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.

 

Ben Gurion Airport to Undergo $1.43 Billion Upgrade

By: jta.org

A view of the terminal hall at Ben Gurion International airport in Tel Aviv, Dec. 17, 2017. (Avi Dishi/Flash90)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport will undergo upgrades and expansions at a cost of $1.43 billion.

The Israel Airport Authority announced the plans on Monday, saying the upgrades are necessary to accommodate an expected 50 percent increase in passenger turnover in the next five years, the Israeli business daily Calcalist reported.

Earlier this week, the airport welcomed 2017’s 20 millionth passenger, according to Calcalist.

Among the scheduled upgrades: 86 additional check-in stations, more stations for self check-in, plus six more luggage-screening machines. The airport also will add eight passenger boarding bridges and two additional shuttle gates.

Construction of a new Terminal 2 is scheduled to absorb domestic flights after the closure of Tel Aviv’s Sde Dov airport, the business daily Globes reported.

 

Technion’s New China Campus Fuses Israeli Innovation and Chinese Resources

By: Adam Abrams; jns.org

A dance performance at the Dec. 18 inauguration of the Guangdong Technion Israel Institute of Technology (GTIIT). Credit: GTIIT

Last week’s inauguration of the Guangdong Technion Israel Institute of Technology (GTIIT)—the first Israeli university campus in China—represents a fusion of the Jewish state’s innovation with the Asian giant’s abundant resources and comes amid developing ties between the two nations.

“[GTIIT] will serve as a reminder to China of Israel’s unique assets such as excellence in advanced education and the ability to innovate,” said Carice Witte, executive director of Sino-Israel Global Network and Academic Leadership (SIGNAL), an institute working to advance Israel-China relations.

“Depending on how the university evolves, it could also provide an ongoing platform for Chinese to become acquainted with Israelis and for Israelis to learn how things are done in China,” she told JNS.

GTIIT was initiated as a result of the Haifa-based Technion – Israel Institute of Technology’s collaboration with several Chinese institutions, including the Guangdong Provincial Government, the Shantou Municipal Government and the Li Ka-shing Foundation. The foundation donated about $130 million towards the project.

Kevin Hattori, associate director of communications for the American Technion Society, told JNS that GTIIT serves as a “bold indicator of the increased global reach and stature” of the Israeli institution.

The new GTIIT campus was officially inaugurated during Hanukkah with the Jewish “Shehecheyanu” prayer blessing the initiative, and with numerous Israeli and Chinese dignitaries affiliated with the project attending the Dec. 18 event.

The campus of the Guangdong Technion Israel Institute of Technology (GTIIT). Credit: GTIIT

Campus and curriculum

The school’s inauguration came two years after a groundbreaking ceremony in December 2015. The new campus—situated near China’s Shantou University—spans 1 million square feet and houses 13 buildings, 29 classrooms, 14 teaching laboratories and 55 research laboratories.

Three-thousand students are expected to attend the school during its first decade and will engage with a broad curriculum ranging from marine biology and coastal planning to medical science.

Currently, 216 undergraduate students are already studying at the school in the fields of chemical engineering, materials engineering, biotechnology and food engineering. These students are slated to become the first graduates of GTIIT in 2021.

Although graduate-level studies have yet to commence, a program for higher-level academics will soon be offered at GTIIT. Additionally, a broader range of studies at the university will eventually include environmental engineering, mechanical engineering, mathematics, physics, chemistry, bioscience and bioengineering.

Impact on Israel-China relations

Regarding the broader trajectory of Israel-China ties, SIGNAL’s Witte said bilateral relations are “in large part led by China,” mostly due to a lack of Israeli understanding of the Chinese culture and mentality.

“For this to become more balanced, Israel and its government will need to gain a much deeper understanding of Chinese culture, how things work there and what it takes to establish long-term mutually beneficial relations,” said Witte, whose organization recently conducted a survey on the subject of Israeli views on China and the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

BRI is a development strategy proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping that outlines the need for China to play a larger role in global affairs through the establishment of a Chinese-centered international trade network.

“The [survey] results showed that while Israelis like China and Chinese culture, their knowledge and understanding remains extremely limited. If this continues in key areas of Israeli society, China’s long-standing Middle East policies could become a serious challenge for Israel,” Witte said.

Witte’s cautionary tone regarding Chinese expansion in the Middle East comes as Beijing has been actively pursuing a larger role as a mediator in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. China hosted a conference on the peace process Dec. 21, and earlier this year urged the international community to support its president’s four-point plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and establish an independent Palestinian state.

Following the Trump administration’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has shunned the U.S. and encouraged increased Chinese and Russian involvement in the peace process.

In the meantime, the Israel-China relationship’s advances in technology and academia are more clear-cut. The inauguration of GTIIT “marks a new era of cooperative research between Israel and China in science, engineering and the life sciences,” said the American Technion Society’s Hattori.

“The GTIIT,” he said, “combines the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of Israel and the Technion with the unbelievable scale and resources of China to form a major research institute that will help Israel, China and the world at large.”

 

New Israeli Law Would Make it Harder to Divide Jerusalem

By: Ilan Ben Zion; apnews.com

FILE – In this Dec. 6, 2017 file photo, a view of the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock, some of the holiest sites for for Jews and Muslims, is seen in Jerusalem’s Old City. Israel’s parliament passed a law Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, requiring a supermajority to relinquish control over any part of Jerusalem, a move that could hamstring the city’s division in any future peace deal. But the law itself can be overturned with a simple majority, making it largely symbolic. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s parliament passed a law on Tuesday requiring a supermajority to relinquish control over any part of Jerusalem, a move that could hamstring the city’s division in any future peace deal.

The amendment bars the government from ceding Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem without approval of at least 80 of the legislature’s 120 members. But the law itself can be overturned with a simple majority, making it largely symbolic.

The law also permits the government to remove outlying Palestinian neighborhoods from the city, a move promoted by hard-liners to preserve Jerusalem’s Jewish majority. They would be turned into separate municipalities under Israeli control.

The Knesset approved the legislation in a 64-52 vote early Tuesday, with opposition politicians saying it would make it even harder to make peace with the Palestinians.

Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war and annexed in a move not recognized internationally, to be the capital of their future state. Tensions rose after President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital last month, breaking with decades of U.S. policy and an international consensus that the city’s status should be decided in peace negotiations.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the legislation “tantamount to declaring war on the Palestinian people.”

“This vote clearly indicates that the Israeli side has officially declared the end of the so-called political process and has already begun to impose dictatorial and de facto policies,” Abbas’s office said in a statement.

The amendment came just days after the ruling Likud party’s central committee called for the annexation of West Bank settlements.

The steering body’s decision was symbolic, but indicative of the prevailing opinion of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party, which is opposed to the internationally-backed concept of a two-state solution. The Palestinians condemned that decision and accused Trump of emboldening the Likud party.

 

Trump Warns Palestinian Authority it May Lose US Aid Money

By: Zeke Miller and Jill Colvin; apnews.com

FILE – In this Dec. 22, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks with reporters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Trump is threatening to cut off aid money to the Palestinian Authority and acknowledging that the Middle East peace process appears to be stalled. Trump says in a pair of tweets that, “we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue …peace treaty with Israel.”(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Acknowledging his push to broker peace in the Middle East has stalled, President Donald Trump appeared to threaten to cut off U.S. aid money to the Palestinian Authority, asking why the U.S. should make “any of these massive future payments” when the Palestinians are “no longer willing to talk peace.”

Trump, in a pair of tweets, said “we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect.”

“They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue … peace treaty with Israel,” he wrote.

Trump infuriated Palestinians and Muslims across the Middle East when he announced late last year that the U.S. would consider Jerusalem the capital of Israel and move its embassy there, upending decades of U.S. policy and igniting protests.

While the Palestinians haven’t closed the door to a potential deal with Israel, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said the announcement had destroyed Trump’s credibility as a Mideast peace broker, calling the decision “a declaration of withdrawal from the role it has played in the peace process.”

Senior Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement Wednesday that Trump had “singlehandedly destroyed the very foundations of peace” with his Jerusalem declaration.

Tuesday’s tweets are a tacit admission by Trump that his decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has thrown a wrench into his administration’s plans to restart the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, which he had dubbed “the ultimate deal.”

Trump tasked son-in-law Jared Kushner with restarting the effort, and brought his former attorney, Jason Greenblatt, into the White House to lead the negotiations. Trump’s Mideast peace team had held meetings with Israeli, Palestinian and Arab leaders for nearly a year ahead of an expected peace proposal.

But by recognizing Israel’s claim to Jerusalem, Trump was seen by the Palestinians as siding with Israel on the most sensitive issue in the conflict. The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem — which Israel captured in 1967 — for their capital.

Trump said his decision merely recognized the reality that Jerusalem already serves as Israel’s capital and wasn’t meant to prejudge the final borders of the city.

In his tweets, Trump argued his decision had taken “Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more.”

When Trump declared Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, he insisted, counterintuitively, that the move would improve, not hurt, prospects for clinching a peace deal.

In the days after the decision, Trump administration officials said the strategy was based on the notion that Israel had lost faith in the U.S. as a committed partner during the Obama administration. With trust in Washington restored, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government would be more inclined going forward to make tough concessions that would ultimately be needed for a peace deal, the U.S. officials argued at the time, and Israeli officials quietly indicated that they could potentially do so.

No one spelled out, however, what the Palestinians would receive in return.

Trump on Tuesday also issued a threat to cut off foreign aid dollars to an unspecified list of countries that don’t reciprocate.

“It’s not only Pakistan that we pay billions of dollars to for nothing, but also many other countries, and others,” Trump wrote, appearing to reference a Jan. 1 tweet lambasting Pakistan for failing to do enough to combat terror groups while taking U.S. aid. “No more!” Trump had tweeted Monday.

Trump’s language marks a striking departure from decades of bipartisan American practice and reflects Trump’s transactional view of global affairs. U.S. leaders of both parties have long utilized foreign assistance dollars — a minor percentage of the overall budget — to promote American interests abroad, alleviate humanitarian crises and support oppressed peoples.

Trump’s envoy to the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, foreshadowed Trump’s warning earlier Tuesday at the U.N. Security Council. Haley said the president doesn’t want to give more funds “until the Palestinians are willing to come back to the negotiation table.”

“We still very much want to have a peace process. Nothing changes with that. The Palestinians now have to show they want to come to the table,” Haley said. “As of now, they’re not coming to the table, but they ask for aid. We’re not giving the aid. We’re going to make sure that they come to the table.”

Since a Dec. 21 U.N. vote condemning Trump’s Jerusalem decision, U.S. officials have been weighing various options for retaliating against the Palestinians for pushing the resolution, which passed by a 128-9 margin.

Those options, which were to be discussed by Trump’s top national security aides at a meeting next week, included several involving cutting off some or all aid to the Palestinian Authority. Another option would cut funding to the U.N. agency that provides services to the Palestinians in places like Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon.

The talks are in their very early stages, with no determination yet of a fixed amount or percentage of assistance to be cut, according to officials familiar with the discussions.

However, the officials noted that only a relatively small amount of the more than $220 million that the U.S. was planning to send to the Palestinians in the current budget year actually goes to the Palestinian Authority. Most of that assistance flows to non-governmental groups that are involved in building civic organizations that promote good governance, anti-corruption efforts, and health and education projects.

The officials said one possibility would be to redirect aid from the Palestinian Authority to those groups. Similar proposals were envisioned for the U.N. relief agency for Palestinians, the officials said, noting that Palestinian children in Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon would be disproportionally affected by an immediate and complete cut-off.

Chris Gunness, a spokesperson for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, said it had not been informed of any changes to U.S. funding at this time.

One basket of money that is unlikely to be affected is security assistance that helps the Palestinian Authority coordinate police cooperation with Israel, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about internal deliberations.

___

Associated Press writers Josh Lederman and Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

How a March to Save Soviet Jews Changed America — and the World

By: Mikhail Fridman; jta.org

Former refuseniks Natan Sharansky, left, and Vladimir Slepak join Elie Wiesel and the American Jewish leader Shoshana Cardin at the march on Washington, D.C., in support of Soviet Jewry, Dec. 6, 1987. (Peter Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

(JTA) — Thirty years ago, Jews in the Soviet Union were not allowed to study Hebrew, eat kosher food, talk about Zionism, go to a synagogue or, most important, leave the country. If they tried to emigrate, they would almost certainly be refused, lose their jobs and be blackballed in their professions. They would then be put on trial and imprisoned for being unemployed.

Thirty years ago, American Jews understood that if Soviet Jews were being silenced, American Jews would have to be loud.

On Dec. 6, 1987, some 250,000 American Jews got very loud. They gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to protest the plight of their Soviet brethren on the eve of a U.S.-Soviet summit. Organizers weren’t sure the demonstrations would work – and there was real worry that a small
demonstration would do more damage than no demonstration at all. But after 25 years of tireless activism, American Jews gathered in huge numbers and used their voices to change history.

I came of age under a regime that barely tolerated and actively persecuted me, my family and my friends because of our heritage. The pre-summit protests showed the world that my community was not alone. The power of unified action won for us our fundamental freedoms.

Speaking at the event, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush called on Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to “let these people go.” The next day, President Ronald Reagan confronted Gorbachev with news of the protest, and the U.S. government began to focus on the plight of Soviet Jews in its exchanges with Soviet authorities. Reagan regularly carried lists of refuseniks into meetings, insisting that their circumstances be addressed. Slowly but surely the gates of Soviet Russia began to open, all the result of resolute advocacy by the American Jewish community. It is not exaggeration to say that the American Jewish community set my people free.

Many Jewish families can trace their presence in the U.S. directly to that day on the National Mall: PayPal co-founder Max Levchin, actress Mila Kunis, singer-songwriter Regina Spektor and Olympic gold medalist Lenny Krayzelburg, among others. The scale of the eventual exodus from the Soviet Union to the U.S. was vast. Today, former Soviet Jews and their offspring account for 10 to 15 percent of the Jewish population in North America.

As a Jew brought up in Lvov in Ukraine, my gratitude toward the American Jews and the pride I feel in their accomplishment is immense. In 1987, Soviet Jews were only 40 years away from one of the worst genocides in world history – the Holocaust, whose scale and unfathomable cruelty in the
countries of the former USSR are not yet properly documented to this day. Many of us still carry the scars of that horror, as well as from Stalin’s purges and other violent anti-Semitism in many corners of the world.

Were it not for the 1987 march in Washington, whole families would have been lost, American society would have not been as enriched, and the world would have lost untold technological and cultural advances. None of this would have been possible had Jewish people and their leaders in America
decided instead to play it safe.

The struggle to achieve religious and cultural freedom has defined and shaped all of human history. Every generation, whether Jewish or not, must confront humanity’s bloody history and fight to achieve and maintain the freedoms that are rightfully ours. The world learned 30 years ago that it is
those choices that make the difference.

The lesson I carry with me on this anniversary is a powerfully uplifting one: When we unite behind the common good, when we stand up to danger, and when we join hands to take action, great things can happen. The Jewish community across the world, no matter where they or their grandparents
call home, should look back to the 1987 march on Washington with pride and a renewed sense of purpose. Together we called on the world to let our people go – and our people were freed.

 

Turkey’s leader calls for backing of UN motion on Jerusalem

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting on refugees, in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, Dec. 18, 2017.(Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Pool Photo via AP)

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s president is calling on nations to back a non-binding resolution that is expected to be brought to the U.N. General Assembly and seeks the cancellation of President Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the appeal Tuesday during a joint news conference with Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh, a day after the U.S. vetoed such a resolution in the U.N. Security Council.

Fourteen other members of the Security Council supported the resolution — a move Erdogan described as “important and meaningful.”

The Turkish leader said: “I invite all U.N. member countries to defend Jerusalem’s historic status (in the 193-member General Assembly).”

Erdogan has been among the most vocal critics of Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem.

 

Who Owns the Dead Sea Scrolls?

A Frankfurt exhibit is canceled as Germany refuses to promise it’ll return them to Israel.

By: Charlotte Allen; wsj.com (Wall Street Journal)

Israel had long planned to take part in a major exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Frankfurt. This would be no ordinary event: Nearly all the Dead Sea Scrolls known to exist are housed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The September 2019 show in Germany represented an uncommon—though not unprecedented—opportunity to display them outside the Middle East. But it wasn’t meant to be.

Earlier this month the German government declined to guarantee it would return the scrolls to Israel if Jordan or the Palestinians claimed them. The Frankfurt Bible Museum, a Protestant entity that had worked with the Jewish state for years, subsequently canceled the event. If Israel refused to release the scrolls, there wouldn’t be much to show.

The Palestinian National Authority and the Jordanian government have contested Israel’s claim to ownership of the scrolls, which were discovered northwest of the Dead Sea during the 1940s and ’50s. After the Ottoman Empire dissolved during World War I, the area became part of the British Mandate of Palestine. It was seized by Jordan during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Then it was recaptured by Israel in 1967, to become part of the West Bank. According to Boris Rhein —culture minister for the state of Hesse, wherein Frankfurt lies—Germany’s federal government considers the scrolls’ ownership unclear.

This is an odd development. In 2005 the German government sponsored an exhibition in Berlin celebrating Israeli art. The show included parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which had left Israel for the first time since 1967. They were housed in Germany for four months without protest. And there have been similar exhibitions in other countries, including the U.S., in recent years.

In 2009-10 Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum held one such exhibition. Just before it closed, Jordan asked the Canadian government to seize the scrolls, pending determination of ownership. Jordan argued that Israel had illegally taken them from a museum in East Jerusalem, which Jordan occupied before 1967, and moved them to the Israel Museum in West Jerusalem. The Jordanians argued this violated international law regarding cultural property during wartime. The Canadian government, having signed a guarantee that Israel would get the scrolls back, ignored Jordan’s request. But the incident was a warning that trouble could follow any plan for the scrolls to leave Israel.

Jordanian legal claims, based on the country’s seizure and occupation of lands that had never been part of its territory, are at best murky. But leave the legal case aside. The Palestinian Authority didn’t exist until the 1993 Oslo accords, long after the last major scroll discoveries. And the content of the scrolls—nearly 1,000 parchment, papyrus and, in one case, copper manuscripts, all dating from around 225 B.C. to A.D. 50—is entirely Jewish.

The scrolls were mostly written in Hebrew and Aramaic, the language spoken by Jews at that time. About 40% of the scrolls are parts of the Hebrew Bible, with every book except Esther represented. The rest include Jewish “apocryphal” scriptures written during that era, which became part of many Christians’ Bibles, as well as writings likely produced by a Jewish sect living in the area at the time.

Even if Jordan had a stronger legal claim, it hasn’t proved it can responsibly maintain the scrolls. During Jordan’s hold on East Jerusalem, the editing and preservation of the scrolls was marked by “scholarly mismanagement and irresponsibility,” scrolls scholar Géza Vermes wrote in 1994. A small team of scholars led by the French priest-archaeologist Roland de Vaux had assumed proprietary control over the manuscripts there, refusing access to outside researchers. They even sat on some of the manuscripts for decades without publishing them. Some of the fragile fragments, stored under glass and held together with adhesive tape, became stained and illegible.

In 1990 the Israeli government finally dissolved what was left of de Vaux’s team. It appointed Hebrew University professor Emanuel Tov to take over the project. Mr. Tov led the swift and orderly publication of the texts, and state-of-the-art preservation technology became the rule.

Given Israel’s extraordinary legal and moral claims to the Dead Sea Scrolls, one can only speculate why Germany is giving credence to the Jordanian and Palestinian ownership arguments. Perhaps it’s relevant that Germany’s five million Muslims, their numbers swollen by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s generous immigration policies, now constitute 6.1% of the population. But recall Israel’s treatment at the hands of Islamic countries. Western leaders should think again if they believe Muslim-dominated territories at the center of the strife will responsibly care for priceless records of Jewish history and culture.

Ms. Allen is author of “The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus ” (Free Press, 1998).

 

Amazon Reportedly to Open Up Israeli Shipping Center

By: Max Schindler; jpost.com

The US-based internet giant may now threaten local retailers.

Employees sort packages at the Amazon distribution center warehouse in Saran, near Orleans, France . (photo credit: REUTERS)

Internet retail giant Amazon is in talks to open a shipping center in Israel, potentially threatening brick-and-mortar retailers and transforming e-commerce locally, it was reported on Sunday.

The company seeks to open a giant 25,000 sq.m. (270,000 sq.ft.) warehouse, near the central city of Modi’in, the financial news site Calcalist reported, citing “people familiar” with the negotiations.

Amazon does not currently operate a site dedicated to Israel, but its hiring spree, along with reports of a new warehouse and shipping center, may spell good news for Israelis who currently pay high shipping fees and experience month-long waits when ordering their products online. In contrast, American consumers in some cities can receive same-day or even three-to-four-hour delivery.

Israelis are increasingly turning to e-commerce services, like other Western consumers, especially given Israel’s higher-than-OECD average prices for household goods. According to a Paypal study conducted in September 2017, more than 94% of Israelis who use the Internet shop online, and nearly half of all online shoppers expressed interest in spending more on Internet purchases in 2018. Israelis spent some NIS 11.8 billion ($3.4b.) online in 2016, and are projected to spend NIS 14b. ($4b.) this year, an 18% increase.

Yet online shopping is sometimes more expensive than in-store purchases because of delivery fees and local taxes. In Israel, mail-order purchases totaling less than $75 are VAT-exempt, free from value added tax, while purchases up to $500 are not subject to import taxes, according to the Israel Tax Authority’s website.

The company faces a number of e-commerce hurdles before entering the Israeli market. Unlike in the United States, where the mailman commonly leaves Amazon packages outside a home, in Israel, those packages could be easily stolen. And Israel isn’t necessarily known for its customer service culture, or for offering reliable shipping.

“I’ve almost given up on it in Israel,” said David Bleicher, CEO of Invertex, an Israeli e-commerce footwear company that does almost all its business abroad. “A year or two ago, it was almost impossible [here] to get a parcel from the postal services.”

Local consumers are pressuring the government to raise the tax exemption ceiling, Calcalist reported, in a bid to lower the country’s high consumer prices. But opposition to that move has come from the Israeli Chamber of Commerce and shopping-mall owners, who seek to protect brick-and-mortar retail jobs. Many Israeli apparel chains have also not invested comparable sums in e-commerce websites or in offering free shipping.

Amazon announced last month the opening of research and development groups in Haifa and Tel Aviv, starting with a total of 100 employees – some of whom were reportedly offered monthly salaries significantly higher than the average Israeli monthly wage.

In 2016, the Internet behemoth had $136 billion of sales, most of which was in North America. An Amazon spokesperson did not respond to comment as of press time.

 

One Israeli Man’s Mission to Bring ‘Gospel Back to Jewish People’

By: Leslie Criss / Northeast Mississippi Daily Joural – Tupelo

A Jew? A Christian? A “Jew for Jesus”? Jacob Damkani isn’t as focused on his own mission as he is on challenging replacement theology.

Jacob Damkani

(TNS) – Jacob Damkani is a man on a mission. In his case, it’s a mission to his people: the Jews.

Damkani is the founder of Trumpet of Salvation to Israel, a Tel Aviv-based ministry whose goal is to “bring the gospel back to the Jewish people.”

The 65-year-old Damkani was in Tupelo, Mississippi, last week as part of his first trip back to the States in eight years, conducting interviews and promoting A New Spirit, a recently released movie adaptation of his life story.

Damkani is warm and intense, with a resonant baritone voice, a thick gray beard and curly hair. Compact and vigorous, he begins his days back home with a 5 am swim in the Mediterranean Sea.

As a young adult, he moved from Tel Aviv to Brooklyn, New York, and lived in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community before moving to Asbury Park, New Jersey, where he ran a gift shop.

“I got to be friends with Bruce Springsteen. It was before he became a big deal. He’d play at the Stone Pony, and we had a few conversations,” Damkani said in an interview from the studios of American Family Radio in Tupelo.

It was while living in New Jersey that Damkani made a profound shift in his beliefs, a shift that led him from Asbury Park to Woodland Hills, California – home to a religious community called Last Days, led by popular Christian recording artist Keith Green, who died in 1982.

Damkani lived in the community and studied under Green for a year in 1978, in the waning days of the Jesus Movement. A casual observer would say he became a Christian, but the keenly intelligent Damkani, never at a loss for words, whether in Hebrew or English, put a finer point on his change of heart.

“Wait a minute. When we say ‘Christian’ we think of another religion,” he said. “But the idea that Jesus came to establish a new religion is far from the truth. Jesus never intended to bring a new religion, and the church has to understand that Jesus is the natural continuation of God’s promises made to Israel. Men made a new religion of it, and the Jews will not accept a new religion. That is the obstacle for the Jews. I didn’t become a Christian if that means following a new religion. If it means a follower of Messiah, then OK, I’m a Christian.”

Damkani left the States and moved back to Israel in 1981, with his heart set on bringing this message to his people, and on helping others – especially Gentile believers – do the same. In 1984, he established Trumpet of Salvation to Israel. For 34 years, the group has been teaching Gentile believers how to reach Israeli Jews in a culturally sensitive and effective way.

Damkani said part of the challenge is helping non-Jewish believers understand the Jews’ natural resistance to Christianity.

“The mind of the Jews doesn’t see Christianity as followers of Messiah, but as a new religion; one that betrayed the God of Israel and Israel as a people,” he said. “When it comes to my people, Christianity is just another religion – the enemy of the Jews who have persecuted them all the way from the Crusades to the Inquisition to the pogroms and the Holocaust. Hitler is associated with Christianity, and Hitler quoted Martin Luther a number of times.”

Damkani said it can be a daunting task to train Gentile Christians to see Western Christianity from a Jewish perspective – a task which requires some deprogramming from the “replacement theology” taught in many churches.

“You cannot really blame the Jews for their hostility,” Damkani said. “For 2,000 years the church told them they aren’t relevant anymore. It’s all based on replacement theology, which is big in the church: the idea that God has sent the Jews away and now Christianity is for the Gentiles. The church has been blind to the place of Israel in the glorious final salvation and the kingdom to come on earth. Messiah didn’t come to replace Israel, he came to open the door, to reconcile all men to God, first to the Jews and then the Gentiles.”

If Western Christians are to make inroads with Israeli Jews, Damkani said they must first acknowledge the part the church has played in alienating them.

“The tragedy is the Gentile world, the church, has done everything it can to do away with Israel and to take Jesus for themselves. Gentiles need to say, ‘Please forgive us for what we have made of Jeshua, for making a blonde, blue-eyed Jesus and for turning the feasts that he celebrated into Easter and Christmas. He had nothing to do with that,” he said.

When Damkani finishes his American visit, he’ll return to Tel Aviv, and to the work he has devoted the past 34 years to, a work he describes as “a double-edged sword.”

“The task we have now is to open the eyes of the Jews to accept Jesus for who he is,” he said, “and to open the eyes of the Gentiles – the saints from the nations – to their calling to Israel.”