News Digest — 8/10/22

Herzog Speaks To Putin About Decision To Shut Down Jewish Agency In Russia

Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday (9th) about Russia’s attempt to ban the Jewish Agency in the country.

Russia’s justice minister is seeking to liquidate the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency for alleged breaches of privacy laws.

Some Israeli politicians have expressed concern that Russia may be retaliating for Israel’s criticism of its invasion of Ukraine, and are worried about the effect that bilateral tensions might have on Russia’s own Jewish community.

Some also worry that it could damage Russian-Israeli communications concerning Syria, where Moscow deploys air power in support of the government and Israel has attacked Iranian-linked military targets.

A statement from Herzog’s office described the phone call as “frank and honest.”

“The two presidents emphasized the important areas of cooperation between Israel and Russia and agreed to remain in contact,” the statement continued.

The Kremlin said the men had agreed that contacts about the Jewish Agency would be continued by both countries.

Some 600,000 Russians are eligible to emigrate to Israel because of Jewish heritage, and officials say there has been a rise in applications since the dispute arose.

Herzog said the call with Putin had been coordinated with interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.



Hezbollah Leader Issues Stern Warning Over Gas Field, Military Action In Lebanon

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah once again warned Israel that the Iranian-backed terrorist organization Hezbollah would not sit idly by if the Jewish state continued to use the natural gas it had discovered near the maritime border with Lebanon.

Speaking on Monday (8th) at the end of the Shiite holiday Ashura, Nasrallah said that the organization, which holds the balance of power in Lebanon’s convoluted political system, was waiting “for a response from Israel to the requests made by the Lebanese government,” referring to the new US-mediated proposal that would see both countries agree to a new border at sea.

Nasrallah, whose organization has sent several drones to the Karish gas field in recent weeks to send the message that he could one day target it, turned directly to the US and Israel and said, “Lebanon would not tolerate the plunder of its natural resources; we have reached the final stop, and we are determined to go all the way.  No one is going to threaten us.”

Nasrallah also opined on the recent flare-up between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which saw Israel launch a three day pre-emptive campaign after the terrorist organization in Gaza vowed to take revenge on the arrest of a senior Islamic Jihad commander in early August. 

“But on this holiday, I say we are ready for any scenario,” Nasrallah warned.  “We have heard several threats against Lebanon in recent days; don’t underestimate the Lebanese people because any attack on someone in Lebanon will not go unpunished and we won’t let it slide.”

On Saturday (6th), Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz hinted at the possible targeting of PIJ officials abroad, who he said could be seen in restaurants and hotels in Tehran, Syria, and Lebanon.”

“They too will have to pay the price,” Gantz said.  On Monday (8th), a day after a truce brokered by Egypt ended the Gaza violence, he said Israel could carry out “pre-emptive strikes abroad.”

“In the future too, if necessary, we will deliver a pre-emptive strike in order to defend Israel’s citizens, sovereignty and infrastructure and this is true from all fronts – from Tehran to Khan Yunis,” he said.

Iran-backed Hezbollah is vehemently opposed to Israel and tensions between the two have been escalating in recent months over a disputed maritime border between Lebanon and Israel.



Arson In Gush Etzion: Terrorists Set Three Fires In One Day

On Tuesday evening (9th), firefighters in the Gush Etzion region of Judea extinguished the third arson fire within 24 hours, all of which were started deliberately by local Arabs.

There were no casualties, but there was significant property damage in local orchards.

In the latest incident, three burning tires were discovered and five people were seen moving towards the Arab village of Khirbat Tzafa bordering Kfar Etzion, TPS reported.

According to Kfar Etzion head of security Ephraim Somech, “Kfar Etzion suffers from countless arson attacks throughout the year.  Even during cherry picking.  I hope and believe the army will put its emphasis on catching the arsonists.”

The Gush Etzion Regional Council stated: “The arson attacks are terror attacks through and through.  We expect the political echelon to instruct the IDF to fight arson terror in Judea and Samaria.  We believe the IDF will know how to deal with these types of incidents.”



Palestinians Can Start Flying Out Of Ramon Airport Later This Month

A pilot program to allow West Bank Palestinians to fly out of Israel’s Ramon International Airport near Eilat is set to start later this month, the Airport Authority announced on Tuesday (9th).

West Bank Palestinians who want to travel abroad must now go through the Allenby Crossing in the Jordan Valley and into neighboring Jordan for international flights out of Amman.

Most West Bank Palestinians do not travel through Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport.

The Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities said that Palestinians would be shuttled directly from the West Bank to Ramon Airport and that security clearances would be needed.

At present, the program includes only two flights a week to Turkey on an Airbus aircraft A321 with 220 seats.  One flight will head to Istanbul and the other to Antalya.  Palestinians would then transfer to other flights from Istanbul.

Palestinians who leave the West Bank from Allenby and fly out of Amman can access any flight and head to any destination.

The Palestinian Authority has not supported the Ramon Airport plan and would have preferred to see Israel’s Atarot Airport located on the edge of Jerusalem, renovated.  However, Atarot Airport has been closed since 2021.



Israeli Tourism Is On Its Way Back To Pre-Pandemic Highs

As summer gradually draws to a close, a report from the Tourism Ministry shows that Israel’s hot (and lately rocket-heavy) weather this year hasn’t put a damper on incoming tourism.  In fact, the tourism industry is on its way to record highs, currently falling only 22% shy of 2019’s record numbers.

According to the report, 249,500 tourist entries were recorded in July 2022, which is pretty impressive compared to last July’s 49,000 – which is also impressive when measured against the same month’s tourists in 2020: a paltry 6,000.

The sharp dip from July 2019’s recent record of 322,800 was a clear casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a devastating effect on tourism around the world – a phenomenon from which Israel was not exempt.

“It’s night and day,” said Mark Feldman, CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem.  “The industry was at its lowest a few months after COVID came out, closing the country, closing the skies, all over the world.  I’m actually impressed that we had even 1,000 tourists come in.”

“Everyone in the tourism industry was hanging by a thread,” he said.  “We let go of 95% of our staff, similar to many other places.  A few hotels kept a skeleton staff running, just because it would have cost them more to fire them.”

However, as travel restrictions have gradually lifted, so too have the spirits of Israeli-bound tourists – and they’ve been flocking to the airport in order to catch vibes in the Holy Land.  According to the Tourism Ministry, the year is only 56% off from pre-pandemic tourism numbers, which points to a continuing recovery trend for incoming tourism to Israel.

Regardless, after the difficult period, the tourists are finally coming back, and based on the pace of entries, the ministry estimates that the anticipated annual total for incoming tourism in 2022 will range between 2.2 to 2.5 million people – again about half of 2019’s 4.4 million.

Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov issued a statement on the report, expressing the ministry’s hopeful outlook given the data on hand.

“The positive trend is continuing, and according to the information we have, this will continue through August,” he said, adding that the recent conflict in Gaza as a result of the IDF’s Operation Breaking Dawn is “not expected to impact the hundreds of thousands  of tourists visiting Israel this month.  They continue to enjoy our beautiful and unique country, with its varied religious, cultural and historical sites.”

“Hotels are at capacity, sites are at capacity,” said Razvozov.  “It is amazing to see.”



British 19-Year-Old Sentenced For Attacking Rabbi With A Brick

A British teenager was given a 43-month prison term for attacking a rabbi with a brick in May 2021.

 Souraka Djabouri, 19, will serve out the term in a youth offenders institution after pleading guilty to brutally assaulting a rabbi in Chigwell, England, the UK Jewish News reported.

The teenager pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm with intent, theft and aggravated criminal damage, admitting to attacking Rabbi Rafi Goodwin in the head with a brick.  The incident happened after Rabbi Goodwin stopped while driving to avoid hitting a pedestrian who walked out from behind a parked van onto the road.

Djibouti shouted verbal abuse at the rabbi, including referring to him as Jewish.  As the rabbi was driving off, he noticed that Djabouri was following him and started to kick his car, causing damage to the mirror and door.

When Rabbi Goodwin exited his car to take pictures of Djabouri and another man, Djabouri attacked him with a brick and stole his phone.

The rabbi needed medical treatment for stitches and severe swelling to his face and his eye.

Djabouri and Abderrahman Brahimi, 26, were arrested by Essex Police and charged with hate-related crimes.  Charges against Brahimi were later dropped by prosecutors.