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.

 

Majority of Knesset Backs Bill Accusing Poland of Holocaust Denial

By: Lahav Harkov; jpost.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They name streets and schools after them.”

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

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

 

Turkey: No Longer a Friend but Not a Foe

By: Amir Taheri; gatestoneinstitute.org

In May 1994, during a trip to Istanbul to address a conference of Turkish women, I asked colleagues whether there were any rising stars in the then obscure firmament of Turkish politics. Their almost unanimous answer was: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a 40-year-old politician who had won the mayoralty of Istanbul, the nation’s most populous city, against all odds.

However, their recommendation came with a caveat: Erdogan had a history of activism within several Islamist associations and political parties, a fact that, Turkish friends believed at the time, limited his prospects in a system founded on a peculiar understanding of secularism.

But, a few days later when we met Erdogan in his office, we found ourselves in the presence of an energetic reformer more interested in pragmatic concepts than ideological shibboleths.

Erdogan’s clean shaven face, apart from the almost mandatory Turkish moustache he sported, his well-cut suit and Cerruti necktie depicted him more like a European-style politician than an aspirant to sultandom in the ancient oriental tradition.

His diagnosis of what ailed Turkey had nothing to do with ideology.

He insisted that Turkey had to put its economy in order by taming inflation, and restore public faith in the government by uprooting the corruption that afflicted all parts of the system. More interestingly, Erdogan wanted to kick-start negotiations to join the European Union, ending the lethargic approach of Prime Ministers such as Tansu Ciller and Mesut Yilmaz.

Even more intriguing was Erdogan’s admission that Turkey would have to tackle its “Kurdish problem” with courage and realism rather than denial and repression.

At the time the cynic that lodges in every journalist’s brain murmured that Erdogan was sounding reasonable only to achieve enough power that would allow him to be unreasonable.

For the next decade or so, as Erdogan went on to win two general elections and serve as prime minister, however, the naughty little cynic proved wrong.

Much to our surprise, he did what he had said he would if he had the power.

His reforms, though at times brutal, did rescue the Turkish economy form the inflationary spiral, putting it back on the path of sustained growth for the first time since the 1950s. At the end of Erdogan’s first decade Turkey was the world’s 14th largest economy, 30% bigger than neighboring Iran with the same population and plenty of oil and gas.

On the issue of joining the European Union, too, Erdogan achieved significant progress in 20 of the 22 main topics on the so-called mise-a-jour agenda.

On fighting corruption, Erdogan’s performance was impressive, propelling Turkey away from the top of the list of the global index of corruption established by Transparency International.

By all standards, Erdogan was also a model of success in foreign policy; by the early years of the new century, Turkey was the only Middle Eastern nation without active enemies.

Erdogan’s realism in dealing with the thorny issue of Cyprus made it hard even for the most fanatical pan-Hellenists to nurse the ancient “hate the Turk” flames.

Even more astonishing was the patience and moderation with which Erdogan tackled the complex issue of Kurdish aspirations, a task made easier by the fact that his Justice and Development Party (AKP), owed part of its electoral success to support from constituencies where ethnic Kurds formed a majority.

Sadly, history is full of “and then-what” which put the narrative on a new, even opposite, trajectory.

It is difficult to know for sure when and how Erdogan’s “and then-what” came about. However, by around 2010 the moderate, pragmatic and reformist politician, about to be elevated to the status of statesman, had morphed into an intolerant, ideology-stricken, conservative politico devoid of vision and anxious about consolidation of his power.

What we see today is a rewinding of the film “The Decade of Success” under Erdogan.

The Turkish economy is back in the doldrums with inflation and unemployment again in double digits and direct foreign investment at its lowest since the early 2000s.

The gangrene of corruption is also back, gnawing at the bones of the state and, if a torrent of accusations is to be believed, affecting even the inner circles of power.

The historic reconciliation with the Kurdish minority is also at an end, as even elected members of parliament are punished for being Kurds.

The prospect of Turkey joining the European Union is all but abandoned by both sides as Erdogan adopts an anti-West posture while the EU flatters its resurrected populist demons.

Erdogan has achieved something else that is unique: leading Turkey into a war in which it finds itself fighting the side that is supported by its NATO allies, especially the United States and France.

That, in turn, has led to a bizarre situation in which Turkey is seen as part of a triangle with Russia and Iran, in a scheme to carve out what is left of war-torn Syria.

(Image source: kremlin.ru)

In just a decade Erdogan acquired the wherewithal to transform Turkey into a prosperous democracy. But when it came to assemble the parts into a coherent whole he lacked the vade mecum and/or the skill to do so.

In what seems to be a prolonged fit of anger with himself, with erstwhile Islamist allies, and even elements within his own party, Erdogan decided to break one by one the parts so patiently acquired, insisting that he alone must have the final word.

There is no doubt that under Erdogan, Turkey at first took the right turn but now is taking the wrong turn. The little cynic in a journalist’s head shakes its index finger with an “I-told-you-so” sneer. But the optimist who lodges in a journalist’s heart claims that Erdogan’s pyrotechnical rush to disaster will stop once he wins a second term as president next year with a massive election victory.

In the meantime, counting on Turkey as ally would be imprudent while treating it as foe would be foolish.

Amir Taheri, formerly editor of Iran’s premier newspaper, Kayhan, before the Iranian revolution of 1979, is a prominent author based on Europe. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.

This article first appeared in Asharq Al Awsat and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

 

Palestinian President Shows the World Who He Really Is

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

By: Eli Lake; bloomberg.com

Photographer: Kevin Hagen/Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

‘America Stands with Israel,’ Proclaims Vice President

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

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

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

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

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

Pence concluded his Knesset address:

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

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

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

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

 

Pence Speech Rife with Biblical References Rocks the Knesset

By: Lahav Harkov; jpost.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

US Wants to Cut Money for Palestinian Refugees

By: Matthew Lee and Julie Pace; apnews.com

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The meeting ended in a stalemate.

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Ben Gurion Airport to Undergo $1.43 Billion Upgrade

By: jta.org

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

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

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

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

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

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