Israel News for August 1, 2016

Terror Thwarted
Security forces last night found six homemade pipe bombs in a car driven by an Arab Israeli man from the southern town of Rahat, during a routine stop at a checkpoint in the West Bank. He was traveling towards the city of Kvar Saba.

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Mosque Fire
A massive fire broke out last night in the largest and most important mosque in the northern city of Acre. The mosque is considered second in importance to the Al Aqsa mosque. Firefighters, assisted by hundreds of residents, battled the fire. The fire was started as a result of an electric failure.

Acre is a city in which Jews and Arabs live in relative harmony. There was no suspicion among the Arab residents that the fire was started by Jews. In the words of one Arab resident, “There is no way that someone set the mosque on fire in the heart of the city. This is a place in which Arabs and Jews live together and have good relations. We never suspected that any person would want to harm a mosque – Not today or any other day.”

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General Heads to DC
IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot arrived in Washington yesterday for a four day visit to meet with military and defense officials and discuss military cooperation between the two countries.

One of Eisenkot’s main objectives is to attempt to bridge gaps related to the military aid agreement that Israel wants to finalize within the next couple of months (or sooner). The agreement is signed every ten years. The new one will hopefully increase US military aid to Israel from $3.1 billion to $5 billion per year.

The are a couple of conditions to the aid package that Israel has a problem with. According to the new deal, Israel is prohibited from using the money to make purchases in Israel, which could have a significant negative effect on Israel’s defense industry and lead to thousands of layoffs. Israel currently is permitted to spend up to 26% of the US aid in the country.

Another sticking point prohibits Israel from using the money to buy fuel, which would require Israel to find an extra $400 million in it’s own fiscal budget. The US wants as much money as possible to be used for purchases in the US.

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New Ministers
The government has approved several new ministerial appointments. Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) who is currently Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister, was also given the Environmental Protection portfolio.

Welfare Minister Haim Katz (Likud) will take on all matters relating to employment and to Holocaust survivors, currently under the jurisdiction of the Economy Minister. The rest of the Economy Ministry, currently held by PM Netanyahu, will be given to Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu). Netanyahu still holds the communications, regional cooperations and foreign ministry portfolios.

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IDF Exemptions Revoked
The IDF provides exemptions for yeshiva students who study at least 45 hours per week at one of the 1,000 institutions recognized by the Education Ministry, according to the Israeli Defense Service Law. But the IDF is now cracking down on men who aren’t exactly acting in a “kosher” way.

According to a senior official in the IDF’s Manpower Directorate, some 4,000 ultra-Orthodox men aged 17-24, who received an exemption from military service so they could study Torah, have been found to be living a secular lifestyle. Most have already been drafted.

Hundreds have appealed the decision, with some providing proof they do meet the criteria as yeshiva students and having their exemption reinstated. Many claim that they were undergoing a temporary “crisis of faith” which caused them to drop religious observance, but that they have subsequently repented. While that argument might be a valid theological one, it doesn’t usually work for the army.

The IDF Manpower Directorate has been using private detectives and scouring social media pages to identify the “no longer religious” men.

The senior IDF official explained, “Many in the Haredi sector have a Facebook page. As soon as we realize that the young man does not meet the conditions for exemption, we revoke it after summoning him for a hearing in which we present him with the evidence and allow him to appeal the decision. Going abroad or working instead of studying at the yeshiva are also considered violations of the requirements. We receive the information from different sources.”

He added, ”We give the time to study to whoever needs it. We’ve discovered a lot are registered to a yeshiva, but don’t actually attend. We’ve always enforced—what’s new today is the use of social media in ultra-Orthodox society. We can easily reach them on Facebook and can do a lot of detective work using a smartphone.”

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