Israeli Frankincense Farmer Cashes in on Rare Honey

By: Ilan Ben Zion; apnews.com

Guy Erlich
In this Sunday, September 28, 2018 photo, Guy Erlich shows off his farm in Almog, an Israeli settlement and kibbutz near the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea in the Jordan Valley, in the West Bank. Erlich is cashing in by producing exotic honey from a rare tree that produces frankincense – the resin once worth its weight in gold and venerated in the Bible. But the Palestinians and the vast majority of the international community consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank, along with their use of local, natural resources to be illegal. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

ALMOG, West Bank (AP) — An Israeli farmer has cashed in by making exotic honey from a rare tree that produces frankincense — the resin once worth its weight in gold and venerated in the Bible. But the farm’s location in a far-flung West Bank settlement has left a bitter taste in at least one investor’s mouth.

Guy Erlich’s Balm of Gilead Farm is home to 1,000 threatened Boswellia sacra — the perfume-producing desert shrub mentioned in the Bible. He hopes these and his cornucopia of other medicinal plants will yield remedies for human ills — and even the conflict with the Palestinians.

But the farm’s West Bank address, 6 kilometers (4 miles) from the Dead Sea, could hinder his project to cultivate and study threatened desert plants. The Palestinians and the vast majority of the international community consider Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, along with their use of local natural resources, to be illegal.

Erlich rejected such criticism, saying his work is for the benefit of everyone.

“I focus on plants that few other people in the world cultivate. That’s how I have a chance to succeed in the years to come,” he said. “These are also very important plants, and if they’re not cultivated they’ll disappear.”

Boswellia sacra is native to the deserts of northern Somalia, Yemen and Oman, and is threatened by overharvesting of its precious resin, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Mature Boswellia trees are scored to extract the resin, which hardens into lumps ranging from white to pale green in color. Top grade frankincense can sell for hundreds of dollars per kilogram (pound).

Most frankincense comes from trees tapped in the wild, rather than grown on plantations. The tree is not indigenous to the Levant, but its resin has been valued in the region for millennia as a highly prized aromatic used in medicine and rituals.

It was burned as part of religious ceremonies throughout the ancient Mediterranean world, and was one of the ingredients mentioned in the Bible for the incense sacrifice in the ancient Jewish Temples. It was famously given as a gift to the newborn Jesus by the Magi, and still plays a central role in Orthodox Christian church ceremonies. The alleys around Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, entombed and resurrected, are redolent of the frankincense that vendors burn to entice pilgrims to buy chunks of the yellow resin.

While his Boswellia trees are still too young to produce frankincense, Erlich struck upon honey as a possible source of revenue for his operation.

His first batch of single-source honey made from the desert plants’ tiny flowers sold for $1,000 a kilogram (nearly $500 a pound).

The amber-hued, exceptionally sweet honey has earthy undertones and a slightly astringent finish. In less than a month, Erlich says he exhausted his initial four kilogram (9 pound) stock, selling most of it to customers in the United States.

“I’ve started a waiting list for orders,” he said.

Yet politics always looms in the background. Erlich said a global, Palestinian-led effort to boycott settlement goods has taken a toll on his business, with a major American investor jumping ship a couple of years ago out of concern about the boycott threat.

The European Union, Israel’s largest trading partner, does not allow settlement products to say “Made in Israel.” While it does not ban them, it requires that produce, including honey, be accurately labeled.

Despite international anti-settlement sentiment, Erlich said he hopes to foster cooperation with his Palestinian neighbors and turn his farm into a research center for medicinal plants. He also is growing 10,000 Commiphora gileadensis, the fragrant biblical “Balm of Gilead” shrub and namesake of the farm.

“I would be very happy to one day see this as an international project,” he said, the Palestinian city of Jericho behind him in the distance. “We’re sitting at a triangle of borders: we have Palestine, we have Jordan, and we have Israel.

“If my plants can also serve as a catalyst to unite Israelis and Palestinians, and perhaps other neighbors around, then I am all for it,” he added.

Jericho’s Palestinian governor, Majid Fityani, dismissed such a notion, saying the issue is political, not economic.

“Israeli settlements are the embodiment of the Israeli occupation of our land,” Fityani said. “This settler has stolen Palestinian land and if he is honest he would have left our land and returned to his country, Israel.”

Erlich and others are starting to look to the Boswellia’s medicinal properties.

Besides aromatic compounds and the hallucinogen incensyl acetate, frankincense has an anti-inflammatory compound called boswellic acid, said Jason Eslamieh, an Arizona botanist and author of several publications about the plant. The resin is a cocktail of complex organic compounds, and “it will take many, many years to really figure out what exactly is in frankincense that will be helpful,” Eslamieh said.

Clinical research has shown that boswellic acid can sometimes reduce inflammation in humans. But much remains unknown. A university in Muscat, Oman, is hosting what is touted as the first international conference about the medicinal benefits of frankincense later this month. Erlich said he doesn’t plan to attend.

Eslamieh said that growing demand for frankincense in traditional Chinese other alternative medicines has helped put “an incredible amount of stress on the natural habitat of the Boswellia.” For now, farms like Erlich’s are rare.

Boswellia trees take around 10 years to become mature enough to be tapped for their resin. Erlich’s oldest plants are still years away from that point.

In the meantime, Erlich sent the Frankincense honey to a Tel Aviv University laboratory to test what active compounds from the plant are present.

While he’s pleased to have found a profitable byproduct from the young trees, he still has a hurdle to overcome ahead of his next honey harvest.

“I’m personally a bit afraid of bees, but it looks like I’ll have to get over it,” he said.

Why These People are Celebrating a Jewish Holiday at IHOP

By: Ben Sales; Jewish Telegraphic Agency-jta.org

A view of an IHOP in Chicago, Aug. 10, 2017. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(JTA) — On Saturday night, when Lex Rofeberg convenes a group of Jews to study Torah, he expects to pore over Jewish texts. He expects to eat cheesecake. And he expects to decide between 12 different types of pancakes on a thick, laminated menu.

Like many rabbinical students, Rofeberg will observe the Jewish holiday of Shavuot with an all-night study session. But he’ll be one of the few people doing it at an IHOP.

The relatively obscure festival celebrates the traditional giving of the Torah to the Israelites, and Jews have historically stayed up until sunrise on its first night studying holy books and eating dairy foods.

These study sessions usually take place at synagogues. But IHOP is a large restaurant chain open 24-7, so Rofeberg thought it would be the perfect place for a twist on the tradition.

“We have got this dairy thing of Shavuot, we’ve got the all-night elements, and Waffle House and IHOP are open all night and have a bunch of dairy products available,” said Rofeberg, 27, who is a student at Aleph, Renewal Judaism’s rabbinical school. “What would it look like if we took Shavuot and put it in those spaces?”

Rofeberg will be inviting followers to an IHOP in Providence. Others took him up on the idea and similar sessions will take place at a Jackson, Mississippi IHOP, and at diners in Maryland, Washington D.C. and possibly a few other cities.

Besides the location, Rofeberg’s program will look a lot like traditional Shavuot study at a synagogue: A few speakers will each teach classes based around Jewish texts, with opportunity for people to break off into their own discussions. In his class, Rofeberg plans to discuss different English translations of Kol Nidre, the Yom Kippur prayer.

A native of Wisconsin, Rofeberg fell in love with Shavuot when he learned about it in college. Even though the holiday is observed by fewer Jews than Passover or Hanukkah, Rofeberg thinks it’s a better fit for the modern American Jewish experience: It combines intellectualism, schmoozing and unhealthy portions of food. Pioneering the observance in a comfortable location like a diner, he said, could open the holiday up to more people.

“I was flabbergasted that this wasn’t universally understood as the most amazing thing in the Jewish calendar year,” Rofeberg said. “If I had been a 7-year-old and you had told me, ‘Hey, Lex, you have this Jewish thing coming up, you get to stay up all night, eat a lot of cheese and learn with your friends’ — that’s a Jewish nerd’s dream.”

Lex Rofeberg, 27, a rabbinical student, feels that the Shavuot tradition of eating dairy and studying Torah all night will be more appealing at a diner than it would be at a synagogue. (Courtesy of Rofeberg)

Part of the inspiration for his Shavuot idea came from Rofeberg’s own time living in Jackson in 2014, where he worked at the Institute for Southern Jewish Life. In the south, the Waffle House chain is a cultural touchstone and communal meeting spot.

The person running the Shavuot program in Jackson this year, Leah Wittenberg, opted against meeting at Waffle House because of incidents of alleged police brutality that have taken place recently at its franchises. But she said the chain and others like it would be natural places for southerners to meet and hang out for a few late-night hours.

“In terms of fast food and breakfast food, it’s a lot about the communal space,” said Wittenberg, who has lived in Oregon, Illinois and Massachusetts. She moved to Jackson two years ago and runs Young Jews of Jackson. “The reason Waffle House is so huge is because it’s kind of a meeting place. People will come there, so its not necessarily about the food.”

The location and cuisine were also a cultural draw for Guy Tabachnick, an incoming doctoral student in linguistics who will be running the D.C. program. But Tabachnick’s heritage drew him to a classic 24-hour diner, like the ones that dot the New York City area.

“I grew up in New York, and my grandparents are from North Jersey, so diners are my favorite restaurants,” Tabachnick said. “I like learning things and preparing lessons. It seemed to be a cool opportunity to learn from other people and present some sort of interactive plan of study.”

The Shavuot idea fits in with Rofeberg’s other work, which seeks to test the borders of mainstream American Judaism. Renewal, Rofeberg’s movement, was founded as a kind of combination of Hasidic Judaism with the countercultural ethos of the 1960s. Rofeberg is the co-host of the Judaism Unbound podcast, which features conversations with Jewish thinkers and activists. He’s also involved in IfNotNow, the group of young American Jews protesting Israel’s control of the West Bank.

Rofeberg understands that traditionally observant Jews who keep kosher and refrain from using money on holidays may not feel welcome at his event. But he says most of those people already have spaces to study on Shavuot, while he’s targeting people who don’t. He also acknowledges that this is an experiment: Kosher food could be an issue. So might the noisy environs of a chain restaurant.

“I want to create a space where things like internet usage are going to be OK,” he said. “That wouldn’t be the way an Orthodox space would observe Shavuot. My main audience for this is folks that don’t already have a Shavuot practice, because I really do believe Shavuot is this magical holiday and I want it to be available and accessible to all sorts of different people.”

None of the event organizers knows exactly what to expect from the waiters on Saturday night. But they all feel like a raucous conversation over pancakes should be no problem.

“It’s probable that we’ll run into some trouble, but any 24-hour diner has an expectation for strange things going on,” Tabachnick said.

 

Why Jerusalem Matters

By: Ben Shapiro; patriotpost.us

This week, the Trump administration inaugurated the new American embassy in Jerusalem. The celebration in Israel was palpable; the embassy move came amidst the national celebration of the 70th anniversary of the creation of the state. The streets filled with Jews of all sorts, cheering and dancing.

Meanwhile, on the Gaza border, Hamas broadened its monthlong campaign to break down the Israel border, staging border “protests” attended by thousands — including terrorists who have used the supposed protests as a staging point for violent attacks on Israeli troops and territory. Palestinian terrorists have caused mass chaos, throwing Molotov cocktails at troops, attempting to rush the border, flinging explosives and tying incendiaries to kites in an attempt to set Israeli territory alight. The Israeli Defense Forces have responded with restraint. Despite this, a few dozen Palestinians have been killed, not the hundreds or thousands Hamas would presumably prefer.

But even as Yahya Sinwar, leader of Hamas in Gaza, suggested that “more than 100,000 people could storm the fence” between Israel and Gaza, and as 23-year-old Mohammed Mansoura announced, “We are excited to storm and get inside … to kill, throw stones,” the media covered the slow-rolling terror assault as a form of peaceful protest. A New York Times headline read “Israeli Troops Kill Dozens of Palestinian Protesters.” A Wall Street Journal headline reads “Scores Killed, Thousands Injured as Palestinians Protest US Embassy Opening In Jerusalem.”

Never mind that the riots had been going on for weeks preceding the embassy opening. Never mind that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority could quickly and permanently end all violence simply by stopping the violence. The real issue, according to the press, is President Trump and his Israeli friends.

What drives the leftist press’s coverage? Simply put, antipathy to the West. Israel is seen as an outpost of colonialism by leftists, and has been since the 1967 war. Then-President Barack Obama expressed the view well in his 2009 speech in Cairo, suggesting that Israel’s rationale relied on its “tragic history” that “culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust.” In this view, the Palestinians were shunted aside in favor of providing national reparations to Jews; the Jews took their Western ways into the heart of a foreign region.

This isn’t true. The living proof of that is Israel’s eternal connection to Jerusalem. That’s why both radical Muslims (including the Palestinian leadership) and the far Left deny Israel’s historic bond with its homeland and hope desperately to stop public recognition of that bond. If Israel exists because Jewish connection preexisted everything else, then Israel isn’t a new outpost of the West; it’s the oldest center of the West. That’s why Trump’s announcement is important: It’s a recognition that the West was founded on Jerusalem, rather than the other way around.

Peace will come when everyone recognizes what Trump has recognized: The Jewish connection to Jerusalem is unbreakable. And peace will come when Israel’s enemies realize that violence can’t change that underlying fact.

 

Israel Slams Polish PM for WWII ‘Jewish Perpetrators’ Remark

By: Aron Heller; apnews.com

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks during a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel after a meeting in the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Ferdinand Ostrop)

 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. front, and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrive for a press conference after a meeting in the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Friday, February 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Ferdinand Ostrop)

 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki review the guard of honor during a welcoming ceremony prior to a meeting in the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Ferdinand Ostrop)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli politicians accused Poland’s prime minister of anti-Semitism Saturday for equating the Polish perpetrators in the Holocaust to its supposed “Jewish perpetrators,” setting off a new chapter in an angry dispute over Poland’s new bill criminalizing the mention of Polish complicity in the Nazi-led genocide.

Yair Lapid, head of the centrist opposition Yesh Atid party, said Israel should recall its ambassador immediately in response to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s comments, which he called “anti-Semitism of the oldest kind.”

“The perpetrators are not the victims. The Jewish state will not allow the murdered to be blamed for their own murder,” said Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor.

Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay said Morawiecki sounded like any other Holocaust denier with the remark he gave in Munich, Germany on Saturday.

“The blood of millions of Jews cries from the earth of Poland over the distortion of history and the escape from blame. Jews were murdered in the Holocaust and Poles took an active part in their murder,” Gabbay said. “The government of Israel has to be a voice for the millions of murdered and strongly denounce the Polish prime minister’s words.”

Morawiecki was responding to a question from an Israeli journalist at the Munich Security Conference. Asking about a new Polish law that criminalizes some statements about the Holocaust, the journalist shared a personal story about his parents being reported to the Nazis by Polish neighbors. He asked if he would now be considered a criminal in Poland for relating the story.

“Of course it’s not going to be punishable, not going to be seen as criminal, to say that there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian, not only German perpetrators,” Morawiecki said in response.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also attended the Munich conference, called his Polish counterpart’s comment “outrageous.”

“There is a problem here of lack of understanding of history and lack of sensitivity to the tragedy of our people,” Netanyahu said, adding that he planned to speak with Morawiecki soon.

It was just the latest fallout from the Polish Holocaust speech law that has drawn outrage in Israel and elsewhere.

In recent weeks, Israeli officials have sharply criticized the legislation that criminalizes blaming Poland as a nation for crimes committed by Nazi Germany. Israeli critics have accused Poland of seeking to use the law to whitewash the role of some Poles who helped Germans kill Jews during the war. Holocaust scholars estimate that Poles might have either killed or helped Germans kill as many as 180,000 to 200,000 Jews.

Polish authorities say they just want to protect Poland from being depicted as a collaborator of the Nazis when the country was Adolf Hitler’s first victim and suffered through nearly six years of war and occupation.

Morawiecki also paid his respects Saturday at the Munich grave of fighters from a Polish underground military unit, known as the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade, that collaborated during the war with Poland’s Nazi German occupiers.

The prime minister’s office tweeted a photo of him with his hands clasped before the grave and said he lit a candle and laid a wreath there.

The unit, which was rooted in a far-right prewar political movement, had also fought Germans. For tactical reasons, it collaborated with the Germans late in the war to focus on fighting communists, who were laying the groundwork for what would be decades of Soviet-backed rule.

An anti-racism group in Poland, Never Again, said it was “appalled” by Morawiecki’s visit to the grave. Jan Grabiec, spokesman for Poland’s main opposition party, Civic Platform, criticized both Morawiecki’s words in Munich and graveside visit, saying they contributed to Poland’s worsening international image.

Some commenters praised the prime minister on Twitter for honoring what they called national heroes.

Israeli Labor Party lawmaker Itzik Shmuly, who is pushing for a counter bill in the Israeli parliament to criminalize the denial of Nazi collaboration, quipped on Twitter that “the next step of Morawiecki’s pathetic project to erase the crimes of the Polish people is probably going to be blaming the Jews for their own Holocaust and presenting the Nazis as victims of the circumstances.”

Morawiecki’s office had no immediate reaction to the uproar in Israel.

___

Vanessa Gera and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw contributed.

Teacher Scott Beigel Did Not Want to be Remembered as a Hero

Jewish Telegraphic Agency; jta.org

Scott Beigel (Bonnie Mann Falk/Facebook)

(JTA) — Funerals were held for three more Jewish victims of the shootings at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Hundreds of family, friends, students and colleagues attended the funeral on Sunday of teacher Scott Beigel at Temple Beth El in Boca Raton, Florida, that was live-streamed on the synagogue’s website.

Beigel, 35, a geography teacher and cross country coach at the school, saved students’ lives by opening his classroom door and ushering the students in. He was shot while closing the door behind them.

He reportedly told his fiance, Gwen Gossler, who he met at Pennsylvania’s Camp Starlight when they both worked as counselors seven years ago, that if he ever was the victim of a school shooting that she would not talk about the “hero stuff.” They had been watching news coverage of a similar school shooting on television at the time, she said during the funeral.

The Sunday funerals for first-year students Jamie Guttenberg and Alex Schachter were moved to a Fort Lauderdale hotel to accommodate more than a thousand mourners, according to reports.

The funeral for Alex Schachter, 14, who was a member of his school’s marching band, was closed to media. The Miami Herald reported that remembrances at the funeral “focused on his love for movies, his humor and his passion for the high school’s marching band, in which he played trombone,” as well as the secret ingredients in his special smoothie.

The teen’s family set up a GoFundMe page in his memory to fund a scholarship program to “help other students experience the joys of music” as well as fund increased security at schools.

Mourners who attended Jamie Guttenberg’s funeral on Sunday wore orange ribbons in her memory, which stood out against their black mourning clothes, according to the Miami Herald. Orange was her favorite color.

Rabbi Jonathan Kaplan in his eulogy tried to answer the question of where was God during the attack. He said: “God is in the teachers who protected them. God is in the first responders who went in that day. God is in the police who raced to the school, and God is in the families who waited. … God is in the people, all over the world, who sent condolences.”

Funerals were held on Friday for Alyssa Alhedeff and Meadow Pollack.

 

Google Home Disables Answers to Buddha, Muhammad in Response to Jesus Christ Controversy

By: Jeanne Law, Christian Post Reporter; christianpost.com

Google has rolled out an update that will allow you to use the company’s Home speakers as intercom systems in your house.

Google says it has now disabled all responses to questions about religious figures after coming under fire this week for not programming its smart audio technology, Google Home, to answer questions about Jesus Christ.

While Google’s home assistant device wasn’t able to give answers to any questions about Jesus or God, it had been programmed to provide information about Buddha, Muhammad and Satan, which angered many of its customers.

After being accused of having an “agenda” and bias against Jesus and Christianity, Google released a statement on Twitter Friday saying it was temporarily disabling all responses to questions about religious figures.

“[Google Assistant] might not reply in cases where web content is more vulnerable to vandalism and spam,” a spokesperson for Google said. “If our systems detect such circumstances, the Assistant might not reply. If similar vulnerabilities were detected for other questions — including those about other religious leaders — the Assistant also wouldn’t respond. We’re exploring different solutions and temporarily disabling these responses for religious figures on the Assistant.”

Television producer, author and speaker David Sams, who helped bring international attention to Google’s perceived bias against Christianity, posted a Facebook Live video showing Google Home’s updated responses to various religious figures.

“Religion can be complicated and I’m still learning,” Google Home responded to each of the religious names Sams asked about.

Sams celebrated Google’s response as a “victory” because he believes Jesus has now been given equal treatment to other religious figures. “It’s better to be on par, than you don’t know who Jesus is,” he said.

According to NPR and Edison Research, one in six adults in America (or around 39 million people) now own a voice-activated smart speaker.

The controversy began because the device can play your music, call your friends, and answer almost any question that can be found on the internet. However, when asked who was Jesus, Jesus Christ or God the smart speaker previously said it did not know the answer.

“Sorry, I’m not sure how to help” or “My apologies I don’t understand,” Google Home responded before the recent programming update.

People were up in arms because the device did provide responses to questions asking about the Islamic prophet Muhammad, Buddha and even Satan. For each of those names the device gave a full breakdown of what it found on the internet.

Sams went on to challenge Google in his Facebook Live video, asking that Google Home give an answer similar to Amazon’s Echo assistant named Alexa. He said that Alexa — which was criticized last year for saying “Jesus Christ is a fictional character” while giving answers to questions about Muhammad — now cites information on Jesus in a respectful manner.

 

Focus on Issues Martin Luther King and Soviet Jews

(Editor’s note: Albert Chernin is the executive vice chairman of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.)

As the observance on January [15] of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. draws closer, I recall arranging for him to address a national telephone hook-up of Soviet Jewry rallies we were organizing in communities nationwide in December 1966. I was doing so in my capacity as the coordinator of the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry, which was then being staffed by NJCRAC.

Despite his very heavy schedule, King enthusiastically accepted our invitation which gave him an opportunity to speak out publicly for the first time on the issue of Soviet Jewry.

Although his schedule kept him from coming to the major rally held at historic Cooper Union in New York where Abraham Lincoln spoke 100 years earlier about a nation half slave, half free, King spoke from Atlanta on the issue of Soviet Jewry in the spirit of Lincoln, and in the spirit of the struggle of the civil rights movement, which he led so nobly.

Sadly, his description of the plight of Soviet Jewry in 1966 is still relevant to the conditions of Soviet Jewry in 1987. He said then:

STATEMENT BY KING

“While Jews in Russia may not be physically murdered as they were in Nazi Germany, they are facing every day a kind of spiritual and cultural genocide. Individual Jews may in the main be physically and economically secure in Russia, but the absence of opportunity to associate as Jews in the enjoyment of Jewish culture and religious experience becomes a severe limitation upon an individual.

“These deprivations are a part of a person’s emotional and intellectual life. They determine whether he is fulfilled as a human being. Negroes can well understand and sympathize with this problem. When you are written out of history as a people, when you are given no choice but to accept the majority culture, you are denied an aspect of your own identity. Ultimately you suffer a corrosion of your self-understanding and your self-respect.”

OPPRESSIVE CONDITIONS CONTINUE

Twenty years later the conditions of Soviet Jewry still remain oppressive. Emigration has been virtually ended, reaching the lowest numbers since the doors were slightly opened in early 1967. While Natan Shcharansky and prominent refuseniks such as Eliahu Essas have been permitted to leave, thousands more continue to be denied emigration visas year after year.

The names of more than 11,000 long-term refuseniks were given to the Soviet government by the United States shortly after President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev met in Reykjavik last October; still they wait for permission to emigrate, many for more than 10 years in “quiet desperation.” They do so in a climate of open and vicious hostility toward Israel, Zionism and Judaism, expressed in barely disguised anti-Semitism in the Soviet media.

Seeking to learn Hebrew, Jewish history, Jewish culture, and to practice the Jewish religion, they are subjected to various forms of intimidation ranging from surveillance and KGB interrogation to trials and prison. As some Prisoners of Conscience have been released, other Soviet Jewish activists have taken their place.

These harsh realities of life for Soviet Jewry cannot be camouflaged by a more skilled, Western oriented public relations style.

SIGNIFICANT DEVELOPMENTS NOTED

Nevertheless, in the 20 years since King spoke to the Soviet Jewry rallies, there have been significant developments in the struggle for Soviet Jews. Only a few weeks after King spoke, Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin declared in a Paris press conference that those who chose to do so could join their families abroad.

But even with this assertion of family reunion from Kosygin, which was aimed at Western audiences as are the declarations of Gorbachev, no one dreamed at that time that more than 270,000 Soviet Jews would soon live in freedom, most in Israel.

In contrast to 20 years ago, the issue of Soviet Jewry was a critical and, significantly, a formal agenda item in the bilateral negotiations that took place in Reykjavik.

REVERSAL OF SOVIET INSISTENCE

That Soviet Jewry was part of the official agenda represented a reversal of Soviet insistence, dating back decades, that the issue of Soviet Jewry was an internal matter. It represented an affirmation of King’s assertions to those community rallies in 1966 when he said, “The denial of human rights anywhere is a threat to the affirmation of human rights everywhere.”

That the Soviet Union accepted this issue on the agenda, and the Soviets feel compelled to make gestures that attempt to project the appearance of Soviet responsiveness to the issue of human rights, underscores King’s awareness that voices of conscience can overcome the voices of oppression when asserted loudly, vigorously, and ceaselessly. We need to be aware of that charge upon us as we join with millions of other Americans in celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

There Was No Peace Process for Trump to Destroy

By: Roger Cohen; nytimes.com

A Palestinian protest against President Trump in Gaza City on Thursday. [Credit Mohammed Saber/European Pressphoto Agency]

My colleagues Anne Barnard, Ben Hubbard and Declan Walsh captured well the Palestinian and Arab reaction to President Trump’s official recognition this week of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel: “An explosion of violence could still come,” they wrote, “but so far there is something more like an explosion of sighs.”

Jerusalem, city of passions, has long been a tinderbox. The Second Intifada, or uprising, began in 2000 with Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. But that was 17 years ago, when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still stood at the core of Middle Eastern conflict, and Arab backing for the Palestinian cause was more than rhetorical.

Ismail Haniya, the leader of Hamas, is now calling for a third intifada. But he’s up against exhaustion, cynicism and shifting priorities in the Arab world. Trump’s announcement did not destroy the “peace process.” There is no peace process to destroy.

The Arab Spring has come and gone, and the Syrian state has gone, since the Second Intifada. Iran, the Shia enemy, looms much larger than the Palestinian cause for most Sunni Arab states. Everyone knows how much democratic legitimacy Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, has — none — and what purported reconciliation between his Fatah faction and Hamas is worth — very little.

The Palestinian cause, undermined by disunity and the cultivation of victimhood, is weak and growing weaker. International indignation does not change that. Israeli force has been implacable.

I confess to a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger reaction to Trump’s announcement. It did have the merit, as the president noted, of recognizing a reality, and that reality reflects perhaps the deepest of Jewish sentiments. It was, at least, not more of the same peace-process blather.

Real frustration would require belief that maintaining the unresolved status of Jerusalem as a final-status bargaining chip in the “peace process” would make a decisive difference in that process. But, as noted above, there is none. If anything the “process” has been ideal camouflage for the steady growth in the number of Israeli settlers (now more than 600,000), favored by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government. It has given steady Israeli expansionism the international benediction of mythical reversibility. I am not convinced Trump gave a lot away.

Well, some would argue, Trump put paid to any notion that the United States is an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians. I don’t know anyone who believes that: America supports and favors Israel over the Palestinians for a variety of domestic political, strategic and sentimental reasons.

Well, Trump has provoked the unswerving ire of the Palestinians (who now refuse to meet with Vice President Mike Pence during his upcoming visit) and destroyed any chance of peace. But there is nothing unswerving about Palestinian policy. It is big on rhetoric, feeble in action, reflecting powerlessness. Abbas will come around if the right offer ever comes along.

Well, Trump undermined America’s international credibility and ability to lead. Sorry, he’s already done that many times over. American international authority is spent, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson discovered this week in Europe.

Well, the president broke ranks with all major powers. In fact, he joined President Vladimir Putin. Earlier this year, Russia declared, “We view West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

However, the Russian statement was more balanced. It also said, “We reaffirm our commitment to the U.N.-approved principles for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, which include the status of East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state.”

Israel, of course, claims all Jerusalem as its capital (including East Jerusalem, where more than 200,000 settlers live). The Palestinians will not accept a peace plan in which some part of Jerusalem is not their capital. Trump said his statement did not prejudge “the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem,” but its most damaging aspect was to give strong implicit backing to Israel’s claims, with no mention of Palestine’s. It also put American lives in danger and humiliated a people, the Palestinians, whose lives under a 50-year-old occupation are a daily exercise in humiliation. It flouted United Nations Security Council resolutions, so undermining international law.

Trump’s was a silly, reckless gesture. What else is new?

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, is now supposed to produce his peace plan. Poor, pale, languid Jared! He will try to get his friends the Saudis to offer big blandishments to the Palestinians and Israel. That’s all he’s got. It won’t work. The Greater Israel project has gone too far for the “ultimate deal.”

Since the killing of Yitzhak Rabin 22 years ago, at a moment when peace was within reach, the ethno-nationalist Israeli religious ideologues that believe all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea was deeded to Israel in the Bible (and never mind who lives there now) have gotten the upper hand, with Netanyahu’s complicity. This was a successful assassination.

These are the facts. Trump’s statement will not change them. It was directed largely at a domestic audience of evangelicals and major American Jewish groups. This, he said, was “a long overdue step to advance the peace process.” That’s nonsense. Sigh.

Researcher Verifies Historical Existence of 50+ Men in Old Testament Using Archaeology

By: Garrett Haley; christiannews.net

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A Purdue University researcher has verified the existence of 53 men mentioned in the Old Testament by painstakingly reviewing ancient historical sources and comparing them to the Bible.

Dr. Lawrence Mykytiuk is an associate professor of library science who specializes in history and Jewish studies. In the 1990s, Mykytiuk began to study the archaeological record, looking for evidence of those mentioned in the Bible.

“While some would put their hand on the Bible and really mean it when they take an oath, a few revisionist academics would throw it out and say, ‘That’s creative writing.’ I was looking for concrete, objective evidence outside of the Bible that would help build the case,” Mykytiuk said in a recent press release from the university.

Typically Mykytiuk considers a biblical person verified only if three identifying characteristics (such as the person’s name, the person’s title, and the person’s father’s name) match with an extra-biblical historical source, like an ancient inscription.

“If it matches the same three mentions in Scripture, it’s a virtual certainty,” Mykytiuk said, according to a report from Times of Israel. “There might be a few people with the same name, father’s name, but same title? That’s stretching it. I consider it a virtual certainty, either a dead ringer or virtual certainty.”

“Sometimes the three-step process is not necessary, as when we know that the person in an inscription and the person in the Bible are both connected to a one-time circumstance or event that fits one and only one person,” Mykytiuk explained.

“For example, Ahab, king of Israel, ruled during the period in which the famous battle of Qarqar was fought in 853 B.C.,” Mykytiuk said. “His Assyrian enemy wrote about ‘Ahab the Israelite,’ one of the kings he fought in that particular battle. Therefore, Ahab, king of Israel in the Bible, and Ahab, the Israelite king at the battle of Qarqar in the Assyrian inscription, must have been the same person.”

Using the painstaking three-step research process, Mykytiuk initially confirmed the existence of 50 Old Testament individuals and described his findings in a 2014 report. Then, earlier this year, he announced the addition of three more people to the list, bringing the total number of historically-verified Bible characters to 53.

“[These figures] mentioned in the Bible have been identified in the archaeological record,” Mykytiuk wrote in his report, which was published in Biblical Archaeology Review. “Their names appear in inscriptions written during the period described by the Bible and in most instances during or quite close to the lifetime of the person identified.”

The list of people Mykytiuk has verified include Egyptian pharaohs; kings of countries neighboring Israel; officials from the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian empires; and several well-known Israelite kings, including Ahab, Jehu, David, Hezekiah, and Manasseh.

Although Mykytiuk says that verifying a person’s existence does not prove everything the Bible details about the person, he believes it is still a good start.

“If you get the person’s name, his or her father’s name, and the person’s office or title, that doesn’t verify that they did certain things. But it can sometimes show they were in a position to do the things Scripture says they did,” he stated. “That’s often as far as you can go. Still, there are some longer inscriptions from ancient Israel’s neighbors that mention people and events in the Old Testament, just describing them from a different point of view.”

“This evidence shows that it is not essential to have religious faith in order to understand and accept much of what the Bible presents,” he opined. “It demonstrates that even on the basis of writings outside of the Bible alone, Scripture does have a considerable degree of historical credibility.”

 

Syria Warns Israel of ‘Dangerous Repercussions’ After Attach on Chemical Weapons Site

By: jpost.com Staff, Anna Ahronheim; jpost.com

Syria accuses Israel of targeting a chemical weapons plant and killing two of its soldiers; Israel has yet to confirm or deny the allegations, but Israeli security officials are speaking out.

People seen fleeing the alleged site of the Israeli attack on a Syrian post where chemical weapons are manufactured. . (photo credit:SOCIAL MEDIA)

Syria accused Israel on Thursday of carrying out an aerial attack on Assad posts overnight. The alleged Israeli attack hit a scientific research center where chemical weapons are manufactured, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In a statement, the Syrian army warned Israel of “dangerous repercussions of this aggressive action to the security and stability of the region” following the attack.

According to the reports, the attack was launched at 2:30 a.m. on targets located in central Syria, in the area of Hama, and also targeted several weapons convoys that were en route to Hezbollah strongholds in the area.

The Syrian army charged later on Thursday morning that Israel killed two of its soldiers during the aerial attack. An IDF spokeswoman declined to comment on the reports, saying that the army does not comment on operational matters.

Arab media claimed there are three casualties as a result of the attack, which centered on a regime post that belongs to the scientific research center on the outskirts of Hama, situated in the northwestern part of the country. In the scientific center, the regime reportedly develops munitions such as missiles and has developed chemical weapons as well.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that an airstrike on Masyaf in Syria hit a Scientific Studies and Research Center facility and an adjacent military camp where ground-to-ground rockets are stored.

The United States has imposed sanctions on employees of the Scientific Studies and Research Center, which it describes as the Syrian agency responsible for developing and producing non-conventional weapons including chemical weapons, something Damascus denies.

Syrian social media activists reported that “Israeli airplanes infiltrated from the valley area in Lebanon and attacked the center.”

Lebanese media reported that around 4 p.m. IAF fighter jets were spotted circling above Lebanon.

Speaking to Army Radio early Thursday morning, Gen. (res.) Gadi Shamni, who previously served as the military secretary of the prime minister, said that Israel “must do everything to prevent Iran from getting a better stronghold than that which it already has on Syria.”

He also said that he “assumes there’s a level of cooperation with the Americans following such an attack or beforehand, but we don’t have to ask for their approval.”

Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence and Executive Director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) took to Twitter stating that the strike was not routine and targeted a Syrian military-scientific center that develops and manufactures, among other things, precision missiles.

“The factory in the attack also produces chemical weapons and barrels of explosives that killed thousands of Syrian citizens. If the attack was conducted by Israel, it would be a commendable and moral action by Israel against the slaughter in Syria,” he wrote.

“The attack sent 3 important messages: Israel won’t allow for empowerment and production of strategic arms. Israel intends to enforce its redlines despite the fact that the great powers are ignoring them. The presence of Russian air defense does not prevent airstrikes attributed to Israel.

“Now it’s important to keep the escalation in check and to prepare for a Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah response and even opposition from Russia.”

While the IDF does not comment on foreign reports, it would not be the first time Israeli jets have hit Assad regime and Hezbollah targets in Syria. Jerusalem has repeatedly said that while there is no interest by Israel to enter into Syria’s civil war, there are red lines that Jerusalem has set including the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah and an Iranian presence on its borders.

Former Israel Air Force Head Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel stated that Israel carried out at least 100 strikes in the past five years,  against the transfer of advanced weaponry from the Assad regime to Hezbollah, including the transfer of chemical weapons.

Just yesterday, the United Nations released a report affirming that the Syrian regime, governed by Bashar Assad, had indeed used chemical weapons (specifically Serin gas) to attack its own people when it had bombed the province of Idlib this past April.

The UN investigators confirmed that more than 80 civilians died as a direct result of the lethal attack on Khan Sheikhoun.

This is a developing story.

Yasser Okbi and Reuters contributed to this report.