Posts Tagged ‘ Levant News ’

Top centrist Netanyahu rivals unite for Israeli election run

February 21, 2019

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s primary centrist challengers to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Thursday they were joining forces ahead of April elections — a dramatic move that shook up the country’s political system and created the first credible alternative to Netanyahu’s decade-long rule.

Retired military chief Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party, said they would present a joint list for the upcoming vote that “will constitute the new Israeli ruling party.” In a joint statement, the two said they were “motivated by national responsibility.”

“The new ruling party will bring forth a cadre of security and social leaders to ensure Israel’s security and to reconnect its people and heal the divide within Israeli society,” they said, in a dig at Netanyahu.

A formal announcement was expected later in the day, with the two naming their full list and new name for their joint party. The development instantly injected a threat to topple the long-serving Netanyahu. Recent polls suggest that together, Gantz and Lapid could surpass Netanyahu’s ruling Likud to become Israel’s largest faction after the April 9 vote. Under their unity arrangement, the two agreed to a rotation leadership should they come to power under which Gantz would first serve as prime minister and would then be replaced by Lapid after two and a half years.

Following them in the joint list would be a pair of other former military chiefs, Moshe Yaalon and Gabi Ashkenazi. Ashkenazi has long been working behind the scenes to make the union happen, urging the major players to put their egos aside in favor of the bigger challenge ahead. He announced he was joining the new party himself because of the “pivotal moment and the national task at hand.”

Even if the joint list surpasses Likud at the ballot box, it is not guaranteed to form the next government unless it can garner a parliamentary majority by forming a collation with other parties. But the dramatic merger seems enough to make the election a real fight for Netanyahu.

“For the first time since 2009, we have a competitive race for the premiership and this is the result of the emergence of this new centrist force,” said Yohanan Plesner, a former lawmaker and president of the non-partisan Israel Democracy Institute.

“There are now, as a result of this unification, two, I would say, legitimate major parties … (but) it’s not a done deal,” Plesner said. “I think Netanyahu is still more likely to win and to emerge as prime minister at the end of this election campaign, but it is a competitive race.”

Netanyahu, who is embroiled in multiple corruption allegations and faces a potential impending indictment, has taken a hard turn to the right in recent days to shore up his nationalistic base. On Wednesday, he postponed a trip to Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin to stay home and reach a preliminary election deal with two fringe religious-nationalist parties in a bid to unify his hard-line bloc.

Netanyahu’s Likud party announced it would reserve the 28th spot on its parliamentary list for the pro-settler Jewish Home party and grant it two Cabinet ministries in a future government if it merges with the extremist Jewish Power party. Jewish Power is comprised of hard-line religious nationalists who have cast themselves as successors to the banned Kahanist movement, which dreamed of turning Israel into a Jewish theocracy and advocated forced removal of Palestinians.

Among the prominent figures in the joint Jewish Home-Jewish Power list are Bezalel Smotrich, a self-avowed “proud homophobe,” Itamar Ben Gvir, an attorney who has made a career defending radical Israeli settlers implicated in West Bank violence, and Benzi Gopstein, leader of an extremist anti-assimilation group whose Twitter handle translates to “Kahane was right.”

The late American-born Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Jewish Defense League is considered a terrorist organization by the FBI. Netanyahu’s courting of such forces drew sharp condemnations from much of the Israeli mainstream, with Gantz accusing him of losing touch “with his Zionism and with his dignity.”

The flurry of developments comes ahead of a Thursday night deadline for parties running for the April 9 parliamentary elections to submit their lineups. The maneuvers seemed to have spurred others to pursue unification moves as well, as a previously fragmented political landscape begins to come together, six and half weeks before election day.

Tamar Zandberg, head of the dovish Meretz party, called on the Labor party to merge with it to create a united front on the left as well. “Congratulations to the union in the center that will provide an alternative to Likud,” she said. “Opposite the prospect of a Likud-Kahanist government we need a center-left government.”

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Israel’s first Moon mission blasts off from Florida

By Ivan Couronne

Washington (AFP)

Feb 22, 2019

An unmanned rocket took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Thursday night carrying Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft, aiming to make history twice: as the first private-sector landing on the Moon, and the first from the Jewish state.

The 585-kilogram (1,290-pound) Beresheet, which means “Genesis” in Hebrew, lifted off at 8:45 pm (0145 GMT Friday) atop a Falcon 9 rocket from the private US-based SpaceX company of entrepreneur Elon Musk.

Take-off was followed live back in Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu watching alongside engineers from the control center of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

The Israeli craft was placed in Earth orbit, from where it will use its own engine to undertake a seven-week trip to reach the Moon and touch down on April 11 in a large plain.

The rocket also contains an Indonesian satellite and a satellite of the US Air Force Research Laboratory.

The mission is part of renewed global interest in the Moon, sometimes called the “eighth continent” of the Earth, and comes 50 years after American astronauts first walked on the lunar surface.

“This is history in the making – and it’s live! Israel is aiming for the #moon and you’re all invited to watch,” said a Twitter message from SpaceIL, the non-profit organization that designed the Israeli craft.

It was backed notably by businessman and philanthropist Morris Kahn, who financed the development of a craft. “Make us proud,” he said Thursday.

Entrepreneurs, not government space agencies, financed the mission, which was initially projected at $10 million but eventually grew to $100 million.

Other partners are IAI, Israel’s space agency its Ministry of Science and Technology.

So far, only Russia, the United States and China have made the 384,000-kilometer (239,000-mile) journey and landed spacecraft on the Moon.

China’s Chang’e-4 made the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the Moon on January 3, after a probe sent by Beijing made a Lunar landing elsewhere in 2013.

Americans are the only ones to have walked on the lunar surface, but have not been there since 1972.

For Israel, the landing itself is the main mission, but the spacecraft also carries a scientific instrument to measure the lunar magnetic field, which will help understanding of the Moon’s formation.

Technically, it is far from a trivial mission.

After its initial boost from the Falcon 9, the Beresheet’s British engine will have to make several ignitions to place the spacecraft on the correct trajectory to the Moon.

When it arrives, its landing gear must cushion the descent onto the lunar surface to prevent Beresheet from crashing.

– India plans to follow –

Beresheet carries a “time capsule” loaded with digital files containing a Bible, children’s drawings, Israeli songs, memories of a Holocaust survivor and the blue-and-white Israeli flag.

At a cost of $100 million, “this is the lowest-budget spacecraft to ever undertake such a mission. The superpowers who managed to land a spacecraft on the Moon have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding,” IAI said in an earlier statement.

“Beresheet is the first spacecraft to land on the Moon as a result of a private initiative, rather than a government.”

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine congratulated the Israeli team for carrying out the mission, saying, “this is a historic step for all nations and commercial space as we look to extend our collaborations beyond low-Earth orbit and on to the Moon.”

After China earlier this year, and now Israel, India hopes to become the fifth lunar country in the spring with its Chandrayaan-2 mission. It aims to put a craft with a rover onto the Moon’s surface to collect data.

Japan plans to send a small lunar lander, called SLIM, to study a volcanic area around 2020-2021.

As for the Americans, a return to the Moon is now the official policy of NASA, according to guidelines issued by President Donald Trump in 2017.

“This time, when we go to the Moon, we’re actually going to stay,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said last week.

To achieve this, the US space agency is changing its model and no longer wants to design the missions itself.

NASA, which has installed equipment on Beresheet to upload its signals from the Moon, said last week it aims to land instruments later this year or next year and that it is inviting private sector bids to build and launch the US probes.

The US space agency plans to build a small space station, dubbed Gateway, in the Moon’s orbit by 2026, and envisages a manned mission to Mars in the following decade.

Source: Moon Daily.

Link: http://www.moondaily.com/reports/Israels_first_Moon_mission_blasts_off_from_Florida_999.html.

Family: UK teen who joined Islamic State has baby in Syria

February 17, 2019

LONDON (AP) — The family of a British teenager who ran away to join the Islamic State group and now wants to return to the U.K. said Sunday she has given birth to a baby boy. The family’s lawyer said 19-year-old Shamima Begum and the baby are in good health. In a recent interview with The Times newspaper, Begum said she had previously lost two babies to illness and malnutrition.

Begum was one of a group of schoolgirls from London’s Bethnal Green neighborhood who went to Syria to marry IS fighters in 2015 at a time when the group’s online recruitment program lured many impressionable young people to its self-proclaimed caliphate.

Speaking to Britain’s Sky News from Syria, where she has been living in a refugee camp, Begum said she didn’t know what she was getting into when she left and wants to bring her baby back to Britain with her.

“I think a lot of people should have sympathy towards me for everything I’ve been through,” she said in an interview broadcast Sunday. “I just was hoping that maybe for me, for the sake of me and my child, they let me come back, the young woman said. “Because I can’t live in this camp forever. It’s not really possible.”

“I don’t want to take care of my child in this camp because I’m afraid he might even die in this camp,” she said. Begum said she had been only a “housewife” during her time with IS militants. “I never did anything dangerous. I never made propaganda. I never encouraged people to come to Syria. So they’d only have proof I didn’t anything that is dangerous,” she said.

She added she had been “OK with” beheadings carried out by Islamic State adherents because she had heard it was allowed under Islamic law. News about Begum and her desire to go back to Britain have ignited a debate in the U.K. about how to deal with citizens who joined IS and want to leave Syria now that the extremist group is on the verge of collapse.

While it is unclear whether Begum committed any crimes, many have focused on her apparent lack of remorse. In the earlier interview with The Times, Begum said she did not regret her decision to join the extremists.

Her legal situation remains uncertain; she could face charges for supporting IS if she returns to Britain. Two days before the baby’s birth was announced, Begum’s relatives in Britain said they were “shocked” by her comments but thought she should be brought back and dealt with by the British justice system.

“The welfare of Shamima’s unborn baby is of paramount concern to our family, and we will do everything within our power to protect that baby, who is entirely blameless in these events,” the family had said.

The family said it is concerned about Begum’s mental health and characterizes her as having been groomed by Islamic State fighters.

Israel hosts east European leaders after summit scrapped

February 19, 2019

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosted his Czech, Slovakian and Hungarian counterparts Tuesday in a series of sit-downs that replaced a high-profile summit in Jerusalem that was cancelled over a rift with Poland.

The first gathering outside Europe of the Visegrad group was supposed to be a crowning achievement for Netanyahu in his outreach to central and eastern Europe to counter the traditional criticism Israel faces in international forums. But it dramatically unraveled over a bitter exchange between Poland and Israel over how to characterize Polish behavior toward its Jewish community during and after World War II.

In place of the summit, Netanyahu held back-to-back meetings with Slovakian Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban before hosting all three for lunch at his official residence.

But hovering over it all was the absence of Poland, the fourth member of the group. The diplomatic crisis between the typically close allies began last week when Netanyahu, pressed by reporters accompanying his visit to Warsaw, concurred that “Poles cooperated with the Nazis.” The comments infuriated his Polish hosts, who reject suggestions that their country collaborated with the Nazis and have passed a law that prohibits linking the Polish nation to the genocide of 6 million Jews.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced Sunday that he was pulling out of the summit and that his foreign minister would go instead. He then canceled Polish participation altogether the following day after Israel’s acting foreign minister, Israel Katz, referenced a quote from the late former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who said that Poles “suckled anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk.”

Morawiecki denounced the comments as “racist” and “absolutely unacceptable.” Poland’s nationalist government has been quick to denounce anyone accused of linking the country to the well-documented history of anti-Semitism and violence against Jews that took place there during and after the wartime German occupation. Israeli officials see their controversial legislation as an attempt to suppress such discussion, and Netanyahu has faced criticism from historians in Israel for not opposing the law, which critics say distorts history.

It’s a sensitive subject for Poland, which for centuries was a vibrant center of Jewish life. Poland was the first country occupied by Adolf Hitler’s regime and never had a collaborationist government. Members of Poland’s resistance and government-in-exile struggled to warn the world about the mass killing of Jews, and thousands of Poles risked their lives to help Jews.

However, Holocaust researchers have also collected ample evidence of Polish villagers who murdered Jews fleeing the Nazis, or Polish blackmailers who preyed on the Jews for financial gain and stole their property.

Netanyahu initially sought to clarify that he “spoke of Poles and not the Polish people or the country of Poland.” But then his acting foreign minister, on his first day on the job, took to the airwaves and ratcheted up the rhetoric.

Netanyahu is seeking re-election in April, and it is possible both he and Katz are trying to gain favor with their nationalist base by standing up to Poland. Likewise, Poland’s leaders are preparing for both national and European elections this year. The saga has unleashed a new wave of anti-Semitic incidents in Poland, where the local Jewish leadership has called on all sides to tone it down.

Israel-Central Europe summit canceled after Polish pullout

February 18, 2019

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland on Monday pulled out of a summit in Jerusalem, triggering the collapse of the entire meeting, after the acting Israeli foreign minister said that Poles “collaborated with the Nazis” and “sucked anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk.

The developments mark a new low in a bitter conflict between Poland and Israel over how to remember and characterize Polish actions toward Jews during the German occupation of Poland in World War II. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been due to meet with the leaders of four Central European nations known as the Visegrad group. With the Hungarian and Slovak prime ministers already in Israel and the Czech leader still planning to go, bilateral meetings were to go ahead instead.

Netanyahu had touted the meeting as an important step in his outreach to the countries of Central Europe, which have pro-Israeli governments that he is counting on to counter the criticism Israel typically faces in international forums.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki had already announced Sunday that he was pulling out of the meeting after a comment by Netanyahu last week about Polish cooperation with Nazis. Morawiecki cancelled Polish participation altogether after the comments made by Israel’s acting foreign minister, Israel Katz, which Morawiecki denounced as “racist” and “absolutely unacceptable.”

Poland’s Foreign Ministry also summoned the Israeli ambassador, Anna Azari, to demand a second set of clarifications in recent days. Katz made his remarks Sunday in an interview on Reshet 13 TV. “Poles collaborated with the Nazis, definitely. Collaborated with the Nazis. As (former Israeli Prime Minister) Yitzhak Shamir said — his father was murdered by Poles — he said that from his point of view they sucked anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk. You can’t sugarcoat this history,” he said.

Jewish leaders in Poland issued a statement saying that Shamir’s words were “unjust already when they were first said, in 1989, when Polish-Israeli relations were just beginning to be rebuilt, after the long night of communism.”

“They are even more unjust today, 30 years later, when so much has been done on both sides for a mutual understanding of our very difficult, but shared history,” the statement added. Poland was the first country invaded and occupied by Adolf Hitler’s regime and never had a collaborationist government. Members of Poland’s resistance and government-in-exile struggled to warn the world about the mass killing of Jews, and thousands of Poles risked their lives to help Jews.

However, Holocaust researchers have collected ample evidence of Polish villagers who murdered Jews fleeing the Nazis, or Polish blackmailers who preyed on helpless Jews for financial gain. The head of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris, noted that that Poland and Israel, while otherwise friends, have clashed over the “varying assessments of the magnitude of anti-Semitism in Poland, especially before and during World War II, and often competing historical narratives.”

He issued a statement acknowledging that “there are certainly pockets of anti-Semitism in Poland” but largely stressing the fact that Poles suffered and put up massive resistance to the Nazis during the war, also helping Jews. He also noted the Polish contributions in recent years to the renewal of Jewish life.

“As friends, we need to be able to manage our inevitable differences. That begins with choosing our words carefully — knowing when to speak, how to speak, and where to speak,” Harris said. “It means not allowing individual incidents to escalate out of control. And it means not ceding all the progress achieved to date to those who might wish to destroy it.”

Heller reported from Jerusalem. Karel Janicek in Prague contributed.

Israeli leaders’ Nazi remarks scuttle summit with Europeans

February 18, 2019

JERUSALEM (AP) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s off-hand comment in Warsaw about Poland and the Holocaust set in motion a diplomatic crisis that on Monday scuttled this week’s summit of central European leaders in Israel.

Poland’s abrupt decision to cancel its participation in the planned Visegrad conference in protest blew up the gathering, which Netanyahu has touted as a major milestone in his outreach to emerging democracies in eastern Europe and his broader goal of countering the criticism Israel typically faces in international forums.

The crisis was sparked last week when Netanyahu told reporters that “Poles cooperated with the Nazis.” The seemingly innocuous comment infuriated his Polish hosts, who reject suggestions that their country collaborated with Hitler.

Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, announced Sunday that he would be skipping this week’s Visegrad summit, a gathering with fellow prime ministers from Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz was supposed to replace him at Tuesday’s meeting in Jerusalem, the first time the gathering is being held outside of Europe.

But after Israel’s acting foreign minister reiterated the collaboration claims, Morawiecki cancelled Poland’s participation altogether, denouncing the comments as “racist.” As a result, the summit was called off and Netanyahu was planning to meet the other leaders independently.

Lost in the diplomatic uproar was that Netanyahu was actually defending his close alliance with Poland and other eastern European leaders when he made his comments. Historians and domestic critics have accused Netanyahu of cozying up too tightly to nationalistic leaders who have promoted a distorted image of the Holocaust and turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism associated with them.

Morawiecki himself last year equated Polish perpetrators of the Holocaust to supposed “Jewish perpetrators.” Netanyahu has recently hosted leaders of Lithuania, Ukraine and other countries who have engaged in selective World War II-era commemorations that play down their countries’ culpability while making heroes out of anti-Soviet nationalists involved in the mass killing of Jews.

In response to a question from The Associated Press during his two-day visit to Warsaw, Netanyahu said he raises the issue of historical revisionism with the various leaders. He rejected the notion he was a partner to diminishing anyone’s complicity in the genocide of Jews in World War II.

“I know the history. I don’t starch it and I don’t whitewash it. In Lithuania, in particular, there were some horrible things. No one is concealing that,” said Netanyahu, the son of a historian. “This whole idea that we diminish history — we don’t distort, and we don’t hide, and no one has any interest in that, on the contrary.”

In the same briefing with his travelling press corps, Netanyahu tried to deflect prominent criticism by Israeli historians of the deal he struck with Polish leaders over their country’s controversial Holocaust speech law, which criminalized blaming the Polish nation for crimes committed against Jews during World War II.

Israeli officials saw it as an attempt by Poland to suppress discussion of the well-documented killing of Jews by Poles during and after the wartime German occupation. “Poles collaborated with the Nazis and I don’t know anyone who was ever sued for such a statement,” Netanyahu told the reporters.

However, some media outlets reported him saying “THE Poles,” which set off an angry rebuke in Warsaw, including a summoning of the Israeli ambassador for clarifications. Netanyahu’s office said he was misquoted and blamed the misunderstanding on an editing error in an Israeli newspaper.

Netanyahu’s office then reiterated that he “spoke of Poles and not the Polish people or the country of Poland.” That only got him in hotter water at home for seemingly catering to the Polish obsession over his wording.

“The prime minister of the Jewish state is selling out the memory of the Holocaust for a dubious alliance with an anti-Semitic leader,” said Tamar Zandberg, leader of the opposition Meretz party. Nonetheless, the Polish government said it considered Netanyahu’s response insufficient and threatened to withdraw from the conference.

With emotions running high in Poland, Israel’s new acting foreign minister, Israel Katz, went on TV Sunday to reiterate that “Poles collaborated with the Nazis” — even mentioning Poles who “sucked anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk.”

That prompted Poland to withdraw completely. Following that announcement, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said the so-called V4 summit was cancelled altogether and bilateral meetings would be held instead.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon confirmed the summit was off, saying all four prime ministers had to be present for it to take place. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is already in Israel, is another leader who has trod into the sensitive terrain of World War II conduct.

Orban has lavished praise on Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s World War II-era ruler, who introduced anti-Semitic laws and collaborated with the Nazis. Orban also has backed a state-funded museum that experts say plays down the role of Hungarian collaborators and also used anti-Semitic imagery in a campaign against the liberal American-Hungarian billionaire George Soros.

When pressed by the AP, though, Netanyahu came to his ally’s defense. “His response was the most direct, saying ‘we are not willing to accept this,'” Netanyahu responded. “He (Orban) attacked Horthy at some point. They are going the furthest here.”

Netanyahu also addressed his warm welcome in January to President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine, whose parliament had just designated the birthday of Ukrainian wartime collaborator Stepan Bandera a national holiday.

Bandera’s forces fought alongside the Nazis and were implicated in the murder of thousands of Jews. The same day Poroshenko was visiting Israel, another memorial was being erected in Kiev for Symon Petliura, whose troops are linked to pogroms that killed as many as 50,000 Jews after World War I.

Netanyahu said he was not aware of that specifically but that he had some discussions with Poroshenko on the larger issue. “I spoke to him too. I speak to them all. It’s not that we can’t raise the issue. We raise it freely,” he insisted.

Still, he then quickly shifted attention toward the contemporary anti-Semitism from the “anarchist left” and Muslim communities. “I think the mass of anti-Semitism today in Europe is what is happening in western Europe,” Netanyahu said. “What is happening in Britain is astounding. This is the new phenomenon. There is the anti-Semitism of the right that hasn’t changed. That existed and still exists.”

Israel’s first lunar mission to launch this week

Tel Aviv (AFP)

Feb 18, 2019

Israel is to launch its first moon mission this week, sending an unmanned spacecraft to collect data to be shared with NASA, organizers said Monday.

The 585-kilogram (1,290-pound) Beresheet (Genesis) spacecraft is to lift off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida at around 0145 GMT on Friday.

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and technology NGO SpaceIL announced the date at a press conference.

Mission control will be in Yehud, near Tel Aviv.

“We are entering history and are proud to belong to a group that has dreamed and fulfilled the vision shared by many countries in the world but that so far only three of them have accomplished,” SpaceIL president Morris Kahn said.

So far only Russia, the United States and China have sent spacecraft to the moon.

The Chinese craft made the first ever soft landing on the far side of the moon on January 3.

NASA, which has installed equipment on Genesis to upload its signals from the moon, said last week it aims to land an unmanned vehicle there by 2024, and it is inviting private sector bids to build the US probe.

NASA plans to build a small space station, dubbed Gateway, in the moon’s orbit by 2026.

It will serve as a way-station for trips to and from the lunar surface, but will not be permanently crewed.

Genesis will make its 6.5-million kilometer (one million-mile) journey at a maximum speed of 10 kilometers per second (36,000 kilometers per hour), according to an IAI statement.

It will carry a “time capsule” loaded with digital files containing a Bible, children’s drawings, Israeli songs, memories of a Holocaust survivor and the blue-and-white Israeli flag.

The $100-million project will measure the lunar magnetic field to help understanding of the moon’s formation.

“This is the lowest-budget spacecraft to ever undertake such a mission. The superpowers who managed to land a spacecraft on the moon have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding,” the IAI statement said.

“Beresheet is the first spacecraft to land on the moon as a result of a private initiative, rather than a government.”

The project started as a potential entry for the Google Lunar XPrize, which in 2010 offered a $30-million reward to encourage scientists and entrepreneurs to offer relatively inexpensive lunar missions.

The contest closed without a winner in March 2018 but SpaceIL decided to keep working on the challenge.

Source: Moon Daily.

Link: http://www.moondaily.com/reports/Israels_first_lunar_mission_to_launch_this_week_999.html.

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