News Digest — 6/24/21

Honduras Opens Embassy In Jerusalem

Following in the footsteps of the United States, Kosovo, and its neighbor Guatemala, Honduras was the fourth country to relocate its embassy to the Israeli capital at a dedication ceremony at Jerusalem’s Malcha Technological Park on Thursday (24th).

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez arrived in Israel for the occasion.

Among the Israelis taking part in the official dedication ceremony were Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Prime Minister-designate Yair Lapid, Foreign Minister Director-General Alon Ushpiz, as well as Israeli Ambassador to Honduras Eldad Golan and Honduran Ambassador to Israel Mario Castillo.

Hernandez’s mother and sister, as well as Honduras’ Deputy President Ricardo Antonio Alvarez Arias, Interior Minister Rigoberto Chang Castle, the head of the Honduran Public Prosecutor’s Office Oscar Fernando Chinchilla Banegas, and other officials flew to Israel by private plane.

While in Israel, Hernandez will meet with President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

The opening of the Honduran Embassy is the culmination of a story 30 years in the making.  It all began when the Israeli Embassy in the Central American country identified Hernandez as a figure that could prove influential in the country in the future.  Invited to Israel by the Foreign Ministry’s International Development Cooperation Agency, Hernandez took part in a young leadership course in 1991.

Unfortunately, Israel closed its embassy in the country’s capital of Tegucigalpa due to budget cuts in 1995 and appointed the then-envoy to Guatemala to represent Israel to Honduras in its place.

In the meantime, Hernandez went on to become a successful businessman.  Seven years ago he ran for the presidency and won.  One of the first steps he took as president was to bolster ties with Israel.  He visited the Jewish state four separate times while in office, keeping in touch with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose economic approach he saw as a model to emulate.

A few months after the United States and Honduras’ neighbor Guatemala relocated their embassies to Jerusalem, Hernandez agreed with Netanyahu’s request to follow in their footsteps.  Despite vocal opposition from the country’s large pro-Palestinian community, the move went ahead as planned.

In return for the embassy’s relocation to Jerusalem, Israel agreed to reopen its embassy in Honduras.

Hernandez’s intention was to attend the dedication of the embassy’s move to Jerusalem, before leaving office in the fall.



Prominent Abbas Critic Dies During Raid In His Home By PA Security Officers

Prominent Palestinian political activist Nizar Banat died after Palestinian Authority security officers arrived at his home to arrest him early Thursday (24th).

The incident took place as the PA is stepping up its security crackdown on political opponents and social media users in the West Bank.

“Banat’s health-condition deteriorated when the security forces arrested him,”  PA governor of Hebron, Jibreen al-Bakri, said in a statement.

“The security officers arrived at Banat’s home in the Hebron area after an arrest warrant was issued by the general prosecution,” Bakri said.

“During the arrest, Banat’s health deteriorated and he was immediately transferred to the Hebron hospital, where he was pronounced dead by the doctors,” al-Bakri added.

A PA security official said that an investigation has been launched to determine the cause of death.  The official refused to comment on allegations that Banat was beaten by the security officers.

Banat was famous for his sharp criticism of the PA leadership and was arrested several times in the past by Palestinian security forces.

He recently called on the European Union to halt financial aid to the PA and launch an investigation into the “squandering of European taxpayer money.”

Banat was a candidate on the Freedom and Dignity electoral list for the Palestinian parliamentary elections which were supposed to take place on May 22.

In response to PA Leader Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to call off the parliamentary and presidential elections (slated for July 31), Banat and his list published a statement asking EU courts, especially the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, to order an immediate cessation of financial aid to the authority.

The unprecedented appeal to the EU drew strong condemnation from senior PA and Fatah officials.  They accused Banat of “crossing a redline” by appealing to foreign parties to suspend financial aid to the PA.

Shortly after the appeal, unidentified gunmen attacked Banat’s house in the town of Dura, near Hebron.  No one was hurt.  Banat hinted that “thugs” belonging to Abbas’ ruling Fatah faction were behind the shooting attack.  He claimed that the assailants were escorted by PA security officers.

In recent months Banat has been posting videos on Facebook in which he launched scathing attacks on Abbas and senior PA and Fatah officials.

Earlier this week, he posted a video in which he strongly denounced the PA leadership over the botched Pfizer exchange agreement with Israel.

Under the terms of the agreement, Israel would have provided the Palestinians with soon-to-expire vaccines, which needed to be used.  In return, Israel would receive Pfizer vaccines purchased by the Palestinians and scheduled to arrive later this year.  The PA government canceled the deal after facing widespread criticism from Palestinians for allegedly bringing “out-of-date” doses from Israel.    



In Holon, Child Heart Patients Get Life-Saving Treatment

More than 30 children and teens from seven countries, the West Bank, and Gaza are being treated near Tel Aviv for life-threatening heart conditions, the largest group of patients brought to Israel in over a year by a charitable medical organization that says it has saved thousands of lives over the last quarter century.

The children range in age from 6 months to 19 years old and come from Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya, Kosovo, Uganda, and Zambia, as well as the Palestinian Authority and Gaza Strip, said Tamar Shapira, deputy executive director of Save a Child’s Heart.

“This is a big group of children from a big variety of countries.  We haven’t had a group like this since the beginning of COVID,” she said Tuesday (22nd).  “They all speak different languages, are different colors, but they are all being treated by the Save a Child’s Heart team,” she said.

The patients, accompanied by a guardian, have all been brought to Israel over the last several weeks, where they were quarantined under Health Ministry guidelines before receiving treatment at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon.

According to Shapira, they all require open-heart surgery or life-saving catheterization to treat a number of heart conditions.  They are expected to stay in Israel for a total of two-three months before being able to return home.

On Monday (21st), Wolfson head Anat Engel tweeted a picture of 27 of the patients and their guardians gathered together, many holding up national flags of where they are from.

The group has treated over 5,600 children from 62 countries since being founded in 1995, and has also screened and treated thousands more on missions abroad.  In 2019, Save a Child’s Heart treated a record 383 children, mostly from Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zanzibar and the PA.  

Shapira said, “We’re hopeful we’ll be able to continue these activities.  We’re very very happy we are able to save these kids and send them home well.”



UK Joins Western Countries Boycotting Anti-Semitic Conference In New York

The British government confirmed on Sunday (20th) that it will join the United States, Israel, Australia and Canada in refusing to attend a UN event in New York in September that marks the 20th anniversary of the World Conference on Racism in Durban over concerns regarding anti-Semitism and anti-Israel hatred.

The international conference has been dubbed “the festival of Jewish-hate” for its history of promoting anti-Semitism.  At the first conference in 2001, the United States, Israel and Canada walked out due to anti-Semitic remarks that were made.  At the same time, a draft resolution was presented that compared Zionism to “racism.”

A spokesperson confirmed on Sunday night (20th): “Following historic concerns regarding anti-Semitism, the UK has decided not to attend the UN’s Durban Conference anniversary event this year.”

The decision comes after the Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council and Conservative Friends of Israel all wrote to British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and urged the British officials not to attend the upcoming event, called Durban IV, reported the Jewish Chronicle.

Conservative Friends of Israel parliamentary chairman Stephen Crabb and Lord Eric Pickles, said: “Confirmation that the UK will not attend Durban IV is extremely welcome.  It is absolutely right that the UK is joining our close allies Australia, Canada and the United States in condemning the infamous gathering.  We applaud this latest decisive action from the UK government in opposing anti-Semitism in all its forms and wherever it occurs.”

The United Kingdom also did not attend the Durban conference in 2011 due to similar concerns.



Polish School Children Destroyed Jewish Headstones, Called It Building

Several children in Poland toppled 68 headstones on Jewish graves because they wanted to use slabs to build a fortress, they told police.

The group of five 12-year-olds had been working on the project for several days at the graveyard in Wroclaw, in Western Poland, Gazeta Wyborcza reported over the weekend.  Police stopped them upon hearing hammering noises.  Some of the headstones were smashed.  Others were partially damaged and knocked down.

In a separate incident last week in eastern France, graffiti saying “Allahu Akbar,” God is great in Arabic, was left at the entrance to a Jewish cemetery in Strasbourg, France Bleu reported last week.  There are no suspects.

In eastern Poland last week, a head stone from a Jewish grave that was used decades ago as construction material in Krasnik was extracted from a sidewalk and placed at the local Jewish cemetery, YVN24 reported.  The headstone was discovered three years ago after the pavement over it cracked.  The bureaucratic action that launched its replacement bore fruit this week.

In southern Poland, the city of Bielsko-Biala is planning a commemorative space featuring Jewish headstones in recognition of the destruction of the Jewish cemetery there in the 1960s.  A sports center was built on the site, Gazeta Wyborcza reported earlier this month.