Israel News

Cruz Takes Aim At Iran

2014-07-31 11:42:50 ebrown

In a lengthy speech on the Senate floor this month, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) slammed the Obama administration’s stance on the Israel-Gaza conflict and nuclear negotiations with Iran — indicating that he will  present a bill to reimpose the sanctions on Iran previously lifted by the United States.

Cruz said that U.S. efforts should be focused on supporting and ensuring the security of Israel and backing Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket
attacks from Hamas, not forcing Israel to make security concessions to the Palestinians in pursuit of a cease-fire.

“Only when the Palestinians take it upon themselves to embrace their neighbors and eradicate terrorist violence from their society can a real and just peace be possible,” Cruz said. “Until then, there should be no question of the United States’ firm solidarity with Israel in the mutual defense of our fundamental values and interests.”

Up until the start of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, Israeli officials were clear that their main priority was to ensure that the Islamic Republic of Iran does not create a nuclear bomb — often putting itself at odds with the United States and Secretary of State John Kerry, who sought a more moderate approach that included allowing Iran to maintain a level of enrichment capability as part of a final deal.

In his speech, Cruz linked his position on Iran to the safety of Israel, noting that Iran is considered to be a significant sponsor of Hamas. He called Kerry’s Joint Plan of Action, an agreement with Iran limiting its nuclear ambitions to energy production only, that after an extention will expire on Nov. 24, a “historic mistake.”

“The connection between Hamas and Iran is a sobering reminder of the larger context in which the events of the last month have taken place,” Cruz said. “They are not an isolated local issue that could be managed if only Israel would act with restraint. Both the United States and Israel want the Palestinian people to have a secure and prosperous future free from the corrosive hatred that has so far prevented them from thriving.”

Cruz’s proposed bill, which he said he will be introducing later this week, will include strong sanctions and mechanisms for their enforcement as well as calling for a dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear program.

“A negotiated settlement is not an absolute prerequisite to Israel’s security, as the administration has claimed,” Cruz concluded, “but rather establishing Israel’s security may well be the only way to eventually reach any such settlement.”

Cruz is also the sponsor of another pro-Israel bill presented two weeks ago which would require the U.S. State Department to offer a $5 million reward for capturing the Hamas terrorists responsible for the murder of a dual American-Israeli citizen, Naftali Fraenkel, along with two other Israeli teens. The bill is co-sponsored by Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and includes a version in the House co-sponsored by Reps. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.).

That bill, along with another bipartisan Senate resolution in support of Israel’s operation in Gaza, appeared in front of the Senate Foreign Relations committee.

dshapiro@washingtonjewishweek.com

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A Chapter Closes

2014-07-31 11:38:40 ebrown
Shimon Peres speaking at the swearing-in ceremony for his successor as Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, July 24, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shimon Peres speaking at the swearing-in ceremony for his successor as Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, July 24, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

JERUSALEM — In the midst of a grinding war in Gaza, a sometimes near-empty Knesset gallery was packed last week for an uplifting moment: what probably was the final political act of Israel’s elder statesman.

Shimon Peres — former Israeli prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister and now former president — stood before the Knesset for the last time as a public servant on July 24, just prior to the inauguration of his successor, Reuven Rivlin.

Facing his professional home for almost all of the past six decades, Peres gave a farewell speech that traced the arc of his long career, recounting
Israel’s past, defending it in its present predicament and offering hope for its future.

“We are a people that experienced unimaginable agony,” Peres said. “And we are a people that reached the lofty heights of human achievement. We made great efforts. We paid a heavy price.”

It was a toned-down ceremony due to the continuing conflict in Gaza and was an inauspicious time for Peres, 91, to be exiting the political scene.

For decades, the man who in 1994 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for helping engineer the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords has repeated over and over that peace is within reach and could be achieved in his lifetime. Yet the final months of his presidency saw the acrimonious collapse of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, the murder of four boys — three Israeli teenagers and a Palestinian teen — and Israel’s bloodiest military offensive in five years.

Peres is known today as a peacemaker, but he began his career in the Defense Ministry, helping to cement a close military alliance with France in the 1950s and developing Israel’s nuclear program in the 1960s. Following the 1967 Six-Day War, Peres advocated the settlement of the West Bank and Gaza.

Only in the 1980s, as Labor Party leader, did Peres become the peacenik he’s known as today. And it was only after he left party politics for the presidency, in 2007 that he rose above the parliamentary rivalries and failed leadership bids that had embroiled and foiled him over the previous few decades to become the unifying figure he is today.

Peres is the phoenix of Israeli politics. From hawk to dove, from faction leader to uniter, he has ridden the wave of Israeli history and somehow stayed afloat while others fell, faded away or died. It is that history that makes Peres one of the few Israeli leaders who could deliver the speech he did last week: at once vociferously defending Israel’s offensive in Gaza while also calling for an aggressive approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“There is no place to doubt our victory,” Peres said, adding immediately: “We know that no military victory will be enough. There is no permanent security without permanent peace. Just as there is no real peace without real security.”

In a political career that spans 55 years, Peres has never prevailed in a popular election. He became prime minister in 1984 after his party, unable to form a government, entered into a unity coalition with the Likud. He also occupied the post briefly in 1977, after Yitzhak Rabin resigned, and in 1995, after Rabin’s assassination.

The peace treaty Peres yearns for has yet to be signed. But whether or not peace comes in his lifetime — though in his 10th decade he still appears energetic — his starring role in so much of Israeli history has earned him a respect that transcends political divisions.

At the Knesset session on July 24, Peres received thunderous applause from a generally divided house.

The man who succeeds him, Reuven Rivlin, is in many ways Peres’ opposite. Rivlin is a lifelong Likudnik; Peres has bounced between three parties. Rivlin wants to annex the West Bank; Peres prefers a two-state solution. Rivlin has pledged to focus his efforts on healing Israel’s internal divisions; Peres at times has acted like Israel’s second foreign minister.

Though he is no longer a government official, Peres is unlikely to disappear. He intends to continue working for regional reconciliation at his Peres Center for Peace, and he still will be a presence in the media and at international conferences.

And Peres’ story remains woven into the history of Israel — its successes, its failures, its frustrations and its resilience.

“When I return and meet the beauty and strength of the State of Israel, I find myself shedding a tear,” he said near the end of his speech. “Maybe excited slightly more than my younger friends. Because throughout my years I witnessed the entire incredible journey and the miracles of Israel.”

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Economic Impact

2014-07-31 11:31:06 ebrown
A Gap store at the quiet Mamillamall in Jerusalem. Sales are affected due to a drop in tourism during Operation Protective Edge.  (Photos Joshua Runyan)

A Gap store at the quiet Mamillamall in Jerusalem. Sales are affected due to a drop in tourism during Operation Protective Edge. (Photos Joshua Runyan)

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A storefront, quiet and lacking customers last week, in Jerusalem’s Old City.

JERUSALEM — There was a time in the not-so-distant past when a visitor to Jerusalem’s high-end outdoor Mamilla mall skirting the Old City’s Western Wall just outside the Jaffa Gate would strain to hear Israel’s native language of Hebrew. Among the throngs of people perusing the jewelry stores, fashion houses and art galleries during the height of the summer tourist season would be visitors from North America, South America, Europe and Asia.

But on Wednesday night last week, such tourists were nowhere to be found, and the thoroughfare lined by Rolex, Abercrombie & Fitch, the Gap and upscale restaurants was reduced to the equivalent of a municipal mall found in dust-strewn Israeli towns such as Beit She’an or Kiryat Malachi. There were still people, but they were locals.

And they weren’t spending.

“We’re hurting,” said Esther Berdugo, 60, standing outside the Israel Antiquities store where she’s worked for seven years, her back leaning against the ubiquitous Jerusalem stone that lines buildings new and ancient in the Israeli capital. “We feel it. We feel it in the stores. There are no tourists, just Israelis.”

She pointed to the Rimon café across the street to prove her point.

“People over there used to stand in line to wait for a table, it was so busy,” she said in Hebrew.

At 8:30 that night, just a handful of people patronized the restaurant. Most of them sipped coffee.

Over at the A & F Brands Factory Store, one of the first storefronts people encounter when they walk through the mall’s entrance facing the pricey David Citadel Hotel, clerk Dan Levi, 23, walked among the retailer’s displays of button-down shirts and designer jeans. No one else was in the store.

“In July and August, we get 20,000 people per day walking through Mamilla,” he said. “Since the war began, it’s 6,000. And we depend on business during the summer to carry us through the winter season.”

As Israel entered its 17th day of fighting in its Operation Protective Edge to destroy enemy tunnels dug by the terrorist group Hamas and stop the firing of rockets from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, life in Jerusalem — the economic realities of decreased tourism notwithstanding — continued more or less as before. Air-raid sirens hadn’t been heard for several days; cars and buses still moved along such central thoroughfares as King David and King George streets; pedestrians still clogged the small sidewalks along Agrippas Street leading to the famed Mahane Yehuda market.

But beneath the surface were the worries and concerns of shopkeepers such as Berdugo, who realize that with each additional day of fighting in Gaza, Israel’s economy gets more and more isolated. When asked what she felt about the planeload of North American immigrants who arrived in the country just a day before, Berdugo’s face lit up. Like many Israelis, she spoke effusively of how important it was for foreign Jews to cast their lot with Israel.

Also read, Aliyah During Wartime.

“I am inspired,” she said. “The Jewish people are one. This is very important. But even more so, they’ve come because they truly love the land.”

But press further, and some locals can’t help but call the new arrivals “crazy” for giving up easy lives in places such as the United States for a life of hardship in a dangerous part of the world.

Yoel Cohen, former chairman of the School of Communication at Ariel University and author of “God, Jews and the Media,” explained the dichotomy in Israeli attitudes as part of how they view the diaspora Jewish community in general.

“Overall, there’s not a great deal of interest among Israelis in the diaspora, and that gets expression in the extent to which the Israeli media covers the diaspora,” he said. “The interest is mainly unidirectional, such that Jewish newspaper editors are interested in what happens here … but the Israeli media fails to cover the diaspora in an important way.”

The disinterest only goes so far, however, and in times of existential crisis or when anti-Semitic attacks threaten Jews abroad, said Cohen, Israeli attitudes reflect more of an identification with a united global Jewish community.

That sense of shared identity goes both ways, said Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal of Shaare Torah in Gaithersburg. Wrapping up a four-week visit to the Jewish state, Blumenthal said that witnessing war from the perspective of a non-tourist — he took part in a rabbinical conference run by the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem — has strengthened his sense of Jewish identity.

“I’m still trying to process everything and decide what it’s all really about,” he said of the ongoing conflict. “But it’s deepened my sense of Jewish peoplehood.

“It’s striking that in my program of 27 rabbis, nobody went home [when the fighting started]. Everybody stayed,” he continued. “So on the one hand, yes, people decided this might not be the best place to take a vacation, but I’ve seen lots of people stay.”

And while he experienced firsthand what fleeing to a bomb shelter is like when air-raid sirens sounded in Jerusalem weeks ago, a recent trip to the war-torn community of Sderot just a mile from the Gaza Strip afforded Blumenthal the “opportunity,” he said, of witnessing just how “normal” life in Israel is during a war.

“There’s a tremendous pride and strength [among Israelis], a sense that we’re not going anywhere,” the rabbi said of locals in Sderot. “And throughout my time in Israel, I feel incredibly protected, as long as you follow directives. It’s a strange feeling to hear a siren while on a bus. You pull over like every other car, you crouch down and you protect your head. Then the siren is over, you wait a couple of minutes, and everything starts up again like nothing happened.”

Life goes on, emphasized Berdugo. “People who come here are not afraid. They realize that this land is ours.”

jrunyan@jewishtimes.com

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With the Rockets, A Loss of Tourist Dollars

2014-07-24 11:18:20 mshapiro

JERUSALEM — There was a time in the not so distant past when a visitor to Jerusalem’s high-end outdoor Mamilla Mall just outside the Old City’s Jaffa Gate would strain to hear Israel’s native language of Hebrew. Among the throngs of people perusing the jewelry stores, fashion houses and art galleries during the height of the summer tourist season would be visitors from North and South America, Europe and Asia.

But on Wednesday night, such tourists were nowhere to be found and the thoroughfare lined by Rolex, the Gap and upscale restaurants was reduced to the equivalent of a municipal mall found in a dust-strewn Israeli town like Beit She’an or Kiryat Malachi. There were still people, but they were locals.

And they weren’t spending.

“We’re hurting,” surmised Esther Berdugo, 60, standing outside the Israel Antiquities store she’s worked at for seven years, her back leaning against the ubiquitous Jerusalem stone that lines buildings new and ancient here in the Israeli capital. “We feel it. We feel it in the stores. There are no tourists, just Israelis.”

She pointed to the Rimon Café across the street to prove her point.

“People over there used to stand in line to wait for a table, it was so busy,” she said.

At 8:30 that night, just a handful of people patronized the restaurant. Most of them sipped coffee.

Over at the A & F Brands Factory Store, one of the first storefronts people encounter when they walk through the mall’s entrance facing the pricey David Citadel hotel, clerk Dan Levi, 23, walked among the retailer’s displays of button-down shirts and designer jeans. No one else was in the store.

“In July and August, we get 20,000 people per day walking through Mamilla,” he said. “Since the war began, it’s 6,000. And we depend on the business during the summer to carry us through the winter season.”

As Israel entered its 17th day of fighting its Operation Protective Edge against Hamas – the economic realities of decreased tourism notwithstanding — life continued more or less as before. Air raid sirens hadn’t been heard here for several days; cars and buses still moved along such central thoroughfares as King David and King George streets; pedestrians still clogged the small sidewalks along Agrippas Street leading to the famed Mahane Yehuda market.

But beneath the surface were the worries and concerns of shopkeepers like Berdugo, who realize that with each additional day of fighting in Gaza, Israel’s economy gets more and more isolated. When asked what she felt about the planeload of North American immigrants who arrived in the country just a day before, Berdugo’s face lit up. Like many Israelis, she spoke effusively of how important it was for foreign Jews to cast their lot with Israel.

“I am inspired,” she said. “The Jewish people are one. This is very important. But even more so, they’ve come because they truly love the land.”

But press further, and some locals can’t help but calling the new arrivals “crazy” for giving up easy lives in places like the United States for a life of hardship in a dangerous part of the world.

Yoel Cohen, former chairman of the School of Communication at Ariel University and author of God, Jews and the Media, explained the dichotomy in Israeli attitudes as part of how they view the Diaspora Jewish community in general.

“Overall, there’s not a great deal of interest among Israelis in the Diaspora, and that gets expression in the extent to which the Israeli media covers the Diaspora,” he said. “The interest is mainly unidirectional, such that Jewish newspaper editors are interested in what happens here … but the Israeli media fails to cover the Diaspora in an important way.”

The lack of interest only goes so far, however, and in times of existential crisis or when anti-Semitic attacks threaten Jews abroad, said Cohen, Israeli attitudes reflect more of an identification with a united global Jewish community.

That sense of shared identity goes both ways, said Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal of Shaare Torah in Gaithersburg. Wrapping up a four-week visit to the Jewish state, Blumenthal said that witnessing war from the perspective of a non-tourist — he took part in a rabbinical conference run by the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem — has strengthened his sense of Jewish identity.

“I’m still trying to process everything and decide what it’s all really about,” he said of the ongoing conflict. “But it’s deepened my sense of Jewish peoplehood.

“It’s striking that in my program of 27 rabbis, nobody went home [when the fighting started]. Everybody stayed,” he continued. “So on the one hand, yes, people decided this might not be the best place to take a vacation, but I’ve seen lots of people stay.”

And while he experienced firsthand what fleeing to a bomb shelter is like when air raid sirens sounded in Jerusalem weeks ago, a recent trip to the war-torn community of Sderot just a mile from the Gaza Strip afforded Blumenthal the “opportunity,” he said, of witnessing just how “normal” life in Israel is during a war.

“There’s a tremendous pride and strength [among Israelis], a sense that we’re not going anywhere,” the rabbi said of locals in Sderot. “And throughout my time in Israel, I feel incredibly protected, as long as you follow directives. It’s a strange feeling to hear a siren while on a bus. You pull over like every other car, you crouch down and you protect your head. Then the siren is over, you wait a couple of minutes and everything starts up again like nothing happened.”

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FAA Lifts Ban on Israel Flights

2014-07-24 10:37:12 mshapiro

delta1Late on Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) lifted its ban on flights by American carriers in and out of Israel.

The FAA “worked with its U.S. government counterparts to assess the security situation in Israel and carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the Government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation,” said a press release issued by the agency. “The FAA’s primary mission and interest are the protection of people traveling on U.S. airlines. The agency will continue to closely monitor the very fluid situation around Ben Gurion Airport and will take additional actions, as necessary.”

Earlier, Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R), blasted the agency in a strongly worded press release and blamed the Obama administration, the State Department and Secretary of State John Kerry for motivating Tuesday’s decision by the FAA to issue a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) halting flights by U.S. carriers in and out of Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv.

The FAA’s decision came just as Kerry traveled to the region to try to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

“The facts suggest that President Obama has just used a federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel, in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign-policy demands,” Cruz’s statement read.

On Wednesday, the FAA extended its ban for an additional 24 hours, saying that it will continue to monitor the situation and work closely with the Israeli government to resolve concerns as quickly as possible, according to an agency press release.

In his statement, Cruz implied that the FAA, a regulatory agency, colluded with the administration to ground Israel bound flights for political purposes.

“Obviously, no one wants to place civilian travelers in harm’s way, and the recent downing of Malaysian Airways flight 17 by pro-Russian militants in Ukraine is a stark reminder of the dangers posed by regional unrest,” wrote Cruz. “But security concerns in Israel are hardly breaking news, and given the exceptional challenge Israel faces, Ben Gurion has rightly earned the reputation as one of the safest airports in the world due to the aggressive security measures implemented by the Israeli government.

“Given that some 2,000 rockets have been fired into Israel over the last six weeks, many of them at Tel Aviv, it seems curious to choose yesterday at noon to announce a flight ban, especially as the Obama Administration had to be aware of the punitive nature of this action,” Cruz stressed.

The State Department pushed back against Cruz’s assertions later in the day.

“It’s ridiculous and offensive, quite frankly,” said State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf, during her daily press briefing. “The FAA takes its responsibility very seriously. I will speak for them in that case. They make these decisions based solely on the security and safety of American citizens. For anyone to suggest otherwise is just ridiculous.”

Not according to Abraham Sion, former president of the board of directors of Israel Tourist Industries and chair of the Center for Law and Mass Media at Israel’s Ariel University.

“What the U.S. is trying to do is teach Israel a lesson. [The ban] has nothing to do with safety, but is designed to convince Israel to reach a ceasefire,” said Sion.

When pressed for an explanation, he backtracked, but only slightly, saying “it was 80-90 percent a political decision. Public safety [was] a minor consideration.”

Yet, in an interview by with Israel’s Channel 2, Israel’s Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz agreed that safety could not have been the motivation for the FAA’s decision.

“There is no reason for the American companies to stop their flights and give a prize to terror,” Katz said.

Israel is still open for business, wrote Haim Gutin, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism’s commissioner for North and South America, in a press release.

“Please know that life in Israel, and tourism to Israel, goes on and we welcome all visitors in peace. Some 75,000 tourists are in the country, and their travel arrangements are proceeding as planned. We foresee the current conflict ending soon – and that all will return speedily to normal.”

Shortly after the FAA issued its ban, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, hopped an El Al flight to Israel to demonstrate his disapproval of the order and show solidarity.

“Ben Gurion Airport is the best protected airport in the world. It was an overreaction to halt U.S. flights here,” Bloomberg tweeted.

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The FAA’s flight prohibition applies only to U.S. carriers, yet a number of international airlines have followed suit, despite no such ban by the European Aviation Safety Agency.

Other international airlines which have grounded flights to Israel include Scandinavian Airlines; Korean Air; Royal Jordanian; Alitalia; Swiss Air; Air Canada; and Poland’s state airline, LOT.

El Al is still continuing its flights to and from Israel and has announced no intention to do otherwise.

Additional reporting by Editor-in-Chief Joshua Runyan.

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