Saturday, December 12, 2020

12/12 Links: Israel normalizes ties with Bhutan; How the Trump administration banished the ghosts blocking the path to peace; Washington Wizards launch new Israeli Twitter account

Israel normalizes ties with Bhutan
Israel established full diplomatic relations with Bhutan for the first time on Saturday night.

Ambassador to India Ron Malka and his Bhutanese counterpart Vetsop Namgyel signed the final agreement normalizing ties on Saturday night. The countries’ foreign ministries held secret talks over the past year towards the goal of forging official ties, which included delegations between the two capitals Jerusalem and Thimphu.

The effort to make relations between the two countries was not connected to the Abraham Accords, in which four Arab countries – United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco – normalized ties with Israel in as many months, with American mediation. In fact, Bhutan does not even have official diplomatic relations with the US.

Bhutan is a Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas, bordering on India and the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. It has gone to great lengths to keep itself isolated from the rest of the world in order to avoid outside influences and to preserve its culture and natural resources. The country limits tourism, especially from outside South Asia.

The landlocked country has formal diplomatic relations with only 53 other countries – a list that does not include the US, UK, France or Russia – and has embassies in only seven of them.

Neither does the country have ties with China, having closed its border to the country on its north after China’s 1959 invasion of Tibet.

August 2019: Kingdom of Bhutan: Israel’s new friend in the Himalayas?
At first glance, the State of Israel and the Kingdom of Bhutan — two small Asian countries separated by nearly 5,300 kilometers of bone-dry deserts and snow-capped mountains — appear to have little in common besides the fact they occupy the same continent.

Highly urbanized Israel, no bigger than New Jersey, is one of the most wired countries on Earth. Of its nine million inhabitants; 88% have smartphones and 75% are Jews. Immensely popular with tourists, Israel will receive 4.7 million foreigners of all religions this year.

Isolated Bhutan, by contrast, is nearly twice Israel’s size but has barely 800,000 people, all of them Buddhists. Fewer than 200,000 tourists annually visit this Himalayan Shangri-La, which as late as 1980 had just 1,200 phone lines in service. Television came to Bhutan only in 1999.

Despite mutual feelings of admiration, the two countries don’t have diplomatic relations … not yet. But the day that happens, Yeshey Tshogyal — who prefers to see similarities instead of differences — would make an ideal choice as the Forbidden Kingdom’s first ambassador to Israel.

“The people here are very warm and welcoming. They’re also open-minded, at least the ones I’ve met,” the 22-year-old told me in Tel Aviv just before her flight back to New York, where she’s pursuing a double major in psychology and intercultural communications at Baruch College.

Last week, Yeshey wrapped up a two-month internship at the Israel-Asia Center, a nonprofit organization based in Jerusalem.
Seth Mandel: How the Trump administration banished the ghosts blocking the path to peace
In July 2009, President Barack Obama met with Jewish leaders at the White House. America, he told them, had been mistaken in trying to adhere to its goal of “no daylight” with Israel. During the previous eight years of the George W. Bush administration, Obama told Jewish leaders, “There was no space between us and Israel, and what did we get from that? When there is no daylight, Israel just sits on the sidelines, and that erodes our credibility with the Arab states.” Obama wanted to put some space between the U.S. and Israel, and proceeded to do exactly that. His experiment was a flop: He was the least successful president regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict since the end of the Cold War.

Trump sought to correct this. He recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. Embassy there. Trump also had the U.S. recognize Israeli sovereignty over its Golan Heights in the north. When Friedman was announced as the pick for ambassador to Israel, liberal figures insisted he was too pro-Israel and too supportive of what they viewed as the Israeli Right. But success followed.

Kushner, thus, began his push for peace with the wind at his back: Pundits and so-called “experts” had all promised there would be bloodshed from Trump’s Jerusalem moves, but none had materialized because they fundamentally misunderstood the region’s politics. The Palestinians rejected Kushner’s “economic peace” model out of hand, just as they have rejected every peace plan before it. But it turned out he had some surprising takers.

The Palestinians’ legitimate drive for statehood and self-determination had taken on an outsize role in the region’s affairs. Ramallah effectively was given a veto over Arab normalization with Israel. But when Trump called their bluff over Jerusalem, it shattered the myth that you had to go through the Palestinians if you wanted public cooperation and reconciliation with Israel. Trump’s decision to leave the Iran nuclear deal also showed America’s Sunni Gulf allies that he could be trusted to restore the bonds broken by Obama’s attempts to favor Iran over traditional allies.

Much like the ancient ghosts of ethnic conflict that haunt the Balkans, the Middle East was a place where the Palestinians didn’t hold the only veto; history had one too. But the Trump administration approached it with an unsentimental proposal: Don’t be ruled by inherited rivalries and the trauma of the past; if you have the chance to make your lives better right now, take it. The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain did, striking recognition deals that include trade and civil aviation plus joint efforts to combat anti-Semitism. Sudan joined the party, agreeing to normalize relations with Israel and having the U.S. remove it from a list of terror-sponsoring states. On Dec. 10, Morocco entered the normalization-with-Israel parade in return for the U.S.’s recognition of its sovereignty over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony.

None of this is to say this tack will always work — it won’t. But in several fraught regions weighed down by the bloodshed of history, it offered a path out of the desert. Future administrations, very much including the incoming Biden White House, should study these lessons carefully, adding one more tool to America’s diplomatic arsenal.

Saudi Arabia said to have played role in Israel-Morocco normalization agreement
Saudi Arabia played a role in the Trump-brokered normalization agreement between Israel and Morocco, diplomatic sources told Channel 12 on Friday.

The report did not detail the Saudi involvement in the US-brokered deal, announced Thursday, and Riyadh has not officially reacted to the accord. However, Saudi Arabia plays a central role in the region, particularly among Sunni states, leading many analysts to speculate that none of the recent normalization deals would have been allowed without a green-light from Saudi Arabia.

In a sign of Saudi support, a prominent newspaper associated with the Saudi royal family put the Israel-Morocco deal on its front page, Channel 12 also noted.

Unnamed Israeli diplomatic sources told the TV channel that it was “very possible” that Riyadh would also be prepared to normalize relations with Israel soon. This is despite Saudi Arabia reportedly being furious with Israel over the leak of a meeting that took place last month between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Saudi resort city of Neom.

A report on Channel 13 TV, meanwhile, said that Saudi Arabia was working together with the Trump administration to get several other nations to sign normalization agreements with Israel, possibly before the Biden administration takes over next month.

The unsourced report said that bin Salman was following the matter closely in an effort to prepare the ground for an eventual Israel-Saudi deal. The report speculated that Oman, which praised the Israel-Morocco deal, would be next.

It also said that Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, was eager to have public ties with Israel.
U.S. Moves Forward With Jerusalem Embassy Construction Amid Questions About Biden’s Israel Policy
The United States is expanding its embassy in Jerusalem, according to a new State Department notification transmitted to Congress and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. The move comes amid speculation that incoming president Joe Biden, who has said he will not move the embassy, will reverse other Trump-administration policies in the region, such as recognizing Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights, cutting off aid to the Palestinian government, and withdrawing from the landmark nuclear agreement with Iran.

The Dec. 3 notification, which was submitted to Congress as part of reporting requirements under the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, reveals the United States plans to expand its office space in Jerusalem in 2021 and will continue its search for "a permanent embassy office building" in the holy city. Trump moved the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May 2018, bucking years of conventional American foreign policy by recognizing the city as Israel’s official capital.

Given that incoming president Joe Biden has indicated that he will leave the embassy in Jerusalem, Trump's embassy move could be a lasting victory for the administration on its way out.

Other Trump policies may not share the same fate. Biden has shown an openness to adopting harsher policies toward Israel. He discussed the possibility of opening a U.S. consulate in east Jerusalem, giving legitimacy to Palestinian claims on this portion of the city. It is also likely a Biden administration will resume aid to the Palestinian government, which was cut by Trump amid revelations the Palestinians were using aid funds to pay convicted terrorists and their families. Further, Biden wants to reenter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which the Israeli government has rejected over concerns it enabled Iran to fund its regional terror proxy groups.

Anti-Israel organizations are pushing Biden’s transition team to tap scores of officials who are critical of the United States' close relationship with the world’s only Jewish state. And some of the more radical elements of the Democratic Party have called for conditioning U.S. aid to Israel on territorial concessions to the Palestinians in a bid to restart peace talks. It also remains to be seen how Biden will handle the Trump administration’s landmark recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights area bordering Syria.

Incoming Florida Rep. Byron Donalds Touts US Relationship With Israel
Byron Donalds was elected to the US House of Representatives on Nov. 3 from Florida’s 19th Congressional District, succeeding retiring Republican Rep. Francis Rooney.

Donalds and Burgess Owens of Utah will represent the only African-American Republicans in the House. He called the historical statistic “a big honor,” and said that the GOP is a “party for all Americans.”

The 42-year-old and his wife, Erika, have three sons.

In an interview with JNS on Nov. 9, Donalds touted that the US relationship with Israel “is the most important one in the region, probably the world.”

In the foreign policy section on his campaign website, Donalds points to US President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda, which has consisted of fighting against so-called “endless wars” and putting America’s interests ahead of collective international interests, such as at international forums, including the United Nations.

However, support for Israel does not contradict the “America First” mantra, according to the incoming legislator.

While both America and Israel would put their own national interests ahead of others, “having a strong relationship with Israel is critical for our national security interests as well,” he said. “I mean, who are we going to share interests with? The Iranians?” he rhetorically asked. “That’s not working out very well.”

Donalds remarked that “Israel is the one standing country that comports with our values as Americans, and that’s why [the relationship] is vertical.”
Trump said to offer $700 million to 9/11 victims to salvage Israel-Sudan deal
The Trump administration reportedly offered victims of the 9/11 terror attacks some $700 million to drop their claims against Sudan as part of an effort to save an agreement that would see the African country normalize ties with Israel in exchange for a removal of Sudan from the US’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Lawyers for the 9/11 claimants asked for $4 billion, a price the administration and Senate Republicans rejected, according to an ABC News report on Friday citing sources familiar with the negotiations. The talks are ongoing, ABC News said.

The Sudan agreement was announced in October after the Trump administration said Khartoum would put $335 million in an escrow account to be used to compensate American victims of terror attacks, including the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by the al-Qaeda network while its leader, Osama bin Laden, was living in Sudan.

The African country became the third Muslim-majority state — after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — to move to normalize relations with Israel since the summer. A new US-brokered normalization deal with Morocco was announced on Thursday, making the North African country the fourth state to implement official ties with Israel. Sudan has been pushing for the delisting from the terror list to take place by the end of the year. In addition, Congress still has to approve a bill that would give Sudan immunity from future lawsuits in the US by victims of terrorism. The country has indicated it may pull out of the normalization deal with Israel if the bill doesn’t go through, according to a New York Times report earlier this month.
Moroccan PM slams Trump plan, pledges backing for Palestinians after Israel deal
Morocco’s prime minister on Friday said the decision to normalize ties with Israel as part of a US-brokered agreement would not affect Rabat’s support for the Palestinians.

Saad-Eddine El Othmani, noted Moroccan King Mohammed VI’s phone call Thursday to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, after US President Donald Trump announced Israel and Morocco would normalize relations.

As part of the announcement, Trump said that the US would recognize Morocco’s claim over the disputed Western Sahara region — a long-time ambition of the kingdom, which views control of the region as a key interest.

“Yesterday, King Mohammed VI called President Abbas, to tell him that His Majesty’s position in support of the Palestinian cause remains unshakeable, and that Morocco places it at the same level of Sahara issue,” Othmani said in a statement.

Othmani, who heads the conservative Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), lashed out at Trump’s peace plan and alleged Israeli efforts to “Judaize” Jerusalem.
Analysis: Washington’s Western Sahara Pledge the Ultimate Prize for Morocco
Morocco’s decision to normalize ties with Israel has handed Rabat its biggest step yet towards the prize it values most – global recognition of its claim to Western Sahara.

Washington’s support for Moroccan sovereignty over the desert territory represents the biggest policy concession the United States has made so far in its quest to win Arab recognition of Israel.

For King Mohammed VI, that has trumped any fears of angering Moroccans who back Palestinian rights or harming his image as “defender of the faithful” among conservative Muslims by making peace with an Israeli state that has annexed East Jerusalem.

In a news conference to announce the decision in a royal proclamation, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita warned that “those who criticize this deal are against Morocco’s sovereignty over Sahara”.

How far that admonition was necessary is uncertain.

“This news came as a shock to me and to the Moroccan people. We strongly reject it,” said Khalid Soufiani, a pro-Palestinian activist.

However, while Islamist and pan-Arab parties have opposed formalizing ties with Israel, others including Berber rights activists have supported it.

“Restoring ties with Israel is good news that serves Morocco’s supreme interests,” said Munir Kejji, an activist for the Amazigh Berber people.
Algeria PM on Israel-Morocco deal: ‘Zionist entity’ wants to be near our borders
Algeria’s prime minister on Saturday criticized “foreign maneuvers” he said were aimed at destabilizing it, after Washington recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara in exchange for Rabat normalizing ties with Israel.

Algeria, Morocco’s neighbor and regional rival, is the key foreign backer of the Polisario Front, which has campaigned for independence for Western Sahara since the 1970s.

“There are foreign maneuvers which aim to destabilize Algeria,” Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad said, in Algeria’s first reaction to the US decision.

“There is now a desire by the Zionist entity to come closer to our borders,” he added, in reference to Israel.

“We are seeing today at our borders… wars and instability around Algeria,” Djerad said, in a speech to mark the anniversary of demonstrations against French colonial rule.

The surprise announcement by outgoing President Donald Trump on Thursday of US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara was swiftly dismissed by the Polisario, who have vowed to fight on until Moroccan forces withdraw.
Palestinian militant groups condemn Morocco’s agreement to normalize relations with Israel
Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank condemned President Trump’s announcement that Israel and Morocco agreed to normalize ties between the two nations — the fourth such agreement between Israel and an Arab country in four months.

Hamas, the Gaza Strip’s de facto authority, quickly published a statement of condemnation and denouncement of Morocco’s decision to normalize ties with Israel.

“We consider that the Kingdom of Morocco took this step as a betrayal of the Palestinian people and their just cause, and a coup against Morocco’s historical position in rejecting the occupation,” the statement said.

Furthermore, Hamas called on Moroccans to reject the decision and continue boycotting Israel.

“We call upon the authentic Moroccan people and all our free peoples to reject this agreement and all the cheap normalization agreements, and continue boycotting the Zionist occupation and not accept it at all, whatever the circumstance or temptation,” Hamas stated.

In a similar statement, Palestinian Islamic Jihad issued a press release condemning the normalization of ties as a betrayal of the fundamentals of Islam.

“The normalization of relations with the occupation state by the ruling regime in Morocco is a betrayal of the fundamentals of Islam and Arabism and the alienation of Jerusalem and Palestine, the series of Arab regimes scrambling towards the Zionist entity will be a curse on them,” the statement said.

Other Palestinian factions such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine published statements sharing the theme of condemnation and betrayal of the Palestinian cause.

“The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine confirms that the announcement of the normalization of Moroccan relations with the Zionist enemy this evening by U.S. President Donald Trump is a black day in the history of our people and our Arab nation,” the PFLP stated.
Seth Frantzman: Turkey’s regime seeks to isolate Israel using 'reconciliation' propaganda
Israel’s friends and partners in Cyprus, Greece, Egypt and the UAE are the opposite of Ankara’s regime. They don’t host Hamas and call Israel a Nazi country, they don’t bash Israel and they don’t appoint envoys known for claiming Zionism is racist. Ankara is one of the most hostile countries in the world to Israel outside of Iran. No other countries in the world besides Ankara and Iran give Hamas a red carpet and Turkey’s current leadership gives Hamas even more respect than Iran does, treating it with the respect of a foreign country.

Ankara has a long history of mobilizing media abroad through contacts to push its narratives, usually to get everything it wants and giving nothing in return. For instance Ankara speaks to friends and lobbyists in Washington to claim that it was “confronting Iran and Russia,” when in fact Ankara was working with Iran and Russia against US interests in Syria and buying Russia’s S-400s.

Now Turkey has pivoted to try to pretend it wants to compartmentalize certain issues with Israel, such as trade and maritime ties, as part of pretending the last year of chaos and extremism Ankara unleashed is behind it. Ankara wants more than anything to play the “good cop” for the new Biden administration, much as it worked to get support from Trump for invasions of Syria, Libya, and threats against Greece and Armenia.

But reality shows what is actually happening in Ankara. The regime is increasingly a far-right openly racist regime against Armenians and Kurds, and Jews are often objects of hatred for the Turkish-backed extremists that it has unleashed in Syria and other countries. If Turkey wanted reconciliation it wouldn’t use it to sabotage Israel’s alliances and isolate Israel and its own media, which is entirely pro-government, would support Israel.

Instead Turkey bashes Israel at home and tars Israel as a “Nazi” country. That is not how reconciliation works. The leaked stories about “secret” talks are designed only to muddle Israel’s relationships with other states in the region as part of an Ankara regime project which it openly says is designed to “liberate” Jerusalem from the “Zionists,” an ideology of religious extremism Ankara shares with Iran’s regime.

While countries like the UAE are welcoming Israelis and Jews and talking about tolerance, Ankara’s government jails dissidents and lashes out at minorities, spreading hatred and intolerance. In that toxic mix, there is no reality of mending fences, only a new anti-Israel envoy and an extremist authoritarian government in Ankara that wants Israel isolated so it can manipulate the incoming Biden administration. When Turkey apologizes for comparing Israel to the Nazis, then that might be evidence that it has changed. Ankara’s current regime will never do that.
Channel 4 News peddles absurd Gaza analogy
Channel 4 News uses absurd Gaza analogy On Dec. 3, Channel 4 News aired a report on Bangladesh’s forced relocation of up to 100,000 Muslim Rohingya refugees – who were victims of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar – to Bhasan Char, a cyclone prone island 60 kilometres from the mainland that’s been described as “dangerous and barely habitable”.

As you watch the report, by foreign affairs correspondent Jonathan Miller, note what he says at around 24 seconds in to the video:

If you didn’t catch it, here’s the relevant part:
There were scenes of great distress as refugees were told to board [the buses]. Their destination: Bhasan Char, a remote and soulless refugee camp, a Gaza for Rohingya.

However, as even the most rudimentary analysis should make clear, this is a lazy, misleading politically-driven analogy which doesn’t hold up to even the most minimal critical scrutiny.

Unlike Bhasan Char, Gaza isn’t an island.
Unlike Bhasan Char, Gaza isn’t one big refugee camp – but a Palestinian-ruled territory.
Unlike the Rohingya in question who are all refugees, over 99% of Palestinians in Gaza are NOT and have never been refugees.
Unlike with the Rohingya who were ethnically cleasned from Myanmar and now are being involuntarily transferred to Bhasan Char by Bangladesh, Palestinians weren’t forcibly relocated to Gaza, nor victims of ethnic cleansing.

Moreover, though, on average, tens of thousands of Palestinians leave Gaza each year for work or humanitarian reasons, Egyptian and Israeli restrictions that are in place are the result of military aggression by Hamas, the proscribed terror organisation that rules the territory as the result of the decision by a plurality of Palestinians to vote for them in the 2006 parliamentary elections.

U.S. Warns Iran Moving Closer to Nuclear Weapon
The United States on Friday warned Iran is moving closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon, citing a new law passed by the Islamic Republic’s ruling authority that orders the country to enrich uranium to levels needed to fuel a bomb.

Iranian leaders approved a new law last week that requires the country to stockpile large amounts of enriched uranium, the key component in a nuclear weapon. Iran seeks to raise the level of its enriched stockpiles to around 20 percent, a threshold level typically used only for the purposes of a bomb, rather than nuclear energy.

This level of enrichment "moves Iran closer to the ability to obtain a nuclear weapon," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on the new law. "Iran has provided no credible technical rationale for why it needs to move precipitously to enrich uranium to that level for any peaceful purpose."

Iran's move is meant to pressure Western nations into granting Iran relief from crippling economic sanctions. It also sets up a standoff with the incoming Biden administration, which has already expressed a willingness to reopen negotiations with Iran over its contested nuclear program. Pompeo, in his final weeks in office, urged Western powers to reject what he described as Iran’s "nuclear extortion."

"The international community must not reward the regime’s dangerous gamesmanship with economic appeasement," he said. "If the Iranian regime seeks sanctions relief and economic opportunity, then it must first demonstrate that it is serious about fundamentally changing its behavior by ceasing its nuclear extortion and negotiating a comprehensive deal that addresses its development of ballistic missiles and its support for terrorism, unjust detention, and other destabilizing activities in the region."
Bedfellows: Iran and Al Qaeda
In addition, a trove of 470,000 documents, released by the CIA in late 2017, point to close ties between the Iranian regime and Al-Qaeda.... According to the documents, Iran also provided Al Qaeda with "money and arms and everything they need, and offered them training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in return for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia."

Eight of the 9/11 attack hijackers passed through Iran before coming to the US. Tehran provided funding, logistical support and ammunition to Al-Qaeda leaders, and sheltered several of them in exchange for attacks on US interests.

As sanctions against Iran were lifted during the Obama administration, it quickly became clear that those actions, instead, gave Iran's brutality to its own people and its adventurism abroad a global legitimacy in the eyes of the international community. This newfound legitimacy and the lifting of sanctions generated billions of dollars for Iran's military institution, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as for Iran's militia and terror groups. Tehran used those revenues to expand its influence throughout the region, including in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. The expansion campaign proved to be immensely successful.

If Biden becomes the next US president and if he pursues the same policies towards Iran as former President Barack Obama, he will not only embolden this predatory regime, but also empower its allies, as well as terror groups such as Al Qaeda.
Iran executes journalist whose work inspired 2017 anti-government protests
Iran authorities on Saturday executed Ruhollah Zam, a former opposition figure who had lived in exile in France and was implicated in anti-government protests, days after his sentence was upheld.

State television said the “counter-revolutionary” Zam was hanged in the morning after the supreme court upheld his sentence due to “the severity of the crimes” committed against the Islamic republic.

Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili had on Tuesday said Zam’s sentence was upheld by the supreme court “more than a month ago.”

London-based human rights group Amnesty International, in a statement after his verdict was confirmed, described Zam as a “journalist and dissident.”

It said the confirmation marked “a shocking escalation in the use of the death penalty as a weapon of repression.”

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards announced the arrest of Zam in October 2019, claiming he had been “directed by France’s intelligence service.”

Macedonian Jews Urge Bulgaria to Acknowledge Responsibility for Holocaust Mass Deportations
The Jewish community in the Balkan state of North Macedonia has published an open letter to the Bulgarian government urging the recognition of Bulgaria’s role in the deportation of Jews during the Nazi occupation.

While the 50,000 Jews in Bulgaria itself were famously spared from extermination, the fate of the 8,000 Jews in the neighboring region of Macedonia — today known as North Macedonia — was very different.

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the occupying Bulgarians “deported the Macedonian Jews in simultaneous actions that began in the early morning of Thursday, March 11, 1943. In Monastir, Skopje, and ล tip, where there was a tiny population of Sephardic Jews, several hundred police and soldiers, as well as cart drivers with their carts, gathered at municipal police stations at 2 a.m. to receive instructions for the removal of the Jews and their belongings. In Monastir, the Bulgarian military established a blockade around the city to prevent escapes.”

Friday’s open letter from Jewish leaders in North Macedonia — published on the website of the European Jewish Congress (EJC) — stated that “the Jewish Community in the Republic of Macedonia and the Holocaust Fund of the Jews from Macedonia remind everyone of the indisputable and accepted historical facts regarding the role of the Kingdom of Bulgaria in the Holocaust and the deportation of the Jews from today’s North Macedonia.”

The letter concluded by calling on the Bulgarian authorities “to face the truth about the Holocaust against the Jews in the occupied territories for which the pro-Nazi government in the Kingdom of Bulgaria at that time was directly responsible, and to apologize and accept responsibility.”
‘Jews to the grave’: Man shouts anti-Semitic slogan as he topples Kyiv menorah
A man was filmed shouting an anti-Semitic phrase as he toppled a giant communal menorah on Thursday that was installed in the Ukrainian city of Kyiv ahead of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.

“Ukrainians, we are a force. The Jews to the grave,” shouted the man named by the Jewish community as known anti-Semitic activist Andriy Rachkov, the Ynet news site reported.

I want to “show everyone how to treat foreigners who are occupying and taking over the country,” the man shouted at the start of the video of the incident which circulated on social media.

The news site said that Rachov had himself initially published the video, which was later taken down by technology companies.

Representatives of the Jewish community have reportedly asked Ukrainian police to investigate the incident as a hate crime, saying that Rachkov returned a day later to try to knock over the menorah for a second time, but was unable to as it had been welded to the ground in the interim.
Hanukkah Menorah Vandalized in Alameda.
A menorah erected outside Alameda City Hall was found toppled and broken on the first day of Hanukkah. The City owned menorah is now repaired and has been returned to the plaza.

From the Facebook Page of the City of Alameda:

Last night, on the first night of Chanukah, the Menorah at City Hall was destroyed. In Alameda, we have no tolerance for hate. If you have any information that could help our investigation, please call 510-337-8340. Chanukah is a time for joy and dedication. We celebrate to remember that hate does not win when we rise up against oppressors. 2020 has been an incredibly difficult year, but Alamedans are resilient, and we will recover. For most of us, our new Menorah will shine brighter than ever before. In Alameda we believe strongly that everyone belongs here in our inclusive community.
Joint Austrian-German police operation targets neo-Nazis, seizes arms
Austrian police seized automatic weapons, explosives and narcotics during raids on neo-Nazi sympathizers, and arrested several of them, the government said Saturday.

German police in Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia states also arrested two suspects in connection with the operation.

The weapons were to be used to “establish a far-right network” in Germany, Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer told a news conference in Vienna.

Five men aged 21 to 53 with links to neo-Nazi groups were arrested in Austria, and were “unfortunately known for a while already” in the country, Nehammer said.

In October, Austrian investigators began to track drug deliveries from Germany and discovered that the profits were being used to buy arms.

A series of searches uncovered 100,000 rounds of ammunition, 100 firearms, explosives that included hand grenades, narcotics and cash, a Viennese police statement said.
After Antisemitic Outrages, Austrian City of Graz Unveils Plan to Combat Jew-Hatred
The southern Austrian city of Graz has unveiled a plan to combat antisemitism in the wake of two alarming incidents targeting Jews last summer.

On Aug. 19, the synagogue in Graz was daubed with the slogan “Free Palestine,” following which Jewish community President Elie Rosen warned of a rise in “left-wing and anti-Israel antisemitism.”

Two days later, Rosen was himself attacked by an assailant wielding a wooden club. Rosen managed to escape the attacker unhurt.

Announcing the “Together Against Antisemitism” initiative at the Graz synagogue on Friday, Rosen was joined by the Austrian government’s EU minister, Karoline Edtstadler.

Edtstadler described the initiative as a “struggle for society as a whole.”

“We have to remain vigilant, sensitize people and carry everyone with us,” she emphasized.

Rosen explained that the antisemitism initiative was built on educational efforts to make schoolchildren more aware of the culture and history of Jews in the Styrian region of Austria, at the same time training teachers to counter antisemitism in the classroom.
Publix Supermarket Does Nothing as Customer Goes on Antisemitic Rampage Inside Boca Raton Store
Joseph Scandiffio, Jr., the man who allegedly screamed antisemitic slurs at Jewish shoppers in the Publix at the Reserve Shopping Center in West Boca Raton Wednesday has a history with the Palm Beach County legal system and a Facebook page full of conspiracy theories commentary.

Joseph Scandiffio, Jr., was NOT charged in the Publix incident. Police say it’s a freedom of speech issue. However, public documents reveal a history of interaction with the justice system in Palm Beach County.

Scandiffio was arrested in 2006 for battery on a person 65 years of age or older, and again in 2007 for failing to appear in court. The clerk’s filing system shows neither case was ultimately prosecuted.

But In 2011, Scandiffio was convicted of criminal mischief after a victim says he was nearly run down by Scandiffio in the parking lot at Home Depot near Glades and 441. According to a police report, Scandiffio — after nearly hitting the man — yelled, “f–k off you old fart,” then followed the victim to his truck and “began hitting the passenger side window 3-4 times with his fist. He then hit the front windshield with a cane.” Scandiffio was placed on probation and ordered to complete an anger management class.
10 eye-catching sculptures around Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv is known for its legendary public art. While street art is the city’s main claim to fame, the sculptures that saturate the streets and greenspaces of Tel Aviv are equally awe-inspiring.

Since people outside Israel can’t visit Tel Aviv right now, ISRAEL21c brings you pictures and history of some of the best sculptures around the city.

From Tel Aviv University in the north to Jaffa down south, these iconic sculptures can be found in all corners of this artistic city.

This eye-catching sculpture wrapped around the trees of Tel Aviv University’s campus (photo above) was created by award-winning Israeli architect Ron Arad to honor the 4,000 Ethiopian Jews who died on their journey from Ethiopia to Israel.

Its title, “Kesher,” translates to “connection.” Arad used interwoven metals that snake around the square’s palm trees to signify unity and connection.

SUSPENDED ORANGE TREE by Ran Morin This fantastic sculpture in Jaffa produces oranges out of a massive steel “seed.” Photo by Tess Levy

This incredible piece of art in Jaffa not only appears to be defying gravity but also elegantly combines living and non-living aspects. Fed through a drip system, a tree grows and produces fruit out of a massive “seed” made of steel.

Ran Morin constructed this sculpture to communicate his admiration for Israel, a nation born out of seemingly impossible circumstances—like a seed made of metal–and thrives against all odds.

The blossoming orange tree has hung in Jaffa since 1993 and serves as a metaphor for the growth and production of Israel, a young nation that continuously proves its resilience to all those who observe.

Washington Wizards launch new Israeli Twitter account
The NBA's Washington Wizards launched a Hebrew-speaking Twitter account in an event on Friday to feature exclusive content of their newest star – the Israeli Deni Avdija – and the Wizards to fans in Israel.

Last month, the 19-year-old Avdija was selected from Maccabi Tel-Aviv by the Wizards as the ninth overall pick of the NBA Draft, the highest ever draft pick for an Israeli player.

On Friday, Avdija met with Ron Dermer, the Israeli Ambassador to the US, for a meet-and-greet, in which they officially launched the account. During the meeting with Dermer, the two displayed a shirt with the name 'Israel' on the back. Under the name was the number 48, representing 1948, the year in which Israel was founded.

Avidija was quick to upload a video to welcome fans to the new profile, along with an interview he gave on the Wizards' podcast "Off The Bench," one of several interviews he gave on the night of the draft.

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