Boom! Keystone would make US and Canada bigger competitors with OPEC

The Trump administration’s approval of the controversial TransCanada Corp pipeline means more North American crude and fuel could ultimately flow out to the world market.

The pipeline would also further cement the bonds between the two key North American producers and increase the interdependence of the U.S. on Canada, as a source of imported oil, over OPEC and other producers. Canada supplies about half of the nearly 8 million barrels a day of oil imported by the U.S.

On Friday, President Donald Trump kept a campaign promise, as the State Department approved the 800,000 barrel a day northern leg of the Keystone pipeline. Held up for years by the Obama administration, the pipeline is planned to take oil from the Canadian sands in Alberta down to Steele City, Neb., where it could then head either to the Gulf Coast or Midwest refineries.

“No surprise here on the Keystone decision. It was clearly going to be reversed. The decision not to build Keystone by the Obama Administration was never really about Keystone. The State Department, in reviewing it, had indicated that it would have no impact on carbon emissions. Rather, the Obama decision was about symbolism and the Paris climate conference,” said Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of IHS Markit.

Yergin said the question now is how much oil from the Canadian sands will be shipped by rail and how much by pipeline, once the Keystone is built.

“It does on the margin allow more of that heavy crude to make it to the refineries, which is a a positive, or be exported,” said Bart Melek, head of commodities strategy at TD Securities. “Really we’re just talking incremental here. It’s not really moving the needle either way. It just assures some of the plans to expend the sands continues and we don’t have to use trains. They’re expensive, and it’s not an efficient way to move crude.”

The Canadian sands, including upgraded synthetic crude, is expected to expand production to 5.3 million barrels a day by 2022, from 4.5 million barrels a day in 2016, according to the International Energy Agency. Canada also plans to increase pipeline capacity with the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion, which would take crude across Western Canada to British Columbia, for export to Asia. That project was approved by the Canadian government but is still pending local approval.

The sands has made gains in carbon emissions, though it is considered a dirtier source of crude, Yergin said. The cost per barrel is also higher than that of U.S. shale. But the additional oil would easily find a place in the world market, analyst say.

The heavy oil could displace oil that comes from other places outside the U.S., like Saudi Arabia or Iraq. Some heavy crude suppliers have seen waning production in recent years, like Mexico and Venezuela.

“If we get additional quantities of heavy Canadian crude, which is preferred by many refineries in the U.S., we might turn out to sell more quantities of [U.S.] light, sweet crude to the rest of the world,” said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates.

The Gulf Coast refineries mainly refine heavy crudes, whereas U.S. shale drillers pump light, sweet crude. Light, sweet crude is mainly refined on the east and west coasts.

“All this additional crude oil should keep our input costs lower, which will make our refined products even more competitive,” said John Kilduff of Again Capital. The U.S. is a net exporter of refined product already. Government data shows that the U.S. last week exported 1.2 million barrels a day of distillates, which includes fuels like diesel. The U.S. also exported 592,000 barrels a day of gasoline last week.

The U.S. exported an average 520,000 million barrels a day of oil last year, and much of that goes to Canada for refininig.

The Keystone XL pipeline must get final approvals from Nebraska and local landowners. Kyle Cooper, a consultant with Ion Energy Group, said there are still groups opposed to its construction. “I think the Trump administration is going to roll over the opposition groups and it will be done,” he said, adding construction is not expected to be complete until well into 2018.

“This pipeline will give the Canadian sands a better net back. It’s cheaper to use a pipeline than rail or truck. Their break-even just got lowered, and their economic incentive just improved. One thing you can say is that over the last 10 years, the North American E and P producer knows how to respond to economic signals. If there’s a dollar to be made, they’re going to get at how to make it. The Keystone pipleline will certainly give them the opportunity to make a buck,” Cooper said.

Cooper also said exports from the U.S. could increase, whether it is Canadian oil directly, or more U.S. crude or refined product.


GameStop to close hundreds of stores due to falling sales

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The slumping video game market hit GameStop hard this past holiday season, resulting in a double-digit loss in sales and a decision by the country’s largest video game retailer to shutter between 150 and 225 stores.

GameStop shares dropped more than 13 percent Friday, closing at $20.70 after the company’s latest earnings report revealed sales were down nearly 14 percent, to $3.05 billion during the fourth quarter.

The company blamed the losses on the disappointing sales of certain marquee titles and steep discounting on consoles by other retailers during the Black Friday shopping period. The rise of digital gaming played a factor as well.

All told, the company’s video game sales declined 19 percent while console sales dropped 29 percent.

The retailer hopes the release of the Nintendo Switch earlier this month will help turn things around. During the earnings call, executives said demand for the Switch has been strong, with units selling out within hours of arriving in stores.

“The Switch has provided a dramatic lift in traffic in-store and has real potential to be Wii-like in its ability to expand the gaming category from core to broad audiences,” GameStop CEO Paul Raines said, according to a transcript of the call.

While the company’s core business has struggled, it did, however, report growth for its non-video game properties. This year, the company plans to open 35 new Collectibles stores and 65 new Technology Brands stores, which include Simply Mac, Spring Mobile AT&T and Cricket.

GameStop has not specified which locations will be affected or when they might close. There are 16 stores in Northeast Ohio after the Richmond Town Square location closed earlier this year. The planned closings represent between two to three percent of GameStop’s global footprint of 7,500 stores.

Trump son-in-law’s ties to Israel raise questions of bias

JERUSALEM — Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has deep business and personal ties to Israel that could raise questions about his ability to serve as an honest broker as he oversees the White House’s Mideast peace efforts.

But some say these ties, which include a previously undisclosed real estate deal in New Jersey with a major Israeli insurer, may give Kushner a surprising advantage as he is expected to launch the first peace talks of the Trump era. Having the trust of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the thinking goes, could make Kushner well positioned to extract concessions from the hard-line Israeli leader.

Kushner’s family real estate company has longstanding and ongoing deals with major Israeli financial institutions. These relationships, along with a personal friendship with Netanyahu and past links to the West Bank settler movement, could emerge as potential stumbling blocks by creating an appearance of bias.

Harel Insurance Investments & Financial Services Ltd. confirmed that it shares ownership and profits on a New Jersey apartment building with the Kushner Companies. Harel informed The Associated Press of the joint investment and said it had not previously announced it publicly. In addition, the Kushner Companies confirmed longstanding relationships with two major Israeli banks that have been investigated by U.S. authorities for allegedly helping wealthy clients evade U.S. taxes.

“Financial investments in Israel would seem to only further complicate conflicts of interest issues,” said Larry Noble, senior director of regulatory programs and general counsel at Campaign Legal Center, a group that advocates for strong enforcement of campaign finance laws.

Jared Kushner headed the billion-dollar family firm before joining the White House as a senior adviser in January. As a condition to taking the job, Kushner has agreed to file a financial disclosure report and divest some holdings that could create a conflict of interest.

The Trump administration has faced repeated conflict of interest accusations since taking office. Although the billionaire real estate magnate says he’s no longer managing his global financial interests, critics say these businesses still stand to profit from the prestige or policy decisions of the presidency. In addition, they note that Trump’s children continue to manage many of these ventures, opening the door for the president to continue to wield his clout behind the scenes.

While Kushner’s role in Mideast diplomacy remains unclear, Trump has said his son-in-law will work to “broker a Middle East peace deal.”

Last week, Jason Greenblatt, a White House envoy who reports to Kushner, paid his first official visit to the region, holding a series of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials on what was billed as a listening tour to sound out the sides.

As the U.S. pushes forward, Kushner’s family’s business and personal ties to Israel have raised questions over his ability to mediate.

The newly disclosed deal with Harel, one of Israel’s biggest financial groups, was for a multifamily residential building in New Jersey with Kushner, the Israeli insurer said, adding that both companies continue to collect tenants’ rent payments.

Harel would not say when the property was purchased, how much it cost or even give its address, though it said it was a “relatively small” investment. The company, which trades on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, managed some $50 billion in assets as of the end of 2015, according to its website.

Harel said it has also partnered with Kushner on a much larger deal: A consortium of lenders that provided some $50 million to the Chetrit Group and JDS Development, two New York real estate firms that are trying to build a 73-story residential tower that aims to be Brooklyn’s tallest. The loan was repaid and “yielded a handsome profit,” Harel said in a statement.

“As is known, Kushner (Companies) are experienced and knowledgeable with proven ability in deals in the rental property sector in general and in New Jersey specifically,” Harel said.


A Kushner Companies spokeswoman, Risa Heller, said the loan for the Brooklyn project was paid off, but she declined to say if Jared Kushner has sold his interest in the New Jersey property. Jamie Gorelick, an attorney who has advised Kushner on conflict of interest matters, referred questions to Heller.

The Kushner Companies also confirmed having a “longstanding relationship” with two major Israeli banks, Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi, but wouldn’t elaborate. Both banks declined to comment.

The Trump administration has inherited a Justice Department investigation into allegations that Bank Hapoalim helped American clients evade taxes, and the bank could reach a settlement in the case as early as this year. Bank Leumi also allegedly helped U.S. customers evade U.S. taxes from 2002-2010, and reached a settlement with the Justice Department in 2014 to pay $400 million to the U.S. government.

There is no evidence that Kushner Companies was connected to either investigation, and the Justice Department declined to comment.

White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks did not answer specific questions about Jared Kushner’s ties to Israeli business partners. “Mr. Kushner will comply with financial disclosure and ethics requirements, including the obligation to recuse from particular matters involving specific parties if a reasonable person would question his impartiality,” she said in an email statement.

Kushner is covered by government conflict of interest laws, so he is required to divest himself of any financial interests that may present a conflict and must not participate in any matter that has a direct effect on his financial holdings.

While Kushner has divested himself of some financial interests, the assets were put in a trust run by relatives, presenting the potential for a conflict of interest, said Noble, the campaign finance advocate.

He said the Justice Department investigation into Bank Hapoalim is “especially problematic” if Kushner or the White House in any way influence the inquiry.

Kushner’s business ties are just one of the potential pitfalls to his diplomatic career.

Trump’s son-in-law was also co-director of a family foundation that donated tens of thousands of dollars to Jewish settlement groups in the West Bank, according to U.S. tax records. The family also donated at least $298,600 to the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, an organization that runs educational and cultural programs for Israeli soldiers, between 2010 and 2012, according to the tax records.

Palestinians and most of the international community consider Jewish settlements to be obstacles to peace because they are built on territory captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war that Palestinians want for a future state. The Palestinians also revile the Israeli military after decades of bloodshed.

Kushner and his family also have longstanding personal ties to Netanyahu. At a White House news conference last month, Netanyahu joked that he has known Kushner since he was a boy.

Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. and co-chairman of an Israeli real estate fund that counts Kushner’s father, Charles, among its backers, said he doesn’t know Jared Kushner personally but thinks his affiliations to Israel will be helpful in peace negotiations.

“There’s trust. When there’s trust on one side, there can also be a more conciliatory attitude on that side,” Shoval said.

Palestinian officials would not comment on Kushner, but a senior Palestinian official said he was encouraged by early signs that the new U.S. president was strongly committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Putin Meets Marine Le Pen in Moscow, Denies French Election Interference


MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin made his preferences in the French presidential election clear Friday by hosting far-right candidate Marine Le Pen at the Kremlin, but analysts are skeptical about Russia’s ability to sway the outcome of the vote.

President Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. election has emboldened the Kremlin, even though the ongoing U.S. Congressional scrutiny of Trump’s campaign ties with Russia has all but dashed Moscow’s hopes for a quick detente. U.S. intelligence agencies have accused Moscow of hacking to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election.

During the meeting with the National Front leader, Putin insisted that Russia has no intention of meddling in the French election and only wants to have a dialogue with a variety of politicians. He praised Le Pen, saying she represents part of a “quickly developing spectrum of European political forces.”

Le Pen’s anti-immigration and anti-EU platform appeals to the Kremlin, which has postured as a defender of conservative national values against Western globalization. She also has called for strong security ties with Moscow to jointly combat radical Islamic groups, promised to work to repeal the EU sanctions on Moscow over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and pledged to recognize Crimea as part of Russia if she’s elected.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with French presidential election candidate for the far-right Front National (FN) party Marine Le Pen at the Kremlin in Moscow. MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV / AFP – Getty Images

“I long have spoken for Russia and France to restore their cultural, economic and strategic ties, especially now, when we face a serious terror threat,” Le Pen told Putin. The meeting was a surprise addition to her meeting with Russian lawmakers, which was announced earlier this week.

A Russia-friendly approach to geopolitics runs in the Le Pen family. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Front’s co-founder, his daughter Marine and her niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen have all made numerous visits to Moscow over the years.

Le Pen herself has repeatedly visited Russia, and her party borrowed 9 million euros in 2014 from the small First Czech Russian Bank, but the bank’s license was later revoked.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the prospect that Russian banks could offer Le Pen more loans to help fund her campaign.

Polls show Le Pen as the likely winner of the first round of France’s presidential vote on April 23, but indicate that she would lose the presidential runoff on May 7 to centrist independent candidate Emmanuel Macron.

Russian state-controlled television stations and other media have offered extensive, friendly coverage of Le Pen and Fillon while casting Macron in a more negative light, presenting him as a puppet of outgoing Socialist President Francois Hollande.

Fillon on Thursday claimed that Hollande was manipulating the French justice system to discredit political rivals — a charge that Hollande vigorously denied.

Dmitry Kiselyov, the anchor of the main weekly news program on Russian state TV, has echoed that theme, saying that the French judiciary was working “as swiftly as a guillotine during the bloody French Revolution” to undermine Fillon and Le Pen.

Le Pen is also facing legal investigations around party finances.

“There is an impression that they are bluntly clearing the political field for Emmanuel Macron, the project of Francois Hollande,” Kiselyov said,

Gleb Pavlovsky, a political strategist who consulted for Kremlin in the past, said the coverage of the French campaign by Russian television stations reflects Putin’s view that nationalist forces will increasingly shape the global agenda.

“The Kremlin keeps persuading itself and the population that it is right, its policy is shaping the future and its vision of the world will win,” he said. “The Kremlin has made more than one bet (in the French vote), but the question is if these bets are real. I believe it’s a delusion.”

While Russian TV stations use the French election to buttress the Kremlin view of the world in domestic public opinion, Moscow appears to have little ability to influence the French agenda.

The Russian state-run Sputnik news agency and the TV network RT have French-language websites, but they are mostly aimed at those who already have a pro-Russia worldview. It’s unclear if they have any impact on a broader French audience.

“It is clear that at the moment the direct audience for Russian media in France is very marginal,” said Christophe Deloire, head of Reporters Without Borders media rights watchdog.

He added, however, that Russian influence via social media networks could be more difficult to measure.

Macron’s aides claimed in February that Russian groups were interfering with his campaign soon after a spike in social media claims that Macron is gay.

The married Macron denied the claims and within days his campaign officials blamed Russian media and Russian hackers for attempting to sway the French election, but did not provide proof of Russian hacking.

Macron’s cybersecurity chief Mounir Mahjoubi told The Associated Press at the time that his campaign website was briefly knocked offline but that hackers had failed to “open the door” to its databases. He said the campaign registered thousands of attempted attacks from an IP address in Ukraine suspected to be part of a coordinated campaign from Russia.

Maria Katasonova, a pro-Kremlin political activist who admires Le Pen, dismissed talk about alleged Russian meddling in the French vote as “utterly stupid.”

“We have seen how intensively they have played the Russian theme in the U.S. presidential campaign, and we now can see Le Pen’s rivals trying to exploit this theme in the French campaign,” she said. “We are witnessing an agony of the liberal clans after Trump’s victory in the U.S., and we are seeing them publicly declaring a war on Marine Le Pen.”

New York Jewish man admits he groped woman on Israel-New Jersey flight

(JTA) — A New York man is facing up to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to inappropriately touching the woman sitting next to him on a flight from Israel to Newark, New Jersey.

Yoel Oberlander, 36, who is a registered sex offender, pleaded guilty to the charge of assault with intent to commit stalking in a Newark federal court on Wednesday. Oberlander, of Monsey, New York, is scheduled for sentencing on June 28.

According to the indictment, Oberlander touched the woman inappropriately several times during the course of the May 29 El Al flight from Ben Gurion International Airport to Newark Liberty International Airport and without her consent. The woman’s mother was seated next to her daughter.

Oberlander reportedly was convicted in 2002 in New York for sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl. In 2012, he was charged with trespassing at an upstate New York Jewish camp. Prosecutors determined there was “no allegation of sexual abuse” at the camp near South Fallsburg, in the Catskill Mountains.



WASHINGTON – The American Israel Public Affairs Committee opens its annual policy conference on Sunday hoping to take advantage of tempered political discourse around Israel, after enduring several years of turbulence over its positions on Iran and the fate of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Washington’s largest Israel advocacy lobby seeks to reforge its wide base of bipartisan congressional support, somewhat damaged after taking on former US president Barack Obama over a nuclear deal signed by Tehran and world powers in 2015.


That year’s conference laid bare the difficulties AIPAC faces in taking on a sitting president, with several Democratic leaders facing an unreceptive audience or simply failing to attend.

Last year also posed a challenge to the lobby as its audience was measured in the press by reactions to Democratic and Republican presidential candidates.

AIPAC officials now hope to leave those difficult years behind and prove once again that its event is a rare bipartisan gathering in the US capital, one such official told The Jerusalem Post this week.

The organization will push for legislation targeting Iran’s nonnuclear activities, such as its ballistic missile testing and arms transfer programs. And after facing scrutiny over its position on a two-state solution, the lobby is now preparing to highlight its support for such an outcome, the official added.

“We will always talk about our achieving peace through negotiations between the parties, with the goal of a two-state solution,” said the AIPAC official, who anticipates “prominent” references to the two-state paradigm.

“The two-state solution has been, and continues to be, the goal that we aspire to, and that will be a message we’ll continue to send through the conference.”

Whether the Trump administration will outright endorse a two-state solution remains an open question, but its immediate priority is clear: The rebooting of direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, geared toward a comprehensive peace agreement.

Lawmakers introduced legislation on Thursday targeting Iran’s non-nuclear activities timed with the conference– a bill that AIPAC assures will enjoy “significant bipartisan support.”

“We’ve always taken the position that, now that the deal has been made, we’re focusing on both rigorous enforcement of the deal and Iranian malign behavior,” the official said.

“Obviously the actions of the Iranians have reinforced our view that this is a very important aspect of the JCPOA period.”

Iran has warned the US against passing any old, nuclear- related sanctions under a different name, claiming that such a tactic would violate the nuclear accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

AIPAC policy experts on Iran insist that this bill will explicitly target individuals and organizations aiding Tehran’s nonnuclear programs, although there may invariably be some overlap, given the suspected military nature of Iran’s historic nuclear work.

The lobby will also advocate Congress to maintain US security assistance and supplemental missile defense funding to Israel, guaranteed this coming year by a memorandum of understanding negotiated by the Obama administration and recognized by the Trump administration’s recent budget. AIPAC officials declined to say whether they plan on lobbying for increases to the set memorandum for the following fiscal year.

AIPAC will also spotlight the delegitimization of Israel in international fora.

“Our centerpiece there will be a Portman-Cardin bill that essentially prohibits American entities from engaging in boycotts of Israel,” the official added, referring to a bill introduced last year by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) that would amend the Export Administration Act of 1979 to prohibit boycotts or requests for boycotts imposed by international governmental organizations against Israel.

US Vice President Mike Pence and Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley will address the conference, which will be attended by bipartisan leaders of Congress, including Senate majority and minority leaders Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Chuck Schumer (D-New York), as well as House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California).

Roughly 18,000 people are expected to attend the event, including 3,400 students.



WASHINGTON — Bipartisan leadership in the US Senate introduced a bill on Thursday that would severely sanction Iran over its ballistic missile work and its proxy activities regionwide, targeting several Iranian entities that were previously relieved of sanctions under a nuclear accord implemented last year.

Passage of the bill “would risk killing the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action],” an Iranian American lobbying group based in Washington said in a statement, referring to the formal title of the nuclear deal.

The Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017 would designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization– a move bitterly opposed by Tehran. The National Iranian American Council, which has the ear of senior Iranian government officials, warned that such a move would “risk American lives” and prompt Iranian retaliation against US troops in Iraq.

“The bill would also mandate the re-imposition of sanctions on Iranian entities that were de-listed pursuant to the JCPOA– measures that could constitute a clear violation of the nuclear deal,” the lobby argues.

Indeed, the law would provide US President Donald Trump with the authority to sanction any individual or entity “engaged in any activity that has materially contributed, or poses a risk of materially contributing, to the activities of the Government of Iran with respect to its ballistic missile program, or any other program in Iran for developing, deploying, or maintaining systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction, including any efforts to manufacture, acquire, possess, develop, transport, transfer, or use such capabilities.”

Acceding to the nuclear deal in 2015, the US agreed to remove all of its sanctions on Iran targeting individuals and entities involved in the advancement of its nuclear work. But several of those who now enjoy sanctions relief are the same figures and organizations actively involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and its asymmetric operations across the Middle East and North Africa, which will now face new penalties.

This likely includes Iranian banks that were recently delisted from Treasury Department lists.

Shortly after the nuclear deal was concluded, the Iranian government warned that old sanctions passed under a different name would be treated as a direct violation of the nuclear accord. The US maintains the ability to pass non-nuclear sanctions against relevant individuals at will.

The bill enjoys broad support from both Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including its chairman and ranking member.



Israel has ignored a demand by the United Nations Security Council to halt settlement building and some Palestinian groups are continuing to incite violence against Jews, UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov told the 15-member body on Friday.

It was Mladenov’s first report on the implementation a Dec. 23 resolution adopted by the council with 14 votes in favor and a US abstention. Then President-elect Donald Trump and Israel had urged Washington to wield its veto.


“The resolution calls on Israel to take steps ‘to cease all settlements activities in the occupied Palestinian territory including east Jerusalem.’ No such steps have been taken during the reporting period,” Mladenov told the council.

Israel for decades has pursued a policy of constructing Jewish settlements on territory captured by Israel in a 1967 war with its Arab neighbors. Most countries view Israeli settlement activity as illegal and an obstacle to peace. Israel disagrees.

The Palestinians want an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

“Many of the advancements that were made in the past three months will further sever the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state and accelerate the fragmentation of the West Bank,” said Mladenov of settlements, adding that they were “one of the main obstacles to peace.”

Mladenov also said an increase in rockets fired from Gaza toward Israel was a “worrying development” and described it as regrettable that Palestinian Authority officials had not condemned attacks against Israelis.

“The continued incitement to violence against Jews emanating from Hamas extremists and some Palestinian groups is unacceptable and undermines trust and the prospects for peace,” he said.

“Reactions by Hamas officials to terror attacks against Israelis have been particularly reprehensible and deserve condemnation,” Mladenov said.

The United States traditionally shields Israel, Washington’s long-time ally that receives more than $3 billion in annual US military aid, from council action.

The five council veto powers are the United States, Russia, France, Britain and China.

The resolution, put forward by New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal a day after Egypt withdrew it under pressure from Israel and Trump, was the first adopted by the council on Israel and the Palestinians in nearly eight years.

Retired US Army Lieutenant Michael Flynn, who at the time had been chosen by Trump to be his national security adviser, called the UN missions of Malaysia and Uruguay before the vote in a bid to stop council action, UN diplomats said.

Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon said in a statement on Friday: “There can be no moral equivalency between the building of homes and murderous terrorism. The only impediment to peace is Palestinian violence and incitement.”

Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour told reporters: “Settlements need to be stopped, not only because they are illegal, but they are the main obstacle in the path of the two-state solution.”

French Jews imagine life under Marine Le Pen

PARIS (JTA) — Like many Jews in France, Ludwig Fineltain is hoping against hope that Marine Le Pen will not be elected president of the country five weeks from now.

At the moment, the head of the far-right National Front party is leading in the polls with 26% of the vote. But Fineltain, a 78-year-old psychoanalyst, said he thinks France’s two-round system for the presidential elections will ultimately keep Le Pen out of Elysee Palace.

“Even if she wins in the first round on April 23, the French people will get behind whoever runs against her in the second and final round,” Fineltain said.

He points to an unofficial coalition that is known here as “the republican front” in which the majority of French voters, who are neither the extreme left or right, put aside their differences and vote for the candidate likeliest to beat National Front. It was demonstrated in a crushing defeat of National Front in 2002 — the only time a candidate from the party made it to the second round.

However, just in case, Fineltain said he’s already stocked up on “certain provisions.” He declined to elaborate, citing strict laws in France on “what one is and is not allowed to possess” — he would not specify whether or not he was referring to weapons.

Pointing to President Donald Trump’s election in the United States and the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, Fineltain said, “I guess there’s a slight chance that she’ll win after all. And then there will be civil war.”

Rioters throw projectiles at French riot police officers in Sarcelles, a suburb north of Paris, on July 20, 2014, after clashes following a demonstration denouncing Israel's military campaign in Gaza. (Photo credit: AFP/ PIERRE ANDRIEU

French Jews share Fineltain’s oscillation between confidence and insecurity. Over the past year, French citizens have endured a dramatic campaign season amid growing nationalism, Islamist terrorism, financial stagnation and deepening resentment of a political establishment that is widely perceived as corrupt or incompetent.

In such a deeply divided nation, National Front has made considerable electoral gains since Le Pen became its leader in 2011, succeeding her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, a Holocaust revisionist and openly anti-Semitic nationalist. The party advocates pulling out of the European Union, stopping immigration from Muslim countries and imposing limitations on religious freedoms, as well as harsh punishments for violence and incitement.

In the European Parliament elections of 2014, National Front stunned the world when it received the highest number of seats. The same year, National Front increased its showing in municipal elections to 7% from 1.6% in the previous general vote. Then, in the 2015 regional elections, the party won the first round in six regions — a historic gain — though “republican front” votes in the second round ultimately prevented it from winning any of France’s 13 regions.

France’s far-right National Front party’s founder Jean-Marie Le Pen screams 'Help Jeanne d'Arc' after he places a wreath at Joan of Arc's statue during its annual May Day march, in Paris, France, Friday, May 1, 2015 (photo credit: AP/Francois Mori)

In a Paris Match poll of 800 respondents from March 21, Le Pen and the centrist independent candidate, Emmanuel Macron, each received 25% of the vote, with the center-right candidate Francois Fillon trailing by six points. Le Pen was ahead in most previous major polls from the past six weeks.

National Front gains under Marine Le Pen are a testament to the success of her efforts to distance the party’s image from the open racism of her father, whom she kicked out in 2015 following his latest conviction for inciting racial hatred against Jews. (He suggested a Jewish singer critical of the party be “put in the oven.”) She has kicked out several party members for anti-Semitic rhetoric.

But in Fineltain’s nightmare scenario, he fears Le Pen’s election could trigger “an armed uprising” in heavily Muslim areas, triggering violent retributions by government forces and right-wing militias in a spiraling cycle of violence that could ultimately end 2,000 years of significant Jewish presence in France.

A man wearing a skullcap looks on as people take part in a demonstration called by the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France on July 31, 2014, in front of a Lyon synagogue. (AFP/Romain LaFabregue)

“I’m a bit too old to partake in civil war, so I and people like me may need to leave,” said Fineltain, who two years ago became a member of a section of the CRIF umbrella of French Jewish communities “because of a growing sense of anxiety about the rise of the far right in France.”

In the first round, Fineltain may vote for Macron, whom he considers “lacking a spine and any stature of a real leader,” he said Wednesday at a town hall meeting with the candidate organized by CRIF for 700 Jews. Or perhaps Fillon, whom Fineltain calls a “a little crook” in reference to the pol’s indictment last week for allegedly pocketing public funds.

But he will vote for anyone but Le Pen in the second round.

“It makes no difference,” he said.

Francois Fillon, with open jacket, shaking hands with CRIF President Francis Kalifat in Paris, March 14, 2017. (Courtesy CRIF via JTA)

Like Fineltain, Benjamin Oni, a French Jew in his 50s, said he cannot exclude a National Front victory in May. But Oni told JTA that he plans to “stay right here in France, in Paris, and fight Le Penism, and all forms of fundamentalisms come what may.”

“Jews will not abandon France in the hour of trial,” he said.

Michel Thooris, a Paris-born Jewish police officer, agrees with Oni about staying in France. But rather than fight National Front, he is among a growing number of French Jews who have decided to join the party.

It’s “difficult to make predictions about how France under Marine will look like,” he told JTA. “But of all the candidates, she is the one likeliest to defend the community against the main threat facing us: the rise of Muslim fundamentalism.”

Muslim worshippers walk out after the friday prayer at the Yahya Mosque, in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Normandy, France, Friday, July 29, 2016 (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Thooris joined the party in 2006, when Jean-Marie Le Pen was still its president. He said he had “real issues” with the elder Le Pen’s “clearly anti-Semitic and unacceptable statements.” But Thooris, 37, said he is more interested in what tomorrow holds for the party, especially from Marine and her life partner, Louis Aliot, who has Jewish roots.

A 2014 poll suggested that National Front’s popularity among French Jewish voters rose from nearly nonexistent under Jean-Marie Le Pen to 13.5% under his daughter. CRIF has said it will continue to shun her and her party, which the group regards as a threat to democracy.

Le Pen has said that if elected, she will ban the wearing of all religious symbols in public, including the kippah. She has said she does not oppose the Jewish skullcap, as such, but it will be banned to preserve equality and facilitate the prohibition on Muslim garb, which Le Pen does view as a threat.

She has asked French Jews to “make this sacrifice” and promised to “be their shield” against radical Islam.

French MPs Meyer Habib (right) and Claude Goasguen wear kippahs in parliament, January 2016, in solidarity with French Jews (YouTube screenshot)

Though Thooris said he sees a false equivalence between Judaism and “the proselytism of political Islam,” he is willing to make that sacrifice.

“In reality, Jews are already unable to wear kippahs in many parts of France for fear of attack and, in case of a ban, can easily wear a hat without making any real religious concession,” he said.

As for anti-Semites within National Front, “all parties in France have them, and in no smaller number than in ours,” Thooris said. “What matters is the party program.”

Still, like Fineltain, Thooris also has nightmares of a civil war in France — something he sees as “likelier now than ever before” because of the prevalence of weapons in predominantly Muslim areas where police fail to enforce French law.

But, he said, Le Pen’s aggressive agenda on Islam is the “best guarantee for preventing this conflict.”

Online slip-up led police to JCC bomb threat suspect

The Israeli-American teenager arrested Thursday as the main suspect in a string of hoax bomb threats against Jewish institutions across the US and elsewhere appears to have made a key slip-up that led police to track him down, after months of evasion.

Israeli police described the suspect, an 18-year-old resident of the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, as a hacker but said his motives were still unclear.

The Daily Beast reported Thursday that the youth used a number of sophisticated technologies, including Google Voice and spoofing technology to mask his IP when making the threats and remained untraceable for some time.

Over time, according to the report, he grew careless and failed on at least one occasion to route his internet connection through a proxy, leaving behind a real IP address traced back to Israel.

The location was traced to a nearby Wi-Fi access point the suspect was reaching via a large antenna pointing out his window.

Earlier, Yaniv Azani, head of technology in the Israel Police’s cyber unit, said the suspect used “several different means to camouflage the various layers of communication mechanisms” to carry out the calls.

Police banned publication of the suspect’s name, but said he would remain in custody until at least March 30. During the arrest raid, they said he tried to grab an officer’s gun but was stopped by another officer.

The arrest was announced by Israel Police on Thursday, after what they said was a months-long undercover joint investigation by the cyber unit of the Lahav 433 major crimes division and the FBI.

Police said they found at least five computers, a number of network interface controllers, satellite and antenna equipment during the arrest raid. According to Haaretz, the youth is refusing to sign a waiver allowing police to search his devices and is also refusing to cooperate, remaining silent during questioning.

Haaretz further reported that police suspect the teen may have received payment for some of his actions through a Bitcoin account. No further details were given.

The young man appeared briefly in court in the central Israeli city of Rishon Lezion. He wore khaki pants and a blue sweater that he used to cover his face as he walked past reporters. He made no comment.

He faces charges of extortion and is accused of sowing widespread fear and panic, police said.

A Jewish Israeli teen is brought for a court hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court, on suspicion of issuing fake bomb threats against Jewish institutions in the US and around the world, on March 23, 2017. At right is his lawyer, Galit Besh (Flash90)

His lawyer, Galit Besh, said her client had a “very serious medical condition” that might have affected his behavior. She said the condition had prevented him from attending elementary school, high school or enlisting in the army, which is compulsory for most Jewish men.

“That’s why the medical condition can actually affect the investigation,” she said. “This is one of the things the judge told the police to check, to talk to his doctors, to get more documents and to investigate him in light of his medical situation.”

Channel 10 said the condition was a nonmalignant brain tumor. It also showed images of a large antenna outside the suspect’s house in Ashkelon. Police said the suspect’s father was also detained, apparently because of the equipment. Late Thursday, police said the father’s detention had been extended by eight days.

In Washington, the FBI confirmed the arrest of the main suspect in the harassing phone calls.

Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the suspect allegedly placed dozens of threatening phone calls to public venues, synagogues and community buildings in the US, New Zealand and Australia. He also made a threat to Delta Airlines, causing a flight in February 2015 to make an emergency landing.

“He’s the guy who was behind the JCC threats,” Rosenfeld said, referring to the dozens of anonymous threats phoned in to Jewish community centers in the US over the past two months.

Nearly 150 bomb threats hit JCCs, Jewish day schools and other Jewish institutions since the beginning of the year, causing the evacuation of dozens of Jewish community centers. The threats have mostly come in waves, via phone and email. Many of the institutions have been threatened more than once.

While welcoming the arrest, many Jewish leaders in the US noted that the waves of bomb threats were accompanied by acts of vandalism in Jewish cemeteries and religious institutions within the US, actions that could not have been carried out from abroad.