Seven NFL Players in Israel Week After Super Bowl

By: Jerusalem Post Sports Staff; jpost.com

The group will tour Jewish and Christian sites and experience the sights, sounds and tastes of the Holy Land.

NFL players in Israel week after Super Bowl
NFL players in Israel week after Super Bowl. (photo credit: AMERICAN VOICES FOR ISRAEL)

A week after the Super Bowl, a group of top NFL players began a whirlwind six-day tour of Israel on Wednesday. The group will tour Jewish and Christian sites, experience the sights, sounds and tastes of the Holy Land, meet Israel’s president and prime minister, receive briefings from Israeli leaders of tech, innovation, security, diplomacy and international aid, and encourage the growth of football in Israel. The trip is organized by America’s Voices in Israel, a nonprofit that provides high-profile Americans with the opportunity to experience Israel firsthand.

The seven NFL players on the group are Josh Norman of the Washington Redskins who is considered one of the top Cornerbacks in the league, Chris Harris Jr. of the Denver Broncos a Super Bowl Champ, three time NFL All-Pro and three time Pro Bowler, Vic Beasley of the Atlanta Falcons who was named First Team All-Pro, Avery Williamson who led his Tennessee Titans with back-to-back 100-tackle seasons, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, tight end for the New York Jets, Mitch Schwartz, offensive tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs and his brother Geoff, who retired in 2017 after nine years as an offensive lineman.

Some of the players have been joined by their spouses and other family.

The group arrived late on Tuesday night. Today, they will head to the north of the country for two days to tour Christian sites including the Sea of Galilee where some group members will be baptized. They will also hear about Innovation Africa’s success bringing advanced Israeli technologies to the most remote areas in Africa and visit a few of the thousands of wounded Syrians who were evacuated by the IDF for treatment in Israeli hospitals.

On Friday night, the football players will experience Sabbath prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and on Saturday night, they will join Kraft Family Israel Football League players on-field at Kraft Stadium in Jerusalem. The NFL pros will pose for photos and sign autographs for Israeli football players and fans. There are 1,350 active football players in Israel with a semi-professional tackle league and dozens of high school teams.

Some of the highlights of their time in Jerusalem will include a visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s National Memorial of the Holocaust; a meeting with Israel President Reuven Rivlin; a briefing with Ze’ev Elkin, the Minister of Jerusalem Affairs; a tour of the Western Wall and a chance to experience the nightlife of the outdoor- Mahane Yehuda market.

On Monday, the final day of the trip, they [had] a chance to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his Jerusalem office.

The trip was kept under wraps until the group landed, as last year players were pressured by BDS activists to cancel their plans to come to Israel.

The trip was organized in cooperation with the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry, led by Ze’ev Elkin

Israel Destroys Hamas Tunnel Following Rocket Fire

The tunnel struck by Israel’s Air Force inside Gaza is the second destroyed in two days.

By: Anna Ahronheim; jpost.com

A general view of the interior of a cross-border attack tunnel dug from Gaza to Israel, near Kissufi
A general view of the interior of a cross-border attack tunnel dug from Gaza to Israel, near Kissufim, seen on January 18, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/JACK GUEZ)

The Israel Air Force struck an underground network of terrorist tunnels in the Gaza Strip overnight on Sunday, after a rocket launched from the Hamas-run enclave struck southern Israel, the IDF announced.

It was the second Hamas tunnel in Gaza to be struck in as many days, and the sixth tunnel destroyed since late October.
“Hamas is responsible for everything that happens in the Gaza Strip, above and below ground,” the statement read. “The army will continue to act to ensure security for the citizens of Israel using all means at its disposal.”

Earlier on Sunday, incoming rocket sirens were activated in communities in the Sha’ar Hanegev region bordering the northern Gaza Strip. A rocket fell in open territory near the city of Sderot causing no damage or injuries.

According to Palestinian reports, jets fired some 10 missiles towards the Hamas tunnel. The tunnel was located in an agricultural area near the destroyed Dahiniye airport, east of Rafah in the southern part of the Strip close to the Israeli border. No casualties were reported.

The previous night, a home in the Sha’ar Hanegev community of Or Haner was directly hit by a rocket causing damage but no injuries to the family inside.

The rocket was launched several hours after four IDF soldiers were wounded – two seriously, including a combat engineer officer, and two moderately – after an improvised explosive device detonated against their military jeep as they patrolled the border fence south of the Gaza Strip on Saturday afternoon.

The IDF later confirmed that it had carried out large-scale strikes against 18 terrorist targets belonging to Hamas, including an attack tunnel in the Zeitun neighborhood of Gaza City that was dug toward Israeli territory.

“Harming IDF soldiers constitutes a grave terrorist [attack],” Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir, the head of the southern command, said Sunday afternoon at a military ceremony. “We will not abide by this reality of using the land around the fence for terrorism.”

“Anyone seeking to undermine Israel’s security will be met with a determined response. We have considerable power and will not hesitate to exercise it as needed, despite our desire to maintain stability and avoid escalation.”

While the security establishment does not believe that Hamas currently seeks another war, the situation is fragile, especially given the worsening conditions in the Strip. Gazans have been demonstrating on the border fence with Israel each Friday throughout recent months and the army believes that Hamas is using these weekly demonstrations as a cover to carry out terrorist attacks.

The explosive device that detonated on Saturday had been hidden inside a Palestinian flag and placed near the fence during last Friday’s demonstrations.

“This is further proof of the utilization of disturbances near the fence by Hamas and other terrorist groups as cover for terrorism. Anyone seeking to undermine Israel’s security will meet a determined response based on intelligence and aerial, land and naval capabilities,” Zamir warned.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman vowed to eliminate those responsible for the attack, which he said was carried out by the Popular Resistance Committees organization, a group comprising several terrorist groups.

“Until we eliminate them, the score remains unsettled,” he said. “It will take two days, a week, or two weeks. We’ll eliminate anyone behind the attack’s execution.”

 

The IRS Campaign Against Israel—and Us

It took seven years for Z Street to learn the truth about why our tax-exempt status was delayed.

By: Lori Lowenthal Marcus; Wall Street Journal – wsj.com

ILLUSTRATION: BARBARA KELLEY

The first IRS viewpoint discrimination case to be filed, Z Street v. IRS,has been settled, with disturbing revelations about how the Internal Revenue Service treated pro-Israel organizations applying for tax-exempt status.

I founded Z Street in 2009 to educate Americans about the Middle East and Israel’s defense against terror. We applied for tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code in December 2009—a process that usually takes three to six months.

Instead, the application languished. In late July 2010, an IRS agent truthfully responded to our lawyer’s query about why processing was taking so long: Z Street’s application was getting special scrutiny, the agent said, because it was related to Israel. Some applications for tax-exempt status were being sent to a special office in Washington for review of whether the applicants’ policy positions conflicted with those of the Obama administration.

So in August 2010 we sued the IRS for violating Z Street’s constitutional rights, including the First Amendment right to be free from viewpoint discrimination—government treatment that differs depending on one’s political position.

Now we know the truth, and it’s exactly as bad as we thought. IRS documents—those they didn’t “lose” or otherwise fail to produce—reveal the following:

• Our application was flagged because Z Street’s mission related to Israel, a country with terrorism. Therefore, an IRS manager in our case said in sworn testimony, the IRS needed to investigate whether Z Street was funding terror.

• Some applications for tax-exempt status were indeed being sent to IRS headquarters in Washington for more intense scrutiny. They were selected because of the applicants’ viewpoint.

• In August 2010, three other Jewish organizations applying for tax-exempt status were asked by the IRS to “explain their religious beliefs about the Land of Israel.”

Our own investigation disclosed that between 2009 and 2016, while Z Street’s application was stalled, the IRS needed no special scrutiny to grant numerous applications for tax-exempt status that explicitly proclaimed donations would be spent in Gaza—a territory formally under the jurisdiction of Hamas, which the U.S. State Department designates as a terror organization.

While claiming to be investigating Z Street’s funding of terror, the IRS never asked how or where Z Street spent its money. The IRS ultimately granted Z Street’s application, in October 2016, without asking anything about terror, or money, or anything else it hadn’t known in 2010.

As the IRS knew within six weeks of our case being filed, Z Street was sent for special scrutiny by an IRS employee using an outdated list of countries affected by terror. The new list didn’t include Israel. The IRS didn’t resume processing our application after it discovered this error, and it didn’t disclose the error for six years. Because we sued, the IRS froze Z Street’s application. It stayed on ice until August 2016, when a court held the IRS couldn’t get our case thrown out until it processed our application. Two months later we got our exemption.

The “terror” error turns out to have been a pretext. Within weeks of President Obama’s inauguration, IRS and State Department officials began considering whether they could deny or revoke tax-exempt status for organizations that provided material support to Jews living across the Green Line—the nonborder that delineates pre-1967 Israel from the territories Israel acquired in the Six Day War. The theory was that a Jewish presence in those areas is inconsistent with U.S. policy. The IRS drew up lists of such organizations based on information from anti-Israel websites such as Electronic Intifada and MondoWeiss.

The New York Times and the Washington Post ran articles that advanced the policy espoused by the Obama administration and its nonprofit ally, J Street. Unnamed “senior State Department officials” were quoted as saying that Jewish activity over the Green Line isn’t “helpful” to peace efforts.

While no formal policy was released barring U.S. tax-exempt entities from supporting Jewish activity over the Green Line, Obama IRS officials tried three times between 2009 and 2012 to create such a policy, and IRS employees made sure the effort wasn’t documented. One emailed her supervisor saying that she would answer his questions about IRS policy relating to Israeli settlements only orally. “Not doing email on this,” she explained.

Even if the IRS could legitimately institute such a policy, it should not have applied to Z Street. We believe Jews should be allowed to live beyond the Green Line, but we have never spent a penny outside the U.S.

To learn the truth, we fought in the courts for seven lonely years—defeating IRS arguments that it didn’t have to obey the First Amendment, that it was immune from the suit, and that it wasn’t obliged to produce in discovery any documents revealing why its employees did what they did. During the seven years Z Street’s application was frozen, it couldn’t raise funds. If my husband and I weren’t lawyers, able to pursue justice without getting paid, there’s no way we could have succeeded.

When Z Street’s creation was announced, thousands sought to join. Then the IRS attempted to kill us. No lawsuit can remedy that assault, as the IRS knew. The settlement gives us the truth, but we can’t get back our seven years.

 

5 Reasons Why Israel is Ready for War with Hezbollah in Lebanon

By: JTA/Ron Kampeas; jpost.com

12 years ago, Hezbollah and Israel were left gutted by a summer war that was costly for both sides.

Israeli soldiers hold an Israeli flag as they leave Lebanese territory during a second day of ceasefire during the Second Lebanon War, near the town of Menara August 15, 2006.. (photo credit: REUTERS)5 reasons why Israel is ready for war with Hezbollah in Lebanon

WASHINGTON — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a simple, straightforward message this week when he toured Israel’s border with Syria and Lebanon with top security officials.

“Our face is turned toward peace, we are ready for any eventuality, and I don’t suggest anyone test us,” he said Tuesday in a video message he posted on Twitter, the sound of helicopter blades whirring in the background.

The mixed message signaled Israel’s ambivalence about taking on the terrorist group Hezbollah 12 years after Lebanon and Israel were left gutted by a summer war.

The 2006 war was costly for both sides: Hezbollah, the preeminent militia in Lebanon, lost political capital for inviting a devastating response to its provocations along Israel’s border. Israel’s military and political class at the time paid a price for not decisively winning a war that precipitated a mass internal movement of civilians southward.

Yet the sides are making increasingly belligerent noises. Here are five factors contributing to increasing tensions along the border.

Syria may be winding down, and Iran is winding up.

The Assad regime, along with its allies Russia, Iran and Hezbollah — Iran’s proxy in the region — have the opposition in Syria’s civil war on the run. Iran and Hezbollah are striking while the iron is hot, establishing preeminence in the region. Iranian brass recently toured southern Lebanon and Tehran, according to Israeli reports, and Iran is financing a military factory in Lebanon.

Israeli officials reject a permanent Iranian presence on its border — a message that Netanyahu delivered to Russian President Vladimir Putin when they met last month in Moscow.

“I told him that Israel views two developments with utmost gravity: First is Iran’s efforts to establish a military presence in Syria, and second is Iran’s attempt to manufacture – in Lebanon – precision weapons against the State of Israel,” he said after the meeting. “I made it clear to him that we will not agree to either one of these developments and will act according to need.”

A U.S. leadership vacuum is creating anxiety.

President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike on a Syrian missile base last year after it was revealed that Syria used chemical weapons against civilians, but otherwise the U.S. engagement with shaping the outcome of Syria’s civil war has been desultory. Russia is filling the vacuum, which is stoking Israeli anxieties. Despite generally good relations between the Netanyahu and Putin governments, Israel cannot rely on Russia to advance Israeli interests in the same way it has with the United States.

“As the shape of the Syrian war changes, Israel may find its working relations with Russia undermined by Moscow’s desire to exercise influence in Syria generally from afar, and by its shifting relations with Iran,” Shoshana Bryen, the senior director at the Jewish Policy Center, wrote this week in The Algemeiner.

Absent focused U.S. leadership, Israel may strike out on its own to prevent Hezbollah from becoming the preeminent force in the nations to its north.

There are signs that the Trump administration, albeit belatedly, is noticing what its absence has wrought: Last month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said 2,000 U.S. troops currently in Syria to assist pro-Western rebels would remain stationed there to mitigate against a permanent Iranian presence in Syria.

New fences make restive neighbors.

Israel is building a wall on its northern border along a line demarcated by the United Nations in 2000, when Israel ended its 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon. Israel is building the wall in order to prevent the deadly Hezbollah incursions that spurred the 2006 war, which claimed 1,200 Lebanese lives and more than 60 Israeli lives.

But neither Lebanon nor Hezbollah accepted the demarcation as a permanent outcome, citing disputes over small patches of land that extended back to the 1949 armistice, and the Lebanese government and Hezbollah have threatened action.

Oil and gas

Lebanon last month approved a joint bid by Italian, French and Russian oil companies to explore seas off its coast. Israel claims a portion of the waters. Israeli leaders have called for a diplomatic solution to the dispute, but the competing claims are aggravating tensions between the countries.

Hezbollah, intermittently, has also threatened to attack Israeli platforms in the Mediterranean extracting natural gas.

Gaza

The Gaza Strip also is restive, with an increase in rocket attacks from Hamas and Israeli retaliatory strikes after Trump in December recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. An Israel distracted by an engagement with Hamas and other terrorist groups in the south could be seen by Hezbollah as an opening to strike in the north.

 

False Identity: The Jewish-Israeli Reporter Who Went Undercover as a Sheikh

By: Amy Spiro; jpost.com

Journalist Zvi Yehezkeli feared for his life, tells The Jerusalem Post his biggest revelations on the Muslim Brotherhood were in the US.

Zvi Yehezkeli undercover as Sheikh Abu Hamza. (photo credit: CHANNEL 10)

Zvi Yehezkeli is a fairly well known face around Israel. For more than 15 years, the journalist and religious father of five has appeared on Channel 10 News, reporting on the Arab world.

But for a couple months over the past two years, Yehezkeli became someone else entirely: Sheikh Abu Hamza. He used this identity – and a couple of others – to film an in-depth series on the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the streets of Europe and the United States. The five-part series, titled “False Identity,” began airing last week on Channel 10.

In the first installment, Yehezkeli – or Abu Hamza, wired with secret cameras and microphones – explored the mosques, schools and bookstores of the Muslim community in Paris.

“The Western world isn’t always reporting on these things because they don’t understand their significance,” Yehezkeli said in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post. “I think the job of a journalist is to report on the things we don’t understand.”

Yehezkeli set out to show the infrastructure and the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Paris.

“I think people should see their doublespeak, their approach to mosques and schools,” and attempts to control the Muslim community in France and elsewhere in Europe, he said.

The upcoming episodes, said Yehezkeli, will show additional footage from France as well as his journey posing as a Syrian refugee traveling from Turkey to Germany. The final two episodes, which the journalist said basically make up a free-standing documentary, focus on the United States.

“The biggest revelations in this series are in the United States,” said Yehezkeli. “It’s stronger than anything else in the program.”

To go undercover, Yehezkeli changed his look and dress, received lessons from locals on how to pose as a Muslim and bought fake documents with his new name and photo.

But even with his instruction and his fluent Arabic, there were moments Yehezkeli said he feared for his life while filming.

“You saw, in the first episode, that moment in the mosque in France,” he said. Yehezkeli said he thought that some people nearby had discovered his identity, “and I was given an order to get out of there.” In a future episode, Yehezkeli said, he was actually stopped and detained in Turkey along with his crew after arousing suspicion. He was eventually let go with a warning, but was left shaken.

While Yehezkeli’s family might be used to some of his more unusual and treacherous travels, this time around he was more tight-lipped.

“I would tell them at the end of each trip that everything is OK,” he said.

The journalist has received some criticism that the show serves just to fearmonger and portray everyday events as sinister.

Indeed, the fact that state-funded schools are teaching Islam and the Koran is far from alarming.

The popularity in stores of the books and recordings of Yusuf al-Qaradawi is a different story, however. An extremist cleric whose works are banned in Saudi Arabia, he has an arrest warrant out for him in Egypt and is not allowed to enter the US, UK or France.

“Islam is a legitimate faith like any other faith in the world,” said Yehezkeli, “until the moment when its politics and organizations try to force an extremist version of Islam on other Muslims. This is one of the problems of the Muslim Brotherhood… There’s a reason they’ve been thrown out of Arab countries; there’s a reason they’re operating now in the West.”

 

Majority of Knesset Backs Bill Accusing Poland of Holocaust Denial

By: Lahav Harkov; jpost.com

“The historic truth of the Jewish People is not for sale,” MK Shmuly says; Nazi hunter Zuroff: Post-communist countries have a Holocaust distortion problem.

The Knesset in session: The legislature is going to be working overtime.. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post

New legislation cosponsored by 61 members of Knesset would make a Polish bill to outlaw talk of Poles’ complicity in the Nazis’ crimes a form of illegal Holocaust denial.

The bill, formulated by MKs from the coalition and the opposition – Itzik Shmuly (Zionist Union), Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu), Nurit Koren (Likud) and Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) – seeks to amend the Law for Defense Against Holocaust Denial to state that denying or minimizing the involvement of the Nazi’s helpers and collaborators will also be a crime.

In addition, the amended law would provide legal aid to any Holocaust survivors and educators taking students to death camps who face foreign lawsuits because they recounted what happened in the Holocaust.

The 1986 Law for Defense Against Holocaust Denial states that anyone who publishes denial and minimization of the Holocaust or other crimes against the Jewish people can get five years of jail time.

The Polish Senate was expected Wednesday to approve a bill that would make using the phrase “Polish death camps” or saying the Polish people were in any way culpable for the Nazis’ crimes against humanity an offense that carries a three-year prison sentence. The vote was set to take place even though the Polish and Israeli governments plan to negotiate a version of the bill that would be agreeable to both sides.

Shmuly said: “The Poles, and others who may want to copy them, should know that the historical truth of the Jewish people is not for sale.”

“Many Poles, and many others, heard, knew about and helped the Nazi extermination machine,” Shmuly added. “The Polish attempt to rewrite history and to shut Holocaust survivors’ mouths is audacious, shocking and despicable. We will not allow the collaborators to hide behind the Nazis and deny their historic responsibility.”

Lapid said the Polish attempt to avoid responsibility “only emphasizes the need to take action against these voices. We must use all the means we have, including the Knesset, against Holocaust denial.

“We won’t let anyone forget the Nazis or those who cooperated with them. That is our responsibility to the memory of the millions killed.

The world must know the Jews are not afraid and are not willing to be silent anymore, and are not afraid anymore,” Lapid said.

Ilatov said that the number of living Holocaust survivors is dwindling, and therefore, “Israel has the moral responsibility to commemorate their bravery and promise that no one will try to hide, whitewash or cover up those who tell the stories of the horrible crimes and the shocking testimony about the crimes committed against the Jewish people. We won’t let anyone rewrite history.”

Dr. Efraim Zuroff, Nazi-hunter and director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office, said that “Holocaust distortion” has been a problem for over 25 years, and until now Israel has done little to combat it.

Eastern European countries, Zuroff said, “have invested in trying to convince the world the Holocaust was only the work of Germany and maybe a few degenerates.

“Since the Soviet Union crumbled, people have been trying to say communism is the same as Nazism… They want communism to be considered genocide and [some countries] criminalized denying it. And then, if communism is genocide, and there were Jewish communists, then Jews committed genocide. This is their way of undermining the Shoah and their participation in it,” Zuroff explained.

The issue of Holocaust distortion exists “in practically every country in post-communist Eastern Europe,” he said. “Their new heroes are people who fought communists, some of whom killed Jews in the Shoah.

They name streets and schools after them.”

Still, Zuroff said he did not think that legislation is the right way for Israel to deal with the problem. Rather, Israel should use its influence in post-Soviet countries, many of which have defense ties with Israel, to convince the governments that “their behavior is unacceptable.”

“They love Israel, but hate the Jews,” Zuroff said.

 

Palestinian President Shows the World Who He Really Is

That wild speech is indeed a product of recent events. But it also fits a telling pattern.

By: Eli Lake; bloomberg.com

Photographer: Kevin Hagen/Getty Images

There are two ways to understand the two-and-a-half hour rant Sunday from the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in which he called for discarding past agreements with Israel.

The first way is straightforward: He means it. As Maya Angelou famously said, “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” In the case of Abbas, he has been showing us who he is for a while now.

He defends Palestinian Authority payments for terrorists. He called murderers “heroic brothers” when they were released by Israel in 2013 as a condition for restarting peace talks. In December he urged the Organization of the Islamic Conference to reconsider its recognition of Israel.

So when Abbas gives a Castro-esque speech laced with fake history about Israel being a colonial project of Europeans, it fits a pattern.

The second way of understanding his rant requires some creative accounting. Abbas doesn’t really mean it. Abbas has been a patient peace partner now for 15 years, but along comes President Donald Trump, who recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and asks Saudi Arabia to pressure Abbas to take a deal. What do you expect?

This is the interpretation of J-Street, the Soros-family-funded advocacy group that touts itself as pro-peace and pro-Israel. A J-Street statement on the Abbas speech began with this throat clearing: “Sunday’s speech by President Abbas no doubt reflected his own and the Palestinian people’s deep despair at the ever-deepening occupation and the lack of diplomatic progress toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

J-Street was careful to stipulate that this despair was “no excuse for calling into question either the Jewish connection to, or Palestinian recognition of, the state of Israel.” But let’s not lose the plot. This group asserts that Abbas would not have delivered his rant “if it were not for President Trump’s inept and disastrous missteps regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

J-Street here is succumbing to a fallacy of international relations. Call it the prime-mover theory of geopolitics: There is always something America can or shouldn’t do that determines the behavior of its adversaries and allies. We see this misunderstanding all the time. People say that had George W. Bush not invaded Iraq, there would be no Islamic State. Had Barack Obama not withdrawn prematurely from Iraq, there would be no Islamic State. You get the picture.

But foreign affairs are never so simple as one cause having one effect. And this brings us back to Abbas. The 82-year-old Palestinian leader certainly had reason to be disappointed with Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He didn’t like Trump’s threats to cut off funding for the Palestinian Authority. But none of that quite explains a speech that wishes for the U.S. president’s house to come to ruin, accuses Israel of importing drugs, and threatens to blacklist companies that do business in the occupied territory and report their names to Interpol for bribery.

To explain this vitriol as purely a reaction to despair or hopelessness is to ignore recent history. Abbas was elevated to his position after George W. Bush asked the Palestinian people to elect leaders not tainted by terror. Recall the Iranian shipment of arms coordinated by Abbas’s predecessor Yasser Arafat in 2002, during the final months of the second intifada. Abbas on the other hand had distinguished himself in this period by delivering a brave speech calling for nonviolent resistance to occupation, when Arafat was praising the suicide bombers.

The current Palestinian leader has been dining out on that speech now for 15 years, while consistently rejecting peace offers and later negotiations. In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza and four settlements in the northern West Bank. This could have been the basis for new negotiations, but nothing happened.

Under Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Abbas was offered an independent state in 2008. Olmert recalled in a 2015 interview that he told Abbas: “Remember my words, it will be 50 years before there will be another Israeli prime minister that will offer you what I am offering you now. Don’t miss this opportunity.” Abbas didn’t take the offer. Instead he asked to study the maps.

After Israelis elected Benjamin Netanyahu, he succumbed to pressure from the U.S. president, Barack Obama, to freeze some settlement activity as a condition for peace talks. Abbas didn’t even deign to negotiate. In Obama’s second term, Netanyahu released violent prisoners as a condition for restarting the talks. Again, Abbas didn’t budge.

To be sure, the Israelis too have continued to expand the population in existing settlement blocs. The world is less focused on the plight of Palestinians as the Middle East has moved on with the Arab Spring and civil wars that followed. But Abbas remains stuck today as he was in 2005 when he won his only election to be the Palestinian president. He is a prisoner of a dysfunctional liberation movement.

The Abbas we saw on Sunday was not a leader inviting his people to embrace dark conspiracies and hopeless struggle. Rather, Abbas was meeting many Palestinians where they already are. He was reflecting a movement that equates Palestinian nationalism with the negation of the Jewish state.

Eventually Abbas will die. His legacy will be that of a weak man who was unwilling and unable to challenge deep flaws in his people’s liberation movement. If there is ever to be peace or Palestine, the Palestinians need a leader who will challenge a liberation myth that Abbas has never relinquished.

 

‘America Stands with Israel,’ Proclaims Vice President

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence this week told the people of Israel he came to their nation with one simple message: “America stands with Israel.” In a speech before the Israeli Knesset, the Vice President said:

We stand with Israel because your cause is our cause, your values are our values, and your fight is our fight. We stand with Israel because we believe in right over wrong, in good over evil, and in liberty over tyranny. We stand with Israel because that’s what Americans have always done…

In his address celebrating the bond between Israel and the United States, Pence highlighted the power of the upcoming 70th anniversary of modern Israel and he recounted some common causes, such as opposition to terrorism and Iran’s current oppressive regime.

Pence also reiterated America’s commitment to honoring its ally by moving its embassy to its rightful place in Jerusalem, a move NRB has advocated and welcomes. “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” he declared simply, and later added, “By finally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the United States has chosen fact over fiction. And fact is the only true foundation for a just and lasting peace.”

Pence concluded his Knesset address:

The miracle of Israel is an inspiration to the world. And the United States of America is proud to stand with Israel and her people, as allies and cherished friends. And so we will “pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” that “those who love you be secure,” that “there be peace within your walls, and security in your citadels.” And we will work and strive for that brighter future where everyone who calls this ancient land their home shall sit “under their vine and fig tree, and none shall make them afraid.”

At NRB’s 2017 convention, the association’s Board of Directors unanimously approved a resolution expressing support for Israel. The Board called on NRB members to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” and for the U.S. “to stand steadfastly by Israel, even as others malign, abandon, or attack her.” They also urged Christians to “reject and guard against the dangerous Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.”

Next month, in anticipation of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the modern state of Israel, NRB will host a special session at Proclaim 18 in Nashville, Tennessee, that will feature Christian ministry leaders Kay Arthur and David Jeremiah; award-winning singer and songwriter Michael W. Smith; and others.

Proclaim 18, which will also feature a visit from Vice President Pence on its opening day, will be held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville February 27-March 2, 2018.

 

Pence Speech Rife with Biblical References Rocks the Knesset

By: Lahav Harkov; jpost.com

VP Pence’s Biblical speech to Knesset met with multiple standing ovations.

Pence speech rife with biblical references rocks the Knesset
US Vice President Mike Pence addresses the Knesset, Israeli Parliament, in Jerusalem January 22, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/ARIEL SCHALIT/POOL)

US Vice President Mike Pence was met with one standing ovation after another in the Knesset, during his speech rife with Biblical references and expressions of support for Israel and the Jewish people.

Under US President Donald Trump, Pence said, US-Israel ties are stronger than ever.

“We stand with Israel, because we believe in right over wrong, in good over evil, and in liberty over tyranny…The people of the US have always held a special affection and admiration for the People of the Book. In the story of the Jews, we’ve always seen the story of America. It is the story of Exodus, a journey from persecution to freedom, a story that shows the power of faith and the promise of hope,” he stated.

Pence, the first US Vice President to address the Knesset’s plenary, spoke to a packed room.

A devout Evangelical Christian, Pence paraphrased Psalms: “The USA is proud to stand with Israel and her people, as allies and cherished friends. And so we will pray for the peace of Jerusalem, that those who love you be secure, that there be peace within your walls and security in your citadels. And we will work and strive for that brighter future, so everyone who calls this ancient land home shall sit under their vine and fig tree, and none shall make them afraid.”

“We recognize that peace will require compromise, but you can be confident in this: The USA will never compromise on the safety and security of the State of Israel,” he stated.

“The US remains committed to peace,” Pence stated, saying that the US will support a two-state solution if both sides want it. That comment was met by a standing ovation from the opposition, while the coalition noticeably stayed in their seats.

The vice president announced that the US embassy will move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of next year, emphasizing that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.

He also spoke out against Iran, calling the nuclear deal a “disaster,” and saying Trump will not certify it again.

Pence rapped Iran as the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism, and used the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” several times, saying it “respects no creed, stealing the lives of Jews, Christians and especially Muslims.”

“Together with our allies we will continue to bring the full force of our might to drive radical Islamic terrorism from the face of the earth,” he said.

During his speech, Pence waxed poetic about Israel and Jewish history.

“As I stand in Abraham’s Promised Land, I believe that all who cherish freedom and seek a brighter future should cast their eyes here and marvel at what they behold…How unlikely is Israel’s birth; how more unlikely is her survival,” he said.

Pence said the Jewish people held on to the hope of returning to their homeland over a 2,000 year exile, “through the darkest and longest nights.”

“Tomorrow, when I stand with my wife Karen at Yad Vashem to honor the six million Jewish martyrs of the Holocaust, we will marvel at the faith and resilience of your people, who just three years after walking in the shadow of death, rose up from the ashes to resurrect yourselves, to reclaim a Jewish future and rebuild the Jewish State.”

Speaking on Israel’s upcoming 70th Independence Day, Pence said the Shehechiyanu (“who has granted us life”) blessing, said to thank God on momentous occasions.

Pence’s blessing was met with a standing ovation from nearly all of the MKs present, as were several other points in his speech.

At the start of the speech, Joint List MKs held up signs that said “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.” They were immediately ejected by ushers. Holding up signs or other props in the Knesset is prohibited in all plenary sessions, and when a foreign dignitary speaks, there is a zero-tolerance policy against heckling.

Pence took the interruption in stride, praising Israel’s “vibrant democracy.”

Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh tweeted that he was proud to lead his party in a “strong, legitimate protest, against the Trump-Netanyahu regime’s exaltation of racism and hatred, who speak of peace solely as lip service.”

Pence’s speech was otherwise extremely well-received from both the opposition and the coalition.

The vice president concluded his speech with “God bless the Jewish people, God bless Israel, and God bless the USA.” Likud MK Yehudah Glick shouted: “God bless you, Mr. Vice President!”

Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz called Pence’s speech “inspiring,” and Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett said “it will go down in the history books of both nations.”

 

US Wants to Cut Money for Palestinian Refugees

By: Matthew Lee and Julie Pace; apnews.com

FILE – In this Jan. 10, 2018, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington. The Trump administration is preparing to withhold tens of millions of dollars from the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, cutting the year’s first contribution by more than half or perhaps entirely, and making additional donations contingent on major changes to the organization, according to U.S. officials. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

 

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaks during a meeting with the Palestinian Central Council, a top decision-making body, at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed,l)

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is preparing to withhold tens of millions of dollars from the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, cutting the year’s first contribution by more than half or perhaps entirely, and making additional donations contingent on major changes to the organization, according to U.S. officials.

President Donald Trump hasn’t made a final decision, but appears more likely to send only $60 million of the planned $125 million first installment to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, said the officials, who weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Future contributions would require the agency, facing heavy Israeli criticism, to demonstrate significant changes in operations, they said, adding that one suggestion under consideration would require the Palestinians to first re-enter peace talks with Israel.

The State Department said Sunday that “the decision is under review. There are still deliberations taking place.” The White House did not immediately respond to questions about the matter.

The administration could announce its decision as early as Tuesday, the officials said. The plan to withhold some of the money is backed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis, who offered it as a compromise to demands for more drastic measures by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, the officials said.

Haley wants a complete cutoff in U.S. money until the Palestinians resume peace talks with Israel that have been frozen for years. But Tillerson, Mattis and others say ending all assistance would exacerbate instability in the Mideast, notably in Jordan, a host to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees and a crucial U.S. strategic partner.

In another sign of the growing tensions in the region, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas railed at Trump in a fiery, two-hour-long speech on Sunday, saying “shame on you” for his treatment of the Palestinians and warning that he would have no problem rejecting what he suggested would be an unacceptable peace plan. The speech by Abbas ratcheted up what has been more than a month of harsh rhetoric toward Trump since the president’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

The U.S. is the Relief and Works Agency’s largest donor, supplying nearly 30 percent of its total budget. The agency focuses on providing health care, education and social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians either fled or were forced from their homes during the war that led to Israel’s establishment in 1948. Today, there are an estimated 5 million refugees and their descendants, mostly scattered across the region.

Eliminating or sharply reducing the U.S. contribution could hamstring the agency and severely curtail its work, putting great pressure on Jordan and Lebanon as well as the Palestinian Authority. Gaza would be particularly hard hit. Some officials, including Israelis, warn that it might push people closer to the militant Hamas movement, which controls Gaza.

The U.S. officials said any reduction in American assistance could be accompanied by calls for European nations and others to help make up the shortfall.

The U.S. donated $355 million in 2016 and was set to make a similar contribution this year; the first installment was to have sent this month.

But after a highly critical Jan. 2 tweet from Trump on aid to the Palestinians, the State Department opted to wait for a formal policy decision before sending any of the $125 million.

Trump’s tweet expressed frustration over the lack of progress in his attempts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and he pointed the finger at the Palestinians. “We pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” he said. “But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

Although Trump referred to all U.S. assistance to the Palestinians, the contribution to the refugee agency would be the first to be affected.

Three days after the tweet, at a Jan. 5 White House meeting, senior national security officials try to find a way forward. Led by representatives from the State Department and Pentagon, all but one of the members of the “Policy Coordination Committee” agreed to continue the funding, officials said.

The lone holdout was Haley’s representative, who insisted that Trump’s tweet had set the policy and the money must be cut off, the officials said.

The meeting ended in a stalemate.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu then weighed in, telling his Cabinet that he agreed with the critique of the agency. He said the agency only perpetuates problems and should cease operating in the region. Netanyahu and other Israelis accuse it of contributing to Palestinian militancy and allowing its facilities to be used by militants. They have also complained that some of its staff are biased against Israel.

Netanyahu suggested transferring the agency’s budget to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which aids refugee matters everywhere in the world. It was not immediately clear whether any withheld U.S. assistance would be shifted.

Netanyahu’s position, coupled with Haley’s firm opposition to the funding, led Tillerson, with the support of Mattis, to propose the $60 million compromise, the officials said.

Trump, whose Jerusalem decision last year upset the Palestinians along with the announcing plans to move the U.S. Embassy to the holy city, was said by one official to have expressed cautious backing of the compromise.