Israel News for August 31, 2015

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Trouble for Top Cop Nominee
The appointment of Brig. Gen. (Res.) Gal Hirsch as the new chief of the Israel National Police is facing further delays. Allegations against him surfaced on Friday accusing him of illegal business activities. The tenure of acting police commissioner Bentzi Sau was extended for 45 days to allow the Attorney General to conduct an inquiry into Hirsch’s appointment.

Hirsch’s nomination by Erdan met strong opposition from senior police brass who were not too pleased by an external nomination, especially someone who was essentially rejected by the IDF. Families of fallen soldiers from the 2006 Lebanon war also strongly protested his nomination, as they (and Maj. Gen. Almog ) hold him directly responsible as the commander of the Galilee Division to prevent the Goldwasser and Regev kidnapping, which sparked the war.

The Israeli police and the FBI are reportedly investigating allegations against Hirsch for money laundering related to arms deals made by his company Defensive Shield Holdings. But apparently there is no evidence that directly ties Hirsch to these allegations.

Hirsch strongly denies doing anything illegal. His attorney has questioned the motives of the police for bringing all this to light only now that Hirsch has been nominated. Senior police officials aren’t pleased to say the least. Not exactly the ideal way to gain the loyalty of the people you’re going to lead.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein will investigate whether there are any significant legal issues with Hirsch’s appointment and present his opinion to the Government prior to a vote on Hirsch’s appointment. He will look into whether the nomination process was legal and whether Hirsch engaged in illegal conduct, both during his IDF service and in his business dealings.

Weinstein is not expected to reject the nomination, but Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is checking out alternative candidates, just in case. PM Netanyqhu fully supports Hirsch’s appointment.

Soldiers, Women and Teachers
On Friday Palestinian and foreign activists staged a violent demonstration near the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh during which protesters threw rocks at IDF soldiers. One of the soldiers chased down one of the attackers, who turned out to be a twelve year old boy, and restrained him.

Suddenly, the soldier was surrounded by several Palestinian women who started attacking him to get him to release the boy. The soldier refrained from hitting or pushing the women away. The press photographers and camera men who just happened to be on the scene (coincidence?) recorded the incident and hailed it as a victory for the Palestinian women. Other soldiers finally moved the women away and the unit commander decided to release the boy to avoid further violence.

The Palestinians claim that the boy never threw any stones and was unjustly assaulted by the soldier.

The IDF claims that the boy was recorded throwing rocks in an observation video, but that they didn’t realize that he was a minor.

The soldier’s father told Army Radio that he’s proud of his son’s restraint in a volatile situation which could have escalated into a very unpleasant affair had one of the women gotten injured.

The mayor of Ramat Gan, Israel Singer, called for the dismissal of a Ramat Gan high school teacher who was identified in the video of the assault on the soldier. It seems that the teacher, Hertzl Schubert, attended the demonstration as a member of an extreme left wing anti-zioniist Israeli organization called Matzpen. The fact that he even indirectly participated in an assault on an Israeli soldier makes him, according to Singer, who is also the head of the local board of education, unfit to teach Israeli students who will one day serve in the IDF. Many parents of Schubert’s students agree.

A bunch of parents of Schubert’s students don’t really care about his political views and claim that he’s an excellent teacher and should not be fired.

The mother of the twelve year old boy will hopefully keep her son out of any more trouble, and the boy will hopefully have learned his lesson and not throw rocks at Israeli soldiers anymore. Or maybe not.

Turks Coming to Israel
For the first time since relations between Israel and Turkey were put on ice in 2010, after the fight between Israeli soldiers and activists on a Gaza bound Turkish registered ship, a Turkish diplomatic delegation will be visiting Israel.

The purpose of the visit is to discuss the establishment of an industrial zone near the Palestinian town of Jenin in the West Bank. Turkey is planning to invest $100 million in the project including the possible transfer of some car manufacturing currently done in Turkey to the new zone (Turkey currently manufactures about 1 million cars per year). Everything produced there will be exempt from US tariffs.

As a further sign of diplomatic thaw, last week Israel began exporting defense related products to Turkey.

So while Turkey will be fighting ISIS with Israeli weapons, Israelis might soon be driving cars made in Jenin.

[bctt tweet=”Turkish Israeli relations are warming up again.”]

UN in Israel
A United Nations conference on the protection of endangered species kicked off in Tel Aviv yesterday. This was the first time an official UN conference of this size was held in Israel that is totally unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Over 200 delegates from 57 countries are attending the four day conference, some of them from countries that don’t have formal diplomatic relations with Israel or that support the BDS movement. That’s a huge testament to the amazing work Israel is doing in environmental preservation, which the international community cannot ignore regardless of their political biases. It’s a start.

Electricians for Boycott
The US United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers union has voted in favor of a resolution at their national convention last week to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. The 37,000 member strong union is the first US union to endorse BDS.

The resolution accuses Israel of a “long history of violating the human rights of the Palestinians, starting with the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians in 1947-48 that turned most of Palestine into the State of Israel.”

The resolution also calls for cutting off U.S. aid to Israel as well as U.S. support for a peace settlement on the basis of self-determination for Palestinians and the right of return.

It endorses the worldwide BDS movement in order to “pressure Israel to end its apartheid over the Palestinians just as similar tactics helped to end South African apartheid in the 1980s.”

The Union also voted in favor of the Iran nuclear deal.

Remember this next time you need to hire an electrician.

Israeli Football
The Israeli American Football team beat Spain 28 – 20 in their first international win to advance their bid to qualify for the International Federation of American Football’s B-Group International Tournament in 2016.

Yes, Israel has a national football team. No, not soccer. Real, good old, American football. The team was formed in 2012 and consists of players from the Israeli Football League (IFL), which is sponsored by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and family. The IFL teams play with only eight players per team on the field, which is only 60 yards long. They had to make the change to 11 men and 100 yards for the international tournament.
So far, so good.

Rebbe Nachmun vs. ISIS
A 37 year old British citizen fighting with Kurdish forces against ISIS in Syria does something unusual each time his unit conquers an ISIS occupied building. He spray paints “Na Nach Nachman M’Uman” in Hebrew on the walls. The phrase is the mantra of the Breslov Chassidic sect whose founder Rebbe Nachman is buried in the Ukrainian town of Uman.

The man’s name is Timothy Paul Jacobs-Woodworth and he’s the grandson of a Holocaust survivor who converted to Christianity after the war. He plans on making Aliyah next year. Meanwhile, he continues fighting ISIS and spreading the light of Rebbe Nachman on the walls of liberated buildings throughout northern Syria.

Israel News for August 28, 2015

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Hamas Tales
One year after the end of operation Defensive Shield (Gaza war), the Arab news station Al Jazeera has released a documentary called “black box” that’s generating some buzz in Israel. The film presents the Hamas version of the events of Friday Aug. 1, 2014 in Rafiah, when Lt. Hadar Goldin was kidnapped and killed and Major Benaya Sarel and Staff Sergeant Liel Gidoni were killed.

According to the Israeli version, an IDF unit that was on patrol was attacked by a suicide bomber who detonated near the soldiers. Heavy exchanges of fire ensued and one of the soldiers, Lt. Hadar Goldin, was captured by Hamas terrorists and taken deep into a tunnel. Another officer chased them into the tunnel but was unable to rescue Goldin who was already dead. The officer was able to retrieve conclusive evidence of Goldin’s death, which was used by the IDF rabbinate to officially declare that Goldin was killed in action.

In the documentary, a Hamas operative tells the Al-Jazeera interviewer that IDF troops collected the body of a Hamas fighter, Walid Tufik Massoud, who was dressed in an IDF uniform believing it was Lt. Hadar Goldin and did not chase after him and his kidnappers into the tunnels. The Hamas operative claims that the IDF only noticed Goldin was missing two hours after the incident. By that time they had withdrawn all their troops from the area and Rafah was a black box, which they had no access to, so the IDF began bombing the area indiscriminately under the Hannibal Directive.

The IDF claims that it knew Massoud was a terrorist.

In a press release the Goldin family rejected the claims in the documentary and reiterated their full faith in the IDF, the defense establishment and the State of Israel. They see them as the only source of trustworthy information. They called for increased pressure on Hamas to return the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Sergeant Oron Shaul, so that they can receive a Jewish burial.

The IDF did not comment on the film.

The documentary also features new footage of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, during his captivity, with the Hamas commander of southern Gaza, Muhammad Abu Shamala, who was later killed in operation Defensive Shield. Shalit was captured in 2006 during a cross-border attack by Hamas militants. He was released as part of a 2011 hostage deal in which the Israeli government released 1,027 prisoners.

Who do you believe: Hamas or the IDF? Seriously.

New Warships
Now that Israel has valuable offshore gas developments, they need to be sure that they can defend them. The Israeli Navy currently has eleven warships and its decided to add another four. The ships will be built in Germany and will be delivered in five years. Israel was prepared to pay a maximum of $100 million per ship, but the Germans offered to do it for $90 million (pangs of guilt?).

Israel will be giving Germany the plans for the hull and electrical system. They’ll be installing the combat systems themselves in Israel, so that they won’t be caught unarmed in the event of a future anti-Israel boycott.

So, Germany will be helping protect Israeli gas.

New Charedi Minister
Earlier this week the High Court ruled that Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of UTJ must either become the Health Minister or resign. That’s because Litzman currently performs all the functions of a minister, but since his Ultra Orthodox party has ideological issues with being part of a secular government, they traditionally do not accept ministerial posts. The court, ruling on an appeal filed by Yesh Atid, said that this situation could no longer continue. If you act like a minister, then you’re a minister (not a deputy).

The council of Torah Sages of Agudas Yisrael, which is part of UTJ, met yesterday and decided to give Litzman the green light to become Health Minister.

It’s unclear whether this decision marks a shift in fundamental Charedi ideology and its view of the secular State of Israel, or whether it’s just an acknowledgement of the benefits of keeping Litzman in the cabinet. It’s probably the latter.

Charedim vs. IDF
There have recently been a surge of threats and harassment against Charedi soldiers and recruiters. Recruiters are being hit especially hard. As an example, in a phone call to a recruiter the caller was recorded as saying,, “Let us live as Jews – do not dare to recruit men to the IDF. Shame on you. You’re a disgrace. Don’t you dare touch the soul of a Jew. You’re causing the masses to sin.”

These harassers aren’t just isolated extremists. They are reflecting a widely held attitude in the charedi community, which believes that their young men should not serve in the IDF because if they do they will lose their religious identity and become non observant. They also believe that their time is better spent studying torah rather than being soldiers.

A few weeks ago the spiritual leader of Shas, the sephardic-charedi party, announced publicly that young men should under no circumstances enlist in the IDF. He also railed against charedi IDF recruiters in very harsh terms.

Defense Minister Ya’alon was clear in his stance saying, “in the face of violence against haredi conscripts who serve in the IDF and their recruiters, Israel has an obligation to act with zero tolerance. I call on the leaders of the haredi community to condemn unacceptable phenomena such as these and to throw out violent elements.”

High Court freeze IDF beard ban
The IDF recently issued an order banning beards in order to maintain uniformity and a sense of professionalism. Some religious soldiers aren’t very happy with the new order. One of them appealed to the High Court claiming religious discrimination.

The High Court of Justice yesterday issued a temporary order to freeze the anti-beard regulation. But while the court was deliberating his case, the soldier was forced to shave despite his request to wait for the High Court’s decision.

In any case, the army regulation doesn’t include the “three weeks” or other religiously mandated periods of mourning during which Jews traditionally do not shave.

Canine Security Breach
In an embarrassing security breach, PM Netanyahu’s son Avner’s private details including his cellphone number and home phone number were published on the Agriculture Ministry’s dog database. The details have since been removed.

The Netanyahu’s recently adopted a female dog named Kaya,saving her from being put to sleep. Last week the PM posted a moving post with a picture of him with Kaya, writing “she has brought so much light into our home. I call on anyone who wants to adopt a dog, save an adult dog and bring them into your home.”


Israel News for August 27, 2015

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More Terror in Jerusalem
A 56 year old Arab resident of Hebron arrived in Jerusalem’s Old City yesterday carrying an axe and a knife. His intent was to kill police officers. At around 7pm he confronted two border policemen and swung his axe at them but missed. When they chased him down and attempted to restrain him he stabbed one of them. The officer was lightly wounded. Hamas claimed credit for the attack.

The assailant was imprisoned in 1989 for murdering Israel Prize winner Menachem Stern. He was released in 2013 with hundreds of other prisoners in the Gilad Shalit deal.

Late last night, molotov cocktails were thrown at a border police jeep in the mixed Arab-Jewish Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Tor. No one in the jeep was injured. The Arabs continued throwing rocks at firemen who arrived to put out the fire and prevent it from spreading to nearby homes.

In an unrelated development, the IDF and police have decided to beef up security on highway 443, one of only two major highways that connect Jerusalem to the center of the country. This is in response to several terror attacks along the route including the stabbing of a motorist at a gas station and multiple Molotov Cocktail attacks.

Rockets from Gaza
A rocket fired from Gaza landed in an open area in the Eshkol Regional Council near the Israel-Gaza border causing no injuries or damage. Last week the IDF moved Iron Dome batteries into the area, but there was no alert sounded. Two other rockets were fired a couple of days ago from different areas of Gaza, but both fell within Palestinian territory.

While Hamas is still actively supporting and promoting terrorism in Israel, it does not want to start a war with Israel by firing rockets. So it seems like there are other, even more extreme elements running around Gaza trying to start trouble by goading Israel into another war. Ironically, Hamas is working hard to prevent them from doing that.

Good Times in Ramallah
Times are good in the Palestinian Authority. Well, maybe just for President Mahmoud Abbas. He’s building a $13 million mansion on a hilltop in Ramallah, his capital city, according to an announcement by the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction (PECDAR).

The mansion, which will be over 15,000 square feet in size and include two helipads and a separate 13,000 square foot mansion for administrative personnel, is being financed by the PLO budget, which in turn is largely funded by US donations.

Over the past two decades it’s estimated that the US and Europe have donated over $25 billion dollars to the Palestinian Authority. It doesn’t look like that money has gone to help improve the conditions of the people living there. So where did all the money go? Hmm.

Bennet and Allergies
Dozens of parents of children with life threatening allergies protested outside an education conference in Holon where Education Minister Naftali Bennet was speaking, to protest government budget cuts which eliminate shadows for their children in school.

The parents say the shadows prevent their children from being exposed to foods which could put them at risk. They’re threatening not to send their children to school for the new academic year if they do not have shadows to protect them. They say that sending their kids to school would be putting their lives at risk.

Shabbat Fines Dropped
In yesterday’s issue we reported on the kosher restaurant in Tel Aviv that was being fined by the owners of the Sharona shopping center for closing on Shabbat in alleged violation of their lease agreement. Well, the center owners have decided to drop the fines (it had nothing to do with our reporting!) in a show of what they call “communal responsibility”.

But it doesn’t end there. The Sharona owners say that they will pursue their breach of contract case in the courts. The restaurant owners, a couple in their 40’s, say that even though they are personally not religiously observant, they firmly believe that keeping their shop closed on Shabbat is the right thing to do and under no circumstances will they work on Shabbat. They say they would rather close their business, which is what they might have to do if the Sharona owners press their case.

Bottom Line
The shop owners signed an agreement pledging to keep their store open 7 days a week. Even though their agreement with God is more important in the grand scheme of things, in a court of law, a contract is a contract.

Israel News for August 26, 2015

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New Top Cop
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has chosen a new police inspector-general to head up Israel’s national police force. The nominee, who still needs to be approved by a government committee, is 51 year old IDF Brigadier General (reserve) Gal Hirsch.

Hirsch, originally from Arad, had a distinguished military career, holding numerous commands in elite combat units. He resigned from the IDF in 2006 amid allegations of mishandling an incident during the second Lebanon war, but was exonerated by an investigative committee.

Hirsch is currently chairman of the Israel Leadership Institute, an educational NGO, and Defensive Shields Holdings, a security consulting company.

The new police chief will have his work cut out for him. Sex scandals that have forced out several senior police commanders and allegations of corruption in several recent high profile cases have further depleted the top echelons of command, which Hirsch will have to rebuild most likely by bringing in people from outside the force.
The scandals and corruption have eroded the respect people have for the police. Recent surveys show that 70% of Israelis do not have faith in their police force. This could be one reason why there are 1,000 job openings for police officers that the force is having a hard time filling.

Hirsch’s nomination ruffled lots of feathers among the top brass in the police force, who thought one of their own should get the top job. They’re hoping that that he doesn’t get approved by the committee. Some of them might quit if he does. Whoever ends up with the job will have a lot of hard work ahead of him.

Terror in Jerusalem
According to statistics compiled by the Ministry of Construction and Housing, there were 580 documented terror attacks against both civilian and security forces during June and July in the Jerusalem areas that include the old city, the Mount of Olives, the Silwan (Shiloah) neigborhood and the City of David. That’s an average of almost ten per day.

Arad Blocks Africans
As we reported in yesterday’s email, the government is set to release close to 1,500 asylum seekers being held at the Holot detainment center in the Negev. The African migrants, who entered Israel illegally, have been banned from living or working in Tel Aviv and Eilat. Most of them have worked in those cities for years. Yesterday, twenty Africans released from Holot were arrested by immigration officials for just being in Tel Aviv.

Not to be outdone, the mayor of Arad, a southern city assumed to be a prime destination for the released detainees, declared his intention to keep them out. He sent police and inspectors to set up checkpoints at the entrances to the city to turn back asylum seekers looking to make Arad their new home. There are currently already several hundred asylum seekers living in Arad.

So where should these asylum seekers go? The government and many Israelis hope they choose another country.

Vatican Opposes Palestinians
The Palestinian mission to the UN drafted a resolution that would allow non-member observer states to fly their flags alongside member states at the UN headquarters in New York City. There are only two non-member states at the UN: Palestine and the Vatican.

The Palestinians explicitly included the Vatican in their resolution draft, hoping that doing so would compel member nations to approve it, especially since Pope Francis is due to address the UN General Assembly next month.

The Vatican was not pleased. In a note circulated to some U.N. members, the Vatican made clear that while it did not object to the Palestinians proposing a resolution to fly their own flag, the Holy See had no plans to join the initiative – even though the Vatican formally recognized the State of Palestine earlier this year.

“The Holy See does not intend to co-sponsor a draft resolution that the State of Palestine may eventually present on the matter,” the note said. “The Holy See asks the Permanent Observer Mission of the State of Palestine to the United Nations kindly to remove in its draft resolution any reference to the ‘Holy See’ and any generic reference ‘on behalf of the Observer States’.”

The Palestinians have yet to respond.

Even though most member states are usually more than willing to vote against Israel’s interests, agreeing to fly the flag of a state that the US doesn’t recognize in the heart of US territory and in a heavily pro Israel city is going too far, even for them. Even the pope gets that.

Fined for Shabbat Observance
Many Israeli cities have regulations that impose fines on businesses that stay open on Shabbat. One establishment, called Henry’s, is being fined by its parent company for closing on Shabbat.

The shop, which has a kashrut certificate, is located in a new upscale shopping center in Tel Aviv. The owners of the center claim that the contracts they signed with their shops requires them to be open seven days a week. They’re fining the Shabbat observing store owners 3,500 Shekels per month for violating their contract. The Tel Aviv religious council is protesting.

Israel News for August 25, 2015

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Terror Cell Arrested
Security forces arrested a four man terrorist cell that was planning to shoot Jews praying at Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem (Nablus). The four were being trained and armed by an Islamic Jihad operative from Gaza. They were gathering intelligence on the daily routine of the prayer goers at the Tomb in preparation for their attack. Thankfully, that’s as far as they got.

President Rivlin Speaks
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin met yesterday at his residence with elected leaders of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. Rivlin expressed his full support for the settlements in the territories saying, “Our right to this land is not a matter of political debate. It is a basic fact of modern Zionism. We must not give anyone the sense that we are in any doubt about our right to our land. For me, the settlement of the land of Israel is an expression of that right, our historical right, our national right, stemming from a love for the land of Israel, [and] from a recognition of our roots, which come together here.”

He sympathized with the settlers who are facing increased violence in the aftermath of the Duma attack that killed a Palestinian toddler and his father, but emphasized the need for restraint. He said, “Our sovereignty in this land means responsibility for all those who live here, and obliges all of us to uphold the strictest of moral codes, which is inherent in each and every one of us.”

Asylum Seekers Released
In compliance with a High Court ruling ordering the release of asylum seekers being held for longer than 12 months in the Holot facility in the Negev, the government will release 1,500 Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers by Wednesday.

There are over 45,000 asylum seekers, primarily from Sudan and Eritrea, who almost all entered the country illegally, usually by infiltrating through Israel’s southern border with Sinai.

Since they are fleeing from war-torn countries where their lives are in danger, they are considered asylum seekers and cannot, according to Israeli law, be deported back to their home countries unless they pose a clear security threat (which they don’t).

In order to control this influx of African asylum seekers, which poses a demographic threat to the stability of the country, the Knesset passed the Anti-Infiltration law allowing the government to imprison the illegals for up to 3 months and then detain them for up to 20 months. These measures are meant to persuade the migrants to leave the country. The High Court reduced the 20 month detention term to 12 months, but kept the rest of the law in tact.

In anticipation of the release of the 1,500 Holot detainees, the government issued regulations forbidding them from returning to Tel Aviv and Eilat, which is where most of the asylum seekers in Israel live.

Representatives from hotels in the Dead Sea came to Holot to recruit close to 200 workers. Many of the others are heading to Arad and Beersheva.

Both the Israeli government and the High Court have made it pretty clear that they do not want asylum seekers, primarily from Sudan and Eritrea, to remain in the country. But since they can’t simply deport them, their objective is to make life so difficult for them that they agree to voluntarily leave. Approximately 9,000 have already left. But life has got to be pretty bad for anyone to want to return to Sudan or Eritrea. So the government will keep tightening the screws and the Africans will keep fighting for survival until…well, we’ll have to wait and see how this ends.

Assad Speaks Out
In an interview with Hezbollah television, President Assad of Syria addressed Israel’s attack on Syrian government targets, which was in response to a rocket attack on Israel from territory under his control. In that attack Israel hit numerous government and pro government military targets and killed the four terrorists believed responsible for firing the rockets. Assad said that, at this time, defeating the anti government rebels in Syria takes priority over fighting with Israel. He also claimed that Israel was supporting the rebel groups and using them as proxies to fight Syria. So really, by fighting the rebel groups he’s fighting Israel. Interesting logic.

Gay Pride Murderer indicted
The Jerusalem District Court indicted Yishai Schlissel, the Gay Pride Parade attacker, for one count of murder and six counts of attempted murder.

A document was recently uncovered that has put the police in a tight spot. The document was presented at a special meeting of the Jerusalem police district ten days before the gay pride parade and specifically identified Schlissel as being a threat of the highest degree. That means the police should have been keeping an eye on him. They obviously didn’t. An investigative committee examining possible police negligence is hard at work to find out what went wrong.

Hasidic Crowd Control
Tomorrow the Gerrer Hasidim will celebrate the wedding of their Rebbe’s grandson in Jerusalem. But unlike the standard large charedi gathering, which often includes lots of pushing and jostling for good viewing positions, this event will hopefully be different.

The Rebbe’s gabbai (sort of like the chief of staff and personal secretary) released a letter ordering all Hassidim planning to attend the wedding to pick a spot and stay in it for the duration. That means no moving around, pushing or positioning. In other words, just be a mentch (ask your grandma what that means). And in case you think you can do as you please, the letter says that the venue will be recorded with cameras, so don’t even think about it.

The goal here is to avoid the kind of tragedy that occurred at the funeral of a prominent rabbi some months ago where a young man was trampled to death in the pushing during the funeral procession. Hopefully, the new Gerrer rules will do the trick.

Israel News for August 24, 2015

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Court Promotes Charedi Minister
The High Court has ruled that Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of the charedi United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party must either assume the position of Health Minister or resign from his current post.

The UTJ party represents the Ashkenazic charedi communities. It was formed in 1992 as a merger between the Chassidic Agudas Yisrael and the Lithuanian Degel Hatorah party. The parties policies are decided by a council of Torah Sages from each of the two factions.

Because of its fundamental opposition to a secular run government, the UTJ and its predecessors have always refused to accept ministerial portfolios in the cabinet (except for one post in the first government in 1948). Instead, they assume the title of deputy minister while performing the duties of full minister.

In the current government PM Netanyahu officially holds the title of Health Minister and Yaakov Litzman of UTJ holds the deputy minister title. But semantics aside, Litzman functions as the Health Minister.

Opposition party Yesh Atid called them on this ministerial charade and petitioned the High Court to call a spade a spade (instead of a deputy spade). The High Court agreed and ruled that Litzman must either accept the title of Health Minister or resign his post altogether.

Litzman must wait for the Council of Sages of the Agudas Yisrael faction of UTJ to decide, in their meeting this Wednesday, whether to modify their policy and allow him to be a full minister. The word on the street is that the council, lead by the Gerrer Rebbe (Litzman is also a Gerrer follower) will allow him to take the ministerial post.

Even though it is really just a question of semantics, allowing Litzman to be a full minister might represent a major philosophical shift in charedi ideology and possibly bring about a greater sense of unity between them and the non-charedi right and centrist parties.

Abbas Going to Iran
Iran already has proxies on Israel’s northern border – Hezbollah and pro-Syrian government militias – and southern border – Hamas. Now they might be preparing to close the loop in the east.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Polish reporters that he intends to visit Iran in an effort to improve ties with what he calls a “sister” nation. The Palestinians already have an embassy in Tehran, located in the building that housed the Israeli embassy prior to the Iranian revolution.

Should Israel be worried? Maybe, if the Palestinians gain independence and call in the revolutionary guards, or if Iran donates millions of dollars of terrorist funding.

Terror cell arrested
Israeli security services announced that they arrested a cell of nine Palestinians two weeks ago in the terrorist attack near highway 443 that injured three Israelis three weeks ago. The suspects, five adults and four minors, were residents of Beit Hanina and the Old City of Jerusalem. They are also being indicted for other attacks including throwing molotov cocktails at a Jewish home in Beit Hanina, where two people were injured.

The suspects admitted that they carried out the attack to avenge the Duma attack. Since their attack there have been several more molotov cocktail attacks in that same location.

Israel Helping Kurds
According to the Financial Times, Israel has purchased over $1 billion worth of oil from the Kurds in Northern Iraq. Records show that from May to August Israel bought 19 million barrels, which is about 77% of Israel’s total oil consumption of about 240,000 barrels a day.

Some sources say that Israel is choosing to buy specifically from the Kurds in order to support them in their fight against ISIS. Other sources claim that Israel is getting a discounted price on the oil. In either case, if they’re spending those billions anyway, they might as well get some indirect security benefits as a byproduct.

PM Netanyahu has stated his support for the formation of an independent Kurdish state in Northern Iraq. That hasn’t done much to improve Israel’s relations with Turkey, which fears that the Kurds will want to integrate the heavily Kurdish areas of Southern Turkey into their state. Ironically, the Kurdish oil is transported to Israel via a Turkish port.
Business is business.

American Scraps Israel Flights
American Airlines, the world’s largest airline by fleet size, passengers flown and revenue, has decided to stop flying to Israel. They claim it’s due to financial consideration and that they lost $20 million last year on their Philadelphia – Tel Aviv route. Industry experts say that American’s Israel route is profitable. They claim that American made the decision due to their leading role in the OneWorld global alliance, whose members include Arab carriers like Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian and Malaysia Airlines.

Whatever the reason, it’s good news for the carriers that do fly to Israel. Whether it will allow them to raise prices is still to be seen.

Shas head protests Shabbat Work
Economy Minister Aryeh Deri sent a strongly worded letter to PM Netanyahu and Transport Minister Katz protesting the desecration of Shabbat by government employed construction workers. The workers were clearing up the rubble following the demolition of the Maariv Overpass on Friday, which was leveled as part of the Tel Aviv light rail construction project. Deri threatened to take action the next time work was done on Shabbat on the Tel Aviv light rail or for any government project.

Meat Wars
Ketchup isn’t the only food they’re fighting about in Israel. The pre High Holidays meat wars are heating up, and Israeli meat eaters are benefitting big time.

In Israel you can buy three types of meat (from cheapest to most expensive): frozen, defrosted and fresh. Most of the frozen or defrosted meat, which leads significantly in market share, is slaughtered and prepared in accordance with kosher laws overseas and shipped to Israel. Fresh meat can either also be imported or slaughtered and prepared in Israel. It’s cheaper to import.

Shufersal, one of Israel’s largest supermarket chains, last week launched their own private label brand of fresh meat which they fly in from overseas in sections, which is cheaper than importing the calfs and then slaughtering and preparing them in Israel.

In response, Tnuva, the giant Israeli food conglomerate, has just announced that they will be importing fresh meat from Poland and selling it at prices equivalent to Shufersal’s defrosted meat. How can they do it so cheap? They’ll be shipping the meat by boat instead of by air. (Poland just got approved as a supplier of meat to Israel.)

Something about importing meat from a country that actively participated in the slaughter of millions of Jews just doesn’t seem right. Does the savings make it ok? Perhaps.

israelAM for August 21, 2015

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Hunger Strike Ended
Palestinian prisoner Mohammed Allaan decided to end his hunger strike yesterday as a result of the High Court’s decision to suspend his administrative detention. He’s still too sick to eat, but he should be able to in a couple of days. (clearly there’s a difference between being on a hunger strike and just not eating).

Who Won?
While Allaan’s family and supporters are claiming victory, the High Court’s decision doesn’t really do much to change Allaan’s long term situation, other than allowing him visitors. As soon as he gets well enough, the administrative detention order gets reinstated. Ironically, the only way Allaan wins by getting set free immediately is if he is found to have irreversible brain damage. Doesn’t seem like much of a victory in that scenario.

The real winner in this case seems to be the government. It avoided being blamed for the death of a prisoner, ended a hunger strike without having to force-feed, and can continue detaining a terror suspect once he gets well or release him if he is no longer a security threat due to irreversible brain damage.

Israel Strikes Syria
After four rockets were fired into northern Israel from Syria yesterday, the IDF hit back hard. The Israeli army used tanks, artillery and aircraft to attack 14 military targets in the Syrian government held Golan Heights, from where the rockets were launched. Israel claims that the Iranian backed Islamic Jihad is behind the attack, and holds the Syrian government responsible for not securing their territory. Syrian state radio confirmed the attacks but claimed minimal damage.

There has been occasional shooting into Israel from Syria that has spilled over from fighting inside of Syria. But yesterday’s rocket attack into Israel was clearly intentional. A senior IDF officer said, “For us this is a clear act of aggression meant by the Iranians to use the chaos in Syria to escalate tensions in the region,” he said.

The officer said that although the rocket attack was carried out by Islamic Jihad forces, it is not connected to the threats of reprisal by Islamic Jihad related to the hunger strike of their operative Mohammed Allaan. He claimed that the attack is part of an Iranian strategy to use the chaos in Syria to “heat up” Israel’s northern border.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon openly blamed Iran and warned Western nations not to ignore Iran’s attempts to destabilize the region and harm Western interests and Israel. He said, “Following the signing of the nuclear deal with Iran and the removal of the economic sanctions imposed on it, what we saw tonight might be the promo to a richer and more murderous Iran. One that can streamline money and large amounts of weapons to terrorist organizations to harm Israel and Western interests in the region and beyond.”

Early this morning the Israeli airforce penetrated 10 kilometers into Syria and destroyed a car carrying the four Islamic Jihad militants believed to be responsible for firing the rockets into Israel yesterday.

UN vs. Israel
The United Nations political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman is not very happy with some of Israel’s recently passed anti-terror laws. In a speech to the Security Council yesterday he criticized the law increasing the penalties for stone throwers, the law permitting force-feeding of prisoners, and the administrative detention law, saying that they threatened to worsen an “already-precarious human rights situation.”

The stone-throwing law passed by the Knesset in July says that stone throwers proven to have acted with the intention of causing bodily harm can be imprisoned for up to twenty years. Otherwise, they can get up to 10 yrs for attacking civilian targets and 5 yrs for attacking police or military targets.

The force-feeding law that was also passed in July gives the government the right to force-feed prisoners who go on hunger strikes. The government has yet to force-feed anyone, in part due to the refusal of Israeli doctors to perform the procedure, which most consider to be inhumane.

The administrative detention law allows authorities to detain terror suspects for six month intervals (that can be renewed) without revealing the charges or holding a trial. The law has been primarily used against Palestinian terror suspects where the authorities believe that revealing the charges would pose a security risk. Recently, several jewish terror suspects were also placed in administrative detention.

So while innocent civilians are being beheaded bombed and terrorized just hours away by ISIS, Assad and just about everyone else with some power, Israeli anti-terror legislation is on the UN agenda for human rights violations. Seems a bit distorted, don’t you think?

Cops and Crime
According to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, there are 132 police officers on active duty who have been convicted of criminal offenses. He also said that 21 policemen were fired this year after being convicted of crimes or following disciplinary procedures. Last year the number of convicted cops who were fired was 34, and in 2013 it was 40.

Erdan didn’t reveal the nature of the active duty officers’ offenses, but most of the penalties ranged from suspended sentences through community service to fines. That implies that the crimes weren’t that bad. Should police officers really be committing any crimes at all?

Soccer Players Win
The players who protested the scheduling of National League (Liga Leumit) soccer games on Shabbat brought their case to labor court, and won. Labor Court Judge Arielle Giltzer-Katz decided in favor of the players and informed management that since it lacked a permit for working on Shabbat, it would be breaking the law by doing so.

The Israel Premiere League, the first tier soccer league, does play games on Shabbat. None of their players seem to be protesting.


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Israel News for August 20, 2015

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High Court Rules, Temporarily
The High Court yesterday temporarily suspended the administrative detention order under which Palestinian hunger-striker Mohammed Allaan has been detained. He will remain in Barzilai hospital to receive medical treatment, but will no longer be shackled to his bed and will be allowed to receive visits from his family. If and when he recovers from the effects of his hunger-strike, the administrative detention order will become active again.

Earlier on Wednesday the government said the they would release Allaan if it turns out that he has suffered irreversible brain damage and is, therefore, no longer a security threat. The High Court ordered an MRI performed to determine the extent of Allaan’s brain damage. While the tests did show that there was some degree of brain damage, they were not conclusive as to whether the damage is reversible or not. Doctors say that the brain damage is likely to have been caused by a lack of vitamins, particularly vitamin B1, and they aren’t sure if replacing the vitamins will reverse the damage.

Meanwhile, the IDF has deployed an Iron Dome anti-missile battery in the southern city of Ashdod in response to Islamic Jihad threats of missile attacks from Gaza if Allaan dies.

While the High Court’s ruling to suspend Allan’s administrative detention order is being viewed as at least a semi-victory by his supporters, the fundamentals of the situation haven’t really changed. The government can legally detain Allaan as long as they feel that he is a security risk, which is what they probably will do unless he proves to have irreversible brain damage that prevents him from being involved in future terrorist activity. The government also technically still has the legal right to force-feed him. What the court has succeeded in doing is preventing Allaan from dying while in detention, which would be a blow to the government.

Terror Attacks Continue
The string of terror attacks against Israelis continued yesterday with two new attacks.
Palestinians threw an improvised explosive device at a military patrol on the Tunnel Bypass Road which connects the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo to the Gush Etzion area in Judea. The purpose of the bypass tunnel is to provide drivers with a route that avoids passing through or near Arab villages, which would expose them to terror attacks. One soldier was wounded in the attack.

In another part of Jerusalem, near highway 443, two Palestinians threw rocks at Israeli cars. A man and a two year old girl were lightly wounded by broken glass. The 443 is one of two main highways that connect Jerusalem with the center of the country.

US in Sinai
The US is reviewing the status of its peacekeeping troops stationed in the Sinai in the face of threats from ISIS inspired terror groups active in the northern part of the peninsula.

When Israel and Egypt signed their historic peace treaty in 1979, one of the provisions was that the US would station ground troops to monitor the agreement. There are currently 700 US Army troops stationed in Sinai, monitoring and verifying treaty compliance. These troops are lightly armed and don’t have any real offensive capabilities. That makes them prime targets for the terrorists who have been carrying out large scale attacks against the Egyptian military in northern Sinai. The last thing the US wants is to leave the troops exposed to attack.

The US can either beef up the security of the troops and increase their fighting capabilities or withdraw them. Pulling out of Sinai would send a message of weakness to the terrorists and ISIS, as well as to its allies in the region who feel that the US is giving in to Iran in the nuclear deal. So making sure the troops can defend themselves looks like the way to go.

Hamas Nabs Spy
Israel Army Radio reported yesterday that Hamas claims to have captured an Israeli spy off the Gaza coast. A dolphin. No, not one of the Israeli navy’s Dolphin class submarines. A real dolphin. Hamas claims that it was equipped with spying equipment.
This dolphin is not the first animal to be accused of working for Israel. In 2010, an Egyptian official accused Israeli sharks for attacking tourists in the Red Sea. In 2012, an eagle with Israeli tracking tags was captured in Sudan and accused of spying for Israel.
Is the Mossad really that good?

Huckabee Stands with Israel
Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee is touring Israel and sending a clear message that he is a loyal supporter of Israel. His first stop was the town of Shilo in Judea. When asked why he visited a town that the international community considers to be occupied territory he answered, “It’s a Jewish town. I don’t call this area occupied territory, but rather Judea and Samaria. Israel has a special connection with this region.”
He added, “I arrived in Shiloh in order to see the history of the Jewish people, I recommend that everyone go there. I don’t understand why the international community prevents Israel from living securely in Judea and Samaria as well. As a presidential candidate I feel that obligation to Israel.”

Huckabee met with PM Netanyahu yesterday in Jerusalem. He spoke against the BDS movement, encouraged the Palestinians to pursue peace instead of terror, and expressed his opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state and Israeli withdrawals from Judea and Samaria.


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Israel News for August 19, 2015

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Stoning Attack in Jerusalem
Stone throwing attacks are increasing in the predominantly Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. Last night four Jewish teenagers and one Arab were injured when the bus they were in was stoned in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Tor. Two cars were also stoned.

Ironically, the Jewish teenagers, three girls and a boy, were active in efforts to improve peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews.

The Knesset recently passed a law increasing the punishment for rock throwers to up to 5 years in prison. The Arab Knesset members vehemently protested the law, calling it vengeful, and claimed that rock throwing by Arabs was a legitimate form of protest against what they call the Israeli occupation. Even when those rocks wound or kill. Right.

Hunger Strike Continues
Doctors at Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon woke Palestinian hunger-striker Mohammed Allaan from an induced coma yesterday, and are continuing to give him medication and intravenous nutrition. Allaan, now able to communicate, declared that he rejects the government’s offer to release him on the condition that he leaves the country for four years, and that he will continue his 64 day hunger-strike. He wants to be released in September.

Islamic Jihad claims that now that Allaan is conscious he will intensify his hunger strike and refuse all medical treatment, which will lead to a drastic deterioration in his condition. Islamic Jihad is considering ordering a mass hunger strike in Israeli prisons in solidarity with Allaan. There are already several prisoners who are on a hunger strike in solidarity with him.

Palestinian security officials warn that if Allaan dies it will lead to even more tensions in the region and an increase in terrorist attacks.

Herzl Meets Abbas
Israeli opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog met yesterday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. Herzog emphasized the importance of Abbas doing everything possible to prevent Palestinian violence and acts of terror in order to prevent a third intifada. He also told Abbas that he believes a peace agreement can be reached between the two sides within two years, if serious negotiations are resumed.

After the meeting Herzog said, “The terror of recent days is liable to lead to a third intifada, and that must be prevented with everything at our disposal. That means an uncompromising war against terror, and on this subject I’m even more extreme than Netanyahu.”

Shabbat Wars Escalate in Jerusalem
The Jerusalem municipality is planning to start enforcing fines against grocery stores (makolets) that are opened on shabbat. Municipal law allows places of entertainment and culture to do business on shabbat, but all commerce is forbidden.

Secular activists claim that this is simply a case of the municipality folding to the will of the ultra-orthodox, who protested last week against the opening of the Yes Planet cinemaplex on shabbat. They claim that the restrictions apply to a small number of businesses who have been open on shabbat for decades and that there is no reason to change the status quo.

Two years ago the Supreme Court accepted the appeal of grocery stores against the Tel Aviv municipality, ruling that the Tel Aviv shabbat laws discriminated against small grocery stores that could not afford to pay the fines that larger establishments paid in order to stay open. This forced the Tel Aviv municipality to modify their policy.

Recently, the Jerusalem municipality also changed their policy by delineating specific neighborhoods in the city, like Talpiot and Ein Kerem, where they would have less enforcement against grocery stores opened on shabbat, and neighborhoods where they would increase enforcement, like the center of town. As a result of the increased enforcement, eight grocery stores in the center of town are expected to close on shabbat. The store owners are furious and have vowed to battle this out.

Creating Land
One of Israel’s greatest long term challenges is the scarcity of land available for residential construction, especially in the center of the country. The municipal engineering department in Herzliya might have a solution: offshore building. The proposed plan involves building two artificial islands 1.5 kilometers from the southern coast of Herzliya, opposite the existing marina. The project would cost billions of shekels and enable the construction of 40,000 housing units. For now 650,000 shekels will be spent on an initial feasibility study. Imagine the views.

Real Estate Magic
If you’re looking to buy an apartment in Kfar Saba, a popular residential city not far from Tel Aviv, you might want to check out the new development being advertised by Trigo Investment Group. For only $89,000 you can purchase the right to an apartment in a development they are planning to build. There’s only one catch: the city hasn’t approved the project. So the city is demanding that Trigo stop advertising the project. Trigo seems to think that they aren’t doing anything wrong. As Theodore Hertzl said, “if you will it, it is no dream.”

Ketchup Wars
As if there wasn’t enough conflict in Israel, now there’s a fight about condiments. Osem, Israel’s giant food manufacturer, has filed a complaint with the Health Ministry against American food giant Heinz. Their claim is that Heinz Ketchup cannot be technically called ketchup in Israel, since it doesn’t have the amount of tomato paste required by Health Ministry regulations. The regulation requires 10% tomato solids while Heinz only contains 6%.

So, Osem is demanding that Heinz use “tomato seasoning” instead of ketchup on their Hebrew labels. Apparently, the regulations don’t apply to non-Hebrew labels, so English readers will still be able to enjoy good old “ketchup” while Hebrew only Israelis will have to settle for “tomato seasoning”.

In the tradition of classical Talmudic reasoning, Heinz’s local importer Diplomat is filing its own petition asking the Health Ministry to revise the regulation from 10% tomato solids down to 6%.

The Histadrut, Israel’s all powerful (and only) labor union is against revising the regulation, claiming that doing so would harm children by depriving them of their tomato fill. The fact that Osem is one of Israel’s largest employers might have something to do with it too.
How important is this? Think about it. Would you put “tomato seasoning” on your burger?

Returning Home
A chartered flight sponsored by Nefesh B’Nefesh landed in Israel yesterday carrying 232 Olim (new immigrants) from North America. Fifty nine of them will be enlisting in the IDF as lone soldiers.

“And your children shall return to their borders,” — Jeremiah 31:16

Israel News for August 18, 2015

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Hunger Striker
Israel’s High Court postponed ruling on the case of the Palestinian prisoner Mohammed Allan and has instructed the government and Allaan’s family to come up with a compromise agreement. The government yesterday offered to free Allaan on the condition that he leave the country for four years .

Arab-Israeli Knesset member Mohammed Jabareen of the Joint Arab List party, who is representing Allaan, rejected the offer, claiming that it proves that Allaan isn’t really that dangerous. Instead, the family has offered for Allaan to end his hunger strike on the condition that the state not extend his detention, which is scheduled to expire in November.

Allaan was arrested in November and is being held under the administrative detention law (without formal charges or trial) on suspicion of being involved with Islamic Jihad. He has been on a hunger strike for 62 days now in protest. Last month the Knesset passed a law allowing a judge to sanction force-feeding or medical treatment if an inmate’s life is threatened, even if the prisoner refuses. But doctors, backed by the Israel Medical Association, have refused to use force-feeding and consider it to be inhumane.

Allaan is currently in Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon where he is receiving intravenous fluids and vitamins, which is not considered force-feeding. But doctors say some of his organs are damaged as a result of the hunger strike and his condition is precarious.

In the past Israel has freed Palestinian prisoners on hunger strikes for fear that their deaths could stir up Palestinian outbreaks of violence. At the same time the government doesn’t want to set a precedent which would encourage prisoners to go on hunger strikes to attempt getting released. The government also feels that Allaan will be a security threat if released.

According to Israeli law the government has every right to continue detaining Allaan since it believes that he is a security threat. It also has the right to force-feed him in order to save his life. Instead the government has offered to set him free as long as he leaves the country for four years. That would seem to be a good deal for Allaan considering his current situation. Unfortunately for him, due to his condition he is unable to make any decisions for himself, leaving the Israeli-Arab and Palestinian politicians and activists representing him to decide his fate. And they’ve decided, at least for now, that their fight against Israel takes precedence over saving Allaan’s life.

PA Money funds terror
Indictments filed by the Military Advocate General of Judea and Samaria against the terrorists responsible for the murder of Malachi Rosenfeld a month ago in the West Bank reveal that PA money was indirectly used to fund the terror cells.

Ahmad Najar, the head of the terror cell that murdered Rosenfeld, was imprisoned in Israeli jail for the murder of six Israelis in 2004. After his release as part of the Shalit deal, he received a monthly stipend from the Palestinian Authority for his time served in Israeli prison.

Najar then moved to Jordan and had his brother Amjad withdraw the money from his bank account in the West Bank. He used the money to train and arm a terror cell under his command.

On June 29, the terror cell’s members shot Rosenfeld to death and wounded his three friends near the settlement Shvut Rachel. Prior to the fatal attack, they fired at a Magen David Adom ambulance near Beit El, in an incident that ended without injuries. The Palestinian Authority arrested two members of the terror cell. Israel arrested the rest.

In a separate indictment Muhammed Abu Shaheen from Qalandiya was indicted for shooting Danny Gonen to death near the settlement Dolev and wounding his friend Netanel Hadad. The charges against his terrorist cell members also include several cases of shooting at soldiers in Qalandiya and planning to kidnap an Israeli.

Hamas deal. Not.
Despite reports in the Arab press and statements from Turkish officials and PA President Abbas that Israel was close to reaching a long term cease first agreement with Hamas, the PM’s office released a statement yesterday flatly denying any negotiations with Hamas. According to the statement, “There are no meetings with Hamas. There are no direct contacts, no contacts through other countries and no contacts through intermediaries.”

Passport Control Crumbles
Waiting in line for immigration officers to check your passport at Ben Gurion airport is never a pleasant experience. Last Friday, it got a whole lot worse. The passport control computer system went down, requiring agents to check incoming passengers’ passports manually. With Shabbat approaching, and a huge backlog of anxious and impatient passengers still waiting, authorities decided to just let about 1,300 Israeli citizens through without any record of their entry into the country. The catch is that they would need to call the Interior Ministry (Misrad Hapnim) to register their re-entry into the country.

When people called they were told that they need to show up at a ministry office to personally confirm that they’re back in Israel. If they don’t they’re considered as if they aren’t in Israel and therefore will not be covered by their national insurance. At least they made it home for Shabbat.

No Soccer on Shabbat
Economy Minister Aryeh Deri, who is also head of the Ultra Orthodox Sephardic Shas party, sent a letter to the Minister of Culture and Sports Miri Regev and to the head of the Soccer Association requesting that they not schedule National League (Liga Leumit) games on Shabbat.

There are two professional soccer leagues in Israel: the top tier Premier League and the second tier National League. While the Premier League has always schedule some games on Shabbat, the National League has not, until now. The league has decided to schedule games on Shabbat in the upcoming season. At least ten players have protested this decision and said they will refuse to play on Shabbat.

Pants attack
A 15 yr old girl was walking with her family in Jerusalem on Rechov Strauss, a main street running through the center of town, not far from an Ultra Orthodox (Charedi) neighborhood. She was wearing pants. A 40 yr. old Charedi man considered the pants to be immodest. He expressed his opinion by spitting on her. The man was arrested. The girl most likely wiped the spit off and then continued wearing her pants.