Ambassador Michael Oren To Leave Post

Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, announced that he will be leaving his post this fall.

“Israel and the United States have always enjoyed a special relationship and, throughout these years of challenge, I was privileged to take part in forging even firmer bonds,” Oren said in a statement sent to media and posted on his Facebook page.

Oren, a native of New Jersey who made aliyah as a young man, later became a historian and was named ambassador in 2009, played a significant role in rebutting reports of a strained relationship between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In interviews, Oren has stressed improvements in the defense relationship between the two countries during the two leaders’ tenure while acknowledging differences in some areas, particularly regarding the intensity of pressure on Iran to make its nuclear program more transparent.

In recent weeks, rumors have circulated that Oren will be replaced by Ron Dermer, formerly a top aide to Netanyahu.

 

Shas Rabbi Ovadia Yosef Recovering From Back Surgery

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a former chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel, is recovering from major back surgery.

Yosef, 93, was scheduled to be transferred out of the intensive care unit on Tuesday from the Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center in Jerusalem following the procedure on his spine the previous day.

The spiritual leader of the Sephardi Orthodox Shas party entered the hospital on Sunday for the third time in recent weeks suffering from intense pain due to a fall in his home early last month. He also had a minor stroke in January.

 

Special Committee: Machpela House Legally Purchased

A special military committee ruled on July 1 that the Machpela House, situated in Hebron, was legally acquired by its Jewish owners.

Machpela_Cave_2The house was purchased by Jews from its Arab owners, a process which took several years, according to Shlomo Levinger, who oversaw the purchasing of the home with a group of residents in Hebron.

The house was inhabited during April 2012, but a few days later former Minister of Defense Ehud Barak ordered the forceful evacuation of the house by the police, claiming the legality of the purchase was questionable. Over a year later, a special committee ruled that the house was lawfully owned by its Jewish purchasers. They further ordered that the court expenses be paid by the State of Israel. The decision still requires the final authorization the Minister of Defense Yaalon.

Yifat Alkobi, a local Hebron resident, told the Tazpit News Agency a year ago, when the house was inhabited: “A home has been purchased for Jewish dwelling–we are moving in and celebrating this momentous occasion.” The home is located opposite the Tomb of Patriarchs (Cave of Machpela), one of Judaism’s most sacred sites. “To think that we merited to own a home so close to the Cave of Machpela and to follow in the footsteps of our forefather, Abraham, who purchased this burial area nearly 4,000 years ago, is an honor,” exclaimed Alkobi. Yifat and her family, including eight children moved into the newly purchased home along with several other local Jewish families. They now hope to return.

David Pearl, head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council embraced the decision, stating: “Today’s decision brings into question many similar decisions made by the security system, in regards to the Machpela House or other places in Judea and Samaria, including Migron and Amona, where the decision was to use force and violence before the Jewish purchaser’s claims were properly checked. I am glad that there are new winds of integrity and truth, of agreement and understanding blowing in the Ministry of Defense, and we believe that this is the proper way to lead the country in general and to relate to issues in Judea and Samara. There is no doubt these winds will further promote the communities of Judea and Samaria.”

 

Terrorist Attack Thwarted In Hebron

A female terrorist was caught a short while ago by Border Police at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, thanks to an alert policewoman. A Palestinian woman in her early twenties approached one of the checkpoints in the vicinity and raised the suspicion of the police stationed at the checkpoint. The policewoman stopped her and found three knives of different sizes hidden on her body. An initial investigation indicates the Palestinian woman was on her way to execute a terrorist attack, probably against the security forces.

hebron attack 07.01.2013The Palestinian woman was released a year ago from Israeli prison where she served time for another failed stabbing attempt.

Chief Superintendent Eliyahu Tsafrir stated: “The Police woman’s alertness and professional conduct prevented an escalation of this incident, and enabled the thwarting of this attack.”

The suspect was taken into custody by the police.

 

Netanyahu Reportedly Taps Dermer As Next Ambassador to U.S.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to appoint his close aide Ron Dermer as Israel’s next ambassador to the United States, Army Radio reported Friday.

According to the report, Dermer’s candidacy as ambassador has been in question for some time, as he was considered a “red sheet” in Obama administration circles for his perceived support of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in last summer’s race. Army Radio reported that Dermer has managed to improve his ties with the Obama administration, and with Secretary of State John Kerry in particular.

In a recent speech to American Jewish leaders, Dermer said President Barack Obama’s support for Israel during Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza “was superb.”

Army Radio reported that the Obama administration has now removed its objection to Dermer’s appointment. The U.S.-born Dermer will replace another American-born Israeli ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, in August.

See related article, “Dermer On His Way To Washington?”>>

 

Taxed & Overtaxed

Americans with over $10,000 in an Israeli bank account must report that money to the IRS.

Americans with over $10,000 in an Israeli bank account must report that money to the IRS.

Do you have a bank account in Israel?

If so, let’s hope you filed the correct forms. Otherwise, you could be in for a criminal investigation and some hefty fines.

That’s because early this year, the Internal Revenue Service announced that it was cracking down on people not voluntarily disclosing their inc-ome and funds in Israeli accounts to the U.S. government agency.

In February, court filings revealed that an American citizen pled guilty for failing to report the existence of two bank accounts maintained in the Holy Land to the IRS. As part of a plea agreement, the defendant agreed to cooperate with government authorities and to pay a significant financial penalty.

“It’s important to note,” said Charles M. Ruchelman, a member of the Washington, D.C., law firm Caplin & Drysdale. “Just as occurred in Switzerland, it is now clear that the U.S. government is increasing its focus on Americans who are failing to report Israeli assets.”

Previously, the IRS had focused on accounts in the Caribbean, Switzerland and India. Now, said Ruchelman, the IRS is working closely with Israeli banks and bankers and is ready to investigate and prosecute those who fail to report their funds and accounts, and those who enable this to happen.

Who is the government looking for?

United States citizens who have an interest in, or signature or other authority over, a financial account in Israel with assets in excess of $10,000. Ruchelman said people with these accounts are required to disclose the existence of such accounts on Schedule B, Part III of their individual income tax returns. Additionally, U.S. citizens and residents must file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Reports (FBAR) with the U.S. Treasury disclosing any financial account in Israel with assets in excess of $10,000. That form is due June 28, 2013.

If they don’t, according to a statement by the Department of Justice: “A deliberate failure to report can result in a penalty of up to 50 percent of the amount in the account at the time of the violation.”

Why Israel?

Ruchelman said because the U.S. and Israel have close relations and “thousands and thousands of Americans have accounts in Israel … This is very much on the [IRS’s] radar, and it will affect the Jewish community.”

Ruchelman explained that the IRS started focusing on offshore accounts in 2008 or 2009, when a whistleblower who worked with one of the large foreign banks in Switzerland informed the government that Swiss banks were not only allowing Americans to open up accounts but enabling Americans not to report the funds therein.

“Switzerland prided itself on bank secrecy,” said Ruchelman.

This initial investigation led to the criminal prosecution of one Swiss bank, Weglin & Co., and numerous taxpayers, bankers and other professionals.

The IRS leveraged this highly publicized criminal enforcement focus by ecouraging noncompliant taxpayers to participate in its longstanding Voluntary Disclosure program. The 2009, 2011 and 2012 programs provided taxpayers who came forward before the IRS learned of their accounts with both certainty regarding the financial penalties they would incur and assurances that they would not be referred for prosecution. According to a recent GAO study, these programs generated approximately 38,000 disclosures and well over $5 billion in taxes, interest and penalties.

Caplin & Drysdale handled hundreds of these cases.

“The idea is: You come into us before we [the IRS] find you, and we will not prosecute you criminally, and we will not impose the harsh penalty of 50 percent per year of nondisclosure, we’ll only impose 27.5  percent for one year,” explained Ruchelman.

For the Jewish community, Ruchelman said, having a foreign bank account is not … foreign. Many Jews who were living in Germany just before or during the Holocaust caught wind of what was happening on the ground and funneled money outside the area. If they escaped the Nazis and started a new life in the States, they left those accounts abroad as a safety net, a just in case.

But America’s system, he explained, only works if citizens properly self-report.

“If people aren’t self-reporting, the system is breaking down,” said Ruchelman. “It is a lot of assets that have been untaxed over the years.”

Dr. Michael Elman has an account in Israel as well as real estate. He said he’s been reporting on that account for the last 15 years. For him, because he doesn’t make money in Israel, he only has to report the existence of the account. It’s one tax form.

“For me, it is pretty simple,” he said.

Dr. Elman noted that he knows many others with accounts in the Jewish state and the people he knows report properly, but he can see why the IRS would be upset if one was refraining from doing so. Nonetheless, he told the JT, “I happen to think that in either country we are overtaxed. Is that fair? No.”

Still, he’ll keep reporting.

Said Ruchelman: “If you do get caught, you are going to get hit pretty hard.”

Over The Red Line?

Tea Party Patriots rally to protest the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of Tea Party and grassroots organizations. (SHAWN THEW/EPA/Newscom)

Tea Party Patriots rally to protest the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of Tea Party and grassroots organizations.
(SHAWN THEW/EPA/Newscom)

The news that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) unfairly targeted conservative groups has brought a new spotlight on a 2012 lawsuit filed by the pro-Israel group Z Street. According to Z Street Director Lori Lowenthal Marcus, the IRS singled out the organization and failed to move forward its request for 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt status because Z Street “is an organization that disagrees with the president’s policy.”

Z Street filed a lawsuit against the IRS in 2010. The suit was filed in federal court in Pennsylvania and later transferred to D.C. A judge in Washington will hear the case July 2. Most of the Tea Party groups known to have come under scrutiny applied for 501 (c)(4) status, which allows advocacy groups to avoid federal taxes on their operations budget but doesn’t render donations to the group tax deductible. Both kinds of applications are processed in the same Cincinnati office.

According to the Forward, a second Jewish group, Ameinu, a self-described progressive Zionist group, also reported that the group was red-flagged because of its connection to the Jewish state.

The Z Street case has raised some — but not many — eyebrows in the Jewish community.

Dr. Arthur C. Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said he is not alarmed. He said, “I had never heard of them. … I can’t say this was unwanted attention.”

But Lowenthal, whose group still has not obtained its nonprofit stature, is not willing to take this battle sitting down. She expressed “disappointment” at the Jewish community’s response.

“As a general matter, the Jewish community is up in arms about discrimination against other groups,” she said. “The public response for us from the organized Jewish community has been disinterest. When it has not been disinterest, it has been vicious.”

According to Lowenthal, Z Street is a “purely educational” group that works to disseminate information about Israel that one might not see in the headlines of major newspapers. From her vantage point, Z Street was red-flagged not because it does anything wrong, but on the basis of its viewpoint that “I support Jews living and breathing in Shiloh” and other neighborhoods located in Judea and Samaria.

She said the IRS rebuttal to this claim is that any organization that does business in the Middle East (inc-luding in Israel) must be red-flagged because there is a heightened risk of terrorism.

At that, Lowenthal chuckles.

“Israel is not the source of the terrorism,” she said. “Israel is the victim of terrorism. There are not Israeli terrorist groups raising money in the U.S.”

Moreover, noted Lowenthal, Z Street does not provide grants to anyone, including to Jews living in Israel.

But Abramson said he does not see an issue with red-flagging organizations with ties to Israel. He said, “Obviously, the majority of the terrorists are coming from the Arab community, but there are Jewish terrorists.”

Abramson recalled that even over a decade ago when BJC applied for 501 (c)(3) status for the Congressman Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel (ECYP), BJC went through what seemed an arduous process. He said tying the name of a congressman with a nonprofit raised a red flag, as did the fact that the organization contained Israel in its name.

“They questioned it. I don’t see anything of note,” Abramson said.

And he also noted that he supports the government’s right to decide if nonprofit funds should be used to support programs over the green line.

Douglas Bloomfield, a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant, said he is less worried about the fact that an organization tied to Israel was red-flagged than he is that there is such uproar that the community thinks it wrong for the IRS to do its job.

“This is not a partisan issue,” he told the JT in relation to the alleged singling out of Tea Party programs, noting that it is not an issue of perspective on Israel or anything else either.

Lowenthal said she thinks knowledge that the IRS may scrutinize one organization over another will lead the community not to trust the IRS. She said, “People [and organizations] will just sanitize their language” to get the status they want. “I know of groups that were having difficulty getting IRS approval, so they changed their names and got what they wanted.”

Bloomfield said he thinks Congress should put an end to that, too  if it is happening, and he is not confident that it is. Congress, he said, has a responsibility to make sure the IRS is properly funded to provide strong oversight to all who apply for 501 (c)(3) and (c)(4) statuses and to offer continual oversight to make sure those organizations are not abusing their power. He said the IRS “should do a full, fair and good job” of vetting each applicant to make sure it is qualified; everyone has to meet the same standards.

“Let the sunshine in,” he said. “Sunshine has the greatest healing/curative power. We need to know who, how much, for what.”

Dermer On His Way To Washington?

 

The White House, according to one Israeli news station, is now open to the possibility  of Ron Dermer as the Israel ambassador to the U.S. (Photo via Newscom/Shahar Azran Photography, LLC)

The White House, according to one Israeli news station, is now open to the possibility
of Ron Dermer as the Israel ambassador to the U.S.
(Photo via Newscom/Shahar Azran Photography, LLC)

Israel Ch. 10 Tuesday reported that the United States has withdrawn objections to the appointment of Ron Dermer as the next Israel ambassador to the U.S., replacing Michael Oren. Back in December, rumors circulated that Dermer would be the next ambassador after the Israeli daily Makor Rishon reported that Oren had requested to end his tenure this spring, when he will have completed a four-year stint.

At that time, news reports indicated that the White House was not receptive to the suggestion of Dermer as the next ambassador because of his right-of-center leanings. Dermer, who immigrated to Israel from Florida in 1998, has served under Binyamin Netanyahu as senior adviser in the prime minister’s bureau since 2009, where he acted as liaison to the White House.

Gil Hoffman, chief analyst and political correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, confirmed for the JT the earlier reports and said Dermer “was considered too Republican. If now, they [the Administration] realize it is more important to have someone close to Netanyahu – as Dermer is – and so familiar with his thinking than it is to have someone more in line with the administration, it shows they understand what is truly important.”

Hoffman called Dermer “brilliant” and said no one understands the Israeli PM better.

The analyst also pointed out that Netanyahu and President Barack Obama are “getting along better now.” He said if the relationship had been hostile, Dermer may have deepened that rift. But now, both parties are “making a concerted effort to make things better. There is no reason not to appoint [Dermer].

Hoffman said he cannot purport when a final decision will be made; Netanyahu may wait until mid to late summer.

“Why not wait until the last minute?” Hoffman asked. “This is Israel.”

A spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in Washington said, “We do not have a comment at this time.”

‘Can’t The Jews Have One?’

 

Marc Provisor serves as head of security projects at One Israel Fund. He says “the roads are not happy” in the West Bank, and he and his team are trying to keep people safe. (Provided)

Marc Provisor serves as head of security projects at One Israel Fund. He says “the roads are not happy” in the West Bank, and he and his team are trying to keep people safe. (Provided)

It was a tragedy that is hard to forget. In March 2011, a terrorist infiltrated the town of Itamar and slaughtered five members of the Fogel family, including a 3-month-old baby girl and two other children.

The killings were discovered by 12-year-old Tamar Fogel. Volunteers from Israel’s emergency cleanup organization ZAKA, who arrived on the scene shortly after she raised the alert, said what they witnessed was “absolutely horrific” and “among the worst we have ever seen.”

That tragedy could have been prevented. At least according to Marc Provisor, head of security projects at One Israel Fund.

Provisor was in Baltimore last week to raise money for much-needed security equipment and infrastructure upgrades for Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria, known as the West Bank.

Provisor told the JT that Itamar had installed one surveillance security camera shortly before the Fogel incident. Security officials were aware that “raw probes were happening” by Palestinian terrorists, meaning they were testing the fence, determining the probability of getting caught. Itamar is large, and there are two distinct sides to the town. One was being monitored. One was not.

“They [the terrorists] are more sophisticated today than ever. They have been trained by the American army. Itamar knew, before the Fogels, that the community was vulnerable,” said Provisor.
Why wasn’t there another camera? Cost.

Said Provisor: “The [Jewish] community is reactive and not proactive. They had only one camera system, and we could not raise the money for the other. After the Fogels, we raised the money like that.”

The cost of one security camera such as the one in Itamar costs around $70,000. Smaller portable systems can cost between $13,000 and $18,000.

It’s not about politics, Provisor made clear during an interview in Owings Mills. He said, “It’s about human rights.”

According to a census conducted by Israel’s Interior Ministry, about 360,000 Jews live in around 150 communities in Judea and Samaria. And, according to the Israel Democracy Institute, while 58 percent of Jewish Israelis support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state given appropriate security arrangements, 58 percent believe that the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem should not be transferred to the Palestinian state, and 51 percent believe that under no circumstances should settlements in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) be dismantled.

While the territories remain disputed, the people there are not and therefore are in need of protection.

Provisor said that while you rarely hear of attacks such as the one that happened in Itamar, attempted attacks and attacks with fewer casualties are happening on a daily basis.

In the hour spent talking with this reporter, Provisor received alerts of more than half-a-dozen attacks/attempted attacks.

“A Palestinian threw a Molotov cocktail at an Israeli bus by Kever Rachel [the Tomb of Rachel],” read Provisor from his iPhone. “1:55 p.m. — border police stopped an armed terrorist from infiltrating into Israel.”

Continued Provisor: “The roads are not a happy place today, mostly south of Jerusalem, between Jerusalem and Hebron. But it is not just Judea and Samaria, it’s on the other side of the Green Line, too. It’s in cities like Ramle and Lod. There is a major surge of cold violence. It’s not yet hot violence, which means guns. I’ve been really busy.”

Scott Feltman, executive vice president of OIF, said the goal of the organization is to ensure there are no more Jewish victims. He said OIF tries to secure funds and install security surveillance equipment and supply protective gear before it’s needed.

“If we’re successful,” said Feltman, “our job is harder.”

To help combat the stereotype that OIF is for the right-wingers and that settlers are all religious fanatics, Feltman and Provisor, together with a team of volunteers, take visitors to
Israel into the settlements to show them what life is like. Provisor said, “It usually blows their minds.”

Travelers visit the Soda Stream factory, which manufactures and distributes home carbonating devices and flavorings for soft drinks. At that factory, Jews and Arabs work together side-by-side.

They hit area vineyards and taste succulent wines of the area. There’s Gat Shomron Winery, Givon Winery, Gush Etzion Winery and Hacormim Vineyard (which also produces fruit liquors) to name a few.

There’s a chocolate factory and a high-technology sector, too.

Over the years, Provisor, who served in the Israeli army and is an artist by profession, said OIF has evolved. Now, this tiny operation (Provisor and Feltman, who lives in N.Y., are the only full-time employees) is consulting with municipalities in southern Israel, like those of Sderot and Ashkelon, who are the constant focus of terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip. With the Syrian civil war in full force, northern Israeli security officials requested some of the armored ambulances OIF refurbished for use in the event of an emergency situation in the Golan Heights.

“I really want to keep people alive,” said Provisor.

And he also wants to protect what he calls “the heart of Israel.”

Provisor said people take for granted that many of the most significant events in the Bible occurred in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley. It was in this area that Jacob traveled from Laban to the Land of Israel. And it was here that Joshua Bin Nun drove the Canaanite nations out of the land.
Joseph’s Tomb is in Nablus. The Cave of the Patriarch’s is in Hebron.

Almost all Arab towns and villages in Judea and Samaria use Biblical Jewish names to refer to those areas. For example, Anata is the Biblical name for Anatot, the dwelling of Jeremiah; Beitin is Biblical and refers to Beit El, a site of the Holy Ark and court of Samuel the Prophet; and Bethlehem is mentioned 44 times in the Torah.

“You want to give that up?” Provisor asked, noting that if he thought it would bring about true peace, even he would do it. But he said if there was a real peace, then Jews and Arabs could live together.

“We wouldn’t have to leave,” he said. “There are 22 nations claiming rights to Islamic states. Can’t the Jews have one?”

To learn more about One Israel Fund, visit oneisraelfund.org/contact.asp.

Maayan Jaffe is JT managing editor mjaffe@jewishtimes.com

Hand in Hand

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev recently graduated its first class of Jordanian and Israeli students who completed a special joint-emergency medicine BA program earlier this year. The first graduating class at the Israel-Jordan Academic Emergency Medicine Collaboration included 54 graduates who spent three years studying emergency medicine and medical response.

One part of the curriculum included a Joint Disaster Management Project, which had Jordanian and Israeli students training with officials from Israel’s national emergency service, the Magen David Adom, and the Jordanian Red Crescent to respond to emergency situations such as earthquakes.

There are only three countries that provide emergency medical response qualifications at the BA degree level, according to Dr. Mohammed Al-Hadid, one of the founders of the Ben-Gurion program. If Jordanians want to earn a bachelor’s in emergency medical response, they can either go to the United States, Australia or Israel’s BGU, which provides the only university-based academic degree for paramedics in the Middle East.

“We choose to go next door to our neighbors,” said Dr. Al-Hadid in article about the program on the website of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Dr. Al-Hadid, who is the president of the Jordanian Red Crescent, said that he and his colleagues were impressed with Israel’s emergency medical services.

“We were very impressed with the level of expertise demonstrated in Israel – and when you see something is working for others, you want to have the best for your own people,” he said.

Israel’s emergency medical teams are internationally recognized for their emergency response to disasters and tragedies, as they travel across the world to assist nations in natural disasters.

In order to make the unique Israeli-Jordanian collaboration possible, Dr. Al-Hadid worked with professor Jimmy Weinblatt, a former rector at BGU, and professor James Torczyner, director of the McGill Middle East Program in Civil Society and Peace Building.

One of the primary goals behind the BGU program is to enable neighboring Arab countries and Israel to work together when a natural disaster or medical emergency strikes. Fault lines along the Syrian-African rift have been worrying regional seismologists, who warn that they could cause an earthquake in Jordanian and Israeli cities in the future.

The program received its funding from the Israeli Ministry for Regional Cooperation, MASHAV (Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation), the European Union Partnership for Peace Program and private donors.

Tuition costs and living expenses in Beersheva were completely covered for the Jordanian students, who took part in campus life and social gatherings with their Israeli counterparts. Courses were taught in both Arabic and English.

In his congratulatory address to the first graduating class, Dr. Al-Hadid expressed thanks for this opportunity.

“I thank you for all giving our students the opportunity to get their education and training them to become lifesavers, unlike those life-takers who do so in the name of their fanatic beliefs. However, our belief will always be through humanity to peace,” he said. “Experience has shown us that it is possible to bring Arabs and Israelis together to achieve common goals.”

“Medicine is the bridge to working together. We’re all people and there’s absolutely no difference between us,” added Bruria Adini, director of the BGU program. “We need a joint and collaborative response that can save lives.”

 

Anav Silverman writes for Tazpit News Agency.