Israel News for October 5, 2016

Rocket Hits Sderot
A rocket fired from Gaza landed and exploded next to an elementary school in the southern city of Sderot at 10:19 this morning. The kids were at recess and ran to the bomb shelter when the sirens sounded. No injury or damage was directly caused by the rocket, although two people were treated for shock. IDF tanks responded by hitting Hamas targets in Gaza.

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Talks of Unity
Sources have confirmed that talks to bring the opposition Zionist Union party into the government are in full swing, again. According to a report confirmed by Haaretz, the center-left Zionist Union party will join PM Netanyahu’s Likud-led government in exchange for eight ministerial portfolios, including the highly coveted Foreign Ministry.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog has vehemently denied the report, calling it “baseless”, and saying that there have been no contacts with Likud over the Rosh Hashanah holiday as the report claimed. Likud also officially denied the report. But sources “in the know” claim that a new government could form within a month when the Knesset returns from its summer recess.

Herzog is reportedly trying to woo Tzipi Livni into the unity government by offering her the Foreign Ministry, while he would become Deputy Prime Minister, chief negotiator and Minister of Regional Development.

Bringing the Zionist Union into the government would free PM Netanyahu from pressure coming from the more extreme right wingers in the government, as well as from the Ultra-Orthodox parties. It would also show the international community that Israel is more willing to negotiate a peace agreement with the Palestinians, which would also help avert any potential Israeli-Palestinian related UN resolution that US President Obama might want to push through before leaving office.

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Defense Contract
Israeli defense electronics company Elbit Systems Ltd. announced today that its US subsidiary Elbit Systems of America LLC has received a $7.3 million contract to supply the Bradley Fighting Vehicle Gunner’s Hand Station to the US Army. The Defense Logistics Agency sole-source contract will be performed during a two-year period with work being completed in Fort Worth, Texas.

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Nature Break
A good number of Israelis decided to say their prayers on the second day of Rosh Hashana out in nature. According to the Nature and Parks Authority (NPA) around 100,000 citizens visited the country’s nature reserves and national parks yesterday. Kite flying was particularly popular, as 2,000 people participated in NPA organized kite flying activities in various locations. Over 50,000 people visited the Kinneret, with around 16,000 filling the lake’s 15 beaches.

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Fast Day
According to Jewish tradition, today is the Fast of Gedaliah, on which we refrain from eating and drinking from dawn until sunset and we try to engage in repentance and spiritual pursuits. The reason for the fast has nothing to do with helping you shed the pounds you put on from all that Rosh Hashana feasting. It has a historical basis.

After the Babylonians destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in 423 BCE and exiled tens of thousands of Jews, they appointed Gedaliah ben Achikam as governor of the remaining Jews in Israel, of which there were a significant number. Jews who had taken refuge in surrounding lands herd of his appointment and returned to Israel. While they were still under Babylonian control, the Jews were still able to enjoy a good degree of autonomy under their Jewish governor and government.

But of course, not all Jews were satisfied. Extremists viewed Gedaliah as a collaborator with the Babylonians and as an illegitimate leader. Ishmael ben Netaniah, the leader of the “opposition”, brought a group of ten men to ostensibly celebrate the Rosh Hashana holiday with Gedaliah, but assassinated the governor instead. His men also killed the governors Babylonian military contingent. Fearing lethal retribution, most of the remaining Jews in Israel fled to Egypt, extinguishing the last vestige of Jewish autonomy in Israel until the return of the exiles nearly 70 years later.

While on the grand scale of Jewish suffering throughout history the murder of Gedaliah seems almost insignificant, the fact that our Sages instituted a fast day to commemorate the event teaches us an important lesson about Jewish unity and what can happen when we fight amongst ourselves. It’s a lesson that we need to internalize now more than ever.

Israel News for August 24, 2016

Party Time
The Israeli embassy in Washington will be throwing a Rosh Hashanah party this September that is budgeted at $25,000, and many Israeli diplomats are not pleased. Embassies traditionally throw two annual parties, one for Israel Independence Day and the other for Rosh Hashanah, with the former being much more extravagant. But with budget cuts throughout the Foreign Ministry, many at the ministry are claiming that the US party is not justified.

The budget for the Rosh Hashanah party includes $13,000 for catering, $9,000 for a marquee tent and $1,000 for alcohol, balloons and music. The ministry defended the expenditures by saying that the previous ambassador’s home was much larger, which precluded the need for a tent.

But let’s get real. This is Israel’s most important embassy in the most important capital in the world. And if you’ve ever thrown a party in the US, $25,000 really doesn’t sound unreasonable at all. In fact, it’s downright cheap!

The complaints are probably coming from diplomats stationed in less high profile diplomatic postings around the globe who are being squeezed by the ministry budget cuts. But this is Washington DC, so get over it.

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Drone Partnership
Following a meeting in Tel Aviv between Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his Kazakh counterpart, Imangali Tasmagambetov, the Kazakhstan defense ministry announced that it would produce drones based on Israeli technology and that Israel would train the drone operators.

The Republic of Kazakhstan is located in Central Asia and was a part of the former Soviet Union. Over 70% of the population is Moslem. It is a large exporter of crude oil and uranium, and has huge reserves of other valuable minerals.

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Palestinian Protests
Hundreds of Palestinians staged violent demonstrations in Nablus (Shechem) to protest the death of a suspect arrested by Palestinian Authority police. The suspect, Ahmed Izz Halawa, was seized during a raid following the shooting death of two police officers in the city. He then died, mysteriously, in custody. Nablus governor Akram Al-Rjoub claims that he was beaten to death by police. Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Al-Hamdallah has promised a full investigation, describing the incident as “rare”. Halawa was a senior member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a militant group linked to the Fatah party.

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Eilat Threatened
As a result of an apparent pipeline leak, 200 tons of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Aqaba from Jordan’s Aqaba port yesterday, which is adjacent to Eilat. Most of the oil is reported to be drifting south towards the beaches of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, but at least some of the oil could hit Israeli beaches.

Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection have begun preparations to aid in cleanup and containment, but has yet to receive a request for assistance from Jordan, where officials said they were responding to the incident themselves. The leak from the pipe has been stopped.

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Polish Holocaust Denial
Last week the Polish cabinet approved a bill that mandates three years in prison and a fine for anyone claiming that the Polish people or state were responsible for the Nazis’ crimes or collaborated with them. The bill is expected to be approved by the Polish parliament. Are you kidding me? This is nothing short of Holocaust denial. Yad Vashem scholars agree.

Poland is the only European country unwilling to approve restitution for property lost during the Holocaust. Now it’s looking to deny its role in the murder of its 3,000,000 Jews altogether. Will the world stand by silently and let them erase their guilt? Probably.

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Israel News for September 8, 2015

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Third Duma Victim
Just over a month ago Jewish assailants threw firebombs into a house in the Arab village of Duma in the West Bank, killing an 18 month old boy and wounding his parents and brother. Soon after, the boy’s father succumbed to his wounds.

Yesterday, the mother, Rihad Dawabsheh, 27, died in an Israeli hospital. Thousands of Palestinians attended her funeral. Some threw rocks at Israeli soldiers afterwards.

PM Netanyahu issued a statement expressing his condolences and saying “security forces are doing their utmost to apprehend the assailants and bring them to justice.”

The four year old brother is still undergoing treatment in Israel.

The Russians are Coming
While the US and the Europeans continue to be reluctant to put “boots on the ground” to combat ISIS or to put an end to the fighting in Syria, the Russians don’t seem to have the same reservations.

Intelligence sources report that the Russians are building bases in Syria and providing military support, including commando troops, to boost President Assad’s dwindling control over his ever shrinking territory.

The Russians have their only Mediterranean naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus. They sell weapons to Syria and vote against UN condemnations of Syria. With most of the Middle East under US influence, Syria could be the Russians great hope to get back into the Mideast power game.

US Secretary of State Kerry warned the Russian Foreign Minister that Russian involvement could potentially lead to a confrontation with coalition forces.

How does this affect Israel? If the Russians can bring stability to Syria and get rid of ISIS, there will be some lively Vodka toasts in the Knesset. And with over a million Russian-Israelis, there could be a lot of people toasting Russia’s success in Syria.

More Fencing
Israel already has security fences along its borders with Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. Now it’s building one on its border with Jordan. The reason seems to be to prevent Syrian refugees from entering the country via Jordan.

The PM has empathized with the “human tragedy” of the Syrian civil war, but has made it clear that Israel is too small to start taking in refugees. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog has said that Israel should take in a limited number of Syrians.

Are Syrian refugees really so anxious to resettle in Israel? Doubtful. But the southern portion of the fence which is being constructed first and which will stretch from Eilat to Timna (18.6 miles) will probably be used to prevent African migrants from crossing into Israel. And the Africans are seen as the main threat to Israel’s demographic balance. So far, the Sinai border fence has been extremely successful at stopping the Africans.

More Time for South
The IDF’s “Color Red” early warning radar system has done an excellent job in warning Israelis about incoming rocket attacks. Israeli communities near the Gaza border get about a full 15 seconds to find shelter before the rockets hit. Not a lot of time, but better than the warning they get for mortar attacks. Currently, when a mortar shell is fired from Gaza, residents get maybe 5 seconds or less of warning. That’s hopefully going to change.

The IDF announced a new tactical radar system that will give residents a full 15 seconds of warning for mortar attacks. About 25 of the new systems have been deployed in communities along the Gaza border. They’re set to become operational in October.

See what you can do in 15 seconds. Go.

Swiss Snub BDS
The Swiss has given the BDS movement a slap in the face. Last night, both houses of the Swiss parliament approved a massive deal to purchase six Israeli made Hermes 900 unmanned military aircraft for $256 million.

The Swiss approved the deal after months of deliberations despite protests by pro Palestinian BDS supporters. The Swiss defense minister claimed that they were buying the planes from a private company, Elbit Industries, and not from the State of Israel. Not a very convincing argument in BDS land.

The hope is that more European countries will now follow Switzerland’s lead and choose Israeli weapons over BDS threats. After all, business is business.

New Year’s Gift
Israel’s Public Utilities Authority is giving Israelis a special Rosh Hashanah gift: lower electric bills. On Sunday the average household electric bill will drop by 6.2%, making the total price cut for this year 15.6%. If you’ve ever gotten an electric bill in Israel, you’ll know that that’s a nice chunk of change that Israelis will be able to hold on to.

The price cut was made possible by the electric company’s increased use of coal to produce their power. Coal prices have plummeted over 17% this year.

But wait. This is Israel, so there’s got to be someone who’s complaining. The IEC (Israel Electric Corporation), which is the publicly traded company that actually produces the electricity and is regulated by the Public Utilities Authority, thinks that cutting prices isn’t the right fiscally responsible decision to make. They’ll be appealing the decision.

I guess they haven’t heard of: never look a gift horse in the mouth.

Israel News for September 4, 2015

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Jews Attacked in Hebron
Five Chassidic yeshiva students visiting Israel from America decided to pray at the Ma’arat Hamachpela (Cave of the Patriarchs) in Hebron yesterday. They used Waze for driving directions. Unfortunately for them, Waze doesn’t always take politics into account when it gives directions. In Israel that can be deadly. The directions took them into an Arab area of Hebron, where they were attacked by rock throwers.

The five found refuge in the nearby home of Fayez Abu Hamdia for about 40 minutes until IDF forces rescued them. Two of the men were injured. Their car, along with some of their personal possessions, was torched.

According to IDF data, last year 538 Israelis found themselves in Area A (PA controlled) of the West Bank and were returned by Palestinian security personnel.

Upshot 1: Check your Waze directions when traveling near Arab areas.

Upshot 2: High five to the Arab man who saved the men from the mob. There is hope for a better future.

Upshot 3: The terror needs to end.

Funding with a Catch
If you want government funding for your cultural institution or program, you’ll need to follow the new regulations released by Israel’s Culture and Sports Ministry. That means you won’t be allowed to: deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic nation, incite terror, violence or racism; express support of an armed struggle or acts of terror by enemy states or terror organizations against the State of Israel, present Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning, and defame state symbols, like the flag. If you do any of these the state can decide not to fund you.

Makes a lot of sense. Why should the State of Israel fund organizations that work against it? At least that’s what Culture Minister Miri Regev believes, which is why she created the regulations. The Attorney General seems to feel differently. He doesn’t think it’s legal to condition state funding on cultural content.

When the government attempts to enforce the new regulations and withhold funding, they’ll have to get approval from the Attorney General. That means the case will probably end up being decided by the courts. Business as usual in Israel.

Tax Collectors on Fire
It looks like Israel’s tax collectors are performing their jobs amazingly well. In July and August, tax collections were 5 billion shekels above projections. What is the government going to do with all that cash? No, they aren’t going to give it back. But they are going to lower taxes.

PM Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon announced yesterday that they would drop the VAT (Value Added Tax) from 18% to 17% and the corporate tax from 26.5% to 25%.

The PM said, “I think this will help growth. I think it will give us exactly the encouragement that the economy needs when we hear of a global slowdown and a slowdown here. We want an engine for growth and lowering taxes is one means to do so.”

The Bank of Israel is not happy. It wants to raise taxes, fearing that the current surplus is just a one time event stemming from higher home sales or increased capital gains. It would rather use the extra cash to pay down national debt. “A reduction in VAT will make it tough to stand by fiscal targets in coming years and is not consistent with tax policy that aims at achieving long-term goals,” the central bank said.

Kahalon’s response to the central bank’s fears is simple: if tax collection slows down, we’ll call a “do over”. But for now, live for the moment!

Israeli Fences for Sale
Israel isn’t involved in the tragic refugee crisis unfolding in Europe, but it might play a part in helping the Europeans control it. According to an exclusive Reuters report, Hungary and Bulgaria have made inquiries into purchasing the kind of security fence that Israel built along its 143 mile border with Egypt. They would install the fencing along their northern and western borders, to prevent migrants from crossing into Germany and other Western European countries.

Bulgaria has already built a security fence on their border with Turkey, and Hungary is completing one on their border with Serbia. But the Israeli designed fencing will be taller, more fortified and contain sophisticated electronic defenses.

Frontex, the EU agency responsible for border management, is opposed to fences and has made clear the European Union will not help member states finance them.
“When you talk about the management of migratory flows, the fence itself is not the solution, just as border control is not the panacea for migration flows,” said spokeswoman Izabella Cooper. “You have to stabilize the countries of origin from which the refugees flee.”

Destroying ISIS would go a long way in stabilizing Syria and Iraq and stemming the flow of refugees, but the Europeans don’t seem eager to send troops in to get the job done. Instead, they’ll spend their Euros building fences and dealing with refugees.

PM Claims US Support
Despite losing the battle to nix the Iran nuclear deal, PM Netanyahu told participants at a pre Rosh Hashanah reception at the Foreign Ministry yesterday that, “the overwhelming majority of the American public sees eye-to-eye with us on the danger emanating from Iran.” The statistics don’t exactly back him up.

According to a Sept. 1 Reuters poll, 30 percent of Americans were in favor of the agreement, 30.7 percent against it, and 39.4 percent were undecided. If you break that down along political lines, about 60 percent of republicans oppose the deal while only 19 percent of non-Republicans are against it.

So really, the PM should have said that the majority of Republican Americans see eye to eye with him. Is that what he meant, or is he engaging in some wishful thinking?