Day: February 9, 2017

Keith Ellison anti-Semitism controversy, explained

(JTA) — Rep. Keith Ellison, a leading contender to head the Democratic National Committee, has had a rocky relationship with the Jewish establishment. The Minnesota Democrat’s Jewish critics cite his involvement in law school with the Nation of Islam, an African-American group that has been described as anti-Semitic, and his criticism of Israel over the years.

profile in Mother Jones published Tuesday cited sources claiming that Ellison was once a member of the group — the lawmaker has said he worked with them but was never a member — and clashed with Jewish students in law school at the University of Minnesota.

A spokesman for Ellison told JTA that he was not a Nation of Islam member and that other aspects of the Mother Jones article were false.

What’s the fuss about?

Before he became the first Muslim elected to Congress in 2006, Ellison apologized for his involvement in the Nation of Islam and denounced the group.

“I have long since distanced myself from and rejected the Nation of Islam due to its propagation of bigoted and anti-Semitic statements and actions of the Nation of Islam, [its leader] Louis Farrakhan, and [Farrakhan’s late assistant] Khalid Muhammed,” he wrote in a two-page letter to the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas in May 2006 after winning the Democratic primary.

He was warmly accepted by liberal Jewish groups and the Minneapolis Jewish community, with whom he has close ties.

Ellison’s actions in Congress, however, have troubled some in the pro-Israel community. Though Ellison has rejected the movement to boycott, sanction and divest from Israel and expressed support for the two-state-solution, he sought to accommodate a more sympathetic reading of the U.N.’s Goldstone report on the 2009 Gaza war that Israel, Jewish groups and most of the Congress rejected as a one-sided attack on Israel. The congressman also voted against funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system in 2014.

Then, in December, a short audio recording from a 2010 private fundraiser was released in which Ellison said that American foreign policy is “governed” by Israeli interests.

Shortly thereafter Israeli-American businessman Haim Saban, a major Democratic Party funder, slammed the lawmaker as “an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual” whose election as chairman of the Democratic National Committee would be a “disaster” for the party’s relationship with Jews. In January, however, Ellison said he had talked to Saban and that they were “on the road” to mending ties.

While the Anti-Defamation League called the 2010 comments “deeply disturbing and disqualifying,” Ellison retained the support of the left-wing Middle East policy group J Street as well as some 300 Jewish leaders of liberal groups who signed a letter in support of him.

The signers of the letter said they were adding their names to “share our deep alarm at the unfounded and dishonest accusations of anti-Semitism directed at Congressman Keith Ellison. As Jewish professionals, lay leaders and activists, we know that Keith forcefully rejects anti-Semitism and other forms of hate or discrimination. His commitment to inclusion and fairness are values that define the foundation of his public service and his vision for America.”

Defenders have also noted Ellison’s record backing defense assistance to Israel, his multiple visits to the country and his support for Holocaust education in the Muslim community.

What are the new claims?

According to Mother Jones, tensions were high between black and Jewish students in the late 1980s when the University of Minnesota’s Africana Student Cultural Center sponsored speeches by Farrakhan and Kwame Ture, the black-power activist formerly known as Stokely Carmichael. The university organized events meant to improve relations between the groups. Ellison reportedly was respectful to Jewish students at those events, but he also made troubling statements, two Jewish attendees told Mother Jones:

Ellison could be deferential at these meetings. He thanked Jewish students for sticking up for black students’ rights to host controversial campus speakers — even if they had denounced those speakers — and suggested working together on common political causes. But he also insisted the charges that Ture was racist were unfounded. Michael Olenick, a Jewish student who clashed with Ellison and who was the opinions editor at the [Minnesota Daily, the student newspaper], recalled Ellison maintaining that an oppressed group could not be racist toward Jews because Jews were themselves oppressors. “European white Jews are trying to oppress minorities all over the world,” Olenick remembers Ellison arguing. “Keith would go on all the time about ‘Jewish slave traders.’” Another Jewish student active in progressive politics recalled Ellison’s incredulous response to the controversy over Zionism. “What are you afraid of?” Ellison asked. “Do you think black nationalists are gonna get power and hurt Jews?”

Ellison’s communication director, Brett Morrow, denied that the two alleged conversations took place.

“Keith has always rejected anti-Semitism and anyone saying otherwise is completely false,” Morrow wrote in an email to JTA. “The alleged conversations between the law school students nearly 30 years ago never happened.”

The Mother Jones article casts doubt on Ellison’s claims — reiterated Wednesday by Morrow — that he was never a member of the Nation of Islam. He has previously claimed that he became disillusioned with Farrahkan and his movement after attending the Million Man March in Washington, D.C., in October 1995. But according to Mother Jones, he defended the Nation of Islam against anti-Semitism charges in an op-ed in a black newspaper months after that event and endorsed a defense of Farrakhan in 1997. And sources told Mother Jones he may still have been involved with the group in 1998, when he ran for Minnesota state representative:

Two organizers who worked with him at the time told me they believed Ellison had been a member of the Nation. At community meetings, he was even known to show up in [the Nation’s signature] bow tie, accompanied by dark-suited members of the Fruit of Islam, the Nation’s security wing.

One former leader of the group’s Twin Cities chapter (referred to as a study group) told Mother Jones that Ellison had been a member of the Nation of Islam:

Minister James Muhammad, who in the 1990s led the Nation of Islam’s Twin Cities study group, confirms that Ellison served for several years as the local group’s chief of protocol, acting as a liaison between Muhammad and members of the community. He was a “trusted member of our inner circle,” says Muhammad, who is no longer active in the Nation of Islam. Ellison regularly attended meetings and sometimes spoke in Muhammad’s stead, when the leader was absent.

However, Makram El-Amin, the imam of Ellison’s Minneapolis mosque and a longtime friend of the lawmaker, told JTA that Ellison had never spoken of being a member of the Nation of Islam, including when he was involved with the Million Man March.

“[H]e was organizing and encouraging African-American men and others to support the Million Man March and the like, but all the time, I don’t ever recall a time where he stated that he was a member of the Nation of Islam,” said El-Amin, who has known Ellison for 25-30 years.

According to Morrow, “Keith was never a member of the Nation of Islam. He’s explained his limited involvement surrounding the Million Man March in print and interviews many times. He has also long ago disavowed the organization and condemned Minister Farrakhan’s views.”

So what does this all mean?

It’s unclear whether the claims will have an effect on Ellison’s chances to head the DNC. One day after the article’s publications, Jewish groups had yet to weigh in.

Well before the Mother Jones article, the right-wing Zionist Organization of America and the Republican Jewish Coalition said Ellison was unfit to lead the DNC. The Anti-Defamation League said his assertion that foreign policy is “governed” by Israeli interests disqualified him. And the National Jewish Democratic Council, while saying Ellison is no anti-Semite, also described his record on Israel as “mixed,” and said it “strongly disagreed” with his 2014 vote on Iron Dome.

The latest revelations place Jews, an influential voice among donors and activists, between a progressive wing of the party that sees Ellison as the best hope to attract new and younger Democratic voters, and a more traditional wing that rejects the diagnosis that, as Mother Jones puts it, “the party has not been liberal enough.”


The secret Israeli operation to deliver coats to refugees in Syria

(JTA) — Refugees in Syria will soon be receiving donated winter supplies — but they won’t know that the coats and boots keeping them warm came from Israel, an enemy state.

Any logos or tags featuring Hebrew writing has been removed from the more than 100 tons of supplies collected by three Israeli groups, in order “to protect the effort and the recipients,” according to a statement.

The organizers — the Zionist youth movement HaNoar HaOved VeHaLomed, its alumni group Dror Israel and the Combat Genocide Association — collected about 3,000 boxes of blankets, coats, sleeping bags, gloves, boots and other winter supplies as part of an initiative dubbed “Operation Human Warmth.”

The items have been taken to a collection point, a representative confirmed to JTA. From there, a partner aid organization is facilitating the delivery of the goods to the refugees, who won’t know their country of origin. The representative said the delivery date and method could not be revealed due to the sensitive nature of the situation.

“I thought people would be reluctant to support an effort they would not get credit for,” Gilad Perry, Dror Israel’s international collaborations director, said in a statement. “I was amazed to see how wrong I was. The generosity of people just caring for those who suffer from the cold winter on the other side of the border, in an ‘enemy country,’ overwhelmed me.”

This year the initiative, which began in 2014, saw a record number of donations, with supplies collected from Jewish, Arab and Druze neighborhoods across Israel.

“The most moving part of the operation for me is to see thousands of Israelis from different religions join forces in a humanistic effort, emphasizing the similarities in the core values of all of us who simply try to make good on this planet, no matter what our backgrounds may be,” Perry said.

HaNoar HaOved VeHaLomed (Youth Who Work and Learn) is a sister movement of Habonim Dror, long affiliated with the Labor Zionist movement.

British Jews open safe space for Syrian women in Turkey

ISTANBUL (JTA) — In a region awash with half a million Syrian refugees and the predators they attract, home used to be the only safe space for Samiyeh Hilo and her infant son, Mohammed.

A teacher of English in her 30s, Hilo was smuggled out of her besieged city of Hama in 2011 and into Turkey. She has mostly stayed indoors since settling in a camp for refugees of Syria’s civil war in the Turkish town of Islahiye, 70 miles north of Aleppo.

“I didn’t go out much because it’s not a safe environment for me and for my child, anything could happen,” Hilo, a devout Sunni Muslim, told JTA during a phone interview in December about her first five years in Islahiye, a suburb of the city of Gaziantep in Anatolia.

But Hilo’s situation and that of hundreds of other Syrian women in Islahiye improved dramatically in June when the London-based World Jewish Relief group and Turkish aid workers opened a women’s-only educational and recreation center, offering a rare safe space for female clients.

“It completely changed my life,” Hilo said of the center, where she now works as an English teacher for other refugees while her son is being looked after at an onsite nursery.

With an annual budget of under $200,000, the Women’s Support Center of Islahiye is operated by 18 female staffers — most of them refugees themselves — out of a three-story residential building with a pink facade on the outskirts of Islahiye. More than 1,500 women have used the facilities, which World Jewish Relief designed and funds exclusively, with the Istanbul-based International Blue Crescent running the place on the ground as the implementing partner. Amenities include a computer room with 20 machines; psychotherapy sessions; Turkish and English-language classes; cooking and knitting workshops; child care services, and literacy training.

To be sure, the Women’s Support Center is not the only facility for refugees operating in the vicinity of Islahiye and Gaziantep, a nearby city that is a major destination in Turkey for immigrants from Syria. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Blue Crescent and the Red Crescent all have community service units for refugees in the area, where tens of thousands are serviced.

But before the establishment of the Women’s Support Center, “there was no space for women in Gaziantep and Islahiye,” Neslihan Kılıçarslan, a project manager for the International Blue Crescent, told JTA in an interview at her organization’s office in Istanbul. And this is crucial, she said, “because Syrian women don’t want to go to a space that also has men. They are conservative and their husbands don’t allow it.”

Even among more liberal refugees, some women are hesitant to venture alone into the street in Gaziantep, where 350,000 refugees constitute a fifth of the population in the overcrowded city. Relations between Turks and refugees are tense and sometimes turn violent, like in 2014 when thousands of Syrians left for fear of reprisals over the stabbing of a Turkish landlord by a refugee who felt he had been taken advantage of.

Women are especially vulnerable, according to a Council of Europe report from last year that cited multiple cases of rape, pimping, sexual harassment and gender-based violence, including in Turkey, which has nearly 3 million Syrian refugees. Children are another at-risk group, which Turkish and other sweatshop operators are quick to exploit.

Having identified the need for a women’s-only center, the International Blue Crescent wrote a project proposal, which World Jewish Relief — an international aid agency that British Jewry founded in 1933 – last year decided to support as its only sponsor.

The result is a place that stands out among facilities for refugees because “it has a lot of joy and hope,” said Tanya Freedman, the digital communications manager at World Jewish Relief. She visited the facility in November and, before coming to work at World Jewish Relief, was involved in helping refugees in France.

Most of the clients at the Women’s Support Center cover their heads, and some cover their faces, according to strict Islamic custom. They remove the face coverings once inside the building since there are no men around, Freedman told JTA in an interview this week in London.

One woman, 32-year-old Fatima from Aleppo, uses her time at the center to socialize, but also to make elaborate felt bags in bright pink colors with bamboo handles. She sells the bags for $3. Her friend Duaz, a 23-year-old mother of two whose husband died while fighting in the civil war, helps Fatima model the bags while wearing a face scarf. As the women chat at the center, Duaz’s boys, aged 3 and 5, play in the nursery with Fatima’s 2-year-old son, Omar.

Syrian refugees Duaz, left, and Fatima showing off two of Fatima’s handmade felt bags at the Women’s Support Center in Islahiye, Turkey, Nov. 25, 2016. (Tanya Freedman/World Jewish Relief)

Many of the older women are protective of Sara and Amena, two 15-year-old girls who are among a dozen or so teenagers who make use of the center. Unlike the Aleppo-born Amena, who lives with her parents, Sara’s family is still in Syria, in Idlib.

“The women treat the girls, and Sara especially, as though they were their own daughters,” Freedman said.

World Jewish Relief, which has a core budget of approximately $6 million and about 22 salaried staff, has raised more the $1 million since 2013 for Syrian refugees – the second-most successful drive in the organization’s history, according to Richard Verber, its head of external affairs.

Conducted alongside World Jewish Relief’s projects helping Jews in Ukraine and Moldova, the Syrian aid effort “reflects not only the generosity of British Jewry,” he said, “but also how the refugee experience strikes a chord in the hearts of a community with a strong generational memory of what it means to flee your home at a moment’s notice.”

The center does not display any mention of its Jewish sponsor, which is a prominent member of the OLAM network of Jewish international aid groups.

And while partner groups like the International Blue Crescent are aware of World Jewish Relief’s involvement, neither party broadcasts to the clients that one sponsor is Jewishly affiliated, said Verber, whose group’s logo is made up of the left half of a Star of David.

“Our priority is to deliver aid to those in need, full stop,” Verber said. “Sometimes we get the added bonus of exposing people to the substantial humanitarian work facilitated by British Jews, but in other cases, highlighting this could be complicated, exposing projects to risk. So while we never hide it, we don’t always insist on PR either.”

Elsewhere in the world, other Jewish groups have also raised considerable funds for Syrian refugees, including $2 million by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief.

Coming from some of Syria’s most rural areas – including Sunni provinces where residents were denied education options by the oppressive Alawite minority rule of President Bashar Assad – many refugees are illiterate.

Among the center’s literacy students is 32-year-old Aliyah, a seamstress from Aleppo who came to Turkey six years ago with her 5-year-old daughter and husband. Aliyah is learning to read and write in Arabic and Turkish, and says she hopes one day to teach others in her position.

“It feels like at last I’m doing something of value,” she said in a recent interview with Freedman. “I love having somewhere to go where I can feel comfortable.”

Adelsons (Kikes) to join Trump (White Freemason, Zionist) for White House dinner

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Donald Trump will host major Republican Party donors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson for a White House dinner.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that Adelson, a casino magnate who also is a major backer of pro-Israel groups, and his wife will join other associates of the new president for the meal.

Laura Goldman, a journalist, reported on Twitter that Adelson’s office said the billionaire would raise the controversy over the omission of any mention of Jews from a statement the White House issued to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27.

Adelson did not commit to a candidate until last May when he endorsed Trump at a time when it was clear the reality TV star and real estate magnate would be the Republican nominee.

He subsequently donated tens of millions to Trump’s election campaign and his inauguration. The Adelsons were on the dais for Trump’s inaugural oath-taking, a rare honor for campaign funders.


It behooves the different sectors of the Jewish world to unite against the common threats they face, Malcolm Hoenlein told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

The executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is in Israel ahead of the organization’s annual leadership mission, set to begin later this month.


“We have to focus on the issues we have in common, on the things we care about, and recognize that there are differences but we can deal with them with respect,” he said. “What unites us far outweighs what divides us and the threats we face require a unified response from the community. We need to have the people together.”

In an interview that covered antisemitism in the diaspora as well as regional threats faced by Israel and the US, Hoenlein said: “The security of future generations interests all Jews and rests on our being able to be united and work together, and trying to be more sensitive to one another so we can find those common areas.

“Klal Yisrael [the Jewish people] is a vital security issue. The leadership has to send the message that it’s the responsibility of all of us, whether it’s in communities, in schools, in other places, to stop just focusing on what divides us but to focus on what unites us and to talk about the issues honestly and openly,” he said, stressing that when differences are exaggerated, people are pitted against one another.

“Those who seek to divide have to be held to account,” he added passionately, saying that the achievement of unity is the responsibility of government leaders, religious leaders, community leaders, opinion molders and the media.

Hoenlein’s approach toward US-Israel relations is similar. “I think the US and Israel have so many common interests – overwhelming common interests – that I hope will be addressed in their discussions now,” he said in reference to the first meeting between US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scheduled for Wednesday.

Mentioning Syria, Russia and particularly Iran – which he still views as the biggest danger – Hoenlein said Israel and the US must try to understand each other’s needs and operate from the same page.

“There will inevitably be differences,” he said, “so they have to develop a working relationship that enables them to address differences as they arise, but also to work together and support the main interests of each other, because in fact in the region today, Israel and the US are really the key players.”

Addressing the controversy that has surrounded the Trump administration, Hoenlein’s said it is simply too early to judge the new government.

On one hand, he pointed out, many members of the administration are pro-Israel and the president has also professed to be so. On the other, Hoenlein acknowledged concerns expressed by the US Jewish community about some policies, for instance, on immigration.

“But we need to give them enough time to find out where the bathrooms are, to put their stance in place, to start really developing a policy and how they will work with one another.”

Turning to the subject of antisemitism, which surfaced during the US presidential campaigns, Hoenlein said it also remains to be seen how the administration will tackle that phenomenon.

Careful to note that he did not see antisemitism as having emerged directly from Trump or his campaign, Hoenlein said it was exposed by the general election process and now that it is in “clear daylight” it might be easier to fight.

“Those in authority must denounce it, they have to act against it, we have to work on our campuses and make sure that these groups are not able to continue to impact our campuses where antisemitism is manifest,” he said, emphasizing that it is incumbent on the political leaders, religious leaders, administrations, faculties, education systems, media and cyber media to mobilize against it. The latter, he said, must not become vehicles for the communication of hate, mobilizing people toward extremist positions.

“Everybody has a role to play to help educate the public so that these voices don’t become dominant,” Hoenlein said.


Ireland consistently ponders the question of recognizing Palestine as a state, its Foreign Ministry said on Thursday, in response to media reports that Israel fears such a step could be imminent.

“I am actively keeping under consideration, on a continuous basis, the question of whether recognition by Ireland in the near future of a state of Palestine might be a helpful step in relation to the Middle East peace process,” Foreign Minister Charles Flanagan said of his government’s long-held position.

Ireland is part of the European Union, which holds that recognition of a Palestinian state should come only after a final-status agreement for the creation of two states is reached between Israel and the Palestinians.

Seven of its member states that had belonged to the former Soviet bloc recognized Palestine as a state in 1988, long before joining the EU. In 2014, Sweden became the first country which – as a member of the EU – recognized Palestine as a state.

In the face of accelerated Israeli settlement activity, the Palestinian Authority has renewed its campaign to sway European countries to follow Sweden’s example without waiting for the creation of a two-state solution.

The Foreign Ministry said that, already in May 2016, the Irish government spoke of the importance of recognizing Palestine and of the importance of the EU role in halting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ireland’s “program of government states: “We will continuerole for the EU in the Middle East Peace Process, having regard to the stalled nature of the process at present, and honor our commitment to recognize the State of Palestine as part of a lasting settlement of the conflict.”

On Thursday, during a heated back-bench debate at the United Kingdom’s House of Commons, parliamentarians also called for their country to accept Palestinian statehood. In a short speech at the end of the debate, Minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood indicated that the time was not right for his country to take this step.

“Recognition of Palestine – we need the Palestinians to do more, to prevent the incitement of violence. President Abbas condemned certain aspects of it, but we are still seeing schools and squares being named after terrorists.(BDS in Ireland: Shops nix Israeli goods, but fine with N. Korean, Iranian products)

These are not the confidence- building measures that we need to see. There is no relationship with Hamas at all,” Ellwood told the House of Commons.

“These are the steps that will allow us to move forward, so there can be a recognition in the long term of the state of Palestine. But they are not there yet,” Ellwood said.

He also condemned Israeli settlement activity and spoke against the Knesset’s passage of the of the settlements law that retroactively legalizes 4,000 settler homes private Palestinian property. A “dangerous threshold was crossed,” he said.

Ellwood defended his country’s December vote at the UN Security Council in favor of Resolution 2334 that condemned Israeli settlement activity.

MP John Howell from the Conservative Party took issue with the focus on settlements as a stumbling block to peace. “Why are we picking on settlements, when there is a whole range of issues,” Howell said.

The UN Security Council resolution, he said, is part of the internationalization of the peace, when what is needed is for Israelis and Palestinians to hold direct talks without preconditions.

Unfortunately, he said, the Palestinians “come up with preconditions each and every time and it usually involves the release of more terrorists.”

He detailed the steps Israel had taken against settlement activity, including a 10-month moratorium on settler housing starts that ran from November 2009 to September 2010. He also pointed to the 2008 Annapolis process in which Israel offered to withdraw from 94% of the West Bank.

“At the moment, all Israel has received is a denial of its right to exist and an intensification of violence,” he said.

The PA, he warned, is scared to hold elections, because it fears it will be replaced by ISIS.

MP Simon Danczuk of the Labour Party said that Israel’s “perpetual land grabs are immoral and illegal and a barrier to peace.

Why should the Palestinians believe that Israel is committed to peace when they see these homes go up?” he asked.

MP Helen Goodman of Labour urged the United Kingdom to impose “personal sanctions” on those people who promote and benefit from the settlements.

In the last afternoon, the House of Commons passed a resolution that condemned settlement activity.

In Belgium, Abbas spoke against Israeli settlement activity when he met with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel. He had held a similar conversation just two days earlier with French President François Hollande.

“What Israel did in passing a law in the Knesset a few days ago legalizes the theft of private Palestinian land owned by Palestinians for the benefit of settlers,” Abbas said, referring to the settlement regulation law passed on Monday.

Israeli settlement activity, he said, “is an assault against our people, a violation of international law, and a wanton challenge to international law, which has been expressed through UNSC Resolution 2334. We will confront [these acts] in all international bodies and we will continue our work with international courts to protect our existence and survival on Palestine’s land.

“We call on the international community including Belgium and all European states to help us implement UNSC Resolution 2334 before too much time passes.

We need to not allow for the reinforcement racist discrimination: ‘Apartheid,’” Abbas said.

He also spoke by telephone with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who is in Washington meeting with officials.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to travel to Washington next week to meet with US President Donald Trump, during which West Bank settlement activity is expected to be part of their discussions.

On Thursday, the former residents of the Amona outpost called on Netanyahu to approve the new settlement he promised them prior to their evacuation on February 1 and 2. Trump has been largely silent on the issue of West Bank settlement activity, but two weeks ago, the White House issued a statement asking Israel to refrain from unilateral action such as the creation of settlements.

Islamic State claims Eilat rocket attack, threatens more


An Islamic State-affiliated terror group on Thursday claimed an attack that saw four rockets fired at the Red Sea resort city of Eilat in southern Israel from the Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday night.

The Islamic State Sinai Province said in a statement posted online, “A military squad fired a number of Grad rockets at communities of Jewish usurpers in the town of Eilat.”

The statement said the group attacked Israel “in order to teach the Jews and the crusaders a proxy war will not avail them of anything.”

“The future will be more calamitous with Allah’s permission,” the statement said.

The group has been waging a bloody battle against Egyptian forces in recent years. Egypt and Israel are known to have some level of security coordination in the Sinai.

Three of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, and the fourth fell in an open area.

There were no injuries or damage reported from the rocket salvo. However, city officials said several people were treated for anxiety attacks related to the incident.

Video shows moments rockets over Israeli city of Eilat intercepted by Iron Dome. No damage/casualties reported.

Fragments of one of the rockets were found in a hotel swimming pool, according to pictures posted to social media.

Eilat is a resort city, popular with tourists from Europe. It is currently full to capacity with visitors.

Early Thursday morning, two Palestinians were killed and five were injured in the southern Gaza Strip near the Egypt border, in an explosion that Hamas officials claimed was an Israeli airstrike in retaliation for the rocket attack.

The IDF denied it had carried out an airstrike in Gaza overnight.

: 4 rockets launched towards Eilat from Sinai : 3 were intercepted by the Iron Dome, 1 landed in an open area

: Reports from Sinai claim that 7 rockets were launched towarda Eilat ; 3 intercepted

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Sinai borders Israel and also the Gaza Strip for a few kilometers at the northern end of the peninsula.

: 4 rockets launched towards Eilat from Sinai : 3 were intercepted by the Iron Dome, 1 landed in an open area

: Reports from Sinai claim that 7 rockets were launched towarda Eilat ; 3 intercepted

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Sinai Province was set up in 2011, ostensibly to attack Israel by firing rockets across the 240-kilometer (149-mile) border or sabotaging a gas pipeline that runs between Egypt and Israel.

But most of the fighting, by far, has been with Egyptian government forces and attacks on Israel have been relatively rare.

Jihadists have killed hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and policemen since the military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 unleashed a bloody crackdown on his supporters.

In 2011, assailants who came from the Sinai killed eight Israelis in a triple ambush north of Eilat. Israeli forces in pursuit killed seven attackers and five Egyptian police.

In 2013, four jihadists were killed by an Egyptian airstrike as they were about to fire a rocket at Israel, according to the Egyptian military.

And in 2014, two patrolling Israeli soldiers were wounded by unidentified men who fired an anti-tank weapon from the Sinai during an attempted drug-smuggling operation, according to the Israeli military.

In 2015, rockets fired from Sinai landed in southern Israel, but did not cause any casualties. The Sinai Province group claimed responsibility.

Israel has denounced the movement of men and weapons between Sinai and the Gaza Strip, which is governed by the Hamas terrorist group.

After long wait, Palestinians make first contact with Trump administration

The head of Palestinian intelligence has held talks with US security officials in the first such contacts between the Palestinians and the Trump administration, the AP news agency reported Thursday, citing an unnamed official.

The official said that Majed Faraj met with US security and intelligence officials in Washington over the past two days. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with protocol.

The Palestinian leadership said it has tried unsuccessfully to reach out to President Donald Trump since his election upset in November, and feared the possibility of being sidelined as the administration embraces Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads to the White House next week.

In December, the Trump transition team refused to meet with Palestinian officials visiting Washington, putting them off until after the Jan. 20 inauguration, according to senior Abbas aide Saeb Erekat, the main point man for official contacts with the United States. Other advisers say Abbas tried to arrange a phone call with Trump after the November election and again after the inauguration, but received no response to his requests. The White House did not respond to a January letter in which Abbas expressed concerns about possibly moving the US Embassy in Israel to contested Jerusalem.

Last week, senior Erekat said the White House had rebuffed every attempt to reach out to the new administration.

“We have sent them letters, written messages, they don’t even bother to respond to us,” he told Newsweek.

A strong relationship with the United States has been key to the Palestinian strategy for statehood. The US has served as the main broker in two decades of intermittent talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Trump has said he wants to broker a peace deal, but many see his administration’s stance as being slanted in Israel’s favor. In the wake of his inauguration, Israel okayed some 6,000 new housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with the White House largely remaining silent on the issue before finally issuing a critique that settlement expansion “may not be helpful.”

The Trump administration also kept mum on a controversial law passed earlier this week legalizing thousands of settler homes built on private Palestinian land, and which the Palestinians said amounted to “legalizing theft.”

But the Palestinians have been careful not to antagonize Trump with public statements, other than urging him to rein in Israel. They hope he’ll eventually get in touch, arguing that Trump needs to involve them if he’s serious about negotiating a Middle East peace deal.

“The foreign policy of the US administration is not clear yet, aside from its clear support of Israel, but the administration knows nothing can be done without the Palestinians,” said Abbas adviser Mohammed Ishtayeh.

During his campaign, Trump had also promised to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move the Israelis warmly welcome and which the Palestinians, and the Jordanians, have warned against. Since his inauguration on January 20, he’s been more vague about that pledge.

Earlier Thursday, the New York Times reported that, in order to move ahead with the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, Trump was deliberating bringing in Arab states and embracing the “outside-in” approach favored by Netanyahu.

The article says that both Trump and his Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner — who has been designated the point man for the Mideast peace process — have found the idea appealing after meeting with a number of Arab leaders since the president assumed office in January.

US President Barack Obama, right, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, Monday, March 17, 2014 (photo credit: Saul Loeb/AFP)

US President Barack Obama, right, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, Monday, March 17, 2014 (photo credit: Saul Loeb/AFP)

The State Department said last month that it was reviewing a last-minute decision by former Secretary of State John Kerry to send $221 million dollars to the Palestinians over the objections of congressional Republicans.

The department said Tuesday it would look at the payment and might make adjustments to ensure it comports with the Trump administration’s priorities.

The Obama administration had for some time been pressing for the release of the money, which comes from the US Agency for International Development and was to be used to fund humanitarian aid in the West Bank and Gaza, support political and security reforms and help prepare for good governance and the rule of law in a future Palestinian state, according to the notification sent to Congress.

French Jews will have to give up Israeli citizenship, says Le Pen

France’s far-right leader and presidential contender Marine Le Pen said on Thursday that dual citizenship with non-European countries under her proposed immigration program would be banned and that French Jews with Israeli citizenship would be forced to renounce it.

In a comprehensive two-hour interview, Le Pen, leader of the Front National party and a leading candidate in the upcoming French presidential elections this spring, told France 2 TV that “Israel is not a European country and doesn’t consider itself as such” when asked if her ban on dual nationality would be extended to Jewish citizens of France.

When pressed on the issue, Le Pen appeared defensive, saying: “excuse me, but yes, [I would ask that of] them and others [persons with non-European citizenship]. I’m asking the Israelis to choose their nationality. It doesn’t mean that if they don’t choose French nationality, they have to leave. France can certainly accommodate foreign people on its soil long-term, those with foreign citizenship… as long as they respect French laws and French values, which is often a problem on the immigration issue. It’s not really a problem with Israel on this topic.”

Le Pen has routinely advocated a tough-on-immigration approach, charging that current immigration rules were “too generous.”

It is estimated that thousands of French Jews hold Israeli citizenship as immigration to Israel from France has seen a sharp increase in recent years amid rising anti-Semitism and a string of deadly terror attacks by radical Islamic groups, including the Islamic State.

Illustrative: More than 200 French Jews immigrated to Israel aboard a special Jewish Agency Aliyah flight, July 20, 2016. (Nir Kafri for The Jewish Agency for Israel)

Illustrative: More than 200 French Jews immigrated to Israel aboard a special Jewish Agency Aliyah flight, July 20, 2016. (Nir Kafri for The Jewish Agency for Israel)

Throughout the early 2000s, Israel welcomed approximately 2,000 French Jews a year, but during and after 2013, immigration from the country — which has approximately 500,000 Jews — jumped to some 3,000. The following year, over 5,000 came, followed by nearly 8,000 in 2015 and another 5,000 last year.

The Russian connection

In her France 2 interview Thursday, Le Pen did make an exception in her immigration program for dual citizens from non-European Russia, which she said “has a place” in what she termed a “Europe of nations” that are “free and sovereign.”

The remark is certain to raise eyebrows in France and around the world as French intelligence officials have voiced concern over possible Russian hacking attempts to help sway the upcoming election in her favor.

Le Pen is currently leading in polls for the first round of voting in April, but polls show she would be beaten in the May 7 runoff, possibly by centrist former banker Emmanuel Macron who has benefited from claims that conservative candidate Francois Fillon arranged high-paying parliamentary jobs for his wife and children.

Head of the far-right party FN and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen (C) smiles as she arrives to visit the Salon des Entrepreneurs (Entrepreneurship fair) in Paris on February 1, 2017. (AFP/Eric Piermont)

Head of the far-right party FN and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen (C) smiles as she arrives to visit the Salon des Entrepreneurs (Entrepreneurship fair) in Paris on February 1, 2017. (AFP/Eric Piermont)

Le Pen has previously made a number of comments in support of Putin and his policies. In recent interviews, she has described Russia’s invasion and subsequent annexation of the Crimean Peninsula as legitimate, despite Western refusal to recognize the move and imposition of sanctions.

Her National Front party also received a $9.8 million loan from a Russian bank with ties to the Kremlin. Le Pen has denied that this financial support has influenced her party’s support of Russia, saying her well-known respect for Putin began before the receipt of the funds.

Concerns of Russian interference in the French presidential race follow assessments by leading US intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 US presidential race in favor of the Republican candidate, current President Donald Trump.

Le Pen is also a big fan of Trump, whom she has defended as a “patriot” over his controversial executive order to ban immigration and travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, right, when spotted at US President-elect Donald Trump's New York headquarters building, having coffee at Trump Ice Cream Parlor on the ground floor of Trump Tower, January 12, 2017. (AFP/HUFFINGTON POST/TRANSITION POOL/Samuel LEVINE)

Far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, right, spotted at then US President-elect Donald Trump’s New York headquarters building, having coffee at Trump Ice Cream Parlor on the ground floor of Trump Tower, January 12, 2017. (AFP/HUFFINGTON POST/TRANSITION POOL/Samuel LEVINE)

Like Trump, she has been campaigning as an “anti-establishment” candidate hoping to capitalize on the same rejection of mainstream politics that helped the Brexit camp win in Britain and swept him to the US presidency.

French Jews still wary of Le Pen

Le Pen has over the years worked hard to rid the Front National of its more extremist, anti-Semitic fringe since taking over from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has repeatedly referred to the Nazi gas chambers as a “detail” of history.

But the Jewish community in France is still very wary of Le Pen despite its traditionally hawkish leanings.

She has expressed a desire to promote legislation that would ban religious clothing in public. Her initiative is aimed mainly against the Islamic burqa and the Niqab, but would also ban Jews from wearing a kippa in public.

“Because I think everyone in France should receive the same treatment, I also support the ban on wearing a kippa in the public sphere,” said Le Pen last week in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2.

“Honestly, the dangerous situation in which Jews in France live is such that those who walk with a kippa are in any case a minority, because they are afraid. But I mainly think the struggle against radical Islam should be a joint struggle and everyone should say, ‘there, we are sacrificing something.’ Maybe they will do with just wearing a hat [instead], but it would be a step in the effort to stamp out radical Islam in France,” she said.

As part of her commitment to secularism, Le Pen is also opposed to ritual kosher and halal slaughter.

‘See you in court,’ Trump vows after federal appeals court refuses to reinstate travel ban

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal appeals court refused Thursday to reinstate President Donald Trump’s ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

The panel of three judges from the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals declined to block a lower-court ruling that suspended the ban and allowed previously barred travelers to enter the US. An appeal to the US Supreme Court is possible.

Moments after the ruling, Trump took to Twitter to promise a legal fight.


US District Judge James Robart in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order halting the ban last week after Washington state and Minnesota sued. The ban temporarily suspended the nation’s refugee program and immigration from countries that have raised terrorism concerns.

Justice Department lawyers appealed to the 9th Circuit, arguing that the president has the constitutional power to restrict entry to the United States and that the courts cannot second-guess his determination that such a step was needed to prevent terrorism.

The states said Trump’s travel ban harmed individuals, businesses and universities. Citing Trump’s campaign promise to stop Muslims from entering the US, they said the ban unconstitutionally blocked entry to people based on religion.

Both sides faced tough questioning during an hour of arguments Tuesday conducted by phone — an unusual step — and broadcast live on cable networks, newspaper websites and social media. It attracted a huge audience.

The judges hammered away at the administration’s claim that the ban was motivated by terrorism fears, but they also challenged the states’ argument that it targeted Muslims.

“I have trouble understanding why we’re supposed to infer religious animus when, in fact, the vast majority of Muslims would not be affected,” Judge Richard Clifton, a George W. Bush nominee, asked an attorney representing Washington state and Minnesota.

Only 15 percent of the world’s Muslims are affected by the executive order, the judge said, citing his own calculations.

“Has the government pointed to any evidence connecting these countries to terrorism?” Judge Michelle T. Friedland, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, asked the Justice Department attorney.

The lower-court judge temporarily halted the ban after determining that the states were likely to win the case and had shown that the ban would restrict travel by their residents, damage their public universities and reduce their tax base. Robart put the executive order on hold while the lawsuit works its way through the courts.

After that ruling, the State Department quickly said people from the seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — with valid visas could travel to the US. The decision led to tearful reunions at airports round the country.

The Supreme Court has a vacancy, and there’s no chance Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch, will be confirmed in time to take part in any consideration of the ban.

The ban was set to expire in 90 days, meaning it could run its course before the court would take up the issue. The administration also could change the order, including changing its scope or duration.