Women’s chess champion boycotts tournament in Iran

 

Absent, but not forgotten. The Women’s World Chess Championship is currently taking place in Iran from February 10th to March 5th—and the reigning American female chess champion is conspicuously absent. U.S. chess phenom Nazi Paikidize-Barnes, 22, made headlines last year when she said she would rather boycott the world chess championship in Tehran than subscribe to Islamic dress, “even if it means missing one of the most important competitions of my career.”

“Some consider a hijab part of culture,” Paikidze-Barnes said in a statement announcing her decision. “But, I know that a lot of Iranian women are bravely protesting this forced law daily and risking a lot by doing so. That’s why I will NOT wear a hijab and support women’s oppression.”

All women in Iran are required to wear headscarves, a law that is enforced with an iron grip. About 40,000 cars were confiscated in the first half of 2015 because drivers or passengers were not wearing their headscarves properly. Many women were pulled over and beaten on the ground, only to be arrested afterwards.

Some Muslim women’s rights activists have pushed back in support of Paikidze-Barnes, with former Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Q. Nomani describing an op-ed attacking the chess star as “tragic because it uses women to tell other women to shut up.” Nomani wrote against “Iran’s hijab fetish” in The Washington Post last October.

Nomani also previously co-wrote an op-ed with Arab female journalist Hala Arafa in December 2015, which challenged the idea that Islamic scriptures require women to wear head coverings. “To us, the ‘hijab’ is a symbol of an interpretation of Islam we reject that believes that women are a sexual distraction to men, who are weak, and thus must not be tempted by the sight of our hair. We don’t buy it. This ideology promotes a social attitude that absolves men of sexually harassing women and puts the onus on the victim to protect herself by covering up,” they wrote.

 

Out of the mouths of babes. The winning performance at a recent Palestinian youth dancing competition in Nablus called for violence against Israel and featured the lyrics “jihad is needed, pull the trigger,” the watchdog organization Palestinian Media Watch reported Monday.

The event took place at the Yafa Cultural Center, which is funded by Germany, Norway, and the European Union itself. The winning dance was performed by 14-year-old Ru’a Ahmed Sa’id Hamdan to the song “Pull the Trigger,” which was previously broadcast on a Palestinian Authority television channel in 2010.

Hamdan and the competition’s top two runners-up received trophies bearing a map of “Palestine” that encompassed the entirety of Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Incitement to violence against Israel is a recurring theme in music promoted by the Palestinian Authority. During the ruling Fatah party’s conference late last year, an official PA television channel repeatedly played a song calling “to free the state from the hands of the Zionists” and to “slice open the enemy’s chest, slice it.”

The New York Times reported in October 2015—at the start of the so-called “knife intifada”—that violent, “nationalistic” tracks were dominating Palestinian airwaves, with one young listener saying the tunes make him “boil inside” and prepare him to throw stones at Israeli soldiers. The songs feature lyrics such as “stab the Zionist and say God is great” and “say hello to being a martyr,” and their accompanying videos often contain graphic imagery.

 

Mayday. An Israeli fighter plane on Thursday shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) as it flew from the Gaza Strip to the Mediterranean Sea.

The drone was intercepted before it entered Israeli airspace and landed harmlessly in the sea.

“The IDF will not allow any violation of [Israel’s] airspace and will operate with determination against any attempt to do so,” the military said in a statement.

No details were publicized about the size or design of the drone. Hamas is yet to release a statement regarding the incident, although it is widely reported the organisation was responsible for launching the drone.

Hamas has previously been suspected of launching UAVs towards Israel. Last September, the IDF intercepted a drone heading for Israeli territory. In June, a UAV crashed close to the Gaza border fence and drones were launched from Gaza during Operation Protective Edge in summer 2014. Last year, Israeli authorities thwarted an attempt to smuggle drone models and disassembled drone parts into Gaza via the postal system. (via BICOM)

 

 

Supermarket tomatoes often look a lot better than they taste. That’s because modern commercial tomatoes have gradually lost their flavor as breeders tinker with their shelf life, firmness and disease resistance. Now it seems that we can have our tomato and eat it, too. After a decade of research, a global team of scientists from Israel, the United States, China and Spain have identified the flavor components that contribute to the delicious taste of tomatoes, and the genes that code for the tomatoes’ flavor-enhancing chemicals. Their study, published January 27 in the journal Science, has made it possible to produce tomatoes with their good old flavor, without sacrificing the traits that make them attractive to consumers and longer-lasting for shipment around the world. Tomato fruit samples grown in Israel were sent to all participating research groups, each identifying different components. Through analysis of the chemistry of the tomatoes, researchers identified 13 compounds associated with good flavor. To study how to enhance the flavor in modern tomatoes, they studied gene variants called alleles and were able to identify the locations of the “good” alleles in the tomato genome that allow the production of compounds contributing to tastier tomatoes. After mapping genes that control synthesis of all the important chemicals, the researchers used genetic analysis to replace “bad” alleles in modern tomato varieties with the “good” alleles. (via Israel21c)

Hamas releases chilling new cartoon music video

 

Cartoon horror– Hamas released a chilling new animated Hebrew-language music video, the Israel Defense Forces posted on Facebook Wednesday. Example imagery includes a Jewish man with a chain leash around his neck accompanied by the lyrics, “If you’re not already killed, we can hold you captive.”

Other graphic content includes rockets raining down on Israel, gratuitous head-chopping, and positioning a Jewish man in sniper crosshairs before shooting.

Hamas has released similar videos in the past—also in Hebrew, also intended to directly terrorize Israelis. Their previous cartoon short was published earlier this month.

 

Diversity– Four new judges were selected by a parliamentary panel on Wednesday to serve on Israel’s 15-member Supreme Court.

The most notable selection was George Kara of the Tel Aviv District Court. Kara is a Christian Arab-Israeli who presided over the 2009-10 trial that convicted former Israeli President Moshe Katzav of rape.

The other newly appointed judges are David Mintz of the Jerusalem District Court, Yosef Elron from the Tel Aviv District Court, and Yale Willner from the Haifa District Court. The three are seen as conservative or non-activist judges and were supported by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party, who chaired the Knesset’s Judicial Selection Committee. The committee consisted of three sitting Supreme Court justices, two government ministers (including Shaked), two other members of the Knesset, and two members of the Israel Bar Association.

The new judges are slated to take the place of four members of the court who will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 in the coming year, including Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, Deputy President Elyakim Rubenstein, and Justices Salim Joubran and Zvi Zilbertal.

 

Art of the deal– The business partners who own stake in the Leviathan natural gas field off the Israeli coast have agreed to invest $3.75 billion in its development, they announced on Thursday. The gas field is owned by Texas-based Noble Energy (which has a stake of 39.7%), Delek Drilling and Avner Oil Exploration (22.7% each), and Ratio Oil (15%). All of the latter three are Israeli firms. The $3.75 billion is in addition to $1 billion that has already been invested in the field’s development.

The Leviathan gas field lies approximately 60 miles west of Haifa and is believed to contain 18.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. When in operation, it will be able to serve not only domestic Israeli demand, but will also be exported to Israel’s neighbors and the broader Mediterranean region. Drilling is scheduled to begin this year and the first extraction is expected in 2019.

“This is a day of good tidings for the economy and people of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “This move will provide gas to Israel and promote cooperation with countries in the region.”

Eli Groner, the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, said, “This is the biggest investment ever in Israel.” He added, “Commercial partnerships and alliances are what create diplomatic and political stability.”

Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s Energy Minister, hailed the news and said, “If we continue on a responsible and steadfast path, we will also succeed in discovering more gas fields, positioning Israel as an important player in the energy market alongside our neighbors in the Middle East and Europe.”

 

Amblyopia (“lazy eye”), a disorder affecting three to five percent of the general population, usually is treated by patching the stronger eye or blurring its vision with atropine drops, in order to force the brain to use images from the weaker eye. Yet only 60% achieve normal vision, and 35% of those who improve eventually regress. Moreover, compliance is only around 50% since nobody – and especially children – enjoys using eyepatches or eye drops. The Israeli company Medisim is working to commercialize a new approach, BinoVision video goggles, based on research showing that the brain can be stimulated to improve visual function. The sophisticated device presents separate and independent views of the same image to each eye. (via Israel21c)

Australian PM praises Israel upon Netanyahu visit, first by an Israeli PM

 

G’day, mate. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu landed in Australia on Tuesday for an official state visit, marking the first such visit to Australia by an Israeli prime minister. He was warmly welcomed by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who wrote an op-ed in The Australian praising Israel as a fellow democracy.

“Our friendship is as old as the state of Israel itself,” the op-ed began. “Our peoples are bound together first and foremost by the values we share – a mutual commitment to democracy and the rule of law.” Turnbull continued, “Israel is a miraculous nation. It has flourished despite invasion, conflict and an almost complete lack of natural resources, other than the determination and genius of its people. And yet in a region wracked by war, it succeeds as the sole liberal democracy, a world leader in every field of science and technology, its culture of innovation the envy of the world.”

Turnbull also made clear that his government “will not support one-sided resolutions criticising Israel of the kind recently adopted by the UN Security Council and we deplore the boycott campaigns designed to delegitimise the Jewish state.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed his delight at visiting Australia and said at a joint press conference that his visit “celebrates, really, 100 years of friendship of Australia to the Jewish people and their state.”

The two countries will sign agreements to enhance direct air travel between them and to cooperate in the fields of technology and innovation.

Netanyahu’s visit to Australia comes directly on the heels of a two-day trip to Singapore.

 

No justice, no freedom. Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi — leaders of the 2009 pro-democracy “Green Movement” protests in Iran — will not be released from house arrest as previously promised, according to a Los Angeles Times article published Tuesday. Their freedom was a campaign pledge made by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani before winning office.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, rejected calls for “national reconciliation,” effectively ensuring the opposition leaders’ perpetual detainment. He denounced efforts to mend ties with Green Revolution dissenters as “meaningless.”

“Previous Iranian leaders placed under house arrest never reemerged — including Mohammad Mossadegh, ousted as prime minister in a CIA-backed coup in 1953, and Hussein-Ali Montazeri, a leader of the Islamic Revolution who was marginalized after a falling out with Khamenei,” notes The Times. Both died while under house arrest.

 

Crushing teenage dreams. Dorsa Derakhshani, an 18-year-old chess grandmaster, was kicked off Iran’s national team after she failed to wear the Islamic hair covering known as the hijab at the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival 2017, Radio Free Europe reported. Her 15-year-old brother, Borna, was also booted from the national team after playing against an Israeli opponent at the same competition.

Mehrdad Pahlevanzadeh, head of the Iranian Chess Federation, told Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency on Sunday that the siblings “will be denied entry to all tournaments taking place in Iran, and, in the name of Iran, they will no longer be allowed the opportunity to be present on the national team.”

Iran not only enforces the hijab on its own nationals but also requires that non-Iranian women wear the hijab when competing in the country. Nazí Paikidze-Barnes, the reigning American female chess champion, withdrew from the 2017 Women’s World Chess Championship after it was announced that it will be held in Iran and that participants would be forced to cover their hair.

“Some consider a hijab part of culture,” Paikidze-Barnes said in announcing her decision. “But, I know that a lot of Iranian women are bravely protesting this forced law daily and risking a lot by doing so. That’s why I will NOT wear a hijab and support women’s oppression.”

All women in Iran are required to wear headscarves, a law that is enforced with an iron grip. About 40,000 cars were confiscated in the first half of 2015 because drivers or passengers were not wearing their headscarves properly. Many women were pulled over and beaten on the ground, only to be arrested afterwards.

 

This time for Africa. Israel and the Word Bank will sign three agreements to cooperate in the fields of water, cybersecurity, and agriculture in African nations. In a statement, Israel’s Economy Minister, Eli Cohen, said, “Cooperation with the World Bank is an opportunity for us to showcase some of the capabilities and innovation that Israel can offer to developing countries.”

World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim visited Israel last week, meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, and Cohen. In his meeting, Rivlin said to Dr. Kim, “We are cooperating on so many projects especially in agriculture and water conservation. Israel is committed to advancements in these fields for all peoples around the world and it is an honor to be your partner for the benefit of all humanity.”

Last year witnessed a series of diplomatic breakthroughs for Israel, especially with African nations. Netanyahu embarked on a historic tour of East Africa in July, restored diplomatic ties with the Muslim-majority nation of Guinea, and met with 15 African heads of state and ambassadors at the United Nations General Assembly in September.

 

Iranian leader urges “holy jihad” against “cancerous tumor” Israel

 

If you don’t have anything nice to say… Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for a violent Palestinian uprising against Israel, which he denounced as a “cancerous tumor” in remarks Tuesday at the Iranian regime’s sixth conference in support of a Palestinian intifada. Khamenei said that the wave of terrorism Palestinians launched against Israelis beginning in October 2015 was “moving forward in a bright and hopeful manner.” He continued, “And by Allah’s permission, we will see that this intifada will begin a very important chapter in the history of fighting and that it will inflict another defeat on that usurping regime.”

Referring to Israel, Khamenei said, “From the beginning, this cancerous tumor has been developing in several phases until it turned into the current disaster.” He praised Palestinian terrorists, saying, “The Palestinian intifada continues to gallop forward in a thunderous manner so that it can achieve its other goals until the complete liberation of Palestine.” Khamenei denounced the two-state solution, which he called “compromise strategies,” and instead urged an all-out “holy jihad.”

Khamenei also said that the creation of Israel was “one of the dirty chapters of history that will be closed, with the grace of God.” 

Delegations from about 80 countries attended the two-day conference.

 

Anti-Semitism rising. For the fourth time in five weeks, Jewish community centers (JCCs) across the United States were evacuated after receiving bomb threats on Monday. At least 10 JCCs were targeted.

This is the latest incident following a series of ominous threats. As listed by The Times of Israel, “A total of 48 JCCs in 26 states and one Canadian province received nearly 60 bomb threats during January. On Jan 31, some 17 JCCs across the United States were targeted with bomb threats. On Jan. 18, some 30 Jewish institutions in at least 17 states received bomb threats. On Jan. 9, such threats were called into 16 JCCs across the Northwest and South, forcing the evacuation of hundreds.”

“America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance. We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers. #JCC,” tweeted Ivanka Trump, a convert to Judaism and daughter of the president.

Earlier, the White House responded to a reporter’s query about the latest string of bomb threats called in to Jewish community centers by saying “these actions are unacceptable.”

 

Game-changer. The Iranian-backed terrorist organization Hezbollah has reportedly acquired advanced anti-ship missiles, Ynet reported Sunday. The Russian Yakhont missile has a range of up to 300 kilometers. This would be a “game-changing” development.

The missiles would present, The Times of Israel reported, a “serious threat to Israeli interests in the Mediterranean; endangering both Israeli commercial vessels sailing in shipping lanes off the Lebanese coast and the ability of Israeli Navy ships to operate in and around Lebanese waters.” The article continued, “Most significantly, the missiles would give Hezbollah the ability to strike Israel’s gas production platforms in the Mediterranean, a threat Israel reportedly intends to counter by installing maritime versions of the Iron Dome missile defense system on naval vessels.” Ynet added that Hezbollah would also be able to use the missiles to target U.S. Navy vessels of the Sixth Fleet, which operate in the Mediterranean.

On Monday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah repeated threats to attack Israel’s nuclear reactor at Dimona and its ammonia storage tank near Haifa – an attack on the latter would, according to an Israeli expert, represent a catastrophe on the scale of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

 

Times are changing. After years of encountering disproportionate anti-Israel criticism and bias at the United Nations, the United States “will not turn a blind eye to this anymore,” new United States Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said on Thursday. Her remarks are available on video.

Haley described her first meeting of the UN Security Council: “The Security Council is supposed to discuss how to maintain international peace and security. But at our meeting on the Middle East, the discussion was not about Hizballah’s illegal build-up of rockets in Lebanon. It was not about the money and weapons Iran provides to terrorists. It was not about how we defeat ISIS. It was not about how we hold Bashar al-Assad accountable for the slaughter of hundreds and thousands of civilians. No, instead, the meeting focused on criticizing Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East. I am new around here, but I understand that’s how the Council has operated, month after month, for decades.”

Haley proclaimed that the U.S. is “determined to stand up to the UN’s anti-Israel bias,” and will not “repeat the terrible mistake” of failing to veto anti-Israel resolutions, such as what happened last year with Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli construction in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Hamas rejects aid for peace deal

 

No aid for peace. A senior Hamas official on Friday rejected Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s offer of “massive” assistance to the people of Gaza predicated on the condition that Hamas give up its rockets and attack tunnels, and release three Israeli men the organization is believed to be holding hostage.

Hamas spokesperson Mahmoud al-Zahar flatly refused the offer and said if Gaza wanted to be like Singapore (read: a thriving, economically stable nation), it would have done so already.

“The moment Hamas gives up on tunnels and rockets, we will be the first ones to invest and build [Gaza’s residents] a seaport, an airport, and industrial zones by the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings,” Liberman said. “We are able to immediately create about 40,000 jobs for the residents of Gaza.”

 

The northern front. In an op-ed appearing in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, Mark Dubowitz and Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington, D.C. think tank, urged the U.S. to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which were acquired in a defensive war against Syria in 1967. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked President Donald Trump and his administration to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan in a meeting on Wednesday and at a breakfast with Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday.

Israel expressed willingness to cede the Golan in negotiations with Syria over decades; however, as the authors of the piece noted, “Had Israel ceded the Golan to Syria, Islamic State, al Qaeda or Iran would be sitting on the shores of the Galilee across from the Israeli city of Tiberias” due to the effects of the civil war in Syria. For the Trump administration, which has expressed a desire to split Iran off from its ally Russia, such a move “would show that the U.S. will take a tougher line in the provision of arms and intelligence to Iran and Hezbollah.”

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist organization, have attempted in recent years to establish a terrorist infrastructure on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. Israel is deeply concerned about such a development, particularly in the aftermath of military victories by the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. Prof. Asher Susser, a senior fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University, told BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus, “The changes in Syria [due to  the civil war] have brought Iran closer to Israel’s borders than ever before.”

 

Presents from Tehran. Iran has sent “game-changing” weapons to its proxy group Hezbollah, which has been actively building tunnels and fortifications along Lebanon’s border with Israel, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported Wednesday, citing Lebanese media.

Ibrahim al-Amin, chairman of the pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar, wrote in an editorial on January 24 that “a vast supply of advanced, state-of-the art weapons of various kinds, including weapons provided by Iran” have flown into Hezbollah’s depots since the beginning of the Syrian civil war. He also asserted that while Israel targeted convoys transporting sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah, “dozens if not hundreds of convoys managed to [get through and] bring the necessary [weapons] to the resistance bases in Lebanon.”

“Israel reads the map and realizes that Hizbullah’s weapons arsenal has steadily grown, and is now several times larger than it was in 2006, and that the kind of weapons that the enemy tried and is still trying to prevent the resistance from acquiring – namely, what Israel calls ‘game-changing’ weapons – is available to it in great amounts,” al-Amin claimed.

Al-Amin observed that Hezbollah fired 4,300 rockets into Israel during the 2006 war between the two. Now, Israel estimates that Hezbollah would be able to fire 1,500 rockets at it each day, but “these are the enemy’s estimates, and they are surely wrong,” he wrote.

A separate report on Hezbollah’s preparations for another confrontation with Israel appeared several days earlier in Al-Mustaqbal, which is owned by Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’d Al-Hariri, aa rival of Hezbollah. The paper confirmed that Hezbollah was operating in southern Lebanon, in violation United Nations Security Council resolution 1701. “Hizbullah has concealed forward positions on the international border [between Lebanon and Israel], including tunnels it dug over 10 years ago, especially in the Al-Labouna area, south of Al-Naqoura. [This area] overlooks the Palestinian coast and the [Israeli] towns of Shlomi and Nahariya,” Al-Mustaqbal noted. The report also claimed that Hezbollah has shared its tunnel digging expertise with Hamas.

 

Noah’s Ark is said to have saved many animals from extinction. Now, veterinarians at the Zoological Center Tel Aviv-Ramat Gan Safari, together with experts from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) in Germany, are using innovative techniques to create a DNA tissue bank for animals – especially those expected to become extinct in the next few years. The Israel-German Ark of Life is a frozen zoo comprising animal DNA samples kept in special tubes at a constant -196 degrees Celsius. The forward-thinking conservation project uses modern means to prepare for future advances in saving animals. “Today we can take the genes to conserve. The tissues can be used in the future for several reasons, whether to reproduce species of animals that become extinct or maybe reproduce organs for transplants,” Dr. Yigal Horowitz, chief veterinarian at the Safari and head of the project, tells ISRAEL21c. (via ISRAEL21c)