, a brother and leader, to look up to and learn about courage and heroism,” he said.

Maj. Gen. Shai Avital, who served in a unit that was under Netanyahu’s command during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, recalled how instead of being paralyzed with fear during a fierce battle with the Syrian army, Netanyahu led his soldiers with bravery and a clear mind, inspiring them to continue fighting.

“Such descriptions are examples of Yoni Netanyahu’s legacy,” Herzog noted.  “He was a fearless fighter who had the courage to stand up to the enemy, a commander whose soldiers became stronger under his daring leadership, a man whose every action and decision in life were expressions of heroism and an Israeli who did everything to protect his home, country, birthplace and people,” he said.

“My family and I would like to thank all of you for coming today, and you President Isaac Herzog, for your accurate and uplifting words,” Netanyahu said at the end of the ceremony.   

“It’s been 45 years since we lost Yoni.  Had he lived, he would have been 75 years old and would have had so much to contribute to the State of Israel.  I want to say that there is not a single day that I don’t think of him.  Not a day when I do not remember him.”



Poll Finds Dramatic Rise In Palestinian Support For Hamas

Hamas is enjoying an upsurge in popularity following the recent Gaza War.  A new poll has found 75% of Palestinians view the terror group as victors in a war to defend Jerusalem and its holy sites from Israel.  And 60% support armed conflict with Israel.

The survey of Palestinians living in Judea, Samaria and Gaza also found that support for Palestinian Authority Head Mahmoud Abbas had dropped sharply, with 53% of Palestinians believing Hamas is “most deserving of representing and leading the Palestinian people,” while only 14% prefer Abbas’ secular Fatah party.

The survey was done by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.  PCPSR director Dr. Khalil Shikaki said that the results followed a typical pattern of the ebb and flow of Hamas popularity.  He said that public opinion swings towards Hamas in the aftermath of wars with Israel.  However, the popularity dissipates in three to six months as Palestinians see Hamas failing to deliver on promises to improve life.

“Clearly in the eyes of the public, Hamas came out a winner,” Shikaki said, adding that it will struggle to maintain those gains as it has little control over events in Jerusalem.

Shikaki added that Abbas could potentially regain support, but only if he shows initiative, either by reforming the PA, which is seen as increasingly corrupt and authoritarian, or by taking part in some kind of diplomatic push after a 12-year hiatus in the peace process.

The survey also found that 70% wanted Palestinian elections to be held soon.

The PCPSR report on its findings added that the recent unprecedented outbreak of violence between Jews and Arab Israelis caught the attention of the Palestinian public and “seems to have contributed  to a significant reduction in support for the one-state solution, which declined from a third to a fifth in three months.”



Aliyah From US, Canada Spikes After Year Of Covid

Some 5,000 new immigrants from the US and Canada are scheduled to make aliyah by the end of 2021, according to new data published by the Nefesh B’Nefesh organization in conjunction with the Aliyah and Integration Ministry, the Jewish Agency for Israel and JNF-USA.

Nefesh B’Nefesh has reported a spike in the number of aliyah requests and files opened during the COVID pandemic.  In 2020, the organization received 14,022 requests to make aliyah compared to 4,582 in 2019.

Since January 2021, 1,171 olim from North America have already arrived  in Israel, a 95% increase over the same time period in 2020 and 22% more than in 2019, the organization reported.

In 2020, a total of 3,168 immigrants from North America arrived in Israel through Nefesh B’Nefesh.

This year’s aliyah wave is expected to crest in August, when over 1,000 North American olim are slated to arrive.

One of the new immigrants is Max Goldman, 19, from Maryland, who is making aliyah to serve in the IDF as a lone soldier.

“After I finished my pre-army preparatory academy at Kol Ami, I started to feel how much Israel really is our country, and that I need to defend it.  Israel is the main place that defends Jews all over the world, and being part of that and contributing to the country is something special,” Goldman said.

“With that feeling, and my connection to friends from Israel, and the Israeli ‘chutzpah’ and the way people live their daily lives, I knew that this would be my new home.  I’m officially making aliyah, and I’m so excited to be ‘home’ and living in the Land of Israel,” Goldman added.

Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh, said, “After a year of challenges in which Israel proved its strength and determination, this year we are seeing the fulfillment of the enormous growth of requests to make aliyah last year.  Many olim are going to fulfill their dream of setting down roots in Israel, with the peak this summer, when there will be an ‘air train’ of dozens of groups of new immigrants from North America who will be landing at the gates of Israel.”



Muslim Man Confronts Attackers In Anti-Semitic Assault

Two Jewish men under attack in Westminster, UK, were saved by a Muslim bystander recently, London’s Metropolitan police said. 

The Jewish men left a restaurant on May 23 and were followed suspiciously by two men.  At an intersection, the two suspects rushed at the Jewish men and began punching them, all the while making anti-Semitic remarks that caused the police to treat the incident as a hate crime.

A Muslim man confronted the attackers, and offered shelter to the two lightly injured men.  Police were called shortly after and the area was searched.  The suspects are still on the loose. 

Detective Inspector Kevin Eade of the Met’s Central West BCU said in a statement, “This behavior has no place in our city and it will not be tolerated.  All Londoners should be able to live free from harassment or abuse.  In this case, two men from the Jewish community were assaulted, but it was the intervention of someone from another faith that helped stop the assault.”

“This shows that people can help and support each other, not least by confronting those who would set community against community.  If anyone has information about this or any other hate crime, I would urge them to come forward.”