Israel: Trump’s Golan recognition, ‘a Purim miracle’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Israeli leaders gush over Trump’s Golan recognition, ‘a Purim miracle’

Syria silent as US president says time to ‘fully recognize Israel’s sovereignty’ over plateau; Lapid claims some credit; Bennett fears new demands; Palestinians warn of ‘bloodshed’

Photo taken on October 18, 2017 shows an Israeli flag fluttering above the wreckage of an Israeli tank sitting on a hill in the Golan Heights and overlooking the border with Syria. (Photo by JALAA MAREY / AFP)

Photo taken on October 18, 2017 shows an Israeli flag fluttering above the wreckage of an Israeli tank sitting on a hill in the Golan Heights and overlooking the border with Syria. (Photo by JALAA MAREY / AFP)

Israel’s leaders on Thursday welcomed US President Donald Trump’s announcement that the time had come for the United States to “fully recognize” Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, while the Palestinians warned the move would further destabilize the region and lead to bloodshed.

“After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!” Trump tweeted.

There was no immediate reaction from Syria, which has long vowed to recover every inch of the Golan from Israel.

In Israel the move won widespread praise, but coming just weeks before Israel’s elections, much of the reaction was framed by the campaign.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led the praise of Trump, calling the move a “new Purim miracle.”

Speaking at a press conference with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Netanyahu said Trump had “made history.”

“I called him. I thanked him on behalf of the people of Israel. He did it again. First, he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US embassy here. Then, he pulled out of the disastrous Iran treaty and re-imposed sanctions.

“But now he did something of equal historic importance — he recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and he did so at a time when Iran is trying to use Syria as a platform to attack and destroy Israel. And the message that President Trump has given the world is that America stands by Israel.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) welcomes US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to his residence in Jerusalem on March 21, 2019. (Photo by JIM YOUNG / POOL / AFP)

“We’re celebrating Purim, when 2,500 years ago, other Persians, led by Haman, tried to destroy the Jewish people. They failed then; and today, 2,500 years later, again Persians led by Khamenei, are trying to destroy the Jewish people and the Jewish state. They’re going to fail again,” Netanyahu said.

Pompeo praised Trump as well, and added: “The people of Israel should know that the battles they fought and the lives they lost on that very ground [the Golan] were important and worthy.” Israel captured the Heights from Syria in the 1967 war.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz said the move would strengthen Israel’s security.

“This is the right response to Iran’s aggression from Syria and a clear message to Assad. Trump’s statement does historical justice almost 40 years after the decision of Menachem Begin on Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan. Thank you, Mr. President,” he said.

The Jewish community of Qatzrin in the Golan Heights, on June 28, 2017. (Photo by JALAA MAREY / AFP)

Members of Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party were quick to praise the prime minister for the shift in US policy.

“President’s Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan is another achievement for Netanyahu’s foreign policy,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely. “This term will be remembered in history as one where Netanyahu changed the rules of the game and brought about maximum Israeli gains with zero concessions.”

Yair Lapid, a leader of the Blue and White party that is seen as a main challenger to Netanyahu in the upcoming elections, praised Trump, but also tried to claim credit for the initiative.

“Thank you @POTUS for your intention to recognize our sovereignty over the Golan,” he tweeted. “We started this campaign a year ago and the leadership of @BlueWhite2019 stood on the Golan Heights and called for recognition. President Trump has shown again that he’s a true friend of Israel.”

יאיר לפיד Yair Lapid

@yairlapid

Thank you @POTUS for your intention to recognize our sovereignty over the Golan. We started this campaign a year ago and the leadership of @BlueWhite2019 stood on the Golan Heights and called for recognition. President Trump has shown again that he’s a true friend of Israel.

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Meanwhile, Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the New Right party warned that Israel may be expected to make concessions with the Palestinians in exchange for the move.

“With all the joy of American recognition of the Golan Heights, it is essential to say: The ‘Golan in exchange for Hamastan’ deal is a danger to Jewish settlements and to Israel.

“We call upon Prime Minister Netanyahu to announce as early as this evening that his agreement to the establishment of Palestine in the Bar-Ilan speech is null and void,” Bennet said referring to a 2009 speech where Netanyahu laid out his acceptance of the two-state solution.

This was echoed by the far-right Union of Right-Wing Parties, which thanked Trump, but warned the Israeli public not to let the move blind them to the dangers of Trump’s expected peace plan.

Details of the plan have not yet been released, but URWP, a union of the Jewish Home, National Union and extremist Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), warned that it would demand Israeli concessions in the West Bank.

“Only a government with the Union of Right-Wing Parties will stand firm,” it said.

Head of the Golan Heights Regional Council Haim Rokah said it was “about time” and called on Israel to increase funding and investment for the region “and double the population.”

However, lawmakers from the mostly Arab Hadash party accused Trump of timing the announcement to try to influence the election and get Netanyahu re-elected — an assertion Pompeo denied.

“Trump is trying to save Netanyahu from his desperate situation and return him to power,” said MK Aida Touma-Sliman.

Touma-Sliman called the recognition part of “the entrenchment of Israeli and American control over the Middle East and a targeted assassination of the … opposition in the Golan by thousands of Syrian citizens, who are standing firm against all attempts at Israelization and normalization” — a reference to the Golan’s Druze population.

Hadash leader Ayman Odeh called the move a “cheap and cynical provocation.”

“Decisions on the Middle East should not be unilateral, and certainly not announced over Twitter,” he said, warning that it would further destabilize the region.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and extended Israeli law to the territory in 1981, a step tantamount to annexation. But the United States and the international community have long considered it Syrian territory under Israeli occupation. The plateau lies along a strategic area on the border between Israel and Syria.

Syrian President Bashar Assad as members of the Druze community attend a rally in the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights commemorating the 45th anniversary of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, on October 6, 2018. (Photo by JALAA MAREY / AFP)

A top Palestinian official warned that this was yet another move by the Trump administration to adopt Israel’s positions and warned it would lead to further instability in the region.

“Yesterday president Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Today for regional stability he wants to make sure that the occupied Syrian Golan Heights (sic) be under Israel’s sovereignty,” tweeted Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee.

“What shall tomorrow bring ? Certain destabilization and bloodshed in our region,” he said.

Dr. Saeb Erakat الدكتور صائب عريقات@ErakatSaeb

Yesterday president Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s http://capital.Today  for regional stability he wants to make sure that the occupied Syrian Golan Heights be under Israel’s sovereignty. What shall tomorrow bring ? Certain destabilization and bloodshed in our region.

Don-key Trump: Israel would be in big trouble without Saudi Arabia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Trump: Israel would be in big trouble without Saudi Arabia

Defending stance on Khashoggi killing, US president suggests that without Washington’s ‘strong ally’ Riyadh, Israel would be forced ‘to leave’ region

US President Donald Trump on Thursday suggested that Israel would face major regional difficulties in the Middle East if it were not for the stabilizing presence of Saudi Arabia.

“Israel would be in big trouble without Saudi Arabia,” Trump told reporters after a Thanksgiving Day telephone call with members of the military from his Mar-a-Lago resort home in Florida.

The US president was asked to comment on reports that the CIA had concluded that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman ordered the brutal murder of US-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.

“If you look at Israel, Israel would be in big trouble without Saudi Arabia,” Trump said. “So what does that mean, Israel is going to leave? You want Israel to leave? We have a very strong ally in Saudi Arabia.”

“The fact is that Saudi Arabia is tremendously helpful in the Middle East, if we didn’t have Saudi Arabia we wouldn’t have a big base, we wouldn’t have any reason probably…” Trump said, without finishing the sentence.

Critics in Congress and high-ranking officials in other countries have accused Trump of ignoring human rights and giving Saudi Arabia a pass for economic reasons, including its influence on the world oil market.

Noting that Saudi Arabia helps keep oil prices down, Trump on Thursday argued that almost no country is without its faults.

“If we go by a certain standard we won’t be able to have allies with almost any country,” he said.

People hold posters picturing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and candles during a gathering outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, on October 25, 2018. (Yasin Akgul/AFP)

Citing vehement denials by the Saudi crown prince and king that they were involved in Khashoggi’s killing, which he termed “an atrocity,” Trump said, “maybe the world should be held accountable because the world is a vicious place. The world is a very, very vicious place.”

Trump said this week he would not impose harsher penalties on the crown prince over the death and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Khashoggi.

On Tuesday, Trump also mentioned Israel in justifying why US-Saudi ties would not suffer over the Khashoggi scandal.

“The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel, and all other partners in the region,” he said.

Earlier this month, in Israel’s first public comments on the murder of Khashoggi, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that while the killing was “horrendous,” it was still necessary to preserve stability in the Arab kingdom.

Netanyahu’s comments came a day after the Washington Post reported that the Israeli leader had recently urged the White House to maintain its support for the crown prince amid growing criticism over the killing of Khashoggi. Netanyahu told Trump administration officials that the crown prince was a key strategic partner and a linchpin of the alliance against Iranian encroachment in the region, according to the Post.

In this May 20, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Israel does not have diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia although the two countries have found a common foe in Iran.

American intelligence agencies have concluded that the crown prince ordered the killing in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey, according to a US official familiar with the assessment. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

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Netanyahu Says No Need For Elections Now As He Tries To Save His Coalition

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Netanyahu says ‘no need for elections’ now, in apparent bid to save coalition

Citing ‘period of sensitive security,’ PM slams junior partners in government for threatening to bring it down

In what seemed like a last-ditch effort to save his government from breaking apart, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday morning that there was “no need” to go to national elections, suggesting it would be dangerous to do so “during this period of sensitive security.”

“In the past few days, I have spoken with all the heads of the coalition, and I will meet with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon this evening in a last attempt to prevent the government falling,” the prime minister said at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

The meeting between Netanyahu and Kahlon is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Party leaders Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu), both significant members of Netanyahu’s Likud-led coalition, have agreed to push for national elections to be held on March 26, 2019, Hadashot TV news reported Saturday night.

The report came as both party leaders voiced their clear support on Saturday for a national vote well ahead of November 2019, when the current government’s term is set to end. The Jewish Home party has threatened to bolt the coalition if Bennett is not be given the defense portfolio in the wake of Avigdor Liberman’s resignation from the post, a move reportedly opposed by Kahlon.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (r) and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, at a press conference regarding the reduction in vacation days in the education system at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on January 8, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said on Sunday that Netanyahu had agreed to give Bennett the defense ministry, but that the Jewish Home chair was determined to go to elections.

At the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu accused Bennett and Kahlon of ushering in left-wing administrations and therefore endangering Israel amid threats to the country’s security.

“At this time of sensitive security, there is no need for elections, nor would it be right,” he said. “We all remember what happened when elements in right-wing governments led their downfall, as in 1992 and as in 1999, which brought about the Oslo disaster and the catastrophe of the [second] intifada.”

Bennett threatened last week to pull his party out of the coalition and force new elections if he is not appointed defense minister instead of Liberman, who, in announcing his resignation on Wednesday, condemned Israel’s ceasefire with Hamas after a deadly exchange in the south.

Slamming the government for what she described as a “leftward slide,” Jewish Home’s number two, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, said on Sunday that “the only justification for the continued existence of the government until November 2019 is if Bennett will be allowed to revolutionize security and restore to Israel the deterrence lost under Liberman.”

Despite Netanyahu’s apparent criticism of his junior coalition partners, neither Bennett nor Kahlon have said definitively that elections are inevitable.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Minister of Education Naftali Bennett attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016. (Abir Sultan, Pool via AP)

“There is still a possibility that the government would be able to continue. However, the slim majority of 61 would make that highly unlikely, given some of the important legislation that remains on the docket for the remainder of the Knesset,” sources close to Bennett told The Times of Israel on Sunday.

Top surrogates of the prime minister nonetheless continued to rail against Bennett, accusing him of forcing the early collapse of a right-wing coalition and threatening to return the left to power.

“We have a nationalist government that could continue for another year,” coalition chairman MK David Amsalem (Likud) said in an interview with Israel Radio Sunday morning.

“Let there be no doubt, we’re going to elections because of Naftali Bennett. In my view the talks [to prevent the government’s collapse] are borderline hopeless. Naftali is pitting us all against each other, giving us grades. It’s unprecedented chutzpah,” he charged.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud), meanwhile, said that he opposed giving the Defense Ministry to Bennett, saying that a member of his own party should be appointed instead.

“There are a number of suitable candidates in the Likud,” he told the Ynet news site. “At the moment of truth, a defense minister from a small party will prefer considerations of political survival over considerations of the state.”

Asked if Bennett was the best person for the job, Katz said the question reminded him of when John Lennon was asked if Ringo Starr was the best drummer in the world and replied that Ringo was not even the best drummer in the Beatles.

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Israel heads toward elections as Jewish Home says it will leave coalition

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Israel heads toward elections as Jewish Home says it will leave coalition

Netanyahu says he will still try to ‘preserve right-wing government,’ but Jewish Home says elections now inevitable after PM rejects Bennett’s demand he be made defense minister

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, seen with Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 30, 2016. (Emil Salman/Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, seen with Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 30, 2016. (Emil Salman/Pool)

The Jewish Home will leave the coalition, bringing down the government and forcing new elections, senior sources in the Orthodox-nationalist party told The Times of Israel Friday.

The Jewish Home party’s decision came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett’s demand to be made defense minister in a Friday afternoon meeting between the two.

The sources said a date for elections had not been agreed upon. Elections are formally set for November 2019, but it is now expected they will be held between March and May, with Netanyahu pushing for a later date and other parties seeking an earlier one.

Netanyahu said in a statement, however, that he would continue to try to preserve the right-wing coalition. He also made a series of telephone calls to coalition chiefs telling them there was no reason to dismantle the coalition at this stage.

Netanyahu “stressed the importance of making every effort to preserve the right-wing government and not to repeat the historical mistake of 1992 when the right-wing government was overthrown, the left came into power and brought the Oslo disaster to the State of Israel,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu also told Bennett that “the rumors that a decision to go to elections had been made were incorrect,” the statement said.

According to a Jewish Home source, however, “It became clear that in light of the resolute position of Kulanu Chairman, Minister Kahlon [who has called for early elections], there was a need to go to elections as soon as possible with no possibility of continuing the current government.”

“On Sunday, the date of the elections will be coordinated between the heads of the coalition parties.”

Bennett said Thursday he had asked Netanyahu for the portfolio after Avigdor Liberman resigned the post on Wednesday. The party said this was an “ultimatum” for it to stay in the government.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announces his resignation from his office following the ceasefire with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, during a press conference in the Knesset on November 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

By pulling his Yisrael Beytenu party out of the coalition, Liberman left the government with a narrow majority, with just 61 out of the 120 Knesset seats. The religious nationalist Jewish Home party then quickly declared it would topple the government if its leader Bennett is not given the defense portfolio.

With no Jewish Home, the coalition would go down from 61 seats to just 53. The government must have the backing of at least half of the 120 seat Knesset to survive no-confidence motions.

While in theory Netanyahu could bring another party into the coalition instead of Jewish Home, all opposition parties have declared their intention to run against him and the possibility of them joining is highly unlikely.

Bennett has long criticized the Netanyahu government’s reluctance to respond more forcefully to Gaza rocket attacks, and has advocated ground incursions into the Gaza Strip. Liberman, quitting the government, said he was doing so to protest Israel’s acceptance of an informal truce Tuesday that put a halt to the latest Hamas-Israel escalation in which Hamas fired over 400 rockets into Israel.

Netanyahu said in his statement after the meeting that he had told Bennett of his intention to keep the defense portfolio “in the light of the critical challenges currently facing the State of Israel.”

The prime minister appeared to present the possibility of keeping his government together, saying in his statement that he would meet with coalition leaders early next week and hoped they would “act responsibly and not to make a historic mistake in overthrowing a right-wing government.”

He is reportedly set to meet separately with Kulanu’s Kahlon on Sunday.

But the Jewish Home sources said it was too late and that the rejection of the party’s demand to be given the defense portfolio meant elections were inevitable.

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COMMENTS

Outcry as top minister calls largest-ever daily Hamas rocket onslaught ‘minor’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Outcry as top minister calls largest-ever daily Hamas rocket onslaught ‘minor’

Netanyahu condemns remarks by Tzachi Hanegbi, who said it would have been ‘a different story’ had Gaza terrorist groups fired rockets at Tel Aviv, not just at southern towns

Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi at a meeting of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee in the Knesset. November 19, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi at a meeting of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee in the Knesset. November 19, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Senior Likud cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi on Thursday drew widespread condemnation, including from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for calling the barrage of rockets fired at Israel earlier this week “minor” and “measured” because the Gaza terrorist groups did not target Tel Aviv.

The Hamas rocket fire was minor, and mostly concentrated around the southern Israeli Gaza-adjacent area, Hanegbi told Army Radio in an interview Thursday morning. While the suffering of Israelis in the areas close to Gaza was “a nightmare” and “not negligible,” he said, had Hamas fired at Tel Aviv or Ben Gurion Airport, it would have been a different story.

According to the military, over 460 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel on Monday and Tuesday — more than twice the rate at which they were launched during the 2014 war. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted over 100 of them. Most of the rest landed in open fields, but dozens landed inside southern Israeli cities and towns, killing a Palestinian man in Ashkelon, injuring dozens, and causing significant property damage.

The flare up was triggered by an Israeli raid into Gaza that went awry on Sunday, and set off clashes resulting in the deaths of seven Palestinian fighters, including a local Hamas commander, and a senior Israeli military officer.

In response to the rocket and mortar attacks, the Israeli military said it targeted approximately 160 sites in the Gaza Strip connected to the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups, including four facilities that the army designated as “key strategic assets.”

Israel and Hamas have since reached an informal ceasefire agreement to end the fighting. The truce prompted Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to resign on Wednesday and has drawn criticism from some residents of southern Israel who accuse the government of being soft on Hamas.

Netanyahu swiftly condemned Hanegbi’s characterization on Thursday, saying: “Hamas’s aggression is not ‘minor’ and there is no distinction between Hamas fire against the residents of the south and fire against any other area of the State of Israel.”

In the Tuesday security cabinet meeting that led to the informal ceasefire, Hanegbi said in the interview, “we all thought it was right to put an end to the violence from Gaza.” Liberman advocated “a harsh blow” and the other option was “to see if a [ceasefire] arrangement was possible. We’re testing that second option now.”

Liberman’s suggested harsh blow, Hanegbi said, “would mean entering a lengthy operation during which Tel Aviv would be paralyzed by hundreds of rockets daily, for days or weeks, if not longer.” Israel, he said, would have no way to stop that “except by sending our soldiers to every hole in Gaza.” The airport, he added, would also be “paralyzed for weeks, with all the implications for the economy and tourism.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee alongside the committee’s then chairman, MK Tzach Hanegbi, on October 26, 2015 (Knesset spokesman)

But there are no wars without a price, challenged his interviewer. Hanegbi responded: “That’s the issue. At the end of that operation [proposed by Liberman], with hundreds of funerals of young Israeli soldiers, we’d be back in the same place where we are now.”

He said most ministers shared the view of the entire security establishment, and of the prime minister, that now was not the appropriate moment for a major operation, when the same result could be achieved at a low price.

He derided those who, he said, had been talking of this week’s flareup “as though it was almost the Yom Kippur War,” and then detailed his view of how the escalation unfolded:

“We initiated a [special forces] operation deep inside [Gaza on Sunday evening]. This was apparently in contravention of the agreed truce [hitherto in force with Hamas]. We believed it was a vital operation. It went awry. To extricate our forces [one of whom was killed], we killed seven terrorists.”

Explaining the Hamas rocket response, he continued: “It wasn’t that Hamas acted without a pretext. It had a pretext — to try to exact revenge. Its revenge was minor. In all, it managed, with 400 rockets, to kill one Palestinian.”

Those rockets, he acknowledged, “are a nightmare for the residents of the south.” But practically, he went on, “270 of them fell in the Gaza area.”

When it was put to him that one rocket fell on an empty kindergarten, Hanegbi replied: “The empty kindergarten — that’s always talked about. But those 500 coffins — of the Israeli youths that would come back if we sent them into [Gaza’s] Jabalaya [refugee camp] — would not be empty.”

Urged Hanegbi: “Let’s keep a sense of proportion… We had no interest in now being drawn into a wider operation… The Gaza [border] area [in southern Israel] is not negligible, but there’s a difference between that and Tel Aviv and the airport.”

Hanegbi also said he was “amazed,” in a good way, by a Hadashot TV news survey on Wednesday night that showed 74% of respondents were not satisfied with Netanyahu’s handling of the escalation and that the Likud would win 29 seats (from its current 30) if elections were held today. “In light of the anger” so widespread in the country after Israel and Hamas agreed to halt their fire, seeing the Likud down by merely one seat,  he said, was “as surprise… for the better.”

An Israeli woman inspects the damage in an apartment that was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon on November 12, 2018. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

Hanegbi’s remarks, seen as an effort to shelter Netanyahu from growing criticism over his handling of the two days of heavy fighting in Gaza, were quickly condemned by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

Fellow Likud Minister Miri Regev tweeted that Hanegbi’s remarks were “inappropriate,” although she also indicated that she opposed Netanyahu’s decision to accept a ceasefire.

“Tzachi, my friend, you are wrong and your statement is inappropriate. Gaza-adjacent areas and Tel Aviv are the same,” she said. “Rocket fire endangering the safety and security of Israeli citizens must be met with an equally harsh response.”

Opposition leaders also slammed Hanegbi, with Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay accusing the Netanyahu government of discriminating against its own citizens.

Missiles from the Iron Dome air defense system in the south of Israel destroy incoming missiles above Ashkelon fired from the Gaza Strip on November 13, 2018. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP)

“According to Hanegbi, residents of Tel Aviv are off-limits, but the southern residents are fair game,” Gabbay said in a statement. “A government with no values that distinguishes between its citizens needs to go home.”

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid called Hanegbi’s distinction a “moral outrage.”

“It’s a moral outrage and a disgrace to security,” Lapid tweeted. “Gaza-area residents may be boring to Netanyahu, bu they are citizens and they deserve to be protected from rockets.”

In the radio interview, Hanegbi also weighed in on Liberman’s abrupt resignation in protest of Netanyahu’s decision to accept an Egypt-brokered ceasefire that brought an end to the violence.

He slammed fellow minister and Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett for threatening to withdraw from the coalition unless he was given the defense portfolio in the wake of Liberman’s departure.

“Being appointed a senior position by issuing a violent dictate to the prime minister goes against the concept of a coalition partnership,” he said.

A house that was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, on November 13, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Hangebi said that while he believed himself to be “more suitable for the job than others,” Netanyahu would most likely keep the defense portfolio for himself.

“From what I know about the prime minister, he does not like to give up [control],” he told the radio station.

Earlier on Thursday, Liberman officially tendered his resignation, and was holding his final meetings at the defense headquarters in Tel Aviv. Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party is also quitting Netanyahu’s coalition, leaving the premier with only a two-seat advantage over the opposition in parliament and throwing his government into turmoil.

A Likud official said Wednesday Netanyahu would take charge of Liberman’s portfolio at least temporarily, and said the prime minister had begun consultations with heads of parties in order to stabilize his coalition.

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Hundreds protest reported Gaza ceasefire

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Hundreds protest reported Gaza ceasefire, block Sderot roads with burning tires

Some demonstrators in rocket-battered town clash with police, chant ‘Bibi go home’; protesters said planning rally in Tel Aviv Wednesday

Protesters burn tires at the entrance to the southern town of Sderot, Novermber 13, 2018 (Hadashot screenshot)

Protesters burn tires at the entrance to the southern town of Sderot, November 13, 2018 (Hadashot screenshot)

Hundreds of people were demonstrating Tuesday evening at the entrance to the town of Sderot over Israel’s reported agreement for a ceasefire with Gaza’s Hamas terrorist rulers, after a 25-hour period that saw over 460 rockets fired at Israeli communities near the Palestinian enclave.

Protesters were blocking roads and burning tires, with some chanting, “Bibi go home,” using a nickname for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Confrontations were reported between protesters and policemen.

Police said they were working to restore order, saying they would “allow freedom of expression and lawful protest” but not “disturbance of public order, violence towards policemen and civilians and riots on major roads.”

Some 500 people were reported to be taking part in the protest.

According to Hadashot TV news, some southern residents planned further demonstrations and road blockages in Tel Aviv on Wednesday to protest the truce.

matan tzuri מתן צורי

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Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay expressed support for the protesters, saying it was a “justified” response to the government “forsaking” them.

He said the government had failed the south by “neglecting” the issue of Gaza since the 2014 war.

“This is not the time for another fragile truce,” he said. “This is the time for a true diplomatic initiative in Gaza, that will lean on the recommendations of the security establishment.”

Hamas and other Gaza terror groups said Tuesday they had accepted an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire with Israel. Terms of the deal were not immediately known, and there was no immediate comment from Israel. But a senior Israeli diplomatic official appeared to confirm the reported armistice.

“Israel maintains its right to act. Requests from Hamas for a ceasefire came through four different mediators. Israel responded that the events on the ground will decide [if a ceasefire will go into effect],” the official said, on condition of anonymity.

Many southern residents were unhappy with the decision.

“It’s better that we suffer in shelters and they put an end to it once and for all,” Reut Bassis of Sderot told Hadashot. “A month from today the same thing will happen…it doesn’t make sense that our lives are like this.”

Another Sderot resident, Miri, said: “The IDF is hitting empty buildings, while sending them trucks with cement and construction materials. Where’s our self-respect? We’ve been at war for 17 years.”

Another man, Yohanan Cohen, said he had lost faith in the prime minister. “I’ve been a Likud man for 40 years but I promise I won’t vote Likud anymore. We’re captives of Hamas.”

People gather outside a house that was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, on November 13, 2018. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Channel 10 news reported Tuesday evening that at least four senior ministers opposed the decision.

The report said Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett proposed an alternative response, but it was rejected by the other ministers.

An unnamed minister who attended the seven-hour meeting Tuesday told the news outlet that no vote was held to determine the next steps. A source with direct knowledge of the discussions confirmed to the Times of Israel there was no vote.

The source confirmed there were several disagreements between cabinet members, some of which were the focus of debate for a number of hours. They would not comment on the content of the disagreements.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the security cabinet released a statement that read, “The security cabinet discussed the events in the south. The cabinet received briefings from the IDF and defense officials on the [IDF] strikes and widespread operations against terror targets in Gaza. The cabinet instructed the IDF to continue its strikes as needed.”

According to the military, over 460 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel over the course of 25 hours on Monday and Tuesday. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted over 100 of them. Most of the rest landed in open fields, but dozens landed inside Israeli cities and towns, killing one person, injuring dozens more, and causing significant property damage.

A home in the southern Israeli town of Netivot that was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip on November 12, 2018. (Israel Police)

In response to the rocket and mortar attacks, the Israeli military said it targeted approximately 160 sites in the Gaza Strip connected to the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups, including four facilities that the army designated as “key strategic assets.”

In recent weeks, Egyptian and UN mediators had appeared to be making progress in brokering informal understandings aimed at quieting the situation.

Last week, Israel allowed Qatar to deliver $15 million to Gaza to allow cash-strapped Hamas to pay the salaries of thousands of government workers. At the same time, Hamas has lowered the intensity of violent border protests in recent weeks.

The fighting on Monday and Tuesday cast doubt over understandings previously brokered by Egypt and UN officials to reduce tensions. Just a day earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had defended those understandings, saying he was doing everything possible to avoid another “unnecessary war.”

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Father of slain IDF officer: ‘I hope this is the final loss for Israel’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Father of slain IDF officer: ‘I hope this is the final loss for Israel’

Special forces soldier who died in secretive Gaza Strip mission gone awry is recalled as contributing to social activism, raising children with patriotic values

Israeli soldiers stand guard in Nahal Oz, southern Israel, near the border with Gaza, November 12, 2018. (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

Israeli soldiers stand guard in Nahal Oz, southern Israel, near the border with Gaza, November 12, 2018. (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

The father of a senior special forces officer who was killed overnight during an operation in the Gaza Strip said Monday he hopes that his son’s death will be the last Israel suffers.

The army described the incident, in which another officer was moderately injured which sparked hours of clashes, as an intelligence-gathering mission that went awry.

Most details of the raid, including the identity of the officer who was killed, remained subject to a military censor and could not be published.

“This is a great loss,” the father said, according to a report from Hadashot news television. “I hope it will be the final loss for the people of Israel.”

A close relative said that the officer, who has been identified by the military only by the Hebrew initial “Mem,” joined the army after high school and had remained in the service ever since.

The lieutenant colonel was 41 years old, was married with two children and lived in a town in northern Israel.

“He was a social activist and contributed greatly,” the relative said. “The family didn’t know what he did aside from the fact that he was a senior officer in an elite unit. His family was exemplary, his wife works in the medical sector and helps children.”

A close acquaintance of Lt. Col. Mem said he volunteered in various organizations and “raised the next generation with values of patriotism, and values of contributing and volunteering.”

“He began to think of the future, of advancing in the civilian security establishment,” the acquaintance said. “Or alternatively, he considered progressing through the military establishment.”

Palestinians stand next to the remains of a car allegedly used by Israeli special forces during a raid in Gaza, which was was later destroyed in an Israeli airstrike, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on November 12, 2018. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Condolences and commiserations over the death of the officer came from senior Israeli figures including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein.

Netanyahu tweeted: “I bow my head in sadness at the loss of Lt. Col. Mem, a glorious fighter who fell during an IDF operation in the Gaza Strip.”

The injured soldier, who has also not been identified, regained consciousness Monday morning, and was not in life-threatening danger, Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center said in a statement.

After he regained consciousness, his wife and children were allowed to see him for a short time.

His mother, who was also at the hospital intensive care unit where he is being treated, told Hadashot news of her relief that he was still alive.

“I pray that my son recovers as soon as possible,” she said. “It is a miracle that I got him back alive. I couldn’t bear to see his children, my grandchildren, crying. It was hard. I left the room.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett also paid a visit to the officer at the hospital and declared that the deceased soldier and his wounded comrade were “national heroes.”

“I send my deepest condolences to the family of Lt.-Col. Mem, and wish a speedy recovery to those wounded,” Bennett said.

The wounded officer’s brother told Hadashot news that he still had not seen his sibling.

“The whole family and I are praying for his health,” the brother said. “We believe God is watching over him. We want to thank all the people who are interested in his welfare.”

A helicopter carrying a wounded Israeli soldier who was injured during an operation in the Gaza Strip lands outside Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center on November 11, 2018. (Twitter)

IDF Spokesperson Ronen Manelis said Monday that the overnight mission in Gaza was intended as an intelligence-gathering mission by IDF special forces operating deep inside Gaza, not an assassination or kidnapping attempt.

At some point during the operation, the Israeli troops clashed with local Hamas fighters, killing a senior commander and several other members of the Gaza-ruling terrorist group.

The IDF unit called in aerial support — aircraft to bomb the surrounding area — and made its away out of the Gaza Strip.

Manelis said the soldiers operating in Gaza overnight “became trapped in a highly complex situation but they had responded “heroically, hit those who threatened them and extracted themselves to Israeli territory.”

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, seven Palestinians in total were killed in the exchange and another seven were injured.

Following the raid, Palestinian terrorist groups launched at least 17 projectiles — rockets and mortar shells — at southern Israel. Three of them were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system. The rest fell in open fields outside populated communities, one of them causing light damage to a greenhouse in the Eshkol region.

Hamas accused Israel of sabotaging an emerging ceasefire agreement that was brokered by Egypt and supported by Qatar.

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Giving cancer patients hope is as valuable as giving them medicine

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Giving cancer patients hope is as valuable as giving them medicine

Israeli cancer patients rely on ICSN’s volunteers and services to help them cope, fight, and recover

Families grappling with the double pressures of watching their children suffer through cancer while simultaneously having earn a living benefit most from ICSN's services, such as transport and financial assistance.

Families grappling with the double pressures of watching their children suffer through cancer while simultaneously having earn a living benefit most from ICSN’s services, such as transport and financial assistance.

To recover from cancer, having the best doctors, treatment, or medication is not enough. Without hope and personal connection, the prognosis for cancer patients is decidedly poorer. This is exactly why Israel Cancer Support Network (ICSN) offers cancer patients and their families the warmth they need to survive emotionally and the firm support they need to meet the challenges of suffering through painful cancer treatments. 

The emotional, physical, and fiscal strain of treating cancer, from arranging doctors’ appointments to meeting personal expenses and trying to maintain a “normal” family life, are hurdles that many have a tremendously difficult time overcoming.

In less than a decade, ICSN has helped over 11,000 families dealing with cancer, giving 50,000 car rides to cancer patients in need of transportation to the hospital and back. That comes out to 150 trips each day. ICSN uses a network of volunteers to create a community of support throughout Israel. Over 2,000 multilingual volunteers from the Jerusalem metro area and further away take time out of their busy lives to transport cancer-stricken children and adults to and from the hospital, around the clock year-round.

But these services represent only a fraction of what ICSN does.

ICSN sets up fully stocked, 24/7 coffee stations in cancer wards so that patients and families can savor a hot drink at any hour of the day. In its 15-year history, the organization has served over a million cups of coffee to cancer patients. ICSN also assists patients with the herculean task of gaining access to top doctors with long waiting lists for appointments.

The bottom line is that ICSN’s services are integral to the recovery of those who use them.

Many families suffer extreme difficulties as a result of cancer treatment and the financial damage caused by months of treatments can be crippling. Patients often lose their jobs due to the inability to work while parents miss countless hours of work accompanying their children to treatments. ICSN eases the burden by offering cash stipends and gift certificates to cover the cost of household help, including shoes, clothing, basic food items and life-saving drugs.

But beyond the financial, physical, and logistical help they provide, ICSN most importantly furnishes cancer patients with hope.

“A smiling volunteer driver picking you up in the middle of the night with his car to take you to the hospital is just as valuable as the cancer treatment itself,” said Shlomi, a recipient of ICSN’s services.

Personal outreach has a distinct therapeutic effect, according to Professor Dina Ben-Yehuda, director of Hematology at Hadassah Ein-Kerem and professor of Hematology at Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine. “When you battle a disease like cancer, the supporters are just as important as the fighters.”

During the High Holidays, ICSN goes the extra mile to give cancer patients in need the serene conditions in which to celebrate and usher in the new year.

ICSN functions entirely through donations with no external support.

Learn more about how you can help cure cancer.

Islamic Jihad calls ceasefire as Israel hits back at 30-plus rockets from Gaza

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL NEWS PAPER)

 

Islamic Jihad calls ceasefire as Israel hits back at 30-plus rockets from Gaza

Iran-backed terror group says it will halt fire after talking with Egypt; no acknowledgement of deal by Israel, which strikes IJ targets in 95 raids

Palestinians check damage to buildings destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City on October 27, 2018 after salvos of rocket fire from Gaza. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Palestinians check damage to buildings destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City on October 27, 2018 after salvos of rocket fire from Gaza. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Islamic Jihad announced Saturday it had agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire to end an escalating exchange of fire with Israel, as Israeli jets struck sites in the Gaza Strip belonging to the Palestinian terror organization.

A spokesman for the group told the Gaza-based Safa news site that a ceasefire agreement went into effect following Egyptian communication with its leadership.

He said Islamic Jihad would remain committed to the ceasefire as long as Israel did likewise.

There was no immediate acknowledgement of the ceasefire declaration in Israel, which in the past has denied proclamations by Gaza-based terror groups regarding understandings to end fighting.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was meeting with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and other top security officials at the time of the announcement.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman meets with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and other top military officers at Israel Defense Forces headquarters in Tel Aviv on October 27, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

A few hours after Islamic Jihad announced the ceasefire, the Eshkol Regional Council lifted orders that residents must remain in close proximity to bomb shelters.

Restrictions remained in place, however, limiting gatherings outdoors to 100 people and those indoors to 500.

The declaration by Islamic Jihad to end the rocket fire came as the Israel Defense Forces said fighter jets struck eight targets tied to the Iran-backed terror group in three separate military facilities after Israel was hit by salvos of rockets from Gaza overnight and on Saturday morning.

The Gaza targets included weapons production sites and a factory that makes parts for subterranean tunnels, the army said, adding that the later was near a school.

The top IDF spokesperson earlier blamed Iran and Syria for the Islamic Jihad rocket attacks. Though he did not accuse Hamas of taking part in the launches, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis reiterated that Israel considers the terror group responsible as Gaza’s rulers.

Another IDF spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, said the rocket strikes were ordered by operatives from the overseas branch of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps stationed in Syria and warned Israel may not limit its response to Gaza.

“From our perspective, part of the address by which we will deal with this fire is also in Damascus and the Quds Force,” he said. “Our response is not limited geographically.”

Israel Defense Forces

@IDFSpokesperson

1. This Palestinian Islamic Jihad cement factory, which was used to build cross-border terror tunnels, was built RIGHT NEXT TO a , putting the children of at risk.

View image on Twitter

Israel Defense Forces

@IDFSpokesperson

2. We also struck this Islamic Jihad weapons manufacturing facility – they use their weapons to try to kill innocent Israeli civilians, we use our weapons to destroy their weapons. pic.twitter.com/bKqyBsaZwf

34 rockets were fired at Israel overnight and Saturday morning, according to the IDF, 13 of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

Two of the rockets fell in Gaza and the rest landed in open areas.

The Defense Ministry’s liaison to the Palestinians said a mortar launched during the barrages struck the ambulance terminal at the Erez border crossing, the sole pedestrian passage between Gaza and Israel.

In response to the rocket fire, Israeli aircraft and attack helicopters attacked 95 targets in Gaza belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The army said the targets included military and weapons manufacturing facilities through the Strip, a factory in Khan Younis producing cement used in subterranean tunnels and a four-story building in Gaza City headquartering Hamas security services.

The IDF said in a statement Saturday morning it “views with great severity the rocket attacks tonight against Israeli communities.” It blamed Hamas for creating “a terror-enabling atmosphere…near the border fence which led terror groups in the Strip to carry out tonight’s attack.”

A four-story building in Gaza City’s Daraj neighborhood belong to Hamas’ General Security Services is seen on October 27, 2018, moments before it was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike. (Israel Defense Forces)

Palestinian sources speaking to the Ynet news website claimed the attacks were carried out against the objections of the Hamas terror group that rules Gaza, though this had no official confirmation.

Israel views Hamas as ultimately responsible for any attacks emanating from the territory it controls, regardless of the source.

In response to the rocket barrages, the IDF’s Home Front Command overnight issued instructions restricting gatherings in the Gaza periphery: up to 100 people in open areas and 500 people in closed spaces.

The rocket fire comes amid a deadly flareup in violence in the Gaza Strip. Earlier on Friday, thousands of Palestinians gathered at five locations along the border, burning tires and throwing rocks and firebombs at Israeli troops who responded with tear gas and occasional live fire.

Five protesters were killed and another 170 were injured in the clashes with IDF troops, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said. One of those killed was blown up by his own hand grenade, which exploded prematurely, witnesses said.

Earlier this week, a rocket was launched at southern Israel from Gaza, triggering sirens in a number of communities in the Eshkol region, ending a week-long stretch of relative calm in the coastal enclave. In response to that attack, the IDF said it hit eight Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, including training bases and a weapons production facility.

A picture taken on on October 27, 2018 shows an explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The ramped up tensions are likely to complicate the mission of Egyptian mediators, who have intensified their shuttle diplomacy to achieve calm and prevent a full-blown conflict between Gaza’s Hamas rulers and Israel.

Weekly large-scale riots by Gazans, and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers, have become a mainstay along the Strip’s security fence since March 30, as part of a Hamas-led effort known as the “March of Return.”

These demonstrations take place each Friday, regularly sending massive amounts of thick smoke into the Israeli communities nearby, as Palestinians burn tires along the border and send incendiary devices affixed to balloons into Israel to spark fires.

The period since March 30 has also included a number of significant flareups and extended clashes. Another rocket launched from the Gaza Strip last week struck a home in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, causing significant damage, but no injuries as the family inside had reached their bomb shelter in time.

In recent weeks, the situation along the border has grown more precarious, as indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas — with the Egyptian military and United Nations acting as intermediaries — have reached a critical turning point.

A Palestinian holds a Palestinian flag as he uses a slingshot to hurl rocks at Israeli troops during clashes near the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on October 26, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Israel has called for a cessation to all violence, including both the clashes on the border and the daily arson attacks that have burned large swaths of land in the south, in exchange for certain economic incentives and an easing of the blockade around the coastal enclave, which is imposed by Israel to prevent Hamas importing weapons.

At least 160 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures. Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seized control of the Strip in 2007 and seeks to destroy Israel, has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper on the border.

The Associated Press and Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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Netanyahu defends freezing Western Wall deal

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Blaming ‘ultra-Orthodox street,’ Netanyahu defends freezing Western Wall deal

PM tells US Jewish leaders in Tel Aviv that spats over the site and conversion can easily be overcome and that he’s worried more by the loss of Jewish identity in the Diaspora

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jewish federation's annual General Assembly in Tel Aviv, on October 24, 2018 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jewish federation’s annual General Assembly in Tel Aviv, on October 24, 2018 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Addressing North American Jewish leaders in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended his controversial freezing of a compromise deal to expand the pluralistic prayer platform at the Western Wall, blaming pressure from the “ultra-Orthodox street,” and arguing that religion and state issues in Israel have always been settled with “ad hoc compromises” and “slowly evolving arrangements.”

While the agreement — made in January 2016 and suspended a year and a half later — will not be fully implemented, he vowed that a new “refurbished” prayer platform will open very soon.

Dismissing the discussion over the wall and other contentious matters, such as conversion, as issues that can easily be “overcome,” Netanyahu said the biggest problem facing world Jewry today was the loss of Jewish identity, and that the development of Jewish consciousness and pride in the minds of young Jews was the Diaspora’s most important mission.

Asked about Diaspora Jews’ concerns regarding the lack of religious pluralism in Israel, Netanyahu replied by noting that even the country’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, had failed to bridge the gap between the secular majority and an ultra-Orthodox minority, without which he was unable to form a government.

“These are two conflicting principles — you can’t resolve it with a unifying principle. You resolve it by a series of ad hoc compromises, and they evolve over time,” Netanyahu said at the closing plenary of the Jewish Federations of North America’s annual General Assembly.

“From time to time, the status quo is challenged. It evolves in step-functions. By the way, most of human progress until recently has been step functions. You sort of settle on a status-quo and it goes up to a certain point, and then it changes,” he continued.

On the matter of who would be authorized to perform conversions to Judaism, Netanyahu said that during his first term as prime minister he had found a good compromise with the Yaakov Ne’eman Commission, which survived for 20 years before it was challenged. The current government then commissioned a report by Moshe Nissim, which Netanyahu said was a “good compromise,” but added that he is currently unable to pass it. “It depends on the political realities,” he said.

Turning to the Western Wall, he recounted negotiating a compromise deal calling for a pluralistic prayer platform at the holy site that would be “accessible in an uplifting way” to everyone. That blueprint included the creation of a joint entrance to all three prayer areas — the pluralistic one and the two gender-separated sections to be used by Orthodox worshipers.

“We had technical drawings, the whole thing. Part of that [agreement] had explanatory notes, when I brought it to the government, which would imply an indirect recognition in Israel of the Conservative and Reform streams,” Netanyahu said. “And that was okay. People agreed. Then it was challenged, immediately, by the ultra-Orthodox street, and they basically said, you know, ‘Choose: You have a government, no government.’”

Netanyahu also said that members of the opposition may attack him for caving to the pressure, but that he has proof that they had themselves had made offers to the ultra-Orthodox parties “that exceed the ones given by Likud.”

Rather than canceling the agreement, he merely suspended it, Netanyahu said. “Keep it there. Don’t cancel it. But move with what the agreement actually says you do, which is refurbish the plaza.”

Netanyahu noted that work started on Tuesday to put back the boulder that fell out of the wall on to the egalitarian platform in July.

“This should speed up the conclusion and I expect the plaza to be completed [soon],” he said. “We finished nearly all the regulatory work, which was just impossible, but we’re getting there. That plaza will be there, refurbished, new, safe, very beautiful.”

Israel is and will remain the home of all Jews, the prime minister went on, to applause from the audience. “I don’t care whether they’re Conservative or Reform or Orthodox, and I don’t care if they’re completely secular or non-believing.”

The egalitarian prayer platform at the Western Wall’s Robinson’s Arch archaeological area. (Eilat Mazar)

The balance between religion and state in Israel is different from the system that exists in the US or elsewhere, he went on, “But it is what it is here. This is what we have: a series of slowly evolving arrangements.” Ultimately, those arrangements reflect the “evolution of the Israeli electorate,” he said.

Toward the end of his appearance, as his host, outgoing JFNA chair Richard Sandler, was about to bid the prime minister farewell, Netanyahu asked to make another point, stressing what he said really worries about him about Diaspora Jewry.

“What I’m concerned with when it comes to the Jewish people is one thing, and that’s the loss of identity. It’s not the question of the Wall or conversion; we’ll overcome that. It’s the loss of identity,” he said.

Paraphrasing an article by Ammiel Hirsch, Netanyahu said that those who are not concerned with Jewish survival will not survive as Jews.

“There is some basic truth to that,” he said. “Jewish survival is guaranteed in the Jewish state, if we defend our state. But we have to also work at the continuity of Jewish communities in the world by developing Jewish education, the study of Hebrew, having the contact of young Jews coming to Israel.”

What is needed is a new approach, suitable for the internet age, that will help Diaspora Jews “understand that their own future as Jews depends on continuous identity,” Netanyahu said.

“It’s protecting Jewish identity and developing Jewish consciousness that is the most important thing. It transcends politics; it touches on the foundations of history,” he concluded. “We’re one people. Let’s make sure that every Jewish child in the world knows how proud they should be to be Jews.”

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