Understanding UK anti-Semitism on Yom Hashoa

May 5, 2016

As Jews stop to memorialize the Holocaust on Yom Hashoa this year, many are concerned with the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe and the UK.

In Europe, the last few years have seen a series of horrible attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions, from a shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France to an attack on Belgium’s Jewish Museum. More recently, media attention has turned to the UK, where the campaign for mayoral and council elections taking place today has drudged up some ugly anti-Semitism.

Dr. Robert Rozett, director of the Yad Vashem Libraries, discusses the new anti-Semitism, and Jonathan Sacerdoti, the director of communications at the Campaign Against anti-Semitism in the UK, discusses how British Jews are responding to it.

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Briefing: The Democratic showdown on Israel

April 17, 2016

This past week, Democratic hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders faced off on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in their final debate before Tuesday’s New York primary.

Sanders called himself "100 percent pro-Israel," but also argued that Israel used disproportionate force against the Palestinians, and added that "There comes a time if we are going to pursue justice and peace that we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time."

Clinton responded: "Nobody is saying that any individual leader is always right but it is a difficult position," and added that "Describing the problem is a lot easier than trying to solve it."

Meanwhile, Sanders suspended his controversial national Jewish outreach coordinator, Simone Zimmerman, after an old social media post of hers came to light. In the post, Zimmerman swore at Netanyahu, and called him deceptive, cynical and manipulative.

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Mohabad Abrini, the suspected accomplice of the Brussels airport suicide bombers, reportedly told investigators that the attack plans included targeting travelers on their way to Tel Aviv, as well as the US and Russia. Abrini is allegedly “the man in the hat” spotted alongside the suspected bombers in security photos. The report came from French BFM TV.

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State Department spokesman Mark Toner attempted to "firmly shut" the door on any prospective resolution the US considers biased against Israel. Toner said: "Our position hasn’t changed in terms of action on this issue at the UN Security Council."

There has been concern in Israel that the Obama White House was planning to support such a resolution before a new president is sworn in in January. The White House said last year that it was willing to review its UN policy toward the conflict, and it has yet to explicitly rule out such an approach.

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According to a Channel 10 report, the US continues to believe that recently-released Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard holds classified, top secret information.

US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper filed a report to a New York court arguing that Pollard should be restricted in his parole, saying that he could otherwise cause serious harm to the national security of the United States based on information he obtained before he was arrested in 1985.

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An unidentified Jewish couple purportedly made history on the Temple Mount by having a secret wedding ceremony at Judaism’s holiest site. According to a statement on Tuesday from the right-wing Temple Institute, based in Jerusalem, they were only the second couple in 2,000 years to have gotten married at the site.

The Temple Institute champions Jewish visitation rights on the Temple Mount, where open Jewish prayer is banned.

The couple reportedly conducted the bare bones acts of the ceremony surreptitiously. Had authorities noticed the exchange, the group would have been removed from the site and potentially arrested for “causing a public disturbance.”

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Beit Hillel, an association of religious-Zionist rabbis, issued a position statement of Jewish law calling for greater understanding and debate on homosexuality. The statement urged the religious community to allow gay people to take up communal religious duties and to show greater inclusiveness toward them in general.

The paper also asserted that homosexual acts are forbidden by Halacha and cannot be permitted by religious leaders, and that Orthodox rabbis cannot legitimize same-sex unions.

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In business news, Chinese conglomerate Fosun International completed a deal to acquire Israel’s Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories owned by Gaon Holdings for NIS 290 million.

Ahava confirmed plans to relocate its West Bank facility, which made it the target of BDS action, ahead of the acquisition.

Last month, Israel and China announced the opening of free-trade negotiations.

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And finally, in a radio interview with Howard Stern, stand-up comedian Louis CK said he is planning to perform in Israel for the first time.

Last May, CK made headlines across Israel after incorporating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into his opening monologue as the host of Saturday Night Live.

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Is Bibi the worst option except all the rest?

April 14, 2016

Winston Churchill famously said that democracy was the worst form of government except all the others. Among Israelis, there seems to be a similar sentiment toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s seen as a survivor, someone who puts his political well-being above all else. Time Magazine famously dubbed him King Bibi.

In this segment of Taxicab Diplomacy—where we talk politics with Israel’s most insightful political commentators, its cab drivers—the JPost Podcast explores how Netanyahu stays on top.

As our cab driver commentators demonstrate (and recent polls back up), there’s considerable dissatisfaction with Netanyahu. The only problem: there seem to be no better options.

Dr. Ofer Kenig, a researcher on political reform at the Israel Democracy Institute, adds his insight as to why nobody has managed to seriously challenge Netanyahu in the past seven years.

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Briefing: Bernie Sanders, Monica Lewinsky, and an uneventful cyber attack

April 10, 2016

This past week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated an invitation to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to conduct talks in Jerusalem, saying he would clear his schedule for such a meeting. The remarks came four days after Abbas said in a Channel 2 interview that he was awaiting such an invitation.

President Reuven Rivlin also responded to Abbas’ comments with an offer to meet the Palestinian leader in order to promote negotiations between the sides. Thus far there have been no reports of a meeting being set.

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US democratic candidate Bernie Sanders angered Israel supporters with several comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an interview with the New York Daily News paper.

In the interview, Sanders said that based on his recollection “over 10,000 innocent people were killed in Gaza” in the 2014 war.

Sanders clarified the comments after an outcry and a phone call with Anti-Defamation League’s CEO Jonathan  A. Greenblatt, who pointed out that the highest casualty figures for Gaza in the war were about a fifth the amount Sanders cited, and many of the casualties were combatants.

Sanders, who also said Israel would have to improve its relationship with the Palestinians if it wanted a positive relationship with the United States, admitted that he had not recalled the accurate figures.

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A Parole board denied a request from former President Moshe Katsav for early release from prison.

Katsav, who was convicted in December 2010 on two counts of rape, had asked to be released after having served two-thirds of his seven-year sentence.

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Turkish and Israeli teams made progress towards finalizing an agreement to mend ties. In London talks, the two sides agreed a deal will be finalized in the next meeting to be convened very soon. Turkey was once Israel's closest regional ally but ties collapsed in 2010 after the Mavi Marmara incident, where 10 Turkish pro-Palestinian activists were killed by Israeli Marines after violently attempting to breach the Gaza blockade.

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Cyber-hacking group Anonymous targeted Israel for the fourth time in its annual Israel Ops attacks. Experts in a quick response group, CERT-IL, said the attacks were largely unsophisticated and did little lasting damage. The attacks tend to target unprotected websites, not sites linked to critical national infrastructure, though previous attacks have brought down or vandalized websites such as the Yad Vashem website.

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Senior politicians condemned Bayit Yehui MK Bezalel Smotrich for advocating a separation of Jews and Arabs in maternity wards.

Smotrich had said that, “after giving birth [his] wife wants to rest and not have a party like Arab women do,” and his “wife would not want to lay down next to someone who just gave birth to a baby who might want to murder her baby in 20 years.”

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said the comments were “a symptom of increasing hostility to minorities,” while Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid compared the comments to those commonly made “in Germany in the 1930s.” Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett condemned the comments as well.

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The Israel Electric Corporation limited power to Palestinian cities including Jericho, Bethlehem and Hebron over an unpaid NIS 1.74 billion debt from the Palestinian authority. The IEC restored full power after receiving a NIS 20m payment, but warned that it would reduce levels again if a broader deal addressing the debt isn’t reached.

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Hamas banned a Gaza City conference that was supposed to call for ending divisions among the Palestinians and achieving “national unity.”

Hamas security officers raided the conference hall at the Al-Quds Hospital and expelled the organizers and participants, sources in the Gaza Strip reported. According to the sources, the officers summoned some of the organizers for interrogation.

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Israel and its neighbors are making plans to put politics aside and cooperate in scientific research. The governments of Israel, Jordan, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Cyprus, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority are working together on SESAME, an accelerator machine that generates intense light beams for advanced scientific and technological research.
SESME will be the first synchrotron light source and first major international scientific center in the Middle East, and is expected to be up and running by the middle of 2017.

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And finally, Forbes Magazine held its first international 30 under 30 summit in Israel, drawing a wide range of celebrities to the Holy Land. President Shimon Peres opened the conference, which also had panels led by Yossi Vardi, HBO’s Girls star Zosia Mamet, and anti-bullying advocate Monica Lewinsky.

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In Trump Vodka’s strange, Israeli afterlife, a kashrut scandal

April 7, 2016

Over the years, Donald Trump has made an industry of licensing his name to a variety of products, products over which he had no control. Basically, Trump would find a company that already made something and, for a fee or cut of the profits, slap his name on the package.

One of those products, Trump Vodka, went out of circulation in 2011 in the US. But the product has had a strange afterlife in Israel. A deal with a local importer, H. Pixel, led to the manufacture and distribution of Trump Vodka in Israel. This time around, however, the vodka was made Kosher for Passover.

The product was a hit for observant Jews who still wanted to enjoy spirits over the holiday. For many liquor suppliers who only stock it around the holiday, Trump Vodka is synonymous with Kashrut.

But as the JPost Podcast has uncovered, many of the bottles currently on the shelves are, in fact, not Kosher for Passover.

Last year, Kosher certifiers discovered that bottles labeled 2013 were not made with fully Kosher for Passover ingredients. The problem has since been fixed, but OK Kosher Certifications warns consumers that if they are buying Trump Vodka labeled 2013 or later, they should check that it has a hologram sticker attached to it. Otherwise, even the ones that have a non-hologram sticker reading “Kosher For Passover”—many of which are still on shelves—are not, in fact, Kosher.

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Briefing: Corruption, manslaughter, and a hug from Roseanne

April 3, 2016

This past week, the high court of justice struck down a portion Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial plan on regulating natural gas. Specifically, it objected to a stability clause that promised gas companies no changes in government policy for a decade. Netanyahu will have a year to find a new arrangement that satisfies both the drilling companies and the court.

The gas policy has been through a government roller-coaster ride, leading to the resignation of the last anti-trust commissioner, a cabinet reshuffle, and the first ever use of Article 52, a law that lets the government bypass antitrust objections on national security grounds. The court did not object to the legality of those moves.

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Interior Minister Arye Deri, who served jail time for corruption the last time he was Interior Minister, is being investigated for corruption. The Attorney General opened a criminal investigation into how Deri and his wife Yaffa acquired multiple real estate properties, despite reporting to tax authorities that they only own one apartment in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood.

Labor leader Isaac Herzog is also being investigated for possible illegal campaign spending in his 2013 race for Labor Party chairman against then-incumbent Shelly Yacimovich. The Herzog probe remained in the preliminary stages and the attorney-general had not ordered the opening of an official criminal investigation.

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The IDF prosecutor said they would seek manslaughter rather than murder charges against an IDF soldier that shot and killed an already immobilized Palestinian attacker.
 
The killing caused a huge uproar in Israel, prompting demonstrations in support of the soldier and a campaign against the IDF chief of staff, who denounced the killing as a breach of the IDF’s ethics code and rules of engagement. The prosecutor said they felt highly confident they could get a manslaughter conviction, which carries heavy jail time.

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US Sen. Patrick Leahy, a democrat from Vermont, wrote a letter asking Secretary of State John Kerry to investigate Israel over “possible gross violations of human rights.” Leahy penned a 1997 law that would require the State Department and Department of Defense to cut foreign assistance to any country found to be violating human rights.

Prime Minister Netanyahu responded to Leahy’s letter by saying that the IDF operates under the “highest moral standards,” and that Leahy should direct his complaints against those who “incite youngsters to commit cruel acts of terrorism.”

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The one item that may be blocking a new defense deal between the US and Israel may be political. A senior Israeli official told the Jerusalem Post that Israel did not want to conclude a deal while the Obama administration is considering a UN Security Council Resolution on Israeli-Palestinian peace. The thinking is that once a deal is signed, Obama would have the political leeway to move forward with a resolution.

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In a speech in Washington DC, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he expects positive results from an upcoming meeting between Turkey and Israel. The countries have vowed to boost cooperation on counter-terrorism after three Israelis were killed in a suicide bombing in Istanbul. Shortly after the attack Erdogan had a phone call with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, his first conversation with an Israeli leader in three years.

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Israel was reportedly preparing to ease fishing restrictions on Gaza, expanding the area available from six to nine nautical miles off the coast. According to Israeli estimates, the decision could lead to a NIS 400,000 boost to Gaza's economy.

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Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has a new Jewish grandson. Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who converted to Judaism in 2009 and is married to New York Observer owner Jared Kushner, gave birth to Theodore James Kushner, on Sunday.

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And sitcom legend Roseanne Barr came to Israel to speak out against the BDS Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement. In a 20-minute speech at a Jerusalem convention on the topic, the comedian said “BDS doesn’t want peace, nor do they want peace negotiations.” She also said her once-critical views on Israel had changed in recent years.

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Are closer Israel-China ties an attempt to subvert BDS?

March 31, 2016

This week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announcing the opening of free trade talks with China, a huge deal for Israel economically and politically.

China, of course, is the world’s most populous country, the second largest economy, and a growing giant. But a lot of people don’t quite understand its role in global trade and politics, and certainly not its relationship with Israel.

Sam Chester, an expert on Israel-China relations who is currently working in the commercial drone industry in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, explains the significance of the talks, whether they're an attempt to subvery BDS, and why Israelis shouldn't be concerned about their jobs.

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Briefing: Nazi Twitter bots, IDF morality, and a secret rescue

March 27, 2016

This past week, ISIS Terrorists killed 31 people in a shocking, triple attack in Brussels.

Belgium’s Jewish community joined the chorus of critics decrying incompetence in the country’s counter-terror apparatus. The community came under attack in May, 2014 in a terrorist shoot-up of the Brussels Jewish museum that killed four,

Some Israeli politicians made controversial remarks calling Belgian authorities to task after the attack, which was linked to the Paris shootings in November. Transport Minister Yisrael Katz said Belgians were too busy eating chocolates to deal with the threat of fundamentalism. Likud MK Nava Boker said the attacks resulted from attempts to make Muslims feel at home rather than rooting out extremism, while Zionist Union MK Kesenia Svetlova said that the terror showed how "European multi-culturalism has failed."

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Israeli cyber security company Cellebrite is reportedly helping the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's attempt to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino, California shooters, according to several media reports. A debate about security and privacy concerns arose after the FBI ordered Apple to unlock the phone, which Apple has refused to do on grounds that it would compromise security to its devices more broadly. If Cellebrite succeeds, then the FBI will no longer need Apple’s help.

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Israel ran a secret mission to bring some of the last Jews living in Yemen to Israel. According to the Jewish Agency, clandestine activity culminated in the Aliya of 19 Jews, from the town of Raydah and the capital Sanaa.

The US State Department was reportedly involved in the mission and helped coordinate the complex transfer of the Jews after the group faced persecution.

Some 50 members remain in Yemen’s Jewish community, but did not want to leave despite the country’s descent into civil war.

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Israelis were outraged when an IDF soldier shot and killed a Palestinian terrorist who had already been neutralized. Six minutes after the terrorist incident ended, the Kfir Brigade soldier arrived and decided, on his own, to fire on the wounded Palestinian assailant

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot all condemned the soldier for flouting the IDF rules of engagement, which they said were the most moral in the world. Those comments drew a rebuke from far-right politicians including Education Minister Naftali Bennett and former Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman.

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Former IDF intelligence chief Amos Yadlin said that the Israel Defense Forces were capable of destroying Iran's nuclear facilities with a preemptive strike if presented with no other alternative. According to Channel 10 report, he told a gathering in Beersheba the "Israel Air Force can meet the challenge of exterminating Iran's nuclear reactors if necessary."

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The head of General Security for Dubai, Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan Tamim, said on his Twitter page that an independent Palestine would join the list of failed Arab states. Palestinians, he added, should abandon their aspiration for an independent state and merge with Israeli Jews in a united, bi-national state instead. Eventually, he concluded, Arabs would become a majority anyhow and inherit the shared state.

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Prime Minister Netanyahu came out strongly Thursday against comments by Shas politicians accusing the Reform Movement of trying to destroy the Jewish people.

On Wednesday, in a motion to the Knesset’s agenda on the eve of Purim, Shas MK Yigal Guetta compared Reform Jewry to Haman, the villain of the Scroll of Esther. He also said that they trying to “sabotage God’s Torah.”

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Extremists from the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Meah She’arim suspended an effigy of a haredi IDF soldier from a cable across one of the narrow streets of the neighborhood on Shushan Purim. The effigy was strung up next to a sign that warned ultra-Orthodox soldiers from entering the neighborhood.

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Microsoft had to pull the plug on its artificial intelligence tweeting robot TayTweets, after it began posting offensive comments, including “Hitler was right I hate the jews.” Microsoft said it was making changes after the AI bot learned offensive behavior from its interactions with humans on Twitter.

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And finally, Israeli Universities ranked seven times in the 2016 QS World University Rankings top 100, by Subject. Though the showing was a decrease from the 11 showings Israel made in 2015, the report found that the Hebrew University was the most-featured top-100 university, making a showing for agriculture and forestry, and history, anthropology.

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Did AIPAC tame the Donald?

March 23, 2016

If Donald Trump has proved anything this year, it’s that the usual rules of electoral politics don’t apply to him. His uncanny ability to say outrageous things, only to be rewarded at the Republican primary polls, has embarrassed purveyors of conventional political wisdom.
 
But this week, something unusual happened. For some reason, Trump felt compelled to play by the rules—for the most part—when he addressed one organization: The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee.

On today’s episode of the JPost Podcast, Washington Bureau Chief Michael Wilner joins to discuss the controversy around Trump’s appearance on the stage of the largest pro-Israel lobby in the US, and why he decided to start using a teleprompter.

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Briefing: Nuclear sabotage, and Jews against Trump

March 20, 2016

This past week, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan passed away.

Dagan headed the Mossad from 2002 until 2010. He was best-known for alleged clandestine operations to thwart Iran's nuclear weapons program. The Mossad under his leadership was also said to have provided the intelligence that led to Israel bombing Syria’s nuclear reactor in 2007 and the assassination of Hezbollah’s Imad Mughniyeh in 2008.

In his later years, Dagan became a critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying he had strained ties with the US and was not working hard enough toward a two-state solution.

Meanwhile, this week Netanyahu said that warmer Israeli ties with other Arab states will facilitate peace with the Palestinians. The administration is working against efforts to convene an international conference on Israeli-Palestinian peace, insisting that bilateral talks are the best way to go.

For his part, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told a Kuwaiti television channel this week that he was determined to prevent an all-out violent uprising against Israel. He said that the second Intifada backfired, ruining the country and boosting international support for Israel. He also said a Palestinian state would only be achieved by diplomatic means.

Meanwhile a poll conducted by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center found that nearly 60% of Palestinians support continuing the current wave of attacks against Israelis. In Gaza, the figure was 75%, far higher than the 51% in the West Bank. Most, however, some 70%, still saw the two-state solution as the best way to resolve the conflict.

The wave of violence showed no signs of abating this week, with the non-fatal stabbing of a soldier by the Ariel junction, and a border police officer near Hebron. There were also gun and car-ramming attacks near Kiryat Arba. The seven Palestinian assailants from the various attacks were shot dead.

In Turkey, a suicide bombing killed 5 people, including three Israelis two of whom were dual American citizens. Netanyahu condemned the attack and called for international solidarity in fighting terror, while Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu sent his condolences to Israel for its losses. A member of the ruling Turkish AK party was fired after publishing an incendiary Tweet saying she wished Israeli tourists wounded in the attack had died.

In other Middle East news, President Reuven Rivlin traveled to Moscow two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he’d withdraw from Syria. Russia’s intervention had complicated Israeli efforts to ensure the conflict did not spill-over or provide game-changing weapons to Israel’s enemies.

Turning to the United States, the evolving US-Israel relationship was set to take center stage in the presidential campaign at the annual AIPAC Policy conference. A group of Jewish community leaders at the conference vowed to protest a speech by Republican Frontrunner Donald Trump and QUOTE the bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and misogyny expressed by Mr. Trump, and violence promoted by him, END QUOTE.

Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, the only Jew among the remaining five presidential candidates and the first Jews to ever win a state primary for president, said he would not attend the conference due to scheduling conflicts with his campaign. Sanders said AIPAC refused to allow him to deliver a speech remotely, even though they had allowed previous candidates such as Mitt Romney to do so in prior election years.

Finally, US President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland, who is Jewish, to the US Supreme Court. The Republican-led congress has vowed that it will not even give an Obama nominee a hearing. If he is confirmed, however, he will bring the count of Jewish justices on the court to four. The other five are all Roman Catholics.

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