Iran player breaks silence over ban for playing Israelis

TEHRAN — One of two Iranian footballers threatened with a lifetime ban after playing against an Israeli club broke his silence on Friday, saying he had no intention of causing offense.

“My country has always been and will be my priority,” wrote midfielder Masoud Shojaei on his Instagram page.

“I have always tried to work wholeheartedly to be a suitable representative for the country.”

It came a week after news he and teammate Haji Safi had been banned for life from the national team for playing in a Europa League qualifier with their Greek club Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv.

The Iranian government does not recognize Israel and bars its sportsmen from participating against Israelis in any event, including at the Olympics.

Iran appeared to row back the ban after a huge outcry from football fans on social media and the launch of an investigation by FIFA, which has rules against political interference in national teams.

Players from Israel's Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer team great their counterparts from Greece's Panionios ahead of their soccer match in Greece on August 3, 2017. (Screen capture: YouTube)

The ISNA news agency reported that the Iran Football Federation had denied the ban in a letter to FIFA on August 13.

That was despite a statement from Deputy Sports Minister Mohammad Reza Davarzani, saying “Shojaei and Haji Safi have no place in Iran’s national football team any more because they crossed the country’s red line.”

In his Instagram post, Shojaei appeared to respond to critics who said his appearance against an Israeli team had “disrespected” Iranian martyrs.

“I am the child of war and come from a town of sacrifice and resistance,” he said, referring to the brutal eight-year conflict against Iraq in the 1980s.

“I well understand the status of those dear ones who gave everything to defend us and God forbid, I will never try to abuse the name, image and sacrifice of these angels,” he wrote.

Queiroz delays announcing squad

National team coach Carlos Queiroz said this week that he was delaying naming his squad for the next international fixtures until August 27, with local media speculating he would use the extra time to talk the federation out of banning the players.

Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz of the Iranian national football team celebrates with players after winning the 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Iran and Uzbekistan at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran on June 12, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE)

Iran face 2018 World Cup qualifiers against South Korea on August 31 and Syria on September 5, although Quieroz’s team have already booked their ticket to Russia.

Shojaei and Safi had refused to play in the away leg against Maccabi in Israel, but took part in the second leg in Greece on August 4. It did not help Panionios, who lost 1-0 to exit the competition 2-0 on aggregate.

Current and former top players, including Ali Karimi and Mehdi Taremi, expressed support for their colleagues, saying they had no choice but to play the game.

But Iran Football Federation vice president Ali Kafashian told the Mizan Online website that they shouldn’t have played “even if their contracts would have been terminated”.

Shoejaei had already risked the ire of conservatives in June when he called on the newly reelected President Hassan Rouhani to lift the ban on women spectators in Iranian stadiums.

Iran won six of their first eight World Cup qualification group matches to secure a place in Russia in 2018.

But if found guilty by FIFA of government interference, they could be barred from taking part.

Shojaei played 70 minutes in the last match, a 2-0 victory over Uzbekistan in June, while Safi remained on the bench.


If you’re wondering why Saudi Arabia and Israel have united against Al-Jazeera, here’s the answer


When Qatar’s Al Jazeera satellite channel has both the Saudis and the Israelis demanding its closure, it must be doing something right. To bring Saudi head-choppers and Israeli occupiers into alliance is, after all, something of an achievement.

But don’t get too romantic about this. When the wealthiest Saudis fall ill, they have been known to fly into Tel Aviv on their private jets for treatment in Israel’s finest hospitals. And when Saudi and Israeli fighter-bombers take to the air, you can be sure they’re going to bomb Shiites – in Yemen or Syria respectively – rather than Sunnis.

And when King Salman – or rather Saudi Arabia’s whizz-kid Crown Prince Mohammad – points the finger at Iran as the greatest threat to Gulf security, you can be sure that Bibi Netanyahu will be doing exactly and precisely the same thing, replacing “Gulf security”, of course, with “Israeli security”. But it’s an odd business when the Saudis set the pace of media suppression only to be supported by that beacon of freedom, democracy, human rights and liberty known in song and legend as Israel, or the State of Israel or, as Bibi and his cabinet chums would have it, the Jewish State of Israel.

So let’s run briefly through the latest demonstration of Israeli tolerance towards the freedom of expression that all of us support, nurture, love, adore, regard as a cornerstone of our democracy, and so on, and so on, and so on. For this week, Ayoob Kara, the Israeli communications minister, revealed plans to take away the credentials of Al Jazeera’s Israeli-based journalists, close its Jerusalem bureau and take the station’s broadcasts from local cable and satellite providers.


Bibi Netanyahu long ago accused Al Jazeera of inciting violence in Jerusalem, especially in its reporting of the recent Jerusalem killings – but since just about every foreign journalist in and outside Israel who has dared to be critical of the state has at one time or another been accused of incitement as well as anti-Semitism and other lies, this is just par for the course.

Personally, I have found Al Jazeera’s reporting from Israel pretty pathetic, its fawning reverence for the state all too painfully illustrated when its Qatar anchorwoman expressed to an Israeli government spokesman live on air her channel’s condolences on the death of Ariel Sharon, the monstrous Israeli ex-defence minister who was held responsible for the massacre of up to 1,700 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacres of 1982.

Ayoob Kara, however, has actually taken his cue from his fellow Arabs. And he admits it. Israel had to take steps, he said, against “media, which has been determined by almost all Arab countries to actually be a supporter of terror, and we know this for certain”. So the Israelis, it appears, now receive lessons on media freedoms from “Arab countries”. Not just the Saudis, of course, but from “almost all Arab countries” whose unfettered media – one thinks at once of the untrammelled liberal press of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Algeria and yes, “almost” the entire media of the Gulf – are bastions of truth-telling, hard-hitting opponents of authoritarian regimes, constitutionally protected from dictatorial abuse. Forgive the hollow laughter. But is this really how Israel wants to define itself?

Well, yes it is, I suppose. For if an unwritten alliance really exists between Saudi Arabia and Israel, then all options – as US presidents and secretary Hillary Clinton used to say – are “on the table”.

Imprisonment without trial, extrajudicial executions, human rights abuses, corruption, military rule – let’s say this at once: all these characteristics belong to “almost all” Sunni Muslim Arab nations – and to Israel in the lands it occupies. And as for being a “supporter of terror” (I quote Israeli minister Kara again), one must first ask why Sunni Gulf Arabs have exported their fighters – and their money – to the most vicious Sunni Islamists in the Middle East. And then ask why Israel has never bombed these same vile creatures – indeed, ask why Israel has given hospital treatment to wounded fighters from the Sunni al-Nusra – in other words, al-Qaeda, the perpetrators of 9/11 – while attacking Shiite Hezbollah and Alawite (Shiite) led-Syria, and threatened to bombard Shiite Iran itself which is a project, I should add, of which Kara himself is all in favour.

Nor must we forget that America’s insane President and his weird regime is also part of the Saudi-Israeli anti-Shiite confederation. Trump’s obscene $350bn arms sales to the Saudis, his fingering of Iran and his hatred of the world’s press and television channels makes him an intimate part of the same alliance. Indeed, when you look at one of Trump’s saner predecessors – George W Bush, who also hated Iran, kowtowed to the Saudis and actually talked to Tony Blair of bombing Al Jazeera’s own headquarters in Qatar, he who made sure the wealthy bin Laden family were flown out of the States after 9/11 – this American-Saudi-Israeli covenant has a comparatively long history.

Being an irrational optimist, there’s an innocent side of my scratched journalistic hide that still believes in education and wisdom and compassion. There are still honourable Israelis who demand a state for the Palestinians; there are well-educated Saudis who object to the crazed Wahhabism upon which their kingdom is founded; there are millions of Americans, from sea to shining sea, who do not believe that Iran is their enemy nor Saudi Arabia their friend. But the problem today in both East and West is that our governments are not our friends. They are our oppressors or masters, suppressors of the truth and allies of the unjust.

Netanyahu wants to close down Al Jazeera’s office in Jerusalem. Crown Prince Mohammad wants to close down Al Jazeera’s office in Qatar. Bush actually did bomb Al Jazeera’s offices in Kabul and Baghdad. Theresa May decided to hide a government report on funding “terrorism”, lest it upset the Saudis – which is precisely the same reason Blair closed down a UK police enquiry into alleged BAE-Saudi bribery 10 years earlier.

And we wonder why we go to war in the Middle East. And we wonder why Sunni Isis exists, un-bombed by Israel, funded by Sunni Gulf Arabs, its fellow Sunni Salafists cosseted by our wretched presidents and prime ministers. I guess we better keep an eye on Al Jazeera – while it’s still around.

Amid outcry over hotel signs, Swiss lawmaker raps Israel for tolerating haredim

Commenting on a public outcry over signs that urged Jews at a Swiss hotel to shower before entering the pool, a state lawmaker from Geneva said “Israel should apologize for its excessive tolerance of ultra-Orthodox Jews who prevent peace in Palestine.”

Roger Deneys, a Socialist representative at the Grand Council of Geneva, made the assertion Wednesday on Facebook.

Deneys deleted his comment shortly after posting it and apologized for having written “nonsense,” the online edition of the Swiss Le Matin daily reportedThursday.

Over the weekend, signs placed at the Paradise Apartments in Arosa, some 80 miles southeast of Zurich, urged “Jewish guests” to shower before entering the pool and access a refrigerator at set times. Observant Jews who were staying at the hotel stored kosher food in the hotel refrigerator.

A sign put up at a Swiss hotel calling on Jewish guests to shower before going swimming (Courtesy)

The signs generated a storm of criticism, including by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, at whose urging the hotel was removed from the online reservations service Deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, said that the incident reflected the prevalence of anti-Semitic sentiments in Europe at large.

Deneys told Le Matin he had reacted “too fast and stupidly” because he was angry at Hotovely for her “disingenuous reaction, in which she demanded apologies from Switzerland.” He added: “I had no intention of discriminating against the Jewish community.”

In a statement to the media, Hotovely’s office did not demand Swiss authorities apologize for the incident. She did, however, urge the prosecution of the person responsible for posting the signs. Her statement said that Israel’s ambassador to Switzerland requested the Swiss Foreign Ministry deplore the hotel staff’s actions.

Ruth Thomann, who runs the hotel, told JTA on Monday that she removed the signs shortly after they were put up. She said she meant no offense to Jews and that she merely sought to convey information relevant only to the Jewish guests.

Thomann said only the Jewish guests were entering the pool without showering first while wearing T-shirts and they alone were allowed, as a courtesy, to put food in the staff’s refrigerator.

Swiss Lawmaker Roger Deneys photographed during an interview in February 2010. (Screen capture/YouTube)

“I may have selected the wrong words; the signs should have been addressed to all the guests instead of Jewish ones,” she added.

The sign about the pool read: “To our Jewish Guests: Please take a shower before you go swimming and although after swimming. If you break the rules, I’m forced to cloes the swimming pool for you.” [sic]

The sign about the refrigerator read: “To our Jewish guests: You are allowed to approach the fridge between the hours: 10.00-11.00 in the morning and 16.30-17.30 in the evening. I hope you understand that our team does not like to be disturbed every time.”

Israel revokes credentials of Al Jazeera reporter

The Government Press Office revoked the credentials of an Al Jazeera reporter Wednesday for allegedly being an “active partner in Palestinian resistance” amid Israeli efforts to boot the network from the country.

The GPO said the decision to strip Jerusalem correspondent Elias Karram of his press card came after it was alerted this week to a 2016 interview in which the Arab Israeli reporter said “media work is an integral part of the resistance.”

“As a Palestinian journalist in an occupied area or in a conflict zone, media work is an integral part of the resistance and its educational political activity,” Karram said in the interview, according to a translation provided by the GPO. “The journalist fulfills his role in the opposition with the pen, voice or camera because he is part of this people and he carries out resistance in his unique way.”

The GPO said that a hearing will be held for Karram to clarify his comments and how his role as a self-declared member of the “resistance” influences “his work as a journalist according to universal ethics.”

“These remarks call into question the ability of Karram, the representative of a foreign network, to cover – as a professional journalist – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which, according to his own words, he is taking an active part,” the GPO said in a statement.

Al Jazeera declined to immediately comment on the move.

The Jerusalem office of Qatar-based news network and TV channel Al Jazeera on July 31, 2017 (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

The Union of Journalists in Israel called the revocation of Karrem’s press card “intolerable.”

“The planned move by the Government Press Office, which does not at all claim incitement or harm to the state’s security, is not only an attack on Elias Karrem but an attack on the principles of freedom of expression and freedom of press and the ability of reporters to faithfully serve the public.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last month that he wants to expel the Qatari broadcaster from the country, accusing it of inciting violence.

Netanyahu made the comments as tensions soared over metal detectors Israel installed at entrances to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem following a terror attack outside the compound last month, in which three Arab Israelis shot dead two police officers using weapons smuggled into the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

At the time, Al Jazeera condemned what it called “arbitrary accusations and hostile statements.”

It added the network would “take all necessary legal measures in case they act on their threat,” saying its coverage was professional and objective.

Communications Minister Ayoub Kara speaks at a press conference about the Communications Ministry's move to shut down the Jerusalem office of Al Jazeera on August 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On August 6, Communications Minister Ayoob Kara followed up on Netanyahu’s comments by saying he would take steps to close Al Jazeera’s offices in Israel.

He accused the broadcaster of “inciting violence which has provoked losses among the best of our sons,” referring to the July 14 attack.

The GPO’s move to revoke the press card for Karram marks the first concrete action against the broadcaster since Netanyahu’s remarks.

The GPO statement on Wednesday said Kara recently requested that “the press cards of Al Jazeera personnel in Israel be revoked on the grounds that the network was inciting and agitating to violence in a way that harmed the security of the state.”

Amnesty International has said Israel’s move against the broadcaster is a “brazen attack on media freedom.”

Rivlin: Israel stands with US Jews after Charlottesville rally

President Reuven Rivlin said Wednesday that Israel stands with the American Jewish community in the wake of the rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, while calling the display of Nazi flags by white supremacists there “beyond belief.”

“The very idea that in our time we would see a Nazi flag — perhaps the most vicious symbol of anti-Semitism — paraded in the streets of the world’s greatest democracy and Israel’s most cherished and greatest ally, is almost beyond belief,” the president said in a letter addressed to Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“We have seen manifestations of anti-Semitism again and again arise across the world; in Europe and the Middle East. In the face of such evil, we stand now as we did then. With faith. With faith in humanity, with faith in democracy, and with faith in justice,” he added.

“I know that the great nation of the United States of America and its leaders will know how to face this difficult challenge, and prove to the world the robustness and strength of democracy and freedom.”

Rivlin’s statement avoided the latest iteration of the controversy: US President Donald Trump’s comments appearing to equate neo-Nazis with left-wing anti-fascist activists, which have been strongly criticized by a number of Israeli lawmakers.

US President Donald Trump and President Reuven Rivlin shake hands following a press conference at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on May 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

A group of white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis gathered in Charlottesville on Friday to vent their frustration against the city’s plans to take down a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. During the protest, marchers waved swastikas and chanted “Jews will not replace us” and “Blood and soil,” a popular Nazi chant.

Counter-protesters massed in opposition the next day. A few hours after violent encounters between the two groups, a car was driven into a crowd of people protesting the racist rally, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring 26 others. The driver was later taken into custody.

Two Virginia state troopers were also killed when their police helicopter crashed and caught on fire while responding to clashes between white supremacist protesters and counter-protesters.

Israeli leaders had come under fire before Tuesday for failing to speak out on the violence and hateful rallies in Virginia over the weekend, as a group of neo-Nazis, KKK members and other white nationalist groups clashed with anti-fascist activists.

On Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke his silence on the issue, tweeting that he was “outraged by expressions of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and racism. Everyone should oppose this hatred.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett had been the only major Israeli politician to speak out against the neo-Nazis, saying in a statement Sunday that US leaders must denounce the white supremacist rally’s “displays of anti-Semitism.”

Hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the "alt-right" march down East Market Street toward Lee Park during the "Unite the Right" rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

Trump, meanwhile, came under harsh criticism, even from members of his own party, for blaming the violence on hatred and bigotry “on many sides,” and not explicitly condemning the white extremist groups at the rally.

On Sunday, the White House released a statement clarifying that his condemnation of hate and bigotry at the “Unite the Right” Virginia rally had been in reference to the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.

Amid intense pressure, he followed up on Monday with a direct condemnation of white supremacy and white nationalism, naming the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.

But a day later, on Tuesday, he again reiterated that “both sides” were to blame, saying that “there are two sides to every story.”

“What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right?” he asked. “Do they have any semblance of guilt? What about the fact that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs, do they have any problem? I think they do.”

US President Donald Trump speaks to the media in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

“You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” he said.

Trump’s depiction of the counter-protesters is similar to the narrative that has come from white nationalists since the bloody demonstration.

Republicans and Democrats alike, meanwhile, have expressed unhappiness with Trump’s statements.

Israel said to have hit Hezbollah convoys dozens of times

Israel’s former air force chief said Wednesday that it has carried out dozens of airstrikes on weapons convoys destined for the Lebanese Hezbollah group over the past five years.

The remarks by Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel revealed for the first time the scale of the strikes, which are usually neither confirmed or denied by the IAF.

Eshel told the Haaretz newspaper that Israel hit weapons convoys destined for the Iran-backed Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside Syrian forces, almost 100 times since 2012.

Israel has largely stayed out of the fighting during the six-year civil war in neighboring Syria, but has repeatedly said it will act to prevent Hezbollah from acquiring advanced weapons.

Hezbollah fired more than 4,000 rockets on Israeli communities during the 2006 war.

Eshel ended a five year term as commander of the air force on Tuesday. During his tenure, he commanded aerial operations during the 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge, and the 8-day Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza in 2012.

Incoming Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, right, shakes hands with outgoing IAF chief Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel salutes during a ceremony at the Tel Nof Air Base on August 14, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

He also oversaw the acquisition of the F-35 stealth fighter jet, the first of which landed in Israel in December 2016. While the Iron Dome missile defense system was declared operational approximately a year before Eshel took his position, the air force chief, who also commands Israel’s anti-aircraft and missile-defense forces, saw the full-scale deployment of the system during two military campaigns and its ongoing development.

Israel has for years been widely believed to have carried out airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions, but it rarely confirms such operations on an individual basis.

In April 2016, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted for the first time that Israel had attacked dozens of convoys transporting weapons in Syria destined for Hezbollah, which fought a 2006 war with Israel and is now battling alongside the Damascus regime.

In May, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said the IDF only carries out raids in Syria for three reasons: when Israel comes under fire, to prevent arms transfers, and to avert a “ticking timebomb,” namely to thwart imminent terror attacks on Israel by groups on its borders.



Israel is expected to shortly reopen its embassy in Cairo, some nine months after it was closed due to security concerns, according to media reports on Tuesday.

The Foreign Ministry, however, would not confirm the reports, saying it does not discuss security arrangements at Israeli embassies.

Ambassador to Egypt David Govrin was pulled out of Cairo with the entire embassy staff in December. He has since been working out of Jerusalem.

“Due to security concerns, we have limited the return of the Foreign Ministry embassy team to Cairo,” the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said at the time.

Haaretz reported on Tuesday that an Israeli delegation made up of representatives from the Shin Bet and the Foreign Ministry were in Cairo on Sunday for talks regarding the security arrangements needed at the embassy. These talks have been ongoing for a number of weeks.

Israel pulled the staff from the embassy at the end of 2016, a little more than a year after it reopened the embassy in September 2015. The embassy was opened four years to the day after a mob invaded and trashed it.

On September 9, 2011, during the height of the “Arab Spring” and half a year after Hosni Mubarak was overthrown, thousands of protesters stormed the embassy, using light poles as battering rams to demolish a protective wall around the compound.

That incident forced Israel to airlift its diplomats out of Egypt and plunged the countries into a series of diplomatic crises – the worst diplomatic crises between the two neighbors in 30 years.

Six security guards took refuge in a safe room in the embassy, and were finally evacuated hours later by Egyptian commandos, following direct intervention from then-US president Barack Obama.

Even as Israel is on the verge of re-opening the embassy in Cairo, there is no indication of when it will send its ambassador and staff back to Jordan.

Israel removed its embassy staff last month following an incident at the embassy on July 23 when a security guard was stabbed. He then killed his attacker and a bystander.

The Jordanian government said last week it will not allow the return of Ambassador Einat Schlein until Israel guarantees that the guard will be investigated and brought to trial.



A number of senior Iraqi Kurd officials have visited Israel over the last several weeks urging Jerusalem to both support its independence and send a message to Washington to do the same, Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova said on Monday.

A referendum on independence in the Kurdistan region in Iraq is scheduled for September 25.

The Jerusalem Post reported on Sunday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a delegation of US Republican congressmen on Thursday that he is in favor of an independent Kurdish state in parts of Iraq.

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

Netanyahu’s comments to the congressmen came the same day that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani to postpone the independence referendum.

The US position is that a referendum now will distract from more pressing matters, such as defeating Islamic State, and could ignite a fresh conflict with Baghdad and turn into another regional flashpoint. Turkey, Iran and Syria, which together with Iraq have sizable Kurdish populations, all oppose an independent Kurdistan.

Svetlova, who chairs a Knesset caucus for strengthening relations between Israel and the Kurdish people, said that visiting Kurdish officials were looking for Jerusalem’s help in getting Washington to back the independence drive.

“They say that Israel has a strong lobby, and the ear of [US President Donald] Trump, and that they would be very happy if we could help,” she said.

But the US position is that now – with a victory over Islamic State in Mosul and an Iraqi prime minister who is having some success – is “not the time to rock the boat” with Kurdish independence, she said.

The last time Netanyahu came out in favor of Kurdish independence was three years ago.

Ofra Bengio, whose areas of expertise at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University include Israel-Kurdish ties, said that the timing of Netanyahu’s comments to the congressmen was clearly connected to the referendum.

The Kurds, she said, are looking for “as many voices of support” for their referendum as possible, and Netanyahu’s expressing support for the move to a delegation of congressmen is exactly what the Iraqi Kurds want.

Michael Oren, deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, said that in addition to the referendum issue, Netanyahu’s remarks to the delegation were also the result of the awareness in Jerusalem of “the rapidity with which Iran is consolidating its position in the region and Iraq, and that a Kurdish state would be one way to block it.”

The Iraqi Kurds, he said, “are obviously not pro-Iranian.”

Furthermore, he said, “With all the talks over the decades of a Palestinian right to self-determination, and the Palestinian refusal to accept offers of self-determination – or even negotiate for one – it is about time that people consider another people who are no less deserving, or at least as deserving, as the Palestinians.”

Oren said the Iraqi Kurds are “pro-Western, stable, strong and open to Israel.”

Svetlova said she was “100% sure that Kurdish independence is good for us because we need to look for partners in the Middle East.”

There are no better partners or people who respect Israel’s achievements more than the Iraqi Kurds, she said.

Svetlova acknowledged that coming out squarely in favor of Kurdish independence was complicated – considering the passions doing so would arouse in Turkey, Iran and among competing Kurdish groups less positively disposed toward Israel in Turkey and Syria – but that Israel needed to take a stand.

“I think that morally, as a country that needed any help we could get in 1948, we need to support them,” she said.

ADL chief says Charlottesville car-ramming resembles terror attacks against Israel

WASHINGTON — The head of the Anti-Defamation League said Tuesday the fatal car-ramming that claimed a young woman’s life in Charlottesville, Virginia resembled the kind of terror attacks Israel has long experienced.

Appearing on MSNBC, Jonathan Greenblatt was asked to explain the recruiting techniques that white nationalist groups use to attract more people to its cause.

“Extremism is a problem in any form,” he said. “Islamic extremists. Left-wing extremists. But right-wing extremists, like other fringe groups, they try to exploit disaffected young people at an early stage in their lives.”

At this point, he was interrupted by the show’s host, Stephanie Ruhle, who said the method Greenblatt was describing reminded her of Islamist terrorist organizations. “That sounds like the same description you hear when we talk about ISIS recruiters,” she said, using a common acronym for Islamic State.

Greenblatt agreed with Ruhle’s assessment. He went on to say that car rammings in particular have been a common practice for terrorists in the Middle East and Europe.

In this Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 photo, James Alex Fields Jr., second from left, holds a black shield in Charlottesville, Va., where a white supremacist rally took place. Fields was later charged with second-degree murder and other counts after authorities say he plowed a car into a crowd of people protesting the white nationalist rally. (Alan Goffinski via AP)

“It’s very similar,” he said. “It’s no accident that the car ramming took place. This young man [Alex Fields Jr.] who murdered the innocent Heather Heyer … [was] using the same technique of car ramming that has terrorized Tel Aviv, terrorized France, Germany.”

“It’s domestic terror.” he said. “So if it quacks like a duck and it walks like a duck, guess what? It’s a duck.”

Since the Saturday incident, in which the 20-year-old Fields killed Heyer and injured 19 others in the car attack, as hundreds of white nationalists marched the streets of Charlottesville with Nazi, KKK and confederate insignia, several US officials have condemned the episode as an act of terror.

A vehicle drives into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017. (Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress via AP)

“Certainly I think we can confidently call it a form of terrorism,” US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said Sunday on NBC’s Meet The Press. “What terrorism is is the use of violence to incite terror and fear, and of course it was terrorism.”

But quite notably, Trump himself has not made a similar declaration. As a candidate, he repeatedly castigated his predecessor, Barack Obama, for not using the phrase “radical Islamic terror.”

“When will President Obama issue the words RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISM?” he tweeted on November 15, 2016, after an Islamic State attack in Paris, France. “He can’t say it, and unless he will, the problem will not be solved!”

Trump also outraged many when he did not condemn white nationalists during his first remarks about the rally on Saturday, when he also blamed “many sides” for the violence that transpired.

It was not until two days later, amidst intense pressure and constant negative media coverage, that he begrudgingly said “racism is evil” and directly called out the racist groups who organized the rally to protest the city’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

“Those who cause violence in its name are criminal and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans,” Trump said.

On Monday, the Justice Department said it was opening a civil-rights investigation into the death of Heyer, who was murdered by Fields when he ran a Dodge Challenger into a crowd of people protesting the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.

New immigrants to Israel feted as miracles, and a threat to Iran

NEW YORK — They could easily have passed for Israelis: the clamorous crowd of several hundred Jews, many of them Orthodox, in a corner of the arrivals hall Monday, the teenagers in a frenzy to say their goodbyes, many singing or waving flags. The passengers on Nefesh B’Nefesh’s charter flight of olim, or immigrants to Israel, were gearing up for takeoff at a farewell ceremony at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The dignitaries who addressed the 233-strong group, each sponsor and partner in the El Al flight eager to get a word in, emphasized its diversity — many couples and singles, professionals in a variety of fields; 75 children, the youngest of whom was eight months old — and the miraculousness of their return to their ancestral homeland.

“The entire spectrum of our nation is represented,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, who, along with businessman Tony Gelbart, founded Nefesh B’Nefesh in 2002 to circumvent Israel’s byzantine bureaucracy and ease the integration — or, as Israelis call it, absorption — of American and British immigrants.

Fass hinted at that infamous red tape in his speech, saying the flight was a “miracle” not only in that it had brought together a diverse group of American Jews for a singular cause, but also in that the various Israeli sponsors of the flight were able to cooperate to achieve such an end. Those included the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, the Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemet Le’Israel and the Jewish Agency.

A new immigrant to Israel blows a shofar after landing at Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday, August 15, 2017 (Shahar Azran)

Another sponsor was the Israel Scouts’ Garin Tzabar, which provides a support system to young Jews who immigrate to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. In all, 68 lone-soldiers-to-be — 36 women and 32 men — were on board.

While most of the speakers shied away from politics, Israel’s consul-general in New York, Dani Dayan, said the new immigrants represented “233 mortal blows to the delegitimization of Israel” and would be a source of conversation far beyond the arrivals hall at JFK.

“They take notice of it in Tehran,” he said. “When Hezbollah threatens Israel, they know that you will defeat it.”

Turning to the future soldiers in the crowd, he added, “You are the commanders of the Jewish people… My young friends, you are about to join the first Jewish army in 2,000 years.”

One of those soldiers, 18-year-old Ron Yitzhak from Chicago, said he was eager to follow in the footsteps of his father and uncles and serve as a paratrooper in the IDF.

Ron Yitzhak, 18, who immigrated to Israel to join the IDF, after landing at Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday, August 15, 2017 (Elie Leshem/Times of Israel)

“Already at my bar mitzvah, I told my cousins that I would come to Israel and do the army,” he said, brushing aside any notion of concerns about risking his life to serve thousands of miles from home.

“I’ll get along,” he said, beaming, in accentless, nonchalant Hebrew, and predicted that after his release, he would settle somewhere in the south of the country, preferably Eilat, “because I love the beach.”

From Kennedy to Ben Gurion

When the plane touched down at Ben Gurion Airport, the olim broke out in thunderous applause, as Israelis do, and then in song. Afterward, on the stairs leading down from the plane, one man stopped and blew a massive shofar, or ritual rams’ horn, while below the future IDF recruits huddled, whooping loudly, for group pictures.

Among those waiting on the tarmac was David Friedman, the American ambassador to Israel, who had turned out to greet his 23-year-old daughter, a nurse, who will reportedly be settling in Jerusalem.

“We’re so proud of our daughter Talia. She always wanted to live in Israel, and she’s realizing her dream,” he told reporters after warmly embracing her. “Our whole family is very proud of her. We’re here just to greet her and give her a hug and wish her behatzlaha raba [much success] here in Israel.”

He added, “We just want her to be happy. This is something she always wanted to do. She loves Israel. We all love Israel. Our whole family loves Israel. And this is her dream. We’re very proud of her.”

Nearby, one of El Al’s hangars had been appointed with hundreds of lawn chairs, refreshments ranging from Elite coffee to lemon popsicles and a live band playing a string of contemporary Israeli pop hits alongside more traditional tunes. There, the new arrivals were treated to a second round of speeches.

The most prominent politician on hand was Yair Lapid, who chairs the opposition Yesh Atid party. He spoke of his late father, a former minister in the Israeli government, who was an oleh to Israel 70 years ago, describing the move to the Jewish state as “a deep experience of the soul of the nation.”

“Israel welcomes you happily,” he said. “We need you because without you our family is incomplete. Welcome back. Welcome home.”

Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, invoked recent events in the United States, drawing a parallel between the demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend, during which neo-Nazi chanted “Jews will not replace us,” and the Dyke March in June in Chicago, where participants were barred from displaying Jewish symbols.

“There are anti-Semites on the right and anti-Semites on the left,” he said. “Out best answer is what you’re doing: We continue to build together our home, the State of Israel.”

‘I want to do a service’

Like Yitzhak, Hannah Partney, 22, from Connecticut, said she was eager to join a combat unit, though, as opposed to him, she has no close family or roots in Israel.

Hannah Partney, 22, who immigrated to Israel to join the IDF, after landing at Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday, August 15, 2017 (courtesy)

She first spent time in Israel volunteering for a few weeks with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, which facilitates food and lodging in exchange for farming work, and almost immediately began to consider the idea of immigrating and joining the military. “Then I went back and did a year of university in Jerusalem,” Partney said, to decide whether or not to go through with her plan.

“I’ve always been interested in military service,” she said. “I thought about the US military but ultimately didn’t go that way. I’m interested in the discipline and the challenges. I don’t want to live in Israel on a free ticket. I want to do a service. That’s really important to me.”

While her parents were accepting of her decision to go to Israel, they feared for her safety as a soldier, she said.

“There’s more risk in uniform, so yeah, they’re really concerned,” said Partney. “I think it has a lot to do with them not being familiar with Israeli culture… For them to see soldiers walking around with assault rifles is really a new sight. That’s not really something that they would look at and feel like it’s normal.”