Israel approved the construction of the first modern Jewish building in Hebron in the last six years on Monday, even though the US had pressured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to delay the project.

The apartment complex of 31 units would be located in an already existing Jewish compound, called the Hizkiyahu neighborhood. It houses the Hebron Yeshiva and is home to six families that live in modular homes.

Hebron Jews hope it is the first of a number of structures they would like to see built in that stretch of Shuhadah Street which also houses the military base Plugat Hamitkanim.

Officials connected to the council told
The Jerusalem Post that the planning body had issued the permit for the construction but had yet to publish a formal announcement.

A number of related restrictions are attached to the project, the officials said.

Such housing approvals are rare in the biblical city to which all rightwing politicians claim historical and religious connection, but which is also one of the more contentious areas of the West Bank.

In 2011 the council approved the construction of a dormitory for the Hebron Yeshiva, and in 2002 approvals were given for 10 apartment units in Tel Rumeida.

Attorney Samer Shihadih, who represents the Hebron Municipality, said he intends to appeal the decision first within the Civil Administration and, failing that, he will turn to the High Court of Justice.

“The council convened solely to approve the project and did not allow us to properly present our case,” Shihadih said.

Hebron’s Jewish community welcomed the news, stating: “Building of the City of the Patriarchs by the Israeli government is a Zionist, just, necessary and blessed step.”

It thanked Netanyahu as well as the ministers and politicians who had participated in a public campaign for the project.

Skeptically, it added, “We ask everyone to ensure that the construction is indeed carried out without delay.”

The left-wing group Peace Now said, “While doing everything in his power to please a small group of settlers, Netanyahu is harming Israel’s morality and image abroad, while crushing basic values of human rights and dignity.”

Artist’s rendition of what the 31-unit apartment complex will look like once it is builtArtist’s rendition of what the 31-unit apartment complex will look like once it is built

The Jewish community has argued that it has the right to build on that spot because the property in question was owned by the city’s original Jewish community. It is located next to property owned by that community until it was destroyed by the 1929 Arab massacre in which 67 Jews were killed.

A plaque on the entryway to the complex explains that Hayyim Israel Romano built a Jewish apartment building at the site already back in 1876, which was then purchased in 1912 by the former Lubavitcher rebbe Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn to house the Torat Emet Yeshiva.

The British police commandeered the property in 1917 for their headquarters.

When the Jordanian army captured Hebron in 1948, it used the building as a school and built a bus terminal next to it.

When the city passed into Israeli hands after its victory in the Six Day War, the Lubavitcher Rebbe gave the property to the new Jewish community which returned to Hebron in 1979.

But the technicality of how land ownership works in the West Bank has legally made those points mute in the past.

After the Six Day War, the land was transferred to the custodian of absentee property, who continued to lease it to the municipality on the understanding that the city held a protected tenancy which allowed it to continue to use the property.

According to Peace Now, the IDF seized the land in the 1980s for military use and built Plugat Hamitkanim there, forcing the bus station to move to another location. Since then, six families have moved onto the part of the base that had belonged to the Lubavitcher rebbe.

The municipality has argued that the land is still under a protected lease and therefore cannot be used for Jewish development.

The Jewish community has, in turn, explained that the lease has since expired, and there is no prohibition against construction on that site.

Legal opinion in the Civil Administration and the Justice Ministry has been split on this issue. In 1991 the ministry held that the municipality’s lease had expired, while the Civil Administration’s legal adviser in 2007 argued that it was still in place.

The Hebron Jewish community has further contended that under the 1997 Hebron Agreement, they have a right to build on property that belonged to the pre-1929 community.

If the project is built, it would help extend the Jewish community’s hold on the stretch on Shuhadah Street that runs from Beit Hadassah to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and already includes the Avraham Avinu complex.

The authorization comes just three months after UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee inscribed the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the surrounding Old Town where Shuhadah Street is located on the World Heritage List as a Palestinian World Heritage Site.

UNESCO is unlikely to consider that the project is in keeping with the historical nature of Old Town.

Since 1997 the city of over 220,000 Palestinians has been divided. Eighty percent of it is under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority, and another 20% is under Israeli military rule, with some 1,000 Jews living in that section of the city.


Haley slams UN for electing Congo to rights council despite abuses

The United States and human rights groups sharply criticized Monday’s UN election for 15 new members of the Human Rights Council, singling out conflict-torn Congo’s victory despite accusations of serious rights abuses and an investigation by the UN’s top human rights body.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley called the election “yet another example of why the Human Rights Council lacks credibility and must be reformed in order to be saved.”

Haley previously dangled the possibility that the United States could quit the council during a visit to its Geneva headquarters in June, when she lambasted the 47-nation body as a “forum for politics, hypocrisy and evasion” that allows rights abusers to whitewash their images and foes of Israel to criticize the Jewish state unfairly.

In a statement after the 193-member General Assembly voted Congo onto the Human Rights Council as part of an uncontested African slate for a three-year term starting Jan. 1, Haley said the rights organization “cannot endure many more blows to its credibility before it is rendered absolutely meaningless.”

Haley called Congo “a country infamous for political suppression, violence against women and children, arbitrary arrest and detention, and unlawful killings and disappearances” and said its unopposed election is another spur to US-led efforts to reform the Human Rights Council.

She made no mention of a US withdrawal from the council. She said in June the United States wants to see two key reforms: the use of competitive elections to choose the council’s 47 members and removal of Israel as a permanent fixture on its agenda — the only country in the world that has a permanent spot.

Since 2007, Israel has been the only country whose alleged human rights abuses are regularly discussed in the framework of a single permanent item on the Council’s agenda.

“Countries that aggressively violate human rights at home should not be in a position to guard the human rights of others,” Haley said. “We need a unified voice of moral clarity with backbone and integrity to call out abusive governments. This election has once again proven that the Human Rights Council, as presently constituted, is not that voice.”

Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch, called Congo’s election “a slap in the face to the many victims of the Congolese government’s grave abuses across the country.”

African countries had four candidates for their continent’s four seats on the council and Congo got the lowest number of votes — 151. But that was still far about the 97 votes needed to win a seat.

The relatively low total shows President Joseph Kabila’s Congo “is fast becoming a pariah state. If there had been competition, it probably would have lost,” Charbonneau said.

The only contested slate was in Asia where six countries vied for four seats. Nepal topped the vote, followed by Qatar and Pakistan. Afghanistan, which got 130 votes, beat out Malaysia by a single vote for the fourth seat. The Maldives also lost.Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a Geneva-based rights group, singled out three of the winners — Congo, Qatar and Pakistan — for criticism, saying for the UN to elect them “as a world judge on human rights is like making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief.”

UNESCO Bombshell

Last week, the US State Department announced it was withdrawing from the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), effective December 31, 2018, citing financial considerations, the need for reform and the organization’s “continuing anti-Israel bias.”

Haley recalled that, “In July, when UNESCO made its latest outrageous and politically based decision, designating the Old City of Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs as part of Palestinian territory, the United States clearly stated that this decision would negatively affect our evaluation of our level of engagement with the organization.” The decision to withdraw from UNESCO, she indicated, represented the result of that evaluation.

Furthermore, she warned the UN of further US scrutiny, saying that Washington would “continue to evaluate all agencies within the United Nations system through the same lens.”

Haley added that the “extreme politicization” of UNESCO has become a “chronic embarrassment.”

“The Tomb of the Patriarchs decision was just the latest in a long line of foolish actions, which includes keeping Syrian dictator Bashar Assad on a UNESCO human rights committee even after his murderous crackdown on peaceful protestors,” she said. “Just as we said in 1984 when President Reagan withdrew from UNESCO, US taxpayers should no longer be on the hook to pay for policies that are hostile to our values and make a mockery of justice and common sense.”

NY film screening on Kurdish fighters sells out despite terror threat

JTA — Despite a reported terror threat by the Islamic State, 500 people attended a sold-out screening in New York of a film about Kurdish fighters and a talk with its director, the French-Jewish philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy.

Police provided heavy security for the screening Monday of “Peshmerga” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, including sniffing dogs and dozens of officers. NBC had reported that the authors of the threat claimed to be affiliated with the terrorist group.

Levy, who has produced a number of films in conflict zones, spent many months documenting the fight of the Kurdish male and female combatants for whom the film is named against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. A supporter of Kurdish sovereignty, Levy was in the Iraqi-Kurdish capital of Erbil last month when a majority of voters in a controversial referendum supported independence.

He was able to board one of the last flights out of Erbil and arrive in New York before the Iraqi government blocked the airspace of the Kurdish enclave as punishment for the local Kurdish authorities’ decision to go through with the referendum despite Baghdad’s opposition.

The State Department said it was “deeply disappointed” by the Kurdish regional government’s decision, warning the vote could “increase instability.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said Wednesday that his country was not involved in any way in the referendum, apart from having a “deep, natural, longstanding sympathy of the people of Israel for the Kurdish people and their yearnings.”

Israel’s public position on Kurdish national aspirations has been influenced by its desire not to sour the country’s now strained relations with Turkey.

Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country’s president and leader of the Islamist ruling party, opposes Kurdish independence both in Iraq and in Turkey, which has a large Kurdish minority that international observers say is oppressed.

Levy told JTA that Israel should embrace an independent Kurdistan, where he said he witnessed many expressions of solidarity and admiration for Israel, including during the vote Monday.

Although supporting Kurdish independence may complicate Israel’s relations with the Turkish government, which have declined amid expressions of hostility by Erdogan in recent years, doing so will not alienate millions of secular and liberal Turks, “who also recognize the Kurdish right” to nationhood, Levy said.

For Kurds, he added, the relationship with Israel “goes beyond an alliance. It is a brotherhood.”

Levy was among several Westerners in Erbil who saw Israeli flags being waved on the day of the vote — a gesture he interpreted as reflecting “a sort of admiration for Israel” and a sense of kinship felt by many Kurds toward the Jewish state.

“I had never seen anything like this anywhere in the Middle East — except Israel,” said Levy, who travels the region extensively and has toured Libya during its bloody civil war in 2011.

The 7 million Kurds living in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey are “a minority surrounded, besieged by 200 million people and hostility. And you can’t compare their situation to Israel, it’s different, but there are similarities and they feel those similarities.”

More generally, he said, a viable Kurdistan “represents a triumph for moderate Islam. For women’s equality and for the values that many people in the West, and Jews especially, share with Kurds.”



The United Kingdom’s home secretary rejected in early September London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s request to ban the annual al-Quds Day march because it is a pro-Hezbollah demonstration that promotes antisemitism and support for terrorism.
“The group that reportedly organized the parade, the Islamic Human Rights Commission, is not a proscribed terrorist organization. This means they can express their views and demonstrate, provided that they do so within the law,” wrote Home Secretary Amber Rudd in a letter to Khan that was first published Monday on the website of The Jewish Chronicle.
According to the London newspaper, a source close to Khan said he was “extremely disappointed” that the Home Secretary will allow the al-Quds Day march to continue.

Rudd said: “The flag for the [Hezbollah] organization’s military wing is the same as the flag for its political wing. Therefore, for it to be an offense under Section 13 of the Terrorism Act of 2000, for an individual to display the Hezbollah flag, the context and manner in which the flag is displayed must demonstrate that it is specifically in support of the proscribed elements of the group.”

The United Kingdom banned Hezbollah’s entire military structure in 2008. The UK government said at the time: “Hezbollah’s military wing also provides support to Palestinian terrorist groups in the occupied Palestinian territories, such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”

The UK permits Hezbollah’s so-called political wing to legally operate in England. The European Union proscribed only Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization in 2013. In February of that year, Bulgaria’s government charged Hezbollah’s military wing with executing a terrorist attack against Israelis at the seaside resort town of Burgas, committing the murders of five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver. Another 32 Israelis were injured in the attack.

The Netherlands, the US and Canada have designated Hezbollah’s entire organization a foreign terrorist entity.

The Jewish Chronicle reported that Andrew Dismore, a Labour Party London Assembly member, said: “I have spent over a decade campaigning for the complete proscription of Hezbollah, as I believe the distinction made between the ‘political’ and ‘military’ wings to be utterly bogus.”

Mayor Khan wrote in his July letter to Rudd that extremist groups were “exploiting a loophole” because they carried Hezbollah’s flags.
“Hezbollah is an illegal, proscribed organization, yet many perceive that it was actively celebrated during the Al Quds Day march,” Khan wrote, adding, “I would appreciate a response from the government that acknowledges the hurt that is felt and your plans to close any loophole.”



As a crowd of hundreds of Palestinians, many of them waving flags, and a Hamas police honor guard greeted Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah Monday upon his arrival in Gaza, a question hovered in the air: Is this Palestinian reconciliation effort different from all other reconciliation efforts? In the decade since Hamas seized control of Gaza, all unity bids have failed, with neither Hamas nor Fatah ultimately willing to give up a de facto monopoly on power in their respective areas.

This time, there are a bevy of optimistic voices on both sides insisting it will work. Hamas spokesman Fawzy Barhoum told the Maan news agency that he was confident about the success of reconciliation, citing “unprecedented Palestinian will by all parties.” He said Hamas will push for the success of bilateral talks with Fatah under Egyptian supervision next week in Cairo that will follow up the thus far only symbolic restart of the PA government in Gaza.

Abdullah Abdullah, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council who supports PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said: “There is a good chance it will work. We have to make it a success.”

“Hamas and Fatah are serious,” said Palestinian Legislative Council deputy speaker Hasan Khreisheh, an independent. “Hamas needs Egypt and needs to open the borders, while the authority wants to show America and Israel that they represent all Palestinian people, whether in Gaza or the West Bank. Both sides have an interest. This marriage is a necessity and I think they will do it.”

Indeed, there are reasons to believe the shidduch could work this time, although there are also perhaps more compelling reasons to believe the couple is still incompatible and that the marriage, if it takes place, will be short lived.

On the plus side is that an increasingly isolated Hamas cannot afford to alienate the Egyptian mediators pushing hard for this to work. Abbas also is reluctant to be blamed by Cairo for the failure of the bid.

Also militating in favor of an agreement is that unity is deeply desired by Palestinian public opinion, especially Gazans weary from war, severe economic distress and Egyptian and Israeli partial blockades. “The time has come to work for ending the suffering of Gaza and its people and we are preparing a series of steps for this.” Hamdallah said yesterday.

Neither Hamas nor Abbas want to be blamed for letting the public down or be seen as prioritizing narrow selfish interests over the national interest.

Hamas’s weak position is another factor that makes reconciliation appear to be more in reach than the past. The plans for resumption of the PA role in Gaza – and Hamdallah’s visit – were made possible when Hamas decided to scrap an administrative committee it named to govern Gaza six months ago. At the same time, the movement said it would welcome the PA back in the Strip.

Analysts say the Hamas shift came about because of factors including hard-hitting economic steps imposed by Abbas, such as cutting electricity payments to Israel, which caused blackouts, and the slashing of salaries of civil servants. But they also say the weakening and isolation of Hamas’s main financial backer, Qatar – after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain imposed an economic boycott over its alleged support for terrorism – also played a key role.

At the same time, Abbas could be interested in making the reconciliation work to strengthen his hand in possible US-led peace diplomacy.

But, tellingly, he has not lifted the sanctions on the Strip. If he does not do that to coincide with Tuesday’s PA cabinet meeting in Gaza, it will be an indication he is still skeptical about the reconciliation.

And skepticism is appropriate, since besides agreeing to talk, the two sides have not really done anything yet. In particular, they have not made concessions on the thorniest issues. One of these is the fate of 43,000 Hamas-appointed government employees in Gaza. A 2014 reconciliation agreement foundered over this, with Fatah saying they should be sacked and Hamas insisting on their integration into the PA administration.

An even greater challenge is security. Abbas and the PA want full security control of Gaza and to avoid having a Hezbollah-like situation in the Strip, while Hamas is adamant that its Izzedin al-Qassam brigades be left intact so that it can combat Israel. Hamas deputy political chief Musa Abu Marzouk was quoted in media reports recently as saying Hamas will not agree to discuss a change in the brigades’ status with Fatah. “We are talking about weapons whose purpose is to defend the Palestinian people and as long as the Palestinian people is under occupation this weaponry will continue to be ready for every scenario.”

And Hamas leader Yihya Sinwar boasted over the weekend of the brigades’ ability to barrage Tel Aviv with many rockets in a short period of time.

Ashraf Ajrami, a former PA minister said it is possible, however, that in order to allow the reconciliation to proceed, Abbas will agree that the Qassam brigades keep their weapons for now, as long as they do not interfere in the working of the PA government or take actions that could cause war with Israel.

That would entail a seemingly unlikely turn for Abbas from his long-held insistence that there only be one set of weapons for one authority. In practice, it is hard to see any way the PA can govern the Strip in a sustained way while Hamas retains the military power it refuses to relinquish.



Five Israeli films were screened at the recently concluded Toronto Palestine Film Festival (TPFF) in spite of calls from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to boycott all projects that involve Israel.

Three high-profile feature films from Israel were shown at the festival, which ended on September 24: Maysaloun Hamoud’s In Between, about three Israeli Arab women living in Tel Aviv, which just won two Ophir Awards, the prizes of the Israel Academy for Film and Television, for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress; Maha Haj’s Personal Affairs, about an Israeli-Arab family, which won the top prize at last year’s Haifa International Film Festival; and Udi Aloni’s Junction 48, a look at the Palestinian rap scene, which won the Jury Award at the Tribeca Film Festival and the Panorama Audience Award at the Berlin Film Festival, as well as two Ophir Awards.

In Between and Personal Affairs received funding from the Israel Film Fund, which gets its budget from the Israel Ministry of Culture and Sport. Junction 48 was co-produced by several Israeli companies, including Metro Communications and United King Films.

Two Israeli documentaries, Dorit Naaman’s Jerusalem, We Are Here and Rona Sela’s Looted and Hidden – Palestinian Archives in Israel, were also shown at the festival.

All of these films were directed by Israelis.

Israeli Arab filmmakers, among them Maysaloun Hamoud, have drawn criticism from supporters of the BDS Movement for accepting Israeli funding.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post last winter, Hamoud defended her decision to accept money from the Israel Film Fund to make In Between: “I didn’t hesitate to turn to the Israeli film funds for money.

Why shouldn’t I? We are 20% of the population, we pay taxes. We are Palestinians and we are Israelis and people don’t know what to make of this… People said, ‘Don’t take the Israeli money, get Arab funding.’ This is an oxymoron. There were no Arab film funds, there was nothing I could get.”

Many opponents of BDS were pleased with TPFF’s decision to show the Israeli films.

“This development shows the utter failure of the BDS campaign in Canada,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. “By showcasing Israeli cinema, TPFF has supported the Israeli economy and the arts, despite fierce opposition from some Palestinian-Canadian figures. A serious question must now be asked of those who promote the bigoted BDS agenda in Canada and abroad: If even Palestinians in the Diaspora can’t be bothered to boycott the Jewish State, why should anyone else, including Roger Waters?” Former Pink Floyd frontman Waters has repeatedly called for a boycott of Israel.

TPFF, currently celebrating its 10th year, ran from September 20 through 24. Annemarie Jacir, the Palestinian director whose movie, Wajib, was the official Palestinian selection for consideration for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, is on the TPFF advisory board, along with many other Palestinian filmmakers.

Despite hype, experts doubt Bahrain-Israel ties ready for prime time

Reports this month have indicated the island kingdom of Bahrain will soon take steps to normalize ties with Israel, ending seven decades of a diplomatic boycott of the Jewish state.

And some experts who spoke with The Times of Israel say they have noticed a tendency in recent years for Bahrain to speak publicly about its relations with Israel.

However, at the same time, analysts argue it’s unlikely Bahrain would normalize ties with the Jewish state without any serious developments in the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.

By normalizing relations with Israel, Bahrain, a Sunni monarchy struggling to hold its grip over the Shiite majority populace, would bleed too much political capital, they said, while getting nothing in return that it can’t get from Israel now, including business and security deals made under the table or through third parties.

The current discussion over Bahrain-Israel ties improving revolves around statements made by Rabbi Marvin Hier, who is the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, California, and by the associate director of the center Rabbi Abraham Cooper, both of whom met with the Bahraini king in Manama, the tiny Persian Gulf state’s capital, on February 26.

Hier told The Times of Israel last week that Bahraini monarch Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa expressed his opposition to the Arab boycott of Israel, and is ready to allow his citizens to visit the Jewish state freely.

Since then, reports in Al-Monitor and the Qatari-owned Middle East Eye have said Bahrain plans to send business delegations to Israel before the year’s end.

On Saturday, the Times of London carried a statement from the Bahraini Embassy in London, in what seemed to be the first public admission that Bahrainis are free, under Bahraini law, to visit the Jewish state.

“The kingdom of Bahrain has no issue or problem with any of its citizens or residents practicing their religion or visiting family or friends wherever that may be — which, of course, includes the State of Israel,” the statement said.

According to a spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Bahrainis are allowed to visit Israel after applying for a special visa.

Bahrain has not denied the rabbis’ statements. Israel has not commented on the reports.

Should Bahrain-Israel ties come out into the open, it would represent a huge victory for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who frequently touts his government’s unofficial ties with Sunni states.

Bahrain, a country of around 1.4 million citizens, would presumably open the gates for other, more powerful Gulf countries to follow suit.

Netanyahu earlier in September hailed Israel’s “best-ever” ties with Arab states, but did not elaborate.

The prime minister in the past has expressed his desire for normalization with the Arab states to precede peace with the Palestinians, arguing that the peace process with the Palestinian is presently untenable due to the current war-swept state of the Middle East.

The stated Arab position for decades has demanded Israel make peace with Palestinians before normalization.

Israel ‘romanticizing’ relations with the Gulf

Yoel Guzansky, a senior researcher for Iranian and Gulf affairs at the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies, was keen to “pour cold water” on excitement over the reports.

Guzansky, a former member of the National Security Council for Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu, said he’ll “eat my hat” if and when Bahraini delegations publicly come to Israel.

So far, he said, he has seen “nothing new.”

“There’s a lot of romanticism around relations with the Gulf for various reasons, political and others,” he said, adding it was stoked by the prime minister, who wants to prove he can improve relations with Arab states.

“There is some substance, with meetings and cooperation. But it’s not the magnitude it seems sometimes,” he added, saying he had seen the cooperation first-hand while serving in multiple governments.

Bahrainis, he noted, have been coming into Israel for years, for business, pleasure or religious pilgrimage. Israelis too, have been traveling to Bahrain.

Wikileaks documents showed that as far back as 2005, the Bahraini king was boasting of his ties with the Israeli espionage agency the Mossad. The development of “trade contacts,” though, would have to wait for the implementation of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the king said in the cable.

According to Guzansky, it’s likely nothing has changed on that front.

“For anything to come outside of the closet, something must move with the Palestinians,” he said.

Israel and the Palestinians haven’t sat at the negotiating table since 2014.

He noted that tensions in the Gulf now are high, as a Saudi-led coalition continues to boycott the powerful Gulf nation of Qatar, and Iran, Bahrain’s neighbor and Israel’s sworn enemy, continues to seek further influence in the region.

Rabbi Hier said the Bahraini king made it clear that shared opposition toward Iran was bringing his country closer to Israel.

Guzansky argued that, regardless of whether that is true, Bahrain still has no reason to make its ties with Israel public, as such a move would not contribute to the joint struggle against the Islamic Republic.

Guzansky said that there was a notable increase in the Bahrainis publicly talking about their ties with Israel, which he said it could be Manama trying to get the public used to the idea of sitting in a room with Israelis.

However, he also said Bahrain might simply be airing its ties with Israel as a public relations stunt.

In 2011, Bahrain, with the help of Saudi Arabia, violently suppressed its Arab Spring uprising.

“From time to time, Bahraini leaders meet with Jews in Washington to show the Americans we get along. It shows they are moderate and pragmatic, and they talk to Jews and Israelis. I think this is the main thing. It’s not new and it has been going for years now,” he said.

He pointed out that a member of the Bahraini royal family visits the country’s small Hanukah celebration every year, and the regime makes a point of treating the tiny Jewish community well.

However, the kingdom has also come under fire for violently suppressing opposition, including putting down a brief Arab Spring uprising in 2011. Since then, Shiite groups have continued to protest the regime’s powerful grip on the country, leading to perpetual low-level unrest.

A test balloon?

Hier revealed the king’s alleged opposition to boycotting Israel seven months after their original meeting in Manama.

Why did he take so long to get out the word? Hier told The Times of Israel that he was ready to talk about that discussion only after receiving “a clear signal” from the king that the royal meant business. In this case, the signal was Bahraini Prince Nasser bin Hamad al Khalifa’s presence at a large event for the Weisenthal Center earlier this month, and also his visit to the unabashedly pro-Israeli Museum of Tolerance, also located in Los Angeles.

The king, with the help of the Weisenthal Center, plans to build his own museum of tolerance in Bahrain.

Hier, who has met with other Arab leaders, was full of praise for the Bahraini king, telling The Times of Israel that the monarch “is far advanced in his thinking from other leaders in the region. There is no comparison. The others are much more cautious.”

She said that the Palestinian issue is still very dear to Bahrain and it is unlikely the regime would risk so much political capital.Miriam Goldman, an expert on the Arab Gulf countries with Britain-based security firm LE Beck, agreed with Guzansky’s assessment that Bahrain is still unlikely to normalize ties with Israel without a serious development in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

“Even authoritarian governments need to consider their populations,” she said. She noted Iran and Hezbollah use the Palestinian issue to legitimize their actions in the region and said Bahrain wouldn’t want to hand them easy political leverage.

“The really big question,” she said, “is whether this will encourage the government of Israel to change its own possibilities.”

Some have put forward the idea that Bahrain’s foot-dipping into the waters of naturalization with Israel is actually a test case ordered by Saudi Arabia.

“I think it’s plausible,” said Goldman of the theory, noting that Saudi and Bahraini foreign policy “are very closely aligned.”

Yet, she added, “if it’s a test case, it could be for relations with Israel post a deal [with the Palestinians].”

And while she said it would be a “huge change” if Bahraini business delegations would openly come to Israel, she noted the decision could easily be reversed.

Both Qatar and Oman once had Israeli trade offices in their territories, she noted, but each closed the Israeli offices in response to flare-ups between Palestinians and the Jewish state.

Despite Pleas, Oklahoma City Officer Fatally Shoots Deaf Man

An Oklahoma City police officer fatally shot a man on Tuesday night despite pleas from neighbors that the man was deaf and could not hear the commands to drop a metal pipe he was holding, the authorities said.

The man, Madgiel Sanchez, was shot around 8:15 p.m. outside his home soon after the police responded there to investigate a hit-and-run accident. The first officer to arrive called for backup, pulled out his Taser and ordered Mr. Sanchez, 35, who was on his front porch, to drop the 2-foot-long pipe he was clutching, the police said.

The officer’s commands did not register with Mr. Sanchez. He ambled off the porch toward the officer, waving the pipe in his right hand, according to the police and a witness.

Julio Rayos, a neighbor who lives a few homes away and knew the man was deaf, said he saw the confrontation unfold and sensed trouble.

He said that he ran toward the officer with his wife and his 12-year-old daughter, all three of them screaming that the man could not understand the officer.

“Don’t kill him, he’s deaf,” his daughter yelled. “Don’t do it!”

About six other neighbors joined in, frantically trying to get the officer’s attention. But less than a minute after the episode began, a second officer arrived and immediately pulled out his handgun, Mr. Rayos said. While people continued to scream, the first officer fired his Taser at Mr. Sanchez, while the second fired his handgun, the police said.

Capt. Bo Mathews, a spokesman for the Oklahoma City Police Department, said Wednesday that the second officer, Sgt. Christopher Barnes, fired multiple shots and that Mr. Sanchez, who was hit more than once, was pronounced dead in front of his house.

Julio Rayos said that he, his wife and his daughter screamed at police officers that Mr. Sanchez, their neighbor, was deaf and could not hear their commands. CreditSue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Mr. Rayos said he heard more than six shots in rapid succession. “They seemed like they just came to shoot him,” he said. “It happened so quickly.”

In the neighborhood, Shields-Davis, just south of downtown Oklahoma City, Mr. Sanchez was known for wandering up and down the streets during the day, even in heavy rain, and running laps in the parking lot of an American Legion post next to his home. He never left home without the pipe, wielding it shoo away stray dogs, Mr. Rayos said.

Capt. Bo Mathews, a department spokesman, said the police did not know yet why one officer pulled out his Taser while the other had his handgun.CreditSue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Mr. Sanchez also used the pipe to communicate with people, moving it around to try to convey what he meant, Mr. Rayos said. It was the same motion Mr. Sanchez made before the police shot him, Mr. Rayos said.

Captain Mathews said that the shooting was under investigation and that Sergeant Barnes had been placed on paid administrative leave. The first officer who arrived, Lt. Matthew Lindsey, will remain on active duty, he said.

Captain Mathews said the police did not know yet why one officer pulled out his Taser while the other had his handgun.

“You can get tunnel vision or just get locked in on the person with the weapon,” he said, speaking generally about what officers can encounter during chaotic scenes. “I don’t know what the officers were thinking. They very well could not have heard everyone yelling around them.”

The police responded to Mr. Sanchez’s home, in the 200 block of Southeast 57th Street, after receiving 911 calls about a hit-and-run accident at a nearby intersection. A pickup truck involved in the crash had fled to the home, the police were told.

Captain Mathews said the truck had been driven by Mr. Sanchez’s father and that the son was not involved in the accident. Mr. Rayos said the father was still in his pickup, parked in the driveway of his home, during the confrontation with his son.



Israel’s mission to New York reopened after being sealed shut on Friday night after a package containing white powder and a letter threatening Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was received, a source in the consulate building confirmed to The Jerusalem Post.

Prime minister Netanyahu landed in New York a short while ago.

The Israeli Consulate was closed off due to the suspicious nature of the powder in the package, and the staff has been ordered to remain inside while the material was inspected.

The source told the Post that the building has been on lockdown and no one was allowed to enter or leave the premises. New York State Department Police have been called to the scene after the contents of the package were discovered and screened in the consulate’s screening room.

The Post has also learned that the threatening letter in question was written in English and addressed directly to the premier.

According to Israeli media, the letter contained an explicit death threat.

This threat came mere hours before the prime minister landed in New York in order to participate in the United Nations General Assembly’s 72nd session, where he is slated to speak on Tuesday as well as meet US President Donald Trump.



The number of settler housing starts plummeted in the second quarter of 2017, dropping to its lowest point in five years, even as Israeli planning activity for such construction in the West Bank has dramatically spiked, according to data released Tuesday by the Central Bureau of Statistics.

From April to June ground was broken on only 278 settler homes, a 75% drop, compared with 1,121 such starts during the same period in 2016. The last time the number was that low for any three month period was in the fourth quarter of 2012.

In contrast, the second quarter of 2016 was unusually high, so the drop is lower and stands at 60%, when comparing the 646 housing starts from January to June of this year with the 1,575 starts from the first half of last year.

The CBS spoke of an overall 18% drop when comparing the last 12 months, with its 2005 starts, to the period of July 2015 to June 2016 were there were 2449 starts.

It was the largest such drop nationwide, where the number of starts fell by 4.6%. Among the region that were below that average was Tel Aviv, which fell by 16.5% and in the South, which dropped by 15%.

The statistics bureau published its data precisely as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted about his dedication to building throughout the country, including in Judea and Samaria.

“We are building the land and settling it, on the mountain, in the valley, the Galilee, the Negev and also in Judea and Samaria,” Netanyahu said. “Because this is our land! This is our home and the birthplace of the Jewish nation. It is the only land that was promised to our forefathers. We were given the right to settle it. We must safeguard it from every vantage point.”

In the last half year, Netanyahu has authorized an unusually large amount of settlement activity, including the marketing of 3,400 homes and the advancement of plans for 5,000 more.

The government also approved its first totally new settlement in over two decades.

The Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria is expected to meet in the coming weeks and is likely to advance plans for 3,000 more homes.

Hagit Ofran of left-wing group Peace Now said that in light of the surge in settlement planning, there would soon be a correlating spike in the number of settler housing starts unless the government dramatically changed its policy.

“Today’s [low number of] housing starts are the results of plans and tenders from two and three years ago,” she said.

In addition, she said, there was an unusually high number of settler housing starts in 2016 so it was only natural to see some decline.

The Trump administration does not have the same no tolerance attitude toward such construction as the Obama administration. It has frowned upon accelerated settlement activity, but has not condemned it.

The Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria had no response to the CBS report.

The CBS data also showed an increase of 16% in finished construction nation-wide over the last four quarters, when compared to the period of July 2015 to June 2016.

The only exception to the spike, were the northern region which dropped by 1% and Judea and Samaria which fell by 23%. The drop between the first two quarters of this year and the first half of last year also stood at 23%.

The Palestinian Authority has insisted that all settlement building is a stumbling block to peace and in the past has refused to talk with Israel until it halts such activity.

The Palestinian news agency WAFA published a statement on Monday from the Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry which said: “Israel’s persistence, as an occupying power, in its settlement expansion at the expense of Palestinian land is due to the weak international response and increases Palestinian frustration in reaching a political settlement to the conflict.”