Jerusalem Arts House Ignores City Request to Close over Breaking the Silence Event

ATTORNEY YOSI HAVILAV said the venue he represented, the Barbur Gallery in Jerusalem, would ignore a city order to close up shop before hosting a Breaking the Silence event on Wednesday.

“The only consideration behind the decision [to ask the gallery to close] is a political consideration, to satisfy Likud voters after Miri Regev’s letter,” said Havilav, referring to a missive by the culture and sport minister calling on the Jerusalem municipality to cancel the event.

Regev had called on Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to have the cultural event shut down, and the the mayor’s office twice sent representatives to the Barbur Gallery to request they close before the Breaking the Silence event.

Regev opposes Breaking the Silence over its mission of showcasing soldiers’ testimonies of alleged IDF abuses. She accused the group of producing “libel about IDF soldiers.”

Exhibiting how far up the Breaking the Silence state offensive goes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked foreign leaders this week to withhold funding from groups including Breaking the Silence.

Last July, the Jerusalem municipalities tried unsuccessfully to close the Barbur Gallery in Jerusalem’s Nahlaot neighborhood in order to build a preschool on the site.

OPPOSITION LEADER ISAAC HERZOG said his wife first noticed he was having a stroke last Friday night.

“…During Friday night dinner… I started feeling badly, I said a few things unclearly and Michal saw that something in my face didn’t like like it always did,” he recounted.

“So she figured it out and forced me into the car and drove to the hospital. And that’s how it went,” he said.

Herzog stayed in the Tel Aviv hospital overnight.

POLICE OFFICERS IN LOD removed private security cameras that were put up anonymously in public areas without a permit.

Some 58 closed-circuit cameras were removed from telephone poles and street signs.

YESH ATID CHAIRMAN Yair Lapid said Israel should head to early elections if criminal charges are brought against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for corruption.

The Attorney-General’s office has been investigating Netanyahu for graft charges including accepting gifts from influential individuals and organizing deals with leading media people.

Lapid said attempts to form a replacement government would be “undemocratic” if Netanyahu stepped down.

Galant Says Israel Should Be Ready for a Springtime War

CONSTRUCTION MINISTER YOAV GALANT said Israel should be prepared for a war before summer.

“I’m singling out next spring as the point we have to be prepared for,” Galant, a former IDF commander, told Israel’s army radio station. He gave no further details.

His comments came after Israel struck multiple targets in the Gaza Strip, responding to attacks from Gaza.

No Palestinians were killed in the round of aerial bombings and border shelling on Monday and Tuesday. Fifteen were injured, according to Al Resalah.

Galant also mentioned the settlement-arrangement bill (now translated as, land-grab bill, in Haaretz), which passed more Knesset hurdles on Monday.

He said it was up to the High Court now to respond. The law would restrict the Supreme Court from ordering home demolitions in the West Bank..

EDUCATION MINISTER NAFTALI BENNETT said a new war was just a question of time.

“We need to open the gates of fire on our enemy so these things cease to recur,” said the education minister. “There’s no other way to triumph and overcome the enemy.”

SOON, MAKING BETS ON THE HORSE RACES will be illegal. According to government reforms, the authorities will not renew contracts with companies organizing Israeli betting on horse races that expire in August 2018.

The government is trying to end gambling on horse races even before then, within the next couple of months.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has called the revenues from horse racing “tainted money.

Gambling is mostly illegal in Israel, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supports building casinos in the southern port city of Eilat.

CULTURE MINISTER MIRI REGEV asked the Jerusalem mayor to shut down an NGO event about settlers and the IDF.

The event is put on by Breaking the Silence and features its director putting on a talk under the headline, “Settler Involvement in IDF Operations in the Territories.”

Regev’s order came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the Belgium president to cut funding to groups like specifically Breaking the Silence, which seeks out soldiers’ testimonials about human rights abuses in the army.

Yachimovich Accuses Histadrut Chairman of Trying to Sabotage Elections

JUST A FEW HOURS after announcing her candidacy to head the country’s most powerful labor union, Labor Knesset rep. Shelly Yachimovich accused the incumber Histadrut chairman Avi Nissenkorn of trying to derail the elections.

“What happened here was a foolish and contemptible attempt to prevent elections,” Yachimovich told Israel’s army radio station. “That’s what these past six months have all been about.”

The former Labor chairwoman and Histadrut outsider said she was calling for democratic elections.

Yachimovich announced her candidacy a few hours earlier. According to comments in The Marker, she was running on a campaign to clean up the Histadrut leadership.

In the comments, Yachimovich also thanked her “partner,” Knesset rep. Eitan Cabel (Labor).

Nissenkorn responded by accusing Yachimovich and Cabel of organizing a “political deal” over the Histadrut and demanded they expose it.

“This has nothing to do with the Histadrut,” he said.

Cabel ran a couple of combative yet futile Histadrut leadership campaigns in 2012 and 2014. He lost to Nissenkorn, an ally of former chairman Ofer Eini, in 2014.

CONSTRUCTION MINISTER YOAV GALANT said he’d back the the settlement-arrangement bill, which will face Knesset votes this week.

Galant, a member of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Koolanu Party, said he had agreed to support the settlement-arrangement bill as long as provision 7, which shielded Amona from the Supreme Court’s demolition order, was removed.

Kahlon was instrumental in delaying the settlement-arrangement bill over the court order on Amona, saying he wouldn’t support legislation that undermined the Supreme Court.

If passed, the settlement-arrangement bill will retroactively legalize settlements and settlement housing in the West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile said he wanted to discuss the bill with President Trump’s administration, which earlier this week threw cold water on expanding the settlements.

DEFENSE MINISTER AVIGDOR LIBERMAN said he was forfeiting plans to move Army Radio from the IDF to the Defense Ministry.

Liberman scrapped the army radio plans after Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblitt told him the move would necessitate primary legislation.

 

Israel’s UN Ambassador: Better Times Ahead

ISRAEL’S UN AMBASSADOR, Danny Danon, joined the choir in Jerusalem heralding a much “better” era for Israel now that Donald Trump is president.

Though the White House just threw cold water on Israeli moves to expand the settlements, many Israeli lawmakers and diplomats are optimistic about the Trump presidency. Especially after the Obama administration dramatically ended things by withholding a veto on a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

“We’ll see much better times ahead than over the last eight years,” Danon, also in Likud, told Israel’s national radio broadcaster.

“We set our policies. That’s how it was and how it’ll always be. We’re a sovereign nation,” he said. “We won’t always be in full agreement with the United States over the next four years about everything.”

A White House official told the Jerusalem Post this week the Trump administration had told Israel it was committed to the two-state solution. The Trump White House advised Israel to refrain from announcing new settlements or settlement housing.

LIKUD KNESSET REP. AVI DICHTER said outsiders came to the Amona settlement this week to carry out criminal activities and violence.

He said “criminals” were exploiting the situation in Amona for their own “needs.” Dichter didn’t name names regarding said criminals.

But the demolition of Amona this week ended with a standoff between Police and demonstrators holed up in the local synagogue. Police reported being fired on with tear gas and other chemical agents. Dozens of people were injured, police and protesters alike. A swastika marked the wall.

Dichter agreed the Trump administration would be more relaxed about existing settlements. He remained confident about a permanent solution for the tens of thousands of families already living in settlements beyond the 1967 line.

 

 

 

Uri Ariel: Dismantling Amona Part of a ‘Great Achievement’

DESPITE THE HARDSHIPS AND DISPOSSESSION, the dismantlement of Amona was part of a great achievement, Rural Development Minister Uri Ariel told Israel’s national public news.

He was talking about the settlement-arrangement bill. If the settlement-arrangement bill is passed, it will retroactively legalize hundreds of thousands of Israeli homes in the West Bank. To get it to pass the coalition, lawmakers had to agree to remove provisions shielding Amona from demolition.

The compromise for Amona’s destruction was organized by Education Minister and Jewish Home Chairman Naftali Bennett.

While the government was supposed to resettle the dozens of families from Amona in a nearby area, these homes were never built. And then Palestinians successfully petitioned the High Court to stop the development completely.

Now, Netanyahu has vowed the government will build a new settlement “ASAP” for the Amona families, who appear to be temporarily homeless since their evacuation beginning on Tuesday. Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) said the government had failed the people of Amona.

Although the settlers mostly left peacefully, there were some skirmishes between protesters and police and some reports of violence. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged protesters to understand that it was “also hard” for security forces to be dismantling Amona.

Settler leaders like Ariel are hopeful for the realization of Greater Israel including the West Bank and have largely been casting the Amona settlers as unfortunate victims, though the outpost was built on private land and the Supreme Court ordered it to be taken down in 2014.

Jewish Home Knesset rep. Bezalel Smotrich promised the coalition wouldn’t survive a no-vote on the settlement-arrangement bill now that Amona has been dismantled.

TEL AVIV MAYOR RON HULDAI said he’ll be running for mayor again in 2018. It would Huldai’s third term since winning in 1998.

“Still, in a year and a half at Israel’s pace, who knows,” he added.

Huldai beat Meretz candidate Nitzan Horowitz in the 2013 municipal election notably mostly for its low voter turnout.

 

 

Liberman Encourages Amona Protests

DEFENSE MINISTER AVIGDOR LIBERMAN ENCOURAGED PROTESTERS as Israeli police scuffled with defiant residents resisting the ordered evacuation of Amona on Wednesday.

The defense minister called protest a “fundamental right in a democracy.” Police said on Wednesday night that they were unsure how long the evacuation of Amona would take.

Jewish Home Knesset rep. Moti Yogev vowed the state would build thousands of houses for each Amona home that is evacuated.

Speaking to Israeli radio from Amona, Yogev accused the Supreme Court of acting politically to have the settlement dismantled. He criticized former President Obama for leading opposition against Jewish West Bank settlement during his two terms in office.

Yogev and other settler leaders are more optimistic about the future of their movement with President Trump in the White House. Settlers are hopeful Israel will be able to declare sovereignty in the West Bank.

Last November, Jewish Home Chairman Naftali Bennett offered to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to go along with the court decision on Amona if the prime minister agreed to retroactively legalize other unrecognized Jewish settlements as part of the arrangement bill, legislation which is currently under Knesset review.

While passage of the settlement bill seems likely, opposition leader Isaac Herzog said the prime and defense ministers would approve the legislation knowing it will not hold up in court.

Some 3,000 new housing units were approved by the government on Wednesday.

MERETZ CHAIRWOMAN ZEHAVA GAL-ON petitioned the High Court to order the prime minister to sign an agreement not to interfere with Israeli media.

The petition demands the prime minister be made to declare conflicts of interest in dealing with affairs at Channel 10, Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom. 

The petition comes amid investigations of the prime minister for corruption involving relationships with powerful media figures.

MINISTER URI ARIEL (Jewish Home) accused the Prime Minister’s Office of refusing to let him visit the Temple Mount on Wednesday, although the ban against Knesset reps. visiting the ancient site was lifted on Tuesday.

Ariel said police were taking the heat for the prime minister’s office.

A-G Closes Campaign-Financing Probe of Labor Chairman Herzog

ATTORNEY-GENERAL Avichai Mandelblit closed an investigation against Labor Party Chairman Issac Herzog over illegal campaign financing in party primaries. Mandelblit’s office cited a lack of evidence.

Herzog was suspected of taking campaign finances from private interests and launching a smear campaign against his opponent for the Labor leadership, Shelly Yachimovich, especially over the issue of nursing reform.

The A-G’s office is currently conducting investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a number of corruption charges, including a deal with media mogul Noni Mozes for favorable coverage and various gifts and contributions from powerful Israeli and foreign businesspeople.

THE KNESSET was set to discuss the controversial settlement-arrangement bill, which aims to retroactively approve West Bank Jewish settlement outposts built illegally on private Palestinian land.

A vote on the bill was delayed last November, losing support from the prime minister. At the time, A-G Mandelblit said the bill was unconstitutional and would not hold up in court.

The Knesset is expected to review the bill and vote to approve it in its second and third readings next Monday.

AT THE SAME TIME, the IDF posted an evacuation notice at the settlement outpost of Amona, giving residents 48 hours to leave.

Residents rejected the evacuation and slammed Israel for failing to provide adequate housing.

Palestinians led by Yesh Din meanwhile petitioned the High Court of Justice in Jerusalem, accusing the state of offering more private Palestinian land to Amona residents on which to resettle. The state responded that it offered to build housing for Amona evacuees in exchange for a peaceful evacuation.

Jewish Home Knesset rep. Bezalel Smotrich said he hoped “common sense” would prevail at the High Court and called for Israelis to go to Amona, in the central West Bank north of Ramallah, to support its residents.

Last December, Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) — a political leader in the settler community — compromised with the prime minister over the settlement-arrangement bill, allowing for Amona’s dismantlement.

PROFESSOR EHUD KEINAN of the Weizmann Institute warned this week that an attack on ammonia storage facilities at the Haifa port could kill as many as 16,000 Israelis.

An attack on a ship unloading the ammonia would be even deadlier, the organic chemistry professor told Israel’s national public radio.

Most of the ammonia does not stay in Israel. The Environmental Protection Agency said 80 percent of the imported chemical is turned into fertilizer and exported.

Haifa mayor Yona Yahav called for an immediate resolution of the ammonia issue. Haifa has had its fair share of environmental disasters over the years, including forest fires in late 2016 that sent tens of thousands of residents fleeing their homes and in 2010 that resulted in dozens of deaths. Certain neighborhoods are also known for having rampant pollution widely associated with increased cancer rates and birth defects.

Haifa Chemicals, which uses some 70% of the imported ammonia, rejected Keinan’s disaster scenario and insisted its storage sites were “among the safest facilities on the planet,” according to Israel Radio.

The facilities are within range of Lebanese Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal. Hezbollah is said to have stockpiled hundreds of thousands of rockets and missiles for future conflicts with Israel.

The question is how to better secure ammonia shipping and storage, or whether to stop ammonia imports altogether.

THE ISRAEL SPACE AGENCY unveiled plans to develop a radiation-resistant spacesuit to be tested in space this year, as part of a joint Israeli-German simulated expedition to Mars.

StemRad, an Israeli company that builds gamma-radiation protective clothing to be used on Earth, was tapped to develop the spacesuit.

The spacesuit will be evaluated on its return to Earth following a month in space, Israel Radio reported.

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(“Israeli Space Week: 2017 > The Farthest We Can Possibly Go” | Image from the Israel Space Agency Facebook page)

Optimistic Netanyahu Undergoes 3rd Police Grilling in Graft Case

INVESTIGATORS questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the third time on Thursday (#bibigate). The questioning lasted about three hours, according to Army Radio.

Shortly thereafter, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, sent a greeting to a Likud Party meeting in Eilat saying “most of the Israeli public doesn’t buy the attack against” the prime minister.

“I sense great support wherever I go. We can be very proud of the Likud movement’s support for its leaders all these years,” the greeting said.

The prime minister is being investigated as part of a widespread corruption case, which also involves media magnate Noni Mozes. Mozes, who owns Yedioth Aharonoth, has been questioned six times by police. The two are suspected of striking a deal in which the prime minister bought favorable coverage from Mozes’ usually-hostile press.

JUSTICE MINISTER Ayelet Shaked denied the role of the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process in motivating Palestinian terrorists to continue to seek out and kill Israeli Jews.

Speaking at a commemoration for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Shaked said “here in Israel, Jews aren’t being killed because of Palestinian frustration over the delayed peace process.”

“They’re being killed because of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, and incitement to terror,” she said.

Earlier this week the IDF said it thwarted two terrorist attacks in the West Bank, a car-ramming at a bus stop and an attempting shooting.

On Thursday, IDF officials said there had been a dip in terrorist attacks in the West Bank in 2016, compared to previous year which saw the launching of the so-called “stabbing intifada.”

KNESSET MEMBER OSAMA SAADI (Joint List) said there would be grave consequences if the Knesset discusses again the controversial settlement-rearrangement bill.

“Illegal occupation and foreign rule will never become legal. Expropriating land to legalize the settlements is a provocation and rubs salt in the Palestinian nation’s wounds,” said Saadi.

Netanyahu opposed the bill last November in its then-form and the A-G warned that it may be unconstitutional. The bill would offer retroactive legalization to thousands of settlement homes in established and far-flung settlements built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank, offering Palestinian landowners some kind of compensation.

A special Knesset committee is set to discuss the bill on Monday, according to Israel’s national public radio.

Terrorism in the West Bank is Way Down, IDF Says

THERE WAS A SERIOUS DROP in the incidence of terrorist attacks in the West Bank in 2016, IDF officials told Army Radio on Thursday.

This followed a hectic year of stabbings, car-rammings, and shooting attacks that plagued the West Bank, Jerusalem, and other major Israeli cities beginning in 2015.

The officials also noted that some three quarters (75%) of attacks in 2016 were carried out against soldiers and not civilian targets.

While 2016 may have seen fewer overall incidents, there were two major shootings in Tel Aviv last year. These attacks, which together killed six people, were apparently carried out by ISIS sympathizers.

The IDF announcement also came just a few weeks after a Palestinian driver in Jerusalem rammed his vehicle into a group of off-duty soldiers at Armon Hanatziv, killing four.

JUSTICE MINISTER Ayelet Shaked told Army Radio that the coalition was already planning for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demise amid graft investigations (#bibigate).

The coalition has begun preparations for a “scenario” in which charges are brought against Bibi, she said.

“It’s ridiculous to subject this country to elections every two years,”the justice minister said. “This coalition is very strong. I propose that it stays should such future scenarios occur.”

“I hope we don’t get there,” she added.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU said he believed global policy would shift concerning Iran under President Trump.

Speaking to Bibi earlier this week, Trump discussed Iran’s “aggressive” policies and the “dangerous” international nuclear deal struck with the Muslim nation last year, the prime minister said at a commemoration for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

A recent poll shows that Iranians themselves think Trump will move to violate the Iran deal.

A FOREIGN TRIAL for the Israeli man who traveled to a Muslim country to battle ISIS has been delayed, Minister Ayoub Kara (L) said.

The trial has been postponed for two weeks to give the family of Ben Hassin, 21, time to deliver blood money (sulha) to the country where he is being held.

Ben Hassin, 21, apparently visited the country (with which Israel has no diplomatic ties) to visit his grandfather and decided to stay to fight ISIS. He is Jewish.

(My guess is that the “country” Ben Hassin visited is Iraq, specifically the northern Iraqi Kurdish stronghold. But who knows.)

KNESSET MEMBER Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid) lambasted the Chief Rabbinate for confronting the High Court over a petition demanding the government answer why no egalitarian space has been erected at the Western Wall, despite years of promises.

“It’s good we have the Supreme Court to prevent the Rabbinate from excluding many people from the State of Israel and from Judaism and from the Western Wall,” he spat.

“The chief rabbis weren’t selected by grand virtue of the Torah but by the legal authority of the State of Israel and through political processes, so they’re bound — not just by the law — but also by state institutions,” he said.

 

To illustrate how polarizing, protracted, and time-consuming the Western Wall issue is, Orthodox party Shas is now writing a bill that would bar pluralistic prayer at the holy site, just as the A-G is scrambling to answer the Supreme Court petition as to why the state hasn’t yet built this egalitarian space, which it promised to do several years ago.

The state has until next Wednesday to answer the Supreme Court.

YESH ATID CHAIRMAN Yair Lapid told Israel’s national public radio on Thursday that Bibi lied about Hamas’ network of underground tunnels into Israel. Essentially, he rejected Netanyahu’s claim that the cabinet had held discussions about the issue prior to the 2014 Gaza war.

This isn’t the first time Lapid has made the statement, either. As early as July last year, Lapid said Bibi lied (IE gave alternative facts) about the tunnels and that the cabinet hadn’t discussed them prior to the 2014 summer war.

Destroying the extensive tunnel network spanning the Gazan-Israeli region became a stated goal of the IDF’s during the 2014 military invasion of Gaza, though the operations were claimed to have started in response to ongoing rocket/missile/mortar attacks.

Egypt also engages in tunnel destroying activity, for those spanning its own territory.

Lapid’s repetition of his statement on Thursday came as the as the government continued to delay the release of the State Comptroller’s report on Operation Protective Edge, though most ministers seem to be okay with it.

DELI MEAT PRODUCER MA’ADANE HAGALIL has warned the public of a possible salmonella outbreak in one of its products.

The company ordered a recall for all 500-gram packages of chicken merguez (a North African sausage) with a use-by date of February 28.

(Who eats chicken merguez, anyway?)

 

Israel Officially Backs Joint Religious-Secular Schools

The Education Ministry will recognize Israeli high schools combining religious and non-religious (secular) students and studies for the first time.

In addition to general studies, these K-12 schools will provide students with additional hours of Jewish studies.

Each school will also hire an administrator to oversee religious and non-religious activities. The administrator will have to develop activities for students who opt out of daily prayer.

Throughout Israel’s history, the religious and non-religious populations have generally remained separated both in terms of where they live and where they study. In recent years, Israeli Jews have been identifying more with the religion.

IN SETTLEMENT NEWS, Knesset Member Benny Begin (L) said the recent settlement construction announcement didn’t actually go far enough.

Begin — who doesn’t believe in the establishment of an independent Palestinian state — wants to see further settlement expansion in what’s known as “Gav HaHar,” a region that includes the arid hills east of Jerusalem that undulate on down to the Jordan River basin.

IT APPEARS Western smoking culture (or rather, anti-culture) is slowly making its way into puff-puff-friendly Israel. The Health Ministry is considering new regulations aimed at curbing smoking, which last I knew was a habit enjoyed by about 30 percent of Israelis.

These measures will include banning smoking in public places a-la ex-NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a blanket ban on cigarette advertising, and leveling taxes on electronic cigarettes.

When I left Israel in 2014, electronic cigarettes a) weren’t a thing and b) didn’t seem to be readily available (people were buying them through Israeli Craigslist facsimiles and private dealers), but apparently this has changed.

ISRAEL’S SOCIAL SECURITY PROGRAM is aiming to lift all senior citizens receiving income support up from under the poverty line, Welfare Minister Haim Katz announced.

The national pension fund plans to do this through a one-time 700 million shekel injection throughout the entire program.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU struck back at the Opposition over a recent scandal involving, inter alia, a deal between the prime minister and the owner of Israeli media outlet Yediot Aharonoth.

“There should be an investigation of the 43 parliamentarians who backed the law to shut down Israel Hayom and got flattering coverage from [Yediot Aharonoth Owner] Noni [Mozes] in return,” the prime minster spat.

“You’re not really implying that I’m the first to meet with publishers, news editors, or other influential media players?” he asked, probably rhetorically, and probably with that adorably mischievous grin he has perfected over the years (and scandals).

The A-G’s office has been investigating Netanyahu over gifts (Ie graft) he apparently received from various powerful individuals in Israel, the US, and elsewhere.

One of those individuals may have been Noni Mozes — long considered one of Bibi’s biggest Israeli rivals and the owner of a veritable media empire — who was apparently caught on tape discussing a mutually beneficial deal with the prime minister.

Bibi has long been backed by newspaper Israel Hayom, funded largely by US casino magnate and fist-pumping right-winger Sheldon Adelson. Israel Hayom has produced considerable copy denigrating, delegitimizing, and dismissing Yedioth Aharonoth. So this whole scandal is really a big deal, in the Israeli media world at least.