benjamin netanyahu

Criticism mounts over Netanyahu’s response to US neo-Nazism

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came under mounting pressure Thursday to speak out against US President Donald Trump’s response to the racially charged violence and anti-Semitic outpouring in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Netanyahu’s near-silence on the march staged by anti-Semitic white nationalists — and Trump’s assertion that “both sides” were responsible for the violence — appears to reflect the Israeli leader’s desire to remain in the good graces of the embattled president.

But Netanyahu’s reluctance to speak out on such an important issue has set him apart from the growing ranks of Israeli leaders who have been outspoken in their anger, and risks alienating Jewish American leaders already estranged by certain Israeli policies.

A growing chorus of opposition politicians, commentators and even coalition partners has urged Netanyahu to take a stronger stance, even at the risk of antagonizing the president.

Trump has acknowledged there were some “very bad people” at Saturday’s rally, where a woman was killed when a car slammed into a crowd of counter-protesters. But he also said there were “very fine people” on both sides. The president’s equation of extremist hate groups and left-wing demonstrators brought condemnation from across the American political spectrum.

Though Netanyahu, who views himself as a leader of world Jewry, is ordinarily quick to rail against anti-Semitism, he waited three days to react to the violence in Charlottesville with a relatively tepid statement on Twitter.

“Outraged by expressions of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and racism. Everyone should oppose this hatred,” he tweeted, avoiding any mention of the president or Charlottesville. No such statement was issued in Hebrew, the state’s official language and the first language of most Israelis.

Netanyahu’s spokesman David Keyes said the prime minister’s statement was “unequivocal,” adding that he didn’t expect any further comment.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara touring Israel's North, August 15, 2017 (Koby Gideon/PMO)

“I think he made his view on the repugnancy of any neo-Nazism abundantly clear,” Keyes said.

After clashing with former US president Barack Obama for eight years, Netanyahu welcomed the election of Trump, and he has worked to cultivate a strong relationship with the White House. Trump was warmly welcomed during a brief visit to Israel in May.

Israeli newspapers devoted front-page coverage to Trump’s comments on Thursday, with top-selling paper Yedioth Ahronoth running a photo of him and the headline “Disgrace.”

Some commentators, however, pointed out that freesheet Israel Hayom, owned by Trump backer Sheldon Adelson, buried the story deep inside the paper.

Sima Kadmon of Yedioth wrote Thursday that after Netanyahu turned Trump “into the greatest friend of Israel in history — how can Netanyahu now issue a condemnation and talk about an anti-Semitic and racist president?”

Immediately after Saturday’s march, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the nationalist Jewish Home party, said the waving of Nazi flags and symbols was not only offensive to American Jews, but also disrespected the memory of American soldiers who died fighting the Nazis during World War II.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett seen at the Knesset on July 26, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“The leaders of the US must condemn and denounce the displays of anti-Semitism seen over the past few days,” Bennett said.

On Wednesday, President Reuven Rivlin sent a letter to Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations expressing shock that “the most vicious symbol of anti-Semitism” was being paraded in American streets. “I know that the great nation of the United States of America and its leaders will know how to face this difficult challenge,” Rivlin said.

On Thursday, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan (Jewish Home) said Israel “must not stammer or hesitate in the face of anti-Semitism,” and leveled a veiled criticism of Netanyahu, saying “apparently some don’t want to enrage Trump.”

Opposition politicians have been more strident and open in their criticism of Trump.

“When it comes to racism, anti-Semitism and Nazism, there aren’t two equal sides — there’s good and there’s bad. Period,” said Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister and current senior Knesset member from the opposition Zionist Union faction. She said Thursday that it seemed Netanyahu’s silence stems from his fear of angering Trump.

Zionist Union MK Shelly Yachimovich, a former opposition leader, came out swinging against Netanyahu for not speaking out against Trump.

“And you, prime minister of the Jewish people in their land, who warns us about the Holocaust every Monday and Thursday, with overdoses of fear and arrogance and weeks of ‘Never Again,’ what about you?” Yachimovich wrote on Facebook.

Zionist Union MK Shelly Yachimovich arrives at the Tel Aviv District Court to try to stop the counting of votes during the Histadrut labor union leadership elections, claiming ballots had been tampered with, May 25, 2017. (Flash90)

Opposition party Yesh Atid’s chairman, Yair Lapid, pointedly said in reference to Trump’s comments that “there aren’t two sides.”

Former prime minister Ehud Barak said, “an Israeli leader should have said within six hours our position as Jews, as Israelis, as brothers of a large community, the American Jewish community, including in Charlottesville, who live under threat.”

Netanyahu’s Facebook and Twitter feeds bore no mention of Charlottesville amid the slew of photos of the prime minister and his wife arm-in-arm on their vacation on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Netanyahu’s son Yair, however, who has a close relationship with his father, caused a public outcry when he appeared to parrot Trump’s sentiments. He wrote a Facebook post Wednesday saying the “neo nazis scums in Virginia” are a dying breed, but left-wing anti-fascist and Black Lives Matter groups, which he said hate Israel “just as much,” are “getting stronger and stronger and becoming super dominant in American universities and public life.”

American Jewish leaders have expressed deep disappointment with Trump. But if Netanyahu continues to remain quiet, that disappointment could quickly spread to him as well. Leaders of liberal Jewish groups, who represent the vast majority of American Jews, are already at odds with the Israeli government over issues such as egalitarian prayer and recognition of religious conversions.

Rabbi Thomas Gutherz, senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel of Charlottesville, said he has been too preoccupied with the events in his community to pay attention to the news in Israel. But Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, the largest American synagogue movement, said the prime minister “did harm to the cause of Israel and the cause of the Jewish people by having such a delayed reaction.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's son Yair Netanyahu is seen at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on September 17, 2013. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

Jacobs said he was particularly surprised by Netanyahu’s slow response. “Three days went by without a full-throated condemnation. It was quite distressing,” Jacobs said.

“He does not want to alienate Trump,” said Eytan Gilboa, an expert on US-Israeli relations at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University. But in the process, Gilboa said, Netanyahu is pushing American Jews further away.

Gideon Rahat of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank said the Israeli government should be expected to respond to such events as a state founded as a “safe haven” for Jews.

“You know we always have the Holocaust on our minds, so you take this and you see that Jews are attacked somewhere,” Rahat said.

But he said of Netanyahu that “I think that his concerns are his relationship with Trump.”

For Abraham Diskin, an emeritus political science professor at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, Netanyahu has no choice but to be “cautious.”

“You have to choose your fights,” he said.

“You cannot fight on every issue. You cannot clash with someone who is that important to Israel on issues like that.”

Whether Netanyahu could see a wider political backlash at home over the issue is an open question.

For Rahat, denunciation of such anti-Semitism is part of the “consensus” in Israel and opposition figures “can clearly use it against” Netanyahu.

Diskin said, however, that he believed most Israelis would not focus on the issue for long.

“Altogether, I think the vast majority of people will not remember the issue a week from now,” he said.

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NETANYAHU TO CONGRESSMEN: KURDS SHOULD HAVE A STATE

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a delegation of 33 Republican congressmen last week that he is in favor of an independent Kurdish state in parts of Iraq, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

According to a source who took part in the discussion on Thursday, Netanyahu expressed his “positive attitude” toward a Kurdish state in the Kurdish areas of Iraq, saying the Kurds are a “brave, pro-Western people who share our values.”

Netanyahu does not frequently address the Kurdish issue, which is a politically highly sensitive one because the traditional US position – at least until US President Donald Trump took office in January – was that Iraq should remain a united state and not be broken up into separate parts.

Furthermore, a Kurdish state is a red flag for Turkey, which is concerned that such a development would stir up independence yearnings among its own Kurdish population.

Netanyahu has not spoken publicly about the issue since 2014 when he said during a speech in Tel Aviv that Israel should “support the Kurdish aspiration for independence.”

Netanyahu’s comments to the congressmen came during a survey of regional issues and amid increasing concerns in Jerusalem that Iran is making tremendous inroads in the region, especially in Syria, but also in Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.

Mossad head Yossi Cohen addressed Israel’s concerns over Iran during a briefing to the cabinet on Sunday.

Netanyahu, during a speech later in the evening in Ashdod, said he could briefly summarize what Cohen said: “Islamic State is leaving and Iran is moving in. Simple. We are speaking primarily about Syria.”

Netanyahu said Israel “strongly opposes the military buildup of Iran and its satellites, primarily Hezbollah, in Syria, and we will do everything necessary to preserve Israel’s security.”

In a meeting last Monday with a delegation of 19 Democratic congressmen, Netanyahu said Iran has moved some 20,000 Shi’ite militiamen into Syria.

According to government officials, the ratio of Iranian soldiers among these militias is about 12:1.

These soldiers are part of the Quds Force, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s external arm that is deployed to battlefields in Syria and Iraq.

On Sunday, these forces got a shot in the arm from Tehran, when Iran’s parliament – reacting to the recent US move to clamp sanctions on certain entities and individuals in the country for development of ballistic missiles – voted to allocate $260 million to the Quds Force, and another $260m. to the country’s ballistic missile program.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the outlines of the allocation to “counter America’s terrorist and adventurist actions” as some chanted “Death to America,” the state broadcaster IRIB reported.

Cohen told the cabinet that Iran’s expansion in the region through its proxies in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen is currently the central development in the Middle East.

In addition, Cohen said Iran has not given up on its ambitions to become a “nuclear threshold” state, and that the Iranian nuclear deal only increased this tendency and “‘strengthened Iran’s aggressiveness in the region.”

Cohen said that since the deal – known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – was adopted in 2015, Iran has entered a period of economic growth and that Tehran’s recent agreements with international businesses are strengthening the Islamic Republic’s economy.

Netanyahu, who was an ardent opponent of the JCPOA, said the recent developments were additional proof that the premises underlining the deal were mistaken. One of those premises was that the deal would moderate Iran’s behavior in the region.

Netanyahu stressed that Israel was not obligated to any international agreement with Iran. “Israel will continue to work with determination and in a variety of ways to protect itself from these threats,” he said.

The cabinet discussion on Iran came just three days after Trump said Iran was not “living up to the spirit” of the nuclear deal, adding again that he believed the deal to be a “horrible agreement.”

“I don’t think they’re living up to the spirit of the agreement,” Trump told reporters. “I personally don’t think they’re in compliance.

But we have time, and we’re going to see.”

He warned that there would be some “very strong things taking place” if the Iranians “don’t get themselves in compliance.”

After considerable internal debate, the State Department on July 17 certified that Iran was in compliance with the nuclear deal.

The administration, according to law, must notify Congress every 90 days whether or not Iran is abiding by the terms of the agreement.

This was the second time since Trump came into office in January that the administration certified Iran as in compliance, though on July 18 it slapped new sanctions on the country against entities and people involved in actions that the administration considers against the spirit of the agreement, such as missile development and weapons acquisition.

HOW NETANYAHU TRUMPED TRUMP

 

The ultimate preview to Wednesday night’s mass rally at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds was the statement Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, uttered to American first lady Melania Trump upon her May 22 arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport.

“The media hates us, but the people love us,” she said.

Fast forward to Wednesday night, when the prime minister took his wife’s statement and made it the central theme of his address to more than 3,000 Likud activists who crowded into the hall on short notice to show him the love.

First, Netanyahu mentioned his love for Sara. Then, his love for the audience, for his party, and the people. The rest of the speech was about the media.

Long before Trump, Netanyahu realized that the public’s animosity for the press can be galvanized. The Israel Democracy Institute’s polls consistently show that journalism is the least respected profession in Israel, even lower than politician.

A sign in the crowd at the Fairgrounds could have fit in any of Trump’s rallies in the US: “It’s not fake news, it’s f***ing news.”

By turning his multiple criminal investigations into a fight between him and the media, Netanyahu painted himself as a victim being bullied and worthy of sympathy. But he did not stop there.

Netanyahu knew he needed to do more than equate the media with the Left. That is an easy task. He had to criticize the investigations against him, while being careful not to come out too strong against the police and the state prosecution.

The last thing Netanyahu needs is to be like Yoram Sheftel, the foul-mouthed attorney of Hebron shooter Elor Azaria, who called the IDF chief of staff a fatso, and then had to ask him to ease the sentence of his client.

Netanyahu had to make it look as if he is being investigated by the Left, so he brought up three symbols of the Left that are extremely unpopular with the public: The Oslo peace process, the Haaretz newspaper, and former prime minister Ehud Barak. If he could make those three his enemies in the eyes of the public, Netanyahu will have an easy sell.

“The Palestinians want me to be toppled,” he told the crowd, earning even more sympathy.

The story of the Likud’s Yitzhak Shamir being overthrown in 1992 and replaced by Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor Party due to false corruption charges is not entirely accurate. But it enabled Netanyahu to equate anti-corruption activism with giving up land.

The protesters who have been gathering outside Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s home in Petah Tikva every Saturday night have taken pains to insist their demonstrations are not left-wing.

Protest leader Daphne Leef summarized that strategy when she explained why she would not be protesting outside the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds on Wednesday night.

“We are against corruption, not the Right or the Left,” she said. “We don’t need to fall in that trap.”

But one speech by Netanyahu giving the opposite message canceled out what demonstrations held every Saturday for more than 30 weeks tried to achieve.

The Petah Tikva protesters are now part of “them,” those who are trying to overthrow a government that “the people” want. They are part of the bad guys, the Left, the media.

Netanyahu is “the people.” And he delivered that message to a consensus of Israelis more effectively than was ever done by Donald Trump, who has never succeeded in forging a consensus in the United States. Donald and Melania still have what to learn from Benjamin and Sara, who trumped them on Wednesday night.

At Netanyahu’s chilling rally, echoes of Trump’s war on the media

​Under growing pressure as criminal investigations threaten to implicate him and his closest aides, the beleaguered leader decided to circumvent the media, which relentlessly spreads word of his troubles, and address the people directly.

Speaking as though at the height of an election campaign, he proclaimed his love of the people and reminded them of his great electoral victories, and the good he had personally brought them and the country.

In front of thousands of partisan supporters who cheered his every word, he railed against those who were plotting to bring him down, accusing the media and the left of siding with the country’s enemies in a brazen, despicable bid to oust him.

Emulating their leader, the devoted attendees to​​ok it upon themselves to show that they too had enough, shouting insults at attending journalists and even threatening violence.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Likud supporters at a rally designed to deliver a powerful show of force as he battles a slew of corruption allegations, August 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

I’m talking here, of course, about Benjamin Netanyahu and the rally his Likud party held Wednesday evening amid a series of graft investigations and scandals surrounding the prime minister and his family.

But much the same could have been said of US President Donald Trump and the mass rallies he has held as his popularity plummets and reports accumulate over his alleged collusion with Russia.

Likud party supporters and coalition chairman MK David Bitan, center-right, at a rally in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as he and his wife face legal investigations, held in Tel Aviv, August 9, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Organized by belligerent coalition chairman David Bitan, the Tel Aviv gathering was billed as a “show of support for the prime minister,” but it became clear on my arrival that there was plenty the​​ 3,000 participants were also rallying against.

At the entrance to the Tel Aviv Exhibition Halls, one party member held a clear message for the media arriving to cover the event. “Fake new is fucking news,” read the huge sign he held; later, having made his way to the front of the crowd, he raised it high for the television cameras to pick up clearly.

Likud party supporters at a rally in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as he and his wife face legal investigations, held in Tel Aviv, August 9, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Several Likud activists waiting alongside me in the security line took offense at the fact that I, a journalist, was present at all.

“Why are you here?” asked Yisrael Cohen, a party member from Hadera draped in an Israeli flag. “I came here today to say that Bibi is our leader and we support him no matter what. It’s you in the media who are trying to bring him down. At every turn you try to get him. You won’t give up. But neither will we. We will stand up for Bibi. He cares about us, you don’t.”

Others were less courteous, calling me (to my face) a “fucking journalist shit,” a “traitor,” and, on several occasions, a “homo.”

Inside the hall, the high-energy crowd sang “Netanyahu is the king of Israel,” to the tune of “David Melech Yisrael.” They chanted, “There will be nothing because there is nothing,” a phrase the prime minister has repeated in reference to the corruption allegations against him.

Netanyahu has escaped several scandals before, but the scope of the latest accusations appears to pose his stiffest challenge yet.

Ari Harow, former chief of staff of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a Likud meeting in the Israeli parliament, November 24, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Ari Harow, a former key associate of the prime minister, signed a deal on Friday to turn state’s witness, a day after police explicitly said for the first time that investigations involving Netanyahu revolve around “bribery, fraud and breach of trust.”

One investigation involving Netanyahu, dubbed by police as “Case 1000,” concerns claims he improperly accepted lavish gifts from wealthy supporters, including Australian billionaire James Packer and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan. The second investigation, “Case 2000,” concerns Netanyahu’s alleged attempts to strike a deal with publisher Arnon Mozes of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper group to promote legislation to weaken Yedioth’s main competitor in exchange for more favorable coverage of Netanyahu by Yedioth.

But for many of the participants, including some Likud Knesset members, the police and state prosecution leading the probes are mere puppets, controlled by the all-powerful media.

Outspoken MK Oren Hazan, who had no problem accommodating a line of reporters seeking interviews, told me that those same journalists, maybe me as well, were “breathing down the necks and whispering in the ears of [Attorney General Avichai] Mandelblit and the state prosecution and trying to influence them.”

Likud MK Yaron Mazuz said the event was aimed at “protesting against anyone who is trying to destroy Bibi: The media, the state prosecution, the leftist traitors.”

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, a new Likud member rumored to be eyeing the top spot in the party for himself one day, suggested there was a media-led conspiracy against the prime minister. “Nobody is above the law but everyone, including the prime minister, is innocent until proven guilty. They want to investigate him, fine — but the media is right in the interrogation room. This is totally unacceptable,” he told me while taking selfies with his own supporters.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat at a rally in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as he and his wife face legal investigations, in Tel Aviv, on August 9, 2017.(Neuberg/Flash90)

Asked if the state prosecution may be conspiring with elements in the media, Barkat said, “There is no other explanation.​”

​As the lights dimmed and the pumping Mizrahi pop music grew louder in anticipation of the ​prime minister’s speech, the crowd neared fever pitch, waving Likud and Israeli flags and almost uniformly breaking into a chant of the prime minister’s nickname, “Bibi, Bibi, Bibi.”

Just as Trump’s rally speeches are often preceded by a hardline opening act, before Netanyahu took the stage, Bitan gave a rabble-rousing introduction, placing the cross hairs on the target that the prime minister would later highlight.

“There are 3,000 people here from all over the country. I say to the media, this time, tell the truth about how many there are,” Bitan said to raucous applause. He then promised that no one, “not pressure from the media or anyone else,” will manage to bring down Netanyahu.

Likud MK David Bitan speaks at a rally in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as he and his wife face legal investigations, in Tel Aviv, on August 9, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90

“The people of Israel are sovereign in Israel, no one else,” Bitan concluded. The people. Not the press.

With the crowd fully riled up, Netanyahu, arm-in-arm with his wife Sara — who is also facing an indictment for allegedly misusing state funds at the prime minister’s residence — walked on stage to the cheers of the crowd.

“The thought police in the media work full-time to set the agenda, and woe to anyone who veers away from it,” Netanyahu said in a chilling accusation. “We know that the left and the media — and we know that it’s the same thing — is on an obsessive witch hunt against me and my family with the goal of achieving a coup against the government.”

The crowd chanted: “Down with the media.”

Netanyahu also asserted that the ostensibly illicit effort to oust him was designed to achieve an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, but vowed this would not happen. He and his supporters would “proudly carry the flag of Israel… for many more years,” he promised, pledging that Likud would grow from 30 to 40 seats in the next elections “with God’s help.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech during a support gathering by Likud party members and activists at the Tel Aviv Convention Center on August 9, 2017. (AFP/Jack GUEZ)

But the prime minister, buoyed by his supporters, went further than criticizing an antagonistic media landscape. He accused the media of felling right-wing leaders, subsequently leading to Israeli deaths.

“This is not the first time that the media has brought these fake accusations against the right. They brought down [then-Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak] Shamir in 1992 and brought us Oslo and bus bombings and dead people in restaurants,” Netanyahu said. In 1999, when he himself was ousted by Ehud Barak, “the media promised he would bring a new dawn,” but he in fact brought the Second Intifada and more than 1,000 Israeli deaths, he added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and his wife Sara, center-right, react during a gathering by Likud party members and activists to show support for them as they face corruption investigations, held at the Tel Aviv Convention Center, August 9, 2017. (AFP/Jack GUEZ)

After his speech, members of the Likud Knesset faction, including all of the party’s ministers who were present, joined Netanyahu on stage as he and Sara were presented with a bouquet of flowers. The crowd sang one more round of “Netanyahu is the king of Israel,” before the official national anthem, Hatikvah, was played.

As the exiting crowd streamed past the tables where my colleagues from other news outlets and I were sitting, still writing about the event, one participant had a final message.

Gone was the “down with journalists” chant heard earlier. “Death to journalists,” he shouted at us.

WHITE HOUSE LAUDS NETANYAHU’S CRISIS RESPONSE AMID CRITICISM FROM ISRAELI RIGHT

 

WASHINGTON — Trump administration officials are praising Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for removing screening equipment from the Temple Mount as the actions of a “responsible” leader, amid criticism from those on the premier’s political Right that he caved to pressure from the Arab world.

A member of the prime minister’s own government, Naftali Bennett of the rightwing Bayit Yehudi party, said on Thursday that Netanyahu’s decision to remove metal detectors and scanners from the holy plateau after a shooting attack on July 14 killed two Israeli police officers amounts to a “surrender” by Israel to Palestinian rioters.

“Israel comes out weakened from this crisis,” Bennett said. The equipment was removed after intensive discussions among the Israelis, Jordanians, Americans and Saudis.

“Instead of sending a message about Israel’s sovereignty on the Temple Mount, it sent a message that Israel’s sovereignty can be questioned,” Bennett added.

But speaking with The Jerusalem Post, a senior White House official said that Netanyahu’s move was in the interest of both Israel and the region as a whole.

“In our continuous contacts with him throughout the crisis, Prime Minister Netanyahu acted with a clear sense of responsibility not just for Israel’s security, but also for regional stability,” the official said.

In addition to blowback from his right flank, Netanyahu faced criticism from a critical ally on Thursday. The king of Jordan, Abdullah II, slammed the prime minister for seeking to “score personal political points” at the expense of regional stability over his handling of a stabbing and shooting incident on Sunday involving an Israeli security guard at its embassy in Amman.

Jason Greenblatt, the president’s special representative for international negotiations, remains in the region for talks with both sides. He and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, have been speaking quietly with regional leaders in order to diffuse the crisis, which has cascaded since that July 14 shooting attack.

“The United States welcomes the efforts undertaken to de-escalate tensions in Jerusalem today. We believe that calm and security will create the best opportunity to return to dialogue and the pursuit of peace,” Greenblatt said in a statement on Thursday. “President Trump, Jared Kushner, and I, in full coordination with Secretary Rex Tillerson, Ambassador David Friedman, Consul General Don Blome and the State Department, as well as General H. R. McMaster and the National Security Council, have been and will remain engaged as we continue to monitor the situation closely.”

A senior administration official said that the president’s team “continues to be engaged in this situation at the highest levels.”

The State Department once again declined on Thursday to take a position on whether the introduction of metal detectors or cameras around the Temple Mount complex, known in the Muslim world as Haram al-Sharif, changes the status quo at the holy site. The department’s spokesman, Heather Nauert, simply said that the US is committed to maintaining that status quo, and would not pressure Israel to make security decisions “for political purposes.”

NETANYAHU DISCUSSED SETTLEMENT EXCHANGE PLAN WITH US

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed with Washington in recent weeks the idea of redrawing the borders in any future agreement with the Palestinians, incorporating the major settlement blocs into Israel, while drawing out the heavily populated Israeli-Arab area of Wadi Ara and making it part of a future Palestinian state, a senior diplomatic official confirmed on Thursday.

The discussions, first reported by Channel 2, mean that Netanyahu – in conversations with US President Donald Trump’s advisers Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt – has adopted a proposal put forward years ago by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. Israeli- Arab politicians have vehemently opposed any plans to redraw the map in such a way that many Israeli Arabs would become citizens of a future Palestinian state.

The phone call took place a number of weeks ago, before the current crisis over the Temple Mount. The three terrorists who killed two Border Police officers on July 14 were from Umm el-Fahm in Wadi Ara, and their funeral on Thursday – attended by thousands of people who sang their praises and shot off fireworks – infuriated many across the political spectrum.

Wadi Ara, also called Nahal Iron, is located northwest of the Green Line, in the Haifa District.

The leak of the phone call comes as Netanyahu has tacked significantly to the Right following his decision earlier this week to remove the metal detectors at the entrances to the Temple Mount, a decision that polls indicated was highly unpopular with the general public, let alone his political base.

In the days since that decision Netanyahu has come out in favor of legislation that would annex Gush Etzion and Ma’aleh Adumim to Jerusalem; has not ordered the removal of settlers who moved into a disputed home in Hebron; directed his chief of staff to “immediately” ensure the renewal of work on Amihai, the new settlement to be constructed for the evacuees from Amona; and come out in favor of the death penalty for the terrorist who killed three members of the Solomon family in Halamish last Friday night.

A White House official did not deny that such a proposal may have been raised by Netanyahu, but suggested that Kushner and his team would only entertain land swaps in the context of a larger, comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians.

“This may have been one of many ideas discussed several weeks ago in the context of a peace agreement, and not in the context of a separate annexation,” the official told The Jerusalem Post.

In bitter tirade, Jordan king slams Netanyahu’s ‘political showmanship’

Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Thursday launched an unprecedented, bitter tirade against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his “absolutely unacceptable” warm reception of an Israeli security guard in Amman who shot dead two Jordanian citizens his week after one of them attacked him with a screwdriver.

The king called for the security guard to be tried and accused Netanyahu of “political showmanship” and of using “this crime to score personal political points,” after the Israeli leader posted photos of himself embracing the guard.

The monarch threatened the affair would have a negative affect on bilateral ties between Amman and Jerusalem, directly impacting relations.

The royal palace in Jordan tweeted a series of the king’s criticisms of Netanyahu.

King Abdullah II: Israeli PM’s conduct is rejected & provocative. It angers us all, threatens regional security & fuels extremism 

He also appeared to take sole credit for resolving the standoff between Israel and angry Muslim worshipers at the Temple Mount.

“The Israeli prime minister is required to honor his responsibilities and take the necessary legal measures to ensure that the killer is tried and justice is served, rather than exhibiting political showmanship in dealing with this crime to score personal political points,” Abdullah said at a National Policies Council meeting at Al Husseiniya Palace, west of Amman.

King Abdullah II: Israeli PM should honour his responsibilities & ensure justice, instead of using the crime for political showmanship 

“Such conduct is utterly rejected and provocative. It angers us all, threatens regional security, and fuels extremism. It is absolutely unacceptable,” he said.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu hosted the security guard, “Ziv” (whose last name has not been cleared for publication), and Israel’s ambassador to Jordan, Einat Shlain, in his Jerusalem office.

“I am happy to see you here and that things ended the way they did. You acted well, calmly, and we also had an obligation to get you out,” Netanyahu said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on July 25, 2017 meets with security guard 'Ziv,' who shot dead two Jordanians as he was being stabbed by one of them at the Israeli Embassy compound in Amman on July 23. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Photos of the meeting, including some of Netanyahu hugging the security guard, were widely publicized by the Prime Minister’s Office, including via his Arabic language social media accounts.

King Abdullah II: Israel’s handling of embassy case, the killing of Judge Zuaiter & other cases will have direct impact on our relations 

Citing self-defense, the security guard had shot dead a 19-year-old who was repairing furniture in his apartment adjacent to the embassy and attacked him. The landlord, who was also present, was hit by a bullet and later died of his wounds. The guard was accredited as an Israeli diplomat and thus was protected from arrest and interrogation. But the Jordanian authorities initially refused to let him and other embassy staff leave the country.

Only after US intervention did Amman relent, allowing the Israelis to leave Jordan. However, Jordan said the Israeli diplomats will not be allowed to return unless the guard is put on trial, Jordanian media reported Thursday.

In the presence of several top officials, King Abdullah on Thursday vowed to “dedicate all the efforts and resources of the Jordanian state to ensure that justice takes its course.”

“And Israel’s handling of the case at the embassy, the killing of Judge Raed Zuaiter [who owned the apartment the Israeli guard lived on], and other cases will have a direct impact on our relations,” he added.

The king said that Jordan “managed the crisis” surrounding the Temple Mount and succeeded in reopening the Al-Aqsa Mosque there “in its entirety through our common stand with our Palestinian brethren.”

Also on Thursday, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman took credit for getting Israel to remove all the security measures it had installed after a July 14 terror attack on the holy site. It was the king’s outreach to US President Donald Trump that moved the Israelis to give in in the two-week long standoff, Riyadh claimed.

Netanyahu demands al-Jazeera offices in Israel be shut down

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would look for ways to shutter the presence of satellite news station al-Jazeera in Israel, accusing the Qatar-based channel of inciting violence.

In a Facebook post Wednesday night, Netanyahu said he had asked law enforcement authorities to shut down the station’s Israel offices a number of times.

“Al-Jazeera has not stopped fomenting violence around the Temple Mount,” he said, referring to escalating tensions surrounding Muslim protests against Israeli security measures at the holy site. There were put in place following a July 14 terror attack in which three terrorists shot two Israeli policemen to death with weapons they had smuggled onto the compound. Israel shut the site for two days and re-opened it with new security arrangements including metal detectors and cameras.

Netanyahu said that he would turn to lawmakers to have al-Jazeera’s Jerusalem office shut down if it was not closed “because of legal interpretation.”

“I will act to legislate the needed laws to remove al-Jazeera from Israel,” he wrote.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu items found in a weapons factory discovered in the West Bank city of Hebron, during a visit to the IDF West Bank Division, near the Israeli settlement of Beit El, January 10, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

There was no immediate reaction from al-Jazeera to Netanyahu’s post, which came a day after a survey found 77% of Israelis said he had capitulated with his decision to remove metal detectors that had been set up at entrances to the Temple Mount in the wake of the shooting attack nearly two weeks ago.

A number of Arab countries have recently shut down their local al-Jazeera offices amid an ongoing spat with Qatar but Israel, which often touts its press freedoms, has allowed the station to continue operating.

After Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other states announced they were imposing sanctions on Doha and the station in June, Netanyahu reportedly met with Israeli officials to explore the possibility of shutting down the station in Israel.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said at the time that the diplomatic isolation of Qatar had provided Israel with an “opportunity” to get rid of al-Jazeera and win points with potential Gulf allies.

“Some [Arab countries’] interests overlap with Israeli interests, including the issue with al-Jazeera,” Liberman said last month.

“Al-Jazeera is not media, it’s not journalism. It’s an incitement machine. It’s pure propaganda, of the worst variety, in the style of Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia,” he added.

Netanyahu backs major expansion of Jerusalem to include nearby settlements

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated on Wednesday that he would give his backing for a proposal to absorb four West Bank settlements and a settlement bloc into the Jerusalem municipality, while also removing around 100,000 Palestinians from the city’s census.

The settlements in question are Ma’ale Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, Beitar Illit and Efrat, along with the Etzion bloc of settlements. Some are fairly deep in the West Bank, more than 10 kilometers (six miles) from Jerusalem, and are currently home to some 130,000 Israelis.

According to the proposal, initiated by Likud MK Yoav Kisch and backed by Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz, residents of those settlements would be able to vote in Jerusalem municipal elections, but the settlements would not be under full Israeli sovereignty.

The move would make Jerusalem’s official demographic balance significantly more Jewish and would “bring back Jerusalem’s status as a symbol,” according to the proposal’s preamble.

Kisch said residents of the settlements in question would maintain municipal autonomy through independent regional councils. He indicated they would vote in four local elections: for Jerusalem mayor, for a Jerusalem municipality council, for the head of their regional council and for members of said council.

Under the same proposal, around 100,000 people living in Palestinian neighborhoods outside the security barrier surrounding the city would be removed from the city’s census, with a new municipality built for them.

Netanyahu reportedly told Kisch to move ahead with the proposal following the Knesset summer recess, Haaretz reported Wednesday.

A view of construction in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on January 26, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Israel captured East Jerusalem, the Old City and the West Bank from Jordan in 1967, and extended sovereignty to the Old City and East Jerusalem in 198 in a move never recognized by the international community.

Most also consider the West Bank settlements illegal under international law, as well as the formal annexation of land seized during war. Israel has maintained that the settlements are not illegal, saying that the land is disputed. Israel has controlled the West Bank since capturing it in the 1967 Six Day War, but has never moved to annex any of the territory beyond extending sovereignty to East Jerusalem. It did later apply Israeli law to the Golan Heights, captured from Syria.

Most Israeli leaders maintain that the largest settlement blocs in the West Bank will become part of Israel in any future peace deal.

The proposal comes amid tensions in Jerusalem over the Temple Mount. Following the July 14 terror attack at the holy site by Arab Israeli gunmen that killed two Israeli policemen, Israel closed the compound for two days and set up metal detectors around the site to bolster security. That move was fiercely protested by Palestinians, who have held daily demonstrations around the compound.

On Tuesday, Israel removed the metal detectors. On Wednesday, it removed the rest of the security measures, including metal railings and scaffolding, answering a list of demands by Muslim authorities who administer the holy site.

Netanyahu has come under fire by the right-wing for agreeing to take down the security measures, moving instead to install high-resolution cameras capable of detecting hidden objects at the holy site.

The anger was most evident on the front page of the free daily Israel Hayom, which has for years backed Netanyahu, with a headline castigating the premier’s “display of feebleness” and his “helpless” response to the Temple Mount crisis.

Israel Hayom, which is owned by US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, has for years been staunchly loyal to Netanyahu until recently when it appeared, according to media analysts, to give more favorable coverage to Netanyahu rival Naftali Bennett, the head of the nationalistic Jewish Home party.

Earlier Wednesday, Knesset lawmakers approved in its first reading a bill that would require a special two-thirds support of the Knesset to relinquish any part of Jerusalem to the Palestinians under a future peace accord.

After hours of debates, and as the Knesset wrapped up its spring session Wednesday ahead of its three-month summer break, the bill proposed by Jewish Home MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli cleared the plenum with 51 MKs in favor, 41 opposed.

The bill, an amendment to the Basic Law on Jerusalem, would make it harder for any government to divide the city by requiring 80 of the 120 MKs to support giving up any part of Jerusalem to the sovereignty of a foreign power.

“This bill was designed to protect the unity of Jerusalem in the face of delusional, messianic steps from the left side of the [political] map,” said Moalem-Refaeli on Wednesday.

Jewish Home MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli speaks during a Knesset session on July 26, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The bill prevents “the possibility of concessions in Jerusalem, even parts [of the city],” she said. “Jerusalem will not be on the negotiating table.”

Currently, the Jerusalem Law, passed in 1980 and amended in 2000, states: “No authority that is stipulated in the law of the State of Israel or of the Jerusalem Municipality may be transferred either permanently or for an allotted period of time to a foreign body, whether political, governmental or to any other similar type of foreign body.”

With no provision in the Basic Law specifying how it can be amended, it currently can be overturned with a simple majority.

The bill must still pass two more readings and at least another committee write-up in the Knesset to become law.

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett has touted the bill as making the division of Jerusalem “impossible.”

A spokesman for the Jewish Home party said last month that the proposed legislation was intended to strengthen Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position vis-a-vis the new administration of US President Donald Trump.

In May, hours before Trump arrived in Israel during his first major foray abroad as president, Netanyahu declared that Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem’s holy sites was not up for negotiation and said the city will always be Israel’s capital.

Trump has expressed his desire to reach a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement, which he has described as the “ultimate deal.”

In recent months the United Nations cultural body UNESCO has passed a series of resolutions that diminish or deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and refer to Israel as an occupying power.

Netanyahu does ‘not have a plan for peace,’ Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand says

Kirsten Gillibrand

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does “not have a plan for peace,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., also calling for a U.S. “call for action” to Israel.

“I am concerned that Prime Minister Netanyahu does not have a plan for peace, and doesn’t have a vision for peace,” Gillibrand said Saturday at a town hall meeting in the Bronx in New York City, in remarks first reported by Mondoweiss, an anti-Zionist news site.

Her remarks were significant for their sharpness in tone and the robust applause she received. A decade ago, it would have been unimaginable for a New York senator to publicly rebuke an Israeli leader. Wounds opened when Netanyahu openly sided with Republicans in 2015 to counter the Iran nuclear deal have yet to heal.

Gillibrand described a meeting she had last year when she led a delegation of senators to Israel.

“In our meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, the question we asked is, what is your vision for peace, and he didn’t have one,” she said.

“He just said my only hope is that I protect my people from rockets,” Gillibrand said. “If you don’t have a vision, if you don’t have a plan, then it is never going to happen. And so we do need to require more of our world leaders, and I think a call to action to Israel’s government to have a plan for peace is really incumbent on all of us.”

Gillibrand was responding to a questioner — whom Mondoweiss identified as belonging to Jewish Voice for Peace — who challenged her support for a bill that targets the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The American Civil Liberties Union has said the bill impinges on speech freedoms.

The bill extends existing bans on cooperating with boycotts sponsored by countries to those sponsored by international organizations. It also encompasses boycotts of settlement goods. Defenders of the bill say it is narrowly defined to target only businesses that proactively provide assistance to boycotts organized by international organizations.

“The way I read the bill is not the way you read the bill,” Gillibrand said to the questioner. “I saw the bill as an extension of foreign policy to not allow companies to side with foreign entities that were doing boycotts.”

Gillibrand said she was ready to meet with the ACLU to discuss the bill, however.

“I am open to looking at [the bill] again because I do not want to undermine people’s free speech rights on any level,” she said.