Tony Blair: ‘We were wrong to boycott Hamas after its election win’

The Observer reports: Tony Blair has said for the first time that he and other world leaders were wrong to yield to Israeli pressure to impose an immediate boycott of Hamas after the Islamic faction won Palestinian elections in 2006.

As prime minister at the time, Blair offered strong support for the decision – driven by the George W Bush White House – to halt aid to, and cut off relations with, the newly elected Hamas-led Palestinian Authority unless it agreed to recognise Israel, renounce violence and abide by previous agreements between its Fatah predecessors and Israel. The ultimatum was rejected by Hamas. The elections were judged free and fair by international monitors.

Blair, who became envoy of the Middle East quartet – composed of the US, EU, UN and Russia – after leaving Downing Street, now says the international community should have tried to “pull Hamas into a dialogue”. The boycott and Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza, which began the following year, are still in force today. A UN report two years ago said the combined effects of the blockade and the three military offensives conducted in Gaza by Israel since 2009 could make the territory “uninhabitable” by 2020. Humanitarian conditions have worsened markedly since the report was written.

Interviewed for a new book Gaza: Preparing for Dawn, out later this month, Blair said: “In retrospect I think we should have, right at the very beginning, tried to pull [Hamas] into a dialogue and shifted their positions. I think that’s where I would be in retrospect.

“But obviously it was very difficult, the Israelis were very opposed to it. But you know we could have probably worked out a way whereby we did – which in fact we ended up doing anyway, informally.”

Blair did not elaborate on subsequent “informal” dealings with Hamas but he appears to be referring to clandestine contacts between MI6 and Hamas representatives during and possibly after the kidnap of BBC journalist Alan Johnston by an extreme fundamentalist group in 2007. The kidnappers eventually released Johnston after heavy pressure from the Hamas de facto government. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli defense experts warn against dropping Iran nuke deal

The Associated Press reports: If President Donald Trump moves to scuttle the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, Israel’s nationalist government can be expected to be the loudest — and perhaps only — major player to applaud.

But the true picture is more complicated than what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might portray: There is a strong sense among his own security establishment that there are few good alternatives, that the deal has benefited Israel, and that U.S. credibility could be squandered in the turbulent Middle East in ways that could harm Israel itself.

That is not to say that Israel’s respected security chiefs are all pleased with every aspect of the Iran deal. But after Netanyahu declared at the United Nations last month that it was time to “fix it or nix it,” the prevailing attitude among security experts seems to be that fixing it is the best way to go.

“It seems to me that the less risky approach is to build on the existing agreement, among other reasons because it does set concrete limitations on the Iranians,” said Uzi Arad, a former national security adviser to Netanyahu. “It imposes ceilings and benchmarks and verification systems that you do not want to lose. Why lose it?” [Continue reading…]

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Israel approves plans for thousands of new settlement units in the West Bank

The Washington Post reports: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved building plans for 3,736 new units in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday, in what activists say is part of a new wave of construction spurred by the Trump admin­istration’s more accommodating stance.

The units will be built in numerous settlements, including in Hebron and other contentious areas, said an Israeli official who discussed the announcement on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

Some of the units, which include homes, communal buildings and institutions, are slated for isolated communities that sit deep inside the territory Palestinians want for a future state. [Continue reading…]

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How blood money, diplomacy and desperation are reuniting Palestine

Reuters reports: A decade on, Rawda al-Zaanoun is at last willing to forgive the gunmen who killed her son during the civil war that split Palestine. It has been painful, but she says it is time.

“He was hit with a bullet in the back. He was a martyr,” the 54-year-old said at an event in Gaza city to mark the public reconciliation of families of people killed in the war. “The decision was not easy because the blood of our son is precious. But we have given amnesty.”

Her son Ala, a married father of two and an officer in the Palestinian Authority security forces, was killed in June 2007 after he rushed out of his house in Gaza City, having heard that his uncle was injured in clashes between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah.

Since that war a decade ago, Fatah, led by the secular heirs of Yassir Arafat, has run the West Bank, headed the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority and been responsible for all negotiations with Israel.

Its rivals, the Islamist group Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, drove Fatah out of Gaza and has run the tiny coastal strip that is home to 2 million people, nearly half of the population of the Palestinian territories.

The schism is set to end on Monday, when Hamas hands over control of Gaza to a unity government. Although it agreed to the arrangement three years ago, the decision to implement it now marks a striking reversal for Hamas, which is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and most of the most powerful Arab countries.

“Hamas has made big concessions, and every coming concession will be stunning and surprisingly bigger than the one that passed, so that we can conclude reconciliation and this division must end,” the chief of Hamas in Gaza, Yehya Al-Sinwar, said during a meeting this week with social media activists.

If Hamas has swallowed a bitter pill by ending the feud, perhaps bitterest of all is the role played by exiled former Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan, once Hamas’s fiercest foe who is now a leading player in regional efforts to pull Gaza back into the Palestinian mainstream.

Officials on both sides of the Palestinian divide and in other Arab countries say Dahlan, based since 2011 in the United Arab Emirates, is behind an influx of cash to prop up Gaza, and a detente between Hamas and Arab states including Egypt. [Continue reading…]

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Birth of a second Hezbollah? Where Iran stands in a post-war Syria

Shahir Shahidsaless writes: Iran’s doctrine in Syria and Iraq is that “if we don’t defend our strongholds outside of our borders we will have to fight our enemies inside our borders”. Accordingly, Iran heavily invested in Syria. Staffan de Mistura, UN special envoy for Syria, has previously estimated that Iran spends $6bn annually in the Syrian war.

According to IRGC officials, the largest Iranian contribution has been the organising of the National Defence Forces (NDF), a pro-government militia. According to several independent reports, at any given time, there are an estimated 50,000 National Defence Force fighters under arms in Syria.

In May 2014, Brigadier General Hossein Hamedani, who had reportedly supervised the funding for the NDF, said that Iran had organised roughly 70,000 pro-Assad NDF fighters into 42 groups and 128 battalions. Hamedani was killed near Aleppo in 2015.

In addition, numerous reports confirm that the Fatemiyoun Brigade – composed of thousands of Afghan Shias who fight under the auspices of Hezbollah Afghanistan, the Zaynabiyoun Brigade (the Pakistani version of Fatemiyoun), Hezbollah of Lebanon, and the militia group Kataib Hezbollah of Iraq – are actively involved in the Syrian war under the Iranian IRGC’s direct control.

Modelled after the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and the experience of coordinating with proxy militias in Iraq, this large, battle-hardened paramilitary base in Syria will provide assurance to Iran by emerging as a decisive political force in Syria once the war is settled, no matter which government is in power as it happened in Lebanon and Iraq.

This simply means the birth of a second Hezbollah and an Iranian foothold right in Israel’s backyard with Syria. [Continue reading…]

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Trump and Netanyahu ready united assault against Iran nuclear deal

The Guardian reports: Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu will meet in New York on Monday, at the start of a week in which they intend to launch a concerted assault at the United Nations against the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

The US and Israeli leaders are expected to use their speeches to the UN general assembly on Tuesday to highlight the threat to Middle East stability and security represented by Tehran.

While anxiety about Iran’s expansive role in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon is widely shared, Trump and Netanyahu’s antipathy to the multilateral deal agreed in Vienna two years ago binds them together, even as it sets them apart from the overwhelming majority of other world leaders attending the annual UN summit.

Western allies in Europe – most notably the UK, France and Germany, co-signatories of the 2015 deal – remain committed to the agreement and have signalled they are willing to disagree sharply and openly with Trump on the issue.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN who made herself the principal channel for the president’s critique of the deal, has been a lonely voice against it on the security council.

The stance taken by Netanyahu and Trump has also set them apart from their most senior national security advisers. [Continue reading…]

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After Russia, Iran seeks deal for long-term Syria garrison, says Israel

Reuters reports: The Israeli intelligence minister said on Monday that President Bashar al-Assad was ready to permit Iran to set up military bases in Syria that would pose a long-term threat to neighbouring Israel.

While formally neutral on the six-year-old Syrian civil war, Israel worries that Assad’s recent gains have given his Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah allies a foothold on its northern front.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lobbied Russia, Assad’s most powerful backer, and the United States to curb the Iranian presence in Syria — as well as hinting that Israel could launch preemptive strikes against its arch-foe there.

In July, Moscow ratified a deal under which Damascus allowed the Russian air base in Syria’s Latakia Province to remain for almost half a century. Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said Iran could soon gain similar rights. [Continue reading…]

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Netanyahu’s son removes anti-Semitic meme from Facebook following outcry

The Washington Post reports: Yair Netanyahu, the son of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, removed an anti-Semitic meme from his Facebook page on Sunday after an outcry from Israeli politicians and Jewish community leaders in the United States.

The image, posted by Yair Netanyahu on Friday, appeared to be a local take on a classic anti-Semitic cartoon suggesting that Jews control the United States. It has appeared widely on extreme alt-right websites.

In this instance, it depicted his father’s perceived foes: American Jewish billionaire philanthropist and investor George Soros, outspoken former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, activist Eldad Yaniv, and Meni Naftali, a former housekeeper for the Netanyahus who successfully sued them for mistreatment.

Yair Netanyahu, who goes by the name “Yair Hun” on Facebook, had captioned the meme “the food chain.”

Over the weekend, his actions drew praise from neo-Nazi groups in the United States as well as from Holocaust denier David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. [Continue reading…]

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Israel hits Syrian site said to be linked to chemical weapons

Reuters reports: Israel attacked a military site in Syria’s Hama province early on Thursday, the Syrian army said, and a war monitoring group said the target could be linked to chemical weapons production.

The air strike killed two soldiers and caused damage near the town of Masyaf, an army statement said. It warned of the “dangerous repercussions of this aggressive action to the security and stability of the region”.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war, said the attack was on a facility of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre, an agency which the United States describes as Syria’s chemical weapons manufacturer.

It came the morning after U.N. investigators said the Syrian government was responsible for a sarin poison gas attack in April. [Continue reading…]

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Sara Netanyahu expected to be indicted for fraud in pocketing $110,000 in goods

Haaretz reports: Sara Netanyahu is expected to be indicted, pending a hearing, on charges of fraudulently receiving items worth 400,000 shekels ($111,851), Haaretz has learned. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is expected to inform Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, of the charges against her in a few weeks.

Sara Netanyahu is suspected of ordering chef’s meals at the prime minister’s official residence, which is against regulations, and concealing the fact that she did so. She and her husband have accused the former chief caretaker of the official residence, Meni Naftali, who is currently leading protests against the prime minister, of inflating the residence’s expenses.

At a rally last week, Netanyahu also accused Naftali of stealing food from the residence. But a senior police official, commenting recently on the high expenses run up at the official residence, said recently that “this phenomenon began before Naftali came to work at the residence and continued after he was fired.”

The decision to indict Sara Netanyahu in the residence affair is the first in a series of moves to be made in the coming months in cases in which the prime minister and members of his inner circle are suspects. A senior law enforcement official said the likelihood was that police would submit their recommendations in around December in Case 1000, in which the prime minister is suspected of illicitly receiving gifts from wealthy patrons, and Case 2000, in which the suspicion is that Netanyahu tried to concoct a deal with Arnon Mozes, publisher of the mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth, to receive favorable coverage in the newspaper in exchange for cutting back on commercial activity of the competing free daily, Israel Hayom. [Continue reading…]

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Has Netanyahu defeated the Palestinians?

Daniel Levy writes: The long-running police investigations into the affairs of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to cross a Rubicon earlier this month. Netanyahu is under suspicion in a number of cases involving alleged bribery, fraud and breach of trust, among other things. A deal has now been reached by the State Prosecutor’s Office for Netanyahu’s former chief of staff, Ari Harow, to turn state’s witness—an arrangement rarely agreed to unless a strong case is being built against a more senior and serious criminal actor.

With the likelihood of his being indicted and speculation as to his longevity in office reaching unprecedented levels, Netanyahu struck back. In a support rally convened by his Likud Party, Netanyahu accused “the thought police in the media,” together with the left, and supported by the Palestinians, of conducting an “unprecedented, obsessive witch-hunt campaign” against him and his family. Their goal, he claimed, was to stage “a government overthrow” to topple “the national camp.” Both the style and substance of Netanyahu’s fiery rhetoric should have sounded very familiar to anyone in America not asleep for the past seven months.

That part of his speech was an appeal to his base. But Netanyahu’s lengthy term in office, multiple electoral successes, and ability to hold together a governing coalition in Israel’s rambunctious political system is also predicated on him having a message that resonates with a broader public. It is a sales pitch that Netanyahu repeated at that rally, that he had “brought the state of Israel to the best situation in its history, a rising global force . . . the state of Israel is diplomatically flourishing.” Netanyahu had beaten back what he had called the “fake-news claim” that without a deal with the Palestinians “Israel will be isolated, weakened and abandoned” facing a “diplomatic tsunami.”

Difficult though it is for his political detractors to acknowledge, Netanyahu’s claim resonates with the public because it reflects something that is real, and that has shifted the center of gravity of Israeli politics further and further to the right. It is a claim that if correct and replicable over time will leave a legacy that lasts well beyond Netanyahu’s premiership and any indictment he might face.

Netanyahu’s assertion is that he is not merely buying time in Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians to improve the terms of an eventual and inevitable compromise. Netanyahu is laying claim to something different—the possibility of ultimate victory, the permanent and definitive defeat of the Palestinians, their national and collective goals. [Continue reading…]

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Gaza’s wasted generation has nowhere else to go

The Washington Post reports: They are the Hamas generation, raised under the firm hand of an Islamist militant movement. They are the survivors of three wars with Israel and a siege who find themselves as young adults going absolutely nowhere.

In many circles in Gaza, it is hard to find anyone in their 20s with real employment, with a monthly salary.

They call themselves a wasted generation.

Ten years after Hamas seized control of Gaza, the economy in the seaside strip of 2 million has been strangled by incompetence, war and blockade.

Gaza today lives off its wits and the recycled scraps donated by foreign governments. Seven in 10 people rely on humanitarian aid.

Young people say they are bored out of their minds.

They worry that too many of their friends are gobbling drugs, not drugs to experience ecstasy but pills used to tranquilize animals, smuggled across Sinai. They dose on Tramadol and smoke hashish. They numb.

Hamas has recently stepped up executions of drug traffickers.

Freedoms to express oneself are circumscribed. But the young people speak, a little bit. They say their leaders have failed them — and that the Israelis and Egyptians are crushing them.

Why not revolt? They laugh. It is very hard to vote the current government out — there are no elections.

“To be honest with you, we do nothing,” said Bilal Abusalah, 24, who trained to be a nurse but sometimes sells women’s clothing.

He has cool jeans, a Facebook page, a mobile phone and no money. [Continue reading…]

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Israel moves to close Al Jazeera, ban its journalists

Al Jazeera reports: Israel plans to revoke media credentials of Al Jazeera journalists and close the network’s office in Jerusalem, the country’s communication minister has announced.

Ayoub Kara made the announcement on Sunday during a press conference in Jerusalem, where Al Jazeera was barred from attending.

“We have based our decision on the move by Sunni Arab states to close the Al Jazeera offices and prohibiting their work,” Kara said, adding that the channel is being used by groups to “incite” violence – an accusation the network has denied.

Kara said he expects Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, to consider his request in the next session.

“I will go through the legislatory mechanism to create the authority in which I can act freely. We will try to end it as quickly as possible.” [Continue reading…]

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Far-right Bannon affiliates attack McMaster for being ‘controlled by Jews’ and ‘hostile to Israel’

Haaretz reports: President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser General H. R. McMaster is being targeted in recent days by a far-right campaign that is accusing him, simultaneously, of being controlled by rich Jews and of harming the state of Israel. The campaign is coming from media outlets and writers affiliated with Steve Bannon, President Trump’s senior political adviser, who has been accused in the past of making anti-Semitic comments.

The campaign against McMaster intensified after he fired a number of mid-level officials from the National Security Council, who were considered loyal to Bannon and to the former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The latter was forced to resign after less than a month in office because he lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his ties to Russia. The driving force behind the campaign has been far-right blogger Mike Cernovich, who started sharing links to a website called, McMaster Leaks, which is devoted to attacks on McMaster, on social media.

The website featured a brazen anti-Semitic caricature depicting McMaster and retired General David Petraeus, who is considered close to a number of senior NSC officials – as two puppets being controlled by Jewish billionaire George Soros, who himself is being controlled by “the Rothschilds,” the famously rich Jewish family of bankers. After the caricature was mocked on social media, the website edited it, replacing the word “Rothschilds” on the top of the pyramid with the word “Saudis,” but keeping in Soros depiction in place.

Yet McMaster, according to his rivals on the far-right, isn’t only being controlled by the Rothschilds – it turns out he is also “hostile to Israel,” according to articles that have been published in recent days on Breitbart, the far-right website formerly edited by Bannon, and on the Conservative Review. These articles, quoting “administration officials” and a Facebook post by Israeli journalist Caroline Glick, accuse him of such “sins” as opposing an Israeli request to include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Trump’s visit to the Western Wall during his visit in Israel earlier this year. [Continue reading…]

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Pressure mounts on Netanyahu as aide agrees to testify

The Washington Post reports: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is known for being a political survivor, but the revelation this week that a former top aide will testify against him has led to speculation that his indictment in relation to allegations of corruption is increasingly inevitable.

Ari Harow, who served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff, will turn state’s witness in two probes into the premier, Israeli police said Friday. Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

The details of the investigations — from the Cuban cigars and other lavish gifts Netanyahu is alleged to have received from prominent business executives to allegations of collusion with Israel’s dominant newspaper for favorable news coverage — have gripped Israel in recent months. Harow’s agreement to testify though, significantly ramps up pressure on the premier, now serving his fourth term. [Continue reading…]

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The next war in Gaza is brewing. Here’s how to stop it

Nathan Thrall and Robert Blecher write: When violence erupts in Jerusalem and the West Bank, it is usually not long before the Gaza Strip follows. At Gaza’s border with Israel on Friday, a Palestinian teenager was killed while protesting in solidarity with Palestinians in Jerusalem. Several days earlier, two rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza, and the next day Israeli tanks destroyed a Hamas position.

It’s an all-too-familiar echo of the events that preceded the Gaza conflict of 2014: widespread Palestinian protests in Jerusalem, Israelis murdered in the occupied territories, a sharp rise in Palestinians killed by Israeli forces, mass arrests of Hamas officials in the West Bank, and a steadily tightening noose around Gaza.

In February, Israel’s state comptroller released a report that strongly criticized the government’s failure to prevent the 2014 conflict. The report highlighted a statement made by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon days after the war began: “If Hamas’s distress had been addressed a few months ago, Hamas might have avoided the current escalation.”

The population of Gaza is now suffering far more than it was before the 2014 eruption. Once again, the three parties responsible for the blockade causing that distress — Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority — are bringing the next war closer. [Continue reading…]

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Are American Jews giving up on Israel?

Debra Kamin writes: A scene in the 1964 Israeli film Sallah Shabati offers a pitch-perfect crystallization of the relationship between American Jews and Israel.

It plays out in a Jewish National Fund forest in central Israel, where new Israeli immigrant and titular character Sallah is planting trees. A taxi pulls up bearing the rich American couple who paid for the forest. After the pair snaps a few photos and drives away, a new couple pulls up, and the sign bearing the first donors’ names is quickly swapped out for a new one. The Israelis nearby wipe the sweat off their brows, smile for the second couple’s camera, and chuckle among themselves.

The satire feels particularly poignant this month, as an unprecedented rift between Israel and American Jewry threatens to erupt into a permanent schism. Some diaspora Jews, furious with a series of legislative blows from Israel’s ultra-Orthodox religious establishment, are now threatening to stitch up their deep pockets once and for all.

“The rift is real,” says Seth Farber, a modern Orthodox rabbi who leads ITIM, an organization that offers assistance to Israelis in navigating the country’s religious bureaucracy. “[Jews who are not ultra-Orthodox] are not just shifting uncomfortably. They are saying: This is not the Israel that we know.”

The issues, all revolving around the ever-thorny questions of who is a Jew and what claim non-Israelis can stake to matters of Israeli life, have been simmering for years. But last month, when the Israeli government issued a swift one-two punch to non-Orthodox Jewish observance by nixing egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall and approving a bill that would block all but the most religious rabbis from performing Jewish conversions, the pot boiled over.

Despite its status as a parliamentary democracy, Israel grants a coalition of ultra-Orthodox rabbis legal authority over major life issues, including marriage, divorce, and burial. Only about 11 percent of Jews in Israel define themselves as Haredi, or ultra-religious, but their significantly higher birth rate — 6.9 children per woman, compared with 3.1 among secular Israelis — means their numbers are projected to dramatically increase over the next 10 years.

The sector also wields immense power in the nation’s multiparty system, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu currently holds a razor-thin 61-seat coalition; dissent from a single party could throw the majority, forcing new elections and bringing a challenge to the premiership. Netanyahu knows that in order to hold on to power, he needs the cooperation of ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, and nowhere has this reality played out more dramatically than at the Western Wall.

One of the most important sites for Jewish prayer in the world, the Western Wall is under the control of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, which means that the rules there are the same as within an ultra-Orthodox synagogue. Male and female worshippers are segregated, and there is a total ban, on the women’s side, on traditionally “male” accoutrements of prayer such as Torah scrolls, tefillin (phylacteries), and kippot (skullcaps).

In Israel, even the most secular Jews are used to the idea that prayer at synagogues and religious monuments usually requires adjustments like modest dress and gender segregation. But in the United States, the picture of Jewish observance is much more complex. More than half of American Jews identify with either the Reform or Conservative Jewish movement, where women are welcomed to don prayer shawls and read from the Torah, husbands and wives sing Hebrew liturgies together, and ancient Jewish laws over issues such as kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) and keeping the Sabbath have a looser, modern interpretation. Whereas most Jews in Israel identify as either religious or secular, outside of Israel’s borders it’s entirely possible to practice a form of secular Judaism that looks, to the average ultra-Orthodox observer, not like Judaism at all.

So when Netanyahu bowed to ultra-Orthodox pressure late last month and nixed a hard-won agreement to build an egalitarian space at the Western Wall — one that would have allowed not just for mixed-gender worship but for women to sing prayers and read from the Torah and for girls at the site to engage in the ritual of the bat mitzvah — the move was seen as a slap in the face to the majority of the globe’s Jews. [Continue reading…]

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ACLU urges senators to oppose bill targeting Israel boycotts

JTA reports: The American Civil Liberties Union called on U.S. senators to oppose a measure targeting boycotts of Israel and its settlements.

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act, introduced in March by Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, would expand 1970s-era laws that make illegal compliance with boycotts of Israel sponsored by governments — laws inspired at the time by the Arab League boycott of Israel — to include boycotts backed by international organizations. Those adhering to boycotts would be the subject of fines.

While the measure is aimed at the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, it also targets efforts by the United Nations and the European Union to distinguish products manufactured in Israel from those manufactured in West Bank settlements.

In a letter Monday, the ACLU urged senators not to co-sponsor the measure and to oppose its passage.

“We take no position for or against the effort to boycott Israel or any foreign country, for that matter,” wrote Faiz Shakir, ACLU’s national political director. “However, we do assert that the government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, punish U.S. persons based solely on their expressed political beliefs.”

Shakir added that “the bill would punish businesses and individuals based solely on their point of view. Such a penalty is in direct violation of the First Amendment.” [Continue reading…]

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Israel’s war against George Soros

Mairav Zonszein writes: As a Holocaust survivor, a successful financier who embraces free market capitalism and a philanthropist who champions liberal democracy, George Soros should be a darling of the Israeli establishment. But Mr. Soros has failed the only litmus test that seems to count for Israel’s current leadership: unconditional support for the government, despite its policies of occupation, discrimination and disregard for civil and human rights.

For years Mr. Soros largely avoided Israel-related philanthropy, but he became involved in 2008 when he contributed to J Street, a moderate pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group based in Washington, after it was founded. Through his Open Society Foundations, Mr. Soros also contributes to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem and the anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence, which have been subjected to a growing delegitimization campaign by the Israeli government.

But Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, raised the stakes in this feud last week when his foreign ministry issued a statement that, in effect, backed a Hungarian government propaganda effort against Mr. Soros and joined its denunciation of him. This contradicted earlier remarks by Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, Yossi Amrani, who had expressed dismay at the $21-million billboard campaign by the ruling party of Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, that has targeted Mr. Soros for his support of services for refugees and immigrants. The poster campaign, which has also attracted explicitly anti-Semitic graffiti, “evokes sad memories but also sows hatred and fear,” said the ambassador, referencing the fate of Hungarian Jews in the Holocaust. [Continue reading…]

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