Neo-Nazi Website Unleashed Internet Trolls Against a Jewish Woman

Montana real estate agent Tanya Gersh / credit: Dan Chung/Southern Poverty Law Center

By Jenny Jarvie and Jaweed Kaleem / Los Angeles Times (April 19, 2017)

Once again, the Southern Poverty Law Center is taking aim at neo-Nazis — this time in a rare lawsuit accusing an online publisher of urging anonymous Internet trolls to unleash a torrent of anti-Semitic slurs and harassment against a Jewish real estate agent in Montana.

The center filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday in a case involving white nationalist Richard Spencer and his family, alleging that Andrew Anglin, the founder and publisher of the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, let loose an online “terror campaign” against the woman and her family.

The suit alleges that Anglin published a string of articles urging his “horde” of anonymous followers to inflict a “troll storm” on Tanya Gersh and her family, invading her privacy, intentionally inflicting emotional distress and violating the Montana Anti-Intimidation Act.

The controversy began in December when Anglin accused Gersh of attempting to extort money from Spencer’s mother. Spencer, who heads the National Policy Institute, won nationwide notoriety after Donald Trump’s election victory when a viral video showed him leading a chant of “Hail Trump!” in Washington, as his followers raised their hands in Nazi salutes.

With rumors of protests against the Spencer family in Whitefish — a liberal ski town of 6,000 people in northwest Montana where the Spencers own a vacation home and a commercial property — Gersh agreed to help Spencer’s mother sell a mixed-use building she owns downtown. Two weeks later, Sherry Spencer published a blog post accusing Gersh of threatening her and trying to extort her into selling the property.

In the first of a stream of 30 posts, the Daily Stormer published a story repeating Spencer’s allegations, asking its followers, “Are y’all ready for an old fashioned Troll Storm?”

Gersh, her husband and 12-year-old son received a barrage of more than 700 “threatening” anti-Semitic and homophobic emails, phone calls, texts, social media comments, letters, postcards and Christmas cards, the lawsuit alleges.

“I once answered the phone and all I heard were gunshots,” Gersh told reporters Tuesday in a telephone news conference.

On Dec. 16, Anglin published a post on Daily Stormer, providing his followers with phone numbers, email addresses and links to social media profiles for Gersh and her immediate family members, friends and colleagues. “Let’s Hit Em Up,” he urged.

In that post, Anglin referred to Gersh’s son using homophobic and anti-Semitic terms. He also published his Twitter handle, encouraging readers to “hit him up” and “tell them what you think of his whore mother’s vicious attack on the community of Whitefish.”

“NO VIOLENCE OR THREATS OF VIOLENCE OR ANYTHING EVEN CLOSE TO THAT,” the website qualified. “Just make your opinions known. Tell them you are sickened by their Jew agenda to attack and harm the mother of someone whom they disagree with.”

“This was so far beyond harassment. This was really terrorism,” Gersh said, noting she was no longer working, had lost hair and was attending trauma therapy meetings twice a week. “My life is forever changed.”

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Missoula, seeks compensatory and punitive damages. Attorneys would not specify a dollar amount being sought.

“In the old days, Andrew Anglin would have burned a cross on Tanya’s front lawn,” Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen said. “In the digital age, he launched a troll storm against her.”

The Alabama-based center has a long track record of filing litigation against extremist groups. In 1999, the group brought a case on behalf of a Native American woman and her son who were chased and shot at by white supremacist Aryan Nations security guards. Two men were sentenced to prison in the attack, and in 2000 an Idaho jury returned a $6.3-million civil judgment against Aryan Nations and its founder.

In 2000, the center sued Jeff Berry, the leader of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, winning a $120,000 judgment after Berry detained two journalists covering a story about a planned Klan rally. After ordering his followers to block the exits, one Klansman pumped a shotgun.

Only one of its previous cases focused on online threats — and that was nearly 20 years ago.

In 1998, the center filed a suit on behalf of Bonnie Jouhari, a fair-housing advocate in Pennsylvania, against a neo-Nazi group, Alpha HQ, after it posted her address and photo on an online bulletin board. As a result of a barrage of threats from white supremacists, Jouhari changed her name and fled with her daughter to another state. In 2000, she was awarded a $1-million judgment.

“Putting people in fear is a form of assault,” Cohen said, noting that even in the case of the Aryan Nations lawsuit, his clients were not physically hurt, but they suffered emotional and psychological injuries. “The legal principles are tried and true, but this is the first time we’ve applied it in a digital context to a troll storm.”

“It’s going to be a precedent-setting case,” he added.

Even though there has been an uptick in online trolling in the last decade, lawsuits are rare, said Danielle Citron, a law professor at the University of Maryland and author of the book “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace.”

“You mostly see people just pray it goes away,” she said. “You just don’t see a lot of cases like this because they’re expensive, and it’s easier to hide.”

“What this lawsuit is aiming to do is send the message that there are real consequences here,” Citron added. “If you’re going to target someone in ways that then lead to death threats, reputational-harming lies and you’re inspiring your troll army … there are consequences for this incredibly destructive, threatening, inciting-violence behavior. So often this alt-right movement is like, ‘There’s no stopping us. We have free speech on our side.’ Of course there are limits…. It’s not a free-for-all.”

Anglin did not respond Tuesday to an email seeking comment.In a follow-up post in December, Anglin accused “the lying Jew media” of falsely claiming the Daily Stormer “threatened” anyone in Whitefish. “I have made it explicitly clear that I am not calling for threats or harassment or anything else against the people who are threatening and harassing (and extorting) the Spencers,” he wrote.

Cohen said a jury was unlikely to be swayed by Anglin’s argument.

“We see those disclaimers all the time,” he said. “The hatemongers of the world want to protect themselves. When you look at the material he posted, it’s absolutely clear he knew what was going to happen. He would be terrorizing her.”

Gersh was not the only person targeted by the Daily Stormer. The website also published pictures, names and other identifying information about several other members of the small Jewish community in Flathead County.

“As someone who was attacked as a member of the community, I strongly support Tanya Gersh,” said Rabbi Francine Roston, whose name and photo were posted on the website along with a description of her as a “super Jew.” Roston leads B’nai Shalom, a Jewish congregation based in Kalispell, the Flathead County seat that’s about 17 miles south of Whitefish.

Will Randall, a leader of Love Lives Here, a grass-roots organization that put together interfaith demonstrations against the neo-Nazi threats, cheered the filing of the lawsuit.

“While we are working on the ground to counter hate and inequality, kudos to SPLC for taking it to the courts. The people of Whitefish, Jewish people, human rights supporters and all those targeted by hate deserve justice and peace.”

Still, Randall said, members of the community were “concerned that there could be more hate projected toward us.” The Daily Stormer has also published articles disparaging the group.

“Anglin doesn’t represent the values of equity and inclusivity that most Montanans displayed when they chose to support the people of Whitefish who were targeted by this hate,” Rachel Carroll Rivas, co-director of the Montana Human Rights Network, said in a statement. “Montanans also value justice, and this suit seeks justice for the Gersh family and people of Whitefish. When radical right-wing extremists, like Andrew Anglin, use bully tactics to threaten, intimidate and harass through vigilante actions there should be consequences.”

Residents of Whitefish and Kalispell said their fight against neo-Nazis and other white supremacists was far from over.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified several hate groups that operate in northwest Montana’s Flathead Valley, a pristine region tucked between Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake that has one of the fastest-growing populations in the state. The region, which is 97% white, is known for its cattle pastures and once-thriving timber mills as well as luxury waterfront condos, bed-and-breakfasts and resort villages in the shadow of ski slopes.

Love Lives Here formed several years ago after one group, Pioneer Little Europe, organized a white supremacist film screening at a regional library. Since the troll storm, the activist group has hired its first staffers to work on issues including LGBTQ rights, education on Islam and combating anti-Semitism. This weekend, the group is hosting an event in Whitefish called “Life After Hate,” where a former white supremacist, Christian Picciolini, is scheduled to speak.

Still, white supremacists regularly post fliers on street posts and sneak them into door jambs. “Diversity is code for White Genocide,” said one left last month outside an Irish restaurant in Kalispell.

 

 

 

 

London Library Makes World War II War Crimes Searches Easier

Ben Barkow, Director of the Wiener Library for the Study of Holocaust & Genocide displays a United Nations’ file from the Czechoslovak government in exile making its case for war crimes against Adolf Hitler, in London, Friday, April 21, 2017. The library is making the United Nations’ files on World War II war crimes more accessible by allowing the general public to search an online catalog of the documents for the first time beginning Friday. People will still have to visit the library in London or the U.S. Holocaust Museum to read the actual files. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

LONDON (AP) — Holocaust denial just got a little harder.

The Wiener Library for the Study of Holocaust & Genocide is making the United Nations’ files on World War II war crimes more accessible by allowing the general public to search an online catalog of the documents for the first time beginning Friday.

People will still have to visit the library in London or the U.S. Holocaust Museum to read the actual files.

The move is expected to increase interest in the archives of the United Nations War Crimes Commission, including the names of some 37,000 people identified as war criminals and security suspects. The commission operated in 1943-1949, but access to its records was restricted for political reasons in the early days of the Cold War.

A view of a screen showing a United Nations’ file from the Czechoslovak government in exile making its case for war crimes against Adolf Hitler, displayed at the Wiener Library for the Study of Holocaust & Genocide, in London, Friday, April 21, 2017. The library is making the United Nations’ files on World War II war crimes more accessible by allowing the general public to search an online catalog of the documents for the first time beginning Friday. People will still have to visit the library in London or the U.S. Holocaust Museum to read the actual files. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

“This is a whole hardware store of nails to hammer into the coffin of Holocaust denial,” said Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS University of London. “It’s the first time it is practically accessible to the general public as the commission initially intended.”

Plesch and other researchers campaigned for the U.N. to open access to the files, which he used to write the book “Human Rights After Hitler.” In 2014, the U.S. Holocaust Museum made the archive freely available at its reading room in Washington. Prior to that, the records had been largely locked away at the United Nations, which granted only limited access.

“Nobody has paid any attention to it,” said Ben Barkow, director of the Wiener Library. “It has been hidden in plain sight.”

A view of a United Nations’ file from the United States making charges against German war criminals, displayed at the Wiener Library for the Study of Holocaust & Genocide, in London, Friday, April 21, 2017. The library is making the United Nations’ files on World War II war crimes more accessible by allowing the general public to search an online catalog of the documents for the first time beginning Friday. People will still have to visit the library in London or the U.S. Holocaust Museum to read the actual files. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

The documents detail Allied efforts to prosecute thousands of alleged Nazi and Japanese war criminals, from heads of state like Adolf Hitler to guards at the Auschwitz and Treblinka concentration camps.

The archive includes evidence gathered by local people who documented crimes long before the war ended and smuggled to Allied leaders in London.

“These people were meeting under aerial bombardment, dealing with affidavits smuggled out” of occupied countries, Plesch said. “Resistance movements were paying attention to the legal prosecution of oppressors.”

 

Breaking the Palestinians’ Will to Fight

By: Daniel Pipes; townhall.com

Daniel Polisar of Shalem College in Jerusalem shook the debate over Palestinian-Israeli relations in November 2015 with his essay, “What Do Palestinians Want?” In it, having studied 330 polls to “understand the perspective of everyday Palestinians” toward Israel, Israelis, Jews, and the utility of violence against them, he found that Palestinian attackers are “venerated” by their society—with all that that implies.

He’s done it again with “Do Palestinians Want a Two-State Solution?” This time, he pored over some 400 opinion polls of Palestinian views to find consistency among seemingly contradictory evidence on the topic of ways to resolve the conflict with Israel. From this confusing bulk, Polisar convincingly establishes that Palestinians collectively hold three related views of Israel: it has no historical or moral claim to exist, it is inherently rapacious and expansionist, and it is doomed to extinction. In combination, these attitudes explain and justify the widespread Palestinian demand for a state from “the river to the sea,” the grand Palestine of their maps that erases Israel.

With this analysis, Polisar has elegantly dissected the phenomenon that I call Palestinian rejectionism. That’s the policy first implemented by the monstrous mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini, in 1921 and consistently followed over the next near-century. Rejectionism demands that Palestinians (and beyond them, Arabs and Muslims) repudiate every aspect of Zionism: deny Jewish ties to the land of Israel, fight Jewish ownership of that land, refuse to recognize Jewish political power, refuse to trade with Zionists, murder Zionists where possible, and ally with any foreign power, including Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, to eradicate Zionism.

The continuities are striking. All major Palestinian leaders–Amin al-Husseini, Ahmad al-Shukeiri, Yasir Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas, and Yahya Sinwar (the new leader of Hamas in Gaza)—have made eliminating the Zionist presence their only goal. Yes, for tactical reasons, they occasionally compromised (most notably, in the Oslo Accords of 1993), but then they reversed these exceptions as soon as possible.

In other words, the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” that began in 1989 has been a massive charade. As Israelis earnestly debated making “painful concessions,” their Palestinian counterparts issued promises they had had no intention of fulfilling, something Arafat had the gall publicly to signal to his constituency even as he signed the Oslo Accords, and many times subsequently.

So long as rejectionism runs rampant, debates about one-, two-, and three-state solutions, about carving up the Temple Mount into dual sovereign areas, or about electricity grids and water supplies, are for naught. There can be no resolution so long as most Palestinians dream of obliterating the Jewish state. Indeed, this makes negotiations counterproductive. The Oslo Accords and other signed pieces of paper have made matters much worse. The farce of negotiations, therefore, needs urgently to end.

If no more negotiations, then what? Polisar rightly recommends tackling the problem head-on with “policies that seek to reduce decisively popular Palestinian support for a maximalist state.” This shift accords with what I call an Israeli strategy for victory: breaking the Palestinians’ will to fight by convincing them that Jews have historic ties to the land, that Israel has a determined citizenry, a powerful economy and military, and mighty allies, even as it respects its neighbors and will be around into the distant future. Therefore, the dream of a grand Palestine is the purest fantasy.

In other words: Palestinians, the game is up. Accept the Jewish state, bargain with it, and benefit from its dynamism.

Here, happily, things are not entirely bleak. My research finds, and Polisar’s confirms, that about 20 percent of Palestinians are ready to live peaceably with the Jewish state. The challenge is to increase this number to 60 percent and more, so that this group at last can wrest control of the Palestinian national movement from rejectionists.

This process will be neither easy nor pleasant, for there is no avoiding the bitter crucible of defeat. The Palestinian Authority and Hamas will violently repress readiness to accommodate Israel, making the transition all the more painful. They will not, however, manage to reverse their populations’ demoralization and restiveness, or stop the movement favoring an end to hostilities. As the reality of defeat sinks in, new voices will inexorably be heard and will strengthen, calling for an end to the century-long catastrophe of rejectionism.

When Palestinians emerge from this ordeal, they will greatly benefit from throwing off the burden of anti-Zionism. Finally, they can begin to build their own polity, economy, society, and culture. Finally, they can learn from their remarkable neighbor. All will gain when this proud people turns its attention to creating the institutions of civil society and to teaching children skills rather than hatred.

International, and especially American, support will much enhance the Israeli strategy for victory and the transition to a better future for Palestinians. May the Trump administration end the failed cycle of negotiations and instead help its “cherished ally” win its war.

 

Biblical King’s Palace Uncovered Beneath Shrine Destroyed by ISIS

By: James Rogers; foxnews.com

The remains of the Tomb of Prophet Yunus, destroyed by Islamic State militants, in Mosul, Iraq, January 28, 2017. (REUTERS/Azad Lashkari)

Archaeologists in Mosul have made a stunning find beneath the Tomb of the Prophet Jonah that was destroyed by Islamic State militants in 2014: the long-hidden palace of ancient Assyrian King Sennacherib.

Experts were documenting the jihadists’ destruction of the tomb’s ruins when they located the palace, which dates back to 600 B.C. ISIS had dug tunnels into the site in a search for ancient artifacts to plunder, according to media reports.

The Telegraph reports that Iraqi archaeologist Layla Salih found a marble cuneiform inscription of Assyrian King Esarhaddon inside one of the tunnels. The inscription is believed to date to 672 B.C. when the palace was part of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh.

One of the earliest forms of writing, cuneiform harnesses wedge-shaped marks and was widely used in ancient Mesopotamian civilizations.

The palace was built for the Assyrian King Sennarcherib, expanded by his son Esarhaddon, and renovated by his grandson King Ashurbanipal, according to the Telegraph, which notes that the palace was partly destroyed during the sack of Nineveh in 612 B.C. Sennacherib’s invasion of the ancient kingdom of Judah is extensively documented in the Bible. Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal are also mentioned in scripture, although feature less prominently.

Elsewhere in the tunnel, archaeologists found ancient Assyrian stone sculptures of a demi-goddess, the Telegraph reports.

The Tomb of Jonah, or Nebi Yunus in Arabic, is located on a hill in Eastern Mosul. The site was recaptured from ISIS by the Iraqi army last month during its Mosul offensive.

The remains of the Tomb of Prophet Yunus, destroyed by Islamic State militants, in Mosul, Iraq, Jan. 28, 2017. (REUTERS/Azad Lashkari)

Jonah is revered in Christian, Muslim, and Jewish traditions. The Prophet’s tomb, which was located within a Sunni mosque, was destroyed by ISIS militants in July 2014.

Dr. Paul Collins, Chair of The British Institute for the Study of Iraq, which is working with the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage and UNESCO to protect Iraq’s cultural heritage, told Fox News that there could be more damage at the site. “The tunnels, probably dug for looting, are in imminent danger of collapse,” he explained, via email. “If this happens the result will be even more destruction at a site that had already been devastated by the explosions that destroyed the ancient Shrine of Jonah – in effect we will lose a place where Iraq’s ancient, medieval and modern cultural heritage rests one above the other.”

Archaeologists have been aware since the nineteenth century that ancient Assyrian royal buildings are beneath the shrine, according to Collins, who notes that inscriptions and a relief from a dig in the 1870s are now in the British Museum. “Iraqi excavations in the 1950s revealed an entrance to an Assyrian royal arsenal and in 1990 a large Assyrian building to the east of the mosque guarded by colossal human-headed winged bulls was excavated, but this work came to an end with the Iraq/Kuwait war,” he said.

 

Israel Plans Mass Evacuation if War Erupts Again

By: Ian Deitch; bigstory.ap.org

File – In this Tuesday, March 1, 2016 file photo, American servicemen and Israeli soldiers participate in a joint drill simulating a rocket attack at a base in Hatzor, central Israel. Israel is making contingency plans to evacuate up to a quarter million people from communities along the Gaza and Lebanese borders to get them away from missile attacks if war erupts again with Hamas or Hezbollah. The mass evacuations would be the biggest in Israel’s history, part of a bigger plan where the army works with municipalities to keep civilians safe. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)

JERUSALEM (AP) — If Islamic militants in Gaza or Lebanon go to war with Israel, they could find their usual targets empty.

Israel is drawing up contingency plans to evacuate up to a quarter-million civilians from border communities to protect them from attacks from Hamas, Hezbollah or other Islamic militant groups.

The mass evacuations would be the biggest in Israel’s history, part of a bigger plan where the army works with municipalities to keep civilians safe.

All sides have been preparing in case a new round of warfare breaks out, although Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed group sworn to Israel’s destruction, currently is tied down in Syria’s civil war fighting in support of President Bashar Assad. It also comes amid an uptick in tensions between Israel, Syria and Hezbollah.

Each side has warned that a new conflict would be worse than previous ones. Hezbollah fired more than 4,000 rockets on Israeli communities in the 2006 war, while Israel bombarded militant targets in southern Lebanon. The month of fighting killed an estimated 1,200 Lebanese, most of them civilians, as well as 44 Israeli civilians and 121 Israeli soldiers.

In 2014, 50 days of fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Islamic militant Hamas rulers killed an estimated 2,100 Palestinians, six Israeli civilians and 66 Israeli soldiers. There was widespread devastation in Gaza and thousands of rockets and mortars fired by Hamas and other Islamic militants at Israeli towns and cities.

Israel says Hezbollah and Hamas have rebuilt larger arsenals capable of hitting the entire country. Elements of the evacuation plan, codenamed “Safe Distance,” were disclosed by a senior Israeli officer in an interview to The Associated Press.

“In 2017, all of Israel is under threat,” said Col. Itzik Bar of the military’s Homefront Command. Preparations are underway for Israel to deal with “very high amounts” of incoming fire, he said.

Bar pointed out that Hezbollah has gained battle experience from fighting alongside Assad’s forces and that Hassan Nasrallah, the Shiite group’s chief, has recently increased his rhetoric about attacking Israel.

The idea is to “remove the threat by not having civilians there,” Bar said. “We want a meeting of army and Hezbollah forces and not civilians with Hezbollah forces.”

The evacuation plan would apply mainly to communities adjacent to the borders, he said.

“In places where we understand there is a great danger to civilians, for example, where we won’t be able to supply defenses or supply deterrence … we will evacuate,” Bar said.

Evacuees would be housed in existing infrastructure, including hotels, schools and Kibbutz guest houses, he said.

The scope of evacuations would depend on the situation, but all told, the plans cover up to 250,000 people who would be moved to safety if there is a conflict on multiple fronts, he said. Israel has a population of about 8.5 million.

Small core groups would stay behind in evacuated areas to maintain vital infrastructure and ensure that communities “function the day after the fighting,” he said.

Another senior security official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with protocol, said the idea resulted from lessons learned in the 2014 Gaza war, in which communities were not evacuated but residents eventually left on their own.

Tens of thousands of Israelis left their homes near the Gaza border as the fighting dragged on, turning some areas into ghost towns. The exodus was sparked by Palestinian shelling along with the fear of heavily armed Gaza militants infiltrating Israel through tunnels.

Border communities vulnerable to mortars are the most in danger, he said.

Israel’s “Iron Dome” defense system was seen as a game-changer in the 2014 war, ensuring a decisive protective edge from short-range rockets fired from Gaza. But the security official said there were not enough of the defensive systems to cover attacks on multiple fronts.

He said Hezbollah has significantly built up its weapons stockpile since the 2006 war and has upgraded its arsenal to about 150,000 missiles.

Israel has made it clear it will act to prevent Hezbollah getting advanced munitions and is widely believed to have carried out several airstrikes in recent years on weapons convoys destined for the militant group. On Friday, it made a rare admission of such a strike after Syria fired missiles at its jets.

However, the official said Israel fears that some advanced weapons like surface-to-sea weapons or anti-aircraft missiles might already have reached Hezbollah.

Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, told an academic conference Tuesday that Hezbollah’s top military commander was killed in Syria in May 2016 by rivals within the group. The announcement was the latest sign of an escalating feud between Israel and Hezbollah.

He said the death of Mustafa Badreddine illustrated “the depth of the internal crisis within Hezbollah.” He also said it reflected “the extent of the cruelty, complexity and tension between Hezbollah and its patron Iran.”

An Israeli military official said Israel believes the order to kill Badreddine was given by Hezbollah’s leader Nasrallah.

Israeli intelligence believes Badreddine had been feuding with Iranian military commanders in Syria over the heavy losses his group had suffered on the battlefield.

Israel, meanwhile, has been building up its missile defenses. A system called “David’s Sling” to intercept medium-range missiles from Hezbollah is due to become operational in early April. That would mark the completion of a multilayer missile defense system that includes Iron Dome and Arrow, designed to intercept long-range ballistic missiles — of the type possessed by Iran — high in the stratosphere.

The military also has vastly improved its early warning systems, according to Bar, the Israeli colonel.

Technology has come a long way since 1991 when air raid sirens sent Israelis nationwide scurrying to bomb shelters when Iraq fired Scud missiles at Tel Aviv. In the 2014 Gaza war, sirens warned of incoming rocket attacks on wide areas.

Bar said the system has been narrowed down and improved “dramatically” with more than 3,000 different warning zones. Now only civilians in the line of fire will need to take shelter, while others in the same city won’t, he said.

An annual intelligence assessment found Hezbollah or Hamas probably are not interested in sparking a war in 2017, but it warned of the danger of a dynamic of escalation leading to conflict. In February, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said Hezbollah was not seeking a resumption of hostilities. But he vowed that if war did begin, his forces would strike Israel’s Dimona nuclear facilities,

Israeli officials have in turn escalated the rhetoric with Lebanon, citing concern about recent comments made by Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a strong Hezbollah ally who was elected head of state in October.

In an interview last month with an Egyptian TV network, Aoun said Hezbollah “has a complementary role” to the Lebanese army. As long as the Lebanese army is not strong enough to battle Israel … we feel the need for its existence,” he said. The army’s newly appointed commander also has vowed to boost its capabilities.

Several Hamas officials say the group does not seek a confrontation with Israel now, but that it has developed its arsenal and restored its capabilities to even greater amount than before the 2014 war. They did not specify numbers.

Reports in Gaza suggest Hamas completed repairs to dozens of attack tunnels used to infiltrate Israel that were damaged in 2014.

Terrorism Cases Against Facebook Reach Climax

By: Yonah Jeremy Bob; jpost.com

Son of murdered American-Israeli: ‘Outraged’ at media powerhouse.

Facebook. (photo credit:REUTERS)

American-Israeli Richard Lakin, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that he is “outraged” at Facebook for pretending that it has zero tolerance for terrorism.

He spoke minutes after a climactic hearing in a terrorism lawsuit against the social media giant.

Lakin was one of the original plaintiffs in a 2015 lawsuit filed by a group of 20,000 Israelis against Facebook for providing a platform for terrorists involved in the “stabbing intifada,” and demanding an injunction ordering the firm to act more forcefully against terrorist incitement on its pages.

Wednesday’s hearing was the final one in a US federal court in Brooklyn before the judge decides whether Shurat Hadin – Israel Law Center, representing the plaintiffs, has found the first-ever legal silver bullet for breaking what has been an impenetrable barrier protecting Facebook from terrorism lawsuits.

Lakin was wounded and later died from his wounds in an attack by two Palestinians armed with a knife and a gun on a Jerusalem bus in fall 2015.

The 20,000 plaintiffs’ case is combined with a $1 billion damages case on behalf of the families of five victims, including US Army veteran Taylor Force, of the terrorist group Hamas.

Facebook had filed a motion to dismiss both cases arguing that, like all prior similar terrorism cases against it, the US Communications Decency Act (1996) bars all legal claims against it for posts by third parties using its platform – a defense that has proved unbeatable to date.

Shurat Hadin has argued that Facebook was not the intended target of the Communications Decency Act, which was focused on publishing, and that the social media platform has powerful algorithms it could use to catch and take down incitement and terrorist communications.

One relatively novel issue is the NGO’s attempt to use the US Anti-Terrorism Act against Facebook and to define the company as providing material support for terrorism by letting terrorists use its platform, instead of merely accusing Facebook of failing to control incitement, a less serious charge.

Shurat Hadin has admitted that the only court decision to date on this issue, earlier in 2016, went in favor of Facebook, but has claimed that case was “plainly wrongly decided and an outlier,” since a terrorism claim, unlike an incitement claim, relates not to publishing content, but to providing services.

The argument is that even if Facebook is not actively publishing third parties’ content, it is actively providing them the service of its platform.

Avni also told the Post that he “continued to be outraged by Facebook’s behavior… While this is a lawsuit about a specific issue of law, that they shouldn’t provide services to terror organizations, there is a basic ethical question that they shouldn’t help terrorists and allow them to operate freely on their platform.”

He added, “Facebook’s lawyer started his speech saying it has zero tolerance for terror. But the big dirty secret is that they make a ton of money from it. Facebook is getting lots of traffic and selling ads – the quantity of jihadists’ traffic is big and they get a lot of money out of it.”

Shurat Hadin’s New York counsel Robert Tolchin said, “Our case transcends” the Communications Decency Act, since “we are not talking about who published a post – we are talking about who provided services to a terror organization. Most of the judge’s questions [at the hearing] focused on that tension.”

Tolchin said he thought the judge came away with a view that the issue was more complicated than being able to just simply dismiss it because of the standard Communications Decency Act argument.

Shurat Hadin Director Nitsana Darshan- Leitner said, “The terrorist stabbing attacks throughout Israel and the murder of these innocent American and Israeli victims would never have occurred without the massive wave of incitement over social media.

“Facebook believes it is entitled to make billions of dollars annually while having no obligations to police its web pages and filter out calls to murder innocent Jews worldwide,” she added.

A decision is expected in the coming weeks or months.

Christian Media Conference Seeks to Defend Israel from Fake News

By: Bradley Martin; jns.org

National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) President Dr. Jerry Johnson (at podium) speaks at the organization’s International Christian Media Convention Feb. 27 in Orlando, Fla. Johnson said that the “DNA of NRB is pro-Israel, because it is a biblical DNA.” Credit: NRB via Facebook.

“There is no place in the Bible…that any of these people can hang their hat on,” said Laurie Cardoza-Moore, founder and president of Proclaiming Justice to the Nations (PJTN), in a rebuke to Christians who promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

“It is fake theology, like it is fake news!” she said, earning a thunderous applause at the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) International Christian Media Convention, held this year in Orlando, Fla.

NRB is a nonpartisan, international association of Christian communicators whose member organizations represent millions of listeners, viewers and readers. NRB’s stated mission is to “advance biblical truth; to promote media excellence; and to defend free speech.” A major theme at this year’s conference was the display of strong Christian support for the state of Israel.

“The DNA of NRB is pro-Israel, because it is a biblical DNA,” said NRB President Dr. Jerry Johnson. “If you’re a scriptural kind of a [Christian] believer of any kind, you’re going to be pro-Israel.”

This love for the Jewish state was all the more apparent in NRB’s exhibition hall, which featured hundreds of vendors representing a number of Christian media organizations and ministries. Pilgrimages to Israel were marketed to Christians, along with the sale of Jewish ritual items such as tallitot (prayer shawls) and shofarot (rams’ horns blown on Rosh Hashanah and other occasions) by a number of pro-Israel groups.

One such organization is Cardoza-Moore’s PJTN, established to educate Christians about their biblical responsibility to stand with their Jewish brethren and with Israel. Other pro-Israel organizations and individuals were present at the NRB gathering in order to provide Christians with the means to show their support for Israel, such as Rev. Jerry Clark of American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA). Clark is the director of AFMDA’s Heart to Heart Israel, an outreach initiative that raises funds to supply ambulances for lifesaving work in Israel. For illustration purposes, a fully equipped ambulance was on display in the exhibition hall.

As part of its resolutions for 2017, NRB’s board of directors was unequivocal in its support of Israel. The board called on NRB members to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” and affirmed Israel’s adherence to democratic principles. The board also urged the U.S. to “continue to stand by Israel,” and called on all Christian organizations and denominations to reject and guard against the BDS movement.

“We’re one of the first states in the United States to support Israel with resolution after resolution. In fact, Tennessee believes Israel should be the 51st state!” said U.S. Rep. Judd Matheny (R-Tenn.).

Another major theme at this year’s NRB conference was Israel’s distinction as the only place in the Middle East where Christians can prosper and practice their religion without fear of discrimination. An Israeli Greek Orthodox priest, Father Gabriel Naddaf, was the special guest of PJTN. Naddaf advocates for the integration of Israeli Christians into all of Israel’s state institutions, especially when it comes to the military and national service programs.

Naddaf added that Middle Eastern Christians are becoming more open about their support for Israel, despite the threat of retribution by Islamic extremists. In 2013, Naddaf’s eldest son, Jubran, was beaten up in Nazareth due to his father’s outspoken support for Israel. Despite the head and body injuries he sustained in the beating by a young Arab with an iron rod, Jubran proceeded to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces the next year, making his father proud.

“As children of [Israel], we are obligated to defend her,” said Father Naddaf. “Israel is the only country that stands for Christians in the Middle East. No one else is standing against the eradication of Christians.”

Israeli Tech Firms Revving Up Engines for Self-Driving Cars

By: Josef Federman; bigstory.ap.org

In this Tuesday, 14 March 2017 photo, from left: co-founder and CTO of Mobileye Prof. Amnon Shashua, Israeli Economy Minister Eli Cohen, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich and the co-founder and CTO of Mobileye, Ziv Aviram, attend a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.As the world moves toward an era of self-driving cars, Israel is positioning itself to be the Detroit of the future. The country has emerged as a global leader in the fast-growing field of driverless cars, as illustrated by Intel’s $15 billion acquisition of Israeli firm Mobileye this week. (AP Photo/Olivier Fitoussi) ***ISRAEL OUT***

JERUSALEM (AP) — As the world moves toward an era of self-driving cars, Israel is positioning itself to be the Detroit of the future.

The country has emerged as a global leader in the fast-growing field of driverless cars, as illustrated by Intel’s more than $15 billion acquisition of Israeli firm Mobileye this week.

Israel is now home to hundreds of startups that provide everything from sensors to cybersecurity to data collection for autonomous vehicles, putting it alongside Silicon Valley at the forefront of an industry that many expect to take off over the next decade.

“In the last 12 months, the global interest is rising more and more,” said Lior Zeno-Zamansky, executive director of EcoMotion, a nonprofit group that promotes the smart transportation sector in Israel. “Everyone is looking for the next Mobileye.”

She said the Israeli smart transportation sector has attracted some $4 billion in investment over the past four years, roughly half of it driven by two industry leaders, Mobileye and Waze. During that time, the number of Israeli startups in the sector has grown from 87 in 2013 to over 500.

Virtually every major auto maker has established a foothold in Israel, and senior executives visit the country regularly. General Motors has already opened a research center in Israel, while Renault and Daimler are opening facilities as well. Other companies, including Ford, Honda, Toyota, Subaru, BMW, Mazda, Hyundai, Volvo and Audi are all active in the Israeli market.

In a sign of this interest, EcoMotion’s annual conference in May is expected to attract over 150 investors, up from just 10 in 2013, said Zeno-Zamansky. EcoMotion is a joint venture of the Israel Innovation Institute, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Economy Ministry.

Michael Granoff, president of Maniv Mobility, Israel’s only venture firm dedicated exclusively to automotive technology, said the auto industry is “ripe for change.” He cited the high cost and inefficiencies of owning a car and sitting in traffic, as well as the large numbers of road fatalities around the world.

He said Israel is well positioned to lead that change, not as a builder of cars or engines, but as a technology superpower.

“What we are witnessing is the digitization of transportation, and digitization is something that Israel has been a leader in,” he said.

Israel has long billed itself as “Startup Nation” for its thriving high-tech sector and entrepreneurial spirit, powered historically by veterans of murky technology units in the military. Major tech companies including Microsoft, Apple and Google all have research and development facilities in Israel.

Seasoned executives with expertise in such fields as cybersecurity, sensors, drone technology, communications and big data are now taking their knowledge to the auto field, Granoff said.

“This is far from a one-day or one-week story,” Granoff said. “This is going to be a story for the next 10 years.”

Mobileye, which makes software that helps cars avoid collisions, is the biggest deal in the Israeli sector so far. Intel offered $15.3 billion for the company, more than double its market value when it had its initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange less than three years ago. That followed Google’s more than $1 billion purchase of Waze, an Israeli GPS app, in 2013.

Jerusalem-based Mobileye, whose software processes information from cameras and other car sensors to decide where the cars should steer, has products on just about every automaker’s autonomous test fleet.

The combination with Intel adds hardware, more software expertise and data centers that the companies say will hasten deployment of autonomous technology, including wider use of automatic emergency braking and other technologies that already are on the roads.

“The deal confirms Israel’s global leadership position in autonomous driving technologies,” said Jon Medved, chief executive of OurCrowd, a venture firm with investments in the sector. “The deal will also increase attention and funding for the already burgeoning Israeli cohort of next generation autonomous driving technology startups.”

There are still a number of obstacles to overcome. Companies aren’t certain how the cars will drive in snow or other bad weather, and it will be difficult for cars to be programmed to handle numerous local traffic customs. Also, no one really knows yet when the cars will be safe enough to remove human backup drivers, or whether humans are prepared to turn over the driving to machines.

Dozens of Israeli firms are now in the race to find solutions to these and other challenges. Among the most promising companies: otonomo, which allows car makers, apps and service providers to exchange data such as speed, temperature and battery levels; Innoviz Technologies, Oryx Vision and VayaVision, makers of sensor technology; and Argus Cyber Security, which protects cars from hackers.

Levy Raiz, a partner at Tel Aviv investment firm Flint Capital, said Israel’s autonomous vehicle industry is still smaller than other industries like cybersecurity and medical devices. But he also said he sees rapid growth in the next five years.

Flint does not have any holdings in the driverless car sector but expects to make up to 12 investments over the next two years, he said. “This is the priority of our second fund, which we are launching as I speak,” he said.

Defiant Iran Successfully Tests Another Ballistic Missile

Hormoz 2 said to destroy target 250 km. away; army commander says ‘better’ Iran-made version of S-300 to be tested in May

By: Agencies and Times of Israel Staff; timesofisrael.com

Illustrative photo of Iran’s Hormoz ballistic missile. (Screenshot/YouTube)

TEHRAN — Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported Thursday that the country’s Revolutionary Guard successfully tested another ballistic missile, while boasting that Iran’s efforts to build a “better” home-made version of the Russian S-300 missile defense system were well on their way.

The Fars report quoted Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, chief of the Guard’s airspace division, as saying the missile destroyed a target from a distance of 250 kilometers (155 miles). The report said the sea-launched ballistic missile dubbed Hormoz 2 was tested last week, providing no additional details.

Fars also quoted Major General Ataollah Salehi saying that Iran was “capable of building our needed equipment and we have built and are building a system better than the S-300.”

The operational readiness of the system, dubbed as Bavar (Belief) 373, will be tested in late May, according to the report.

Last week, Iran announced that the advanced S-300 air defense system, delivered by Russia following the July 2015 nuclear deal after years of delay, was now operational.

“The S-300 is a system that is deadly for our enemies and which makes our skies more secure,” said air defense commander General Farzad Esmaili, according to state TV, also noting that the domestically manufactured Bavar 373 which was “more advanced than the S-300” would be tested soon.

Iran had been trying to acquire the S-300 system for years to ward off repeated threats by Israel to bomb its nuclear facilities, but Russia had held off delivery in line with UN sanctions imposed over the nuclear program.

The Russian-made missile defense system is one of the most advanced of its kind in the world, offering long-range protection against both aircraft and missiles.

Israel had long sought to block the sale, which analysts say could impede a potential Israeli strike on Tehran’s nuclear facilities. Other officials have expressed concern that the systems could reach Syria and Hezbollah, diluting Israel’s regional air supremacy.

Iran’s activation of the defense system and recent ballistic tests come amid mounting tensions with the new US administration of President Donald Trump, who imposed sanctions after Iran tested a medium-range ballistic missile in January.

Defiantly, Iran has continued with the tests, firing a pair of ballistic missiles late last month and carrying out drills that the US and Israel maintain are banned by the UN.

According to US officials who spoke with Fox News on February 27, Iran had fired two short-range Fateh-110 missiles in successive tests over the previous weekend, outfitting them with a guiding system meant to target boats.

One of the two Fateh-110 short range ballistic missiles tested successfully struck a barge floating in the Persian Gulf some 155 miles from the launch site at the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps base at Bandar-e-Jask in southeastern Iran.

Although the other missile did not hit its intended target, it was said to have been “in the vicinity.”

One of the officials who spoke with Fox said that the Fateh-110 Mod 3 missiles that were launched were equipped with an “active seeker,” which allows for improved targeting of seaborne vessels.

The missiles have a range of about 250 kilometers (155 miles), meaning they could not reach Israel from Iran. However, Syria and Hezbollah are thought to posses the missiles or modified versions of them. Iran has also hinted that it may have given technology to build the missiles to the Hamas terror group in Gaza as well.

Israel has also raised concerns in recent years of missile strikes on offshore gas facilities being set up in the Mediterranean.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump held a phone conversation to discuss “Iranian aggression” in the region and the 2015 nuclear deal, which the prime minister has vehemently opposed and which the president has repeatedly attacked.

The two leaders talked “at length” about the “dangers emanating from Iran and Iranian aggression in the region and the need to work together to deal with these threats,” according to a readout from the Prime Minister’s Office on Monday.

Illustrative: A missile launched from the Alborz mountains in Iran on March 9, 2016, reportedly inscribed in Hebrew, ‘Israel must be wiped out.’ (Fars News)

Meanwhile, the US Navy has a large presence in the Persian Gulf, where its Fifth Fleet is headquartered, and Iran has threatened on numerous occasions to attack US ships operating in the area.

Earlier this week a US vessel in the Strait of Hormuz was forced to change course after being harassed by Iranian fast boats in the strategic waterway.

The harassed boat — the USNS Invincible — is a tracking ship, designed to track ballistic missile launches. It was not immediately clear if the ship was purposefully targeted by the IRGC vessels in connection to the ballistic missile tests.

After Iran test-fired a ballistic missile in January, the US imposed sanctions on a number of entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program, and Trump warned the Islamic Republic it had been “put on notice.”

Although Iran maintains that the testing of ballistic missiles is not banned by the 2015 nuclear deal designed to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, the US said that the sanctions were imposed for Iran’s violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2331, which calls upon Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”

Since January’s test-firing of a ballistic missile, Iran has carried out a number of other tests of cruise and submarine-based missiles.

 

Syria Fires Missiles at Israeli Jets After Airstrikes

By: Ian Deitch; bigstory.ap.org

This Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016 photo shows an Israeli Air Force F-15 plane in flight during a graduation ceremony for new pilots in the Hatzerim air force base near the city of Beersheba, Israel. Anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria into Israeli-controlled territory early on Friday, following a series of Israeli airstrikes inside Syria, the Israeli military said. The military said its warplanes struck several targets in Syria and were back in Israeli-controlled airspace when several anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria toward the Israeli jets. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Syria fired missiles at Israeli warplanes on a mission to destroy a weapons convoy destined for the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah prompting it to deploy its missile defense system, Israeli officials said Friday, in a rare military exchange between the two hostile neighbors.

The Israeli military said its aircraft struck several targets in Syria and were back in Israeli-controlled airspace when several anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria toward the Israeli jets.

Israeli aerial defense systems intercepted one of the missiles, the army said, without elaborating. It would not say whether any other missiles struck Israeli-held territory, but said the safety of Israeli civilians and Israeli aircraft was “not compromised.”

Israel is widely believed to have carried out several airstrikes in recent years on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions. It rarely comments on such operations and the military statement detailing the raid and comments confirming the operation by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were highly unusual.

“Our policy is very consistent. When we identify attempts to transfer advanced weapons to the Hezbollah, and we have the intelligence and the operational capability, we act to prevent that. That is what was and that is what will be,” Netanyahu said.

Hezbollah is fighting alongside President Bashar Assad in the brutal Syrian civil war. The Iran-backed group is sworn to Israel’s destruction and fought a month-long war with the Jewish state in 2006.

The firing of missiles from Syria toward Israeli aircraft is rare, though Israeli military officials reported a shoulder-fired missile attack a few months ago.

Israeli Channel 10 TV reported that Israel deployed its Arrow defense system for the first time against a real threat and hit an incoming missile, intercepting it before it exploded in Israel.

However, Arrow is designed to intercept long-range ballistic missiles high in the stratosphere, so it remained unclear why the system would have been used in this particular incident.

The Israeli military would not comment on the type of system used.

Israel’s powerful transportation and intelligence minister Yisrael Katz told the station “our message is clear, we will not be complacent with a Syrian policy that arms Hezbollah.” Katz said “the fact that the incident developed into a situation where Israel claimed responsibility and the Syrians responded is significant.”

A Syrian military statement said four Israeli warplanes violated Syrian airspace — flying into Syria through Lebanese territory — and targeted a military position in central Syria.

Damascus said Syrian anti-aircraft systems confronted the planes and claimed one of the jets was shot down in Israeli- controlled territory and that another was hit. The Israeli military denied the claim, saying none of the jets had been hit.

There was no immediate comment from Hezbollah.

The pan-Arab Al-Mayadeen TV, which has good sources within the militant group, dismissed reports by other Arab media outlets that a Hezbollah commander, Badee Hamiyeh, was killed in one of the airstrikes. It said Hamiyeh was killed Thursday in the southern Syrian region of Quneitra, near the Israeli-held Golan Heights.

Jordan, which borders both Israel and Syria, said parts of the missiles fell in its rural northern areas, including the Irbid district. The Jordanian military said the debris came from the Israeli interception of missiles fired from Syria.

Radwan Otoum, the Irbid governor, told the state news agency Petra that the missile parts caused only minor damage.

A chunk of missile crashed into the courtyard of a home in the community of Inbeh in northern Jordan, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Syrian border.

Umm Bilal al-Khatib, a local resident, said she heard a blast at around 3 a.m. and initially thought a gas cylinder had exploded. When she went outside she found a small crater and a 3-meter-long (10-foot) cylinder.

Israeli media said the interception by the Arrow system took place north of Jerusalem.

Arrow is part of what Israel calls its “multilayer missile defense,” comprised of different systems meant to protect against short and long range threats, including the thousands of missiles possessed by Hezbollah in Lebanon and rockets used by Hamas and other Islamic militant groups in Gaza.

Israel has been largely unaffected by the Syrian civil war raging next door, suffering mostly sporadic incidents of spillover fire that Israel has generally dismissed as tactical errors by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. Israel has responded to the errant fire with limited reprisals on Syrian positions.

The Syrian conflict, which began in March 2011 as a popular uprising against Assad, eventually descended into a full-blown civil war, with Syrian government forces fighting an array of rebel groups. The chaos has allowed al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria and the Islamic State group to expand their reach.

The skies over Syria are now crowded, with Russian and Syrian aircraft backing Assad’s forces and a U.S.-led coalition striking Islamic State and al-Qaida targets.