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Non-Orthodox, Diaspora leaders and Netanyahu praise Western Wall compromise

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A chorus of non-Orthodox and Diaspora leaders praised the landmark interdenominational compromise on the Western Wall.

The compromise will expand the wall’s egalitarian section and place it under the authority of a pluralist committee while solidifying haredi Orthodox control over the site’s traditional, Orthodox section. Women of the Wall, the women’s prayer group that holds monthly services in the Orthodox section, will move to the non-Orthodox section once the deal is implemented.

“If and when this transition is complete, the new section will make way for great change,” read a statement from the women’s group endorsing the change. “Women will pray at the Kotel as equals, as active participants and leaders in rituals, ceremonies and of course in reading from the Torah.”

The agreement was negotiated among Women of the Wall, the site’s haredi Orthodox leadership, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Israeli government, and the Reform and Conservative movements. All parties praised the decision as path breaking.

Speaking to JTA, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said the compromise ensured that “everybody wins in the end,” while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the deal “a fair and creative solution.”

A poll by the Ruderman Family Foundation released Sunday found overwhelming Israeli support for accommodating non-Orthodox movements at the site. Four-fifths of Jewish-Israelis said “all Jews, including Reform and Conservative, should feel that the Western Wall belongs to them.”

The Israeli and American branches of both the Reform and Conservative movements also backed the deal.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, CEO of Israel’s Reform movement, said in a statement that the compromise is “just the beginning of our efforts to ensure that the Jewish state of Israel is indeed a state where all forms of Judaism are practiced freely and without state prohibition.”

Kariv’s counterpart with the Conservative movement, Yizhar Hess, said in a statement that the deal enshrines a legal precedent of ensuring non-Orthodox rights.

“The right to equality has received governmental recognition,” Hess said. “From now on, solutions to arguments on issues of religion and state will require recognition of the legal right to freedom of choice.”

The Jewish Federations of North America, which lobbied heavily for the compromise, said in a statement that it “sends a powerful message to Israelis and Jews across the Diaspora about the permanent value of Jewish pluralism and about what we can do when we work together.”

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites, said he heard the decision approving the agreement “with a heavy heart and a sigh of relief.”

“Ever since the fringe and vociferous group of ‘Women of the Wall’ started its mass-media activity, the Western Wall went from being a unifying site to one of incessant quarrels,” Rabinowitz said in a statement. “The chilul Hashem (defamation of G-d’s name) that this group and its supporters have caused is terrible, and it will take years to repair it.”

He added: “We must do everything to put this terrible chapter behind us.”

Not everyone lauded the deal. Moshe Gafni, a haredi Orthodox lawmaker who chairs the Israeli Knesset’s powerful Finance Committee, said he would not recognize the decision.

“Reform Jews are a group of clowns who stab the holy Torah,” Gafni said, according to Walla news. “There will never, ever be recognition for this group of clowns, not at the wall and not anywhere else.”

Netanyahu: French threat to recognize Palestinian state undermines peace initiative

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a French threat to recognize a Palestinian state if an international peace conference under Paris’ auspices fails is “an incentive for the Palestinians to come and not compromise.”

“We are prepared to enter into direct negotiations without preconditions and without dictated conditions,” Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting. “The substance of negotiations is compromise and the French initiative, as it has been reported, in effect gives the Palestinians in advance reasons not to do so.”

Netanyahu’s comments followed the announcement on Friday by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius at a meeting of French diplomats in Paris that if the French initiative to convene a peace conference fails, then Paris would officially recognize a Palestinian state.

“Unfortunately, Israeli settlement construction continues. We must not let the two-state solution unravel,” Fabius reportedly said. “It is our responsibility as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.”

On Saturday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the French announcement.

The latest round of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians were held in April 2014 under the auspices of the United States.

3 Israeli soldiers wounded in West Bank shooting by Palestinian police officer

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A Palestinian Authority police officer opened fire on Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, wounding three, before being shot dead by a soldier.

One soldier was in serious condition following the attack Sunday near Beit El, another was in moderate to serious condition and another was lightly injured, according to reports. The Israeli military confirmed all the injured men are soldiers.

The assailant, 34, was identified as a police officer from Nablus, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, he drove up to the checkpoint near Ramallah, left his car and opened fire on soldiers manning the area. He was shot dead during the attack.

Also Sunday, the driver of a car that attempted to ram soldiers on Highway 443, a main road to Jerusalem, was shot by soldiers and seriously injured. No soldiers were injured in the attempted attack, which took place near the West Bank settlement of Beit Horon, where Shlomit Krigman, 23, was stabbed and killed by a Palestinian assailant in the community’s supermarket.

New immigrant, 17, from Brooklyn stabbed in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A 17-year-old New Yorker who reportedly left his family six weeks ago to serve in the Israeli army was stabbed in the back in Jerusalem.

The haredi Orthodox teen, from Brooklyn, was stabbed Saturday evening just outside the Old City, next to the Damascus Gate, shortly after praying at the Western Wall, according to reports. He was lightly wounded and treated at Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus.

Surveillance video captured the attack by a group of Palestinian teens, police said. Three boys, ages 15 and 16 from eastern Jerusalem, are being held by police in connection with the attack. One suspect turned himself in hours after the attack, which was caught on surveillance video. Other arrests are expected, police said.

The victim, who is studying at a pre-military academy near Jerusalem, told Ynet that the attack has not changed his desire to serve in the army.

“I was stabbed, and now I’m going to join the army and give it my all,” he told Ynet, adding that he wants to join the elite field intelligence-gathering Sayeret Matkal unit.

Court adds to prison terms for arsonists of Jewish-Arab school

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s Supreme Court added to the prison sentences of two brothers who pleaded guilty to an arson attack on a Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem.

On Sunday, the sentences for Nahman and Shalom Twitto, 18 and 22, respectively, were each increased by eight months in response to an state appeal of what the state viewed as lenient sentences handed down in July. Nahman Twitto had been sentenced to 2 years and his brother 2 1/2 years, as well as some financial reparations.

The two were convicted as part of a plea agreement in April for setting fire to a classroom at the Max Rayne Hand In Hand Jerusalem School on Nov. 29, 2014. “Death to Arabs” and “There is no coexistence with cancer” were among the anti-Arab epithets spray-painted on the walls.

The Twittos and Yitzhak Gabai, who was found guilty in September of the arson attack, are active members of Lehava, a far-right organization that tries to prevent marriages and coexistence programs between Jews and Arabs.

The Hand In Hand Jerusalem School is Israel’s largest joint Arab-Jewish school and the only such primary and high school in the city. Five Hand in Hand schools are located throughout the country.

3 Jewish teens charged in vandalism of Jerusalem monastery

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Three Jewish-Israeli teens were indicted in the vandalism of a Jerusalem monastery with anti-Christian graffiti.

The indictment was filed Sunday in Jerusalem District Court in the Jan. 17 attack on the Dormition Abbey, located on Mount Zion just outside the Old City of Jerusalem.

The graffiti, written in Hebrew, included “Christians to Hell,” “May his name be obliterated,” and “Death to the heathen Christians the enemies of Israel.”

The identities of the boys, who were arrested on Jan. 20, are not public since they are minors.

Anti-Christian graffiti was previously painted on the Benedictine abbey’s walls in 2013 and 2012. Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the abbey during a visit in 2014.

The abbey is believed to be the site where the Virgin Mary died and near where the Last Supper was held. It is located next to the site considered to be the tomb of King David.

Israeli ‘spy vulture’ captured in Lebanon

(JTA)—Lebanese citizens captured a vulture they said was carrying Israeli spy equipment.

The residents of the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbail caught the bird on Jan. 26. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority said the griffon vulture was wearing a tracking device, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Lebanese media reported the vulture was released after it was determined that it was not a threat. Israel’s parks authority could not confirm the reports.

“We hope that the Lebanese will take care of him and release him,” avian ecologist Ohad Hatzofe told The Jerusalem Post.

The vulture was brought to Israel from the Catalonia region of Spain in July of last year in an attempt to bolster the population of the endangered species in the Middle East.

This is not the first animal reported by Israel’s neighbors to be spying for the state. Last summer, Palestinian media reported that Hamas had captured a dolphin off the Gaza coast that they said was outfitted with Israeli spy equipment.

In 2010, an Egyptian official claimed that sharks in the Red Sea wearing Israeli spy gear attacked tourists.

Right-wing group sorry for calling Israeli artists ‘foreign agents’

(JTA)—A right-wing Israeli group apologized for a controversial campaign calling leftist artists “foreign agents.”

Matan Peleg, the director of the group Im Tirtzu, wrote last Friday on Facebook that his organization did not “sufficiently consider” the new campaign.

“Dear friends, we erred,” the group wrote on its official Facebook page. “We posted a mistaken post on a topic that is very important and essential, and precisely because of that we should have been more careful.”

On Jan. 27, Im Tirtzu posted a banner on social media with the title “Foreign Agents in Culture.” Below was a list of famous artists, including Amos Oz, David Grossman, A.B. Yehoshua and Gila Almagor—who in the past have expressed support for dovish groups and parties.

Im Tirtzu used the Hebrew adjective “shtulim,” which literally means “implanted.”

“There was neither a campaign nor were there any statements about ‘traitors’ that the media stuck to us and we never said. We take full responsibility and promise to continue to work with great faith for the sake of Israel and IDF soldiers,” the statement continued. “We will continue to deliver sharp criticism of organizations that present IDF soldiers as war criminals and against those who call for a boycott of the state.”

On Jan. 28, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a speech that he objects to labeling critics of certain policies “traitors,” in what Israeli media interpreted as a reference to Im Tirtzu’s banner, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon denounced the “obnoxious and dangerous” move by Im Tirtzu.

Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid called members of the organization “extremists who are out of their minds” and said their “campaign of hatred incites violence and crosses a red line.”

5 Palestinians sentenced for killing 4-year-old Jewish girl

  (JTA)—An Israeli military court sentenced five Palestinians to 15 years in jail for killing a 4-year-old Jewish girl.

The five young men, who were minors aged 16 or 17 at the time of the incident three years ago, were not convicted of premeditated murder because of their young age when they threw stones at the car carrying Adele Biton, causing a collision, Army Radio reported after the sentencing Thursday night.

Instead, the military prosecution indicted the five killers from the West Bank village of Hares with manslaughter. They were identified as Muhammad Mahdi Suleiman, Tamer Ayyad Ahmad Souf, Ammar Abd al-Nayif Souf, Ali Yassin Ali Shamlawi and Muhammad Jumaa Muhammad Kleib.

Adele, the daughter of a settler couple living in the West Bank, was severely injured in March 2013 and died of complications related to her injury in February last year at 4.

The Yesha Council, which represents Israeli settlers living in the West Bank, cited Adele’s case as an example of the danger of stone throwing, which the council’s leaders said was not being dealt with strongly enough by authorities.

The military court also ordered Adele’s killers to pay several thousand dollars in damages to the Biton family.

Amid tensions with Turkey, Israel announces alliance with Greece, Cyprus

(JTA)—The leaders of Israel, Cyprus and Greece entered a trilateral partnership that they said was not meant to exclude other parties—in a possible reference to Turkey.

The announcement about the trilateral agreement came on Jan. 28 during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the island of Cyprus, whose northern half is under Turkish occupation.

The three leaders—Netanyahu, his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras and Cyprus President Nikos Anastasiades—“agreed to strengthen the cooperation between [the] three countries in order to promote a trilateral partnership in different fields of common interest and to work together towards promoting peace, stability, security and prosperity in the Mediterranean and the wider region,” they wrote in a joint statement.

The partnership comes amid sustained tensions among Greece, Cyprus and Turkey over the occupation, and a crisis in relations between Turkey and Israel over various issues, including Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip and Turkey’s hosting of Hamas officials.

Vice President Joe Biden called Netanyahu after the announcement “to discuss ongoing efforts to improve Israel-Turkey relations and advance energy cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean,” Biden’s office said in a one-sentence statement. The United States is taking a keen interest in reviving Israel-Turkey ties, considering the nations its two most important allies in the region.

In 2009, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of deliberately killing Palestinian children. The following year, diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and Ankara broke down after Israeli troops killed nine Turkish activists aboard the Mavi Marmara a Gaza-bound ship attempting to break the blockade. The troops were attacked with knives and clubs as they boarded the ship to enforce Israel’s blockade. Talks on restoring relations are reportedly ongoing.

Israel, Greece and Cyprus “share common democratic values, principles, and interests,” and “have, to this end, agreed on the importance for closer cooperation and a coordinated set of policies,” the statement read. “Our partnership is not exclusive in design or nature, and we are ready to welcome other like-minded actors,” it added in a possible reference to Turkey.

Noting the discovery in recent years of substantial natural gas deposits around Israel and Cyprus, the statement also said that “the three countries view the energy sector, and in particular, natural gas and renewable energy, as a solid foundation for cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean basin.”


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