Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA
West Bank settlements join Israel’s list of national priority communities
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Fifteen West Bank settlements were added to the list of communities approved by Israel’s Cabinet that are entitled to extra government benefits.
Some 90 settlements were among the 600 national priority communities on the list that was approved Sunday by a vote of 15-0 with four abstentions, including Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s lead negotiator in the revived peace talks with the Palestinians. Four of the settlements were legalized this year.
Several communities in southern Israel that are home to former residents of the Gaza Strip’s Gush Katif also were approved.
The communities on the list receive added benefits in housing, infrastructure, education, culture and security.
“There is one community that is always on our priority list, it is always above all of them, and that community, of course, is our capital, Jerusalem,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of the meeting, prior to the vote. “Jerusalem receives everything that priority list communities receive and more.”
Settlements on the list include Rehelim, Sansana and Bruchin, which were all legalized prior to the last national elections, as well as Nofim, Geva Binyamin, Ma’aleh Michmash and Elon Moreh.
“This is political, not national priority, which goes against efforts to promote peace,” said Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz of Hatnua, another who abstained from the vote. “It’s unacceptable that struggling cities like Kiryat Gat and Kiryat Malachi are out of the list because they’re close to the center, while settlements that were illegal not so long ago are added under the security threat clause.”
Several settlements were removed from the list, including the large haredi Orthodox settlement of Beitar Illit, as well as Efrat and Kedar.
Inoculation drive aiming to prevent polio spread in Israel
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s Health Ministry will inoculate about 200,000 children with a weakened, live form of the polio virus in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease after its discovery in wastewater.
The announcement of the campaign on Sunday comes in response to the discovery in May of the polio virus in wastewater in Israel’s South that reportedly had been there since February.
Children up to age 9 will be inoculated with the vaccine. The children already have been inoculated against polio in their regular childhood vaccinations.
The purpose of the extra vaccine is to pass the weakened virus to adults with whom the children come into contact who may not previously have been vaccinated.
Israel’s Health Ministry has ordered half a million doses of the live weakened vaccine, and has taken delivery on 200,000 doses, which were distributed Sunday to clinics in the South.
There is a less than one in a million chance that an adult exposed to the vaccine will develop the disease.
Across Israel, the vaccination rate against polio is 94 percent, according to the World Health Organization, which is supporting the vaccination campaign and whose representatives reportedly called it “necessary.”
After being detected in May, the virus was detected in samples from at least 10 sites in Israel, mostly from the southern part of the country, according to WHO. In July, the virus also was found in sewage systems in Ramle, Lod, Modi’in and communities in the center of the country.
It is believed the virus was brought to Israel from Egypt; polio was discovered in sewage in Egypt in December. The same virus also is prevalent in Pakistan.
Israel experienced its last case of polio in 1988.
WHO sent a delegation to Israel in recent weeks to investigate the situation. There is concern in Europe that the disease will spread from Israel to other countries.
Hezbollah’s Nasrallah: ‘Removing’ Israel is a Lebanese national interest
(JTA)—In a rare public appearance, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said of Israel, “removing it is a Lebanese national interest.”
“Israel poses a danger on all people of this region... including Lebanon,” Nasrallah said last Friday in southern Beirut in what the World Bulletin news site said was his first public appearance since last September.
Nasrallah has lived in hiding for fear of assassination by Israel since Hezbollah fought a month long war with Israel in 2006.
Speaking of Palestine, he said Palestinian leaders have no right to compromise on the land.
“The Palestine which we mean is a Palestine which stretches from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river and it should return to its rightful owners,” Nasrallah said, the Israeli news site Ynet reported. “No king, president, sheik, state or country has the right to give up even one clod of Palestinian land.”
His speech was delivered to an audience at an event marking al-Quds Day – a day devoted to Jerusalem and its extraction from Israeli control that was celebrated originally in 1979 in Iran. Nasrallah usually gives speeches via television screens.
Dempsey heading to Israel mid-month
WASHINGTON (JTA)—Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, will visit Israel and Jordan this month.
A Pentagon spokesman, asked to confirm an Israeli report that Dempsey was in Israel on Sunday to discuss Syria and Iran strategy with Israeli leaders, said Dempsey was in Washington.
The spokesman said, however, that Dempsey would be visiting Israel and Jordan in mid-August.
76 senators sign AIPAC-backed letter seeking added pressure on Iran
WASHINGTON (JTA)—An AIPAC-backed letter urging President Obama to exert greater pressure on Iran to end its suspected nuclear weapons program garnered the signatures of 76 senators.
The letter, which also called on Obama to seek avenues to diplomatic resolution, outlines what it says are the four “necessary strategic elements” to dealing with Iran: “an explicit and continuing message that we will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability; a sincere demonstration of openness to negotiations; the maintenance and toughening of sanctions; and a convincing threat of the use of force that Iran will believe.
“We must be prepared to act, and Iran must see that we are prepared,” said the letter, which was initiated by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The letter notes overtures by new Iranian President Hassan Rohani to make more transparent a nuclear program Iran insists is peaceful, but also demands that Iran agree to remove 20 percent enriched uranium, which Rohani has said is a non-starter.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbied for the letter signed by more than three-fourths of the 100 senators. The letter closed Friday and is due to be sent Monday.
Another letter circulating urges Obama to test Rohani’s offer to deal. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) initiated the more conciliatory letter.
There was no word yet as to how many signatures the letter, backed by J Street and Americans for Peace Now, had garnered by week’s end.
Hoyer again to lead House Democrats to Israel
WASHINGTON (JTA)—ep. Steny Hoyer, the second-ranked Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, again will lead fellow Democrats on a tour of Israel funded by AIPAC’s educational affiliate.
Two freshmen, Reps. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), said they would be joining this week’s visit, which will include meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders as well as tours of U.S.-funded defense systems, including the short-range Iron Dome anti-missile program.
Such tours, funded by the American Israel Education Foundation, the educational affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, routinely take place during the August recess of off-election years and are designed to introduce freshmen to Israel-related issues. Hoyer, the minority whip from Maryland, has led a number of the tours.
An AIPAC official confirmed that 37 Democrats would be going, although not all of them are freshmen.
The Democrats’ tour, which lasts about a week, usually is followed by a similar tour for Republican freshmen. In past years the GOP visit has been led by Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House majority leader and the highest-ranking Jewish member of Congress.
Frankel’s release said such a GOP tour was in the works. A JTA question to Cantor’s office, posed over the weekend, was pending.
Stoudemire seeking Israeli citizenship
NEW YORK (JTA)—Amar’e Stoudemire, the New York Knicks star who claims Hebrew roots and is currently touring Israel, is seeking Israeli citizenship.
Stoudemire’s agent, Happy Walters, told New York magazine that the Knicks’ power forward is in the process of becoming an Israeli.
“He’s getting citizenship,” Walters said. “He applied, and he’s there now.”
Stoudemire went to Israel for the Maccabiah Games as the assistant coach of the Canadian basketball squad. The games ended last week.
Stoudemire’s Jewish connections have been the source of much media fascination in recent months. At his wedding last year to Alexis Welch, Stoudemire donned a yarmulke and prayer shawl for the “Hebraic” ceremony. In July, he announced he had become a part owner in the Israeli basketball club Hapoel Jerusalem. And in an exclusive interview in Jerusalem last month with JTA, Stoudemire said he is in regular dialogue with New York rabbis, studies Torah and observes the High Holidays.
“I’m not a religious person, I’m more of a spiritual person, so I follow the rules of the Bible that coordinate with and connect with the Hebrew culture,” Stoudemire told JTA.
Russian authorities: Terrorists likely behind rabbi’s shooting
(JTA)—The shooting of a Chabad rabbi in the Russian republic of Dagestan was likely a terrorist attack by Muslim extremists, investigators said.
Rabbi Artur Ovadia Isakov was shot on July 25 in Derbent, in southern Russia, “because of his religious duties, likely by Muslim extremists,” investigators said, according to a report by the Russian news site Gazeta.ru. Police are searching for the perpetrators, who will be charged with attempted murder, the news site reported.
Isakov was transported to Israel in critical condition with injuries to his liver but has since regained consciousness and is no longer in life-threatening condition, Israeli Army Radio reported. Isakov, a 40-year-old father of four, told Israeli media he intends to return to Derbent as soon as he is well.
He was shot by unknown assailants outside his home as he was exiting his car. According to a Chabad website, Isakov was returning from his work performing shechitah, or ritual slaughter. Authorities also told Rabbi Ahraon Gurevitch, who acts as chaplain for the Russian armed forces, that they believed Islamists were behind the shooting, Chabad reported.
Ramazan Abdulatipov, the acting president of Dagestan, released a statement after the shooting blaming “extremists and terrorists [who] do not want a happy, normal life for us all.” He said, “Only ignorant people, enemies of Dagestan, are able to do this.”
Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim republic of Russia near Chechnya, “is outraged,” Abdulatipov wrote.
Russia’s intelligence agency, FSB, found 100 pounds of explosives in the hands of Muslim extremists in Dagestan, Gazeta.ru reported last week.
Obama in calls commends Netanyahu, Abbas for renewed talks
WASHINGTON (JTA)—President Obama called the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to commend the resumption of peace talks.
“President Obama called Prime Minister Netanyahu today to commend his leadership and courage in resuming final status negotiations with the Palestinians,” a White House statement said Aug. 1, three days after talks resumed in Washington for the first time since October 2010.
“The president underscored that while the parties have much work to do in the days and months ahead, the United States will support them fully in their efforts to achieve peace,” the letter said. “The two leaders agreed to continue the close coordination between the United States and Israel on this and other regional issues.”
The statement reporting the call to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas similarly said that Obama had commended his “leadership and courage” and that Obama “reaffirmed that the United States stands ready to support the parties in achieving a just and lasting peace based on the two state solution, and will continue to work closely with the Palestinian Authority to achieve this goal.”
The sides resumed talks after an intensive diplomatic effort led by John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state.