Social Media, Hackers Threaten Israeli Election

Just like in the US elections, Israeli politicians are now communicating almost exclusively with voters through social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Traditional news outlets now quote social media posts for news on the candidates more often than conducting old-style interviews, or reporting on town hall meetings or stump speeches.

But all is not well in the fast-paced world of the web, as dependency on these technologies can be as dangerous as it is convenient, as seen in this week’s Israeli headlines, some of which read:

"Facebook Demands Netanyahu Stop Collecting User Data"
"Facebook Forced to Apply Transparency Tool in Israel’s Election Campaigns"
"Benny Gantz’s Phone is Hacked by Iran"
"Ehud Barak’s Phone and Computer Hacked: Info Sold to Iran"

Facebook has taken some significant and controversial steps to try and avoid the kind of foreign influence and fake news that might have influenced the US presidential election. The social media giant has applied a filter that limits who can post political ads to the Israeli public. All candidates, and anyone wanting to post a political ad, must first confirm his or her identity with an official government-approved ID. Facebook defines political ads as those advocating or opposing candidates in an election. Non-Israelis are completely blocked from taking out ads for or against any of the Israeli candidates.

Facebook has also increased transparency by requiring all political ads to include a disclaimer acknowledging the name of the account that funded the ad. The popular social media platform has also made an archive available so that users can search for all advertisements paid for by politicians dating back seven years.

But the problems don’t stop here. We all remember how the hacking and release of hordes of emails from the computer server and telephone of US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton caused a major upheaval in their 2016 election. Hacking has now become a critical issue for Israeli politicians, as well.

The Israeli Security Agency, or Shabak, revealed this week that the smartphone of frontrunner Benny Gantz was hacked by the Iranians. Officials are claiming the information on his phone was private and did not pose a threat to national security. However, it is nerve-wracking, to say the least, to learn that Iran was able to get into the smartphone of such a high-profile person as Gantz, who in addition to being Netanyahu's main challenger for the job of prime minister is a former Chief of Staff of the IDF. Netanyahu and all the parties that support him are understandably having a field day, happily questioning that if Gantz was so haphazard with his phone, how can he be trusted to protect the country?

Like Gantz, we also learned this week that the cellphone and personal computer of Ehud Barak, also a former IDF Chief of Staff, were hacked.

According to reports, Iran did not hack the former prime minister’s computer and phone, but bought the information from a third party. The stolen content reportedly did not contain anything sensitive from a security perspective, and the breach was not due to any negligence on Barak’s part. But, again, what is going on and why can’t Israel’s renowned hi-tech specialists protect our most important government and military officials? It seems that even Israel’s famed cyber protection is not yet able to keep up with the ever-present worldwide threats.

Already in January, Nadav Argaman, head of the Israel Security Agency, anticipated hackers meddling in the April 9 election, but even with this foreknowledge, Iranian cyberattacks succeeded in reaching high-level phones and computers, and these are only the attacks we know about. Expect to hear about an Israeli cyber response against Iran in the not-too-distant future.

It is well-known that Netanyahu does not carry a smartphone, and for good reason. Perhaps all government officials and security personnel need to follow his lead until we figure out how to protect sensitive information. In the meantime, thank goodness for the old-fashioned foresight of the IDF, which only uses its own land-based closed system for all high-level security communications.

 

ANALYSIS: How Iran is Preparing for War With Israel

Iranian leaders are very outspoken about their plans with Israel and have repeatedly warned that the ‘Zionist project’ or the Zionist ‘cancer tumor’ will be erased very soon.

Already for a long time Israel’s political establishment realizes that this is not merely rhetoric but a very important part of Iran’s strategy for regional hegemony.

Although Shia Islam doesn’t have any connection to Jerusalem, the Iranian leadership nevertheless is acting as if it’s the holy duty of every Shiite to join the relentless efforts to destabilize Israel and to cause its demise.

For this reason, the regime of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has named the division of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) which is tasked with exporting the Islamic Revolution after Jerusalem or al-Quds in Arabic.

Recently a massive drill with remote-controlled unmanned combat aircraft (UAV’s) got the code name “Bayt al-Maqdis” or Beit HaMaqdish in Hebrew. 

Bayt al-Maqdis (or Temple in English) was the name the early Muslims gave to Jerusalem.

By naming a drill with attack drones after Jerusalem the regime made clear that the exercise was a preparation for war with Israel. 

When we take a look at what’s currently going on in Syria and Iraq the contours of Iran’s grand strategy for the elimination of Israel, which was designed by Qassem Soleimani the shrewd commander of the Quds Force of the IRGC, become visible.

Iran is clearly trying to turn Iraq into another proxy-state while Syria has already been transformed into a second Lebanon and has been brought under the control of the Quds Force.

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani recently paid a three-day-visit to Iraq where he was granted a rare meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani the most influential Shiite cleric in Iraq.

After arriving in Baghdad, Rouhani signed trade and travel agreements which aim to boost economic relations between Iran and Iraq and to offset the damage done by the re-introduction of a heavy sanction regime on Iran by the United States.

The new Iraqi government is made up of many supporters of Iran and has reduced ties with the US while allowing the Iranian-founded Hashd al-Shaabi umbrella organization of predominantly Shiite militias to control the territory of northwest Iraq.

This is the territory Iran needed to complete its land bridge which stretches from Tehran all the way to  the Israeli border on the Golan Heights and the Mediterranean Sea.

Hash al-Shaabi has an estimated 100,000 fighters at its disposal and is currently doing Iran’s dirty business in Iraq.

According to Israeli Iran-expert Jonathan Spyer Hashd al-Shaabi units are beginning to constitute a “second power” in Iraq and are chasing down or murdering any critic of Iran’s increasing entrenchment in the war-torn country.

Hashd al-Shaabi fighters were reportedly also caught preparing for a missile attack on the large al-Assad US Special Forces base in the Anbar Province in Iraq while others were seen harassing a US army patrol.

Ja’afar Husseini, spokesman of Kataib Hezbollah one of the largest Shiite militias within Hashd al-Shaabi recently announced that a battle against US forces in Iraq may start any moment.

“There is no stable Iraq with the presence of the Americans,” Husseini said.

A member of the Iraqi security forces told Spyer that Iraq’s military will be remodelled along the concept of Iran’s security forces.

“In Iran, you have the Artesh (army) and the IRGC. So it will be also in Iraq. There will be the army to defend the borders, and the Shia militias to defend the regime,” according to the official who furthermore warned the US not to underestimate Hashd al-Shaabi.

Spyer thinks that Iraq will be turned into another Lebanon where Hezbollah has become an untouchable force which dominates military and political affairs in the country, an opinion shared by the think thank Soufan.

Rouhani has reportedly pressed the Iraqi government to allow Hashd al-Shaabi and the Quds Force to activate the routes from the Iranian border to Syria in order to complete the land bridge Iran needs to transport weapons and troops to the Israeli border on the Golan Heights.

Then there is Syria, where the Quds Force built another Shiite-only force of 100,000 fighters among them the so-called Golan Liberation Brigade which is made up of Shiites from Iraq.

This force has become - just like Hashd al-Shaabi in Iraq - an integral part of the Syrian army and is currently recruiting disgruntled Sunni Syrians in the border region with Israel. They will operate under the command of Hezbollah.

Hezbollah commander Abu Hussein Sajid, a terrorist who was sentenced to life in jail by the United States for murdering American soldiers in Iraq but was released after five years by the Iraqi government, leads the effort to create a fighting force which is destined to terrorize northern Israel.

At the beginning of this week the IRGC organized a meeting between military officials from Iran, Syria and Iraq to discuss economic and military cooperation between the countries, another indication Iran is cobbling together an anti-Israel axis.

The Chief of General Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri is presiding the talks, not Assad’s military brass, and the Iranian top commander immediately made clear that ‘foreign forces’ (read US soldiers) should get out of Syria.

Iran is also negotiating with the Assad regime over use of a container port on the Mediterranean coast in the Latakia Province.

Officially Iran seeks this port for economic reasons but the Israeli government is convinced the port will be used by the Iranian naval forces in a future war with Israel.

There’s more.

Last week Iran was again caught building a new missile facility in Syria. 

The Israeli company ImageSat International published satellite images which showed a new plant where missiles will be assembled.

The plant is located in Safita in north western Syria and is only eight kilometers away from the border with Lebanon.

The Quds Force is, furthermore, active in Lebanon where it helps Hezbollah converting crude rockets into GPS guided missiles.

The GPS kits are shipped to Lebanon in suitcases on civilian flights which makes Israeli action against this dangerous development virtual impossible.

Iran’s blind hatred for Israel was this week best illustrated by its so-called moderate President Rouhani.

The Iranian leader called upon Iranians to put their “curses” on “the Zionists” and the US as well on Saudi Arabia for re-imposing new sanctions on Iran and for the very difficult economic situation in the Islamic Republic.

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu was the first one who called for the re-introduction of a heavy sanction regime and recently warned Israel could target Iranian oil transports.

Iran is ducking the sanctions on its oil sector by shipping crude oil via Iraq, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

 

Netanyahu, Trump to Meet Next Week

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will travel to Washington early next week to meet with US President Donald Trump, just two weeks ahead of Israel's general election.

Plans for the trip were announced during Netanyahu’s meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday in Jerusalem.

At the meeting, the two men discussed the buildup of Hezbollah terror networks along Israel’s northern border with Syria on the Golan Heights. Netanyahu has been pushing the US and the international community for official recognition of the Golan Heights as part of the State of Israel. “You can imagine what would have happened if Israel were not in the Golan,” Netanyahu told Pompeo. “We would have Iran on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It’s time that the US and the international community recognize that Israel is staying on the Golan and the fact that the Golan will always remain part of the State of Israel,” the prime minster said.

Without directly addressing the Golan issue, Pompeo affirmed US support of Israel: “With the threats of annihilation that Iran is making against Israel, we are committed to Israel’s security and its right to self-defense. With rocket threats from Gaza and threats from the north, we are proud to stand by your side.”

Pompeo explained that one of the main reasons for his visit to the region was to advance efforts begun last month at a gathering in Poland to build a regional alliance against Iran. “More than 60 countries met in Warsaw and there was a historic conference,” Pompeo said. “Arab leaders and Israel discussed terrorism and how to stop Iran’s campaign of destruction in the region.”

In gesture of appreciation, Netanyahu pointed out that “under President Trump, this partnership brought recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the transfer of the US Embassy to it. US Ambassador David Friedman does not have to travel through the traffic jams in Tel Aviv, which we are trying to relieve anyway,” the prime minster joked.

Also on Wednesday, together with Pompeo in Jerusalem, Netanyahu held a summit with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. The prime minister noted that this is their sixth meeting and said it has become “one of the best regional collaborations in the world. We cooperate on everything, from fighting fires to energy.”

The three countries are planning to lay a gas pipeline under the Mediterranean Sea called the East-Med Pipeline, which will run from Israel, through Cyprus and Greece, and into Europe. “This will benefit our economies, provide stability and prosperity for our citizens and diversify energy sources in Europe,” Netanyahu said. Acknowledging the significance of the US Secretary of State participating in the summit, the prime minister went on to say that, “It symbolizes the fact that the US supports this regional effort.”

The proximity of meetings in Jerusalem and next week’s tête-à-tête in Washington to Israel April 9 election has caused some to accuse the Trump Administration of campaigning on behalf of Netanyahu. But the White House and State Department both denied showing partiality to any Israeli candidate.

PHOTO: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L), President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades (2-L), and Prime Minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras (R), at the David's CItadel Hotel in Jerusalem, on March 20, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

 

Watch: Arab Muslim Learns to Love Israel and Joins the IDF

Yahya Mahamid didn't come to hate Israel because it's a racist, apartheid nation, as the Jewish state's detractors will try to make you believe.

No, Mahamid, as he explains it, was raised to hate Israel.

But, as he grew up, this young man from the lower Galilee town of Umm el Fahm discovered that he'd been lied to, that Israel's Jewish majority wants to live in peace and coexist with its own Arab population and the Arab states around.

This became abundantly clear when Mahamid decided to volunteer to serve in the IDF, where he feared that his Jewish comrades wouldn't necessarily take too kindly to fighting alongside an Arab Muslim. Instead, Mahamid was "greeted with open arms and treated with nothing but respect and admiration" by the Jewish soldiers around him.

Doesn't sound like any apartheid I've ever heard of.

 

50% Discount For Spontaneous People - Our apartment in Jerusalem

From the 21st to the 28th of March 2019 our apartment in the center of Jerusalem is available at 50% off!

In addition, the following periods with 25% discount are still available:
· 2nd - 11th April 2019 (beautiful spring time before Passover)
· 2nd - 11th May 2019
· 24th May - 29th June 2019

March and April is especially popular with tourists in Israel, because of the lovely spring weather.

Our apartment in the heart of Jerusalem is suitable for families or groups of up to 6 people. It's a bright airy three bedroom apartment with a balcony in the historic Maalot building on King George Street.

It's very centrally situated only about a 15 minute walk from Jerusalem's Old City! The apartment has a living room, 2 bedrooms each with double bed, in the living room the sofa can be opened to another double bed. There is a kitchen, shower room, washing machine, air conditioning, WiFi and TV. Free street street parking is also available!

 

Could Netanyahu Be Charged With Treason?

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might not be fighting only for his current job. He might be fighting for his personal freedom.

Netanyahu already faces indictment on charges of bribery and corruption. But his political opponents are suggesting that those could be expanded to charges of treason. They would almost certainly make such a move were Netanyahu to lose the election, in which case some rivals would seek to drive the final nail in the coffin of Likud's political dominance. Without Bibi at the helm, the party would be unlikely to attract so many right-wing voters in future elections.

The threat at hand relates to Case 3000, in which Netanyahu and a number of his associates stand accused of accepting financial kick-backs in return for pushing through a deal for the state to purchase billions of shekels worth of submarines from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp.

Netanyahu has called the accusations "contrived," and stressed that investigators have not found any evidence directly linking him to any wrongdoing. "I didn't get a shekel from the submarine deal," the prime minister said this week.

But the heads of the front-running "Blue and White" party are calling Case 3000 "the greatest security-related corruption case in the history of the State of Israel."

Moshe Ya'alon, who is third on the Blue and White list and likely to become minister of defense if the party wins the election on April 9, went so far as to tell Israel Radio that "this issue is so important that it could even amount to treason."

Likud officials immediately shot back, saying that Ya'alon had "crossed a line" by employing a "blood libel" against Netanyahu. "The use of the term 'traitor' against the prime minister dangerously crosses a red line," read the party's statement.

Indeed, left-wing elements often accuse Netanyahu and the right of having incited personal enmity against former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin prior to his assassination. And yet, they seem to have little problem with doing the same to Bibi.

 

Another Jewish Cemetery Defiled, and This Time It's Personal

Normally, I would pass over these kinds of headlines, which are occurring more frequently, until I recognized that this one happened in a Jewish cemetery not far from where my own family were laid to rest. It struck me that when 30 Jewish headstones are knocked over and desecrated with “Expel the Jews,” “Heil Hitler” and “This is Maga Country,” it should hurt, and now it does.

When Lewis Brooks came to the Jewish cemetery to visit one of his relatives and realized that their grave had been defiled, he was devastated. “My great-aunt used to take me here, she’s over there with her family,” Brooks told the Boston Globe, pointing to an area of the cemetery. “It has a lot of memories.”

Brooks understood that these attackers are trying to erase the memory of our people. They want to destroy any remembrance of our families who came to America to escape the hatred. This is an attempt to remove a memorial to our mothers and fathers, who worked hard to provide for their families and built a community, a town, and a place where children could walk to school without fear, a neighborhood where we could play outside after the sun went down and felt protected.

When these people try to wipe out the memory of Boston’s Jewish community, they are attacking the very best of what our families, yours and mine, worked so hard to build. My grandfather, may he rest in peace, owned and operated a children’s clothing store in East Boston to provide for his family until the day he died. He was loved dearly by his Italian and Irish neighbors, for whom he saved his best Easter dresses and Confirmation shoes. It was only after he passed that we learned how he had generously given charity to many of the poorer families from the neighborhood.

I know that if these Catholic and Christian neighbors heard that our grandfather Isador Levinson’s grave was desecrated with antisemitic hate slogans, they would come weeping to his shop to comfort our family. But alas, they too are asleep in their graves, their memories visited regularly by grateful grandchildren and great grandchildren who owe their lives to the hard work and community-building of their forefathers and mothers.

And how will I now visit my grandfather’s grave? Can I wash this hatred away with a brush and turpentine? Should I dry my eyes, walk away and forget about it? I will never forget Papa’s smile and his quiet patience as times changed and people just didn’t seem to care anymore about the neighborhood. The memory of his hard work and devotion to make sure our family and those around us had a safe and blessed life cannot be erased.

But a community, town or even a nation can forget. And that is what will happen if we choose to remain silent in the face of these growing acts of hatred, bigotry and violence all around us. Dear friends, our only appropriate response to this present evil now coming upon us is for you and I, Jew and Gentile, to stand together and make our voices heard loud and clear that we will not allow these acts to become part of our communities. It is not enough to wait for the police or government to do something about this. Let this incident be a reminder to us all that only together can we fight hatred. It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a community to protect one another. Please do not forget.


PHOTO: Illustration. (Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)

 

Has the 'Gaza Spring' Begun?

It's been a full week of news in and around the Gaza Strip. But the most interesting news was the Egyptian delegation that arrived to mediate a truce between Israel and Hamas, or the rockets that were fired at Tel Aviv, or the IDF's crushing aerial response to that attack.

The most interesting news out of Gaza actually received the least international reporting: mass demonstrations against Hamas rule.

Last Thursday afternoon, Gazans in the north of the coastal enclave poured into the streets to protest over the stifling cost of living and the lack of jobs (or salaries for those who have jobs). The economic situation in Gaza is bad, to say the least, and local residents are incensed when they see the Hamas leadership blowing money on attack tunnels and weapons with which to provoke Israel.

It remains unclear who is behind the protests, but it is an exceptionally brave move given the brutal nature of Hamas, which most demonstrators have been careful not to criticize directly. It's possible that the rival Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah is pushign the population of Gaza to topple the Hamas regime.

In any case, and despite avoiding directly criticism of Hamas, Gaza's terrorist rulers quickly suppressed the demonstrations, but not before cellphone video clips were published online showing Hamas enforcers mercilessly beating local civilians. Some clips showed live fire being used against the demonstrators. Hamas has imposed a total media blackout, so it is unclear how many casualties have been suffered.


A Palestinian child describes being ruthlessly beaten by Hamas enforcers:


Hamas no doubt hoped that Israel's strong military response to the rocket fire on Tel Aviv would turn Gazans' anger against the Jewish state. But it was not to be. The local demonstrations resumed on Friday, spreading to the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis.

Time will tell if these demonstrations continue and spread, or if Hamas' cruel crackdown will bring a swift end to the nascent uprising. Either way, many see this as the opening shot in a long struggle to finally free Gaza from the clutches of its terrorist overlords.

 

Sickening! Imam Blames Jews for New Zealand Muslim Massacre

Sudanese cleric Abd Al-Jalil Al-Karouri said in a Friday sermon that aired on Sudan TV that the murderer who killed 49 men, women and children at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand was working for the Jews. He insisted that the worst and strongest enemies of the Muslims are Jews, and that the attack was meant to incite Christians and Muslims against one another.

The Muslim cleric added that the Jews are the enemies of both Christians and Muslims, since they killed John the Baptist, tried to poison the Prophet Mohammed, and admitted that they killed Jesus.

 

Biblical Fragrances from the Judean Desert

In ancient times, a wonderful plant was grown on the shores of the Dead Sea - the ancient Balm of Gilead. It was one of the most important medicines and the best perfume in the Roman Empire was produced from the plant. The ancient Balm of Gilead was an ingredient of the incense of the Temple and a component of the Anointing oil during the Second Temple period.

According to ancient sources, the plant reached the Kingdom of Judah as a gift given by Queen of Sheba to King Solomon. Queen Cleopatra was also a fan of the finest perfume. The perfume favored by the kingdom was also used by the daughters of Jerusalem who used the perfume to drive the boys crazy. The ancient Balm of Gilead plant that serves as the heart of the fragrance is considered the finest type of myrrh in the world.

In the Bible, we first read of balm when Joseph's brothers throw him into a pit and a caravan of Ishmaelites passed by with a shipment of fragrant spices. "Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. (Genesis 37:25)

In addition to Balm of Gilead, frankincense - Boswellia Sacra - (Levona in Hebrew) is grown on the farm. It is the main ingredient in the temple incense (ketoret in Hebrew).

On the farm, the holy anointing oil, which was used in biblical times to anoint priests, prophets and kings, has been reproduced and so far is sold in very small quantities. Honey is also produced from the frankincense blossoms is also expensive. To acquire some you need to be placed on a long prepaid waiting list and need to be patient.

 

It’s Purim, and Bibi's the Only One Who Gets It

In yet another inexplicable, some would say divine, turn of events, the future of Israel is once again weighing in the balance, and just in time for Purim.

Israel’s general election just weeks away, Hamas rockets are flying over Tel Aviv, antisemitism has been unleashed around the world, there is mayhem in Gaza and on the Temple Mount, Hezbollah is digging in on the northern border and terror attacks are on the rise. The timing of these events and more coinciding with Purim cannot be ignored. Who can forget Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with former-US President Barack Obama on Purim during the Iran nuclear crisis, when he placed into the hands of the American leader a magnificent, hand-written manuscript of the Scroll of Esther? With Mordechai-like clarity, Netanyahu declared, “Mr. President, we must stop Iran, before they destroy us!”

For the Jewish prime minister, Israel is facing a modern-day Haman. Netanyahu has described Haman as “a Persian antisemite who tried to annihilate the Jewish people.” Netanyahu explained that “in every generation, there are those who wish to destroy the Jewish people. In this generation, we are blessed to live in an age when there is a Jewish state capable of defending the Jewish people.”

Again today, Netanyahu’s message rings clear. Purim reminds us that we must take action to save ourselves. It is not enough to just allow events to take their course and wait for divine intervention, though it come.

Purim is the assurance that the divine hand will turn the tables on Israel’s enemies, when someone is willing to stand up for what is right. The hero of Esther’s Scroll is not fate or consequence, though the story unfolds around a series of humorous coincidences. It is about a young girl, who with good sense, a woman’s intuition, and feminine persuasion manages to convince a king to listen to her plea. It is about the “stroke of luck” that happens when a faithful uncle risks everything to stand up for what he believes, and without hesitation warns his people of impending danger.

Purim is our annual reminder that Jews have enemies dedicated to our destruction, and that we can, and must, do something about it. When the chips are down, and it seems like the cards are stacked against us, we do not sit around and brood. The celebration of Purim shakes us out of apathy. It calls us to do whatever we can to turn the tables on our enemy, to foil our foe by exploiting his own foolishness.

Netanyahu has stood alone against Iran. He is not afraid to declare that Israel is a Jewish state, for the Jewish people, and more than most, he will resist US President Donald Trump’s pending “peace plan,” if necessary, to protect our country. Watching Netanyahu is like reading the pages of the Purim story, the only biblical text without God’s name in it. That’s an indication that the message of this story is that human initiative is required, even if divine assistance is implied. Netanyahu is reading Esther and Mordechai’s story correctly when he calls for active Israeli self-defense against our nation’s existential threats.

Long ago, the die was cast. There is no diplomatic solution to Israel’s security in the Middle East. Israel cannot risk her survival with wishful thinking. The only question remaining is whether the US, or any other nation in the world, will cast their lot with our people. When Bibi sent that Scroll of Esther to the US president, he could have highlighted Esther’s warning with a yellow marker: “If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place… And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

PHOTO: Netanyahu addressing congregants at the Great Synagoge in Jerusalem on Purim. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

 

Supreme Court Judges as Political Figures

The decision by Israel's Supreme Court to disqualify Dr. Michael Ben-Ari, leader of the far-right party Otzmah Yehudit party, from participating in the upcoming election has infuriated the right-wing camp like never before. Especially given that the court approved of far-left candidate Prof. Ofer Cassif of the Hadash party. 

Member of Knesset Bezalel Smotrich, head of the right-wing National Union faction, stated that "for the first time in the State of Israel's history, a 'council of wise men' is deciding who Israel's citizens are allowed to vote for, instead of the voters deciding." 

In a last-ditch effort ahead of the April 9 vote, Smotrich vowed to "submit a bill to abolish Section 7a tomorrow, and I will demand that all the leaders of the coalition parties pass it during this Knesset, in order to cancel the Supreme Court’s dictatorship." Smotrich meant to abolish section (b), which states that every decision of the electoral committee has to be approved by the Supreme Court.

Section 7A of the Election Law prohibits parties or individuals from participation in Knesset elections on grounds of "denying the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, incitement to racism and support of armed struggle, an enemy state or a terrorist organization against the State of Israel."

In 70 years, the Supreme Court has disqualified just two parties. In 1965, it disqualified the Socialist List on the grounds that this Arab party had denied the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. In 1988, it disqualified the Kach party of Rabbi Meir Kahane for inciting racism against the country's Arab population. Never before, however, has an individual candidate been disqualified, making Ben-Ari into a controversial precedent.

No less important is the fact that since Section 7A was introduced in 1985, not a single Arab party has been disqualified from participating in an election, despite the fact that all Arab parties without exception deny the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, and Arab Knesset Members have openly expressed support for Israel's enemies.

So, what makes Ben-Ari so condemnable, even more so than an Israel-hater like Ofer Cassif? In the last few months, Ben-Ari said among other things that "the Arabs of Haifa are no different than the Arabs of Gaza; [Israeli Arabs are a] 'fifth column' … they are our enemies who want to annihilate us." On another occasion he said that "any Arab who dares speak against a Jew should be killed." For these remarks and others, Ben-Ari was branded a racist and deemed unfit to serve in the Knesset.

Ofer Cassif, on the other hand, has called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an "arch-murderer." And in his eyes, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi is a "war criminal," Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is "neo-Nazi scum," and any Jew who ascends the Temple Mount is part of a "cancerous growth that must be eliminated." As a member of the radical Hadash party, Cassif also thinks that the very notion of a Jewish state is racist.

For Israel's right-wing voters, it is quite clear why the Supreme Court banned Ben-Ari, while giving Cassif a "thumbs up." The justices presiding over the highest court in the land are politically-motivated, and their rulings have demonstrated time and again that they identify with the far left of the political spectrum. That's why, the right-wing constituency argues, of the nine judges on the bench, just one voted against the decision to ban Ban-Ari, conservative Justice Noam Solberg. Concerning Cassif, of the nine judges, only conservative Justice David Mintz that that he, too, should be disqualified.

This latest Supreme Court decision turns judicial activism into one of the most important issues in the upcoming election. In addition to everything else, Israelis now quarrel over the very meaning of democracy, and whether or not the Supreme Court exercises undue authority. 

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked eloquently addressed the issue in a clever campaign commercial that is currently taking Israeli social media by storm. Shot like a perfume advertisement, Shaked is seen promoting her new scent with slogans about restraining judicial activism and increasing accountability, which to leftists smells like Facism. But for Shaked, "it smells like democracy."


 

Putin’s Dirty Jewish Joke

During a gathering on Monday to mark the fifth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea, Russian President Vladimir Putin cracked a joke about Jews and money.

According to the Associated Press, in a meeting with residents of Crimea that included religious leaders, Putin responded to a comment by a local Jewish community member regarding financial difficulties. “So, the Jews have problems with finances!” Putin answered laughing. “Such a thing could only happen in Crimea!”

Was Putin’s joke just bad taste, or outright antisemitic?

And yes, Jews have also excelled financially, but their success in business continues to be one of the main sources of antisemitic conspiracies in which Jews are accused of being cheapskates, or Jewish wealth is blamed for controlling the world’s economy.

There are no real statistics on Jewish wealth, but there is a general assumption that most Jewish people are quite well-to-do. Jews around the world have certainly been successful in many professions. As a people group, the Jewish people continue to make major international contributions in the fields of medicine, science, high-tech, literature, cinema, security and business.

So, what’s wrong with Putin’s snide remark? Historically, Jews did learn to manage money because they were not allowed to own lands in the countries where they were exiled. The “wandering Jew” could only take what fit in his pocket or on his cart as he was forced from place to place by greedy landowners.

In Christian countries, the Jews often became moneylenders and bankers because of the church’s ban on “usury,” a misinterpretation of the biblical concern to prevent a rich man from overcharging the poor when they were in debt. Jews were thought to be dirty and miserly because they were forced to handle the Christians' “filthy mammon.” But the Jews were honest brokers, and Christians quickly learned to trust them to provide profitable financial services.

For example, in 1785, King Wilhelm IX, Europe’s richest man, would not trust anyone other than the Rothschild family to provide his empire’s banking services. Mayer Amschel Rothschild, founder of the Rothschild banking services, was born in 1744 and raised in Frankfurt’s Jewish ghetto. At the time, Jews were forced to live in ghettos to keep them separate from Christians, and were unable to leave these ghettos on Sundays or on Christian holidays. But they were asked to handle the king's money.

So what’s wron