Shimon Peres, the last of Israel’s founding fathers, dies at 93

 

Former Israeli President and Prime Minister Shimon Peres, the last of Israel’s founding fathers, died Wednesday morning local time at the age of 93, two weeks after suffering a massive stroke. Peres was one of Israel’s most distinguished and iconic leaders and has generated enormous respect around the world during a career spanning more than six decades. A founding father of the State of Israel, he served as the country’s president, its prime minister on three occasions, and as a member of 12 cabinets. He was known for building Israel’s defense in its early years, ushering in desperately needed economic reforms in the 1980s, pushing for peace through the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, and fighting for Israeli unity as president in the 2000s.

Born in Wiszniew, Poland in 1923 (now Vishnyeva, Belarus), Peres’ family emigrated to British Mandatory Palestine in 1934 and settled in Tel Aviv. In 1947, David Ben-Gurion, the country’s first prime minister, made Peres responsible for arms procurement and recruitment for the Haganah, the pre-state Jewish military. As director general of the Ministry of Defense, at the young age of 29, Peres founded Israel’s military and aviation industries. Through adept diplomacy, he was able to forge a strong relationship between Israel and France, which dramatically improved Israel’s military and strategic capabilities in the 1950s and 1960s. When serving as defense minister, he drew up the plan for the successful raid at Entebbe in 1976, in which 103 of 106 Jewish hostages were rescued from Palestinian terrorists. As prime minister, Peres pushed through economic reforms in 1985 that reined in rampant inflation and revived the Israeli economy.

As foreign minister for Yitzhak Rabin, Peres was the official supervisor of the secret negotiations with the PLO, which culminated in the Oslo Accords in 1993 and a Nobel Peace Prize. Peres assumed the premiership following Rabin’s assassination in November 1995, but was defeated in the polls by current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996 after a wave of terrorist attacks. In 2001, Peres became foreign minister as part of a Labor-Likud unity government under Ariel Sharon. He helped Labor support Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan, before leaving the party in 2005 to serve as the deputy leader of Sharon’s new Kadima party.

Peres served as Israel’s president from the age of 83 to 90, strengthening Israel’s image abroad while working on Israeli-Palestinian peace and cooperation initiatives through the government as well as his foundation, the Peres Center for Peace. He received the Presidential Medal of Honor from Barack Obama in 2012 and the French Légion d’honneur in 2008.

 

U.S. leaders from both sides of the aisle mourned the passing of Shimon Peres, remarking upon his status as a world statesman and visionary. “Shimon Peres’ story was the story of modern Israel – a saga of daring, dynamism and wisdom. With all of his heart, this farmer, fighter, author, Nobel peace prize winner, prime minister and president worked to guide his nation into a secure and confident future,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “He was an intellectual resource who personified the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel.” Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan echoed her sentiments: “The world has lost a true legend and statesman. Shimon Peres was a gift to the country he helped establish and lead, and a persistent voice for the cause of peace.”

President Barack Obama “issued an unusually long and personal” statement honoring the former president, as characterized by The New York Times on Wednesday. “A light has gone out, but the hope he gave us will burn forever,” Obama said. “Shimon Peres was a soldier for Israel, for the Jewish people, for justice, for peace and for the belief that we can be true to our best selves — to the very end of our time on Earth and in the legacy that we leave to others.” President Obama awarded Peres the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

Other American leaders to extend their condolences included former President Bill Clinton and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his wife Melania, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura, former President George H.W. Bush, and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.

 

Israeli politicians of every stripe honored the life and legacy of Shimon Peres, the last surviving member of Israel’s founding generation.
Like all the citizens of Israel, the whole Jewish people, and many in the world, I bow my head in memory of our beloved Shimon Peres,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
“Shimon was a teacher, a friend and a remarkable statesman who will be forever remembered as an icon of Israel’s history, and whose legacy will continue to play a profound role in Israel’s future,” opposition leader and head of the Zionist Union party Isaac Herzog wrote on Facebook. Herzog also leads Labor — the largest party that makes up the Zionist Union — which Peres also headed. Peres, said Herzog, “is one of the greats that shaped the face of Israel throughout its existence. He contributed to Israel’s security and deterrence, he fought resolutely against terrorism, and he relentlessly pursued peace. These remarkable contributions, as well as his work towards economic and social empowerment, improving Israel’s international status, and supporting Israel as a nation of innovation and courage, created a lasting impact that no words can do justice.”
Tzipi Livni, a Zionist Union MK and former foreign minister, said that it was “hard to imagine Israel without him; he will be remembered the world over as a statesman and a leader.” Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party praised Peres as “a practical visionary and peace-seeking security figure, a courageous leader.” Numerous members of the Knesset and Israel’s military establishment also extended their condolences, including Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beitenu), who called Peres’ passing “a sad day for Israel.”

 

Foreign leaders expressed their condolences for the death of Shimon Peres and paid their respects to the late statesman. Pope Francis gave his prayers for Peres’ family and the people of Israel, calling for “the divine blessings of consolation and strength upon the nation.” British Prime Minister Theresa May announced, “He was a visionary and courageous statesman, who worked relentlessly for peace and never lost hope that this would one day be achievable.” Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a statement in which he wrote, “This is a man who was a political giant, a statesman who will rank as one of the foremost of this era or any era, and someone I loved deeply.” French President Francois Hollande called Peres a “faithful friend of France” and said that “[w]ith the death of Shimon Peres, Israel loses one of its most illustrious statesmen, one of the most ardent defenders of peace.”

Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, tweeted, “In former President Shimon Peres, we lost a key world leader & a friend of India. Pained by his demise. Our condolences to the people of Israel.” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wrote, “Australia mourns the passing of Shimon Peres, his passion for the State of Israel as strong as his commitment to peace.” The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said she was “heartbroken” to hear of Peres’ passing and called him a “man of peace [and] immense source of inspiration.” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier issued a statement that “the world has lost a great statesman, Israel one of its founding fathers and Germany a highly treasured friend and partner.” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he “always benefited from his views. Even in the most difficult hours, he remained an optimist about the prospects for reconciliation and peace.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a letter that “Peres was a partner in making the brave peace with the martyr Yasser Arafat and prime minister (Yitzhak) Rabin, and made unremitting efforts to reach a lasting peace from the Oslo agreement until the final moments of his life.” He also tweeted that Peres’ death is “a heavy loss for all humanity and for peace in the region.”

Among the world leaders scheduled to attend Peres’ funeral are U.S. President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State John Kerry, Britain’s Prince Charles, Hollande, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Turnbull, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Former Israeli President Shimon Peres “fighting for his life” two weeks after suffering stroke

 

Former Israeli President and Prime Minister Shimon Peres’ medical condition took a turn for the worse on Tuesday, two weeks after he suffered a stroke. His doctors have said that he is “fighting for his life.” Peres’ family gathered at his bedside to say their farewells to the statesman. The Times of Israel reported that doctors had stopped giving Peres life-saving treatment and sources close to him said “these are the former president’s final hours.” Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri told reporters,“[W]e are all praying. We are all used to seeing an active and intense Shimon…” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who succeeded Peres at that position, said, “I wish to send my prayers to the health of my friend Shimon Peres…My concern right now is with…Peres who is fighting for his life at these very moments.” Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, tweeted, “Keeping Shimon Peres and his family in my thoughts, my prayers and my heart.”

Peres, 93, is one of Israel’s most distinguished and iconic leaders and has generated enormous respect around the world during a career spanning more than six decades. A founding father of the State of Israel, he served as the country’s president, its prime minister on two occasions, and as a member of twelve cabinets. He is renowned for building the country’s military and aviation industries, reforming the economy, pursuing peace, and playing a unifying role as president.

 

Iran’s likely next Supreme Leader, Iran expert Ray Takeyh wrote in The Washington Post on Monday, sat on a commission responsible for the mass murder of thousands of political prisoners in the late 1980s. Ibrahim Raisi, wrote Takeyh, is a “reactionary” Iranian hardliner who “oversaw the massacre of thousands of political prisoners” in the summer of 1988, and, given his appetite for violence, “could be the only person in the Islamic Republic who could cause people to miss [current Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei.”

Raisi is 56 years old and spent his career serving as prosecutor general in the Islamic Republic—“responsible for disciplining mullahs who stray from the official line.” As head of one of Iran’s largest charitable foundations—a position to which he was appointed by Khamenei himself—he oversees an endowment valued at an estimated $15 billion, which has been accused of providing funding to Iran’s terror proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Raisi is a favorite of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the organization tasked with defending the revolution at home and exporting it abroad that is notorious for its “mafia” style rule and brutal suppression of the Iranian people.

 

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas should not be dismissive of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s invitation to address the Knesset, a Saudi newspaper asserted on Sunday. Netanyahu made the invitation to Abbas in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly last Thursday. Netanyahu’s “invitation is reminiscent of the one issued by former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to visit Israel – and the rest is history,” the Saudi Gazette editorial read. “Camp David demonstrated that negotiations with Israel were possible and that progress could be made through sustained efforts at communication and cooperation.” The Saudi daily cautioned against Palestinian skepticism: “Palestinians should note that at the time [of the Camp David Accords], Egypt and Israel were mortal enemies, having fought three wars.” It noted that while the “Arab world derided” the Accords’ provision for a five-year interim period of Palestinian autonomy, “in hindsight, if the provisions had been carried out, Israel and the Palestinians might not be in the impasse they are in at present.”

An article in The Jerusalem Post last month highlighted the phenomenon of local and state-run media outlets in Saudi Arabia beginning to shift their long-held position of enmity toward Israel. Recent changes include quoting Israeli officials; asking Saudis to discard their “hatred of Jews”; and calling for direct talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia, free from intermediaries. David Pollock of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy branded the pivot as “the new normal,” saying that while pragmatic, behind-the-scenes dialogue between Israel and Arab countries is “nothing new,” the presence of two sides in public forums marks an undeniable turning point. “What is noteworthy today is that the issue is being actively and openly debated in major Arab media, with both proponents and opponents each having their say.”

In other signs of this slow but persistent change, Anwar Eshki, a former general who had served in senior positions in the Saudi military and foreign ministry, visited Israel in July as part of a delegation of Saudi academics and businessmen. Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold gave an interview last year with a Saudi website, and Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer was likewise recently interviewed by the Saudi media.

 

Israel experienced a population growth rate of almost two percent over the past Jewish year, according to numbers published by the Central Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday. The growth rate is consistent with previous years. Israel’s population now registers at 8.585 million, an increase of 172,000 from the same time last year. The country’s birthrate is more than four times the death rate: 189,000 babies were born during the past year compared to 46,000 people dying.

Israel’s Arab population grew by 2.2%, a slightly higher growth rate than that of the Jewish population, which experienced a 1.9% increase. Muslims grew by 2.4% and Christians by 1.5%.

Wedding bells rang for 50,797 couples. Among first-time marriages, 44,412 were grooms and 45,547 were brides. The average age of first-time husbands was 27.6 compared to 25 for first-time wives.

Reuters: Israel’s diplomatic ties have never been better

 

Forging new bonds across the region and elsewhere, Israel has never been in a better position diplomatically, Reuters reported on Thursday. Key examples of partnership include warming relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, countries that increasingly share security concerns with Israel. “Egypt even allows Israel to conduct drone strikes against militants on Egyptian territory” in the common battle against the Islamic State and Hamas, and Saudi Arabian leaders have made visits to Israel.

A new alliance has been formed between Israel, Greece and Cyprus; their militaries hold “extensive air and naval exercises together.” Earlier this year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades held a three-way summit that “concluded with the creation of a de-facto geopolitical bloc between the three states.”

In other recent diplomatic developments, Netanyahu convened a summit with at least 15 leaders and representative of African countries last week at the United Nations, where he expressed his desire to share Israeli technology with African nations. The Israeli prime minister visited Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia this summer, the first time in almost 30 years that an Israeli head of state had visited sub-Saharan Africa. Weeks later, the Republic of Guinea, a Muslim-majority African nation, restored diplomatic ties with Israel after a 49-year break. Netanyahu has made it a priority to strengthen Israel’s commercial, diplomatic, and security relations with African countries.

 

Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill on Saturday banning California from contracting companies that discriminate against any federally-recognized nation or peoples, including Israel.

Assembly Bill 2844, which unanimously passed California’s assembly at the end of August, requires that companies seeking to do business with the state verify that they are not violating its civil rights laws while boycotting a foreign country. Israel, which has been singled out by proponents of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, is the only country mentioned by name in the legislation.

“The bill sends the clear and unmistakable message that the state of California wants no part of the goals and tactics of the BDS movement,” Janna Weinstein Smith, the Los Angeles director of the American Jewish Committee, said in a statement praising the signing of the measure.

California is the 12th state to pass a bill against BDS on the grounds of its discriminatory nature, according to a count by Palestine Legal, which works on behalf of pro-Palestinian campaigners. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed a number of agreements with Brown while visiting California in 2014, including one to provide the Golden State with training in “water conservation and desalination techniques” developed by Israeli scientists.

 

Iran is obstructing the election of a Lebanese president, a Lebanese member of parliament said on Sunday, highlighting continued Iranian and Hezbollah attempts to dominate Lebanese politics. Jamal al-Farrah, who belongs to the Future Movement party, explained, “[Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad] Hariri made several initiatives to end the presidential void, including nominating [Suleiman] Franjieh, but there’s a clear Iranian decision to block the election of a president.” Franjieh is one of the top two contenders for the position of president of Lebanon – the other is Michel Aoun, the favorite of Iran and its terror proxy Hezbollah, which have together been able to paralyze the Lebanese political system. Franjieh also enjoys support from Iran and the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. Lebanon has not had a president since May 2014 and its parliament has failed 44 times to elect one, most recently on September 8. Resigned Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi vowed, “We will not allow what’s happening in Baghdad, Damascus and Sanaa to happen in Beirut and we will be fierce fighters in defending our Arab and Lebanese identity and in preventing the Iranian axis from changing it.”

Ya Libnan reported last week that Naim Qassem, the second-in-command of Hezbollah, had acknowledged that his organization had blocked the appointment of a new Lebanese president.  “The days have proved that there is a specific path for the presidency. Those who want to elect a president have only one route to take and it leads to General Michel Aoun,” Qassem said. “The global and regional powers, the Security Council and the Arab League will not be able to alter this course. They have been trying for two years to no avail.”

Hezbollah’s obstruction of the domestic Lebanese political process comes as the Iranian proxy is preparing for another war with Israel. An Israeli defense official told The New York Times in May 2015 that the buildup of Hezbollah’s terror infrastructure in southern Lebanese villages meant that “civilians are living in a military compound” and that their lives were at risk. Geoff Corn, an international military law expert, explained to The Weekly Standard that if Israel were to strike in this instance, “both legally and morally, the cause of these tragic consequences will lie solely at the feet of Hezbollah.” Because of this, Corn said, “Hezbollah should be pressured starting today to avoid locating such vital military assets among civilians.” Hezbollah has gained significant combat experience in Syria while supporting the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad, which the terror group will be able to deploy against Israel. Its arsenal of rockets has increased tenfold since 2006 to more than 130,000, more than all non-U.S. NATO countries combined. The group also has hundreds of drones, Yakhont surface-to-sea missiles, anti-tank missiles (including the Russian Kornet), advanced anti-aircraft weaponry, long-range rockets, and M-600 ballistic missiles.

 

Female U.S. veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have the opportunity to travel to Israel in search of healing, NBC News reported Sunday. Heroes to Heroes, a nondenominational New Jersey-based nonprofit, organizes trips to Israel that allow for American veterans to meet with Israelis who also struggle with PTSD in pursuit of emotional and spiritual healing. The American veterans participating in the trip have the opportunity to be baptized in the Jordan River or to plant trees to honor those killed in battle.

One participant, Kamilla Miguel, told NBC News about the emotional bond she saw between female veterans of the Israeli Defense Forces: “I wish all of us had that in the States, not just this little group…I mean – all the women in the U.S. should feel how they feel with each other, with this common bond and connection, it’s amazing.”

Heroes to Heroes was established by Judy Schaeffer, who felt she “had to do something to help” after she visited the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. She remembered the “spiritual power” she had felt when she traveled to Israel as a teenager and believed that similar trips could provide healing to military veterans.

Syrian military launches airstrikes on eastern Aleppo; resident: “We expect extermination”

 

The Syrian military launched a devastating aerial bombardment Friday ahead of an announced offensive against Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, signaling that the U.S.-Russia brokered ceasefire now lies in tatters. “Residents and activists say the bombing…has been unprecedented, targeting residential areas, infrastructure and civil defense centers,” the Associated Press reported. At least 27 people were killed in the strikes, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, although Ammar al-Selmo, the head of Syrian Civil Defense (also known as the “White Helmets”) in eastern Aleppo, said that more than 70 people had been killed. The Guardian reported that more than 91 were killed throughout Aleppo province, including 15 members of a single family. “What’s happening now is annihilation in every sense of the word,” al-Selmo told Reuters. Three of the White Helmets’ four centers in Aleppo were targeted in the airstrikes, with two being put out of commission; ambulances and a fire engine were also damaged. The organization was unable to continue its rescue operations in eastern Aleppo.

The Syrian military announced Thursday that it was launching an offensive to capture eastern Aleppo, which is held by rebels, and said the bombardment could last for hours or days, to be followed by a ground incursion. Abdulkafi al-Hamdo, a teacher in eastern Aleppo, said, “This means welcome to hell…We expect extermination.” Abu Yousef, another resident of rebel-held Aleppo, said he saw preparations for the ground invasion, and that the pro-government forces were largely made up of Shiite militias, most of whose fighters are from Iraq: “[The Shiite militias] do the fighting, the Iranians give the orders and the Syrian army follows…[T]he bombing today was crazy. Rubble is bouncing around. They are dropping every type of bomb they have. They are getting ready to invade.”

Nearly 500,000 people have died in the Syrian civil war, the majority killed by the Assad regime, which has perpetrated the indiscriminate murder of civilians through the use of barrel bombsmassacres, intentional starvation, and chemical weapon attacks. The Assad regime also has intentionally targeted schools and medical facilities. Assad has been fully backed in his onslaught against Syrian civilians by Iran and its terror proxy Hezbollah.

 

At the United Nations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a summit with at least 15 leaders and representatives of African countries on Thursday. According to the Prime Minister’s Office readout, Netanyahu “told his interlocutors that he believes that Israel could be an amazing partner for their countries. He said that technology changes everything, including in communications, medicine, agriculture and education. He noted that Israel wants to share its technology with African countries.” Later the prime minister and his wife, Sara, attended an event with dozens of African leaders titled “Israeli Technology and Innovation for Africa” held at UN headquarters. Netanyahu, Sara, and Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon were welcomed with a standing ovation and the blowing of a shofar.

Netanyahu visited Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and Ethiopia earlier this summer. Weeks later, the Republic of Guinea, a Muslim-majority African nation, restored diplomatic ties with Israel after a 49-year break. Netanyahu has made it a priority to strengthen Israel’s commercial, diplomatic, and security relations with African countries. Israel has a long history of sharing its expertise with African countries. Jerusalem hopes that increased ties with African nations will lead to a shift in their voting trends at the UN and other global fora, thus improving Israel’s diplomatic standing and reversing what Netanyahu called “the automatic majority against Israel.”

 

Swastikas were found in two freshman residence halls at San Jose State University (SJSU) on Tuesday night. One of the swastikas was “accompanied by undeniably hateful, anti-Semitic language,” according to SJSU President Mary Papazian, who says she is saddened and outraged by the incidents, but denied their classification as hate crimes. Neither appears to be connected and two students have already issued confessions.

SJSU was the first California State University to pass a student government resolution to divest from Israeli companies as part of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. Greater BDS activity—especially involving faculty members—has been linked to greater anti-Semitic activity on college campuses.

SJSU recently wrestled with another hate crime investigation: the bullying of African-American student Donald Williams, Jr. The young freshman was harassed by his three roommates who forced his head into a U-shaped bike lock, locked him inside his room and closet, and taunted him with the Confederate flag and nicknames such as “three-fifths.” None of the students were found guilty of committing hate crimes at a trial held in February of this year.

 

Team Israel defeated Brazil 1-0 on Friday to advance to the final of the World Baseball Classic Qualifier in Brooklyn, with first baseman Nate Freiman scoring in the fourth inning on a Cody Decker sacrifice fly. Winning pitcher Corey Baker allowed one hit in five innings pitched, and Brad Goldberg of the Charlotte Knights, the Chicago White Sox’s AAA affiliate, picked up his second save of the tournament. The team will play the winner of the Great Britain-Pakistan game in the final on Sunday. The winner of Sunday’s game will travel to South Korea to play in the 16-team classic next March.

Israel scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning in a come-from-behind win over Great Britain in the first round of the qualifier on Thursday.

“You have 28 guys who are really proud to be Jewish, raising awareness for Israel baseball and Jewish people,” Israeli reliever Josh Zeid, who struck out six in 3 2/3 innings, said after the game. “You guys saw the crowd today. If we win, it will build support for baseball in Israel.”

The Israeli team is made up mostly of Jewish minor leaguers and former major leaguers. Israelis on the team include Dodger farmhand Dean Kremer, the first Israeli to be drafted by a major league team.

Netanyahu: Abbas should come to the Knesset, would “gladly” address Palestinian parliament

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to address the Knesset and said he would “gladly” speak to the Palestinian parliament in Ramallah in his speech Thursday at the United Nations General Assembly. He addressed Abbas, who spoke at the same podium earlier, “You have a choice to make. You can continue to stoke hatred, as you did today. Or you can confront hatred and work with me to establish peace between our two nations.” Netanyahu affirmed that he is “committed to a vision of peace based on two states for two peoples” and that “Israel is ready to negotiate all final status issues.”

Confronting Abbas’ strategy of working around bilateral negotiations and preferring unilateral measures at the UN and other international fora, Netanyahu said that “the road to peace is through Jerusalem and Ramallah, not New York.” He praised Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for his suggestion that Egypt serve a mediating role in talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He continued, “Israel welcomes the spirit of the Arab peace initiative and welcomes a dialogue with Arab states to advance a broader peace. I believe that for that broader peace to be fully achieved the Palestinians have to be part of it. I’m ready to begin negotiations to achieve this today – not tomorrow, not next week, today.”

On the other hand, earlier in the day, Abbas continued with his unilateral, international strategy and requested an international conference that would create a “mechanism and defined timeframe for an end to the occupation” and excoriated “the notorious Balfour Declaration,” for which he demanded an apology from Great Britain in addition to its need to bear “its historic, legal, political, material and moral responsibilities for the consequences of the Declaration.” Abbas also accused Israel, falsely, of committing “aggressions and provocations against our Christian and Muslim holy sites, especially Al-Aqsa Mosque.” If Israel continued in this vein, he warned, it would be “playing with fire.”

 

Eleanor Sharpston, one of ten advisors to the European Union’s Court of Justice, believes that Hamas is not a terror group—and is advising the EU to follow suit. She asked the high court to take Hamas off the EU’s terror list on Thursday.

“The Council cannot rely on facts and evidence found in press articles and information from the internet, rather than in decisions of competent authorities,” according to an official summary of Advocate General Sharpston’s remarks. Her argument is reminiscent of a decision made in 2014 by the second-highest EU court to strike Hamas from its terror list: the basis for the listing comes from unreliable sources.

The United States declared Hamas to be a foreign terrorist organization in 1997. Making the list includes partaking in “violent acts or acts dangerous to human life” and affecting “the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping”—criteria Hamas easily meets. Hamas has “fired thousands of rockets deliberately or indiscriminately at civilian areas” resulting in multiple deaths of Israeli civilians. Hamas has claimed responsibility for dozens of terror attacks over the years, perhaps most notoriously  a suicide bombing at a hotel during a Passover Seder in 2002 that killed 30 people. Its leaders regularly applaud operations that kill innocent civilians; attackers are frequently lauded as “martyrs”.

 

Iran is working tirelessly to expand its influence in the Arab world, from the Persian Gulf to the Red and Mediterranean Seas, former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri wrote in the pages of The New York Times on Thursday. Hezbollah, Iran’s terrorist proxy in Lebanon, has been successful in creating a “devastating gridlock on the country’s government in order to blackmail the citizenry into accepting its demands.” Just this week, a senior Hezbollah official acknowledged that the group has been blocking the appointment of a new Lebanese president (Lebanon has lacked a president since 2014). Hezbollah has also sent its fighters to Syria to fight alongside the “odious regime” of Bashar al-Assad, who “with the help of Iran; its Revolutionary Guards and its proxies; Hezbollah and militias and Iraq and Afghanistan – has created the worst refugee problem since World War II, ruthlessly displacing millions of people into neighboring countries and Europe.”

Hariri reminded the world of Hezbollah’s (and by extension, Iran’s) terrorist attacks against Americans, specifying the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 people. Indeed, Hezbollah is responsible for killing more Americans than any terrorist group other than Al Qaeda. The former prime minister also expressed dire concern about Iran’s support for the Houthi rebellion in Yemen and Shiite militias in Iraq, some of which have committed atrocities against Sunni civilians and were responsible for the killing hundreds of U.S. troops.

Because of Lebanon’s long experience of dealing with Hezbollah, the Lebanese people are all too aware that “Iran wants to expand its influence in the Middle East by sowing discord, promoting terrorism and sectarian hatred, and destabilizing the region through proxies, while pretending to be bystanders.” Iran has begun to openly proclaim its involvement in the Syrian civil war, where it has backed Bashar al-Assad to the hilt in his onslaught against the Syrian people. During the Syrian civil war, the Assad regime has carried out the indiscriminate murder of civilians through the use of barrel bombsmassacres, intentional and systematic starvation, and chemical weapon attacks. The Assad regime has also purposefully targeted schools and medical facilities.

Saad Hariri’s father Rafik was assassinated in Beirut in 2005 while serving as Lebanon’s prime minister. Four Hezbollah members, who remain at large, were indicted for carrying out the attack. A UN investigator found senior Syrian officials to have been implicated in the assassination; massive demonstrations by Lebanese citizens led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, which Syria had militarily occupied for nearly 30 years.

 

Israelis and Australians have decided to commemorate their friendship in an exciting new festival: Ozraeli. The event – which lasts for a week – celebrates the strong bonds between the two nations with fun activities ranging from an Australian gala event in Jaffa to an Australian-Israeli soccer game in Tel Aviv.

Currently around 12,000 Israelis visit Australia each year, compared to 35,000 Aussies who visit Israel. Ynet reports that a new direct flight between Tel Aviv and Sydney may be underway to further the connection.